Happy Broken Face Anniversary!

Today marks five years since my longest-held dream came true, and my jaw was broken.

When I was twelve, my orthodontist uncle pointed out that I was developing an underbite that would eventually need corrective surgery. And from then on, that was the day I looked forward to — more than moving to the UK for boarding school, more than finishing high school, more than graduating college, even more than getting a girlfriend.

I finally began the process to prepare for the surgery in 2006, when I moved to California for seminary, a process which involved getting braces (for the first time in my life) so that my teeth would be ready for when they would break my jaw, push it back, and then re-set it.

Now, on one level, it was a purely functional, purely physical procedure — the underbite needed correcting and the surgery would do that.

But it was so much more. It was the thing over which I had no control: I couldn’t speed up the process of making my bones stop growing so that I could start the process of breaking them; I couldn’t make the decision as to when I was ready; I couldn’t fix myself.

So it impacted me on a mental, psychological, and emotional level too: if this needed fixing, then there must be something wrong with me, because if there was nothing wrong with me, I wouldn’t need to get it fixed! There were days when I would think that it was my underbite that was holding me back from _______ — maybe it was because of the way I looked that I hadn’t had a girlfriend, for instance.

The day of surgery was my Promised Land. Although I may have been able to tell myself that getting my jaw fixed wouldn’t solve all my problems, I felt that way nevertheless.

Only the Promised Land was a long time coming.

From the time I first learned I’d need surgery to that day five years ago, I waited thirteen years — by the time I had my surgery, I’d been waiting more than half my life.

First pic post-surgery
First pic post-surgery

Over the years, and especially in the ones leading up to the surgery, I wrestled with questions of self-esteem and self-worth, how much my appearance mattered or didn’t matter, realized how superficial I was being and, on many an occasion, didn’t really care how superficial I was being because I knew how I felt — at least, that was the emotional process. During those years, God broke off a lot of clinging detritus from my soul, helped me see myself in a healthier way, grew me in community, surrounded me with people who loved me unconditionally and affirmed me no matter what, pruned me of a lot of the weeds that had grown up over years of letting myself believe the lies I (and others) had told myself.

By the time the surgery happened, it still wasn’t purely functional or physical — there were still hopes and dreams attached to the Promised Land of Post-Surgery; but a lot of the extra baggage that I’d attached to the occasion was no longer there. Most importantly, through the process, God taught me experientially what I’d read in Ben Patterson’s book Waiting:

Who we’re becoming while we wait is far more important than what we think we’re waiting for.

I learned how to cling to God during those years because I had to. I learned how God saw me through the love others showed me. I learned how I saw myself as God revealed the facade of my self-sufficiency to me. And, more than anything else, I learned how much God loved me.

It’s strange looking back and thinking that the greatest challenge of my early life — the thing that I felt looming over my head for more than half of my first 25 years, the chapter that felt never-ending as I lived through it — has been done for five years.

Life hasn’t become easy; I haven’t learned how to overcome every challenge that comes my way; I still have things about myself that I’d like to change — as age catches up with me and my metabolism slows down, I still don’t look or feel the way I want to.

But I’ll never forget the feeling of worthlessness. I’ll never forget the sense of helplessness and my inability to change my situation. I’ll never forget the self-doubt and the God-doubt that plagued me. I’ll never forget that particular crucible.

It helps me as I minister to others who are going through difficult times of self-doubt and God-doubt, or those who are wrestling with self-esteem issues or battling things that they don’t know how to explain; it helps me to love out of the love of God, in the same way that others showed the love of God to me.

I don’t know what you’re going through right now. It may not seem like much to others but it may be the biggest obstacle or challenge or impediment in the world. (As you can see from the picture below, the surgery corrected my jaw alignment by … not very much. And yet it was the biggest, most difficult thing in my life for many years.)

My prayer for you is that, wherever you are, you would know the love of God for you. He knows what he’s doing, even when we don’t. Learning to trust in those times when we don’t feel like we can … that’s where our faith grows the most — though we may not realize it till years later.

X-rays

Soli Deo Gloria.

Waiting: what nobody likes but everybody does

[Part 1 | Read Part 2]

If you were to take a poll of the least popular things to do, waiting would probably be near the top, wouldn’t it? It’s probably one of the few things that nobody likes but everybody does. Because if you think about it, we’re always waiting for something, aren’t we?

Waiting is a natural human condition.

