looking for Job

a journal excerpt

You know what I’m feeling right now?

I feel like there were a lot of things that didn’t have to happen this summer.

Things that caused unnecessary emotional stress and needless pain,
Things awfully timed,
Things unfolding in the worst way possible,
Things beyond my control that I could not prevent,
Things that no matter how much I prayed against,

still happened.

None of this had to be this way.
But they are now. And I got hurt.

You know what I’m feeling right now?
I feel like all those things that happened, You could have stopped,
but You chose not to.

That perhaps, the demons are out to get me
and You’re letting them.

Because maybe, they have this idea that if You let them torment me, I will fall out of love with You. So they go after what I treasure the most.

My dreams. The magic. The wonder.

Disenchant the Kid.

And maybe,

You have this idea

that they are wrong.

 

#Jobsearch

fight fire with fire

Last week was deep emotional pain. This week, I nearly cut two of my fingers off with a chef knife.

Losing consciousness is terrifying. As much as I love the ocean, I can’t stand swimming in it, especially when I have to stare down into the seemingly bottomless abyss. As my friends hastily carried my limp body outside, my mind struggled to stay afloat, but my attempts to tread water were futile. As much as I thrashed, I really had no control over the waves. They would wash over me, envelop me, and the frantic soundtrack playing in the background would grow disturbingly silent, save some muffled voices. The world would turn eerily dim. No goggles.

Is this what it feels like to die?

 

The hospital visit was one of the best workouts of my life. One of the first questions the nurse inquired of me was this: “Intentional or unintentional?”

What the hell..?

“Unintentional”, I responded.

I think my grip strength is getting pretty good by now. The best types of exercise involve not only all of your body, but all of your mind and soul. So much of it is a game that is played mentally. How much can you take? Where do your limits lie and do you have the strength and willpower to trespass them?

Fighting pain is exhausting.

One of the most memorable highlights in our workout routine was when my doctor shot anesthetics into my finger. As soon as the word “stitches” was mentioned, I entered an episode of internal frenzy. Mental game level up. Boss level. I could hardly stutter through the pain but in my mind, I frantically demanded, Just give me the damn anesthetics.

Getting the anesthetics into my finger was ironically the most painful part of the process but the payoff was well worth it. Man. The things you do and say when you’re in pain amaze me. When you’re hurting that much, the mere absence of pain can feel like pleasure. Yet my body did not receive even that degree of relief. I was still very much in pain but it felt like euphoria and I was content with it. It strikes me how when one is in agony, he will settle for lesser agony, rather than actual healing.

But what happens when the anesthetic begins to fade away? Apart from passing out, feeling the painkillers wear off was one of the most fear-inducing moments of the day. Wait. Can you give me more? I’m not ready to go back there.

It has been a rough week, being limited in my activity and having the rhythm of my life forcibly hindered behind everyone else’s. But when I come to think about it, it wasn’t all that bad. At least I didn’t have to think about all of the heavy pain weighing on my heart from the previous week. I only had so much energy and mental capacity and I spent all of it on my lacerated fingers. I didn’t have enough space to even think about other scars.

I think I understand why people cut themselves now. It distracts them from deeper pains, the pains of the heart. And I can now attest, it is surprisingly effective. In fact, it works like magic. (Great. Now my heart is breaking for more people.) Sometimes, the emotional suffering is so unimaginable that it only makes sense for someone to resort to physical self-harm. Sometimes, the pain is so unbearable that the greatest anesthetic to pain, it would seem, is pain itself.

But alas, like all anesthetics, pain inevitably subsides and wears off. And the scars of the body usually heal faster than the scars of the soul. My stitches get removed this upcoming week. Panic. Internal frenzy. Doctor, I need more anesthetics. Please. Can you give me more? I’m not ready to go back there. I can already feel the sting of my deeper wounds slowly creeping back. Oh God. I’m scared. What do I do? Need I apply more anesthetics?

