I Love That I Love the Bible

My last post shared what I’d never confessed to my Sunday school teachers: I used to hate reading the Bible.

But then I prayed for God to help me desire His word. I realized I couldn’t love the Author of Life if I hated His writings. And simple as can be, He answered. By the next day, I craved the Bible. Driving down the highway, I’d suddenly give in to the urge to pull over at the next exit and read. I’d skip days hanging out with friends to read. I’d even spend services not listening but reading (oops). Many days, I study the Word for three to four hours, highlighting and noting like mad.

Here are my favorite revelations.

Not Really a “Drab, Dusty Narrative”

Ah, the humor, cleverness, wisdom, mystery, eloquence, tragedy! How did I not see all of this in the Bible before??

My April mission trip to Jordan continues to help me visualize the Biblical people, lands, and rituals. I see the Sea of Galilee while reading of Jesus walking down its shore, I feel the harshness of the sun beating upon his neck during His temptation, I taste the food of Bethlehem and know it was what Mary and Joseph once ate.

The cultural notes of my Bible help me realize how hilarious and even sassy Jesus was, how laughable the remarks of His disciples were (this emphasizes their future growth), and how mind-blowing the fulfilled prophecies were (and are).

A Misunderstood Text

The cultural notes also helped me approach the texts that most intimidated me. For example, I looked into the at-first-glance harsh words of Paul in the letters to the Corinthians and learned that they simply could not be read properly without

  • knowing the audience and their specific problems, without studying the linguistics of keywords
  • examining the difference between Gentiles and Jews
  • studying the societal expectations of sex/gender in those days and at those places 

I went from thinking of Paul as a misogynist to realizing how counter-culturally for women he was. Additionally, I went from seeing him as an arrogant scrub to seeing him as someone who struggled with the knowledge that he didn’t match up to Greek standards of rhetoric and popularity, yet he continued his mission. Like me, he was a decent writer and not-so-decent speaker.

It’s also been personally revolutionary to study the rhetorical traditions of rabbis in Jesus’s time, which helps me to know when He used sarcasm, hyperbole, irony, etc. Without that knowledge, it’s difficult to pick up on what is literal or not, what the meaning of certain parables are, why He told parables to begin with, and why He sometimes acted odd (by modern standards) in the way He discipled or corrected others.

I also gained a new appreciation for the words of the Bible, like the “wholeness” described by the word Shalom.

And prophecies? Wow. They’ve never been cooler. It feels almost impossible to track the myriad parallels between generations, Old Testament and New — prophecies and metaphor galore!

Yes, Even the Well-known Stories Give Me Joy

You can hear a story a million times and still be affected differently. It’s like watching Star Wars or Harry Potter. Sure, you know what’s gonna happen on your fiftieth watch-through, but you still find value.

I’m now reading the old Sunday school stories with the intention to learn something new. The Word is living, and one reason we can say that is because it produces different “tasting notes” each time it is read. New ingredients are detected; components hit differently.

  • As a child, I heard the story of Jesus feeding thousands with small baskets of bread and dish. I marveled. As an adult, I focus on Jesus telling His disciples to rest, but not before feeding those He demanded care for — but yes, rest. I felt conviction.
  • As a child, I saw Peter as pathetic and even treacherous. As an adult, I see his brokenness, confusion, redemption. I cry when Jesus pushes Peter to self-realization each time He tells him to feed His sheep: “See it, Peter. See it, hold it — you’re changing.” Where I once saw Peter with distaste, I now see Peter as … Brad.

(A question I often ask students in my youth group is: “Which Bible character do you most relate to?” I give them a few days to think before answering. It reveals much. Try it!)

It Moves Me

The Word is God’s love letter. It conveys His broken heart and jealousy at the turning of our backs. It identifies our connection with Abba by using intimate words like son or daughter and friend, and empowering words like heir and royalty; it contrasts those words with what we should be if not for liberation, like slaves and enemies. It chronicles the repeated offers of redemption and our repeated betrayals and the ultimate grace — check out Stephen’s address.

Scripture weaves its way into my every prayer. When the Spirit overwhelms me, I find His words drip from my tongue — words I didn’t try to memorize but somehow dug their way into my soul. A prayer injected with scripture is powerful. It’s imperative for any intercessor to know the Word; we are commanded to test what is said in prayer for alignment with Him.

As a sword, the Word pierces my spirit with chilling truth. As a honeyed law, I do now delight in it. As the words of a Father, it comforts me.

