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  • Writer's picturePeter Bai

Road Trip on My Birthday

Earlier this month, I turned 45 (yes, kindly reminded by my kids in that morning that now I'm rounded up to being 50, yikes)!

I spent the early part of the day spending time with Kathy, and soon after lunch with her, I hit the road (5-6 hours drive to a retreat near Sequoia National Park). You see, Kathy and I had taken the day off from work to enjoy my birthday together (while kids were at school). Soon after I got the day off, however, I was asked by a church we work closely with to become one of their retreat speakers. And in order to speak on the time slot I was asked for (a morning session on the second day), I had to drive the day before to spend the night with the group. And that day of driving fell on my 45th birthday.

I know I could've easily said no. It's my birthday. I had plans with my wife who took the day off from her work to be with me. But something inside of me said yes right away. Of course, there were important reasons like the fact that I really wanted to support this group on their very first retreat, and the topic they were asking me to speak on was dear to my heart ("spiritual wilderness" - more on this later). But, the idea of being on the road trip by myself (first time in a loooong while) somehow appealed to me! It immediately brought me the last time I was on a road trip by myself on my birthday - 19 years ago!

It was 1997. I was 25 and had recently graduated from a seminary school in my home town, Chicago - academically all prepared to become an ordained minister. My home church was asking me to go through their internship process to be ordained and serve the church full-time. But, I knew I wasn't ready. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to become a pastor. I thought, maybe I will be a teacher. Maybe I will work at a religious organization but not as a church pastor. More importantly, personally, I knew I just wasn't ready to be a pastor to anyone. I was still a kid, going through my "spiritual wilderness" of uncertainty and doubts.

Yes, I was a kid, but old enough (or naive, depending on how you look at it) to decide for myself that I will move across the states to California - to attend Fuller Seminary for my second master in Inter-cultural studies. That study, I knew I wanted to do. So, without asking any other complicated questions (like finance, where to live, social support, etc), I packed all my belongings in my little Hyundai and started driving west. Few days prior to my 26th birthday.

I had no rush to get to California. I knew 2 people in the new State. I just had to be there prior to the start of the new semester in January of the following year. But, soon into my endless driving west, I realized my birthday was coming up and that if I kept up with my driving (and taking naps in my car rather than getting a motel room. Why waste money?), I would potentially arrive in Pasadena on my birthday. And, not having much other things to motivate me during the long drives, I pushed my pedals for the romantic notion in my head to arrive in my new home state on my birthday! And, after 2000 miles and 40 hours of driving, I did! (and my spiritual wilderness began).

I remember writing on my journal during this time almost daily. As I was preparing my talk for the retreat on spiritual wilderness, I pulled out my journals and read through some of it. I even shared some of it in my talk.

October 30, 1997 (prior to leaving for LA)

What is my foremost desire in my life? What is the one thing that I will hold on to until the very end? What do I live for, and what can I die for? Of course, the biblical answer is Jesus. Jesus, I seek above everything. He is the reason for my life. However, is it my personal answer? Can I really live without everything, but only Jesus? Can I be completely happy with him alone? I know I am happy in him, but only him? I'm not so sure. It's because I often find myself being controlled by things other than Jesus. Sometimes something other than Jesus seems to give me more joy and excitement. Sometimes, lack of something other than Jesus gives me more despair. Why does something else than Jesus give me more satisfaction in my life, however temporarily it might be? And, why do I seek for something other than Jesus in my life? This can't be true if Jesus was indeed the sole reason to live...

October 25, 1998 (about a year into my time in LA)

Where am I? Where am I going? These questions I want to be able to answer.

But, God doesn’t answer these questions for me when I need them. The knowledge of these answers, I feel like, would give me the sense of security and confidence I need. But, God doesn’t seem to think so.

Perhaps, it’s because of the very reason that I feel the need for answers that God doesn’t give me the answers. He wants me to know beyond answers, the actual source of the answers; perhaps God is withdrawing answers from me for a reason...

October 8, 1999 (two years into my time in LA)

Lord, you are the only one I can totally trust and be open to.

You already know my heart and mind so I don’t have to hide anything from you.

I can come to you not to explain myself but to have you explain me.

I want to know myself. I want to know where I stand and belong.

My strengths and weaknesses. My vision and dream.

I want to know how God made me and how he has been shaping my life. In this way, I will also know my God better.

As you can tell, I have a fond memories of this time I called my "wilderness time". I didn't know many people and didn't have so much fun. Just my study, a local church I served, and my journals. But, as I was preparing my talk for the retreat few weeks ago, I was reminded how blessed I was to have this time with my God alone. Yes, after 3 years, I was being too self-absorbed with my thoughts, so God snapped me out of it (and I met Kathy)! That's a story for another time! But, for the three years I wrote those journals, I felt closer to God than ever before. I learned about love, faith, and hope. Most importantly, I was able to learn about the power of forgiving - including forgiving myself.

On my recent road trip to the retreat (only 6 hours instead of 48 hours like those December days 19 years ago), I thought about my life of 45 years. I'm a different person than how I was in 1997. But, still, I can see the same hand of God through it all. God is teaching me different life lessons these days, but I am forever grateful for those days of my "wilderness". And I told my audience at the retreat.

"God is silent, sometimes (for the reasons we can't understand)."

"God will surely come one day."

"God is here, already."

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