Thursday, March 13, 2014

Heart Failure

So I really should be studying but I write to remember important things that happen in my life and last week was an experience I want to document.  

So I'm done with my defense.  I'm graduated from school.  I'll walk at commencement in May but I am finally done with this chapter of my life.  My defense went really well!  I wrote in my last blog post that I was afraid of the presentation...that it might just highlight my inadequacy and unpreparedness but it actually was the opposite.  It went pretty smoothly and I got so many more compliments on the presentation and on my slides than I got difficult questions.  

I made all these tabs for almost no reason.  I used one of them to answer a question.  Better prepared than not.  

So I feel a little bit... strange.  I know a HUGE milestone was put behind me but now I feel as though I have another daunting task set before me... and that is to study for boards and PASS.  I'm not good at studying.  It's not my favorite thing to do.  And there is SO much material to go over.  I groan just thinking about it.  Anyway... so I am not exactly enjoying my newfound freedom because... there really isn't much of a difference.  When one thing is done, the next thing comes up.  And... I also had a little thing that I placed at higher priority last week than studying for boards.  

On March 8, 2014, I was the speaker at a women's brunch, hosted by a church that I kind of have very little affiliation with.  Not so coincidentally, my cousins go to this church but I think that they were placed strategically for my comfort and support more than anything else.  I will go back and tell this story from (more of) the beginning.  

On my birthday this year, a good friend of mine asked me if I would be interested in being a speaker for a women's brunch.  She said that a good friend of hers asked her for a recommendation on a woman-speaker and my friend said that mine was the only name that came to mind.  I can't remember what I was thinking in the moment.  What do I ever think when I get presented with these kinds of situations?  Oftentimes, I'll just say "sure" at the moment knowing that there's a high likelihood that things will fall through or that nothing materializes... but let it not be because Tiff said "no" upfront.  I think part of what really happens is that I don't exactly count the cost.  I get myself into situations like... going to grad school... because in one moment of time, it seemed like a good idea... but I never really think about the consequences of it until I'm already in it and committed.  Go figure.  I'm a weirdo like that.  

The last time I remember being presented with a similar situation was when a friend of mine recommended me to be a retreat speaker for a college women's retreat in San Diego.  I think when I was approached by this friend, I thought to myself, "oh that sounds cool... sure, let's start the process".  I somehow didn't think about the fact that saying "yes" doesn't just mean that I'm agreeing with a good idea.  It also means that I need to prepare and plan.  And being a retreat speaker is no small task.  I think a little bit of time passed before I asked the retreat coordinator, "so... how many messages do I need to prepare?" and when she said, "4"... I think that's when I began to freak out a little bit.  One message, I could kind of BS, but to speak in front of the same group of women 4 times?  How was I going to get this done?  Thinking back on it now... I met up with a pastor friend and presented my ideas and I got his feedback.  I think it was in a moment of divine inspiration that God gave me the structure for my messages at that time: (1) share my testimony, (2) God loves us, (3) I love God, (4) I love others.  Not coincidentally either... that retreat fell on Valentine's weekend so I was already thinking about the topic of love.  What I prepared for that retreat... has taken on deep meaning in my own life and those 3 things are points I come back to repeatedly now.  It's how I organize my life.  Saying yes to that retreat was not only for them.  I doubt that any of them remember me much or remember what I shared with them, but I remember.  

The 7 Tiffs
Have you ever been to a retreat where there were 15% of the people in attendance had the same name as you?  Yes, friends.  Seven Tiffs were at this retreat.

What I remember from that retreat was that I was lulled into thinking I could do it because initially, it was only supposed to be like 20 girls.  My small group at that time was maybe 15 women.  I could lead discussion at small group just fine so why couldn't I lead another group of women as well?  It was also college women.  Non-threatening, right?  I think I was only 28 at the time.  It didn't seem too foreign.  I CAN DO THIS!  

And then as the retreat approached... I got one email after another updating me with the amount of people signing up for this retreat.  It grew to over 50.  50+ women, imagined in my head... doesn't seem that much but when I'm standing at the doorway watching woman after woman after woman pour into the house... I felt the heat and anxiety rising.  One poor girl... and I don't remember who it was... and to this day I feel SO BAD that this happened but... she introduced herself to me and I just burst into tears and ran out of the room.  What a great first impression of your retreat speaker.  

