The past year I’ve really seen my faith grow. I’m writing this as a reflection on my walk with God and as encouragement to those around me to seek God. A friend shared Revelations 12:11 with me earlier this week, which encouraged me to share my testimony.
I grew up attending church and church events on a regular basis. The first church I remember attending and feeling apart of was in Columbia, Missouri. In Columbia, my closest friends (as close as someone can become to you at 5 years old) attended the same church and school as I did. When I was 6 years old, my family moved to Fort Worth. I don’t remember much about the process of searching for a church, but the one my parents decided to attend was a large, multiethnic church where I made many friends. As was the case in Columbia, many of my closest friends and I attended the same church and school. My family found a home in that church community.
That church is where I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I don’t remember the date exactly, but it was either fall 2008 or early 2009. I remember where I was— alone up on the second level. I was sitting on the same pew as my mom, who was doing live English to Spanish interpretation, but on the opposite end of her. I just felt an overwhelming presence and knew who it was. After discussing that I accepted Jesus into my heart with my parents and a mentor, I was baptized a couple months later.
Life continued on as normal for the next couple years. In 2011, the lead pastor at the church announced he would be moving back to his hometown, so the church went through a leadership change. When the new pastor was selected, my parents didn’t believe he was putting God as the focal point of the ministry, so we left the church. Leaving the church was a big change in my life. Church was always a place I had close friends that I also went to school with. Additionally, it was a multiethnic church, which I would later find was a place I naturally felt comfortable.
In searching for another church home, I quickly learned that it would be really difficult to find an environment that would feel like home. The state of limbo wasn’t a good feeling.
In 2012, my family eventually started attending a small, all white church. Although the schools I attended were majority white, they were significantly more diverse than this church. Nevertheless, my family’s accumulated experiences in Georgia, Panama, Tokyo, and Missouri led us to believe we could adapt to this new environment as well.
In this small, all white church, I had to adapt who I was to fit in. I soon became increasingly frustrated that I wasn’t accepted for who I was. It was extremely exhausting living a life where I knew that I would be accepted and loved if I was white. On the whole, I loved my entire Black self and wasn’t ashamed of who I was. But, in full transparency, there were moments my younger self wished I looked different. Looking back, I wish I turned my eyes to God and rested in the truth that He created us and loves us the way we look. However, I wasn’t mature enough in my walk with Christ for that thought to even cross my mind. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this situation touched on an aspect of myself that I wouldn’t fully confront until Fall 2019.
What impacted me even more than the difficult experience I was having at church was rejection. Many guys have had the experience of trying to “get out of the friendzone”. I was trying to do the same thing. I was rejected and fell into a state of despair about myself. That may sound ridiculous, but that’s what happened. Looking back I know it’s because I didn’t love myself and instead of turning to God for love, I was trying to put that responsibility onto her. I fell into a cycle of rejection with her… almost as if I was trying to prove to myself that I wasn’t worth loving. Remember, I was still going through the traumatic experience at church. The negative experiences were overwhelming.
To make matters worse, I took all the hurt I was experiencing and channeled that into treating some of my friends poorly, including the girl who I apparently “liked”. Additionally, the relationship with my mom became strained and my grades fell. Initially, in my sophomore year, I had soccer to turn to, but then I struggled recuperating from a back injury and I wasn’t playing well. My junior and senior year of high school are the most difficult for me to reflect on. It was a dark time that I was emotionally wandering. The way I treated people was ridiculous and I’m ashamed of that. God has revealed some valuable lessons from this period of my life, but it can still be painful to think about.
Thankfully, God is always in control. By His grace I was accepted into the University of Texas at Austin. I say “His grace,” because my academics had fallen off the rails. In my junior year my rank dropped from being inside the top 10% to 33%. During my senior year in high school I failed 3 classes. My SAT score was good, particularly when compared to how students at my high school performed, but it was still below the UT Austin average. Despite this, I was accepted and enrolled as an Aerospace Engineering student at UT.
All summer 2016 I mentally prepared for this new phase of life. Unfortunately, my lack of paying attention in high school came back to haunt me. In my first semester at UT, I failed Introduction to Chemistry and dropped Differential and Integral Calculus. With a 2.33 GPA (and an even lower technical GPA), I was put on engineering probation. Moreover, I was still struggling with rejection from my friend in high school. My classmates at UT seemed to be easily doing well. For the first time in my life I believed I was academically incapable and decided to transfer universities — I felt like a failure.
