My experience with Navy SEALsNavy SEALs

I didn’t do anything heroic. But I’ve often said that I learned how to be a man when I got to interact with Navy SEALs over the course of my deployment with Combined Joint Task Forces – Horn of Africa. So I’m used to telling people, “I learned how to be a man from Navy SEALs.”

I suppose that phrase alone could sound somewhat condescending. It might sound like I learned how to be macho.

But every once in a while, I get this response:

“Like what? What did you learn?”

That question comes up very rarely, and it’s one I always get excited about. I loved the SEALs. They were everything I expected them to be, and everything I hadn’t expected them to be. Yes, they were fit, every single one of them. Their daily Physical Training regimen consisted of 9 mile runs and 2.5 mile swims before the sun rose. But that’s just a description of what they do. Before I met them in person, that’s how I knew them, and all that I had attributed to them. But then I learned about the men behind the actions. I learned about who they are.

As a 19 year old who was deployed overseas, I was extremely impressionable. And I looked up to these men. Demigods, I called them. And so I treasured and learned from every little interaction I had with them.

In this posted picture, we were waiting for orders to deployment elsewhere and taking it easy in a swimming pool. There were some Filipino tourists, and a couple young girls no older than 9 or 10 years old swimming around.

They, with the consent of the watchful gaze of the parents, took to playing “find the hippo” with the girls. The whole idea was for the girls to scout out the hippos in the swimming pool and wait for them to come out to breathe. I recall several minutes passing by before even one of these men came up to breathe. I got tired of waiting, watching them while just sitting there, because they could submerge for what seemed like eternity and not come out.

Looking back, I suppose this is somewhat of an oddity. I mean, how many adults in America would even think about mimicking hippos in their local swimming pools? But it never occured to us that we were doing anything odd at that time, having been out in our bulletproof SUVs to urge hippos to emerge from their watering holes. They hadn’t seen their own families in a long time, and these tourists had provided them with an opportunity to do what they would do if they were with their own kids.

I learned that real men deeply care about their families.

———————————————————–

We sat around the speed boats. The ones that are so advanced that it’s impossible to detect its silent motors. The same ones that had taken them to dangerous beaches around this secretive base which no one can acknowledge ever existed. The glistening sunglasses shielded his eyes from the treacherous African sunlight that reflected off of his body, hardened by years of training and war. Michelangelo could not have sculpted harder abs out of marble.

We all sat there. I watched. He listened. He listened to one soldier’s venting about the chain of command. How dealing with that has been emotionally challenging. How, in fact, they would rather face enemy gunfire than deal with the command. And the SEAL who had faced more enemy gunfire than the said soldier decided now would be the right time to speak up.

“Are you sure about that?”

I learned that real men don’t complain incessantly.

———————————————————–

“Hey Kim, there was this Navy SEAL who wanted to invite you over for a get together at their tent tonight.”

“Really? You’re kidding, right?” I didn’t believe him.

“No, I’m not kidding. Look, I’ll even go with you if you think I’m joking.”

“Why would they ask me to come? I haven’t done anything for them.”

“I don’t know, but they asked for you by name.”

So we went, and we met them all. I got to know them as real people, as the men behind the news stories that I only read about. I got to hear about their families. I got to talk to them about their perspective on war and their emotional struggles. There were a few others there, too. People that the SEALs had gotten to know over their deployment.

I was a nobody. Seriously. I didn’t do anything heroic. And I was one of only a handful of people they had invited. My name was not to be engraved forever in the annals of history. So I was curious why they had invited me.

“Because we’re all part of a team, and your job is just as important as ours.”

He must have been kidding.

“And the last thing I want you to think is that I’m not serious. We might get all the press and all the glory, but we need support people like you in order for us to be able to do our job. I suppose without people like us, you wouldn’t have a job.” We both chucked.

“But without people like you, we can’t do ours. This is our way of saying thank you.”

I learned that real men don’t just pay lip service to teamwork and are grateful for everyone’s contributions.

———————————————————–

He was a Navy SEAL Captain. With over 20 years of experience on the field, he commanded respect even from other SEALs. Being that he was the one with the longest tenure, I asked him all kinds of questions. Questions I’m sure only naive 19-20 year olds who don’t care about political correctness would ask. Others were more aligned, however. What was the best part about being a SEAL? What was the hardest part? Where were some of the worst places he’s been? What was the best place he’s been?

He said the best part was the fact that he knew he was making a real difference in the world. Because he knew that he was going after really bad guys and that he was therefore leaving this world a better place than he found it. Yes, there was an undeniable undertone of patriotism and double meaning behind those sentences, and we both knew it. But I couldn’t disagree with him.

He said the worst part was leaving his family. That he’s been gone far too many times. That those same SEALs that I look up to are looking up to him, and that he cannot afford to make any mistakes, and that he tries as hard not to make any. He had to become their father, and looked after his team as a father would. He had left his family to take care of another. And he said the hardest part about that was always when one of his soldiers did not come home. He could never forgive himself, even when it was not his fault.

I learned that real men care about and care for each other.

———————————————————–

He could not tell me the worst place he’s been because he couldn’t talk about it. But he did say that the best place he’s been to was Santiago, Chile. So when I drove down to South America by myself some 3 years later, you can bet that I made sure to stop by Santiago and Valparaiso to soak it all in, all because of him.

We continued to talk as we sat there, watching Good Will Hunting together, with a handful of infantryman and SEALs who were deployed in this forward operating base that we will never be allowed to identify on a map. Out of nowhere, this SEAL started to recite every line, word for word. This was his favorite part, he said. And as Robin Williams rebuked and challenged Matt Damon on a bench in a public park, the Navy SEAL was always one step ahead, anticipating every pause and intonation. No one, of course, dared to even think about telling him to shut up.

When he finished and sat next to me, he proactively started to talk to me about why he loved the movie so much. About how he is so into math, physics, and human psychology. He was much more educated about all those topics than I was, and tried to teach me everything he knew. I could only try to keep up with the conversation.

I learned that real men think it’s cool to be smart.

———————————————————–

With a handful of years of service as a Navy SEAL under his belt, he was definitely not a newbie. In fact, he was going to finish up his enlistment within a couple years. When I first met him, I could not believe he was a Navy SEAL. I was taller than him by a couple inches. Moreover, he and I both weighed in the same. From that moment on, I could not make make excuses on why I could never be a SEAL based on physical attributes. “Man, you have no idea how much respect I have for you,” I repeatedly told him. “SEAL training was definitely harder on people like me than on others,” he said.

