The Art of Deconstruction

An acquaintance asked me the other day, “Paul, what do you even believe any more? Do you still believe in God? Are you even Christian?”

I’ve written a lot about therapy, pornography, purpose, and how race has affected my experience as a U.S. citizen. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m often writing little blurbs about everything from toxic masculinity to finding your purpose. If we are connected on Facebook, you have probably noticed that I post almost exclusively about the harms of pornography which is a stark contrast from the Bible-verse-trigger-happy high school graduate from ten years ago.

There’s been a lot of trauma, a lot of work, a lot of wylin’ out, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that has led me to this point in time.

As much as I’d like to think that I’m so unique, I’m about 80% sure that my experiences, questions, and confusion are shared by many of you.

For those of you who would consider yourself 100% grounded in your faith and religion, I’d ask for grace, but also encourage you to hear me out as I try to explain where a lot of my doubts and cynicism originated from.

For those of you who are in the same boat, you aren’t alone, and I see you.

For those of you who don’t believe in God any more, you aren’t alone either and I see you too.

This is: the art of deconstruction.


Foundations:

To properly understand my journey, you should know that I was practically born into church. I was homeschooled until high school, took classes on theology, read the biographies of missionaries, and surrounded myself with friends who shared the same religious views.

I went to a Foursquare church in Van Nuys for the first thirteen years of my life. During my time there, I was encouraged and inspired by so many individuals who volunteered their time and resources to teach Sunday school. I remember fondly, this one black family taking the 11am slot to teach fourth grade sunday school and I especially remember them incentivizing memorizing a whole chapter of the Bible by giving an entire Little Ceasar’s Pizza to any kids who could. There was also teacher April who organized the Vacation Bible School and invited me to join the dance team as an elementary school teacher. I remember pastor Bob at Highway 56 sticking around later when my parents were late to picking me up. I remember pastor Brian at Rock Solid keeping us middle schoolers busy at the Jr. High summer internship.

Most of my memories are positive and most of them I cherish and remember fondly.

In high school, I started going to a new church in San Diego, and I remember pastors, Josh and Greg creating a safe space for us high schoolers. I remember Matt investing time and energy into making sure I was not just blindly following sermon talking points. I remember Frank treating me like an adult and not a project as he burned worship cds for me. I memorized scripture, listened to Christian Contemporary Music, and probably annoyed the living crap out of my non-Christian friends.

I’m pretty sure I broke up with a girl one time citing God as a reason..

I wrote entire posts on Tumblr devoted to my interpretation of scripture. My mother watched Fox News and I was convinced that being Christian was synonymous with being a Republican.

I knew the verses and the messages about grace and love, but I never stopped and listened to anyone who had a different life experience than I did.

I used to give mini-sermons at Christian club where I just copied the styles and themes that I had seen modeled for me in church.

If you are reading this, and we knew each other back then, this is my formal apology.

I am so sorry if you ever felt judged or shamed by the things that I said. Things that I, a flawed human, asserted that God said about you. Whether it was my blatant disregard for your emotions or my gaslighting and steamrolling of your worldviews, I am so sorry that I caused you pain.

In college, the cracks in my self righteousness began to show. I volunteered my time in my college fellowship, took calculated small steps of vulnerability in controlled situations, and pretended like everything was okay. My closeted addictions started coming out and by the time I graduated, I was full on tripping.


The Cynical Prodigal Son:

I remember going to Mexico City for the first time after I graduated from college and rationalizing to myself that my secret porn habit couldn’t actually be contributing to ruining the lives of real people.

Deep down, I knew I was lying to myself, and so I said that I cared about anti-trafficking efforts, but I quickly forgot everything I saw and experienced.

As I wrestled with my own sexuality and addictions, I became angry. I didn’t know what spurred the anger because I had never done the hard work of naming my emotions. I became frustrated and criticized the church for the needs I saw that it wasn’t addressing.

It was easier for me to blame the church for over-preaching about tithing and under-preaching about mental health and addictions because that meant that my problems weren’t my fault.

I stopped going to church, and lost the one thing I thought I’d always have: my integrity.

I was so confused.

For my whole life I knew that there was a “right” way to be a Christian. Christians didn’t sleep around, didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, didn’t curse, voted yes on Prop 8, and volunteered as much time as possible at church.

But despite knowing that this was the “right” way to to do things, I knew that I was not actually adhering to the full letter of the law.

