I became a Christian at the age of 34. “So, what’s your story?”, they would ask.

At my home church, we host a series of men-only groups called The Huddle. The Huddle allows men to gather, study, talk, and pray through issues about their past, in order to accept and overcome deeply ingrained trauma or upbringings. One of the multi-week series was on “defining manhood”1. We were asked to answer, “What was the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?” during one of the first sessions. Answers spanned the entire gamut, from “I’ve never done anything courageous” to “I saved someone’s life from drowning”.

My answer was somewhere in the middle.

The most courageous thing I’ve ever done was not kill myself.

Growing Up

I grew up as a first generation Asian-American. My parents immigrated from Asia. I was raised with a Buddhist background. We attended temples, gave offerings of money and food to monks, and listened to meditation chants in the dead language, Pali. I didn’t really understand the point of it, aside from feeding my “karmic debt”.

In high school, I learned more of the origins of Buddhism and it didn’t interest me. Meaning, I thought I knew better (in typical high school student fashion). I tried to combine all the “good bits” from the various major religions:

  • God was good.
  • God was the universe, here to help us.
  • Jesus and Buddha were enlightened individuals and excellent morality teachers.
  • People didn’t understand the divine; everyone had partially correct answers. Obviously, I knew better #sarcasm.

It was a fun exercise, but I didn’t keep the view either. By the time I got to college, I had forgotten about my spiritual notions.

Here’s the thing about growing up as a first generation Asian-American.

You had one job: succeed.

College

“Your parents moved here to give you a better chance at life. Don’t screw it up.”, is what we were told, either explicitly or not.

For me, that meant going to college, getting my education, getting a good job and making money. It also turns out that financial support was how my mom showed me, love. I always had food to eat and a roof over my head.

It also meant that I would apply that same sentiment to my twenties. I showed love to friends colleagues, and lovers by providing things that money bought (food, trips, events, being a good worker). Emotional support and quality time weren’t included in that definition.

I chased money, prestige, and “success”.

I got the first job of my career as a 19-year old, working in software/technology. And I’ve been working in software ever since. I also took almost 6 years to graduate from college; battling depression and burning out at work.

I labeled myself as an atheist throughout college and into the majority of adulthood. God didn’t exist and didn’t matter. I lived as a moralist, basing my reasoning and values on whatever I thought was right and good.

I moved to a major tech hub and went after the money and clout; “disrupt” the world with software, join startups, the whole bit.

Success?

Fast forward a couple of years. I was running my own software consulting company with a friend. I was also in a long-term and long-distance relationship with the woman I thought I was going to marry.

In February of that year, I remember feeling very stressed about my work; it wasn’t satisfying. I was traveling to-and-from client sites and not accomplishing as much as I wanted to. I got the chance to travel-for-work to the city where my girlfriend lived. She told me that she wasn’t feeling well that week. I told her that we could have a nice dinner and talk when I got there.

We never made it to dinner.

Let’s note that I had relabeled myself as an agnostic at this point. My girlfriend was raised as a Christian and still practiced. I thought that by being agnostic, I would be more compatible with her faith. I mean, I went to her church and small groups and respectfully sat there through sermons and bible studies. I treated it as if I was in class.

She told me that she could envision us getting married (great!). She could even see us having kids together (fine with me!). But then she said that “even after the third kid, I think I’ll still have doubts”.

“What are your doubts?”

”…”

I never actually received a verbal response from her on the topic. We broke up that evening.

That entire night was horrible. Have you ever had a dissociative experience, where you can mentally see how you are reacting to a particular situation either mentally or physically? It was one thing to feel the pain of the imminent breakup, it was another to also realize that I had been placing my personal identity into three things:

  1. Work / Prestige
  2. Money
  3. Relationship

I realized that all those aspects are completely temporary and that I was on track to lose all of it.

That night, I broke.

That night stabbed me at a core problem I have: an extreme fear of abandonment (my father left my mom and me).

Diverge

I couldn’t “keep it together” for the next four months. I broke down multiple times a day, each and every day. Luckily, my business partner handled the day-to-day company affairs. I went deep into two mental directions: figure out where to place my identity or kill myself.

When my girlfriend used to visit me, she would find a church for us to attend (apparently you can find churches on Yelp!). I laid in bed on a Sunday morning, crying and having nothing to do. I decided to watch a service live stream (yes, churches are high-tech around here) for one of the churches we had visited together about a year prior. I thought the pastor was funny, so might as well watch and have something to occupy my mind.

