Remembering in Gratitude

People in the states call today Black Friday. It’s considered the first official Christmas shopping day of the year. They call it Black Friday because it’s supposedly the one day in the year retailers are able to “get back in the black” from this one day of shopping. I call it Black Friday because of the chaos, greed, and the pure ugliness what people are willing to do to get a better deal. And you know what my favorite part about Black Friday is? It follows Thanksgiving—a day where we lift up our gratitude for all the things up until that day, and we find ourselves immediately discontent with said things and want to find more stuff to satisfy us right after celebrating Thanksgiving dinner.

I’m the last person to past judgement on anyone who partakes in Black Friday. You may not find me in anywhere near any retail outlet today, but I do find myself checking out sales on the Internet through this entire weekend. My inbox this morning was filled with sales and deals from Amazon, Zappos, Newegg, eBay… the list goes on forever. I would like to say that I am impervious to their marketing, but deep down in my heart I do think, “If I only had this brand new <insert-awesome-new-thing>, it would make my life better.” With that very thought passing through my mind, I am no better than anyone else.

It’s not just in the retail space where I find myself discontent. I heard through the posts of Facebook a friend of mine finally proposed to his long-time girlfriend. They shared so much history together, it was inevitable that they were going to be married. I was excited for them—I congratulated them. But when I looked through the photos of their engagement celebration, the thought crept in wondering when will I get to have that experience? My friend just got promoted in his company, his career is taking off. From outside looking in, it seems like he’s at the top of his game. “When will I be there?” I thought.

It’s like I threw away every thing that was good before those moments. Why is it I always want more and can never be content what I have now? Why do I never remember where I was—selfishly being in the darkness pushing my LORD away?

I found myself wanting to train my mind—my heart—for Thanksgiving. I can’t think of being thankful for the sake of being thankful. There isn’t much weight behind that thought. But I wanted to remember where I was and how my sovereign and loving Father took me out from the mire and lifted me and placed me on His shoulders. I wanted to remember while in this earthly body, I am always going to be a work in progress. The life that I live and the predicaments I found myself is part of a larger story being written in the story of this world. How I respond with free will choice is a decision whether or not I love and trust my Maker. And when I find myself where I think I’m in darkness alone, will I remember the time when He found me and rescued me time and time again? I must remember all those things to be truly grateful and content.

Realizing that maybe it’s just another step I’m taking to grow in the Spirit.

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 []

A Definition of Success

Before the foundation of the earth, I believe that my Creator had a blueprint for my life. And when I discover what that is and I live it. That’s success.

When I first heard this quote, it completely blew my mind. I’ve heard a number of definitions of success—generic ones, definitions from very successful, well-regarded people from the secular sector, and God-first sounding ones from the spiritual section. It’s probably because of where I’m at in life 1 why this particular quote hit me. Unfortunately, I do not have a definitive answer who said this. I’m sure there have been many variations of it, but this exact copy of this quote has an inexact origin.

I heard this this past Sunday at church. Our guest speaker was Gideon Sang of Vox Veniae in Austin, Texas. Gideon attributed this quote to Daniel Smith of Danielson Famile. Gideon heard it in the Danielson Famile’s documentary called Danielson: A Family Movie (or, Make a Joyful Noise Here). Knowing Gideon’s source, I was originally going to attribute that quote to Daniel Smith. But after the service on Sunday, I wanted to know the quote word for word. I searched all over the web looking up terms from whatever I remembered from the quote: “foundation”, “success”, “Daniel Smith”, “blueprint”. I couldn’t find anything close to it. Finally, I had to find the movie myself.

I did manage to procure said movie. The movie, Danielson: A Family Movie (or, Make a Joyful Noise Here), is a great documentary. It’s a story of Daniel Smith starting a band, brought his family in as members, and performed in clubs and bars in front of (mostly) a secular audience. His lyrics are faith-based and the music has a an “indie”2 feel to it. Anyway, whether or not you’re Christian, it’s a definite watch.