When I wasn’t at church I was cursing, experimenting, and let’s not forget, watching a SHIT ton of porn.

I felt like a fraud at church because I was.

Yeah, I had read the whole Bible.

Yes I had been to small groups and retreats.

Yes I had been on mission trips.

But there was this huge cognitive dissonance between who I was supposed to be and who I was.

After you attempt to quit porn after a church retreat for like the third time, you start asking some questions about whether or not something is wrong with you.


Toxic Church CULTure:

If you’ve gone to church, tell me if this sounds familiar:

The pastor talks about how everyone needs grace, and then some people at church look straight at you and when it’s time to pray for each other, nobody says jack shit about anything more than “work has been tough.”

At first, you think wow, everyone here has their shit together. I aspire to be this level of holy.

But as you spend more and more time there, you come to a shocking discovery: At ANY church, charismatic or conservative, expository or theme-based sermons, Hillsong worship songs or hymns, people are seriously fucked up.

Marriages are falling apart, addictions are out of control, mental health is a huge issue, volunteers are being abused, affairs are happening on the worship team, tithe money has gone missing, pastors are arguing and causing church splits, and it turns out, that some of the biggest assholes and abusers are churchgoers.

Then, depending on your level of self-awareness, you begin to realize that you are actually a part of the problem.

I remember realizing that I despised the fact that no one was talking about pornography, depression, and suicidal ideation in church. At one lunch with my mother, I asked her WHY the church was so silent on issues that I KNEW were relevant. She just sat with me and heard me out.

I kept criticizing and SLAMMING the church for what it wasn’t doing to make the world a better place. I thought it was ridiculous that churchgoers didn’t act like Jesus did in the New Testament, but it never occurred to me that perhaps I had a part to play in this.


A Perfect Storm:

In 2019, after about a year of therapy and processing my emotions, I realized that I had a lot of work to do on myself in order to not project all my baggage onto my friends, family, and significant other.

An incident, in which my pornography addiction wreaked even more havoc in my day to day life, led me to start aggressively targeting the root cause of my habit in therapy as well.

As I processed my emotions and sat with them for the first time in 25-26 years, I began to see the depth of my own pain and brokenness. And as my therapist validated me and told me that I wasn’t alone, I realized this fundamental need I had to be seen and heard.

It was as this was happening, that I realized that I had not felt seen or heard in really any of my circles except for a handful of scenarios.

My best friend, Imon who sat with me through all of the shit I had been processing even outside of the context of religious camaraderie.

My college pastor and friend, Abe who hugged me after I revealed that I didn’t think I could be a college small group leader because of my porn addiction.

My friend, Crystal who allowed me to sit in post travel and job hating depression because she too was experiencing it.

This concept of sitting with people as they were processing their emotions would end up being the missing piece that helped me tie together everything that I had been experiencing.

For the first time ever, I was allowing myself to be angry, sad, tired, cynical, happy, excited, depressed, worried, doubtful, anxious, heartbroken, worried, and a whole slew of other emotions without shaming myself into putting “faith in God.”

And while my Christian readers are waiting for the other shoe to drop as I say that therapy has led me away from God and into the ever waiting socialist arms of the far left, I have a surprise for you:

God showed up in my therapy sessions uninvited.

As I transitioned from talk therapy to EMDR therapy, my sessions began to tackle really traumatic memories in which I felt truly alone, violated, or damaged. And even though my therapist said nothing about God and I didn’t explicitly invite God into that space, He freaking showed up there in the middle of my deepest pain.

It was at this moment, that I realized the importance of being present during the painful seasons of those in our community. I think of Jesus mourning Lazarus, the disciples falling asleep as Jesus prays at Gethsemane, and the Holy Spirit descending in the upper room.

But hold up, I’m not done yet.


20 Fucking 20:

In the biggest plot twist of our modern day lives, 2020 came and screwed us all over. Whether you were a small business owner, a stay at home mom, a church goer, a food service worker, it really didn’t matter, we all were affected.

We had BLM in the streets protesting injustice. We had a freaking virus running crazy. Trump was re-running for office. Asians were being targeted in public.

I don’t even need to write you about this, you all ALREADY fucking know. 2020 was a cluster show.

It was at this critical point in history, that my faith in the church was shaken to its core.

