“Casy said gently, ‘Sure I got sins. Ever’body got sins. A sin is somepin you ain’t sure about. Them people that’s sure about ever’thing an’ ain’t got no sin-well, with that kind a son-of-a-bitch, if I was God I’d kick their ass right outa heaven! I couldn’ stand em!'”

 

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Eighteen and a day

Yesterday, my facebook was inundated with happy birthdays. Even more surprising, it was decorated with lovingly drawn birthday caricatures of me, courtesy of my equally loving friends. Aside from my internet presents, I was also pleasantly surprised by a couple of gifts in real life! Overall, it was a good birthday for me. My friends care. And they are awesome.

That night, after eating my obligatory dinner of noodles (a Chinese tradition: apparently eating long strands of noodles will give you a long life), I took some time to reflect on some of the growth in me in my 17th year of life – because midterms just weren’t that important to study for.

I guess the thing that struck me the most was simple and glaringly, embarassingly obvious: I was growing up. I was officially an adult now. I can buy cigarettes and lottery tickets now; I can sign official documents without my parents’ approval anymore: I am officially responsible for myself. Of course, I still plan on enjoying my mom’s wonderful home-cooked meals for as long as physically possible, but apart from my basic living arrangements, I feel suddenly changed. Earlier this year, I had already made a commitment, and a resolution, to officially “step onto the battlefield,” to go from lukewarm to passionate – spiritually, and in every other aspect of my life. I think yesterday just officially cemented that goal.

Whereas my previous resolution was binding, essentially, only to myself, turning eighteen – and becoming a “true” adult, a real man – forced myself into really committing. Whatever support I was still clinging to before was officially thrown out the window; it wouldn’t matter if I still felt hesitation or uneasiness, because regardless of what I felt, the time for growing up has come.

I felt the same fear that I experienced earlier in the year with my revival in faith, but it’s okay. Time won’t wait for me. I feel some regret that my childhood years have officially ended, and that I would have less excuse for my frequent lacks in judgement, but I was also immensely excited. Eighteen brings a whole world of new opportunities. I only need to live it out, and savor it. My mom bought me a really nice birthday cake, and I’ve been eating it… like a man. A responsible, adult man.

noobish

I really, really really wish I could sing better. Singing and guitar, along with improv piano, must be the most valuable talents in the world. Honestly, I’d take that over wealth and status any day.

I have finals and competitions for scientific olympians coming up, and having musical talent would make the overtime I’m putting into studying a lot more enjoyable. Oh well, I guess I can always just sit back, and listen to happier men. Why do they always sing about their female troubles? Firewater, Cigarette, and How I Go by Yellowcard are some of my favorite songs.

I wish

I wish I could live life fuller. Like Thomas Crown or something… I wish I could live the crap out of every day of my life: Have an appointment for every moment. Wallow in uncertainty. Stand on nothing. Lean on nothing. Live on nothing. Sleep less (Sleep is such a waste of time. I’ve begun to hate my need for sleep so much.)  Wear a new designer suit every day. Meet a new person every day. Write novels. Backpack across Europe. Run a marathon. Meet the president. Be heard. Fly across the world.

That kind of stuff.

I don’t want to collect dust in an indolent millionaire’s live either. Life is too short to be wasting time. I don’t want to relax on a beach, or waste away on cruises. Time wasted is still wasted whether on a hammock in the Bahamas or on a couch in my living room. I just want to live fully. Be significant and do significant things.

Or something like that.

And it’s so unfortunate, that the single greatest thing holding me from flight is myself. My own weight. My own obsession with having solid, concrete earth to stand on. My own fear of weightlessness – of the weightless feeling it brings, of the nakedness, and the feelings of ineptitude it provokes. And so I begin piling on extra weight for myself. Just because. I figure, “If I increase my burden, then I have more of an excuse not to be soaring.” But I’m only making life so much harder on myself. Flying isn’t that hard, but I won’t learn. And so I beat on, complaining in obscure blogs, and thinking more about “prioritizing” and “streamlining” life. I’ll get on it.

Actually, I’ve been getting on it. Life has been a lot more full recently – as evidenced by the dearth of new posts these past few weeks (the amount of meaningful activities I have to occupy my time is inversely related to the frequency of new posts here). This blog is only for my own self-pity, which usually gives me the jumpstart I need to get back on track. So don’t mind me. I’ll fly again soon.

