กล้า – the kid, pt. 3

“He looked up and with his dying breath, he asked, ‘Is this what it feels like to love?'”

I was a different man when we first met.

It fascinates me, the things you do when you’re in pain. The thoughts you think, the things you feel, the person you become. For me, I turned into a monster. Why did you have to do that to me? If you didn’t, you might not have had to see my worst side.

I was a different man. But so were you.

The man you met was never enough for you. Not just never enough, but shameful. Unwanted. Mai Ow.

I still remember your charcoal-tinted hands you used to wave me off in dismissal after failing your persistent pop quizzes of patience. I remember the missing finger you used to point at me in disgust, as if I was one of the cat-piss stains you never bothered to clean up. Or your blackened palms, still soiled from the previous day. Some stains don’t wash off, I suppose.

I remember your cloudy eyes, that icy-cold glare you cast on me whenever I made a mistake. Eyes that saw me as a useless screw-up, a lost cause. Eyes that could only see my ugliness. You were a cripple but in your eyes, I was below you. Even as we parted ways, your cloudy eyes followed me still.

After a while, I stopped asking “What did I do wrong?” and started asking “What was wrong with me?”. I figured that you asked that same question yourself.

In my storybook, I called you my long-lost childhood oppressor, my forgotten persecutor.

And so we met again.

The Trek never ended for me. The demons followed me home.

It was easy to blend in with the locals because I could pass off as Thai but I didn’t have to look very deep to know that I did not belong here. I became hyperaware of the fact that I was an outsider.

Then I came “home”.
But as soon as I got back, I immediately noticed something felt wrong. Dangerously wrong. An unsettling, slow-burning frenzy was simmering inside me.

I thought it was all over but I realized that even as I returned to my family and loved ones, I still felt like a stranger. A foreigner to my own people. Blending in, yet out of place.

Even as I arrived in my native land, I still felt like a farang. Lost. Looking for directions.

So I ran away. A lot.

I skipped class, I skipped meals… I skipped a lot of things in life. I escaped to faraway cities and mirages of home. I ran to relationships and people, illusions of love, only to run the opposite direction. I ran to my memories, even memories of you. At least that pain was familiar.

I ran away from my best friends because I could not confront the prospect that even in a place I called home, I did not belong.

Maybe you were right. Maybe I don’t belong anywhere because I’m a mistake in this world anyways. A stain.

Maybe I’ll always be a farang.

Why didn’t I just leave?

When the centipede mauled my leg and sent me hobbling to the hospital, why didn’t I leave? That was my chance to bail, the most compelling reason I could present to my leaders.

I thought about that as the nurses injected dose after dose of anesthetics into my leg in the emergency room.

This is my opportunity. I could quietly exit from your life before you kicked me out yourself. I could leave before I saw the person you could become. But I didn’t.

Was it really worth it?

I asked that every time I felt a piece of myself die. When you hounded me continuously with your scathing mockery, I asked myself, was it really worth it? When you compared me to Geng, I asked myself, was it really worth it?

When you robbed me of my dignity,
When you called me stupid,
When you kicked me out of your house,
When debilitating bouts of depression highjacked my life,
When I picked up the phone to call in for professional help,
When I would shake in my bed because the loneliness kept me up at night,
When I fantasized about buying a pocketknife because my roommates’ scissors were not sharp enough,

I asked myself, was it really worth it?

I remember writing in my journal, “Is this what it feels like to die?”

I did not know how to live anymore. I had nothing.

After a while, I stopped praying for you. God tells us to pray for our persecutors but that sort of prayer escaped my understanding. It hurt too much and I had enough blood to clean up, so I stopped doing it.

I’m a different man now than when we first met.

I became a stranger, even to myself. I wonder if you would have even recognized me.

I’ve been through so much. I came back from Thailand with my heart shattered and it has been a patient, arduous process of picking up the shards. Sometimes, I’d accidentally cut myself, drop a couple pieces, and start over again. Jesus is helping me piece everything back together but it’s like building a house of cards. One wrong move.

After a while, we started to get the hang of it. I became more and more comfortable with the person I was becoming. Even if it missed some pieces from the person before all this.

Months passed and life gradually became more livable.

Waking up in the morning became more of the thing I actually wanted to do.

