The last time I posted a blog was more than two years ago! Since then so much has happened, and I’ve learned a lot about who I am as a person and about the character of God. He is good, and He is faithful through it all—the good and the bad. I want to share a bit with you what I’ve experienced and discovered over the last two years.
But before that…
First of all, I no longer live in Fremont, California. If you know me or have been following me on social media, you know that in August of last year I moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to join the International House of Prayer. I am technically a student this year (I graduate in May) and will be officially joining the faculty this summer as a music teacher for Forerunner Music Academy Chinese, which is part of the International House of Prayer University (IHOPU).
How did I end up in Kansas City?
This all started with a conversation I had back in December 2017 with Nicole Tsai, director of FSMC and FMAC. Over dinner, she invited me to join their teaching faculty. After time in prayer and deliberation, I agreed to come. But in order to join staff at IHOP, you have to go through an internship or the university. Since I’ll be a teacher in the Chinese school, it made sense to go through the Chinese school as a student first.
Honestly I never thought I would actually move to Kansas City and join IHOP. The last time I might have entertained a seedling of the idea was when I graduated high school, about ten years ago. At that time I had actually applied and auditioned for FMA and got accepted, but I decided not to come. For one, I already had a life, a career and a platform at Forerunner Christian Church in Fremont, California. I wasn’t just comfortable; I suppose I considered myself “successful” in some ways. I had found my “niche” as a Chinese worship leader, singer-songwriter and producer. I had setup my own home studio and I was already making music. I was doing what I loved, and the people around me loved me. Genuinely. From the outside there seemed no reason to leave.
Of course the plot twist
That was until 2015 when my spiritual immaturity and perfectionist/performance mentality finally caught up with me. I had been giving more than I had to give, and my soul was crying out for a hiatus. That’s when I decided to apply for Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. I spent three years there. For the most part I did little ministry, except for the times in between when I’d come back to Fremont or travel across Asia to serve in conferences and the like. I grew up a lot. I learned more about God—His creativity and His Kingdom’s culture of honor and empowerment.
I thought, “This is good. This is just what I needed to balance out what Christianity has looked like to me for the most part of my life. Now, my vision of the Father is more complete.” I thought I could go back to Fremont and continue my ministry the way it was before, albeit with healthier and more mature spiritual foundation and expectations.
Not all is as it seems
Of course, it wasn’t “all good.” This journey is never ending. The moment we think we’ve “made it,” God pulls in the magnifying glass and reveals things underneath the surface that we never imagined could exist, and then He turns up the heat until it feels like we’re practically sizzling under His intense gaze.
In my last post “My 2016 Summer—Journey from Powerlessness to Free & Responsible,” I shared a bit about what God was teaching me regarding owning and taking responsibility for my attitude and response in the context of ministry, rather than adopting a victim mentality and feeling powerless. And, without a doubt, God has done a lot in my heart related to this subject.
But He wasn’t done yet. The summer of 2016 was in between my second and third year at Bethel. On May 2017 I officially graduated from Bethel after finishing three years of their ministry school. Now the real test was to begin.
And, boy, did it.
Literally a month after I graduated, God began to turn my world upside down. I won’t go into details now (or maybe ever) but some things happened that launched me into a whirlwind of an emotional rollercoaster like nothing I had ever experienced before. Firstly, my brother Vincent got radically transformed at a gathering in Montreal, Canada. My whole family had been praying and fasting for him to encounter the Lord for years. Seeing him get touched by the Lord and used in such a powerful way (to dance prophetically on stage before tens of thousands, leading the next generation into a new level of freedom and reconciliation with the older generation) was like a dream come true. I still rejoice about it to this day. My family is the greatest joy of my heart.
That summer in 2017 I also went to Taiwan to serve in youth camps and other conferences. We were prepared for an intense itinerary—weeks on end, non-stop service and ministry. This is what I was used to. It was nothing new, and yet something was different because my heart wasn’t in the right place. Like I said, I had been launched head-on into an emotional rollercoaster (I will call it my “dark night of the soul”), that I wasn’t prepared for and neither were the people around me. Weeks into our intense serving schedule, I—and those around me—began to sense that perhaps what I really needed was a time-out. So out of the graciousness of their heart, my pastors on the trip allowed me to take a break. I needed to sort some things out.
As a result, and pretty much out of the blue, I ended up having two weeks alone to myself in Taipei, Taiwan. I lived by myself in a gorgeous loft in the middle of the city and could take the metro anywhere I wanted. Yet everyday I found myself going to cafes and walking around with no agenda. I didn’t want to “go places” or “do things.” I just needed to process what was going on in my heart. I’m not sure I did a very good job at it, but, all in all, those two weeks were a gift from heaven. I needed the time to breathe, to write, to compose and basically decompress.
After I came back from Asia, I ended up spending the next year decompressing in Fremont. God didn’t lead me anywhere else immediately. It was a good, solid year of being back in the local church and putting my hands to work, producing music for the church and for some friends. I’m actually very proud of myself; I helped to produce two EP‘s for FRCC Music from start to finish, including arranging and composing all the orchestration for these epic, bigger-than-life songs.