He heard that I was going to UC Berkeley, so he had sought me out. He was tired of getting shot at, he said, and getting deployed so much. Some of it he knew what he was getting himself into, so no complaints there. But the frequency and duration of these deployments was weighing on him. After the enlistment was over, he was planning on applying to UC San Diego, and wanted my help getting in. He wanted what I had. I wanted what he had. We looked at each other chuckled at the irony of it all.

I learned that real men are not afraid of being open about their thoughts and feelings.

———————————————————–

He invited me again. I thought it was going to be just a one time thing, but no. He came by to invite me to the get together again by name. The SEALs provided plenty of booze and tobacco for the handful that they had invited to their tents, yet again. I noticed, though, that the SEALs were all holding cans of Coke. I felt bad, thinking that perhaps we were drinking too much for them to be able to enjoy it themselves. “No,” they said. And I write “they,” because I asked several of them. They all said that none of them drink alcohol. All that booze and tobacco was for us to enjoy, and they were fine with their Cokes.

I learned that real men really care about what others care about, even if it’s something they themselves don’t care about.

I also learned that real men don’t give a rip if other people think you have to drink to be cool.

———————————————————–

It was my brother’s birthday when the SEALs and I went to an undisclosed location to make a trade with the indigenous population. I wasn’t allowed to make any phone calls outside of using a satellite phone. In the movie, “Lone Survivor,” there is a scene where even the satellite phone doesn’t work in the heat of battle. Of course my situation was nothing like that, but I know what it’s like for those phones to not work. I tried several times over several hours to make a phone call over the satellite phone. It never worked. It was the only time in my life where I couldn’t wish my brother a happy birthday.

We were about to leave this town. And before I did, I asked to try again. Instead of getting annoyed at my repeated request, he respectfully obliged, every time. Even though I never got through, I told him how much I appreciated him. That’s ok, he said. Lots of SEALs used the phone to call home sometimes.

I learned again that real men deeply care about their families.

———————————————————–

In anticipation of seeing my platoon again for only the third time in the 10 years since we’ve been back home, I suppose I’ve now disclosed as much about my experience overseas than I ever have to people outside of my own platoon. I don’t write all of this to say that I am now one of those men, and that I perfectly encapsulate what I’ve learned. Far from it. I sometimes do think back still to those men and the experiences I’ve had with them, and try to teach myself again what they have taught me, both explicitly and implicitly, all those years ago.

And if you read this far, then you may have noticed a pattern. That what I have learned as a 19-20 year old of who a real man is had nothing to do with what they do as their occupation. I had somehow expected them to be senseless man-hunting robots. Instead, I found men whose compassion and empathy for those around them, not only in their immediate SEAL Teams but to nobodies around them like me, were real and actualized.

On this Christmas season, I hope to encourage you to enjoy spending time with your families, and to care deeply for those in your immediate vicinity and even for those outside of that. I know that’s what these men would do, and that’s what I continue to aspire to do to this day.

Posted in Uncategorized

Happy Veteran’s Day

I don’t enjoy teaching, but I enjoy being a teacher.

I don’t enjoy creating lesson plans. I don’t enjoy testing students. I don’t enjoy teaching mathematics, though I don’t dislike it either.

I became a teacher because I love people. I love getting to know people intimately. I find every individual to be absolutely fascinating and worth getting to know deeply. I dislike superficial relationships in which everyone appears to be a product of a cookie cutter mold, though I know they’re more than that.

I enjoy the fact that as a teacher, I am an adult who can tell when a child is going through a rough time and can do something about it. I enjoy the fact that as a teacher, I can create a plan for a student to succeed not only in my class, but also in his or her schedule of classes for this year and beyond. I enjoy the fact that as a teacher, I can influence children to become better students, but most importantly, better individuals, as men and women of character.

This Veteran’s Day is the 10th year in which I celebrate it as a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and I’ve come to a similar conclusion about being a veteran.

I didn’t enjoy soldiering. But I enjoyed being a soldier.

I didn’t enjoy the long marches. I didn’t enjoy being called unawares with a 48 hour notice to war as a teenager. I didn’t enjoy some of the things I’ve seen and the places I’ve been to. Some of that still affects me to this day.

I became a soldier for many reasons. When people ask me what made me join the military and I know that we don’t have a lot of time to chat, I often tell them that I did it to pay for college. But that was an afterthought when I signed up within days of eligibility as a 17 year old Junior in High School.

One of the two primary reasons I joined the Army was because my brother did. I remember picking him up at the airport as a Freshman in High School, right after he had finished his basic training at Ft. Sill, OK. Something was different about him. He had become a man. When I saw him, I knew that’s what I wanted for myself. So when I turned 17, I called the recruiter and told him that I wanted to go to Army basic training to become a man like my brother.

The other primary reason I joined was because I wanted to serve this country. When I was a 9 year old immigrant, I was in a bicycle accident and my ventral hernia was impaled. Though I was not yet a US citizen, this country paid for my surgery since my family didn’t have the financial resources. I always felt very grateful and indebted to this country for that. I believed then, as I believe now, that they had no reason to take care of me without expecting anything in return. But they did. I became very patriotic and loyal to America since that incident.

I enjoyed being a soldier because it taught me a lot. I enjoyed learning about the world; to date, I’ve been to over 30 countries and it all started with the military. I enjoyed learning to be a man; I was treated so well by the Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, and the French Foreign Legion that I still remember the kindness and generosity they showed without expecting anything in return to people like me whom I wouldn’t place anywhere near their pedestal, and the same kindness is how I would like to be remembered if people think of me as a man. I enjoyed learning a lot about life; I saw and experienced things in Africa that I never thought I’d see or experience, and I made a promise to God one night that if I make it back in one piece I would never live to regret another day… and I never have. And I enjoyed learning about what it means to be a brother; what it’s like for a platoon of brothers to give and receive emotional support and thousands of dollars without batting an eye or thinking much of it. I could not have made it through without them, and they have said the same of me.

One of the things I did not enjoy was developing a service-connected disability during my time in the war zone. But one thing that I enjoy now because of that is the continued health benefits that comes with that disability.

About 6 months ago before I moved from NYC, I developed some pain in my lower abdomen, in the same place that I was impaled during the bicycle accident some 20 years ago, the same incident that motivated me to join the military. I can only liken it to having a sharp razor slice me up from the inside. Sometimes, I couldn’t sneeze without feeling as though my intestines were going to be ripped out. Sometimes, I couldn’t stand for more than 20 minutes before the pain overtook me. And sometimes, I couldn’t even sit without pain either.

I went to the Veteran’s Hospital. I saw a physician. I saw a surgeon. I saw a physician again. I went to the ER. Pain seemed to indicate a hernia. I got a CT scan. Nothing came up. For months, I was frustrated at the prognosis of never having a possible solution. The symptoms continue to this day.