While my faith in God was just recently reinvigorated, the marriage of christianity and politics that 2020 brought forth absolutely destroyed me.

One day, I’d be playing basketball at a park while being aggressively approached by a racist security guard only to hear from the pulpit that BLM wasn’t a Biblically founded movement. I’d grown up hearing about how Jesus spoke in parables where the heroes of the stories were marginalized immigrants, while my old church friends were lauding ICE and wall building as practically Christian endeavors. I’d learned as a child that loving your neighbor as yourself was second only to loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, but then people were raving that masks and vaccines were inherently unchristian or worse yet the mark of the beast.

We were taught as children in Sunday school that we had a personal relationship with Jesus, but then all of a sudden, there was this HUGE push that God HAD to have us meet in person.

It was like everything was moving and changing and contradicting itself.

My heart sank as past mentors and pastors openly decried governmental mandates and went so far as to assert that being Christian meant defying laws designed to protect us. Nonchalant and cavalier comparisons to the persecution of Christians in other times and countries were liberally used by conservatives. AND THEN, just when things couldn’t get any worse, having views that weren’t as conservative became being anti-God.

All of a sudden the LITERAL depiction of loving your neighbor became rebranded as being socialist.

What?!


A Search For Doers:

As I sat with my dad at the breakfast table one morning in 2020, I shared with him how I was so discouraged and confused about my convictions on what the church should be. I asked him where the heroes were and who was actually doing what Jesus had commanded us to do in the Bible: loving God and loving people.

He didn’t have an answer, but he said that he would pray that I would find more of these heroes.

In the span of a year and a half, I was given the immense privilege of partnering with Fight the New Drug, my friend Calista referred me to join Clubhouse, I met Victoria on Clubhouse and was able to share my story on the Trafficked Truth podcast, and my friends Tina and Randy shared their story with me and hosted me on my longest stint in Mexico City yet.

In the face of the question: Where are the heroes who are doing Kingdom work, the answer came in the the form of El Pozo de Vida, 27Million, and new friends who have been doing Kingdom work in their respective areas of expertise.


Where I am:

It’s weird when you look back on the past few years and realize that the majority of the people who have been the best representations of God’s grace, acceptance, and character weren’t even churchgoers.

I have immense gratitude for my supportive family, my ride or die friends new and old, and for the organizations that have given me the privilege of partnering with them.

It’s interesting how I learned empathy, shameless acceptance, and recovery from sources that weren’t explicitly citing scripture or throwing “Kingdom principles” at me. All of these aforementioned traits are traits that the Bible teaches us that we should exhibit, and yet, as a Christian I admit, we have failed as a body to grow these character traits.

It might make some of you uncomfortable that I don’t quote scripture in my facebook posts every week anymore or that I curse when I write my blogs. It might be disconcerting to know that not all the organizations that I partner with have Jesus explicitly in their mission statements.

But that is just the point: I’m done playacting that I’ve got my shit together.

Never in my life, have I cared less about what people think about my motives or intentions, because I know what they are for one of the first times in my life.

I’d rather be congruent and consistent in who I am and who God has created me to be, than pretending to be someone who I am not.

It doesn’t help me or anyone else if I bury my struggles and pain and pretend that cliches and quotes are what can change lives and the world.

Our world is so fucking messed up, and we need to be on the frontlines addressing the needs, not just criticizing other doers from our high horses of self righteousness.

I honestly think that God created us to be innovative and creative in our problem solving approaches and part of that is trusting that God has given us the tools and gifts that we need to get the job done.

Maybe as a collective body, we as the church need to do a better job of leading with actions rather than words..

Maybe God isn’t so keen on our “defenses of the faith” on facebook so much as he is looking for our actions that display His love to those who need it.


Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a aman who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:19-27

Have we focused too much on the very last phrase, fixating on spotlessness, while disregarding everything that came before it?

Is the pinnacle of our lives as Christians arguing about vaccines and the mark of the beast or is it going and doing as Jesus commanded: loving God and loving others?

Present

The sun is scheduled to set in four minutes as Julian asks, “Let me show you this map, because I’m not sure if we are going the right way..”

As we double back over the half-mile that we just ascended, in order to re-embark on the correct trail, the crunch of gravel and dirt under our shoes becomes the backup rhythm to our pounding hearts. We begin the mile trek to the lookout point as the sun begins to fall below the hills on our left.