Those were some of the darkest times of my life but despite all that, I met the slow-moving God.

And she was beautiful.

Last week, I prayed for you for the first time in months.

I was sitting in a coffeeshop, my mind adrift in a state of caffeinated rumination. I started journaling about my loneliness, giving language to some of the painful thoughts that still echoed in my mind every now and then.

“I am alone.
I am too slow. People have left me behind. Abandoned me.”

I paused.

Then added, “– said an elderly, yet childish Thai man living in Bang Na.

I paused again.

“Oh look. We have matching scars. Who would have ever thought.”

And just like that, you made your rudely unwelcome cameo back into my life.

What are you doing here?

I felt my heart pick up its pace. And it was not the caffeine.

Months ago, I purposefully removed our group picture from my desktop slideshow but this was no photographic memory to forget. Mental images flooded my thought space like pop-up spam.

But something was… off-center.

You didn’t look the same.

I saw your charcoal-tinted hands.
Hardened from years of playing with fire and getting burned. Your missing finger, still itching you as if a cruel joke from the gods to remind you of the people who are now nothing but phantom limbs in your life. I saw your stained hands, dressed with thickened skin as calloused as your heart.

I wondered how much pain it took to kill a nerve.

I saw your cloudy eyes.
The bags under your eyes drooped, tired from the cold, sleepless nights. Cold, from the vacant spot left next to you in your bed. Cold, from the vacant space in your soul carved out by the woman who left you. No degree of tropical heat could remove the chill that made your heart shiver each night.

I wondered which kept you up at night more, the sleep apnea or the loneliness.

I saw your hunched-over posture, carefully balanced over disabled, crossed legs. I thought about the distance I’ve covered trying to escape life and how stuck you must feel. I thought about how even as one is crippled, his heart can run so far.

It gently nudged me, in the moment, the reason why I didn’t leave you, even when I could. Because enough people had left you already. Because you had seen far more untimely goodbyes than any human heart should ever see. So I stayed, even if that meant giving you the upper-hand to disown me when the end came.

I wanted you to meet the slow-moving God that I met in your home country who waited for me. I wanted you to know that there’s someone out there who will never leave you behind.

You didn’t change. My vision did.
I didn’t see a different man, I saw a man differently.

I saw a man who pulled people in because he wanted them so desperately, but pushed them away when he needed them the most. A man who asked for visitors to keep him company and numb the loneliness for a brief summer, only to abuse them. A man who being a farang in his own home was his reality.

I didn’t just see a man who hurt, but a hurt man.

I’m a different man now than when we first met.

Because you changed me.

I’m the man you were supposed to meet in the summer, the man who loves you.

I know you will never hear me say this but,
I forgive you, Daa.

This is the conversation I wish we could have had before we said goodbye.

Six months and twelve days after I leave Thailand, I can finally say that the Trek is over. The last order of unfinished business.

I can see gold streaks tracing my scars.

I can see that all this time, God had been performing the art of kintsugi on my soul.

So to the man who ruined my life,
to the man who murdered the Kid,

It’s okay.

Mai Bpen Rai.

Phra Chao Way Pon,
กล้า

“Forgiveness is like a dying man breathing his last and finding the face of God.”

Read the Kid, part one and part two.

stone the prophet

God uses those whom we hate the most to teach us how to love.

 

Who do you think has nothing to teach you about God?
Drug addicts? Prostitutes? Atheists? Dear God, the Liberals? Your own family? Baby Christians?

It is no surprise that Jesus used a poor, Samaritan, promiscuous woman to teach his ethnically-prideful posse of Jewish men how to be a missionary. It is no surprise that the Spirit sent Peter into the hands of his Roman oppressor to show him that even his oppressors were invited into the Kingdom. It is no surprise that God sent Jonah to the city of Nineveh, for the Ninevites, of all people, had something to teach him about the depth of God’s heart.

He could have used a witty parable but he didn’t. He could have invited a critically-acclaimed megachurch pastor with a riveting sermon and fancy powerpoint slides. But he didn’t.

 

They’ve stripped me of my dignity. Beaten, broken, and marred. They disowned me so I responded in kind. I ran and ran. Not looking back. I can’t. But I was eaten alive. I crawled upon the shores of which the sands were all too familiar. You’re meaning to tell me that I am to learn from the one who dealt me my deepest scars? What could he possibly teach me?