My Plan and Materials

  • The goal is to read the Bible through entirely … then start again. Reading random verses doesn’t do it for me. The Bible is wondrously rich when read as a single chronicle — the Author of Life compiled our story into a complete volume. How rad is that?
  • I’m doing machete style, so starting in the New Testament and then backtracking to the OG OT material. For me, reading in this order emphasizes the liberation under the New Covenant more so than the traditional chronology. My brain just works that way.
  • Most of the time, I use the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Sometimes I read an NLT apologetics edition. (NIV is not my favorite translation — I prefer ESV or NLT depending on the need — but the cultural notes make me drool.) I urge anyone studying the Word to get an edition containing cultural notes.
  • If anything confuses me, I don’t shrug and move on, but instead, I read commentary from trusted scholars and pastors. I super recommend the Bible Project videos.
  • Get some highlighters. This speaker I met had memorized the entire Bible and when asked how he did it, he said, “Just highlight everything you want to memorize.” I’d take it a step further and write notes on why you highlighted each bit.
  • Unless there’s something important going on, I leave my phone out of reach and on silence. I heave my hefty Bible around for five reasons:
    • The Bible app results in habitual switches to social media
    • It feels respectful to speakers/pastors to put away my phone
    • It encourages people in public to ask me about my faith (has happened!)
    • I love making notes by hand because they more deeply sink into my brain
    • I’m a writer … I love print
  • On weekends, I read at a beach or park. On workdays, I break up readings: Morning before work (often, Psalms and Proverbs), during lunch break, and at night by candlelight. This prevents reading too much without absorbing meanings.
  • I pray for God’s help in absorbing the readings because I have serious brain fog. I now get super stoked to share what I’ve learned each day with those around me. Teaching people is the best way for us to learn!

It’s Time to Reboot

Sometimes a blog becomes a source of guilt. This beloved site that pulled me through the most difficult season of my life has now gathered (pixel) dust. I tried rebooting a few times, but I dunno… It’s time, though. As fulfilling as it has been to write my column at Cystic Fibrosis News Today, I need a space to discuss things unrelated to my disease, especially matters of spirituality. So…

***

It’s been a wild couple of years. I was promoted to head the columns division at BioNews Services, moved to Santa Cruz, became a church youth group volunteer, founded a chapter of the Lung Transplant Foundation, co-founded a disabilities ministry at church, helped to get a crowdfunding company off the ground, competed in the Transplant Games of America (and won two medals!), went on a couple of mission trips, and delivered a couple of sermons.

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Photo by Kathleen Sheffer Photography

I traveled to Serbia, Japan, Jordan, western and eastern Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Singapore, Germany, Hawaii, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, Southern and Northern California. Up next is Malaysia, a return to Hawaii, then Tennessee.

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The locals were stoked to slap this bad boy on my head in Jordan.

Sounds great, huh? And it has been, really, on the surface level. I’m grateful to have a body capable of sprinting through all of this. But in all of that beautiful chaos, I lost many of the lessons I’d learned through my transplant and deafness experience. I read through old blog posts and realize some things unclicked in my brain.

That makes me sad.

I can gain earthly accomplishments and chase adventure adrenaline, but it’s really all meaningless in comparison to the inner peace and joy I once had. I viewed my “unbreakable joy” as something that could not be tampered by outside forces but I neglected to recognize I could dent it through my own choices. When I was weak, I flowed with the current; now with my newfound strength I fight it, try to rip control from it. Now, I love having the illusion of control over my life.

At times, I sort of miss actively dying.

I miss being forced to move slowly and take notice of all the beautiful things surrounding me. I miss when I didn’t care about material possessions or ambition. I miss when drama seemed harmless compared to matters of life and death. I miss living each day like it was my last.

I began this blog to chronicle what I learned as I died. I reboot my blog to chronicle what I learn as I try to restore my mindset of dying.

I am on a mission to dive deeper into God; to reestablish meekness and habits of Sabbath, to rediscover my passion for unceasing prayer and sacrifice without selfish thought. It’s a tough journey, and tough journeys are made better with accountability. The hope is that by being honest with readers, I will be kept on track. 67650057_10219331294777407_3448588752748806144_o.jpgFor the sake of accountability, I feel I must be transparent with you: I’ve embraced a life that has included gossip, deceit, guilt, occasional drunkenness, fluctuations of pride and self-loathing, lust, and rejection of Sabbath. Those patterns need to end.

This all isn’t to say this hasn’t been a season of great growth in my faith as well. I’ve learned plenty of life-charging lessons amid both the fun and awful, and I’m stoked to share them. It’s just that I’ve dropped lessons along the way, as though my tiny brain can only handle so much at once!

In this blog, I will write of the practical and philosophical lessons learned along the way while also confessing as I did above. This will involve peeks into my recent history as well as present-day accounts. I will share victories from God and doubts from me. I will share steps forward and backslides.

I’m excited for this next volume in my life journey.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
–Psalm 51:10-12

Looking Good vs. Feeling Good

Not a big fan of my looks, but the spirit is more important.

“Ay, there was this gorgeous girl in McDonald’s yesterday and she was with this really ugly guy. I’m like, ‘What theee??’ They start sign language-ing and then I know why she’s with this guy! Only reason she’s dating him is ‘cause she can’t get anyone better ’cause she’s deaf!”

I don’t know why my driver instructor (long story as to why I have one) chose to tell an ableist story right after I told him I was deaf. Might have had to do with him pretty obviously being high on something. And I guess I wasn’t exactly shocked since he’d also told racist and sexist stories.

Despite these considerations, I couldn’t help feeling hurt. ‘Cause self-image is something I’ve been struggling with. I didn’t realize how much of my confidence was derived from my six-year relationship with someone “out of my league.” But I reflect on the past, before Kristina, and remember loathing my body. Standing in front of my mirror before school, disgusted, muttering insults at myself about how pathetic and hideous I looked. Even picking at my skin to remove blemishes ‘til I bled. And I thought I wasn’t a “good man” because I was so physically weak. A big bundle of insecurities.