There’s always something we’re looking forward to (or not looking forward to). Life is never exactly as we would have it, and so we wait. Sometimes for things that are coming imminently: a loved one is coming into town for the holidays and you can’t wait to see them and pick them up from the airport, or you’re just excited about finally getting a break! Sometimes for things that are a little way off: a wedding that’s happening next summer that you’re both super excited and super stressed about, or finishing grad school and preparing for what comes next. And sometimes for things which we actually have no idea if they will ever come: being free from the addiction that’s tied you down for so long, reconciliation with a family member or a friend, finding a life partner, having kids, figuring out what to do with your life, getting the job you really want or maybe just a job—any job—to get you through the next month. Maybe it’s waiting on someone else, hoping beyond hope that he’ll get his life together, that she’ll start making better choices.

What is it that you’re waiting for?

The story of Jesus in the New Testament begins in Matthew 1:1, with “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” It’s interesting that the two main figures Matthew names are David, the great king, the man after God’s own heart, and Abraham, the founding father, the patriarch of the faith. Two heroes of history—and yet they were no less human than you and me, and no more exempt from that natural human condition of waiting.

In 1 Samuel, we read about how David was anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel when he was only a boy; but he had to wait until he was thirty years old before he came into what God had promised. And in Genesis, we’re told how Abraham, childless in his old age, was promised by God that he would be the father of many nations, that his at-the-time-non-existent-offspring would be blessed to be a blessing to others; but he had to wait twenty-five years before his son Isaac was born. Twenty-five years!

When I was about twelve years old, my uncle, who was an orthodontist, told my parents and me that I was developing an underbite, that my lower jaw was growing faster than the rest of my facial bones, that this would eventually cause problems, and that I would eventually need surgery to fix it. I would obviously need to wait until the bones stopped growing before having the surgery, and in case you didn’t know this, facial bone growth usually doesn’t stop until a person is in their mid-twenties. So I waited, knowing that at some unknown point in the distant future, I would have surgery to … well, the way I saw it was, to fix my face.

For everyone around me, for my family and close friends who knew about this, it seemed a pretty straightforward concept—there’s a problem with the mechanics of your bone structure and this surgery will correct that. But for me, it went deeper: if I was getting surgery to change something (about my face, at that!), then that must mean there was something wrong with me, because if there was nothing wrong with me, then I wouldn’t need surgery, would I? And so it tapped into my sense of self-worth, the very core of my identity, the issue of who I was. I wrestled with God over this, wondered if this was why I hadn’t yet had a girlfriend. I questioned his purpose in this—my brothers didn’t have to go through this, why me? But there was really nothing I could do about it, no way to speed up the process of bone growth so that the corrective surgery could happen and all my problems would be solved. And so I waited.

First pic post-surgery

Through middle school, I waited; through high school, I waited; through my first and second degrees, I waited; through seminary, still I waited. Until finally, three months before I graduated from Fuller, after thirteen years of waiting, the surgery happened. Finally, it was done; and it was an amazing feeling. For something that has hovered over you like a dark cloud for half your life to be suddenly removed? It was an immense load off my back.

It didn’t solve all my problems though, like I thought it would when I was a kid; and actually, by that time, I had come to realize that, of course, it wouldn’t solve all my problems (and this seems obvious when you’re thinking objectively, but when you’re in the middle of something, it can seem like the biggest struggle in the world). And, in fact, thinking about it, the dark cloud hadn’t been suddenly removed; it had been dissipating over the years, during the waiting, and the surgery was simply what had removed the last vestiges of that cloud.

In that waiting period, I came back to faith in Jesus; in that waiting period, I began my first dating relationship, putting paid to the idea that somehow my looks were a barrier to that; more importantly, in that waiting period, I discovered the passions that God had planted in my soul, enabling me to look beyond myself; yet more important than that, in that waiting period, I came to know at the core of my being, in the very depths of my soul, that who I am is more than what I look like, that my identity is found and rooted in the person of Jesus Christ, who loves me as I am.

In that waiting period, my brother gave me a book called Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent, by Ben Patterson—it’s a book that I come back to time and time again, and would heartily recommend. The central conviction of that book—what I realized through the process—is this: what God is doing in us while we wait is at least as important as what we think we’re waiting for.

While Abraham waited for the fulfillment of the promise, he learned what it meant to trust in God and what it looked like when he tried to take things into his own hands; he made mistakes, he had successes, he had moments where he essentially cried out to God, “Where’s this kid you promised?” But while he waited, he grew closer to God; he became more reliant on God; he realized that there was very little he could do. Romans 4:19-21 says:

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

While David waited to become king, he confronted Goliath, not in his own strength but in the strength of the Lord; he forged a deep friendship with Jonathan, who saw him for who he was and called him to greater things; he became an outlaw and an outcast, hunted by the very king he’d served faithfully. But while he waited, he grew closer to God; he became more reliant on God; he realized that his life wasn’t about being king, but about knowing God—and many of the psalms are a testament to this, including Psalm 27, which begins,

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

and ends with:

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

Which leads to the second point I want to make: what we think we’re waiting for is probably nowhere near as good as what God is actually going to give us.