Between my fall 2016 and spring 2017 semesters I visited family in Panama. I didn’t realize it on that trip, but God had begun to work. You see, I’ve always been interested in how technology can be used to improve the lives of people in Latin America. And this trip had lit a flame inside of me. Regarding my studies, to be accepted as a transfer student at another university I needed to increase my GPA, so I returned to UT.
That spring 2017 semester, I was crying out to God asking for help. I was disciplined in my schoolwork and kept Colossians 3:23 in my mind. It states: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” — ESV. Besides turning to God for my schoolwork, I was asking Him questions about my purpose as well. I kept asking myself “Why are you majoring in aerospace engineering?”. I prayed to God and He, graciously, revealed it to me. I learned that my purpose is to use engineering to benefit people in underserved communities, particularly in Latin America and Sub Saharan Africa. I will use this platform to be a light and show others the love of Christ. This was a huge turning point in my academic career at UT. I was serving a purpose outside of myself. I started a “Thought Board” where I brainstormed ideas that I think can benefit underserved communities and scale. I’ve kept that board with me since then, added to it, and started knew ones.
I finished that semester with a 3.58 GPA which raised my overall UT GPA to a 3.05. Despite how well I did and this newfound motivation, I still planned on transferring.
After my freshman year at UT, I had friends that I didn’t want to leave, but I still believed that I wasn’t smart enough to endure the curriculum and graduate. I had already used my OTE and was still on engineering probation. I continued with the transferring process.
So, midway through the summer of 2017 I attended transfer student orientation at this university. However, it was a horrible experience. Even though I registered for classes at this university, I was desperate to return to UT. I decided to commit the decision to prayer and whatever direction the Lord led me is the way I would go. Pretty quickly I felt Him leading me back to UT, despite the difficult academic situation I was in. In August 2017, I returned to UT.
Continued struggles with rejection
My third semester at UT (Fall 2017), went great. Again, I kept Colossians 3:23 in my mind. I earned a 3.93 GPA (raising my overall GPA to a 3.43), got off of engineering probation, and finally gained the confidence that I could succeed in UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering. Additionally, I got plugged into the National Society of Black Engineers at UT where I found a welcoming community of students I could relate to academically and professionally. The next year and a half went by like normal. Some semesters were better than others, but things were progressing well.
In spring 2019 I met someone and became good friends with her. I found myself investing a lot of energy into our friendship and I developed feelings for her. Entering into the summer, I vowed to myself not to repeat what happened in high school. I did much better, but still, when the rejection came I said hurtful things and lost our friendship. I’m ashamed to admit, but I subsequently used a couple friendships as emotional crutches and wasted them.
This situation emotionally pushed me over the edge. I was so disappointed in myself. I felt broken, unlovable (subconsciously I had always felt this way). I turned to God for answers. I opened my heart to Him. I was learning about myself (spiritually and emotionally) in ways that I had not before. I was asking myself deep questions about why I had reacted in certain ways when dealing with rejection. Why do I struggle letting those close to me love me? Why don’t I think I’m worthy of love? This heart work took place during the fall 2019 semester. I was also enrolled in my most difficult semester at UT. God was in control though (as always) and brought me through.
I learned that for quite some time, when I became hurt, I would project my pain onto others. I learned that I didn’t honestly believe I had the ability to romantically love someone. I learned that I hadn’t ever seen myself how God sees me.
Fast forward into spring semester 2020, I was still working through a lot of stuff. I was doing much better and realizing God was there the whole time, I just needed to depend on Him for strength. In February, a few weeks before we all knew what was happening with COVID, I saw my former friend in the library. A lot of thoughts rose to the top of my mind and I suffered an emotional setback. So, as I entered quarantine I was doing better, but had recently suffered a setback.
Since March I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with God and continually learn about myself. Among other things, some insecurities I’ve learned that I have are:
- My ability to love
- My physical appearance
- With certain people, I feel like I don’t belong
I’m still learning how to see myself as God sees me — worthy of love. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that I need to spend time with God daily (reading the Bible) to deepen my relationship with Him. In thinking about this, three verses come to mind:
- Psalm 36:9, ESV. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.
- John 15:4–5, ESV. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
- Proverbs 16:9, NASB. We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.
I love Proverbs 16:9, because it because it says that we can and should be active in our pursuits, but God is the one in control. Keep pressing forward and He’s got you. I’m not sure if anything I’ve been through or referenced resonates with you, but I hope that at a minimum, you are inspired to spend more time with God. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I can say that when I return to Austin next week, I’ll be returning in a better mental and spiritual state than how I left it in March.