Or something like that.

I’m not intelligent

Recently, in a desperate attempt at becoming “more cultured,” I’ve begun picking up books that I feel I “should have read before.” I quickly compiled a list of books consisted mostly of dense classics that I otherwise never would have touched. Sadly, none of the books made any sense to me.  And I tried, and I tried, but I just couldn’t finish them. All the while, I kept telling myself that if I couldn’t finish the books, I wasn’t intelligent, and that if I couldn’t appreciate the books on a deep, deep level, then I was severely missing out. I definitely felt like an intellectual elitist. A disappointed, frustrated elitist.

What probably hurt the most was that, after failing to finish a couple classics, I then turned to classic movies. The high rating ones on imdb. The “deep” ones that an esteemed intellectual would appreciate. Those movies didn’t make sense either. I either wiki’d their plots, fell asleep, or simply sat through miserable two hour viewing experiences.

The past week or so has certainly been humbling. Then, I realized, that forcing myself through hours of heavy reading or boring film – especially in a time of much needed rest and relaxation – was the only “non-intelligent” thing I was doing. And so I promptly picked up my “simplistic” books and “fun” movies again, and indulged in mindless, yet strangely satisfying, pleasure. If intelligence is a measure of how capable I am of bringing myself happiness, then I think it was the intelligent thing to do. And if not, then I’m just not intelligent.

Langston lolz

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?”

I be feeling some explosions.

A Call to Men

http://www.ted.com/talks/tony_porter_a_call_to_men.html

Grace 2010: Small Group

I came into Grace expecting to do great things. Somehow, the weeks prior had allowed my “do-good” ego to super inflate – to a point where when I actually arrived at Grace, and realized that I was completely unprepared and foolish looking, you could probably actually hear my ego deflating – complete with the air rapidly swooshing out of my bloated pride. But, with every burst of my bubble comes a special sort of catharsis, and in the end I managed to build myself back up again, this time with a more sustaining foundation for my pride. Out with the bad, in with the new.

Back to the beginning. I arrived a day late and only a few minutes before my first official small group session. My group had already acclimated itself to an extent without me. Ironically, the supposed “leader” was the awkward, intruding outsider. We sat for devotionals, and that’s about all that happened. We sat, with awkward glances up every once in a while, but otherwise in complete silence: “immersed in our reading.” At that point I began to panic. Why had I not prepared myself more? What was I doing in this position? What if… I ruin this huge spiritual opportunity for my group members?

My confidence faltered, and I began to pray for courage – namely, for the right words to say. I pray and I pray, and then I glance down at the chapter we were supposed to be reading. Isaiah 51. I read through it, and I am smacked in the face: “I have put my words in your mouth, I have covered you in the shadow of my hand.”

Somehow, even after I was blatantly told that I would have the right words to say, that first small group session remained undeniably awkward. There were still awkward glances here and there, a pressing, choking silence, and a forced and nervous group closing prayer. We disbanded, perhaps ostensibly in failure, but something inside me had changed. Small group was no longer defined by pass or fail, pouring heavenly wisdom or idiotic rambling. Rather, I began to see small group as defined by whether I have it or not: a focus, and a belief. We moved from that session to grow a less and less awkward group, and I grew courage knowing that both my genius and mishaps would bring the same Glory – because the words coming from my mouth were no longer just my own.

It was lessons like these that I learned from my small group. In general, all my lessons can be summarized in a single thought: teaching can be the best learning, giving the best way to receive. I was teacher, and leader, and perhaps a spiritual guide, both those titles were just that: empty titles. There were no distinctions from teacher and leader. In the following days, I received similar blatant messages – from sermons, or songs, or from my readings – but most of all, from my small group. On many occasions, it seemed that God had not only put his words in my mouth, but in my group’s mouths as well. They were truly teaching their teacher.