(Which I’ll post tomorrow because, in a blog about waiting, of course I would! Part 2.)

Say, "Ahh …"

Today, two weeks after I had my jaw broken, I had my first post-op visit with the surgeon, and finally had the rubber bands—that have been my bane over the last fortnight—removed. I can open my mouth again, I can eat (soft foods), I can brush my teeth properly; it’s the little things that I’m able to appreciate again. ☺ I lost 7 pounds over the last couple weeks and I’m looking forward to putting it back on! It’ll take a little while since I’ll be on the soft food diet for a good 6-8 weeks, during which time my jaw (which was fractured on both sides, aligned by the surgeon going inside my mouth, and then reconnected by a screw on each side, and the punctures sewn shut on the outside) will continue to heal, and my jaw muscles (which have been inactive over the last couple weeks) will get used to working again. Right now, I can open my mouth, but nowhere near normal capacity. That’ll take awhile … … which also means that my singing abilities are limited for a little while. But I’m hoping to be back and ready to go by the end of May, when I’ll hopefully play one more time at Fuller before I graduate. In other news:

  • I’m loving my classes so far, and I’ve been to three out of my four: I’m particularly looking forward to reading a bunch for my Theology & Politics in Modern Society seminar (even though it’s all guys—first all-male class in my time at Fuller). And I’m also enjoying starting out with the All-Seminary Council (so far!). ☺ It’s gonna be busy. But it’s gonna be good. I can feel it.
  • It looks like the G20 summit was actually fairly successful, at least in the sense that something was agreed upon. And what’s more promising is that it includes substantial provisions for combating poverty. Hopefully, something concrete will come out of these proposals.
  • Thinking about the economic crisis: the markets have been improving somewhat in the last few days, and some economists think that we’re past the worst of the recession, which would be great, right? Now this is just amateur economic theorizing, but if the economy is going well, isn’t there less incentive to change things such as health care and the auto industry and financing regulations and market practices? Of course, if the economy is going badly, this is not good coz people are suffering, losing jobs, losing houses, etc. But I wonder if the momentum for change comes most when people are unhappy with the current situation?
  • If and when we get through this economic downturn, will we still recognize the need for health care reform, for cutting back on greenhouse gases, for making our cars and transportation greener, for investing in clean, green energy sources, for making sure that free market capitalism isn’t allowed to run amok and the few aren’t allowed to prosper at the expense of the rest? I hope so.
  • In South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is accused of “sacrilege” for criticizing the African National Congress, whose leader Jacob Zuma has been embroiled in corruption and an arms scandal. I’m with Bishop T on this one: if he’s innocent, well and good; if not … should he really be running the country?
  • And back in the US, the House approved legislation that will, for the first time, give the government the powers to regulate tobacco products (in the same way that they regulate food items).
  • Finally … Opening Day is Monday!! Baseball season is back!

Day Five

Day #5 since my surgery sees me still on a liquid diet (and continuing so until my next appointment with the surgeon next Thursday). I’ve been surviving thanks to a rather unintentional Lenten fast of blended … well, everything: congee, smoothies, shakes, soups. Matt and Sara’s Magic Bullet has come in very, very handy—handy enough for me to get my own! (However, though I’m still alive, I’m getting very sick of drinking all my meals. Having said that, I’m glad that the meals I’m blending/drinking have been made by loving hands.)

The recovery’s proceeding with very few complications, which is great. The initial swelling has almost all gone (I no longer look like a fat-faced chipmunk), leaving just the bruising from the actual break (I now just look like a normal chipmunk), and the bruising around my neck and upper chest area from the breathing tube they stuck down my throat during the surgery.

‘Only’ eight more days …

Spring Break

Three days ago, I had my jaw broken to correct my underbite.

I’m already sick of drinking my meals. What a glorious way to spend spring break …

****

In the meantime, from the Department of Overdue Links:

Video footage of Hong Kong from the 1930s (hat-tip to Gerry):

And check out:

  • Kiva, a micro-financing non-profit that allows people to lend money to small businesses in developing countries.
  • The Sold Project, a non-profit grassroots organization seeking to help people stop child prostitution.

My plan is to blog some more this week … after all, I’m not really doing much else!