Beloved Holy Spirit, please help me tell the story of how God found me.
I was just nine-years old when I closed my heart to God. It would be another 17 years before I opened up to Him, again. But when I did, I was swept away in a love so great, so quickly, so intensely that I could not resist even if I wanted to. Not much changed on the outside, but I’m very different inside. If my soul was a bonsai tree, then it was a bushy, ugly plant before I found God. Now, thanks to my Holy Gardener, the bonsai of my soul is unrecognizable from its former self. [Picture of a bush (before Faith) and a bonsai tree (after Faith).]
At the tender age of nine, I was told that bunnies were not allowed in Heaven. My mother did not intend to hurt me, but she also did not want animal figurines placed on the same altar as the Laughing Buddha and the other bodhisattvas. Nothing in Mahayana Buddhism prohibited this, but it was inappropriate in my mother’s eyes. I was crestfallen. My brother and I bought cute figurines of animals during a family vacation to Solvang. The porcelain figurines were treasures to me, capturing the happy moments during a rare family trip. Those bunny and squirrel figurines were innocent. Their exile did not help my faith, which was already weak. [Pictures of bunny and squirrel figurines with a “no” sign crossed over them.]
As adorable as my indignation was at nine, there was nothing adorable about my state of sin even at that age. Sadly, my earliest memories were the sins I committed and those committed against me. I was conscious of immorality and that I could hide my sins from authority figures. But, an all-seeing, all-knowing God scared me. So, I pushed God out of his home in my heart and locked the door.
I resented being punished by an all-seeing power, and the devil misled me to believe that God was vengeful. I noticed a case of bad luck each time I did something morally wrong. So, I pushed God even further away, thinking I could hide from him like Adam and Eve in the Garden.
In college, I learned the helpful phrase “self-fulfilling prophecy”: I got bad luck because I believe I should be punished for doing immoral things. Well, I reasoned, if I stopped believing what I did was immoral, then I wouldn’t “self-fulfill” my bad luck. It was a briliant way to desensitize myself to evil. I also concluded that religious people were hypocrites anyway. I may not be perfect, but at least I followed the rules. I defined the rules, of course. And I made exceptions. Nevertheless, I believed I was more righteous than the Christians who were supposed to live by a higher standard.
By the time I was 25, I managed to convince myself that my sins were not really immoral, that the devil’s tricks were really “self-fulfilling prophecies” and that I was a better person than people who had religion. I was smart and ambitious. I had a 10-year plan, but God interrupted. I didn’t blame him at the time because he was no longer in the picture. I just accepted my fate. So, I drifted for two years, but ambition never left me.
God sent an angel, in the form of my cousin Sheila, to encourage me to chase my dreams again.
When I began my assignment as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala, I felt like my dreams would come true after all. But, I didn’t know who to thank. It wasn’t by my own efforts. There were a lot of people who inspired me. Circumstances forced certain choices. It seemed a greater power was orchestrating the events of my life. The good and the bad made me who I was. The good and the bad led me to this invaluable overseas experience. So, I prayed for the first time in my life — truly prayed — and thanked God for everything. I opened my heart again, and asked him to come in. I prayed to God to help me start a relationship with him because I didn’t know how.
My spiritual journey began that night in Coban, 2005. From atheist to faith. From active ignorance to a willingness to learn. There were many stumbling blocks that I had to overcome before God led me to the Catholic Church. But, I received my Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion on April 2009. I married a month later. We moved to Washington, DC a month after that so that I could start my new career. By July 2009, barely two months as newlyweds, my wife and I moved to Shanghai, China. In September 2010 our first child, Maya Elise, was born.
In five years, God took a young man with no girlfriend and no prospects with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and transformed him in to a husband and father with a career as a commercial diplomat for the United States.
Even after all these material blessings, I consider my greatest accomplishment to be my faith in God. He continues to save me from my wounded nature, and I am sure that I can love greatly if I humble my will to do his. This is my Christian witness. God is great. He is merciful. Most importantly, he is active in my life. The Holy Spirit surrounds me now, as I write this post. The glory is yours, Lord, Christ, my Savior.