 

If we follow Jesus, we must pass the mic to those we assume have nothing to teach us about Him. To those whom we refuse to believe have the authority to do so. To those whom we have learned to tune out. We need to give them permission to speak truth into our hearts. We need to believe that they have just as much Jesus to offer us as our beloved, hip youth pastors.

Where is your Samaria? Where is your Nineveh? Whom have you forgotten how to love? Go. Go to them, for that is our mission.

 

“The delivery of the message must be as good as the message itself.”

#gettrekt16 – “why you came?” (entry 4)

On good days when our Daa finds himself in a good enough mood, he will crack jokes with us, teach us some Thai words, and practice his choppy English vocabulary. On one of these seldom days, he kept saying this one phrase over and over, “Why you came!” Michael and I looked at each other and laughed. We’re still trying to figure that one out, my friend. We’ll get back to you on that one.

 

If God is all powerful, why does He call us into Mission? Clearly, He can just do it all Himself. If He wanted to, He can bring the Kingdom of God to the earth, fulfill the Great Commission, and it would be a cakewalk. So why would He call us, messy human beings, to do His work when He is perfectly capable of doing it Himself? That doesn’t sound very efficient to me. Is God really perfect?

The trek is quickly coming to a close and it’s about that time that we start taking inventory of the things that God has done and is continuing to do. If the trek were to end tomorrow, what can we point to and give God glory for? What testimonies will we hold onto and savor in the years to come? What convictions and lessons will we carry home?

Here at the Ruth Center, God has shoved us beyond the limits that we defined for ourselves and taken us to places we would have never dreamed of going on our own. He has shown us what His cup of suffering really tastes like. He has taught us how to love those we have forgotten how to love, even ourselves. I personally received deep inner healing last week when my team dedicated a couple of hours of their afternoons to pray for me.

But wait a minute. What about the things that changed in Thailand? What about the difference that we made in the peoples’ lives here? As we reflect, we are forced to wrestle with a realization that may be startling to some. It seems like Jesus was doing a lot more work in our lives than the lives of our hosts. As far as I can tell, we spent a lot more time dealing with my long-forgotten childhood trauma than that of the Thai people. What’s up with that? Jesus, what exactly did I sign up for?

As difficult as it is to admit to ourselves and our church friends, Bangkok isn’t going to go through that much transformation by the time we leave. If we are being truly honest with ourselves, we didn’t change Thailand that much. What am I to say to my friends at my InterVarsity chapter when I come home? What am I supposed to tell all those people who donated so that I could afford this trip?

It is a scary place to be, when we are no longer able to hide behind our accomplishments or a nicely-packaged testimony. But that is exactly where Jesus wants us. Because it threatens our source of self-worth when we live and breathe a culture that has idolized achievement and success like golden calves. Because we can no longer shield ourselves behind the damaging notion that the poor need us as much as we would like to believe. Because it is in this place of vulnerability and nakedness that we are forced to face who we truly are.

When God called me to commit to a short-term mission trip this summer, He was not inviting me to change Thailand. He was inviting me to confront the brokenness of my own heart. Is the North American evangelical church ready to face such a scandalous truth that they are just as broken as the third-world countries they so fervently claim they are called to serve? It is easy, even comforting, to point out depravity when we walk the Red Light Districts of Thailand but are we willing to let Jesus walk through the depravity of our own souls? Are we willing to let our consciences be disturbed when Jesus reveals to us that the sin we see in the consumers of the sex trade is the same sin that plagues our own hearts?

That is what Jesus is doing in my life and I firmly believe that is why He asked me to drop all my plans and travel halfway around the world this summer. Yes, to see the messiness of sin in Thailand, but more so, to see the messiness of sin in my life.

Jesus doesn’t need us to complete the Mission. We need the Mission for Jesus to complete us. Because it is in the Mission that we find not only the healing of the nations, but also the healing of our hearts. It is in His perfection that He calls the imperfect to do His perfect will, thereby perfecting them.

 

Why you came?” Whether out of genuine curiosity or just to give us some laughter, Daa poses a serious question that has haunted us the whole summer.

