Monday, January 25, 2016

Senior Maggie Wong

Comforted by Grades GRACE!

Maggie Wong sat stressed and anxious pouring over Powerpoint presentations that seemed completely foreign.  How did she get so behind? These "review" notes sure didn’t feel like anything familiar!  She was trying to cram for an upcoming test and it was not working!  Failure loomed inevitable and each click of the mouse felt like a bucket of bricks coming down, crushing and burying her deeper under the pile.   And then there was a phone call!  Could it?.....what?..... oh wow; bad news!  Nothing was going as planned; stress fueled negativity consumed her.  Sadness and hopelessness clouded her already stressed out mind!  
Maggie Wong graduated a semester early and is now interning with the International Justice Mission (IJM).   I am excited for her, but we are definitely going to miss her here on campus this spring!  Maggie served as a Community Group leader and she also helped emcee our Friday night meetings.  

Maggie grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. (A fellow south-westerner!)  God blessed Maggie with both a wonderful family and a good home church.  Like many adolescent's 'Mags' had a knowledge of God and some interest in spiritual things.  But it was here in college that Jesus really got a grip on her heart!   This year during our Christmas party, Maggie got the chance to share some of her story with over 250 of her fellow students.

It was during her sophomore year that Maggie began to struggle with the academic intensity of Cornell.  Her grades were slipping.  This was basically a new experience for Maggie.  She said "All throughout middle and high school, I was on top of my work, but somehow I fell totally behind in everything and felt like I was constantly catching up in all my classes.....Cornell is a rigorous academic institution, and the classes are hard, the professors are tough. There’s such a pressure to succeed and to be ambitious, and all of this leads to a huge emphasis on GRADES."
Maggie (right) with Rachel Chuang
It may be hard for outsiders to understand why even a slight dip in GPA can function as such a life altering crisis for some students.  Suffice it to say that "Making the grade"  here at Cornell is about actually getting good grades.   Every sub-culture has it's metrics; for some it's how healthy, "organic" and fit you are, for other's it's about how you dress or what you drive.   But the Ivy league success markers revolve around being academically excellent (and then vocationally good after that).   And most of the students who study at places like Cornell have had their eyes fixed on their report cards for many many years.  

But the reason it can be so dramatic is even deeper; it's about the heart!  Maggie explained: "My identity and my worth and sense of purpose were all tied very closely to my grades, so when this sense of security was suddenly threatened, I was absolutely terrified and had no idea what to do.  It was very unsettling."
Maggie speaking at the Cru Christmas party! 
I'm pretty sure every single student sitting there in the Physical Science Atrium that night could relate to Maggie's feelings.  The question everyone answers with their life choices is this: "What will you look to for peace and stability?  Where will you run for hope?"  

Sitting there freaking out about everything Maggie recalls "I felt like was going to fail this prelim and mess up my GPA, my life was not figured out, everything was going wrong, my mind quickly spiraled down down down, and I was just like, “God, why is this all happening?!” I was getting really worked up about all of this. But then I kind of paused and, -it wasn’t an audible voice, but I just had this thought in my head: “Hey. Stop worrying. God’s got you, everything’s gonna work out, it’s gonna be okay” And in the same way that stress was overwhelming me, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the most powerful comfort and peace I have ever felt.

That moment was a turning point.  God literally blessed Maggie with clarity and perspective. She couldn't stop thinking about it!   Before it had been hard to study because she was preoccupied by stress, and now she was simply overwhelmed with the presence of God!   The next day she feverishly wrote down her thoughts "reflecting on God and what he was doing in my life, and I realized that God was continually giving me opportunities that tested and challenged my trust and my faith in him. I realized that I had never fully placed my trust in God, but I had really put a lot of faith in other things like my grades and in my friends. Yet even when I had the best of those things—incredible friends who really cared about me and spent time with me, top-notch grades and perfect academic record—I wasn’t satisfied. I still felt empty, I still felt lost. I still wanted more. And the first time I ever felt fulfilled and satisfied, the first time I truly felt the peace and comfort I had always desired, was that moment the night before—when I was messy and broken, raw and real, humbled before God.

Maggie's experience was powerfully humbling.  In the face of failure, she was confronted with her humanness!  The main thing hindering most of us from putting real trust in God is the fact that we put so much trust in ourselves!  But in the face of failure, the illusion that we are completely strong and capable and trustworthy begins to fade away.  In and through her struggle, Maggie was able to evaluate more adequately.  And God graciously allowed her to see his incredible strength and her own undeniable weakness.   God took Maggie to the end or herself in order that she might understand her own smallness and comprehend God's bigness.  Through this, God graciously gave her an opportunity to stop trusting in her own efforts and live a life of trust in God.  

Maggie looked out at her classmates and declared: Do you know that God is near to you? He desires for you to know him and believe in him and trust in him. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) God cares for you and he wants you to lift up your troubles to him, he wants us to tell him what we’re doing and feeling, and he wants to give us peace and rest.

I want to encourage all of you to seek him, reach out to Him, and find him. I want to challenge you to rely fully on God and entrust your future to him. Find hope, peace, comfort, security, and meaning to life in God alone.
I dig this shot of Mags on our team in Haiti. 

Of course, Maggie continued to work hard at school.  But she was able to apply herself here at Cornell with a new found confidence.  She actually ended up passing that Astronomy test, and graduating early to boot! But she did a lot more than study during her time here as a student.

Maggie is an ambassador for Jesus.   She was a very helpful and committed servant leader in Cru!   Her life here as a student was a living testimony to the satisfying and life giving power of Jesus!  Walking in close fellowship with some of the other ladies, Maggie labored to walk by faith and help others to encounter the grace of God.   Right now, she is working with the International Justice Mission to rescue thousands of slaves, protect millions of vulnerable people and prove that justice for the poor is possible.

*Maggie is the third student from our ministry here at Cornell to intern with the International Justice Mission. If you are not familiar with IJM, please visit their website here:

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