“The event that hasn’t occurred for 800 years, will only be visible for ten short minutes after sunset,” says the remembered quote from the article I read earlier in the day.

Our ascension becomes more and more frenzied as daylight begins to disappear and the hill to our left does not give way to allow us clear sight to the southwest. I feel the blister at the intersection of my heel and boot burst just as a piece of tiny rock slides into my other boot. The incline is relentless as our jagged breathing replaces the playful banter that we had just fifteen minutes ago.

All of a sudden, with one final incline, we lift out of the valley and arrive at a lookout point that grants us the ability to see above the hills that loomed so tall and imposing just moments before.

There in the sky, just above the gorgeous Southern California sunset, we see Jupiter and Saturn as they appear to violate social distancing rules as they meet.

Julian and I marvel at the sunset and the incredible nature of the human eye. Our iPhones and our prime lenses can’t capture the magnificence of the moment, but our eyes can.

Five minutes go by.

Ten minutes go by.

Fifteen minutes go by.

And yet Jupiter and Saturn remain, even brighter as the light leaves the sky.

As we return to the car using our flashlights that have proven handy in blackouts and fire evacuations this year, we continue to gaze into the sky to see if the planets will disappear from view. As we drive up PCH, we see the planets to our left and marvel at how frantic we were.

I say to Julian, “This is gonna be the December blog.”


I started this year with one goal: to write and release one blogpost each month.

We’ve gone on a journey this year. From leaving a job, starting a new one, finishing a Spanish course, taking an anti-human trafficking course, texting a rapper and getting an emailed response, experiencing prejudice and racism due to coronavirus, editing with a new software, producing two phases of music videos, filming an interview with Fight the New Drug, binging the Office, Dark, Rebels, the Mandalorian, & the Queen’s Gambit, processing through countless virtual therapy sessions, paying off debts and taking control of personal finances, lying in bed with crippling depression and anxiety, driving for hours to escape normalcy and to get into the middle of nowhere to take photos and to cook, playing hours of videogames with old buddies, and I’m sure more that I’m missing.

If you and I are close, you probably already know that I agonize about the past and fixate on the future.

I’m rarely happy with where I am right now, and I tend to romanticize what happened before and what could happen in the future.

2020 in a weird way, forced me to process the past and the future, BUT not at the expense of glossing over the present. If ever there was a time in my life that I was forced to be here and now, it was this year.

Three cancelled trips, a friend in South Korea’s missed wedding, the failure of negative coping mechanisms to provide sustainable highs in a quarantine environment, loneliness magnified, and more time alone than ever before all forced me to sit alone with my thoughts, my fears, my insecurities, and the long buried emotions that fueled my busy-ness.

An acquaintance called me out on instagram by saying “Your life looks like it was really cool before..” after my second repost of an old video I had made.

Fantasizing and planning for the future seemed foolish and wasteful when the future was so uncertain for EVERYONE.

And it was in that discomfort, that I began to breathe and exist in the present.


Sometimes in life, it can feel like that hike as you race this deadline to an endpoint that is uncertain.

People and resources have told you that your window is short and that you must hurry.

“If you miss your opportunity, you never know when the next will come around”

We frantically make decisions out of fear, and failing is unacceptable, because to fail is to let yourself and the people around you down.

We ignore the pain in our heels and the jagged breathing as self-care goes through the window.

Because the destination is what gives us meaning.

That destination could be tangible.

It could be intangible.

“Man I wish I was happy”

“Man I wish my emergency fund was fully funded”

“I wish I was with someone”

“I wish I was there

And as we rush to and fro, life in all of its beauty and splendor, slips through our fingers faster than grains of sand.


The people and places that we are in today, are not promised tomorrow.

Just like 2020 proved, today is a gift, not a given.

Life is so short, and we spend so much time freaking out about getting to the uncertain destination, that we forget to look around and marvel at everything that is happening around us.

Thanks Imon for being down to drive to Anza Borrego because I was having a mental breakdown.

Thanks Victoria for helping me realize that our struggles growing up as the oldest children in our very special homeschooled-legalistic households were shared.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to not bail out on my Fight the New Drug interview.

Thanks Mary for being there to trade stories about relationship trauma and drama.

Thanks Calista for the opportunity to learn so much about producing and overcoming personal fears.

Thanks Andy for the encouragement to just create without fearing the audience’s opinion.