Maybe it’s not so much about us missionaries bringing change to Thailand. Perhaps we’ve forgotten that Jesus is already doing that, with or without us. Maybe we’ve romanticized the short-term mission trip so much in the church that we’ve forgotten that Jesus is on a mission after our hearts. Maybe we’ve obsessed over the idea that “the poor need us” and lost sight of the reality that we are just as in need of Jesus as they are. Maybe our stories of redemption are actually intertwined and we’re just in it for the ride. Together. Maybe that’s all Mission really is. Not the rich saving the poor, not the missionary changing the world, not even the churched converting the pagans. Because to both the Rich Men and Lazarus’ of the world, Jesus is the true Savior, the true bringer of change, and to our greatest surprise, our true reconciler. So maybe Mission is just Jesus’ invitation for us to learn something we’ve forgotten how to do with Lazarus: to share a relationship together.

 

#gettrekt16

#gettrekt16 – dying incarnationally (entry 3)

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.”  –Mark 8:34

Ever since Michael and I arrived on-site at Daa’s household, we have been gradually compiling a list of “deal-breakers” that would send us home immediately. It was a fool’s errand. Every time we added something to the list, we would unexpectedly find ourselves doing that very thing we promised ourselves we would never do, only a couple days later.

On the fourth day, I told myself that if I fell into the trash-filled black swamp water of the slums, I would quit. Send me home, Lord. Within a few days, I fell in. Two days later, Daa told Michael to climb into the trash dump to fetch firewood. There have been nights when we’ve woken up 5+ times to unload diarrhea because of food poisoning. Other nights, we’ve been rudely awakened by monster cockroaches inside our mosquito net and we had to beat them to death with our water bottles. Just a few nights ago, I woke up with 48 mosquito bites on my right arm alone. The list goes on. I’ll leave you to your imagination.

In essence, we were creating boundaries for where we were willing to go and every time we drew the line, Jesus would take us there to cross it. He tends to do that a lot. It’s pretty annoying.

One thing I can be sure of now is that following Jesus into a ministry of Incarnation is much harder than I anticipated. Scott Bessenecker was right in saying in his book (The New Friars) that the Incarnation is not merely a one-time decision that we make when we fill out the online application to the Global Urban Trek. We must choose into the Incarnation daily. And that is no easy task.

I often laugh to myself whenever my friends and family ask me what I’m doing in Bangkok this summer because, quite frankly, I still don’t know the answer to that question. I know Jesus has called me here but as to why He has called me, I am wrestling with that question even as I write this article. It doesn’t help that all we are doing is taking care of grandmas and grandpas and getting harassed by tropical insects all day. In times of stress, exhaustion, physical and emotional pain, I get especially impatient with God and I want to shortcut the process of finding answers.

The past week has been particularly strenuous on both my body and my soul and in the midst of the pain, the Holy Spirit has illuminated some profound truths to me. Sure, our site (Ruth Center) may not have a program or “agenda”, per se, but our mission is to learn how to love our Daa and Yaay’s (grandpas and grandmas), as aforementioned in the previous post. Other sites may have more intense programs, such as dealing with victims of trafficking, but our site has one of the most difficult living situations by far. But I think that’s the point. Our living situation IS the program.

If love is the mission, then living with Daa is our ministry. It is the vehicle with which we must learn to navigate in order to embrace the Mission. Just as Jesus incarnated and dwelled among His people as an outward expression of His love, we live and dwell with Daa to communicate Jesus’ love to him and to make Jesus’ love our own.

It has dawned on me this past week that in order to choose the Incarnation and live with the people, I must first die to myself. That is why it is so hard to live with Daa. To choose into living the life of Jesus is to also choose into the death of myself.

Since coming on the Trek, there have been many opportunities for me and my team to “check out” and mentally quit the Mission. Needless to say, the temptation only intensifies in moments when Michael and I check off items on our deal-breaker list. But those moments are not just opportunities to quit. They are opportunities to let those parts of ourselves die for the sake of continuing the Mission of Jesus. To let our love of comfort die when we are getting eaten alive by mosquitos in the shower. To let our need for other people die when no one visits our Daa. To let my need for verbal affirmation die when all I hear is rebuke and disapproval. To let go of the reality that I’m probably not going to leave behind a tangible legacy when I leave Bangkok. To let my accomplishment-driven, task-focused ministry paradigm die when I realize that I won’t be able to measure the impact that I made in someone else’s life because that’s not the point. Opportunities like this come on the daily and each time they come, we have to ask ourselves: will I choose my own life or will I choose to die to it? Will I choose the Incarnation? Will I choose Jesus?