 

Fight fire with fire.

the art of good news

Why is it that when I am exposed and surrounded by nature, I feel an urge to write?

There is this phenomenon that occurs in the world of artists. When one painter indulges in the works of another, the painter feels an urge to return to his paintbrush. When a musician listens to another’s compositions, the melodies and rhythms of an un-birthed song are already playing in her imagination. When a dancer sees someone sway and move to the beat of the song, he can’t help but to join in.

Inspiration.

Beauty begets more beauty. Inspiration inspires more inspiration.

When I am in nature, I’m surrounded by God’s artwork.  A walk on a trail becomes a tour through a holy art gallery. A good art gallery takes multiple visits to appreciate fully. With so many pieces on display, I sometimes miss a few on the first visit or I fail to see the full beauty of each piece.

God, the unrivaled Artist, has an infinite collection of art galleries, each of them constantly shifting and in perpetual change, like the waves of the ocean or the clouds of the sky. Like the family of deer stenciling footprints into the snowy winter canvas. Like the twinkling “star-covered tapestry plastered on a clear night sky”. Like black holes distorting time, matter, and even our perception of reality itself. Like the birth of galaxies that we cannot see until they start to die.

There is simply too much beauty. When I am in nature, I not only feel inspired, but compelled to write. I need to create art.

God made it such that good art not only inspires, but demands a response.

Is that not the gospel?

Is not the gospel God’s finest art piece?

 

“Good art doesn’t give answers. Good art asks questions.”

the Kid, pt. 1

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

There is this phenomenon studied in Community Psychology known as the “expert mentality”. An expert figure administers what he believes is professional help to a recipient based off of what the expert perceives as the recipient’s needs and deficits. But in doing so, the expert unintentionally creates more deficits that necessitate more “professional help”. The expert consequentially responds to the newly created needs by prescribing another treatment, which would only give rise to yet another deficit, requiring another treatment. A detrimental, crippling cycle is inadvertently manufactured in an attempt to provide help.

Think of a doctor who attempts to cure his patient’s disease by prescribing a medicine. The patient faithfully takes his pill daily but the pill produces some deleterious side effects. So what does he do? He goes back to the doctor, of course. Aha, the doctor knows exactly what to do: prescribe him a new pill to take care of the first pill’s side effects. The patient diligently takes both pills but to his surprise, this new pill spawns its own side effects. So the doctor prescribes yet another pill (with more side effects!) to treat the second pill’s side effects. You get the idea.

In an attempt to address the patient’s deficits, the professional creates new ones, further harming the patient and digging him deeper into a well of cyclical dependency. In the end, the solution to the problem the medication was made to solve is to get rid of the medication itself.

We see this all the time in social work and non-profit attempts to aid underprivileged communities. “Professional”, college degree-brandishing outsiders come into these communities and start implementing programs (often without the people’s consent/cooperation) that they believe will be the solution to the community’s problems.

We, psychologists, have this strange obsession of pathologizing everything, especially things we see as deviant. We have a keen awareness of people’s life problems and we subconsciously start diagnosing their ish, even if we don’t know them too well. (Guilty). And as with individuals, we do same with communities. But there is something fundamentally wrong and unhelpful in our thinking. The problem is that we are viewing people by their deficits and needs, rather than their strengths and assets. Why is it that we let people’s deficits be more definitive of who they are than their strengths?

To take it a step deeper, the lenses by which we view their deficits are easily susceptible to cultural, gender, and worldview biases. For all we know, what we think are “needs” in other communities may not actually be real problems. Often times, these communities don’t actually think they need our help. Go figure.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”.

Any community psychologist knows that the ultimate goal is empowerment. But we will never empower individuals and communities if we see them by their deficits. When we see them by their deficits and interact with them as such, we instill a debilitating belief in them that there’s something wrong with them. And the potent self-fulfilling prophecy does the rest.

