Where the Time Has Gone

I do this every year… except for the year ending 2011.1 So I figure I’d play catch up and write what happened since then. It was also important for me to actually write this before the start of 2013. I know, time is relative, so it doesn’t really matter when I write this particular post, but that relative time of our calendar turning from one year to next is significant symbolism to me to actually stick to what I set out to do and write this year (or in this case years) of review.

Last time around, I wrote that I planned on making 2011 a better year. In a way, it was better in that I had a way better understanding of who I was. I found myself. Prior to that period, if anyway asked me who I was or asked how I identified myself as, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I not only opened up, but I refused to put up some kind of facade of who I was trying to be whenever I met new people. I aimed to be honest and authentic. I didn’t hide the awkward, geeky nature of myself and just sort of embraced it. I mean, up to this point, I was a hardcore World of Warcraft player that took the better half of my 20’s. But with that authenticity and honesty came vulnerability. I went on an emotional roller coaster ride in 2011. I found myself deep in the valley, hidden in the darkness, wondering where hope had run off to. In one hand, love hurt. But it was the love of this world. And it was a love I felt entitled to and that love belonged to me. But no, that love was not mine. On the other hand, there was a different kind of love. This love brought with it an ocean-sized pool of grace, forgiveness, hope, and mending. But I shuttered the latter love just so I can deeply hold onto the former—a selfish love, the world’s love. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t want to let go.

Despite being surrounded by people who cared for me, I hid my true feelings back into a corner and put up the old protective facade just so I could get through the day. I carried that burden to work. I carried it back home to my sleep. I cried out to God wondering why did He have to take this joy away? I felt I was at my worst—at the very bottom—at the start of September. I went to The Gorge in George, Washington to the Dave Matthews Band. I’ve been a fan of theirs since I moved to Southern California, but it was my first concert. I was a wreck the whole weekend. Despite wanting to see them, I just didn’t want to be there. At the same time, I didn’t want to be home either. I was sick and tired of work. The job itself was too stressful and it was too mundane. And the people I needed to work with felt like they betrayed me. I just couldn’t do the job anymore.

So I asked God to take it all away from me. Take away the pain, the hopelessness, the fear.

The next morning at work. I was laid off.

I smiled I drove back home. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t think what should I being next. I didn’t even question why it happened. In a strange way, this was how He answered to deliver me from the suffering I inflicted on myself.

Once I arrived back at my lonely one bedroom apartment, I chose not to contact anyone. I took my Bible out. I took my guitar out. I started reading. I started praying. I started playing and praising. I wanted to surrendering everything to Him. I acknowledged that I am not in control. I renounced that my will is now His. I thanked God for all things up until this point. I recognized that only He can make all things good. My shortsightedness would never be able to see the thread He’s woven to create the life He wants to give me. The rest of the day I remained in prayer and worship.

The next morning I received a call from my old boss. I didn’t answer. I figure I’ll get back to him later in the week. I still felt I wasn’t done with surrendering myself to God, so I continued. I prayed. I worship. I read His Word. I listened intently to hear if there was anything He wanted to say to me.

I finally returned my old boss’ phone call later in the week. It was unfortunate that he had to remove me from that project. Again, I wasn’t happy on the project anyway, so I didn’t feel too bad. He told me he had another project, but it was limited to a few months. It was a slight dock in pay, but it was something I wanted to do—QA automation programming. It also turned out that particular project was already using a programming language I taught myself over the last ten years. The temporary job couldn’t have been a more perfect fit for me considering the timing.

While on this new project, I was fired up that I was able to create new things at work. Sure, I was essentially only a QA tester, but every challenge that came my way I conquered it with elegance. I realized this natural ability I had design and development truly came from God. I thanked Him every time on a new design or solving a new problem. I learned new design patterns with the testing framework in use. I ended up taking work home with me because I would have an awesome idea how to automate and record a process and continue to design and write it.

But of course, that job was indeed temporary. It was early February, and I found it sooner than expected that I would be laid off again. At least I received a 3 day notice. But I still didn’t have a back up plan. I trust that God was going to put me wherever He wanted me to be whether or not I wanted to be there. That’s the crazy thing about God: the fact that He knows more about you than you will ever know about yourself, He’ll put you in these new situations or places and He knows you’ll love it. I felt invincible with Him at my side.

I immediately applied for my unemployment and polished my resume within the first week or so of being out of work. After that, I just didn’t actively look for work. I mean, I should have. But I felt like I could keep honing my skills. Up to this point, I’ve never been a professional programmer or a software developer. I’ve been doing program and development ever since I moved to Southern California, but I never felt confident to apply for any software position with my seemingly out of place BA in Christian Ministry from APU. So every day, I woke up and I coded. I finally got around to learn to build web applications off of an MVC framework—Yii. I attempted to learn Yii a couple of other times in the past, but now I felt I just had to get down and just do it now matter how counter-intuitive it seemed like at the time. I did this for a number of weeks. I did the math. Between the massive credit card bill I amassed the year before and the normal rent and bills I needed to pay, there just wasn’t enough income to cover the minimal expenses. I knew I could do nothing for about 4 weeks, but I really needed to search for a new job in the following month.