 

I think I may have found the Way of the Cross. The road marked with suffering. I don’t quite see Jesus yet but at the very least, I think I found footprints.

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds… Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, my servant also will be.”  –Jesus [John 12:24,26]

 

#gettrekt16

#gettrekt16 – the mission (entry 2)

When Jesus walked the earth, He didn’t teach His disciples how to lead a bible study. Nor did He teach them how to convert people. Jesus didn’t send His students to seminary or to ministry-training conferences. No. His heart was set on far more important things. When Jesus walked the earth, He taught His disciples how to love.

Love is the mission.

 

Today marks the 10th official day that the Global Urban Trek of Thailand has been on site (post-orientation). Each of the four teams have a unique opportunity to learn from and partner with organizations that are trying to figure out how to bring the Kingdom of God to some of the most marginalized populations in the world, such as victims of human trafficking, modern-day lepers, and refugees. For decades, these “ministry veterans” have been pouring out their lives in sacrifice to ensure that love and justice are delivered to those the world has deemed unworthy of it.

My team (of 4) and I have the privilege of partnering with the Ruth Center, an 8-year old ministry that is working to address the issue of the large elderly population that has been literally cast aside by society. Many of these elderly have been abandoned, ignored, and forgotten because of relational crises, financial problems, etc. and are left to live on their own.

This summer, Michael, Janet, Victoria, and I will be taking care of some grandmas and grandpas. We will be making sure their daily needs are met and building a relationship with them. We will be grocery shopping with them, doing laundry with them, watching dramas with them, and the like. Yes, I know, it’s not the most glamorous testimony, but I believe Jesus is presenting to us a special invitation: to practice the Incarnation. To be subject under the same living conditions as their own. To share meals together. To breathe the same sweet fragrance of the slums. To use the same squatty-potty. To share the same mosquito net at night. To share life together. To make their struggles our struggles and to make their joys our joys. To weave our own thread of life into their’s.

This is how we met Poon-Tam. Michael and I call him Daa, which means “Grandpa” in Thai, and we will be his grandsons for the summer. Daa is quite the enigma, to say the least. He has tough skin (literally and figuratively) yet he’s a softie for little children and kittens. We’re still trying to figure him out.

To put it lightly, living with this man has been one of the most difficult and mentally straining challenges we’ve had in a while. Communication with Daa quickly saps are our energy to the point of exhaustion and simple house chores that should take 10 minutes can take up to an hour. Daa doesn’t have RBF per se, but I have yet to meet another man who can match his level of stoicism. He is a man of few words and his expressions rival that of a brick wall.

Perhaps the most challenging obstacle I have yet to surmount is Daa’s lopsided tendencies to balance encouragement and rebuke. The past 10 days have been a draining trial-and-error process of learning how to take care of Daa’s needs and get household tasks done. Because of the language barrier, we often have to play a time-consuming guessing game with each other before any work is accomplished. I have quickly observed that it is really easy to know that you are making a mistake, as Daa has quite a talent for letting you know you messed up. On the contrary, his affirmations are subtle, almost invisible, so you best be paying attention.

As someone who has not heard, “I’m proud of you”, a whole lot growing up, I crave for any verbal affirmation I can get, and to an unhealthy extent, I might add. As you can imagine, I would not thrive in an environment like Daa’s home. I feel like a fish out of water and I don’t like being reminded of how that feels. It is as if salt is being rubbed on a wound that has been open since childhood.

One of my favorite things about reading the biographies of Jesus is being able to laugh at the disciples for how bad they are at following Jesus, only to be promptly notified by the Holy Spirit that I am actually just like them. “How hard could it be to love your neighbor? You guys are noobs.”

Within the first five days of being on-site, God had already reminded me that I had a limit to my love and that Daa was outside of it. Before I had even met him, I had already unknowingly trapped Daa with an unrealistic expectation to show me affirmation in the way that I needed it. And if he didn’t meet those expectations, I shouldn’t have to show him any of my love.