God has long been at work remodeling my heart to love the socially-marginalized but I’ve always thought that I have a special place in my heart for that inner-city kid who struggles with school. The ex-gang member teenager. The father living on the street. As I digested these new concepts in my Community Psychology class last semester, I felt a deep sense of compassion for those who felt identified by their weaknesses rather than by who they fully were. And even more so for those who weren’t aware that this was happening to them.

For some reason, this time was different. I didn’t just feel sorry for them. It was a profound feeling of identification, as if I was sharing in their suffering. It didn’t take long for God to reveal to me the reason for my empathy: “That’s you, Justin”. This struggle I was discovering in underprivileged communities was a struggle I had already gone through. I felt for the inner-city kid because we had matching scars.

How could one from a stereotypical Asian-American, middle class suburb relate to the good Kid of the Maad City? I wrote an article titled “Memoirs of a Racially Confused Blogger” in my latter years of high school (roughly four years ago). Crawling out of a turbulent year of academic failure, my disillusioned self released a 3,000+ word, messy tirade on my scarring experience of Asian culture. I recently revisited this piece and thought about editing it to make it more cohesive but decided against it; I was angry and wounded and this rant captured my raw emotions while they were still fresh. I did not plan it but this article became my unofficial self-declaration of divorce from my own culture and people.

Rant TL;DR – I was not Asian enough. I was left to navigate the brutally competitive, cut-throat environment of highly-comparative hyper-Asians and everything in my environment was affirming my non-Asian-ness. Everything and everyone was a constant reminder that I was not enough.

For as long as I can remember, I have always had trouble reading.  I still have vivid memories of my mom dedicating extra time to me to help me read quicker and more efficiently. I have a particular way of learning that is slower than others. But all the attention was given to the slowness. From the third grade until my senior year in high school, my parents sent me to more tutors and after-school programs than I can remember. To be quite frank, it made me feel like shit.

 I was confused. “Why didn’t my friends have tutors? How come my siblings don’t have to go to this after-school program? Why aren’t they coming with me this time? (Why are you spending so much money on me?)” As I grew older, I began to catch on. I’m the problem child of the family. They were trying to fix me.

After years of tutoring, I can say with confidence that I learned nothing. Four years later and I don’t remember the Pre-Calculus. I don’t remember the SAT grammar rules. What I do remember is the insecurity and the pain of knowing that I was not good enough. In my parents’ attempt to “educate” me, my years of being tutored have only taught me one lesson: that there is something wrong with me.

Such is the nature of institutionalization. When a child grows up in a reality in which everything in his environment is reinforcing the fact that there’s something wrong with him, he will start to believe it. When someone’s neighborhood is saturated with outsider organizations (non-profits) attempting to “fix” his people/community, a great debilitating work is done on the soul. Good intentions are not enough.

Once it dawned on me that people were trying to fix me, the seed of bitterness was sown. Am I not enough for you? Do you not want me? Fine. I don’t need you. I’m done being your slave. And in one final act of defiance, my soul beat its chest and gave a last “fuck you” as it raised the double middle-finger to my own culture and people, once and for all.

I am unashamedly ashamed to be Asian American.

Yes, God has got a lot of work to do with me. I know. Save the rebuking comments. I’ve got quite a distance to cover before my heart learns how to forgive my culture. Jesus calls us into multiethnic community but He doesn’t call us to forsake our own culture in the process. Our pursuit towards multiethnic community cannot be an escape from our own personal cultural identities. But I’m currently in a place where I just don’t want to own my cultural identity because of how much pain it has caused me. I want to escape.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that Jesus brought me outside of my suburban hometown and exposed me to the inner city in such a time as this (college) so that the good Kid of the Maad City could show me that his scars were much like mine. I needed the Kid. I had to enter his story and decipher his struggle if I was to understand my own pain. God created us such that we, an unlikely duo, would live a symbiotic relationship with one another. The Kid and I must depend on each other to see God’s redemption in our identities and in our Maad Cities.