As God's grace would have it... I got through my first message just fine.  I shared my testimony and cried right through it.  I think I'd only been widowed perhaps 7 months prior to the retreat.  I played my wedding video for them.  Not a dry eye in the house... or maybe it was hard for me to see when my own eyes were filled with tears.  From then on, it got better.  I think I scrapped my entire third message a few hours before giving it and rewrote it entirely.  I shared with them what I was struggling with that previous week and it shocked them that I would share something so recent and so intimate.  

Fast forward 4 years to my next speaking engagement.  I said yes almost the same way.  Freaked out about it in almost the same way as well.  I started out pretty good though with good intentions.  Here's my prayer request email that I sent to my friends maybe a month before the event.

I don't think it's any coincidence that after sharing that I struggle with my own worth last night at small groups... that I got a confirmation email today that I will be speaking at a women's tea on March 8th... topic: beauty and worth.

The whole idea freaks me out... but I know that this kind of thing isn't something I can do on my own... that I need God in this... and He wants nothing other than my willing obedience to share and bring His message to these ladies.  I'm also pretty sure that God wants me to work through, as thoroughly as possible, my own issues of worth.  Good things.  God is a genius multitasker.

I made a deal with God last year... that I would graduate first and then focus more on ministry things and developing my spiritual gifts... and pretty much a week after I prayed that prayer, God miraculously aligned the stars so that I would graduate a semester earlier than I had originally intended.  I also think it is no coincidence that the timing of this tea is right after I finish my dissertation defense/graduate.  God gives me enough warning to let me know that He's got great big plans for me... but not enough lead time to make me worry or become anxious or overwhelmed with what I've got on my plate.

Pls pray for...

  • My preparation: spiritual, mental, emotional.  To love God with my everything... and allow the Spirit to flow through me and into my prep... and out onto the ladies at the tea.  Pray against my own fear and feelings of inadequacy.  
  • Spiritual protection: to keep the devil and his demons away from the process, away from the planning of the event, away from the attendees... away from my mind.  

    • The ladies at the tea:  They tell me that about 100 women ages 18-80, believers and non-believers will be there.  I'm guessing it'll be mostly Asian Americans.  Pray for their hearts and for God to move in the women who will attend... that they would show up and be present and willing to hear God's voice that day... whether the message is spoken by me or by the other ladies at the tea to one another... or simply in sisterly fellowship.  And for the non-believers... that God's love would captivate them.  This will either be work in the fields of their heart or a time for harvest. If I only get 30 minutes to share something with 100 women... I want it to be the best 30 minutes it possibly can be.  If this is the only time that a non-believer will hear the gospel, then I want it to be the best presentation of it possible... even if it's just for one person.  That one person will be why I was meant to be there and why she was also meant to be there... for her to meet God in that place.  

    This was only one message so in a way it wasn't as "bad", but I also see how this situation is an escalation from the last one... an additional step outside my comfort zone.  I felt somewhat confident that speaking at a college women's retreat was doable because my small group was all women mostly my age and all believers.  In this situation, I didn't have that same sense of familiarity.  There would be women of all different ages and also possibly a broad range of beliefs.  How do I prepare for my audience when the variables are so broad?  Also... my family would be there.  You'd think that it would have added an additional dimension of comfort, and it did... but my aunts would be there.  My mom was going to be there.  These are women that I've grown up with and I'm used to being in a position of submission to them.  It was an additional dimension of discomfort for me.

    I had some vague idea what I wanted to share with these women.  I brainstormed ideas in a document I named "tea talk".  I had my defense to work on so I kind of pushed the preparation for this aside until I was done with my defense.  It gave me about a week and a half to solidify and pump out my talk.  

    A week had passed and I only had a few more days left to prepare... and my "tea talk" document looked almost exactly as it did when I made it a month ago.  Every time I set aside a large chunk of time to just sit and prepare... something would happen... a friend would be in need... someone would need to talk about something... someone asked me to proofread something or other... and it had always been my motto through school that "people are more important than papers" so I put aside my own desire to finish my talk and I helped others.  But then it was 3 days before the talk and I was running out of time.  I cleared the day so I could prepare.  NO HELPING ANYONE.  Just sit and prepare.  I went to the park to try to get away from things and barking dogs and such.  I was hoping that I could prepare in my journal and then go home and type it out.  Nope.  I ended up lying in the grass and staring at the sky.  For a long time.  Until I had to pee.  Then I went home.

