By Will Chan
(the names in the article have been changed)
I was born in Taiwan many years ago. I am the youngest of three siblings. My family moved to the United States when I was six years old. I would consider my childhood fairly typical of a first generation immigrant. My father was a very hard working man. There was a time when he would work two to three jobs to provide for our family. My mother worked as well. My parents believed in education and always stressed that my siblings and I study hard and get good grades. We were considered “good kids” if we excelled academically.
All the time spent working and trying to fit into the new American culture did not leave much time for my parents to spend with me. On a social level, I was left to learn things on my own. This did not work out very well for me.
I started getting into trouble in the eighth grade. It started with Mandy Ku’s birthday party. I went with a couple of my buddies to the party at Mandy’s house where there was no adult supervision. To make matters worse, Mandy’s older brother brought his high school friends to the party. I remember one of the older kids gave me and my friends each a beer, cigarettes and a marijuana joint. I thought I was cool. After all, I was hanging out with high school kids. I felt accepted. I remember thinking, “It felt good to be bad!”
My life was like this for much of junior high school. I knew what I was doing was wrong but I did not care. I was smoking cigarettes and marijuana and drinking regularly. Somehow I was able to hide all this from my parents. They were too busy trying to make a living for our family. Besides, to them, the definition of a “good kid” was someone that got good grades, and for some reason, I was able to get good grades. As long as I was able to bring home good report cards, they did not question what I did with my friends. I was in all honors classes and was my homeroom representative. Outwardly, I looked like a good studious boy who did not get into trouble.
By the time I entered high school, some of my friends were getting themselves into real trouble. They went from using drugs to selling drugs. Crack cocaine was getting popular, so some of my friends started using and selling crack. By this time, I had perfected my double life. I was in AP classes and partying with my friends. I remember this one time my friend Lilly brought a thermos full of vodka into our AP chemistry class. We got real drunk in class that day.
Gangs were also real popular in my high school. The gangs were mostly ethnically segregated. At first, my friends and I were not in a gang, but we had associations with them. My friends and I were what was known as a posse. A posse is a group of friends who are not a gang but protected and looked out after each other. However, this soon changed. As I mentioned before, some of my friends started selling drugs. When you sell drugs, you need protection from your competition. More often than not, your competition are gangs. My friends were getting into a lot of fights and it became clear that they needed protection. I remember multiple times when gang members arrived on campus after school, with guns and knives, looking for my friends. My friends had to get protection from gangs just to walk home from school. It got so bad that at one point we were not even able to walk alone at school out of fear that we might get beat up.
It was at this time that another group of guys that we knew from junior high were also in need of forming a gang. I liked getting into trouble but I knew that the gang life was not for me. I knew that I was smart and would go to college after high school. I declined the invitation to join. However, my friends still jumped me one day during lunch at school. Jumping in is how someone is initiated into a gang. This is done by a group of guys beating up on one guy for a few minutes. The guy getting jumped in cannot fight back. Even though I was jumped in, I did not join the gang.
This all happened during my sophomore year in high school while my brother was a senior. I hid my social life from my parents but my brother knew that the people I hung around with were bad news. My brother was going to church at this time and attended youth group. One day he invited me to go to a Friday night youth group meeting with him and I agreed. I was getting tired of the gang scene and wanted something different. I went and liked it because we played basketball most of the night and there were a couple of cute girls there. I knew that my friends at school were not going to amount to anything and I wanted something different. I was actually tired of being bad and wanted to straighten out my life. This however, did not work out for me. The kids at the church were better than my friends at school but there was still peer pressure in the youth group.
A short time after I started going to the youth group, the church had a retreat. I had never been to a retreat before and thought it would be fun. I signed up and off I went. I do not know if it was me or something about me, but eventually I ended up getting into trouble again. Somehow the kids at the church found out about my life at school. A lot of them were fascinated by it to a point where they were indirectly encouraging it. There was this one girl who was a senior. Remember, I was still a sophomore at this time. Somehow she got me alone with her in her dorm during the retreat. She started making out with me and offered to have sex with me. Her younger sister walked in on us and we stopped. I was blown away. I thought that all the people at church were suppose to be good. I felt confused.
The guys at the church were also interested in my party lifestyle. They started asking me to bring alcohol to their parties; some of them smoked and I also provided them with porno magazines. My life at church was becoming like my life at school except without the gangs and the kids at church were not open about what they were doing. One time, one of the guys who was a year younger than me got into some trouble with a gang at his school. All his friends were asking me to bring my friends from my school who were in a gang to back him up. I refused. I did not want my school life and church life to mix.
This experience with the youth group left a very bad taste in my mouth. It made me think that everyone at church was a hypocrite. Don’t get me wrong. I knew that there were some good kids in the group but the bad kids spoiled the group for me. I ended up using church as just a social event and did not have a real relationship with God.