Who would have thought that our stories could be so intertwined?

“We cannot view them as deficits.

Rather than seeing them for what they don’t have, we must see them for what they do have, for what they are capable of.

They are not deficits. They have assets and strengths. They are valuable.

They may be broke, but they are not broken down.

After trying to find the solution to the community’s needs, we completely miss the solution that is right in front of us: the people themselves.” 

–excerpted from my Community Psychology lecture notes [October 8th, 2015]

Update 1/6/2017 – This is part one of the Kid, a series recounting my story as an ethnically-confused (and slightly jaded) 2nd-generation Asian American. After much soul surgery, bloodshed, and cussing at the gods, I wrote a sequel 10 months later. You can continue the story here: the Kid, pt. 2.

Dear Justin

Here are some reflections that I have of this past Fall Semester as a leader on InterVarsity at Cal State Long Beach, written as a letter to my future self. I had some fun with it. Hope you enjoy!

Dear Justin,

Do you ever have moments when you learn something from Jesus and not too long after, you learn the same/similar lesson in one of your classes? Of course you do. You’re me, haha. Sometimes, it’s vice versa but you get the idea. I took Community Psychology this semester and this actually happened pretty frequently. Probably my favorite class I’ve ever taken in college and probably for this reason, too.

One of the first lessons I learned in that class became so core and fundamental to my thinking that you’re probably still thinking about it as you read this letter in my distant future and your present. On the first day of class, I learned that the way that we ask questions frames how we see the world. Therefore, we must carefully discern how we ask questions if we are to understand ourselves, other people, and the world in the most holistic way possible.

The secret to the Kingdom of God is to pursue Jesus by asking questions. So we must therefore be vigilant in examining the way by which we question, lest we miss Jesus, or see Him through the wrong lens. I’m not sure which one’s worse. It’s not only avoiding seeing Him the wrong way, but seeing Him for who He truly is. If so much of following Jesus is the discovery of His character and His truth, we have to question how we question, for how we question is how we intake and digest truth.

The secret to the Kingdom isn’t a one-time prize that you receive when you decide to follow Jesus. It is a process of learning, a state of mind that must be sharpened constantly, a heart posture that needs continual refinement. It takes practice.

Perhaps the most helpful question we can ask ourselves is this: “Am I asking the right questions?”

This semester, I asked the wrong questions. Out of the brokenness of my heart, I warped the image of God. It’s interesting how when you ask the wrong questions, you can make Jesus disappear. The Light of the World can grow strangely dim.

And yet, I blamed God for this. Is He really the Good Shepherd? What kind of shepherd leads His sheep to a valley of over-demanding stress and turmoil? What happened to green pastures and still waters? I thought the yoke was supposed to be easy. I knew I shouldn’t have signed up for this.

It took the voice of community and the grace of God to rescue me from my blindness. And only one question would suffice to lead me to the right ones.”Are you asking the right questions?” I realized that it wasn’t that Jesus was disappearing or that Jesus was a bad shepherd (oh. yeah.), but rather, there was a problem with the lens that I was viewing Him with.

Jesus was still the Good Shepherd. He never stopped being the Good Shepherd. It was my vision that was faded, not His goodness.

As I saw Jesus more clearly, truth could sink deeper into the soil of my heart. And with truth came conviction.

“This semester was a demanding one, but was it really other people making those demands? Or was it you? It definitely wasn’t me. You were trying to give it your all AND some. You were trying to give your 150 percent. I never asked for more than 100. Indeed the yoke is easy but you’re just adding more weight to it.

Stop living like you know how to do it better than I can. I can live your life better than you can yourself. You need to let go of all the expectations you placed on yourself. Let go of control. It was never your’s to begin with.

