The Wounds I Carry: Why I Left Jubilee Project

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum | Cambodia, 2014

People would ask me why I left Jubilee Project. I suppose it doesn’t make much sense. After all, working with a nonprofit startup was the ideal job. I was doing what I loved. Being autonomous. Doing good. Standing on a global platform. Having widespread impact. Living the dream.

There isn’t really an easy answer. And one post could hardly give an adequate account for it. A lot of things I have trouble putting into words and cohesive thoughts. Some things, I’m hesitant to open up about. But one year has gone by, and I figured, I’d at least give it a shot. To let myself start writing what has been going on inside my heart and restore order in what has been anything but. Perhaps this could help me grow in areas I have long ignored, and possibly help others in the process.

Over the course of following this path, I have learned that God gives us seasons in life. And the purpose of that season is often much different than what we can understand. When I left Washington, DC to start working for Jubilee Project full time, I went into it thinking I was pursuing a new job– to start a new career. And while there may be some truth to that, as I look back on that season, I realize that God was doing something much different, way beneath the surface — he was doing something in my heart.

When we took the leap in 2012 to pursue this new endeavor, everything changed: a new city, a different community, a new sense of purpose. But one thing didn’t seem to go away — the nagging pit in the bottom of my heart, that sense of emptiness, and depression that I have dealt with for many years. Escaping from one job to the next didn’t make that feeling go away, it only intensified.

I began to see that there were unaddressed issues in my heart and soul that started to surface. What started off as a picturesque journey of pursuing my dreams, was actually a painful process of uncovering and facing head on the wounds I had been carrying for way too long.

By “wounds,” I’m not talking about the passing bruises we often experience, or the periodic let downs we inevitably face in life. This is different. It came from somewhere deeper: it felt more like a 100-pound weight that seemed to linger in my being no matter how much I tried to ignore it and move on. What made it more difficult to bear was that I didn’t understand what was at the root of my issues.

For as long as I could remember, I responded by playing the role of an escapist of pain to the highest degree. I’ve dealt with the internal strife by shifting my focus to other things, or finding ways to numb them. I put up a front that showed a glossier side of my life. I practiced legalism, and became over-spiritualized. I built walls. Whatever it took to avoid having to confront what was going on inside.

Yet the more I ignored them, the more they became manifest in ways beyond my control. Think about it like gashes left open and unattended– they eventually become infected and it all turns ugly. Very ugly.

I became a wreck, losing the discipline to work and the passion to follow through on even the most basic responsibilities. I struggled to make myself understood. Instead I lashed out at others. For a while, it felt like my world was falling apart. It is true when they say hurt people hurt people. Perhaps out of a plea for empathy. Or perhaps I felt it brought sanity to my chaos when people stopped being so intrusive. I wanted attention but I also wanted to be left alone. People didn’t know how to help — heck I didn’t know how to help myself.

It was perhaps the most tumultuous season of my life. I was at rock bottom.

And yet, finding myself in that state forced upon me a turning point in my life. To start picking up the broken pieces.

My friendship with Jan started right around that time. It was a God-sent relationship as it didn’t take her long at all to see through the glossy facade, which led our relationship to be established on authenticity. What was hard for me to see at the time, was very clear to her. And what was so peculiar about her was the way she lived out the power of the Holy Spirit, living in the fullness of Christ. It was refreshing. And more importantly it gave me the hunger and urgency to get out of my pit, and so fervently seek His presence.

Now, I always thought I knew the Holy Spirit. Or about Him, at least. Until one fateful evening last summer, I had an encounter with Him. And it rocked my world. Ever since, my whole perspective changed. And what I knew about living a life of faith began to shift. I started to understand the Gospel more profoundly — more specifically, I started to understand why Jesus had to go to the cross.

Soon after, I was led to the passage of Isaiah 48:20-21: “Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea .. They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts; he made water flow for them from the rock; he split the rock and the water gushed out.”

As I wrestled with the passage, it began to take root in my heart. And I understood then that God was prompting me to leave my Babylon. And surrender. He wasn’t calling me to simply leave my work or city in pursuit of our calling so to speak. “Babylon” wasn’t referring to Jubilee Project or my previous job in DC. I was convicted that God was referring to the culture and lifestyle that I had become so entrenched in growing up.

My life in Los Angeles, where I was pursuing my new job with Jubilee Project, had become the epitome of that worldly lifestyle. Despite the desire I had to “do good,” I became more caught up in being liked, gaining influence, and seeking significance in the world than I did in following Jesus. To find solace amidst my struggle, I resorted to partying, getting drunk and indulging in fleshly pleasures. But they only served to fuel my inner turmoil, rather than to extinguish it — like trying to put out a fire by drenching it with lighter fluid. And it was my inability to break out of those cultural strongholds and its subsequent sins that had plagued my life.

Leaving “Babylon” has been like a detox process for me. It was essentially a decision to get out of the pit, and go to rehab. A decision to give my wounds to God, believing He would do a better job than I could at tending to them. A decision to pick up the Cross and live by faith. To trade in my own desires, for His. To live counter-culturally, #noturningback.

Like any process of healing, it has taken time. And it has been a lot more difficult and painful than I could imagine. To begin, it has been a process of searching my heart for what was at the root of these wounds. Some were self-inflicted because of the culture I was entrenched in, as I was powerless against the schemes of the enemy. And others were inflicted by the people closest to me — intentionally or not.  And it has been a process of repenting from a worldly lifestyle. Of weaning off the temptations and strongholds that once kept me in bondage. Of letting go of bitterness in my heart. Of choosing every day to live a life of freedom.

Through it all, I hold onto the promise that God leads us and takes care of us through the process. That they did not thirst even when he led them through the deserts. That He would bring redemption to the darker parts of my character. Because it is by His wounds that we are healed from ours (Isaiah 53:4-5).

I once chose to live by and with the world. I let myself be conformed to the world. But the time for that is over. It’s time to grow up.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my church here in San Francisco helps those struggling with addictions in the Tenderloin by taking them out of their old environment. Through a 1-year rehabilitation program, they are given a fresh start with a new environment and new community as they live and work in our church’s Recovery Home. Likewise, leaving that old life is to begin peeling away the glossier layers, to break free of the strongholds, and to embark on a journey of freedom.

As difficult as the journey has been, I’m evermore grateful for it. It’s been a struggle every day, and there is much more to be lived out. But I suppose this is a start. And I’m believing that the best is yet to come.