Thanks Josh and Jeremy for being wholesome alternatives to so many shitty coping mechanisms. I never thought that a pandemic and cross play Call of Duty would reunite us.


Life is short my friends. Live it well.

Look around and appreciate where you are and who you are with in the present.

Because I guarantee you, life will never be the way it is ever again.

In the words of Andrew Bernard, ” I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them”

Thanks for reading this year and thanks for giving me space to think out loud!

pH out!

Permission to Fail

A few years ago, one of my friends introduced me to indoor bouldering. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the activity, bouldering is basically rock climbing without harnesses or ropes.

Contrary to what I thought, my ability to do pullups did not mean that I was automatically going to excel at this indoor activity. I remember going every month, bumming off of my friend’s guest pass, and usually going home with patches of skin missing from my hands.

I had an interesting problem when it came to bouldering: oftentimes when a few handholds away from the end of the route, I would panic, and begin to downclimb instead of using my energy to finish the climb. As my arms would fill with blood and become pumped, as I was ascending, a fear of falling would completely override any desire that I had to complete the ascent.

My friend was always super encouraging and would do her best to coach me on how to climb these fairly basic routes. And yet, most of the time, I’m ashamed to admit, that I couldn’t even hear her, over the sound of my internal thoughts telling me that I was incapable of finishing the route.

I remember watching Youtube videos and realizing that I was really just afraid of falling off of the wall. In fact, I would rather, embarrass myself and not even try to make it the last part of the way, than to try and fail.

I remember using one entire session trying to practice letting go of the wall at different parts to get over my fear of falling. But even then, that fear remained.


As I internally processed this fear of falling and failure I began to realize that this fear went beyond indoor bouldering.

One day, while wondering why I was so afraid of falling, I remembered a long erased memory. When I was maybe 10 or 11, I was rock climbing with a harness and the person who was supposed to be belaying me dropped me halfway down the wall before the rope caught me.

Suck it up, and get over it right? That happened a long time ago right?


Upon some further processing, I realized that due to childhood experiences and trauma I experienced in my life, I actually have a crippling fear of failing.

Most of my Asian friends can relate with bringing back 90-99% test scores, and still being told that ninety anything wasn’t 100%. I remember being homeschooled and writing and re-writing my papers until my teachers were satisfied with them. Somewhere in the high-performance environment, I completely lost the ability to create anything that wasn’t “perfect.”

As life continued, I became painfully aware of the fact that I could never actually be perfect. UCI’s engineering program kicked my ass and I winded up on academic probation for two straight quarters, got kicked out of engineering, and scraped by miraculously by getting into the school of social sciences for business economics. In my relationships and friendships, I realized that I could not in fact always say the right things. In fact, I could never seem to be on everyone’s good side.

I chased approval from all the authority figures in my life and acceptance from all of those I cared about, yet I seemed to fall short every. single. time.

To a healthy person, who understood that perfection was a myth, this might have just been a minor setback, but to me who somehow believed that perfection was not only attainable but expected, this crushed me.

I sunk into despair and paralysis as I struggled to find fulfillment in a life where it was clear that I could not impress anyone nor myself.


After years of not pursuing what I was passionate about and not creating for fear of creating something subpar, I began a very long process of healing and trial and error.

A friend said that anyone could run a marathon.

I knew there was no way I could.

So I said that I was going to do it.

I trained for a year. I was inconsistent. I got injured multiple times. I struggled.

When the race day came, I walked half of the race.

But I finished.

What happened next was weird. I never believed in my wildest dreams that injury-prone, kicked from the track team twice Paul could even finish a 26.2 mile race.

So even though there was shame from having walked the second half due to knee pain, there was a weird sense of “at least I finished… I already accomplished more than I ever dreamed possible.”

This experience began to unravel my flawed perceptions of life and perfection. This began to rescue back my permission to fail and my permission to be less than perfect.


From that point on, I began to approach trials and challenges in a healthier way.

I began to realize that to fail is to be human.

We might strive for perfection, but perfect just does not exist.

I began to create again and I put out videos that were shaky, low quality, and not as good as the ones that popped up in my IG feed.

One day, when I was especially discouraged I texted this rapper I admire and asked him how he managed to motivate himself to create when he started out.