So I watched the movie from beginning to end, and there is nowhere in that film where Daniel Smith said that particular quote. Gideon mentioned Daniel said this quote in a press interview near the end. Daniel did say this about success:

Success to me, first and foremost, is staying to true to who you’re made to be. Who you’re created to be. I believe from the beginning of time—before time—there’s a plan that’s been written for each and one of us. And when you’re born those things that are in you. Our life’s journey is to find out what those things are… And to discover those tools within us… And to exercise those skills… And refine them… To me, that’s success.

— Daniel Smith of Danielson Famile

Gideon Sang wasn’t too far off. His version is more direct and a bit more eloquent compared to Daniel Smith’s, but both men drove the point home.  We were given a purpose. We are driven to find it. (I also have a good idea what the general theme is to everyone’s purpose in life, but I’ll save that for another post.)


  1. Which is sort of like where I was about two years ago, but slightly better []
  2. Yup, I’m bad with genres, and it definitely does not sound like pop music. []

2011, making a better year

I started out the new year away from home with a few friends from college out in June Lake.  I remember the first time I went with a similar group of people way back in 2003.  At that point in life, I was experiencing change and I knew God wanted to do something grand, but I was resistant to allow Him to take total control of my life.  My remaining time completing my undergrad work was met with a lot of friction—I wanted to control my destiny whereas God wanted me to do greater things.

Because I didn’t want to let go of control, there was a lot of pain in understanding what I were to do next.  It wasn’t until five years after graduating is when I realized I had completely let go and hit an all-time low in my life.  (It’s definitely wasn’t rock bottom when compared to other people’s life-changing experience, but it was definitely the lowest point in my own life.)  That was 2010.  It was an extremely hard year for me, but as I mentioned before, it could have ended a lot worst.  It was 2010 that I needed to reconcile my relationship with God.  I went back to prayer.  I rediscovered His Word.  I listened for His voice.  I devoted my life daily to discover His will for me.

With all that mind, I’m starting 2011 a bit differently.  I’m reminded I have friends who care.  I discovered despite my current job in the marketplace may not be ideal, I have the ability to share what it means to live as a Christian to over three dozen people.  I may not yet be in tuned to God’s voice, but I’m making a daily effort to understand His character in order to discern what it means to act, do, decide, and speak in Christ-likeness.

So far, this year is starting off far better than I could ever imagine.  I never thought I could be in a position like this over a year ago considering the pain and lost of direction I experienced.  So I thank Him.  Both good and suffering will be experienced this year, and whatever hard decisions and experiences I come across, God is always good.  God is always faithful. I will always put my trust in Him.  His love is all I need.

Below are a few photographs I pulled from my trip up to June Lake during the New Year’s weekend.  It was amazing to be in the middle of His creation and (mostly) step away from man’s doing (i.e. technology).  Though, at the same time, I did capture these photographs with Nikon’s latest DSLR.  😉

Count thy blessings

It’s been a financially tough year for me (even then, it really wasn’t).  I didn’t want to generically say it was a rough year because it really wasn’t that bad.  I still had my health.  That counts for something compared to others who have been suffering.  I didn’t completely lose my job this year.  It was more like I was “in-between-projects”.  I only work for my company if they have any projects.  This year it was a complete dry spell for work.  I’m pretty positive I worked a grand total of 4 months so far this year. So yeah, it was rough.

With all this newly free time I acquired, I decided to get right (or at least strive towards that goal) with God as well as visit a few friends that I lost along the way.  I can’t quite figure out the math how I managed to avoid applying for unemployment but still always tithed whatever God provisioned, didn’t need to struggle in order to put food on the table and a roof over my head, as well as take four trips back home to see my friends and family.  I looked at my accounts this last month and realized that I’m not going to make it.  At that point it felt like God came out of nowhere to give company work to finish out the year (albeit I had to take a significant pay cut, but getting something is always better than nothing).

I really don’t get it.  I just don’t.

I know I was never in a unrecoverable position compared to the rest of the world.  But it was relatively worrisome for me.  God is with me every step of the way and I don’t want to ever forget that He was and always will be.  I have a lot to thank for this Thanksgiving.