Found at Yale
Denise Chen, Branford ’95, McLean, VA
I viewed it as the weak way. I was above having to go to or trust someone else in order to live.
But was I? My life was in shambles and on the brink of termination by suicide.
How did I get here?
In August before my freshman year, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to be the best at everything—in academics, in extracurriculars, and in my social life.
But . . .
I got a B+ in freshman orgo. My shock and disappointment were allayed by two thoughts. One, that next semester I would do better, and two, that those who got A’s were “losers” anyway, and that I was much “better” than they were. (The next semester, I got a B, and felt I had never met such losers in my life.)
And I was rejected by the Yale Symphony Orchestra—I, who used to sit in the first violin section of a premiere youth symphony! Thereafter, I despised anyone I saw carrying an instrument case around campus.
The rat race did not stop there.
I just didn’t fit in with the club-hopping, pool-hallfrequenting Asians. I was not fun enough for the frat party crowd. Or was it my face??? Yet I didn’t have the flair to be accepted by those who were too cool for the rest of the world. This was even though I had their conviction, and the language to put down that unsophisticated other ninety-seven percent of the student body.
And I decided to send my boyfriend from high school a nasty letter, and broke it off. I concluded I should have done so a long time earlier. The poor thing, as he had always been so good to me.
I groped for small comforts. At nearly 5’11”, I was the perfect candidate for crew. I excelled at it, and it made me feel better. A walk-on, I had the best spot in the boat after the recruits.
I was a spiteful, jealous creature, and suicide would have done the world a favor.
But I kept on trying.
To pad my resume for medical school, I volunteered in the Emergency Room at Yale/New Haven from 12:00-3:00am on Saturday morning. I chose the shift as a good time to see action, and it was one less night to feel bad that I did not have friends to go out with. I saw the corpse of a man shot at close range by a shotgun, probably over drugs. And the E.R. at that time was always filled with those needing their stomachs pumped or homeless people. This world is steeped in problems.
What did I do to Christians who tried to reach out to me? I repeatedly rejected the girl in the next entryway who invited me to her pizza study breaks, but ate occasionally with a couple of others. It intrigued me that they really believed in a God. They did not reject me. After all, it’s against their religion. But I WOULD NEVER become like them.
By sophomore year, I wanted to leave all the pressure from goals I could not achieve, to leave all the disappointments and the heartache. Why couldn’t I be an average Joe? Why was I at Yale with all its overachievers?
Certainly I could find peace working at some burger joint in town, and not have to deal with this pressure. I would leave the gates of Yale for good.
Then it dawned on me that I’d probably be unhappy with my social life even there; be as introverted and boring as ever. There was just no escape.
Just I was realizing that burger-flipping would not be bliss, I began to review the few strands lodged in my mind by these Christians. I lay on my bed staring at the ceiling, alone as I often spent weekend evenings, a recluse.
Would I believe in Jesus and accept His way of life? His specific plan for my life, guidance at every turn and companionship?
I gave up trying to piece together my favorite parts from Plato, Anaxagoras and Kierkegaard. Why couldn’t I find a single book that could explain the meaning of life . . . ?
Filled with some defiance, I decided I would live under no other supposition except what was written in the Bible, taking whatever consequences it entailed.
I started from page 1: “In the beginning, God created….”
Bible I read had notes that explained that we were expelled from Eden due to sin. We could re-enter only through passing a gate guarded by a flashing sword.
It was the perfect design, otherwise people like me would enter and pollute the garden. If I attempted to go in, I would be sliced into a million pieces by the righteous sword.
All of a sudden, the puzzle pieces came together. Jesus died so that we could be righteous, and the flashing sword find no fault. I, rebellious I, who had rejected 97% of my classmates, heartily embraced all the Christian hoopla about salvation, a Savior and eternal life.
I sat there in my room, alone, amazed and inexplicably invigorated.
Later on, I wrote in a journal that at that time “the Holy Spirit zapped me.” I didn’t know how else to explain it.
It became instantly obvious to me that our world needed more than just a bunch of ambitious Ivy Leaguers, some with a desire to better the world, and most others just wanting to amass great wealth or to create a great name for themselves.
I had found the single most convincing, sure-fire way to live life. And I tried to tell other people about it. How could they pass it up, this chance to discover the real Truth, and finally take a meaningful course in life?
My explanation got lost in their glazed stares.
Why didn’t they get it? What didn’t they understand?
This was how I realized that God works in mysterious ways and people (including me) come to Him not just when they are convinced, but when in their hearts they decide they will follow Jesus with no conditions.
It was hard for me that people do not more easily discover the truth, get on the right track and stop wasting time going the wrong way.
I have been happily born again for ten years now. With deep conviction, I regret every conscious year I spent outside of Jesus. I would have been spared from the terrible things I did to myself and to others. I would have been warned about consequences from sin, that now I just have to live with.
At the time, it was hard for me to believe it, but Jesus says that those who come to Him, He will make as white as snow. The Bible says that His blood is powerful and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. It is impossible for unbelievers to understand its scope, but we who are in Jesus receive eternal life from the moment we believe.
You can step across that line, too, as I did: from unbelieving to being in Jesus.
Denise Chen, Branford ’95
© 2002 The Yale Standard Committee