Monday, February 13, 2012

Embracing Myself and Being Embraced

For a while now, I’ve been struggling.

Being the only Chinese American leader in Intervarsity has been difficult. I go to UC Riverside, one of the most racially diverse campuses in the nation. What you need to understand is that there are many different Christian communities on our campus. More than half focus on a specific Asian ethnic group (ie. AACP, KCM, KCCC, A2F). Needless to say, I had many options. When I first when to Intervarsity, one of the first things I became aware of was that as a Chinese American, I was a minority there. It was a totally new experience for me.
For reasons I did not understand, God made it clear to me that I was to stay in Intervarsity, THE most racially diverse Christian org on campus.

To me, it was crazy because I grew up surrounded by Chinese culture and people. I grew up going to a Chinese church, Chinese private school, mostly Chinese friends… you get the picture!

It’s been challenging being a part of this community. Sometimes I need to explain myself-why I say certain things a certain way, or do things in a specific way because that’s the way I was raised and I’ve been influenced by my culture.
And I get tired because people don’t fully understand me. Especially in the ways it’s been a sacrifice.
Being Asian American, it is a real stereotype that we are pushed by our family to achieve academic success. We could argue this point,(and I’m not saying this isn’t true for other races and individuals) but for me, it was held above many things (including youth group and such. that’s a story for another time).
When I became more and more involved with Intervarsity, eventually stepping into a student leadership position, I was faced with some tension from my parents. They noticed how much time I was spending building relationships with people and serving in this community. My dad sent meany red flags and warnings- basically saying that if school was being sacrificed, I should cut Intervarsity out of my life because it wasn’t necessary.
I was afraid to let anyone know how alone I was feeling in this. I felt like it wasn’t even such a big deal, feeling alone and that I shouldn’t even bother mentioning it. I told myself that I should get over it, that I didn’t have to tell anyone because it wasn’t important. There were more important things to worry about.

This past Wednesday, we had a speaker come talk about racial reconciliation. At the end there was a time of reflection where they asked us to think about racial conflicts in our lives and challenged us to take steps towards forgiveness and reconciliation in those areas.They were also inviting people to receive prayer if they needed it.
I heard these things but I didn’t want to. I can’t explain it in words, but basically I was wrestling with God. He was bringing up something entirely different for me. He was bringing up the things I’d pushed aside and buried inside. The ways I’d been feeling so alone and isolated. Where I’d been feeling tired and burned out.
After a few minutes of an intense inner battle, I went up for prayer.
Before I knew what was happening, I was spilling out all the things I was feeling. The tears wouldn’t stop. When the speaker prayed for me, she said she was reminded of the woman with the alabaster jar.
Jesus is honored and pleased with your sacrifice.”
I felt a new freedom and peace and joy. I can’t fully explain it but it was amazing. It was like in that moment, Jesus was hugging me and whispering,
Well done, my good and faithful servant.
A lot of things happened after this. She and my staff worker encouraged me to share with the other leaders (about 15 others) about how I’ve been feeling at our next leader’s meeting, which was on Sunday. I still felt nervous.
On Friday, I received prayer from my mentor and right before she began she told me,
A picture that just came to mind was when Jesus was first baptized. This is before he even began his ministry and God was pleased with him. Proud of him.”
And I couldn’t help but smile and tear up because I knew exactly what it meant to me. God was telling me he was proud of me and loved me even before I do anything.
Let’s skip to Sunday.
Our weekly leader’s meeting. We had other things to do before then but at the back of my mind, I knew what was coming and I was shaking inside. It’s part of my culture to keep struggles and weaknesses inside. But Intervarsity has challenged me to be vulnerable and face conflict instead of avoiding it. So here I was, face to face with the choice to open my heart to a large group of people, many of whom I didn’t know very well.
I wrestled with God again. “It’s not even that big of a deal. Maybe I don’t even have to share. This should be enough.” But I knew God was saying, “No. Don’t choose to be alone again. I love you. Let them know.”
Eventually, at the end of the meeting, I shared. And I couldn’t help it but I cried while I shared. It was so quiet and I could feel everyone’s eyes on me but I couldn’t look at anyone. After I shared, one of my leaders thanked me and suggest everyone gather around me and pray for me.
“Let’s thank God for Denise and affirm who she is.”
It was one of the most awkward moments…ever.
But it was also one of the most amazing moments.
I was surrounded by people who loved me. And as they prayed for me, one by one, I felt like I was flying. They were thanking God for me being in their community and thanking me for being … me. haha. It was a humbling and uplifting experience.
People thanked me for things I wasn’t even aware of.
I want to share some of the things they said. I am so humbled and filled with joy at hearing these things.
Here were some of the things said:
“God, I thank you for her big heart. She was the first to come up to me and want to get to know me. When she hugs me, I can feel the genuine love.”
“I wouldn’t be here without her. She looks so much like you, Jesus.”
I thank you for her friendship, her big heart, her generosity and her friendship.”
“Our community wouldn’t be the same without her.”
“Her genuine love for people is so clear. God, I thank you for the ways she has sacrificed to love those around her.”
“God, I thank you for the joy she brings.”
When one of my closer friends was praying for me, she choked up at the end and I knew she was crying. What is shocking is that… she pretty much never cries. Afterwards, she came up to me and hugged me. She told me that when I was sharing, before everyone prayed, she couldn’t stop crying.
“I had rivers of tears coming out when you were sharing. … I am seriously so thankful for you. You saved my life. And you saved the life of my best friend.”
My breath caught and I was shaking inside. “No, it wasn’t me. It was Jesus. Jesus saves.”
She looked at me. “Yes, he does. But he used you.”

It felt so good to know that I’m doing it right. That I’m living the way Jesus wants me to and that people notice it too and are blessed by it. That I’m not just living for myself. That people know that I’m doing it out of genuine love.
If you had met me two years ago, I was definitely not like this. It’s only because I’ve experienced Jesus’ great love for me that I’ve changed so much.
 It’s because of his love that I can love like I couldn’t before. It’s because of his love that I am filled with joy and people see it.
God you are so amazing. I don’t have enough words to praise you. Thank you for using me and putting me in such a community.
And for those of you who are feeling alone or have never experienced this kind of community and love, I am here to tell you that it’s not just for me. It’s not just for a few special individuals. It’s for everyone.
But better than any person could love you,
Jesus is the best lover you could ever have.
I challenge and encourage you to give him a chance.
Because I can promise that once you experience his love,
your whole life will change. You won’t ever be able to go back :]
I’m crazy for Jesus and it’s amazing to know he’s crazy for me.