I’m not at that level of self-hate these days, six months after breakup, but regardless, I recognize that my self-hating developmental years are a foundation for how I view myself today. And today… yeah, I don’t like how I look, and I feel people think I’m weird for having cochlear implants. And I can’t stop thinking about how I haven’t gotten any matches on dating apps (which I don’t even fundamentally agree with so I dunno why I’m even on them). And I can’t stop guiltily thinking of how many times in the past I uttered the mantra, “Everything will be easy after I get my transplant and cochlear implants.”

Here I am, transplanted and implanted, worrying about things as shallow as looks.

My pastor’s wife, Julie, once visited me in the hospital and said she felt convicted to remind me that my body is a temple. That was several years ago and she was referring to me not taking care of my health. But her words ring through my mind today, beating back my doubts and refocusing me on spirituality.

A temple can be a cathedral or it can be a cave; what matters is what is produced from it — love, kindness, joy, gentleness, integrity, all that. My body is a temple and so it is defined by fruits of the spirit. Not by how “chiseled” my physical features are or if I need to rely on technology to hear. Reflecting, I think I have a pretty decent spirit. I can always do better, and I strive to, but I’m on a good track. And, spirit aside, my body is as God designed it to be — broken yet restored whole to further His plans. That’s pretty cool.

I’m trying to focus on others rather than myself: Tell that dude he’s really pulling off that leather jacket. Tell that girl her pink hair is rad. Tell my bro his workout efforts are really showing lately. Tell my buddy she’s hilarious. Building others up builds me up, too. Concentrating on loving others does wonders for my emotional stability. When I’m loving others, my spirit is full. When my spirit is full, yeah, “everything is easy.” Kind of.

As for romance, if God really has a gal out there for me, they won’t care much about my implants and they might think I look pretty ok. So, why worry?

Busy, homesick, but intentional

When I was deaf and dying and all that, I spent most of my day watching Netflix and writing on this blog. I fantasized about finally being busy again. Fantasized about having seemingly endless energy (I’ve been sick my whole life, ya’ know?). Then I got the transplant and obtained the energy I craved. But I was still deaf and afraid to approach society. So, more Netflix.

I went to a church conference in August and spent a heckuva lotta time praying about what I should do once I was able to “join society” again. A phrase kept popping to mind over and over and over: “Help people.” Can you be more specific, God? “Help people.” Like my career, or…? “Help people.” I went a bit crazy trying to interpret that.

Have you ever seen that show, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World? In it, Kevin’s supernaturally “chosen” to help the world through kind acts. I felt like Kevin. God didn’t pull me through all the horrors of the last couple years just to sit around and watch Netflix, right? So I did “charitable” things, made myself emotionally available, and even looked into theological seminary (I would be an awful pastor). Nothing satisfied the calling to “help people,” though.

My hearing was restored at the end of September. And then I shot off. I was, and am, so ready to take all the lessons I learned from the past couple years and be a positive force in the world.

Life update time (aka, why I’m not blogging much):

Months later, I have a few jobs. I’m a full-time columns editor at BioNews Services, which is a company that publishes 50+ rare/chronic disease websites. Many of the sites have patient columnists who write about their experiences living with the disease. They’re not professional writers, so I help them articulate those experiences. I’m marketing for Sixpence, which is a start-up crowdfunding app that seeks to help with social causes (including funding missionaries, teachers, medical expenses, etc.). I’m president of the NorCal Chapter for the Lung Transplant Foundation, which seeks to fund research into stopping chronic lung rejection (the leading cause of death for those with lung transplants). It also provides mentorship services. Atop all that, I’m still freelance writing one or two pieces per week. And now I’m starting down the path of becoming a youth group leader at my church.

I stare at that paragraph and feel anxiety, honestly. I can’t help thinking I signed on for too much. But then, this is what I wanted, right? In Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, he becomes obsessed with helping people and ends up helping where he shouldn’t. This results in him making situations worse or stretching himself too thin. I’ve been wondering if it’s the same case for me, but I haven’t felt convicted to drop any of the listed responsibilities. Outside the BioNews gig, all the opportunities came to me — I believe God presented them into my life for a reason. I don’t like marketing, I don’t like fundraising, I don’t have non-profit experience, the idea of interacting with youth stresses me out (I’m getting old, man). But now they’re my responsibilities. So I embrace it all and give my 100%.

The other day, I went to a transplant clinic and my doctor randomly said I could move back to Hawaii if I want to. I never thought that was a possibility since it doesn’t have transplant centers. It was the ultimate temptation. Drop everything and run off to Hawaii. It would be so easy. So lovely.

I prayed and felt God tugging at me to stay in the Bay. At least for now. And that sucked. So badly. I was reminded that I made commitments here — half of those listed responsibilities require that I stay in this area or time zone. And if I can’t honor commitments to help people, did I really learn anything the past couple years? Or am I still the Brad who ran from helping others?