A few weeks ago, the Veterans Hospital authorized me to see a pain specialist. Any pain specialist I wanted to go see in the nation, all for free because I was a veteran with a service-connected disability during my time in a combat zone, even though this pain I am now feeling has nothing to do with my particular military disability.

The Veterans Affairs got me connected to one of the best pain specialists in Charlotte. He’s seen symptoms like this before, and he came up with a course of action. An MRI is in order, as is a shot for a temporary block of my Ilioinguinal and Iliohypogastric nerves. For the first time in 6 months, I feel hopeful of a future without excruciating pain. And this country insists that I pay nothing for it, yet again.

I served this country because it was good to me. This country continues to be good to me because I served.

On Veteran’s Days, I do not wish to be thanked. It would be a gross understatement to say that I did absolutely nothing heroic. And I think almost all veterans would say that they were just doing their job; I know that my platoon would say that. We are proud for having served. It was an honor to serve with such great brothers for such a great country.

Instead, I want to do the thanking on this Veteran’s Day. Thank you for giving me the honor of serving. Thank you for teaching me how a man should think and act. Thank you for taking care of me without asking for anything in return.

And I hope that one day, my students will mature as men and women and learn to do what you’ve taught me to do as a veteran, to serve people with kindness and generosity without expecting anything in return.

Tagged with:
Posted in Uncategorized

I Will Miss You New York

One day, I was at a party in Philadelphia when a girl introduced the group to her boyfriend who was apparently “amazing” because he had been to 14 countries. A close friend of mine then quietly turned to me and said, “haven’t you been to more than that?” And I had. By the time I was 23, I had been to five continents. “Well how many countries have you been to?” I replied, “31, but who’s counting?”

The fact that I have a list of 31 countries that I’ve visited has become one of the latter things I try to share with people. There’s really nothing amazing about that number, and there’s really nothing amazing about me just because of that number. I really don’t care all that much about the places I’ve been to. What I really care about is getting to know people. In essence, I’m fascinated by what has shaped their character, what has made them who they are. I do believe that how we grew up has an immense influence on who we are and are becoming. And that always means getting to know their experiences: how they grew up, what they’ve liked, and where they’ve been. And in the friendships that are most meaningful to me, that has also been their priority as well. So in the course of getting to know each other more, I usually end up sharing about that number 31 some time down the road.

Because that number has indeed had an influence on who I am. But probably not in the way you think. Yes, I’ve been to some places that I don’t think most of the American population will ever go to. But trust me when I say this: at the end of it all, when you’ve been to so many different places, the next new place doesn’t amaze you all that much.

Instead, that number has taught me that the people I meet is always what matters most; they are what I most fondly remember and care about. They make a place, any place, amazing. I miss the river of Heidelberg in Germany. I miss the dam of Ottawa in Canada. I miss the desert of Africa. I miss the mountains of Colorado, the hills of Berkeley and the beaches of Los Angeles. In of themselves they mean absolutely nothing to me. But those places and others are most memorable to me because those memories are filled with people that I met and got to know. I would much rather dip my toes in the pool of serendipity than wade alone through oceans of extravagance into perpetuity.

As I prepare to leave the extravagance of New York City, I am reminded of the things I’ve seen during the last seven years of my life here. But I know all the more that I will only remember most fondly the people I’ve met… the laughter we’ve shared, the shoulders we’ve lent and the mundane we’ve enjoyed because we were together.

I will miss you New York.

Posted in Uncategorized

Is Michael Bloomberg Going Straight To Heaven?

In a piece about gun control in the NY Times, Michael Bloomberg says he’s going straight to heaven.

“But if he senses that he may not have as much time left as he would like, he has little doubt about what would await him at a Judgment Day. Pointing to his work on gun safety, obesity and smoking cessation, he said with a grin: “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.””

God, along with Bill Gates, would  probably not be very impressed:

“My charitable giving is not impressive. What’s impressive is people who give to charities who have to sacrifice something to give it to him. In my family, we don’t even hesitate to buy yet another airplane. But there are people who have to choose, do I go out to dinner? Or do I give this $20 to my church? That’s a very different decision than I make. Those are the people that impress me.”

Posted in Uncategorized

Run in with the Law

I’ve never had a run-in with the police before.  Until today.

I have less than 4 weeks to study for a test on 4 years worth of high school mathematics.  But I’ve always found that my mind is saner after writing about a lingering subject.

At noon, I had a chiropractor appointment.  Now this office has both chiropractors and physical therapists in the same office, but in different parts.  I signed in to the chiropractor sign-in sheet, and waited for a few seconds.  They’ve seen me before, about 8 times in the last 4 weeks, and was used to their procedure.  They always called me up real soon.  There were two huge draws to this office.  First, I worked only 4 floors away from this chiropractor, and second, the chiropractor had a policy to not charge co-payments for the people that work in the same office.  It was a nice perk he was using as a promotion, and he was a good chiropractor, too, so I’ve been real happy.

They called me up in a few seconds like they always do, and led me to another part of the building that physical therapists use.  I followed them, not knowing what was going on.  I just assumed that perhaps they were moving me on to a different regimen since we were at the end of the 4 week session that we agreed to.  A man who works as a physical therapist entered, and asked who my doctor was.  I was in the wrong place, alright.

The receptionist came in to take me to the proper area, but didn’t apologize.  Instead, adding insult to injury, she accused me of signing the wrong sheet that led her to believe I was supposed to be there.  So we went back to the signing sheet, and I was vindicated.

As I was leaving, she apologized about the mix-up.  I thought it was the right thing to do to be nice, so I replied and said that it wasn’t a big deal and that I thought it was just funny that’s all.

At 12:30, I had an appointment with the optometrist to get new glasses.  They asked for my purpose of being there as soon as I walked in, almost as if they were annoyed that I was there.  I told her that I had made an appointment to get my eye exam to get fixed up for contacts and glasses.  She asked if it was my first time, and it was clear that she didn’t expect me.  I finally told her that I made the appointment for today.  She didn’t see me in the system at all, and looked me up by name.  I was on schedule at 12:30 PM on Tuesday, alright, but on the 18th.  Last Tuesday, not today.  She told me that I never showed.

Well I was pretty upset.  Because I immediately thought that’s impossible, because I called them on on Thursday.  So how would it be possible for me to make an appointment for a day that had already passed?  She seemed annoyed that I was there.  Didn’t even ask if I wanted to reschedule, even if she thought I was in the wrong.  I was upset but didn’t say anything and just left.  And yes, my office phone stores all calling information, and I had called them on Thursday at 3:21 PM.