At the end of February, I received a call from an old associate of mine. He started a new company and was looking for a junior developer. I applied and interview for the position. I prepped myself the best I could. I read up on common design patterns and memorized a few examples. This was my first interview for a software developer. I didn’t know what to expect. I just kept hearing tough interviewing stories from big companies like Microsoft and Google.

I interviewed with their senior software engineer. He only asked me about design patterns after I brought it up. I should’ve kept my mouth shut. He tested me on a few patterns and I really didn’t answer them the “correct way”. I was close, but not what one would expect from a programmer that may have actually implemented said pattern. I solved a couple problems as well as writing a few regular expressions by hand. Afterwards, he had me sit with one of their developers and had me assess how I would solve then problem this particular position would be tackling. I didn’t take me more than 5 minutes to give two solid solutions for it. My interview concluded. I didn’t feel completely positive about it. In a way, I didn’t want the job because it was all the way out in Irvine—and that would be horrible commute—unless, of course, it paid well enough so I could move to Irvine.

My friend called me back about the position. It sounded they were putting together a possible offer, but I told them how much I wanted. They couldn’t come close to matching what the industry compensation for that role. They were a start up after all.

I continued my daily discipline in self-taught software development. Funds were getting tighter after every week. I needed to do something quick. I applied directly to a couple of jobs, but I just felt I didn’t need to worry about any of this. I didn’t understand why, but He told me not to worry. Again, I continued to learn. I continued to develop.

In early March I received a phone call from an area code I didn’t recognize. It was a phone call from a small company based out of Washington DC. The person on the phone was not a recruiter, instead he was part owner of this company. He found me on Monster. We talked for about half an hour or so. He asked if I could meet with his partner to be interviewed for the technical portion of the job. They had an office in Costa Mesa (which was next to Irvine, but slightly closer to where I lived in Brea).

I wasn’t really nervous for this interview. I probably should have been considering my finances at this point. If they were to offer me the position, I should take it no matter what. A job is better than no job in this economy. But I took the interview in stride. I felt I was perfectly capable in fulfilling the position. At the conclusion of this interview I needed to write up a quick sample code. I spent two days working on the small project prior to submitting it. They asked me to come back in for one more interview—to talk with a fellow software engineer. In the end, they asked how much compensation I was expecting, they countered, and I waited. I waited in prayer to decide. On paper, it was less than my software QA position and this new role I would be a software engineer. But I felt God pushing me in a new direction. Taking this job was the right thing to do—despite the fact I know I would be spending close to two hours a day fighting Orange County traffic…

Before I exhausted all my resources, God provided me with a good job.

During this time, I participated in a life group2 with a couple of other younger guys from church. I really didn’t want to go. They met up in San Dimas and I knew I would have to drive from Brea to San Dimas with the traffic going up the 57. I mean, I was prepared with excuses to not just go. But back in September, when I told God that I will give up my will to do His, this life group was one of those commands to obey. And it wasn’t to participate to mentor to these guys, but that my obedience to attend was for Him to teach me something new.

I did get a chance to share my own life experience with these guys. I was clearly the oldest one in the group. Many of them in their early or mid-20s. Many of them single and struggle with the temptation with singleness as a man. Many of them, as were I, struggled with self-identity and what it means to be a man in this world let alone how to be a man of God. It was really the first consistent small group I attended for a number of months.

After taking the job in Costa Mesa, I couldn’t keep attending. I would come home pretty late and exhausted from my commute. I had to drop from the group. I was really bummed about it because it felt like I found a bunch of guys I could trust and hold me accountable for the things I do.

It take me more than a month of that horrible commute between Brea and Costa Mesa to decide to just move down deeper into Orange County. It all worked out. My cousin had an extra room at her apartment in Irvine. At the end of my lease, August, I moved down to Irvine with my cousin. Life just felt better when I moved. Not only was I less than ten minutes away from the office, being this much closer to the beach made it feel like home (of course, the fact Irvine is heavily populated with Asians also help make it feel more like Hawaii).

The last thing on my list was to find a new church. Until I found one, I kept driving to San Dimas to CCV. This was almost as ridiculous as the time I would drive out to WVCC in the San Fernando valley from Covina. One morning, I was too late to drive out to one of the services on CCV. I pulled up Yelp on my phone to find a church—any church. There were two churches within walking distance of me: Harvest and Newsong. Both churches are next to each other. Newsong won out because it was the closer of the two. Really, it was that easy.

Unlike my mostly non-existent participation at CCV, I vowed that I will immediately get plugged into whatever new church I end up at (or now that I think about it, wherever God puts me). The moment I stepped through the doors at Newsong, I felt I’m being pushed to serve. I was not satisfied to just sit there at every service. I was compelled to get up and do something. Despite this new found fire and passion to serve, I knew I had to be patient. I didn’t want to dive and do the wrong thing. I’m not saying I’m waiting for the right thing, but for any organization (whether it’s paid or volunteer), its their leaders’ best intentions to place the right people in the right place.  I attended any dinner or meeting or whatever gathering Newsong had to offer outside of church. I know I wanted to find a new small group. I did what I could to find out whatever information to get me where I wanted to be.