To my absolute surprise, he emailed me back this awesome email of encouragement of how we must create for ourselves and not for the approval of others. He said we can’t get better without putting out cringy content in order to learn and adapt. He went on to say that there will always be critics and that generally speaking, critics are those that are salty that they themselves can not create (or lack the bravery to create).


I was over the moon when I received the email, but after processing the whole concept a little more I realized something I had missed before:

God has blessed me from the beginning of my life with people who have believed in me and have encouraged me to create and to try. My fear of failure and consequent tendency towards paralysis was a coping mechanism that I used to try and cope with feeling like I was never good enough.

I am my own worst enemy.


This one goes out to all the self-proclaimed failures.

We didn’t meet their expectations.

Heck we didn’t meet our expectations.

Our dreams crashed and burned.

We are nowhere near where we said we would be at this point in time.

We are afraid to try because we are afraid to fail.

And so we sit and we spin and we go nowhere.

I believe in you!


One of the biggest lessons I learned from therapy, is that showing yourself grace is often one of the hardest but one of the most rewarding things you can ever do.

It turns out that you are incredible, and that when faced with failure or trials that seem insurmountable, you somehow find a way to adapt. 

But you can never adapt if you never fail and you can never fail if you never try.


“I’ve tried before… you don’t even know how many times… And all I’ve done is fail. Time after time after time”

After about mile 19 during the marathon, everything in my body screamed for me to stop. Muscles I did not know that I had literally spasmed in agony as each step felt like a jackhammer was ripping through my muscle and bone. Even as I was pathetically limping and walking alongside everyone else who was also limping along, the pain was almost overwhelming.

I remember that my thoughts went from, “I can make a decent time still” to “It’s okay if I walk, I can still finish” to “Oh God everything hurts, I don’t know if I can finish” to “I just need to put this foot in front of my other one”

Life has some seasons where we feel great and then there are the other seasons where it takes all of our efforts just to put one foot in front of the other.

Just keep moving!

Don’t give up! You can do this!

In the words of one of my favorite fictitious characters, “Life ain’t about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”

Close your eyes.

Take a deep breath.

And.

Keep walking.

 

Best,

pH

 

 

Smoke and Mirrors

In a season, where Spotify: Year in Review playlists are on repeat, it seems only fitting to reflect upon the happenings of the past year. On the one hand, 2019 was all kinds of pain and frustration. Post-traveling depression, battles with addiction, the search for a more potent coping mechanism, a lack of identity and belonging, wounds at work, family dysfunctionality, and the departure of close friends. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 2019 was the best year of my life. Four different countries, breakthroughs in therapy sessions, getting in touch with my feelings, family reconciliation, bold career moves, a marathon, and the re-birth of my passion for film.

As a speaker this week said, “every year is a mixed bag.”

At the beginning of this month, I began brainstorming for a blog post that would reflect on both the pain and progress that this year brought for me.

Three days ago I got into a car accident that completely de-railed my plans to do so. After that, my schedule seemed to edge out any free time that I had to plan my blog.

Now, with less than twenty-two hours before the end of a decade, I sit and reflect on all that has happened.


In life, it is so easy to see how far we have to go without ever truly appreciating how far we’ve come.

Ten years ago, I was a high school junior studying for the SAT while clandestinely seeing my secret girlfriend that my parents forbid me from having. In the ten years from then to now I have: graduated from both high school and college, attended and left three different churches, transitioned from a Christian rap/ccm heavy music palette to a very eclectic lo-fi/pop/alternative mix of music, realized that God really does exist, participated in two of my closest friends’ weddings, left the church due to being fed up with the hypocrisy, struggled with anxiety and depression, worked as an: assistant to a real estate broker, a car finance funder, a tutor, a food service team member, a corporate grand opening trainer for chick-fil-a, a staff accountant, a security system sales rep, and a Operations/Food Safety/Facilities director, lead three different small groups, and so much more.

It has been a journey that has been filled with metaphorical hills and valleys. I’ve come face to face with the darkest desires and tendencies that I possess while also discovering what motivates me to wake up each day.

2019 was so different than so many years because well..

Instead of saving for tomorrow the ideas, trips, moves, and conversations that I thought of today, I decided to just do it.