The last night with my group quickly approached. That final night was one of the most warm and fulfilling moments I’ve ever remembered. I know many, including myself, are accustomed to “feeling God” through a single, glorious and passionate emotion that hits them during an intense bout of worship. And that was how I expected to be hit again. Luckily, that source of feeling that I once depended on was completely dry. Instead, I found that love from giving love away. There were no intense spiritual breakdowns, only simple, humble gestures of love. I poured all my heart to my small group, yet somehow my heart kept growing fuller and fuller. It was the second part to that beautiful paradox that I had taken home: giving is the best way to receive.

That torn and battered ego from the first day returned home, fuller than ever, filled this time not with selfish prideful love, but a selfless, proud and loving foundation. And I am confident that this is a good pride. I am so proud of my small group and the love that they wield.

2011 Resolution: Kingdom Business

Somehow, I managed to procrastinate all the way to the 31st before making a new year’s resolution. Luckily, I came home from Grace inspired: in 2011, I resolve to do Kingdom Business.

The speaker at Grace emphasized one point again and again: be bold, take risks, do business. He gave an interesting anecdote about his childhood. He loved playing Monopoly, and he knew the trick to winning was to spend on all he had, “buy, buy, buy! take risks and accumulate property,” but he was upset at the end of every game, because, regardless of what happened during the game, all the pieces ended up back in the box just the same. Our lives, my speaker argued, follow a similar pattern. No matter how hard we try, everything we can possibly accomplish with the resources we’re given will eventually be put back in the box anyway. Because those resources are not ours. We’re using them on rent.

My speaker then related his story with a similar story from Jesus: the Parable of the Minas. A rich ruler gives each of his servants a mina to work with and leaves on a journey. When he returns, the dutiful servants who worked and expanded his money were rewarded while the timid servant who did nothing with the money suffered more. I also was given mina. It is the relationships I have, the people I can influence, the positions I’ve been given, the money I receive, the glory passing through me, and the love poured on me. And in the end, everything will go back in the box. In 2011, I resolve to buy and take risks. I resolve to work my mina.

I resolve to do Kingdom Business. And, more broadly, I resolve to be driven not by fear but by Glory.

Grace 2010: The Journey There

Grace 2010 was a large Christian conference that I just returned from. This is part of my attempt at explaining all that happened those few, fateful days.

A month or so prior: A few good friends really encourage me to go to Grace. Unfortunately, the conference happens to coincide with what may be the most crucial period of my high school academic career: the final deadlines for college applications. Simply not procrastinating may have solved the entire problem, but I seem to work best under pressure; I was hesitant. To me, the life-changing potential of college applications outweighed the soul-changing potential of Grace Conference. After some thinking, I decided to come to a compromise: I would strike up a deal with God. I would ask for a sign, and if He answered I would chose Grace.

A few weeks prior: Sure enough, my God answered. And in the weeks leading up to the conference, I was encouraged again and again by what I determined could only mean God’s promise for greatness. From simple thoughts persistently flowing through my mind, to particularly compelling prayers, to even physical manifestations of encouragement, I was thoroughly convinced of coming Glory. I signed up to be a senior high small group leader. I thought that was where God would use me: I’ll pour out the love that He first poured onto me. Life was good.

Three days prior: I wake up with a minor sore throat. No big deal. I come home that night with a running nose and regular coughing fits. Nothing but an annoyance. I spend the second night before leaving wide awake – unable to sleep with this excruciating headache. At a certain point, I decided to abandon my hopes of having restful sleep, and decided instead to talk to my father (he doesn’t like sleeping either). At this point he’s still more worried about my applications than my sickness. But only a couple minutes into our conversation, he says it: “if you don’t get healthy, I don’t want you going to Grace.”

I spent the next day bed-ridden with bronchitis. I felt an unseemly mixture of grief, confusion, and righteous anger with my God. “My God is a tease.” But I held to hope wherever I could find it. For then, I tried to honor my God however I knew how, and in that case it was through honoring my parents. Eventually, the date I was supposed to leave passeed, and I was still at home, despite my best intentions, still bitter and bundled in blankets. God has a strange sense of humor though, and that day my mother had an opinion of his own: “his headache was so bad last night; if it hurt so much already then it can’t possibly hurt anymore.” I love a woman’s logic. But hope prevailed, and I moved onto Grace, albeit a day late.

In hindsight, my pre-conference troubles seem oddly comedic. Besides, by now I see a clear lesson shining through: despite how highly I think of myself, the King knows best.