You need to learn how to ask for help. How can you speak of raising new leaders and empowering people if you’re so afraid to delegate the ministry to the people you’re discipling? I think you’re scared that they’ll make mistakes. That they’ll fall. Well I knew that YOU were going to make mistakes but that didn’t stop me from calling you into mission, right?

Justin, I took you through this turbulent semester, not so that I could punish you, but so that I could reveal the areas that I needed to heal you. I wanted to stretch your faith and invite you to deeper trust.

I miss you, Justin. I miss it when you could see me more clearly. I could have just left it that way but I love you too much for that. I knew that although you could see me clearly, your vision could still be sharpened. And I was willing to do that for you, even if that meant leading you somewhere where you couldn’t see me for a while. You don’t know how much that pained me.

Justin, you need to learn to trust me more or this will have been all for naught. I implore you. Come and take the freedom and vision that is already your’s. Come and follow me.”

oh.

dammit.

I’m so sorry, Jesus.

 

Have you ever done something that was good while it lasted but you would never choose to do it again? Of course you do. You’re me, haha. Well, this semester was one of those times. Jesus’ healing is good but it’s also kinda painful.

So. future Justin, don’t screw this up, okay? I don’t want to have to go through this again. Thanks.

By the way, Jesus is proud of you.

 

To infinity and beyond,

Justin (as of December 19, 2015)

the inclusio of scripture

[here’s a little article that’s dedicated to the bible-lovers]

inclusio – a device in literature where a section of text is bracketed off.  the story is placed within a frame, so that it begins and ends the same way.  like a sandwich.  inclusios are everywhere, in books, music, movies, you name it.  we often overlook them the first time we read, listen, watch them, but when we look back, we realize that they’re there and it’s quite mindblowing sometimes.

in onerepublic’s most famous song “apologize”, ryan tedder begins and ends the song the same way, with the words “i’m holding on your rope, got me ten feet off the ground”.  inclusio.  jason mraz both opens and closes “the sunshine song” with “if there’s a light in everybody, send out your ray of sunshine” [excellent song, btw].  inclusio.

in movies, they’re not as prevalent but there still are some out there, such as mission impossible iii.  in the opening scene, ethan hunt is strapped to a chair and watches in agony as the heartless antagonist owen davian counts down to the second he pulls the trigger of the gun pointed at hunt’s wife’s head.  turns out it was a flash.. forward? and the audience does not get to see davian finish counting.  2 hours of intense, spy action sequences later, we revisit the interrogation scene once again, only this time, davian finishes counting as a desperate ethan hunt attempts to negotiate with him.  inclusio.  in forrest gump, both the opening and closing scene show forrest gump [and forrest jr] waiting at the bus stop in greenbow, alabama as a white feather is carried by the breeze into the sky.  inclusio.

i find it weird that i enjoy writing blogs and whatnot but i’m a terrible reader.  i don’t read too much but anyone who knows me well would know that my favorite book of all time is the bible.  just about a month ago, i’ve been made aware that even the bible, the living word of god, has inclusios in it.  if you look in the gospel of mark, there is a very subtle inclusio hidden in chapters 1 and 15.

in chapter 1, we witness the baptism of Jesus [by John] in the Jordan River.  pretty epic moment.  in chapter 15, we witness the death of the messiah as he breathes his last on the cross.  overwhelmingly epic moment.  though baptism and death are two concepts that one would most likely find contrasting to one another, these are the two elements that make up the big juicy sandwich of the “gospel inclusio”.  but how, justin?  how do the baptism and death Jesus make up an inclusio if they’re not even the same thing?  you be trippin, man!  well, let’s take a look at scripture.

1. “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”    -Mark 1:9-11

here is the scene when Jesus gets baptized.  what observations can we make?  Jesus was getting dunked in the river and as he rose from the water, the heavens opened.  i’d like to say i have a vast and vivid imagination but the imagery in here is simply unfathomable.  i try to picture some large crevice splitting open and creating a divide that breaks some invisible, metaphysical boundary between heaven and earth.  and wind.  lots and lots of gushing, loud wind.  then, the holy spirit makes its way down from the other side of this momentarily fractured barrier and the voice of God thunders from it: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”   holy cheeseballs.