Traveling to me, made no sense for the longest time. I did not understand why we who lived in one of the most affluent countries in the world, would ever want to leave our comfort to go and see other places. So, as fate or the Divine (depending on what you believe) would have it when Crystal asked me if I wanted to go to Turkey in the fall of 2018, I just happened to have been potentially the most burned out that I will ever be. I was working as a staff accountant in the mornings, working at chick-fil-a from 2-midnight, while also doing stints across the country opening new stores. Zero creative outlets, severe writer’s block, and a mind so screwed up by consequences to rash actions of the past pointed to a need for an escape.

So when Crystal asked if I wanted to go to a country that I only knew of because of the fact that my cousin had been stranded there while the natives threw a coup, I thought that this might be a fun distraction from the hellishly busy life that I lead.

Suffice it to say, that trip changed my perspective on life. Just as January marks the beginning of a new year, so this trip to Turkey marked the beginning of a new perspective of the world and my place in it. I began to re-embrace the UC ingrained concept of trusting no one and experiencing everything oneself. I learned that sometimes… it’s better if you don’t listen to your friends.


In March, I ran and walked my first marathon. I had planned to run it from the year prior as a way to prove to myself that I was more than someone who promised to finish things he started, only to quit shortly after starting. It was the most physically tolling experience that I have ever undertaken. I was ill-prepared and afraid as my inconsistencies with training were paid for in full and with interest on the race day.

Yet somehow by the Grace of God, I finished. The encouragement of William and the accountability that was created by me telling people I was going to run the marathon, pushed me to do something that I never would have deemed possible. And what should have been next in a list of things I said I was going to do but never completed became the topic sentence of the new essay of my life. The essay in which Paul was a finisher and not just a starter. Indeed, it was fitting that there was a mile representative of each year of my 26 years of life and that as the mile count increased, so did the pain and desire to quit.


Upon returning from Turkey, I struggled with depression as I returned to what appeared to be a dead-end job. I realized that what I valued in life and in work was not reciprocated by the decision-makers where I worked. I had been trying to make my parents proud my whole life and yet that had ended up in failure after failure. Unlike my travels, the day to day was a mundane routine that never made way for new experiences. One of my best friends was moving away, following the pattern that I had begun to see in my life: that everything ends.

A business consultant for our store passed away quickly and rather unexpectedly. This shattered my fantasy of pursuing a career as a Chick-fil-A operator. For me, the profit has never been enough to keep me invested. I’ve stayed with the brand and this store because of the people. People like Imon, Dina, Jazz, Amanda, Marco, Pancho, Nolan, Emma, William, Alan, Jared, Helen, Julian, Michael, Joanne, Jade, Mariel, Lindsey, Ellison, Keisse, Marla, Jordan, Kelsey, Danielle, Twabu, Victor, Tyler, Iris, Hector, Michelle, Craig, and more than I can name. They have oftentimes been the sole reason I went into work.

So when an operator, I had never met, at a conference meant specifically for operators, slammed my vision for a store that hired people from at-risk communities with the goal of funding social work with the profits from the business, I began to make connections between this one operator and my experiences so far.

They were experiences tainted by misunderstanding, poor communication, and a focus on profits over people. And just like that, I realized, I didn’t want to delay what I was passionate about in order to accrue money to do what I wanted to do. In fact, I wasn’t even capable of lying or keeping up a facade of pursuing this potentially lucrative career.

Just like that, my primary career prospect went out the window, and I spiraled with no purpose and a stripped identity into arguably the most difficult season of my life.


Right around this time, I bit the bullet and finally joined one of Mariners’ Rooted Groups. The whole purpose behind these weekly small groups was to establish a healthy community of peers that were in similar life stages. It was one of the hardest commitments to stick with, as we literally all started out not knowing one another in the slightest. Yet, over time, we all shared about our lives and our darkest struggles (some of which were ongoing and unresolved), and we began to really engage and get to know one another.

There was a freedom that came from confiding in what was at the time a group of strangers and then sticking with that group to simply do life together. Some nights we got into the nitty-gritty of what God was doing in our lives and how we should live better lives, but some nights we just ate and drank together. I had been in many small groups before, but the honesty, transparency, and commitment of this group trumped all of the ones before.

Shoutout to Sam, Gavin, Will, Amy, Xochitl, Star, Baxter, and Jordan for doing this season of life together. Y’all encouraged me to begin to take brave steps into the unknown.


In the summer, my family took a trip to King’s Canyon and we hit a rock and got a flat tire some 38 miles away from civilization. No cell reception, no pump, and a few hours of daylight.

