Monday, July 6, 2015

The Journey of a Dumb Student

I was categorized by my teacher as a helpless dumb student, but years later, I managed to receive a M.A. degree with High Honor. I was very honored to have been invited by Far East Broadcasting to share this journey of my student life over the radio last Sunday. For those of you who missed my sharing last Sunday, or don’t speak Mandarin, I put also my story in writing:

I worked through most of my 20s in the corporate world doing what I wasn’t interested in day in and day out. Near the end of my 20s, I began to question my life. I just couldn’t seem to see the purpose of my life. It was around this time, through a series of events, I sensed that God was propelling me to pursue theological study. “Me? You’re joking right?” I said to God. As a student, I did horribly through most of my school life. I was constantly in among the last 5 in my classes. I was bad at memorization, and so I did poorly with subjects such as history and geography. Nevertheless, I did even worse with math, biology, physics and chemistry. I was kind of sporty, but not really. I did average with arts. I didn’t know what I was doing as a student. My school life and performances contributed greatly to my low self-esteem.

When I was in junior high school, I was categorized as a helpless “dumb student” by one of my math teachers. I remember once when I was walking across the classroom, she called me and asked in front of the whole class out of the blue, “Are you from the bilingual department?” “No…” I answered, and she said to me, “I asked because you look dumb, just like those from the bilingual department.” I felt so confused and humiliated at when. Nevertheless, there was another occasion when one day the teacher ran into me and my mother after school. She said to my mother in my face, “Your daughter is so dumb that college will do her no good, so don’t send her to high school. Just let her go to a vocational school, so she could at least survive.” It was how the teacher defined me, and for the longest time, I believed it.

7 years into my career life, after much prayers and planning, I decided to go after what God propelled me to do, but because I only had an Associate degree, I planned on getting my credits transferred to work toward a Bachelor degree. I was accepted into Biola’s Christian Ministries major. My acceptance into Biola was quite a miracle, because my prior GPA was lower than Biola’s admission average. For this reason, I was accepted on academic probation, which means I could still be disqualified if I fail to demonstrate certain degree of academic competence. Surprisingly, my academic achievements for my first year at Biola placed me on the Dean’s List – I became an honors student.

In just a matter of one year, another miracle happened – I was accepted into the M.A. program at Talbot School of Theology. In the following 3 years of my master’s study in Pastoral Care & Counseling, I exceeded my own undergraduate performance at Biola, and a few weeks ago I graduated from Talbot with High Honors. I had never thought of getting anything beyond a college degree, let alone a master’s degree in theological studies. If it wasn’t for this experience, I would never be able to discover my true potential.

But I didn't write this to gloat!

For a moment there, I felt justified. My performance at Talbot, in a sense, proved me a smart ass. At some points of my M.A. study, I thought about writing a letter to my junior high math teacher to tell her that she was wrong about me, and how horrible a teacher she was. But then, I was reminded of Luke 10:21, in which Jesus says, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight” (NASB).

I'm smart. My Biola and Talbot performances should be enough to prove my academic competence. I'm dumb. I still suck at math. I’m never gonna be the one splitting dinner bills when going out with friends. But it really doesn't matter anymore, because I don't feel the need to prove my intelligence anymore. Now I’d rather stay plain and simple minded like a child, so that I may keep my eyes and ears open towards God. Now I'd rather be proven dumb, if it’s what it takes for me to humbly receive the Word of God. Being dumb, all of a sudden, seems to be more desirable than being smart.

Why do I need to justify myself with my intelligence when I have already been justified by Christ with an everlasting life with God? While intelligence is a gift, and it's good to have our strengths affirmed and valued by each other, ultimately I'm not defined by my intelligence or my gifts and talents. I'm defined by my relationship with God. I'm given the gifts, talents and understanding of Him to contribute to Him, His Body and His Creation. The world may deem me worthy or undeserving based on my intelligence, achievements or talents, but I am and I always will be enough in my Father’s eye.

Finally, even though this one junior high math teacher of mine was kind of horrible, God has also graciously placed other teachers in the different stages of my school life, who saw the good in me, encouraged me to learn English, inspired my interest in writing, and sowed and watered the seeds of faith in my heart. I thank God for all of them. Mostly, I thank God for taking me onto this sometimes rugged and sometimes turbulent journey of graduate study. This master’s degree is but a milestone, it’s not the destination. On this journey of life, I don’t know where God is leading me next, but I know where I’m now.


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