Presented by Dr. Vinh Chung at Vanguard’s quarterly training – September 7, 2018
This past year, I experienced several wonderful things for the very first time.
Over the summer, I hitchhiked down Pikes Peak with my MA team.
Earlier this week, I ran my first marathon.
I also sheared my very first sheep in the Scottish Highlands. We were there on our 20th anniversary, driving through the Isle of Skye, when we saw farmers shearing their sheep. They do it only one day out of the year, so it was meant to be. I couldn’t resist. That was one of my highlights of our 20th anniversary trip. It wasn’t romantic, but it was very memorable.
As I reflect on these memories, the reason they are special is because of the stories tied to them. After hiking 12.5 miles up Pikes Peak, dirty, tired, and hungry, hitchhiking was the perfect carefree way to get down the mountain. And I got to do it with my MA team. Hitchhiking, in itself, is a pretty depressing and scary way to travel. But there was something exciting, adventurous about going up a big mountain without a clear plan to get down. There was a recklessness that was exhilarating, and we shared it together.
The 26.2 miles of putting one foot in front of the other was, in itself, a prolonged act of senseless suffering. But in the context of doing it together with our team to raise clean water for kids in Africa, it was deeply meaningful. We made an active decision to undergo discomfort and suffering to move in solidarity with vulnerable kids overseas. And in doing so, we were able to relieve their suffering. How beautiful is that? We surrendered our bodies to a cause greater than ourselves.
Shearing the sheep was a random surprise. I have never dreamed of becoming a sheep farmer, but there’s something magical about being in the middle of the breathtaking Scottish highlands and being able to touch, feel, and immerse myself in a ritual that has been performed for hundreds of years by the local Scots. I became part of a long history.
Leisle and I lived our first year of marriage in Edinburgh, Scotland, and we returned last month to celebrate our 20-year anniversary. The first thing that we did was to rush to a place next to our prior home that sold fish and chips. We eagerly picked up box of vinegar soaked french fries and devoured it. We normally don’t eat fries, because they are so bad for you. The reason eating these fries was so special was because 20 years ago, during our first year of marriage in Scotland, we couldn’t afford to buy anything. I mean nothing. We’d walk by this place, our mouths would water, and our stomachs would grumble. Like at Jimmy John’s, the only thing we got to enjoy was the free smells.
As newlyweds and international students without a work visa, we had enough in scholarship to cover tuition, room, and only about $30 per week for the two of us to eat. We ate a lot of spaghetti, corn flakes, and potatoes, but no protein. We still talk fondly about that one late night, when the two of us indulged and shared one fried egg. It’s still the very best egg I’ve ever had.
While in Edinburgh last month, we also ate at a fancy restaurant called The Witchery. This historic restaurant was located near Edinburgh Castle and our divinity school. We’d walk by it every day to class. Leisle would look longingly through the window, but that was as close as we got. Just one item on the menu was more than our weekly budget. Stepping into the restaurant was beyond the realm of possibility. Finally, 20 years later, I was able to bring my wife back to enjoy a lunch there.
I actually don’t remember what I ate at this fancy restaurant, but I remember the sense of joy and gratitude while sitting there across from Leisle, my wife of 20 years. Our lunch there was part of a larger story that began when we were young graduate students, when we could afford to share only 1 egg in the middle of the night. I experienced joy and pride in how far we’ve come. I also felt profound gratitude for how good life has been to us.
While I am a different man in many ways from the 22-year old who stood on the altar a long time ago, there is something that has not changed. That when I swore the oath that we will be together for richer or poorer, through sickness and health, until death do us part that I had meant it 20 years ago. And the fact that we were enjoying lunch together in Edinburgh was proof that I still mean it today. Even when my body fails. Even when my mind fails, my devotion to Leisle will remain. It will persevere. It will triumph.
That was why the lunch at The Witchery was so special. It wasn’t just the food. I would rather share a fried egg with Leisle than to eat a fancy meal with anyone else.
In our lives, we will go through peaks and valleys. We will have good time and bad times. The times that you have are defined by the people you share them with. We can’t predict what will happen in life, but we can choose who we will go through life with. It’s the characters in our stories that give meaning to those stories, and ultimately, give further meaning to our lives.
The purpose of life is not to avoid all valleys but it’s important to know whom you are walking with. Who is your friend, your spouse, your tribe? I would rather walk through a long dark valley with people in my tribe, than to stand on a mountain alone or with people I share nothing in common with.
There’s an African proverb:
“If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
At Vanguard, we will spend more of our waking hours together than we will with our children. We will become a part of each other’s stories. We work together. We laugh together. We celebrate together. Sometimes, we mourn and cry together.
We will climb mountains and walk through deep valleys together. We will become better, more courageous, and more compassionate, because we are together. And we will go farther, because we will do it together.
Thank you for being a part of this tribe.