    I kept thinking about this task.  This calling.  This was an opportunity that God presented to me and I felt like He was asking me... like He asked Jeremiah... "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" and I wanted so badly to respond like Jeremiah and say, "Here I am.  Send me."  And a flood of verses came to mind.  From Joshua: "Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous!  Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed.  For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." From Paul to Timothy: "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity."  

    Even though I knew in my head that this was an amazing opportunity... I had to battle my heart and my flesh as I felt my frustration level rising.  There was a sense of urgency in finishing my preparation ahead of time and I was not performing.  I had no output.  It was like a ticking clock... a countdown to the moment when my inadequacy and unpreparedness would be revealed and on display for ALL THESE WOMEN to witness.  My shame was impending.  

    And then something small... so tiny in the grand scheme of things... just like the girl at the retreat who wanted to introduce herself to me... something triggered and the floodgates opened and I had a full on meltdown...again.  I cried harder than I'd cried in a long time; I cried to the point of debilitation.  I could only lie in bed and let all my tears and snot flow out of my eyes and nose.  Did any of the Bible guys have moments right before battle... where they were alone and despairing because they maybe only had 300 men to go up against thousands?  I had nothing up until that point.  Nothing but a few lines and a couple of devotionals that I thought were noteworthy... it was a pittance compared to what I needed to offer on Saturday.  Yeah.  So I wailed.  

    Sometimes God comes in a whirlwind... like how He came to Job.  Sometimes He comes as a big dark cloud or a blazing fire on Mount Sinai like He came to Moses.  And yet sometimes... He comes as a still small voice to a little Asian girl crying her eyes out in her bed... on top of her blanket of pink and turquoise flowers.  He said to me... "Tiff... my child... I hear you.  I know you.  You cannot do this on your own, but I can.  Let me.  Pick yourself up.  Clean up.  Let me help you."  So that's what I did.  I was still crying... still leaking... as I trudged to the bathroom (and hoped that no one would seem me on the way there).  I looked at my face in the mirror and what I saw was appalling.  Bloodshot eyes... streams of snot pouring out of both nostrils and down my chin... and the frizzy hair of a crazed mad-woman.  What is super ugly to my eyes is what I see.  But God sees the heart.  And the heart of a woman who is so completely broken before God... is beautiful to Him.  That is where true beauty lies.  It's not in the face.  It's not in the eyes.  It's not in flawless skin or beautifully tamed tresses or even in delicately manicured fingernails.  It's the heart.  

    So I decided that... maybe I cannot write a speech to these ladies... but I can write them a letter.  Worst case scenario, I will just read the letter out loud and then sit down and be done with it.  So that's what I did.  I wrote them a letter like I was writing out a blog post.  As I was writing my letter, I thought of pictures I could use to help draw them into my life... into my testimony... so I started my powerpoint of pictures.  And then before I knew it (two days letter... the night before my talk)... my letter was pretty much done.  I had no idea how to end it so I just ended it with, "Thank you, I'm done".  Kinda reminded me of Forrest Gump when he ends a story and says, "and that's all I've got to say about that."  I only practiced for about 12 minutes.  I got through half my letter in 12 minutes so I figured that finishing up the rest of it would fill up the 30 minute time slot.  That was as good as it was going to get.

    The morning of the brunch... I woke up kind of late.  I had no time to prepare anything.  I had barely enough time to get ready.  We left 10 minutes later than I originally planned.  There were two fresh accidents on the way there and 3 people texted me that morning telling me they couldn't come.  Frustration from being in traffic and possibly being late and then disappointment from friends who wouldn't be able to make it... it felt like Satan was actively trying to break my spirit and tear down my courage.  So I prayed.  I sent a prayer request to my small group and a few close friends and I sat for the rest of the car ride... fighting back tears...but feeling a sense of peace in my heart.  If Satan was trying so hard to destroy me... that must mean that there was significance and importance to this brunch.  I felt even more affirmed that this was where God wanted me to be.  

