Category Archives: Academics

Being part of a failed movement.

Lately, I’ve been realizing I might actually be a quality leader of sorts. The reality of being a team leader is becoming more… real. I spent a week alone, made decisions on my own, and started to dream about what I wanted to see happen. I did an activity where students had to learn how to do Godly affirmation to one another (and then do it for their non-christian friends). This conveniently had time where they got to affirm me. One of the students said something really sweet that I want to keep- he said that I was like a light in the darkness, and that any time I talk to him, no matter what state he’s in, he always feels better. I’ll take that. Then I got an email earlier this week telling me that I had been invited for a big position for the Urbana conference. That also helped my self esteem. The more I go through this year, the more I’m realizing that God is preparing me for more and more leadership.

At the same time, in these past 2 or 3 weeks, I’ve been coming to a ridiculous realization that I hate failure. I fear it. It is one of my biggest fears. It is the fear that all will fall apart when I fail. I’ve been facing a lot of things that signify my failure, or at least my lack of perfection. I led 2 horrible bible studies this week. I would have puked at the horrible exegesis if I were one of the participants. Heck. I wish there were more participants. At every bible study, I had perhaps two other students sit out there with me on the tarp (forgetting that it’s midterms week). On Wednesday, I had perhaps 3 students (from ~20 last year) signed up to go to Catalina and 0 dollars in scholarship. I felt like a failure in my recruiting abilities (forgetting the fact that we are in fact in a recession when people can’t pay 225 bucks to go to a camp). Then there’s the other part of me that doesn’t even want to go to Catalina from remembering the supposed failures I had last year teaching Mark. Let’s not forget that I have a fuller class that I haven’t had time to do at all and all the work is due on the 20th. I feel failure creeping up to me with the possibility that I could do mediocre in this class. And then there’s my room, which I have failed to clean for the last 3 weeks. And then, just as I was getting over it all, while I’m finally cleaning my room, I find that something very important that my sister let me borrow has disappeared. I don’t know if it’s misplaced, or if it has been stolen. I feel the weight of failure pressing me down.

I realize that I equate the successes of the Kingdom of God with my own success. I wonder how much God laughs at that assumption. But I really have the audacity to think that.

Last year, after messing up a session at Catalina (students, you probably didn’t know, but I accidentally ended early on one part, leaving my other staff worker with an extra passage to teach that she didn’t prepare), I was apologizing profusely to my co-teacher. Then our leader turned to me and just straight up said, “Stop apologizing. It’s done. Guilt doesn’t make sense right now. God meant for you to end early there. God meant for you to mess up. And He’s going to use it.” That moment has been haunting me for the past year. I’ve been avoiding returning to that moment, because part of me secretly still feels guilty for my “failure”.

Two weeks ago, I had a dream that I was driving in my car. All of a sudden I started feeling water dripping in my eyes. I kept wiping the water away, until I realized that my sunroof had cracked, and I was driving in a wild storm. My team leader interpreted it for me (she took a dream interpretation class at one of those crazy charismatic churches… I’m pretty crazy, but… yeah. That’s crazy.). She said that God was purifying my ministry. She said she was excited. I kind of felt excited, but in the back of my head I was thinking “excited? What is she smoking? Purification is never an exciting thing!”

And… God has been purifying me since. Purifying my motives for leadership. He’s weeding out my desire for success and my tendency to equate it to the success of the Kingdom of God. I’ve been realizing that as I step into higher leadership, I can’t be consumed with my performance and continue to blow up the effects of my failures. Yes, I have to still pursue excellence. But I’m not perfect. God is. And there’s the miracle. Out of the beautiful mess of our failures, God somehow breathes in the success of His Kingdom. We can’t achieve that success. God has mercy on our inability and allows us to witness His success despite and even through our failures.

I sometimes forget that Christianity started out as a failed local movement with its leader brutally nailed to a cross. And out of the ashes of failure, came the resurrection of the Kingdom that was surely of God, which transformed cowardly fishermen into the rock and foundation of a worldwide movement. Right now, I feel like that scared fisherman, wondering why I even joined this movement; wondering if my convictions were misplaced if all I see around me is failure. But perhaps I’m in this place of fear because I have not really realized that after the ultimate failure that I have witnessed, there is resurrection.

These past few weeks, I’ve had to convince myself to get out of bed and face the day, leaving the failures behind me. And you know what? His Kingdom still advances each of those days. My last Bible study, I felt the conviction return to me and had everyone including myself in a quiet awe of the power of the scripture. God has been merciful, and I now have 9 or 10 students going to Catalina with enough scholarships to cover their lack. As I was preparing for Mark next week at Catalina, I felt a strange excitement for what God was going to do with my students, no matter how sucky I performed. I finally got around to cleaning my room. And I have enough money to replace what was lost.

And no, my failures are not fully undone. But I feel the tendrils of fear and guilt slowly release as I realize that His Kingdom is not dependent on my success. I realize the depth of the statement that is thrown around in evangelical circles- His grace covers us. And wow. His grace does cover me overwhelmingly, and will continue to cover me no matter how successful or how much of a failure I am.

Concerning age

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.

Learning to love Barth

“But His attitude and action is always that He seeks and creates fellowship between Himself and us. For large stretches it may be for us doubtful, dark and incomprehensible. For large stretches it will seem to us like the very opposite of this relationship. It will reveal itself as such through judgement and grace, through dying and making alive, through veling and unveiling. It will always be the light that shines out of darkness when it is revealed to us as such…”

-Karl Barth