I think what made both matters worse is the fact that they immediately blamed me for something that they did wrong.  It wasn’t, oh let’s see what happened, perhaps this or that.  Nope, they both immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was at fault.  The first one I was able to prove and got an apology for, which was nice.  The second one, I couldn’t prove then and there, and that wasn’t nice.

I got some food to go and was jaywalking across the street.  Now I work around the World Trade Center so there’s always police presence there.  Anyway, there were some cones set up on the other side of the street with about 4 cops hanging out.  I decided to cross because there were no trucks there whatsoever.  A cop started yelling at me.  I don’t remember what he said.  I’m pretty sure I heard it and understood it then, but now I just don’t remember anymore.  Anyway, I do remember thinking to myself, well there’s nothing I can do.  I’m already 80% of the way across the street, and there were no cars there, so what’s the big deal?  Would he have me turn all the way around again?  Besides, jaywalking in New York happens all the time.  I do remember thinking that I didn’t know how to respond.  Do I acknowledge them and freeze in the middle of the road?  Or do I acknowledge them and keep on jaywalking?  I mean, I was screwed either way.  So I just kept walking without acknowledging them at all.

Well, wrong decision.  About 5 steps down the sidewalk, I heard some cop yelling at me.  I was appalled, because I thought they’d let it go.  I mean, this kind of stuff happens all the time in front of cops, especially in front of World Trade Center, where there are heavy foot traffic (tourists and people that work there) and bus and car traffic.  People sometimes disregard cops’ orders to stay put just because they’re in a rush.  So I turned around, and this guy was irate.  I knew then and there that nothing I said was going to assuage him.  I just told him, “I’m sorry, sir.”  And I actually have some memory of what happened after that.  He replied, “Yeah you’re sorry only because I stopped you right now.  You weren’t sorry before.  Let me see your ID.”

They didn’t treat me like I was a terrorist, but they did treat me as though I had just insulted them big time.  One of them stayed put to watch me, and told me to stand by the wall and not by the street, and to keep my hands off my pocket.  It was quite cold outside, and I didn’t have my gloves on, so I put them under my armpits.

There was one cop that was watching over me, and we started to talk cordially a bit.  He asked me where I work, and I told him that I literally work a building down, about 100 feet away.  He asked what I do, and I told him I’m a financial analyst for a non-profit company.  He asked if I were in a hurry.  I wasn’t, but I just said I needed to get back to work.  He said I could use my phone to call them if need be, but I told him that won’t be necessary.  It didn’t really matter to me what I said at that time anyway, because he was just keeping watch while others were pulling up my records and writing up the ticket.  But I told him that I’ve done that kind of traffic stop before, where you’re stopping cars for threats and doing random inspections.  Then he said, “well, if you’ve done it before, then you should have known to listen to us.”  I told him that he’s right, that they’re just doing their job, and that I was wrong.  He asked me what I was thinking, whether I was really busy and had a lot in my mind.  I said I did.  But I was thinking more about what happened with the chiropractor and the optometrist, though he thought it was something work related.  He asked if I heard them.  I said that I did, but that I didn’t really know if it was for me, because I was already across the street.  He then told me what to expect: they’re going to write up a summons ticket for me to appear in court, but the fine should be $25-$50 range.

The original guy who started this whole thing came back, and he was more calm this time.  He said, “Look, I didn’t become a cop so that I can be an a-hole to people and give them tickets for jaywalking.  I became a cop to protect people.  I would have just let you go if you immediately acknowledged me and said you’re sorry.  What you were doing was dangerous.  As you were crossing the street, we were just pulling in a box-truck.  You were endangering yourself.  You can walk across the street when it’s safe, but use the crosswalk when it’s not.”  I apologized to him, and he let me go.

Now I didn’t think it was gonna be a big deal.  $25-$50 ticket, and go, right?  Well, it turns out this wasn’t like a ticket.  It was a real summons to go to court, and I didn’t have the option to just pay it online.  To make matters worse, the summons is for June 11, 2014, a full 2 weeks after I should be long gone and moved permanently to Charlotte, North Carolina.  And if I don’t show up, there would be a warrant for my arrest.  I started to get really upset then.  Not at the cops, but a lot more at the situation, and a bit at myself.  I thought about how I would have to come flying back just to appear in court for a couple hours over jaywalking, and the cost associated with that.  Plus, I would be in mandatory training with Teach for America.  This was not going to go well with them.

I later learned that a lawyer can represent me in court.  But for $375.  All of a sudden, jaywalking for me had become much more expensive.  There is a huge difference between $25 I was expecting to pay online, vs $375 to pay a lawyer to appear in court for me.  There is a slight chance that I may be able to go earlier, but the lawyer I talked to made it sound like it’s improbable; it sometimes happens, but usually for a week or a few days in advance, not two weeks like what I was looking for.

I thought about this the whole day.  And I’m thankful in many ways, that I had this experience.  I hope that I never have an unnecessary run-in with the police again, but I learned a lot through a simple jaywalking ticket.

First, I should say that though $375 would be a huge hit for me, since I will be making $35,000 a year as a teacher in Charlotte, I’m not too worried about the money.  But, I should also say that the $375 is what helped me really wrestle with what transpired.  If they had just given me a hard time, checked my ID for felonies, and let me go, I would have probably just thought to myself, stay away from cops, and acknowledge them whenever possible, and move on.  I wouldn’t be writing today if that were the case.

Second, I thought about the law.  A lot.  It didn’t matter if I’ve been conditioned to disobey the law by jaywalking in front of the police and get away with it; believe me, it happens at every signal change at the World Trade Center intersections.  It didn’t matter if he was just in a grumpy mood.  It didn’t matter whether I was caught in a Catch-22 of two bad choices even if I acknowledged him; keep jaywalking because I was almost there anyway, or stop in the middle of the road and turn around.  It didn’t matter whether I knew that was against the law or not.  I am under the NYC and American jurisdiction, which means I’m under their law.  Which means that I was immediately guilty, regardless of how often someone else got away with it, regardless of how I had been conditioned to not think much of jaywalking in front of cops and disobeying their commands to stop in the past, and regardless of whether I knew it was against the law or not.  I had transgressed the law, plain and simple.  I was, simply put, wrong.

Third, I thought about the cop.  He was irate, but wasn’t cursing at me or pushing me around or anything.  He was much more collected later on, probably understanding that I just had a lot on my mind and that I didn’t mean malice by ignoring him.  All I felt after a while was just humility; meaning, I was really sorry to have offended him.  I didn’t mean to offend him, but I knew that I had.  I thought that perhaps I’d see him again, since he seemingly does that traffic stop every once in a while.  I thought about getting him a $25 gift certificate to Burger King around the corner.  I couldn’t think of much else to show how sorry I was.  He’d probably laugh it off and tell me to keep it to myself.  But then I would know that even if he didn’t accept my apologetic gift, whatever it may be, that he and I would have been reconciled.