By the time I attended UC San Diego for college, I had no direction for my life. I was so glad to get out of the house and out of Los Angeles. I was away from my parents and away from my friends. I thought I would finally be able to be myself. The only problem was I did not know who I was and had no accountability.
Very quickly, I started falling into my old bad habits. I attended a few Christian fellowship meetings. I got drunk on the way up to a retreat and got into a fight with a guy from another fellowship group during a basketball game. Soon I started partying and using drugs again. I never went to class and just hung out all day with my friends.
After college, things did not get much better. I moved back to Los Angeles and continued my lifestyle. I would work during the day and party at night. I was drinking, using drugs, selling drugs, dating and having sex with women. This went on for years. To the world I actually looked successful. I had a good job and I was having a lot of fun. My job even paid for me to get my MBA degree. However, I was not truly happy.
One day, I met a girl. She was just as crazy as I was, if not more. She was in her last year of pharmacy school. Her easy access to prescription drugs and my history of drug use was a bad combination. She was smart, pretty, did drugs and drank more than I did. I fell in love. After dating for a few years, we got engaged. I thought that I had it all. I had a good job, I was having fun and I was in love. But it all came crashing down in an instant. I did not know it but my fiance was bipolar, a mental illness. It causes severe mood swings and people who suffer from it tend to do very irrational things. It got to a point where we broke off our engagement. Three days after we broke up, I received a call from my ex-fiance’s best friend. It was one of those late night phone calls that nobody wants to get. Her best friend informed me that my ex-fiance had tried to commit suicide by overdosing on prescription pills.
I went to the hospital to try to see her but she refused to see me. She was diagnosed as being bipolar while she was in the hospital. I remember standing outside the hospital and just feeling empty. I thought that I had my entire life figured out but now I felt completely lost. It was at this time I sensed something that I had never felt before. I looked up into the sky and sensed that there was someone next to me. I knew right then and there that God was next to me. I was not ready for this. I was not ready for God to be a part of my life. The only emotion that I could feel at the time was anger. I was angry about what my life had become. I was angry that my ex was in the hospital. I could not hold in my anger any more so I started lashing out at God right then and there. I started cursing Him out and blaming everything on Him. If anyone saw me, they would have thought that I was crazy and talking to myself.
I did not know it at the time but the experience in the hospital parking lot was the beginning of my journey back to God. When it first happened, I did not give it a second thought. I decided to deal with my emptiness the only way I knew how, with drugs and alcohol to numb myself so that I would not have to feel anything.
After the first suicide attempt, my ex-fiance attempted suicide two more times. She died five months after we broke up. This totally rocked my world. I broke down when I heard the news. For a couple of weeks, I would go to work and then go home and just cry until I feel asleep. I had spent my entire life proving to myself that I did not need anyone’s help. I did not need my parents because they were never around. I did not need God because I thought all Christians were hypocrites. I needed help. I needed to speak to people about the pain I felt, so I turned to the people that I always turned to in the past, my friends. My friends had very good intentions but they were of no help. Some of them tried to set me up with other girls to date to get over my ex. By the way, these were probably the worst dates in the history of mankind. I was in no shape to date. All I did was talk about my ex and how sad I was. I felt bad for those girls. Some of them took me out drinking to try and cheer me up. None of those things worked. My world seemed like it was falling apart.
At the time that this was happening, my family realized that I was in bad shape. My sister suggested that I speak to the head pastor of the church that I attended when I was in high school. He was also a psychologist. I told her that I would speak to him, but only as a psychologist, not as a pastor. The funny thing was that even though I denied God my entire life, at the time that my life fell apart, I knew that God existed and I was very angry at Him for what had just happened in my life. I became a seeker of God.
I met with the pastor for breakfast a few times. Eventually I had to ask him the question, “If God exists, why did He allow my ex-fiance to die that way?” The funny thing is that when I asked this question, I knew deep down inside that God did exist. The experience that I had in the hospital parking lot when my ex first attempted suicide stayed with me. I thought about it often. I thought about how angry I was and how real God felt to me at the time. It also occurred to me that I could not be angry at someone who did not exist, so God had to be real. Dr. Huang told me that he did not know the answer to that but if I wanted to find out, I would have to go to church. I agreed to go back to church.
I was so nervous when I first stepped back into church. It felt like the ground was going to open up and swallow me. I thought that there was no way God would allow a sinner like me to be in His church. Little did know that a sinner like me was exactly who God was looking for.
God started revealing more of Himself to me. He started speaking to me when I prayed and when I worshiped Him. He also started speaking to me in my dreams. This was exactly what I needed. God knew all the barriers that I had put up in my heart and mercifully revealed Himself to me. I felt exactly like the prodigal son. I realized that God was looking for me my entire life and as soon as I turned to look at Him, He came running to me and welcomed me with open arms.
I decided to give my life to God and was baptized. This happened seven years ago. Since then God has restored my life. I was able to quit using drugs and alcohol and God has blessed me with a beautiful wife and son. I can say truly say that everything I have in my life I owe to God.
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