I was born in the early 80s, into a strongly Christian household. We were poor because my parents had just immigrated from China. During that time, my mom worked to make ends meet, while my dad attended medical school — training to be a physician.
I had a pretty ordinary childhood, and spent a lot of time in front of the TV set, watching the latest cartoon. I was a nice kid, but I had a short temper, and got easily frustrated whenever things didn’t go the way I wanted them to go.
In high school, everything changed. My father had challenged me to read the Bible in a year, and for some reason… I actually read it completely through. There were quite a few things that I did not understand, but one of the core messages that impacted my life — was the message of grace and salvation. I started to see everything in a new light.
Reading about King David, I started to learn that a person could be kind and good, and yet commit terrible deeds. I learned that all of the biblical figures I had been taught to look up to, had failed repeatedly… over and over again. As a teenager, I identified strongly with these failures — and realized how amazing it was that these failures could be overlooked, or “covered by grace.”
This knowledge changed my life.
I started to become extremely devout. Throughout high school, I started to be much more active at church, and occasionally, when brave enough — I tried to proselytize my fellow classmates about the “good news.”
Then college came. College was a completely new environment for me. It was full of new and amazing people, and I rapidly made many friends, and joined all of the Christian organizations.
During this time, I started to push myself harder.
I had always been very bright, and I was used to being the best at everything I put my mind to. But at Yale, so many people were amazing… and far superior to me in many ways. I didn’t want to be left behind, so instead I decided to forgo sleep and push myself to become even “better”: stronger, smarter, faster, kinder, etc. I stopped caring about myself; instead, I only cared about becoming “better.”
This was unsustainable. Gradually, I became severely depressed… except that I didn’t realize that I was in a serious depression. I thought to myself, “if only I could be a better Christian,” I would not care about how happy I was… because God should be enough to satisfy all my desires. Because of this reasoning… I did not seek to address my depression. In fact, I pushed myself even *harder* to be the perfect, imaginary person I envisioned.
Needless to say, I eventually became suicidal.
But fortunately for me, I had a very loving mother, and an extremely analytical mind. Though I hated my existence, I realized that my mother would experience extreme guilt if I did commit suicide… no matter how many heartfelt letters I wrote to the contrary. Because I could not make my mom bear this burden, this alone caused me to choose to stay alive.
This experience with extreme depression changed me. I learned that God was not enough to make me happy. In fact, I realized that it was my faith in God that caused me to have difficulty seeing my underlying problems.
(Note: Some here will think that I am blaming God for my depression. This is not the case at all. I still harbor extremely favorable feelings toward Christianity. It honestly and simply is that my perception of God prevented me from observing myself in a clear and unbiased manner.)
This brings me to the present. Today, I am a slightly liberal agnostic, from a very conservative Christian family… that still views my conservative, religious heritage with deep joy and appreciation. Because of my background, I have learned to see and believe the best in others… because I genuinely see myself, every time I speak with another person.
. . . . .
So, what unites us as a country?
The thing that unites us, is something that we all share… we all have a father, we all have a mother, we all have people in our lives who we genuinely care for, and who genuinely care for us. It is this bond of love that binds us as a society, and as a nation. And the more we rely on this bond, the more we will grow… together.
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