I don’t know if the “Hawaii carrot” was dangled in front of my nose as a temptation challenge, or as a “this could be the future, you could come full circle, but not yet”-type thing. My heart is sad as I write this.

But then I remember that I can make real change with these new jobs. I’m able to help people with diseases and disabilities practice writing therapy, to help fund mission trips and passions and medical expenses, to help mentor youth, to help lung transplant patients live longer and more happily. I have those opportunities. How could I trade them so easily just for the selfish desire to return to familiarity?

It’s honestly hard to be in the Bay. I love the food, the microclimates, the diversity, the fun things to do. But the Silicon Valley tech corporate culture makes me uncomfortable. It can be cold, greedy, success-obsessed, a breeder of workaholicism.* Coming from Hawaii, land of “relax on the beach, aloha spirit” … it’s been a culture shock to live here. But I also believe that if I feel uncomfortable in this atmosphere, that might be a challenge by God to change things.

My hope is that I can one day return to Hawaii for good, knowing it is the right choice. But not yet.

(This isn’t a diss on the whole Bay Area. Thankfully, I’ve found really beautiful souls out here to help me, and I really am going to need their help.)

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The Sudden Smooth

The worst year of my life led to the best of my life. I am adamant in my belief that faith was the catalyst for where I am today.

(The image above was taken by Kathleen Sheffer. The left was weeks after transplant. The right was taken during the “sudden smooth” a few days ago.)


There’s this song, Oceans, by Hillsong United, that’s about holding on for dear life to God in the midst of life’s storms. Go ahead and give it a listen at the link — this is a long post.

There’s this part, So I will call upon Your name / And keep my eyes above the waves / When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace / For I am Yours and You are mine.”

Ah, man. It gets me every time. I choke up (dangerous when you have a lung disease) and my eyes, ironically, get filled with waves of tears.

In elementary school, I got my foot stuck in a piece of coral while at Shark’s Cove in Oahu. Being a lil’ kid, I thought a place called Shark’s Cove, naturally, had sharks. It turns out that the biggest threat was actually the tide. I was anchored down by the coral and the tide was rising, rising, rising. Up to my nose, almost to my eyes. I screamed, “HELP, HELP, DON’T LET ME DROWN.” These tourists were mere ripples away from me, on plastic floaties. They stared at me. Just stared. Indifferent. My mom shrieked for help from the shore, and … I don’t really remember what happened next, honestly. I’m assuming I survived.

My whole life was me trying to keep my eyes above the waves. It was always survival; the seas were never calm. And yeah, at times, I felt like God had fallen asleep to my prayers, as Jesus did in the midst of the storm in Matthew 8:23-26:

“Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.”

The disciples put their shaky faith in sails and wood to keep them afloat in the storm. I put my faith in a “magic” blue pill (Kalydeco) that I believed would save me, as it saved so many others with cystic fibrosis. When it didn’t work, I was sucked into this storm. I feared for my life. My foot was stuck in the coral of CF and I was drowning in mucus and tears. Mom was on a metaphorical shore, praying for me to be helped as transplant centers refused to offer their life rafts.

The answer for the disciples was right below decks, not in the sails or the wood of the ship. When they woke Jesus, He said simply: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

Two years ago, so deaf that I couldn’t hear my own words, I screamed in fear to God, “DO SOMETHING. DO SOMETHING. DON’T JUST WATCH ME. DON’T LET ME DROWN.” But it was an outraged prayer, not a faithful one. I wasn’t ready to join Him. I loved the world more than Him.

And then I almost died and, as you’ve read many times before in this blog, I had an epiphany. Unlike in the story in Matthew, He was awake all along. I was the one who needed to open eyes. I rested in God’s embrace as He whispered that I was little, but there was no need to be afraid. “I just want another chance, Father. Please, help me. I don’t want to hurt anymore.”

Little by little, my fear seeped away, until I was on that operating room table experiencing the calmest calm. A calm calmer than I thought possible. I finally grasped a faith that could break a sea in two.

This was the evanescent eye of the storm. The waves returned and crashed, crashed, crashed. I faced opioid withdrawal, grief, a breakup. But the torrent eroded the remaining strongholds of stubbornness around my heart. I was learning to give it all to God. To accept that my faith in God didn’t make me a lucky Irish who would never be affected by bad things again. Rather, my faith gives me the strength to sing the mantra, “when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot … it is well with my soul.”

I stood by the sea in San Luis Obispo a month ago. It was calm.

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The sea that day.

I stood with my uncle and remarked that, today, I breathe better than I have since I was a child. That I hear better than I have since 2010. I made the remarks and realized I hadn’t realized that until I made the remarks.

Jehovah Rapha (The Lord that Heals) heard me and delivered in ways I didn’t think possible. After a whole life of storms, I’m mesmerized by the “sudden smooth.”

On Saturday, I had a “Lungiversary” party to celebrate the year since my transplant. I went from a year of near-complete solitude to telling a friend at the party that I was relieved not everyone could show up because my house was too packed.

