November is a big month in my family, since it contains five big celebratory events: both of my parents’ and my birthdays, my parents’ anniversary, and my baptism anniversary, with the latter two having the same date. When my father passed away, two of the five events couldn’t be celebrated anymore. Today would have been his 62nd birthday, and I want to celebrate him in a non-birthday-cake type of way.
In the recent months, I’ve found myself often asking the question, What made my life the way it is and what made me who I am right now? A lot of those times, I found my pseudo self-analysis ending up at my father. In decision making, in thinking about life issues, in managing finances, and in planning, I’d catch myself realizing that I was thinking like my father would, and I couldn’t help it. Although sometimes it could be frustrating being ‘trapped’ in certain ways of thinking, some of these things have been playing crucial roles in my professional life. Some helped me avoid drama. Overall, I’ve found them very useful, and thus I’m thankful.
It’s pretty crazy how large a role upbringing plays in someone’s identity, character, personality, and in a way, destiny.
My father did many things in his life for me that have propelled me to this stage. But the legacy that still lives on and continues to bear fruit is the stamp of his character in mine. My siblings too bear aspects of his character in their own way. We have not seen the full effect of his training that he imparted in our childhood, and I have a feeling more and more of this will come out in our adulthood.
Losing my father and not being able to ask him for advice has made me more intentional in going to my heavenly Father for counsel and for wisdom. I ask for Him not only to show me what to do, but how to think rightly. I ask for discernment and good judgment, and trust that He would grant it somehow. And just like my father’s character is imprinted in me from being brought up by him, perhaps God’s character can too be imprinted the same way from His training, to the point where I can’t help but to think and act like He would. Because to be like Jesus is not just to imitate Him in a try-hard, behavioral kind of way; it is to be like Him in thoughts and character. Everything else will follow.
So today, despite the fact that I would have loved many more years with my father, I’m thankful for the 23 years I had with him and for my heavenly Father who ever lives.
One of life’s greatest joys is meeting new people and finding kindred spirits, those you can resonate in particular ways of thinking. The effect is energizing, it’s as if you’ve been friends for ages, or should have been friends before.
What I love about this experience is that it can happen anywhere in the world, with any person of whatever background. This is what I love the most about my friends whom I count as like-minded: they come from all over the world.
Take my closest knit of friends, for example. I’m Chinese Indonesian. My two closest friends are a Zimbabwean girl (with a U.S. green card now) who philosophizes over many things in life, and a half Cuban, half black, American lawyer girl who is super articulate. Each of us is about one-tenth Korean because of the foods we eat and the people we hang out with. We love food and we love books. And because of that, we get along so well with our (just a tad bit) older, Korean American sister whose company brings out the nuttiness in us even more (in a good way. I hope I don’t get in trouble for saying this).
What is the likelihood that four people from, literally, four corners of the earth can get along so well? And not just get along, but totally in sync in almost every thought and opinion. Don’t underestimate the amount of talking we can do with each other and the breadth of topics that gets covered. (And no, we don’t just talk about girls stuff. Absolutely not!). We have different personalities, different areas of expertise, and even different ways of approaching problems. By most natural standards, we shouldn’t even like hanging out with each other. But we do. Hanging out is our life philosophy.
In the larger circle of friends we belong to, the ethnic composition varies even more. At any given hangout session with different permutations of people, at least three continents will be represented easily. In multiple occasions when some 30 of us went out to eat, random people approached us asking if we were part of some program, like a mock UN or global youth type thing (except we don’t look that young). They thought someone forced us to be together. The response, No, we’re just friends.
And we’re not together just for special events. We can roll like this all day long, for multiple days. We actually like each other (most of the time), and find the communion of minds invigorating.
I’m talking particularly about the family of friends I’ve gained in Seventh-day Adventist communities in Boston, Michigan, and the Mid-Atlantic. More specifically, those who love to talk and think about how to reach and change the world, and those who love to hang out. These are they with whom I resonate in the deepest core. It so happens that they are the same people whose lives are intertwined in public campus ministries.
Really, there is no likely reason why we should be friends. We don’t even like the same food, at least not in the beginning. But the wonder is that we are friends, and there is one core reason why this is so: God. We know that each of us subscribes to a culture that supersedes any of our individual cultural and ethnic background, namely the culture of Christ. As a result, our lives are enriched by each other.
This culture of Christ and embracing diversity is something I’m very adamant about in my personal life, and especially in the church. (Read articles on racial segregation that some of us have written here). I don’t get cultural insularity, especially when there is a greater purpose to serve. In the community of faith that I belong to, this purpose is to bring the everlasting gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people (Rev 14:6).
When people see a diverse group of people who actually like and want to be with each other, no matter what skin color or hair texture, it tells the world that God has done something special not just in the individual lives, but also in the community. It bears witness that there is Someone who has “broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Eph 2:14), more powerful than any cultural ties.
I’m not saying that this multicultural friendship experience can only happen to a Christian; I’m saying that this experience takes place in my life because I’m a Seventh-day Adventist. When I gained Christ and started letting Him order my life, I gained a family of unlikely friends as well.
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.