Through a miraculous turn of events that I’ll be sure to blog about in the future, we replaced the tire and a man stopped to help us and he just happened to have a compressor/pump in his car that he had just placed in his car a week ago because he had been caught with a flat and was heavily inconvenienced because he didn’t have a pump on him.

My family decided to end our vacation early, but we used the extra day to reconvene, and we did something that we had never done before. We met up and wrote letters to each other, without knowing who was going to be the recipient of the letter. What ensued was a three-hour session of family reconciliation and encouragement that completely changed the course of where we were heading.


When the anxiety and depression had started to spiral out of control earlier in the year, I had started turning to all sorts of coping mechanisms to try and numb the pain. Alcohol, weed, porn(More on this taboo topic in 2020), gaming, running, and writing all played a part. After realizing that none of these things was doing an adequate job of keeping me sane, I returned to therapy with the sole intent of getting things under control. (FUCK the stereotypes, mysticism, and negative connotations surrounding therapy! More on this topic in 2020 as well)

It turns out that due to a combination of different factors including upbringing, relationships, past hurts, work, and broken friendships, I had forgotten how to process my emotions and it had become difficult if not impossible to decipher what it is that I wanted in life.

I began this long process of re-hashing my past, self-validating, and processing what I was feeling or wanting in the given moment. Over the course of the year, I began to see personal growth as I began to place boundaries of where Paul Ho existed. I began to be able to discern what was what I wanted and what was what other people wanted me to be. Slowly, it was beginning to come together.


All 1839 words that have been written so far culminated in the boldest move I have ever attempted. Crystal invited me on another trip to Morocco and Spain… right in the middle of Chick-fil-a’s busiest season… as we were in interviews for another store. I had finally reached the personal conclusion while talking with my therapist that Chick-fil-a was not for me and that it was okay. So, after talking and deliberating with my family and my life group, and after binge drinking myself to throwing up four times one night when the stress of work had proven too much for me to bear, I decided that I was going to quit.

It took all the courage I did not have to table that discussion with my boss.

I had also decided that since I would be jobless anyways that I was going to plan a trip to Mexico City to do some work with an organization that I had volunteered with in the spring of 2015.

If you read waymaker, you already know how that story goes.


It was like a switch turned on after I went on that trip. All of a sudden, I wasn’t afraid of what I wanted anymore. I wasn’t trying to make my family proud. I wasn’t trying to say the right things to my boss or coworkers. I wasn’t doing the smart and practical things that people my age were supposed to be doing. I wasn’t faking who I was any more to fit in.

I was unashamedly me and I was going to pursue the passions that I had regardless of how insane, naive, or foolish they seemed to anyone else. I finally had my permission to be myself and no one could take that away from me.


It has been a month and a half since I returned and I won’t lie, it still feels like something is different about me. Yet, despite the seeming clarity that I now possess, there still remains so much uncertainty in my life. There are still days where my anxiety nearly overwhelms me. There are still miscommunications and arguments that plague my relationships. There are still challenges and hardships that I must struggle to overcome.

Yet of one thing I am certain: my life is a film, and God is the ultimate director.

I think the car accident from a few days ago, the work drama of the last week, and the flat tire Dina got today were all smokescreens to distract me from sharing about my experiences in the last year. Not to glorify my story, or to make you think that your story is any less extraordinary. To God be the glory for His provision and faithfulness this past year. In the darkest seasons, He was still there validating me. In the best seasons, He was there encouraging me. And if anything I hope that regardless of what you believe that you see that the number of coincidences is wayyy too damn high in my life to attribute to chance.


My friends, wherever this new year finds you, whether it be in the midst of addiction, a mental breakdown, tragedy, uncertainty, cynicism, loss, hopelessness, loss of dreams, emptiness, unemployment, the frayed remains of a broken relationship, a broken and dysfunctional family, or wherever else you might be, I hope and pray that you are encouraged in knowing that you are not alone.

We can never hope to explain or understand why we must go through these difficult seasons. Yet, I hope that as this new decade begins, that instead of resolving to be different in the future, that you would take a moment to realize how far you’ve come. And not only how far you’ve come, but how your story however dark it may be, is not over.

The sun still exists behind the clouds.

You have not been forgotten.

You are not alone.

There is hope.

Sometimes, we just can’t see it behind the smoke and mirrors.