On Monday, I finished a day of work in which I cried four times. Once, because I edited a column that reminded me of how torturous a life with chronic illness is. Pain memory is a root of gratitude for a new life of relative health. The second time because a writer thanked me for helping them with getting evaluated for a lung transplant — my journey continues to positively affect others. The third time because I edited the column of a parent whose daughter asked him if he loves having a child who is disabled. (His answer: “I love you.”). The fourth time because my friend wrote a poignant column about our transplant journey together. The job is perfect for me, and was only obtained after months of applying for several other less-perfect jobs whose employers didn’t even bother to email or call me back. God closes doors to open better ones, yeah?

My breakup is now history, and a valuable friendship with her remains. We both have gratitude for our past relationship because it was six years of only ever building each other up. I know God has someone perfect in mind for the both of us.

My health continues to be excellent. I haven’t had organ rejection or major infections. I am rock climbing and muscle training. In San Luis Obispo, I rode an ATV over dunes and a horse up a gorgeous mountain.

 

My hearing is better than I hoped for. It takes many people years to enjoy music with cochlear implants, but it all sounds completely normal to me. My audiologist is even enrolling me in a study about how cochlear implants perceive music! My dad gets annoyed because he tries talking to me without realizing I’m jamming to music (it streams directly to my brain via Bluetooth). I ask if he’d rather that I listen to lots of music or be deaf. He concedes.

If you study the Bible, you’ll know that Peter, despite seeing Jesus calm the stormy seas, eventually forgot His greatness — for a while, at least. He declined even knowing Jesus three times in a single night. I don’t ever want to forget what God did for me. I want to live like the man in Job 33:19-33 who is saved from the grave and has his body restored to youthfulness, then spends the rest of his days praising God for healing him.

God already made me healthier than I have been since my youth. Life is melodious, radiant, technicolor now. What I do with the rest of my days is my decision. I think I will choose well.

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My cousin, Jeremy Wells, made this for me. The background is Job 33.

 

Becoming Spider-Man

“With great power comes great responsibility.” What if love is our power and other people are our responsibility?

I was at the top of the boulder when a lady climbing next to me exclaimed, “Don’t you feel like a cat?” It was my first time rock climbing and I felt more like Spider-Man. Likely because my two old cats weren’t the best climbers. Poki had bad balance and Nani was simply too fat. I was doing a lot better than I expected, scrambling up vertical walls almost as easily as Spidey scaled skyscrapers.

Well, it was easy until I twisted my leg muscle seconds after this moment and got stuck at the top without a harness to catch me if I fell. But that’s a different story.

Side note: Rock climbing is a new addiction

This wasn’t the first time I felt like Spider-Man. Or, more accurately, Peter Parker. A few weeks ago, my pastor used Parker as an example of someone who was small but able to effect mighty change in his community. He said we “have other peoples’ names written on our hearts” and have the superpower to speak blessings into existence for those people.

I think Christians have gotten caught up in the “thoughts and prayers” cycle and forgotten that we can act as catalysts to help answer prayers. Praying for a family to be comforted after death or for a person to find a job is great. But if we have the power to comfort or the power to help search for a job, why don’t we? [This applies to both Christians following God’s Will (love) and non-Christians following their values.]

We have the power to take action and do great things. “With great power comes great responsibility,” right? If we have the responsibility to love others and have the power to do so, then it should be done.

I’m done speaking words of love without delivering on the love. I’ve done that for years and years. “Feed the homeless!” “Forgive and dissolve grudges.” “Take care of widows and orphans, of the sick.” I preached it as a youth group leader for a few years, then went into the week with too much anxiety and too many unrighteous priorities.

Feeding the homeless was reserved for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and mission trips. I knew homeless people were people, but I thought they were scary people. Dissolving grudges was fine as long as I wasn’t screwed over too badly by that person. I wasn’t the type to seek revenge, so my smoldering grudges weren’t harmful, right?  I didn’t know widows or orphans and it seemed silly to seek them out. And I was too busy focusing on my own sickness to help other sick people.

Parker was once a nerd like me who was too focused on his own problems (bullying, mostly) to care for others. But then he came to a point of loss that reframed his perspective: His Uncle Ben died and he was projected into a desire to prevent that loss for others.

My Uncle Ben didn’t die, but I nearly did. I came to the doorstep of death and looked back on my life. God said don’t bother knocking on death’s door — there is still much work to be done. I saw my bank account overflowing with money I saved for fancy food and video games. I saw sick people looking for support from me but only hearing my own problems when we had conversations. I saw my last words to each person in my life — none of them built others up. I saw people hurting in my church family who weren’t given attention by me because I assumed other church members would take care of them.

I re-entered the world of the living with a radioactive spider bite of love (har-har). And despite the pains I’ve since endured, the world is now technicolor. I look at people, flawed people, and it’s so easy to love them. I now constantly ask myself how I can help others, whether materially, spiritually, or verbally.

Since having my hearing restored, I’ve been challenging myself to have at least one conversation with a stranger per day that goes beyond, “How are you?” When I was deaf and lonely, I’d sit in cafes and wish more than anything that a stranger would come up to me and attempt to communicate. To strike up some kind of relationship. Now I ask myself how I can be that person for others. Talking to others is the first step to identifying how to help them: fundraising, prayer, food, supplies, edits, writing, friendship, etc. Having experienced situational social anxiety because of my hearing loss, it’s been a palm-sweater to approach strangers. But I leave every instance knowing the right thing was done, and am often blessed in return (though that isn’t the point). 