    The fact that my cousins go to this church had nothing to do with how I became this brunch's speaker... they found out after I already agreed to do it.  It is also no coincidence that my cousin was going to be the MC as well.  She'd done it in previous years and she was going to do it again this year.  My cousins knew I was going to be a little late and when I got there, I was greeted by a great big hug and a smiling face saying, "NO WORRIES!!!  Everyone's on Asian time!!!" and then I burst into tears again.  And then my cousin and another lovely lady laid hands on me and prayed for me.  

    And everything did turn out just fine from then on out.  My cousin cried while introducing me.  I was already delicate on the tear threshold so i don't think I went 5 minutes into my talk before I started crying.  But it was OK.  Always a good day when there's crying involved.

    And it was a good crowd.  They laughed even when I wasn't really trying to be funny.  I went off script many times because I was just feeding off the energy from the crowd.  And this was my life... I know my life inside and out.  I cried harder about this than my defense but this turned out even better than that because I felt God moving and I felt the power of the Holy Spirit behind me and in me... and I was as much captivated by God's grace to me as I suspect the ladies were as they listened to my testimony.  

    Here's some of my favorite pictures from that day.

    My cousins
    The "kids" table
    My family

    K, I've spent enough time reminiscing about this and I've got to get back to studying about medical heart failure... but I was motivated to blog this morning by today's Bible reading.  I read in Exodus 24 about how God called to Moses out of the cloud on Mount Sinai... where His presence was seen like a fire over the mountain.  And Moses walked right into the cloud.  What is in the cloud?  Maybe from outside the cloud it looks like darkness and uncertainty... and maybe some trials or the "unknown"... I don't know if this little "tea talk" was just the mist that precedes the actual cloud... but where God is calling me and where I'm walking into... is going into God's presence.  Whatever will happen inside that cloud... as I'm covered with His presence... will be awesomeness and amazingness... and things too wonderful for me to know.  

    I'm a crier.  I cry a lot.  Apparently, I have a lot of meltdowns as well.  I don't walk into any of this with full confidence that I can conquer any of it.  I walk into it broken and fearful... and very, very aware of my own unworthiness.  But also in today's Bible reading was Paul's letter to the Corinthians.

    But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 ESV)

    In my weakness, Jesus has the opportunity to shine through it. There are moments when I know I cannot do it alone. There are moments when I cry out to God because I have no respite, no peace...when I am struggling to stay above water to keep from drowning...and I cry out and He brings rest and peace and strength to go on. To be kept in a state of constant reliance on God is not a bad thing. It doesn't feel lovely on one end but on another...intimacy with God is a prize that exceeds the value of any peace or happiness this world can provide. Loneliness, singleness, stress, being overwhelmed with demands and expectations, hurts, pains, and anything that makes my heart cry out...brings me that much closer to God and in Him is perfect peace irregardless of today's circumstances. Or yesterday's. 
      Or last week's.  

    Will I ever get to a point when I DON'T have a meltdown before sharing in front of a group of people?  I have no idea.  Will I ever get another chance to share like this again?  Who knows.  Only God knows.  I see how each time, the feats get a little bit bigger and the crowd gets a little bit scarier.  I can only wonder what this "tea talk" is preparing me for in the future.  Regardless though... the message I prepared for the women at this talk IS something that I needed to solidify in my own life.  I am beautiful and I am worthy...because I am loved by God.  

    To all the women from the retreat in SD... you may have moved on with your lives and you may have forgotten me by now... but I have not forgotten you and the lessons that God taught me through the circumstances by which we met.  And now to all the women at the women's brunch in Glendale... you may not remember me a year from now or recall what I said... but I will remember and I will keep the lessons God taught me close to my heart.  Because of you I may have had major meltdowns but also because of you, I learned how much God loves me and how far He will go to care for me and comfort me.  Saying yes to you meant saying yes to God.  Thank you for the opportunity and thank you for the tears.  And to all my family and friends who always support me through whatever craziness I tend to find myself in... thank YOU for your love.  Alright.  Too smooshie.  Back to studying.  

    much much love, 

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