Then I thought long and hard about what all of this entailed.  I thought about how this may be a good illustration for me to learn from.  I realize now these things.

First, it doesn’t matter how good you think you are.  You are constantly disobeying God in your sinful nature.  And this happens over and over again.  It doesn’t matter if you see people around you and they seem to be doing well even when they transgress against the law of God.  The atheists who seem to have everything even though they transgress against the law of God.  Just because it appears as though they are getting away with it, like the foot and car traffic at the World Trade Center, doesn’t mean that they are not guilty for having done wrong.  And moreover, it does not give me any more right to transgress the law of NYC just because others are getting away with it.  In the same way, it does not give me any more right to transgress the law of God just because others are getting away with it.

Second, I understand this verse so much better now: “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law” (Romans 2:14).  Every single time they transgress against the moral law of God, it’s not just some “law” that they transgress against.  Like the cop I didn’t acknowledge, what makes it that much more despicable is that we anger God in our sinful nature by not even acknowledging the fact that he is telling us to listen to him and obey him.  Our moral law that innately tells us that we are sinful and have all done immoral things in our lives is pointing to the fact that it isn’t some arbitrary words that we have angered.  We have angered God himself.

Third, I understand the wrath of God more.  Even the threat of an idea of how the confrontation might end at that time was at least unnerving.  I heard the footsteps of several cops when I heard the order to stop.  There were four cops that surrounded me on all sides when I did stop.  Probably an overkill for jaywalking violation, but no matter.  My heart was not at peace, and it sucked.  I can only imagine what will happen to the sinful people at the end of their own lives, confronting God.  More than the cop that I angered today by jaywalking, we anger God for trillions of reasons over our lifetime.  And when he stands at the judgment throne to sentence us, will we have anything to say?  I don’t think so.  I knew immediately that the cop was in the right no matter what, and that I was in the wrong no matter what, and that nothing I was going to say was going to get me out of it.  In the same way, the end of ages is coming.  That judgment gonna be a trillion times more scary than what I experienced today.  Every mouth will be stopped because God will be in the right, we will be in a wrong, and we will know it, all too well.

Fourth, I understand the love of God more.  In our own nature, we cannot pay the debt.  Jaywalking may cost me $375.  How much more will all our most egregious sins cost me at the judgment throne of God?  Oh we will pay for it for eternity.  But God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).  That if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved (Romans 10:9).  He has every right to be angry at sin and at sinners.  He has every right to send me to hell for all eternity.  But in Christ, I have been redeemed.  I am safe.  More than that, the Holy Spirit dwells in me.  God himself has decided to dwell in me to keep me from his judgment.  And even more than that, we have the inheritance of Christ, so that we share in his blessings.  Wow.  Knowing the judgment to hell that I deserve , and knowing the mercies of God that I will receive in the end, I cannot help but praise God for that.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And finally, I understand what brings us to obey God more now: humility.  Once I understood that I had angered the cop, and that he was rightly angered by my actions (and inactions), I was immediately brought down low to humility.  There wasn’t anything I could have said in front of him then and there, and there wasn’t anything that I could do in the future that would have brought that moment back in my life so that I could do it all over again.  But I wanted to show my appreciation for him, and show him that I really was truly sorry about what I did.  And it may sound pathetic, but $25 gift certificate to Burger King was just an idea I had to show that I was really sorry.  I think in the same way, if we truly understand how much we had angered God, we would want to do something to show that we were sorry.  But more than that, God also paid the penalty for our sins through the death of his Son, Jesus Christ.  How much more, then, should we want to do something to show that we are grateful?  Should we not then give ourselves over to Him?

And when I finally came to that conclusion, walking uphill back home at 7PM, a full 6 hours after the altercation had happened, I thought to myself, ‘well then, I need to tell the world somehow about the judgment that awaits them, greater than the anxiety you feel when human laws are called up against you, and greater than the fear you feel when the temporary judgment is pronounced against you.’

So for all that, I am so thankful for today.  So thankful that through monetary hits in my life, God has allowed me to learn more about what He should mean to me.  So thankful that he chose to love me, and pay the penalty that I deserved to pay with my life for all eternity.  So thankful that the charges against me, all legitimate, were crucified on the cross for me.  So thankful that he’s even given me a chance to thank him.  So thankful that more than that he has given me the heavenly inheritance because he died for me.

Thank you, God.  I love you.  What can I do for you?  How can I show you that I am sorry?  How can I show you that I understand that I deserve whatever fine you place on me, for all eternity?  How can I show you that I understand that you love me?  How can I show you that I love you?

Whatever path you want me to take to show you that, I will do.

Posted in Uncategorized

Michael F. Bird – Introducing Paul – A Book Review

Michael Bird - Introducing Paul

Michael Bird – Introducing Paul

 

Michael F. Bird – Introducing Paul

Michael Bird is now one of my favorite theological authors (to be distinguished from theologian).  By that I mean, I don’t know whether I’d like the way he would argue as a theologian, but he is better than any other author I’ve read when it comes to summarizing difficult theological topics.  This book is an essential read for anyone who is interested in being introduced to how to incorporate both the Reformed and New-Perspective view of Paul.  I also loved his concluding thoughts at the end of the book, Four Views on the Apostle Paul (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology), which summarized 4 overlapping yet distinct viewpoints from Reformed, Catholic, Post-New Perspective, and Jewish scholars very well.

What Bird succinctly does so well in the short 160 page book he does even better in this great interview about his book, Introducing Paul, in the Gospel Coalition website.  Some quotes from the website:

When you read the account of his conversion in Galatians 1, Philippians 3, and 1 Corinthians 15 (especially 1 Corinthians 15:10 – ”But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them– yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me”), you get the feeling that Paul knew that God had every reason available not to save him, but nonetheless, He still decided to do so. There was nothing about Paul that made him more saveable than anyone else. To the contrary and by his own admission, he was the last person worthy of salvation.

Thus Paul’s narration of his conversion, I think, is the best example of the catch-cry sola gratia (grace alone) that I can find in the entire New Testament.

Where the New Perspective on Paul is correct is in emphasizing the social dimension of Paul’s debates and concerns. Paul’s debates about works of law and justification by faith, were not abstract debates about “what must I do to be saved?” but really came down to the matter, “Do Gentiles have to become Jews in order to become Christians?”.

To claim that one gains a righteous status by “works of law” is both legalistic andethnocentric. I think the NPP provides us with a bit more social realism in our handling of Paul and his letters and keeps us grounded in the socio-religious realities of the first century.