I’ve been praying everyday for God to reveal what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel like being a journalist isn’t my (only) life mission anymore. Rather, He keeps laying the words, “help people, help people, help people” on my heart. I don’t know if that’s supposed to be my career, my alter ego nightlife vigilante goal, or volunteer opportunities I put my 100% into. But the message remains that I’ve been given a second chance at life and I need to deliver on promises to help others.

I begin each day by asking God to reveal an opportunity to help others. And “spooky-cool” things have happened as a result. Opportunities to help others have been popping up left and right. I’ve taken many opportunities and fled from many others. Near the end of each day, I pass Samaritan Drive on my way home and ask, “Have I been a Good Samaritan today?” And I’d love to share some of the totally-God-things that have happened, but this blog post is about the motivations rather than specific occurrences.

I’m small, nerdy, and often foolish like Peter Parker was. But like Parker, I can still create change if I use my “power” to fulfill my responsibilities as a loving human. 2018 is right around the bend and 75% of my New Years Resolution is to be even more intentional in loving others, in very radical ways. I challenge you to do the same.

The other 25% of my resolution will be covered in the next post: “Becoming Captain America.”

Freeing Myself from the Slavery of False Guilt

In 2012, my psychologist told me I suffer from an overactive conscience. It’s been spiritually crippling, but I’m ready to fight it.

“I was at an advanced showing for Monsters U and this girl, just the kindest girl, was behind my group in line. She had Down syndrome, I think. I asked her if she was excited and she told me she loved Monsters, Inc. This was the first time her parents let her go to an event on her own. I went into the movie, had a good time, then came out to find her standing by the curb at the parking lot. I asked how she liked the movie and she said she never saw it. That the line had cut off right after me — first come, first serve for the tickets. I had no idea. I hadn’t checked behind me when walking into the theater. She didn’t know how to contact her parents. She’d stood at the curb for two hours waiting for them to pick her up.”

It’s 2012, my freshman year of college in Seattle. My psychologist, a wizened man in his 80s (and wise as a wizard), leans his nearly-weightless weight onto a leather armrest that’s as creased as the creases between his eyebrows. He’s a forehead-creaser when he thinks hard. I like that about him.

“And you feel guilty. How guilty?”

“I barely slept the past couple nights and had three panic attacks. I can’t stop thinking about it. If I just turned around, I would have known she hadn’t gotten in. I would have given my ticket.”

“Panic about the past rather than apprehension for the future?”

“It feels like panic attacks. I just think about her face and cry.”

He leans forward, hands me a tissue, and pokes me in the knee. Stares into my face until he catches my eye.

“You can’t be mad at yourself for not turning your head. What other thoughts do you have during these attacks?”

“I think about her parents’ sadness when they realize their child’s first adventure was a failure. I think about kids from special ed in high school being bullied. I think about me not being their friend and helping them. I think about their parents’ sadness.”

“So the thought leads to a thought leads to a thought? And all guilt?”

“Yeah.” I blow my nose. Nothing gets cystic fibrosis sinuses running like salty tears do. The whole floral-patterned box of tissues is pressed into my hands.

“Guilt for things out of your control.”

“Maybe.”


I left the office with the words “overactive conscience” floating about in my conscience. More often called “false guilt,” it’s the idea that a person overthinks situations and places blame on themselves for things outside of their control. It’s commonly depicted in TV and movies as being tied in with post-traumatic stress disorder — survivor’s guilt.

False guilt is a cackling hyena, whispering discontent in my ear and shredding little pieces of my soul, bit by bit. My psychologist theorized it is the rotting root of my anxiety and panic disorders. 

It can be about small things: guilt for doing my job as an editor — criticizing people’s writing, though I know it will only grow their skills. For having to flake on plans with friends for medical emergencies.

It can be about big things: guilt that I (no, my disease, not me) forced my parents to drop their beloved jobs and move away from paradise. Guilt that I am living healthily while others with cystic fibrosis are still suffering. That every happy post I make is spitting on them. Guilt that I got new lungs while others on the waiting list died. Guilt for carrying the lungs of a dead man. (This is the part where I remind you that mental illness is not rational.)

Guilt that injects my sleep with nightmares. Guilt that makes my heart hammer so hard against my ribs that I hear it, even without my implants. Guilt that makes me question my identity, makes me question my purpose, makes me question my questions. Guilt that makes low blows to my joy.

Note: Amend all guilt to “false guilt.”

I deceived myself into thinking the guilt I had was a blessing, that it was used to force me to constantly try bettering myself. But there’s a difference between human guilt that is false and spiritual conviction. (There’s spiritual conviction that is God nudging you towards doing certain things. And there’s spiritual conviction that makes you confront your sins/misdeeds. The latter is what I’m writing about.)

Human guilt can be corrupted and passed off as humility, when it’s actually self-serving (it leads us to pursue what ‘makes us feel better’). False guilt is a form of that corruption. Spiritual conviction comes from God and ideally leads to remorse and action to seek forgiveness. When forgiven, the sin dies. When the sin dies, we live.