The reality is, direct and verbal affirmations will probably always be of utmost importance to me but I may go through the entire summer without receiving any of it from Daa. Even if he does give it, I probably won’t understand it because we speak different languages.

And therein lies the question of the century: How do I love this man? How do I love someone who I don’t know loves me back? Some dude once said, “relationship is a two-way street” but what if the other person isn’t willing to meet you in the middle? What if they can’t? Are we still expected to love?

It’s hard for me to even fathom that type of love but Christ did it, and it kind of changed everything. I guess I haven’t fully discovered what unconditional love means. I get the feeling that Jesus wants to show me and that may very well be the reason why I’m here this summer. That maybe this trip isn’t so much about the change I can bring to Thailand, but rather, the change that God is going to bring into my heart.

“Jesus, I thank You that You did not wait for me to reciprocate, or even know Your name, before showing me Your love. Remind me of how good Your Good News is. Take my withering heart and expand my capacity to love those whom I have forgotten how to love.”

 

After Jesus was resurrected, three times He asked Simon Peter, “Do you love me?”, to which Peter would respond, “Of course, dude.” Jesus would then command Peter each time, “Then feed my sheep.”

Love is the mission.

 

#gettrekt16

#gettrekt16 – scavenger hunts (entry 1)

Following Jesus is like a box of chocolates. One of my greatest warnings to my brothers and sisters in Christ is to never get used to following Jesus. When following Jesus becomes comfortable, you should be concerned. It’s not that Jesus changes, we just keep discovering more and more of Him. It’s kind of like a space journey.

One place that the Lord never fails to surprise me is in the Harvest field. We just finished our week of orientation in Bangkok and many of us are already getting floored with challenging questions and heavy convictions. “If You love me, why won’t you heal me now? Why don’t you free the oppressed right now? Why do You wait? Why am I here?” I get the feeling that God wants us to wait before answering our burning questions. Wild guess.

A consistent tension that has been mutually shared among the team is the balance of noticing and appreciating the beauty of the city while simultaneously acknowledging its brokenness. It is a tricky spectrum to navigate. As Christians of the North American first-world church, we carry a specific lens that tends to blow some things out of proportion. It is particularly easy to focus on Bangkok’s brokenness while overlooking its beauty.

The topic of empowerment has been on the hearts and minds of Christian / social justice leaders for generations. What does it mean to empower a community? How exactly do you do it? To this day, these questions still baffle even the world’s most-respected humanitarians and sociologists. But one thing that we can be sure of is that we will never empower a people if we can only see their brokenness. When we enter a slum community, what’s the first thing we see, a helpless people group or a thriving collective of intellectuals? Do we see a charity case or the next generation of leaders and world-changers? Do we see them as poor and incapable or do we see them as an untapped well of ingenuity?

Why is it so easy for us to notice, and even define, people (esp. poor people) by what they lack, rather than what they already have? Has our vision become so distorted that we cannot see people for who they truly are, image-bearers of God? I think many of us are still unpacking why Jesus has called us to Bangkok this summer but I firmly believe that for many of us, one thing Jesus wants to do is shed our Western Christian lens that we didn’t know we were wearing and sharpen our vision to see people not only for their weaknesses, but especially for their strengths and resources. Jesus wants to heal some blind people this summer. Forgive us, Lord, for we still see men as trees.

To traverse the tightrope of seeing brokenness and beauty is no easy task. Granted, we still must acknowledge the community’s areas of deficit/poverty, for indeed, they are dire needs. But Jesus doesn’t need to teach us how to do that, because we’re already so good at it. Too good, I would argue. We’re so talented that we’ve invented fields of study about it.

God needs to give a hard shove to reorient us back to the center of balance. The people we will meet this summer have strengths, talents, and abilities that will surprise us. They are God’s gifts to us. It is only until we see them as such that we can begin walking hand-in-hand with them on the windy road to empowerment.

The Kingdom of God is like a great scavenger hunt. And the Harvest Fields are, indeed, plentiful. In fact, the fields have treasures in them, waiting for us. Jesus’ invitation to us, as His laborers, is to go out and look for them.

 

#gettrekt16

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)