To give another example, I often ask my students, why was Jesus cursed on the cross (Gal. 3.13)? They often say things like: “so we could go to heaven”, “so we could have a relationship with God”, “so we would be saved” – all these answers tend to revolve around personal, vertical, and individual soteriology.

I then ask them, “Why did Paul think that Jesus was cursed on the cross?” The answer being in Galatians 3:14 – ” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”

 

Some of my favorite quotes from the book, Introducing Paul :

While it sounds so general as to be meaningless, it may be better to say that ‘Jesus Christ’ is the centre of Paul’s theology.  Christ is central in Paul’s religious experience, proclamation and pastoral care.  If we wanted to pursue something more specific, we could legitimately suggest that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the main coordinates of his thinking, which would come close to identifying the central theological thread in Paul’s gospel (22).

We often thank God for Paul the theologian and Paul the missionary pioneer.  I believe we can also thank God for Paul the pastor, who so demonstrated his care that his churches grew, and left an example so that the church continues to mature. (26)

To be zealous meant a willingness to use violence against other Jews who threatened the sanctity of Israel’s separation from Gentiles.  For example, during Israel’s wilderness wanderings, the priest Phinehas manifested ‘zeal’ by killing an Israelite man who was having intercourse with a foreign woman (Num. 25:11).   (33)

[1 Corinthians 15:8 ESV - Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.]  That phrase ‘one untimely born’ is the same word used for an abortion or miscarriage (ektroma).  This violent image Paul uses to describe his own experience pertains to an endangered infant being ripped out of the womb and brought into the light.  (34).

Paul was converted from the Pharisaic sect to a messianic sect within Judaism.  (35).

Whereas many Jews believed that God’s wisdom was incarnated in the law of Moses (Sir. 24. 1-23; Bar. 3.29 – 4.1; 4 Macc 1.16-17), Paul came to believe that Christ is the embodiment of God’s wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30).  As the Jewish scholar Claude Montefiore put it, ‘Christianity is not the Law plus Christ.  It is Jesus Christ alone.”  (37).

A crucial point to take away is that in Paul’s letters there is no indication that he played off the ‘Christ of Faith’ against the ‘Jesus of History.’ The fulcrum of his Christology is the identification of the crucified Jesus with the risen and exalted Lord. (55).

The ekklesia, then, is the people of God, called to be the new Israel and the renewed humanity (e. g. Col. 3:1-17).  The church was to be charismatic (Spirit-endowed), multi-ethnic (jew and Gentile), Christocentric (Lord’s Supper, baptism and imitation of Christ), unified (baptized into one body), part of society (mission) but not a reflection of it (holiness).  (56).

The gospel, then, is the climactic scene in the stories of God and God’s Son. Some might object that this fascination with narrative theology is simply an offshoot of postmodernity that eschews logic in favour of story.  Not so.  Consider this quote form Martin Luther: The gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord.  This is the gospel in a nutshell… And I assure you, if a person fails to grasp this understanding of the gospel, he will never be able to be illuminated in the Scripture nor will he receive the right foundation (77-78).

Placed side by side, Romans 1:3-4 and 2 Timothy 2:8 show that proclaiming the gospel means heralding that Jesus reigns.  (82).

Nero did not throw Christians to the lions because they confessed that ‘Jesus is Lord of my heart’.  It was rather because they confessed that ‘Jesus is Lord of all’, meaning that Jesus was Lord even over the realm Caesar claimed as his domain of absolute authority (88).

Tom Wright describes Paul’s ministry like this: His missionary work.. must be conceived not simply in terms of a travelling evangelist offering people a new religious experience, but of an ambassador for a king-in-waiting, establishing cells of people loyal to this new king, and ordering their lives according to his story, his symbols, and his praxis, and their minds according to his truth. This could only be construed as deeply counter-imperial, as subversive to the whole edifice of the Roman Empire; and there is in fact plenty of evidence that Paul intended it to be so construed, and that when he ended up in prison as a result of his work he took it as a sign that he had been doing his job properly. (89)

According to Paul, reconciliation starts with God, who reaches out in grace. It does not begin with the offending party reaching out for peace and forgiveness. (105).

Hence, according to Paul, the Mosaic law has three main functions: 1. To highlight the holiness of God and the severity of sin (139)… 2. To be temporary administration of God’s grace to govern his people… 3. To foreshadow and introduce the coming of Jesus Christ.

In fact, the earliest document to separate the Mosaic law into three parts was a later Gnostic writing called the Gospel of Truth, which divides the law into commandments given by God, Moses and the elders of the people (Gos. Truth 19-21). (148).
The love command was a frequent way of summarizing the law according to Christian (Matt. 5:43-48; 19:19; 22:34-40; Gal. 5:14; Jas 2:8) and Jewish (b. Sabb. 31a; Sifra 19.18) traditions (149).

While we are not saved by works, we shall not be saved without them. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is reported to have said, as you have lived so have you believed (160).

The centre of Paul’s theology, in so far as it is reflected in his letters, is the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus (162).

God’s seeming foolishness in the cross is matched only by the seeming foolishness of his choice of those whom he called to be recipients of salvation (164).

Posted in Uncategorized

Can babies tell right from wrong?

It’s becoming more and more evident that morality is not something we construct like architecture; instead, morality is something we discover like archaeology. Objective morality is like an artifact that has always existed, and science is continuing to verify this as, philosophically speaking, a properly basic belief. To say, then, that morality is nothing more than an arbitrary social construct created by social contract is not only improper, but also immoral in the face of overwhelming subjective, epistemological experiences and objective, ontological evidences. Our very being and essence is decisively not grounded in temporal beings and ideas; it is definitively grounded in something much more firm and infinite. Know then, that when life begins in conception, that one enters into judication of the eternal legislature of which all men have fallen short of. To deny this will be to deny the legitimacy of scientific inquiry. To deny this will be to deny your own metacognition of objective morality, of which a three month old baby can much more readily testify to.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/13/living/what-babies-know-anderson-cooper-parents/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

Posted in Uncategorized

TED Videos

So over the past couple months I’ve watched all vidoes on the TED channel on Youtube with over 500,000 views. That’s about 90 videos. Some of them were very informative and interesting. For the most part, though, I was thoroughly disappointed at how many of them were uninteresting. And remarkably, most of the videos I liked didn’t get a ton of views. This is my own subjective opinion, of course, but of the approximately 90 videos, I would be willing to watch the following 11 over again.