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation — but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” – Romans 8:12-13

With these thoughts, I created a simple rubric for my guilt:

  1. Did I sin? (Did I disobey God?)
  2. Is this guilt keeping me from living as God wants me to?

If the answer is “yes” to either of these, there’s a problem. If it’s a “yes” to Question 1, I’ve sinned and should focus on remorse and forgiveness (which often requires action, not just words). This would also mean Question 2 is an automatic “yes,” until I’ve received forgiveness from God.

If Question 2 is a “yes,” and Question 1 is “no,” the guilt is false and is negatively affecting my heart. It should be dealt with before it festers and corrupts my mind by producing anxiety.

Check this out:

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1

I view false guilt as a slavery. When I allow it to control my emotions and it is not from God, it is an idol and a master.

For my specific case — the false guilt produced by my transplant — I am learning to focus on God’s Will. If I truly believe it was His Plan for me to get a transplant, should I feel guilty for getting it? For taking joy in the fulfillment of a promise?If I didn’t sin by taking this transplant, why should I feel guilty? Would he have comforted me through this process in times of prayer if it wasn’t the process I was planned to undertake? 

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” – Psalm 94:19

Being transparent, I still have these feelings of false guilt even as I write this. I allow my anxieties to produce inaction when God is telling me, “Go.” But I am fighting back against this paralysis of spirit. God has given me new chances at life and I should be joyful.

“God has delivered me from going down to the pit,
   and I shall live to enjoy the light of life.’

‘God does all these things to a person—
   twice, even three times—

to turn them back from the pit,
that the light of life may shine on them.’”

– Job 33:28-30

Some things are bad, but many things are good.

A cheery update on how things are going, to make up for the last dreary post.

Howdy again. My last post was rather dreary, so I owe you all an upper in the form of a life update.

How’s the heart?

First off, a big thank you to those who commented and messaged support on here and my Facebook. You confirmed I made the right choice in being open about my struggles. Things have gotten a hundred times worse for a reason I’ll keep to myself for now, but I have begun looking into therapy. There’s a Christian therapy group just a mile away from home, so maybe them if they accept my insurance. I will get through this.

“Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.” -Proverbs 11:14

How’s that hearing?

It’s better than I expected it to be! I’ve heard people say their implants started sounding natural after months of using them, but I think it all sounds natural already. Voices are sometimes too soft and some music is still a big miss, but those are things that will get better with more tuning up and practice. I’ve had one tuning (“mapping”) session so far and it helped a lot with making sounds more full-bodied. My audiologist told me to give her my report quietly because she didn’t want other implant users in the clinic to get jealous that I’m already loving music. That usually takes several months or never happens for many.

One big change since my last mapping is worship music sounds normal again. I’m probably annoying my neighbors with all my singing! But the singing really helps with the whole grief thing, so I ain’t gonna stop.

“My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music.” -Psalm 57:7

How’re the lungs?

“Beautiful,” “excellent,” and “perfect” are words my transplant doctor used during my Thursday transplant appointment. My lung function hasn’t changed, but that’s fine since they’re already as strong as a healthy person’s, statistically. No organ rejection! I also get to cut down on my steroid dose by half. I should be a lot less moody and get better sleep because of that.

My doc showed me my CT scans (really fancy x-rays) from 2015 and about three months ago. Seeing them next to each other was a jaw-dropper. My lungs in 2015 had these massive black holes — cavities. You could also see all the netted scarring and mucus plugs. It was appalling. And that was before my lungs started failing in 2016. I never posted them on my blog before, but I actually have pics of my old and new lungs. Click these words to visit a Flickr page with the pics. Don’t worry, it’s only pics of the organs in buckets. No surgery pictures!

“It’s Your breath in our lungs so we pour out our praise.” – All Sons & Daughters

How’re the kidneys and weight?

The kidneys are still in rough shape but they’re not getting worse. It turns out my blood testing lab may have been making my kidneys worse by measuring my medication levels incorrectly (which leads to me being overdosed by transplant meds that are very hard on the kidneys). Maybe there’s hope for my kidneys if we sort out the lab problem…

My weight has been pretty consistent! It’s been about 3.5 months since I did my feeding tube. Wow. I really doubted I would ever be able to keep on all my weight by just eating. Remember, those with cystic fibrosis need double the calories and fat needs of a normal person. It’s hard!

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” -Matthew 6:25

What about fun?

Plenty of it! Been going on hikes with the parents, chillin’ with a friend who went to Mililani High (my old school), and going to church twice a week! Check out my slideshow below.

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“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.” -Ecclesiastes 8:15

Confessing to high school stupidity and current day grief

Back in high school, I fooled around in the storm drains winding beneath Mililani – these pitch-black, concrete tunnels maybe 15 feet in height and width. They’d often end with a sheer drop-off of about 20 feet in forested, rocky areas. My friends and I called it “exploring.” We’d go into the darkness with our little phone screens lighting the way and just scream and sing to our hearts’ desire. No one could hear us and that was a liberty to be relished by teenagers.