Outside of the church, I had this idea to spend some real time with God. I’ve been carrying around a Moleskin notebook for years and I mainly used that for notes when I was at CCV. I scheduled in this time with God on a weekly basis. My calendar read: “Breakfast with God, every Saturday morning”. It was pretty simple. I wrote to Him in prayer. I read His Word and listened. Most weeks it’s me writing and complaining about things. But I feel He reveals Himself as I write. You can read in my writings that there is in fact a two way conversation.

One week in late October, I was convicted to ask God for something I was hesitant to. I know, deep down inside I really wanted to find Eve. I would ask Him that, but it wasn’t the right question. I asked Him for something that was not obvious to me until I wrote it down. I wanted to cry as I wrote it. It wasn’t just that He knew what I needed, but only then I was made so very aware that I deeply needed it. I asked Him to be my friend. And that I find friends like Him. Friends that are true and loving—but I guess they would be flawed unlike Him. But those sincerely honest, yet flawed, friends are like me and I want to find them. Where are they, God? Help me find them. Help them find me.

It didn’t take long. I plugged myself into a young adults group in Newsong. It’s a fairly large group with a number of people I’m still trying to remember their names every single week. I got to know new people. I kept reminding myself that true, authentic relationships takes time and patience. Start doing the little things. Then build on these small things. Be consistent. And don’t forget to always be yourself.

I heard the church was putting a new small groups meeting on Sunday. This was after I already discovered the young adults group and was thinking about passing on the small group thing and just try to build a small group out in young adults. Even though I intended to go to the meeting, I was making up excuses not to go. Ultimately, I dragged myself and walked back over to the church. I didn’t recognize anyone at this meeting. I sat in the back with a table that looked like young couples. I looked around and it seemed like it was mostly couples and families. Definitely not my demographic. We were asked to break up and find a small group according to location and then similar demographic. I just sat there. I figure I’ll leave unnoticed.

On my way out, I did notice a somewhat younger group to my left. I was compelled to approach them and sit down. It was rather awkward. I came in relatively late and it seemed like I killed the conversation. So now I’m thinking of a not so awkward exit. Well, that didn’t happen. I tried to break the ice with small talk. Eventually the group came back together after we were instructed to answer a few small group questions. It was time to assign roles to the group. Again, up until this point, I still expected to just sort of duck out. I didn’t fill out my sheet. In the end, I was nominated to be the group’s leader—well, more specifically, the group’s facilitator—liaison to the church. That was most unexpected.

After the meeting concluded, I gathered everyone’s contact information, took the small group facilitator folder, and walked over to Starbucks to think this out. I was nervous. I didn’t want this to fail. I felt it was now my responsibility for this small group to be successful. From my past experience, it’s so difficult organize a small group of young adults—who are also busy with their professional career—to consistently get together for something like this. I sat there reading the material figuring out what can I possibly do?

The answer? Nothing.

God made it clear that this is His group. It’s not mine at all. He put us all together for His glory. I was told to act accordingly. I asked for patience and wisdom. I asked that he takes away the anxiousness. I ask that this group will recognize the purpose He wants to give us. That we go on our own little adventure to discover why He put us together.

These last two months, November and December, was so much more than I ever dreamed of or what I ever asked for. God answers prayers. He gives me exactly what I need and when I’ll need it. He will never give me anything I cannot handle—because really, all things are possible through Him. Between the new friends I’ve met and this new resurgence of love for my own family, I could not thank God enough in my last breakfast with Him. Oh yeah, I also looked at my income spreadsheet before I went out that morning. Some how, I grossed more money in 2012 than I did in 2011—despite my reported salary in 2011 was supposed to be higher than 2012. Oh yeah, and I didn’t work for close to 6 weeks this year. My mind was completely blown. He likes doing that, right?  I don’t understand it. He’s always faithful despite my stubbornness and willingness to disobey at times.

So this brings my story to tonight. Tonight, on the eve of yet another new year, despite all the old and new friends I have, I manage to spend ringing in this new year alone. I felt it was my responsibility to write up this post (because truthfully I wouldn’t have written it at all past tonight). I don’t know who’s out there that will read it, but whoever you are, I hope you gain another perspective of the awesomeness of God. I know pain and suffering is relative to each individual. My story pales in comparison to so many others. But my suffering was real. God’s faith in me that I would turn back to Him was real. He will use all things for His good. And when He does, don’t ever forget that your life—that turn around from the bad to good—exists to glorify His mighty name.

Live a great life. Have an amazing 2013!

P.S. I’m okay for being alone tonight. I have this feeling that I’ll be far from alone one year from now.

  1. As far as the other years, well, those were in the original Journals of Single Thread []
  2. CCV calls their small groups life groups []

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