My top video is
Philip Zimbardo: The psychology of evil (665,341 views)

The other videos that I thought were worth watching, ranked in the order of views.
Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you’ve ever seen (524,289 views)
Lennart Green: Close-up card magic with a twist (629,590 views)
Bill Gates on energy: Innovating to zero! (680,828 views)
Apollo Robbins: The art of misdirection (849,262 views)
Malcolm Gladwell: Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce (785,998 views)
Hans Rosling: Stats that reshape your world-view (1,058,288 views)
Terry Moore: How to tie your shoes (1,147,470 views)
The LXD: In the Internet age, dance evolves … (1,150,444 views)
Raffaello D’Andrea: The astounding athletic power of quadcopters (1,491,868 views)
Cameron Russell: Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model (2,186,707 views)
Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action (2,318,665 views)

Posted in Uncategorized

FAQ

How long did the drive take?
About three months (Jun 1, 2007 – Aug 14, 2007) after graduating from UC Berkeley with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. I drove a 1980 Mercedes Benz 300SD Turbo Diesel, from Los Angeles to the southern tip of South America where the roads end (and/or begin) in a city called Ushuaia, Argentina. I did it by myself… the financing, planning, and driving 15,000 miles (14,143 miles). I was 23 (I’m 30 now).

Did you ever think about giving up and going back?
Yes. Like the times when my brakes didn’t respond coming down the mountains of Mexico and Costa Rica. Or when I got robbed in an alley in Panama and lost 15 pounds in 2 days. Or when I was harassed by Colombian officials. Or when I came within 2 inches of driving off the Andes. Or the time when my turbo blew in Peru. Or when my reverse gear transmission permanently failed in Chile. Or when my engine finally died in Argentina and I had to get rope-towed 300 miles to finish the trip (287 miles to be exact). That should account for the majority of the times that I thought about giving up, but there were other days when I thought about going back for more psychological reasons, which I’m sure those the aforementioned events contributed to.

What was your reason for taking the trip?
There wasn’t one single dominating reason for taking the trip. I can provide a more comprehensive list here.
1. Rare opportunity – During my internship at IBM, my mentors told me to take advantage of the summer time after graduating from college. They said that those months that I can take off are really rare to come by once you start your professional career, and I wanted to take advantage of that opportunity.
2. Experience different cultures – I already knew I wanted to travel after college, because becoming a US Army veteran during Operation Iraqi Freedom as a 19 year old in 2003 opened my eyes to different cultures in the Middle East (Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar, but not Iraq) and East Africa (Djibouti and Kenya). Quick note: I never did get shot at or mortared at, although more than half of my platoon did.
3. New continent – I had already been to Asia, Africa, and Europe. And my brother lives in Germany, so Europe didn’t appeal to me as much as it appealed to my college colleagues. One day, I was looking at a map looking for places to go to and realized I’d never been to South America… so why not consider driving there?
4. My initiative – People at UC Berkeley and at IBM knew me as the guy who went to war with the Army. But I never felt that I deserved that recognition. Sure the experience was a unique one… I was in the middle of my Freshman classes until an unexpected phone call one Friday afternoon, and on a one way flight to war by that Monday morning. But I never felt that it was something I could call as an accomplishment worth of recognition since I didn’t initiate it. So whenever the military conversation came up, it made me feel uncomfortable. I wanted to be known for something I initiated.
5. Prove the doubters wrong – The more I talked to people about driving to South America, the more I heard people doubt me. That encouraged me even more to go. I thought it was doable; moreover, I thought it was worth at least trying to do even if you don’t get to the finish line.
6. Measure my perseverance – Once I was deep in the planning phase, I became more motivated by the opportunity to test my perseverance through this experience. I had always believed that I could be dropped anywhere in the world and not only survive but thrive within any cultural context. So in some sense, I wanted to prove to myself that I was who I thought I was by persevering through difficulties while traversing through different cultures. I wasn’t completely naive; I made amends with everyone I could think of before I left, knowing that a billion things could go wrong and that a million things will go wrong. But I just wanted (needed) to know what the limits of my perseverance was.

Driving to South America helped me accomplish all of that. None of these reasons by themselves would have been significant enough for me to go. But when I considered all of them together, I could not not go.

Did you accomplish your goals?
My goal was simply to make it to the end of the road at the southern tip of South America. Yes I accomplished my goal. As for the first 5 motivations that made me have that goal in the first place, I got to do all of that, too. Ironically, accomplishing my goal meant that I didn’t find out the answer to motivation #6; I still do not know the limit of my perseverance. But I now know for a fact that if I’m in a situation where a billion things could go wrong and a million things do go wrong, I can at the least persevere through that.

Does the journey relate to your plans after seminary?
I was an agnostic when I made the trip in 2007. I became a Christian in 2009. So I didn’t have a Christian motive for going. But perhaps I can still take my experience and apply that to some future ministry after seminary, though I do not know whether God is calling me to youth ministry or missions at this point. Much of how the drive relates to my future after seminary would be psychological; for example, I don’t worry too much about having to assimilate into new cultures in a missionary setting. International missions is a distinct possibility that I’m seriously contemplating because I do not struggle too much with premonitions that may potentially be hindrances for others.

There are not too many of us that have made the drive to South America. But, having exchanged handful of emails with some of us that did, I know that we all thought the same thing when we got there: “how am I going to top this?” So back then as an agnostic, I started to plan how I am going to sail around the world by myself, though I have since then abandoned that endeavor. I suppose one of the ultimate ironies of all of this is that at that time when I made the trip I wanted to be known, if I were going to be known at all, for something that I initiated and accomplished on my own. But now that I’m a Christian, I want to accomplish that which I did not initiate and that which is not my doing; I want my name to decrease as God’s name increases, so that his name, glory, and renown covers the earth as the waters cover the sea. That’s the ultimate goal that I have in this journey I’m on now and for many more miles and years to come. Living to that end until my life ends would easily top any of my other past or future accomplishments that I can conceive of. And I look forward to meeting God when I persevere until the road ends (and begins) and hearing him greet me in the same way that the banner in Ushuaia did: “Welcome to the end of the world, and the beginning of everything.”

Posted in Uncategorized

I wonder if she knows just how beautiful she is when she smiles

I wonder if she knows just how beautiful she is when she smiles.

It was never meant to be.  But man, what a ride, and how I learned so much through this experience.

I didn’t realize that our seminary class was going to have so many new people.  I noticed her because she’s a girl, which is a rarity in seminary.  I should say that I immediately thought she was pretty.  I wasn’t attracted to her, because I just don’t these days just based on looks.  The first class we had was New Testament I, which involved a colloquium.  Meaning she needed to talk to get some points for her grade.  I had just learned from my company’s HR exercise that some people prefer to have a round table where everyone gets an equal chance to speak.  I began to think that she was one of those.  So towards the end of the class, I was just trying to make sure she was getting all that she could.  Her and another woman named Michelle had not participated, so I was thinking of ways to help both of them out.  But Michelle eventually raised her hand and she didn’t.  So I raised mine just to say, “I was actually wondering if she has a question.”  She thanked me and said that she actually does.  At that point, I didn’t really have an attraction for her, just trying to take care of people in the class or in any environment like I usually do.  I’ve always kept an eye out for those that may have been marginalized in some way.

