All the World's a Classroom
This Is My Story, part 3: How a Quiet Girl Found Her Voice.
When God came into my life, He liberated me from me.
If you had known me when I was a teenager, spanning the time I was in middle school, high school, and early college, you would’ve known me as a quiet and very inhibited person (unless I was very comfortable with you). During my freshman year, I was basically very close to mute. If anyone wants to fact-check me, I can refer you to a list of people who can attest to this. I would hang out, eat, and laugh with everyone, but I wouldn’t actually say much, or anything.
It was not because I didn’t want to say anything. It was because I didn’t have anything to say.
In fact, I still abide by this personal rule. I don’t feel like I have to say something if I don’t have anything to say that is of consequence. But regardless, I still didn’t like the fact that I was quiet. I felt trapped in a body, hidden behind a sealed mouth. And thus the story began.
The beginning of my personality transformation coincided with the beginning of my conversion. During my first year in college, the time when I realized how hard it was for me to get comfortable in new situations was about the same time I realized that my faith lacked substance. I grew up a Seventh-day Adventist and had a real experience with Jesus when I was baptized at 14, but most things I knew were hearsays, second hand knowledge. Other people told me and I believed them. By the time I got to college, I had never studied the Bible. I had read the Bible, but I never studied it.
Which was why when I came across a group of young people who studied the Bible—as in not reading it cursorily, but squeezing every essence of the words—I was blown away. I still remember the first Bible study I had in my life, once upon a Friday night in a classroom at Boston University, led by the ever-so-awesome Jen Song. It was on Daniel 1, about young Daniel at the University of Babylon, standing true to principle. What a timely message for this new freshman. I was amazed at how relevant the Bible could be: These words could actually speak to me!
If I had missed a precious lesson in a familiar passage, what else could I have missed? A whole lot, as it turned out. And so for that entire year, I devoured all kinds of books, resources, and sermons to answer the question, What is Adventism and why am I a Seventh-day Adventist? Most importantly, I started learning how to meditate on the Bible. I read the Desire of Ages in a month. My hunger for spiritual things was deep and I took hold on anything I could.
It was at this hungry stage that messages from GYC 2003 came to me. Some people from the Boston Korean Church went and brought back tapes from the conference (yes, they were tapes back then). I listened to them, and let’s just say I was never the same again. Talk about being blown away. The theme, Higher Than The Highest, taken from the quote in Education, p. 18, “Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children” especially struck me. What?! You mean God has ambitions for me that are even higher than my school, my parents? I thought MIT was pretty good.
So even though I was quiet on the outside, in reality my mind was buzzing and loud on the inside. I was especially quiet in church settings because I felt spiritually lacking and didn’t have anything to give. But in my quietness, I was absorbing and soaking up everything that everyone said in Bible studies, discussions, and sermons like a dry sponge. I was like an empty cup, and God started filling me.
As God filled my soul with understanding, experiences with Him, knowledge of who He is and how He deals with His children, my cup began to be filled and eventually overflowed. And with that overflowing, came my voice.
Now I could share insights and not feel like a fake. I could testify what God had taught me in real life experiences. I spent 10 weeks going door-to-door the summer after my junior year, and nothing cured shyness like canvassing could. I kept receiving and kept giving. Now I had something to say; God had put words in my mouth.
The crazy thing was that it didn’t stop there, since God not only gave me a voice in spiritual settings, but also in secular and social settings. These days, I’m hardly shy or quiet, except in special circumstances.
Once Jesus said to a woman, “But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14) To me, that fountain is my voice.
This Is My Story, part 2
Born in Bali, my mother is the validation of my weak and thin claim that I have roots in a most exotic and fascinating place. She’s the second of four children. She was essentially my math teacher all throughout elementary school, and the early foundation of the engineer in me is credited to her.
She was the one who quizzed me before every exam until 6th grade, and she was also the one who punished me when I underperformed. She accompanied me to dance lessons, English lessons, piano lessons… and for the last one, also sat nearby to pinch me when I pressed the wrong notes, which happened all the time. She bore with me through my ugly teenage years, and now, waiting to see what will become of my life.
My mother’s life is a continuing, open lesson book for me, especially as a woman in the brink of adulthood. Or maybe I’m in it already. I don’t know. It’s debatable.
To the youth, phases of life seem to line up in a predictable way. We start as students. Then comes early working life. Singlehood is the given status around this time, and then comes marriage, kids, middle age, empty nests, and retirement. It seems sometimes that these are the way life should be.
My mother’s life, however, has given me a slightly varied perspective. She lived with her family until she was about 26, moved in with my father when they got married, had kids, lived comfortably, saw her kids went to college overseas, and perhaps experienced early phases of retirement. But when she was 51, everything changed.
She became a widow then, and instead of cruising along in comfort and safety, she began a new phase that she never experienced before, living alone. Her kids are living half the world away, and no one is settled yet. And not only that, she now has to be a full time working woman, inheriting the family business that my father had built almost all of his life. The pressure is high and the burden is heavy, and she bears it day by day, with a degree of uncertainty on what will become of her family.
If there’s anything I learn from her, is that none of us is entitled to live an easy, comfortable, or predictable life. But one thing is sure: God is enough in all seasons of life, and He will sustain through it all, somehow.
Happy birthday to my dearest mother. I love you tons!
This Is My Story, part I.
In a few weeks, I’ll be turning into an age that I’ve been looking forward to for a while. And as it usually goes around this time, I automatically go into reflection mode.
This year’s reflection mode, however, is in extra high gear since I’m in a major transition phase ministry-wise, academic-wise, and life-wise. The confluence of these things have in fact put me somewhat in constant reflection since… Oh I dunno … summertime? It’ll probably last until next year.
I understand that transitions and life uncertainties can be stressful, but at this juncture, stress is the polar opposite of my experience. The words I’d describe this phase are excitement, possibilities, and believe it or not, fun. I’m exhausted, but I’m having fun. And I’m grateful. So grateful that I feel like the luckiest girl in the world, except luck is a misnomer, since all good things in my life are given to me by Him “whom my soul loves.”
It’s not to my credit that these things are so. I have a God, and He has been kind to me. My path has not been trouble-free, but I am clay in the potter’s hand, a vessel in the making, silver being refined, and that makes all the difference. I think God is bringing me toward something, a distinct purpose, of which I don’t know yet but I’m getting closer to it.
I’ve been counting my blessings and concluded that I am tremendously and immensely blessed. So with this post, I’ll begin a series of testimonies of how my life has changed. These are not particular incidents, but the overarching narratives of years of transformation.
Oftentimes this generic phrase is used in personal, faith-related testimonies, “God came into my life, and He turned my life around.” What I want to do is spell out just how exactly God has turned mine around.
For me, this reconstruction is deeper than behavioral; it’s in the level of personality, worldview, life philosophy, and the lens through which I perceive people. I’ll pay tribute to the friends I’ve gained, those whom I probably would never come to know if not for my conversion. And of course, I’ll pay tribute to my family and my late father, whose character traits I’ve discovered to be present in me more and more as I grow up. Though my time with him is cut short, I’m so thankful to have been trained, brought up, and loved by him.
In a book by one of my favorite authors, he says, “there are no proofs for the existence of the God of Abraham. There are only witnesses.” (Heschel, The Prophets, p. 27) Well, I am a witness, and I’m unashamed to declare it.
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I’d say wealth is in the contented heart. The currency of my life consists of friendships, service, learning, wonder, and moments of reflection. Of these I have many. God has made me rich.