So what happened with that “Dark night of the soul” I had mentioned earlier? (“Dark night of the soul” is a reference to how many Bible scholars describe this part of the Bride’s journey in Song of Solomon chapter 5, when she can no longer feel the Beloved’s presence and gets beaten by the watchmen. I plan to write a post studying this passage more in depth later on.) Throughout those twelves months of being back in Fremont, God continued to drive His blade deeper and deeper into my heart. I felt like Eustace in the Chronicles of Narnia when Aslan dug his claws into his flesh and began peeling off layer and layer of dragon skin until finally Eustace turned into a boy again. Here’s an excerpt from the book that adequately describes how I felt during this time:
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. . . .” — The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis
The imagery seems quite appropriate to how I felt—the utter brokenness and even humiliation I felt during this “dark night of the soul,” like God was tearing off layer after layer of my pride and false expectations. I felt like a dragon, a beast, something horridly ugly and offensive, being torn apart, down the middle, from the left and the right. Nothing excruciatingly traumatic had happened to me (let’s just be clear), and yet the pain was like a suffocating fog looming all around me everyday for months.
“Man’s Search For Meaning”
Finally the apex of this “Dark night” occurred around the end of 2017, near the time I went to Kansas City and met up with Nicole Tsai who invited me to join their staff. Somehow I ended up reading Viktor E. Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning, and it practically saved my life—emotionally and spiritually.
Frankl was a psychiatrist working on a book about logotherapy (a form of psychiatry that focuses on helping clients discover their meaning of life) when World War II happened and he was sent to a concentration camp. In the camps (he survived Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering and Türkheim), he was able to witness the extreme perimeters of man’s psyche, both the most depraved as well as the noblest of characters. He still ended up writing his book, at the end of WWII, as a Holocaust survivor, and his book continues to teach and inspire people all over the world about the meaning of life—because even in the midst of the most evil of regimes, love and nobility and the meaning of life are still as relevant as ever, if not even more so.
I cannot recommend this book more. I think every person ought to read it. It changed the way I look at life and at pain and suffering. The latter were no longer things I should try to ignore or get rid of, but rather pain and suffering became the arena to which I was called upon to prove my nobility and develop my character.
(I include some of my favorite quotes from the book at the very bottom of this post. Go read them if you’d like a proper dose of revelation and encouragement. But of course, I recommend you read the entire book for yourself.)
I wouldn’t say it got easier after reading Frankl’s book but it definitely put everything into perspective. The pain that I was feeling didn’t feel “pointless,” if that makes any sense. I could see that there was a purpose to my suffering, that life itself (or God) was expecting something out of me in this season, and it was up to me to make the right decision. Would I choose to respond according to my faith and values or react out of fear and self-preservation? I still had the ability to choose, and that could never be taken away from me.
It’s still a daily choice. How easy it is to forget that we hold the key to our own happiness and the fulfillment of a meaningful life. Happiness isn’t found by pursuing happiness; it is found by taking responsibility for our calling and living each day with purpose.
“There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” –Fyodor Dostoevsky
Now that I live here in Kansas City, I must say it’s been a little easier to refocus and re-center on what’s important. It’s probably because KC is in the middle of nowhere (the heartland of America), and life is a little less busy and hectic here. It’s probably because, as IHOPU students, we are mandated to spend a certain number of hours in the prayer room, and even science has proven that meditation and prayer boosts emotional health. It’s probably because since moving here I’ve surrounded myself with amazing girlfriends and a strong community. (This is also something I’ve learned and grown in a lot over the past few years, i.e. the importance of building quality relationships and prioritizing quality time.) It’s probably because I know that God is the one who called me here (since this was never my idea in the first place), and this sense of purpose trumps any offenses or discomfort I may experience while I’m here.
For such a time as this
And in fact, I can see clearly that God brought me here for such a time as this. Why didn’t He bring me to IHOP ten years earlier when I had just graduated high school? Why now? Besides the obvious that now I’m here by invitation and with the guarantee of a job after graduation, God has clearly been doing something significant here at IHOP since the Convergence gathering last September. Then it was the Onething conference in December, which Mike announced would be the last Onething conference in the foreseeable future.
All of these things happened after I moved to Kansas City, and I get to be a part of it! Who could have picked a better time? I certainly had no idea all of this would happen when I made my decision to move my entire life over here, to the middle of nowhere, away from my friends and family, church and ministry. But God knew. He had a great purpose for me here, and it’s still unfolding.
And this is what I have learned the most over the last two years. God is good. He is faithful. All of the time. Even in the bad. His purpose prevails, and there is a calling waiting for us in the midst of our suffering and pain. There is a calling waiting for our response. And the moment we do respond, everything falls into perspective and all we can do is worship and stand in awe of His infinite wisdom and graciousness towards us.
So, I hope that this encourages you in some way. I’m sharing my story not just to update you all on how I’ve been over the last two years (since I’ve been quite silent here on this blog!) but also to celebrate the fact that God is faithful. He has been for me, and He will be for you!
I’ll keep sharing some personal stories and testimonies in this space, as well as other updates on my life and music (You can subscribe on my homepage), and hopefully the next post won’t be in two years.
Excerpts from Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Is that theory true which would have us believe that man is no more than a product of many conditional and environment factors—be they of a biological, psychological or sociological nature? Is man but an accidental product of these? Most important, do the prisoners’ reactions to the singular world of the concentration camp prove that man cannot escape the influences of his surroundings? Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances?
We can answer these questions from experience as well as on principle. The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.
…in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.”… It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is the spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.–Man’s Search for Meaning (p.65-67), Emphasis added
What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment… One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment with demand fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.
As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. Thus, logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence.
… This emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy, which is: “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!” It seems to me that there is nothing which would stimulate a man’s sense of responsibleness more than this maxim, which invites him to imagine first that the present is past and, second, that the past may yet be changed and amended. Such a precept confronts him with life’s finiteness as well as the finality of what he makes out of both his life and himself.
Logotherapy tries to make the patient fully aware of his own responsibleness.— Man’s Search for Meaning (p.108-109), Emphasis added