The pastor spoke about identity and forgiveness. He referenced a book during the message. The book was “Reason for God” by Tim Keller. I bought it later that day (it couldn’t hurt to read right?).

This Way

I wasn’t sure if religion was where I should place my identity; who I am. I spent the next month reading through this book because of one reason (given in the book intro):

I commend two processes to my readers. I urge skeptics to wrestle with the unexamined “blind faith” on which skepticism is based and to see how hard it is to justify those beliefs to those who do not share them. I also urge believers to wrestle with their personal and culture’s objections to the faith. At the end of each process, even if you remain the skeptic or believer you have been, you will hold your own position with both greater clarity and greater humility. Then there will be an understanding, sympathy, and respect for the other side that did not exist before. Believers and nonbelievers will rise to the level of disagreement rather than simply denouncing one another. This happens when each side has learned to represent the other’s argument in its strongest and most positive form. Only then it is safe and fair to disagree with it.

Keller says that at the very least, we can agree to disagree and with respect. I am willing to listen to anyone who listens to me with respect.

Keller spends half of the book answering and analyzing questions he received from skeptics. He covers topics such as:

  • How could God allow suffering?
  • How can there be one true religion?
  • How can God be good when the church is responsible for so much injustice?
  • How can a loving God send people to hell?
  • Doesn’t science disprove God?

The second half describes his views on why God exists and that the Christian God is the one true God.

That Way

I read and read. Then I cried and cried. At least the reading made me activate the constructive and critical analysis parts of my brain.

When I would stop reading, I planned. I planned what needed to be done before I died. My mental state was completely unstable.

I made a spreadsheet with the best ways to murder myself2. It included ratings on how efficient the action would be, how much agony I would be in after execution, how long I would still be alive after execution, and how accessible said action would be given where I live.

I was sick and tired of living. When I was depressed in college3, I stood on the ledge of my engineering building’s rooftop. I didn’t jump then. I had an external motivation to live; what would happen to my mom if I jumped?

I didn’t care what happened this time. I was in despair.

Converge

I sat at my computer. I had one more button to click. Once clicked, the lawyers would draft up both my living will and last will. The last will is for what happens after I’m gone. The living will is to make sure things are covered if I mess up and become a vegetable.

Earlier that day, I asked myself, “if Jesus is who he says he is, then what do I do?”. How do I accept Jesus if he’s actually God?

Keller offered this answer through prayer:

Father, I’ve always believed in you and Jesus Christ, but my heart’s most fundamental trust was elsewhere–in my own competence and decency. This has only gotten me into trouble. As far as I know my own heart, today I give it to you, I transfer my trust to you, and ask that you would receive and accept me not for anything I have done but because of everything Christ has done for me.

I prayed that prayer earlier that day. Yet that night, I was one click away from making my own murder “official”.

Something dawned on me as I sat in the dark with nothing but the glow of my laptop screen burning my retinas. How did I end up on that chapter with the prayer on the same day I worked on my will? Why did I ask about acceptance to Christ on that same day? Why did the questions I had about God get answered one by one? I didn’t have to end up buying this book. I didn’t even have to end up watching that particular sermon on that particular day that introduced this particular book.

Too many coincidences flooded my mind.

The Bible offers this perspective:

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:6)

Planning my suicide; writing notes, moving money, drafting wills, finding murder tools, was all too difficult. But walking the path to God was easy.

I accepted Christ that night.

Reckless

I was still an emotional wreck for the next three or four months. But my identity, my core, was no longer about things that were temporary. My identity is in a God that has recklessly loved4 and pursued me all my life. It just took me a long time to realize that.

I still imagine what would have happened if my ex and I got married. And I cannot imagine a scenario where I would accept God in that case. Without giving me a reason for the breakup, as an engineer, I didn’t have a problem to actually fix. What happened was the perfect way for me to say yes to Him.

I remember when I would sit at the small group with my ex. One of her friends would always add “praise be to God” or “God is good” in between sentences. I always interpreted those phrases as “uhm”s (filling the space between thoughts). Now, it’s completely different.

What I’m trying to say is, this story hasn’t been about me.

It’s just another story of how truly, truly, good God is.


  1. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 [return]
  2. Shotgun to the head or handgun shot to the back of the head are the best bets. Stay away from poison/overdose (low-efficiency rate). [return]
  3. I had been prescribed Prozac. It didn’t help me but medication reacts differently to each of us. [return]
  4. This is a God that would leave the comforts of perfection (heaven) to be human with us. He suffered with and for us through Jesus. (Romans 5:8) (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) [return]