2. “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”    -Mark 15:37-39

fast forward 15 chapters.  Jesus dies.  what observations can we make?  as Jesus let out one last sigh, the curtain of the temple tore completely, from top to bottom.  so what temple is mark talking about anyways?  in case you didn’t know, it was the temple of Jerusalem [Herod’s temple, if i am not mistaken] and inside this holy temple, animal sacrifices were made as well as worship according to the Law of Moses.  there was also a room called the Holy of Holies, in which the presence of God resided.  it also contained the Ark of the Covenant [yes, the one in indiana jones].  this place was so sacred that no one could enter into this inner sanctuary except the High Priest once a year to make atonement for the people’s sins.  this room was separated from the rest of the temple by a curtain.  and this wasn’t just any old window curtain that you put on for decoration.  it was a 4-inch thick curtain with such strength that even horses tied to each side could not pull apart.  oh yeah, it was also 60 feet tall.  pretty buff curtain.  but not buff enough.  when this curtain tore in half, even the Roman centurion instantly knew that Jesus was certainly the son of God and he was so sure about it that he felt like he had to say it out loud.  holy cheeseballs.

okay, now it’s time to connect the dots.

EXHIBIT A

in mark chapter 1, jesus was baptized by water.  while one may think that this is just something that all believers must do as a public profession of their faith and acceptance of God as their heavenly Father, baptism also has another meaning.  “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” [Romans 6:3-4]  baptism, in essence, means death.  so what was Jesus up to at the end of Mark?  oh yeah, dying.  bingo.

EXHIBIT B

after Jesus’ baptism, the heavens OPENED!  after Jesus’ death, the curtain OPENED!  well..  tore in half.  if you haven’t already got it, the curtain wasn’t just an extraordinarily buff curtain, it was a symbolic representation of the separation of God and Man.  separation of the Holiest of Holies and the rest of the temple.  of sinless and sinful.  of light and darkness.  of the heavens and earth.  when Jesus died for our sins, the impenetrable barrier between us and God was shattered.  bingo.

EXHIBIT C

after the heavens opened, we hear a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” [Mark 1:11]  this is the voice of God, and He is proclaiming that Jesus is His beloved Son.  after the curtain ripped open, we hear a voice from a bystander: “Surely this man is the Son of God!” [Mark 15:39]  this is the voice of a Roman centurion, and he is proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God.  bingo.

i don’t know about you but when i first realized all of this, i was completely mindblown.  the entire gospel story of Jesus Christ, wrapped in a big, delicious sandwich.  wickedly cool.  personally, this revelation served as a reminder of just how amazing God’s Word is.  the bible is a truly remarkable book and i think we all ought to spend more time reading it.  trust me, it will change lives.  and lastly, i would like to give a big shout-out and thank you to the fantastic mr. jimmy l., who did such a phenomenal job at sharing God’s truth with me and the other highschoolers at ev.  personally, this was one of the most memorable bible lessons i’ve ever been taught in my entire life.

PRAYER:  heavenly father, thank you for your word.  thank you for this amazing book of life, because through it, we may grow spiritually and learn more about you.  thank you for God-breathed scripture, for it is useful in teaching, rebuking, correcting and training others in righteousness.  it is your truth that we cling on to and it is our double-edged sword.  thank you for revealing yourself in it so that we may see a glimpse of just how great you are.  Lord, please help me grow a desire and eagerness in reading your word.  move my heart and let me have an inclination to hear your truths each and every day of my life.  God, I want to grow in you.  i want to know you more and i want to love you even more than i already do.  help me become a better son.  as always, i am eternally grateful for your gift of love and i will forever praise you.  and it’s in your Son’s most precious name that I pray,  amen.