Next class was Old Testament 1, beginning in late September.  I suppose one day I talked with her briefly and had a good idea what kind of girl she is.  I was starting to feel attracted to her, but I wasn’t quite sure if it was for the right reasons.  I heard through other people some snippets about her here and there.  Then I had a brief interaction with her and noticed that she’s got a pretty sarcastic humor like I do.  She loved God and wanted to learn more about God.  That’s all there is to it for her.  And when I realized that that’s the type of girl she is, that’s when it started to really pick up.

Around October 19th, as Old Testament 1 was winding down and right before we began Old Testament 2 was when I started to really struggle with it.  I thought to myself, there’s no way a girl like that could be single, and thought about it.  Perhaps I thought about it too much, but I didn’t want things to be unnecessarily awkward.  After all, we spent about 10 hours together stuck in a room on Friday/Saturday.  I told my small group that I’m thinking about asking someone out.  On November 6th, I texted this to my friend Patrick.

Me: you know, even if nothing comes out of this girl, I’ve already gotten so much out of it. I was thinking, what side of me can I show that would be meaningful to her? My degree, countries traveled, my bank account (or lack thereof), intelligence (or lack thereof), my military experience, my work ethic… 2:12 PM
Me: then I realized she doesn’t care about absolutely any of that. All she cares about me is that I really love God and that I really love people. I then realized that’s what God really cares about in my relationship with him, too. And I think that’s why Paul was saying, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish” (Phil 3:8). 2:14 PM
Me: I think I’m starting to understand more deeply what he means by that. All that stuff I’ve done and who I am don’t matter at all to her or to Christ… all that matters to her and God is that I love God and love my neighbor as myself. Everything else really is rubbish. 2:14 PM
Me: My 2013 new year’s resolution was to love god more, and I think at the very least he’s helping me do just that through her. I would still be very much satisfied if that was the only thing that God wanted me to get out of having gotten to know her and to never see her again. 2:21 PM

I went to go visit one of my friends in White Plains on Nov 8th.  She asked, “do you think she knows?”  I said “Yeah I think she does.”  And she said, “then you have to ask her.  Don’t delay.  She’s gonna grow impatient with you.  Ask her.”

So I decided I would.  November 16th, I stopped her just before she got on the train, and said, “Can I ask you a question?  Would you like to grab a drink with me sometime?”  She smiled, and said, “Yeah, sure!”  And gave me her number.  You should have seen her smile.

I saw her on November 20th.  She genuinely seemed happy to see me.  And she genuinely liked the place we went to.  I suppose I could regurgitate much of the conversation but I really shouldn’t.  I would just say that I would have done a few things differently.  First, I would never set up to meet someone for the first time over coffee late night.  She had been up and working since early morning to take care of some kids and it was 8:45 PM by the time I saw her.  I was also very tired myself, not having gotten a lot of sleep the night before, and I don’t remember thinking that I knew what I was doing half the time.  Second, I would have focused more on her day first than go right into so tell me more about you.  I wish I talked more about the experiences we’ve had in common so far and the people we’ve encountered than that.  Third, I should have just tried to have a good time with her and not focus on trying to learn more about her.  I asked her so many questions that it must have felt like an interview.   And fourth, I should have answered questions in fewer words.  I think I was so intent on being so transparent that I said a lot of things and it left very little to normal back and forth communication.  And besides, I ended up talking too much.  I realize now (again) that I’m a complicated guy.  I have a complicated story that I don’t think many people have, and it takes a while to tell all of it, and even more unnecessary effort to understand it all.  I need to learn to be brief and stick to the important notes.  Maybe she got a good sense of who I am, but I don’t think she had a great time being with me.  No knock on her, that’s for sure.  I think our interests were similar, and so is our character, but there were enough differences.  I left not getting a very good feeling.  I approached it like it was a blind date, when it was anything but.  Perhaps I had spent too much time over the last 3 months just wanting to get to know her.  I could have been much more controlled in my approach and just desire instead to just have fun with her.

She returned my text the next day and said that she doesn’t think it’ll work out.  I thanked her for her honesty, and I agree with my friends that it was a very nice and loving thing for her to do.  And of course I thought the same way, that was a very mature thing for her to do.  You get one chance to make an impression in things like this, and I obviously didn’t make a good one.  But I reacted in a very different way than all the others I’ve had.  I don’t feel too bad about it and my emotions today tell me that she had not become my idol, a far departure from where I would have been in a similar situation a year ago.  I’ve already moved on and am excited by other ways that I can use my time in the coming years (missions, PhD, and/or teaching).  I do wish I had a couple more shots of getting to know her better so that I can know for sure.  Yes I made a bunch of mistakes to a girl that I still very much like as a person, someone who I think is beautiful both inside and out.  But I do feel glad knowing that she has the kind of judgment that will allow her to find a more suitable person, and that has given me a lot of peace and ability to move on so quickly; and I do realize it’s also because I’ve finally come to a point where I treasure God over everything, including any human relationship.

This experience taught me a lot about getting into a relationship with God.   You don’t know how to please him if you don’t know him.  But as you grow in the relationship, you learn more about what makes him happy.  More you know about God, the greater number of possible things open up!  Kind of like starting a relationship with someone new.  The first date you won’t know anything about them.  But later on, as you get to know them better, you start thinking more about what pleases that person, and the possibilities are endless!  What events to attend together, what CDs to pick out, which movies to watch, what to say and what not to say, and a desire to spend more and more time with that person.  The possibilities of different ways of showing affection for that person becomes endless and and to me becomes most exciting, in both romantic and friendly relationship.  I think it’s the same way about God.  The more you know about God, the more your love for him grows, and you learn more different ways of pleasing God and you get a lot of joy out of doing that.  I get it so much better now.  You pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17) not because of some command you feel obligated to obey or because you believe he won’t ever do what’s best for you without prayer, but because you just can’t stop thinking about Him.

You can’t stop thinking about different ways to please him based on what you know pleases him.  Should I show my affection and love for him today through prayer?  Perhaps with evangelism and worship?  Or maybe I’ll share the gospel while serving the poor.  Or perhaps I’ll grieve with those who grieve.  So many different possibilities, and that is really exciting to me.

I am so indebted to her for helping me realize that.  It was worth the 3 month journey.  Because now I love God so much more for this experience and through this experience.

Tagged with:
Posted in Uncategorized
Archives