My friends and I were always warned that the storm drains would fill very rapidly if there was a storm. “Get caught in that, you’ll be swept out the end and crack your head at the drop-off, or drown. No one will hear your screams.” So, we always checked the weather reports before going in. But all island residents should know not to give Hawaii News Now weatherman Guy Hagi’s forecast 100% confidence (as awesome as he is).

One day, four of my friends and I stayed in the drains so long — determined to reach the end of a tunnel that had gone unexplored until then — that we didn’t see the dark, grey cumulonimbus clouds gather atop our ‘All American Suburb.’ We were a 15-minute walk into a split-off tunnel that was just six feet high when the waters hit.

We planned with wet ankles, yelling above the rush of dark, muddy-turquoise water, bathing in the teenage euphoria of knowing we were being ‘real bad’: “Maybe five more minutes and we’d reach the end?” “But what’s at the end?” “I dunno, maybe a dead-end.” “Well it’s rising so slowly, let’s go for it.”

It was maybe just two more minutes before we reached the end: a one-foot-diameter pipe. And in those two minutes alone, the water rose halfway up our shins. No words were needed this time, we looked into each other’s faces, droplets of water on our eyelashes glittering in the dark, and took off. I never ran so hard, but I have run much faster. The water was slogging me down, every fiber of my jeans and shoes collecting a liter of heavy water. As some cruel joke by fate, our phone screens died one-by-one. We were swallowed in darkness.

The water was rushing faster and taller, its current roughly tugging on our studded belt loops and Converse shoe strings, trying to drag us towards the deadly drop-off. The rebellious euphoria turned into panic. I was thinking about dying and my parents killing me a second time after dying for being down in those drains. At one point, we tried climbing up a ladder to open one of the manholes that poke out into the street, to no avail. (The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles make it seem a lot easier than it is.) We screamed for help at the top of the ladder while water poured through the manhole. Yep, no one could hear us.

Karma thought we’d learned our lesson and the rushing river slowed to a steady stream by the time we reached the entrance of the drains about 20 minutes later. Soaked to our pits but undrowned, we never felt so alive. And we had a darn good story to brag about at school the next day.

The lessons stuck with me: We shouldn’t have kept going down into the darkness while in such a precarious situation. We should have known the water would rise as quickly as it did — so many people warned us.

I‘m writing this on my phone during a bath — a necessity to properly ponder life — and realizing as the piping hot water covers my body, that I have a problem.

If you’ve kept up with my past few posts, I guess it’s kind of obvious. These cycles of melancholy dotted with (well-deserved) happiness: implants, hiking adventures, new socialization opportunities, writing gigs. But I was in denial of my mind’s status. The dark waters have been rising and drowning the feel-good moments. I try clinging to these happy moments, convinced I have an obligation to be happy, that I have all I’ve asked and hoped for. But that’s not how the world works. My mind has an agenda of its own and isn’t always working in cooperation with my heart’s desires.

I’m not depressed. I’m… in grief. A friend spoke of their ‘grief’ and that kind of pulled the realization trigger for me: I’m in a state of grief over what I’ve lost in this process, though I’d rather focus on what I’ve gained. I’m stretched and pounded by feelings of nostalgia, trauma, and guilt.

I’m still joyful. I’ve said it in past posts, but joyfulness isn’t always “happiness.” It’s a confidence in God’s Plan, which I very much still have. And that does comfort me and I’m not very anxious because of it. This is just a difficult chapter of the Plan that my mind needs to get through. It won’t be fun, but I’ll get through. I think it’s fair to say there’s much to be sorrowful over: the state of our world right now and the personal trauma I’ve endured.

I wondered why it’s taken so long for my sadness to catch up with me. Then I read part of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, where he describes Vietnam vets coming home and having their grief catch up with them once they were no longer fighting. I’m not saying my struggles have been anywhere close what those vets experienced, but that reading made me realize my adrenaline and shock are wearing off. The objectives are complete and now I don’t know the next move. “Don’t. Let. Anything. Stop. You. Get the transplant, get the implants. Got the transplant, get the implants. Got the transplant and implants, get the …” The what? I’m still praying for that answer.

I could continue to mask things and say it’s all swell — I have been doing that. And I’m sorry for that dishonesty. But my heart is climbing that ladder and screaming for help as the waters rise. And I want people to hear it, because I need the help.

I wrote a column, “Mistakes I Made in the War for My Mind.” In it, I talk about how I wish I had gotten a therapist before things got really bad. The water is rising faster and faster. I’m not going to choose to continue walking down the tunnel this time. Even Jesus wept in grief when Lazarus died (John 11). But then he did something about it.

Please, if you’re the ‘praying type,’ add me to your prayers. I’ll follow my own advice and look into getting a therapist. There’s no shame in admitting you need help, right? But like I said: I’ll get through. ‘Cause this joy is adamantium, baby.

(Wow, writing that was cheesy but actually made me feel better.)

On that note, an update: Things are good physically. I’ve had a few new writing opportunities, my hearing is getting even better (blog post soon), I’m exercising lots, and I’ve been hanging out with some really amazing people. Thank you all for your continuous support! I’ve been so blessed.