Trust, Truth, & Transformation - My Life Story Thus Far

Hello! I'm Ben, though I usually go by Sientir on the Internet. My love languages are touch and words of affirmation, I don't self-insert, I'm pretty sure my body's internal clock is better suited to 26 hours than 24 (Barrayar or Bajor, as I like to say), and I have no interest in having any pets, which makes me feel like a weirdo when so many people clearly love having at least one pet. Stuffed animals are pretty great though!

As a Christian, it's my belief that sharing what God has done in my life (what gets called a "witness" or "testimony") is important to do. This is especially true for me, as I've come to believe that I'm called to be particularly open and honest about myself. I hope that this endeavor can be, in some way, an encouragement to you.

As I've thought about writing this, I've found it difficult to know how to approach it. When I think over my life, I find it to be complex, sort of a braid or net of chains, with seemingly unrelated things connecting, often separated by many years. After sharing my life story with my pastor and discussing it, what makes sense to me is to organize events in my life by theme, rather than strict chronology, so that I can demonstrate a greater point instead of writing a wandering narrative that's hard to follow. Those themes are Trust, Truth, and Transformation.

Trust

At the time of writing, I often feel like I'm stuck in a rut. I'm doing a few things—I've learned it has to be a few things or I try and pull myself in too many directions. I'm streaming on Twitch, I'm working on a game, and I'm writing articles here. Vocationally, I believe this is what God wants me to do, but right now, they honestly aren't doing particularly well in terms of reach or income. Well, the game development is going decently well, but that isn't something that pays off very quickly!

My point is that I'm trusting that God has led me, and that I've correctly followed Him, to where I currently am. I won't pretend there aren't days with doubt, though, because there are. And when those days come, I use my past to remind myself of God's faithfulness and that I can be confident that He knows how to lead me. That's what this part is all about: why I trust God's ability to lead me, even when the path seems extremely difficult.

I was born in the late 1980s. I grew up in a Christian home (though in truth, it's more nuanced than that; this is my perspective on events). My family lived in a small town in Indiana. My father introduced me to video games at a fairly young age, around 6 years old or so. Unlike most kids my age, it wasn't with a console (though I did play Sonic 3 at a friend's house). We didn't have one, but we did have a PC.

So it was that some of my earliest video gaming experiences were playing Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM with my dad. I'd sit on his lap; he'd move us around and I'd do everything else. These days, I can't fathom how that worked, but somehow, it did. For those who are pointing out that those games are rated M for Mature, I'd like to remind you that the ESRB didn't exist yet, so at the time, they weren't.

As I got older, I did eventually get into console gaming. I don't remember which came first anymore: getting a GameBoy Color or a Nintendo 64. As I recall, I got a GameBoy Color because I wanted to play Pokémon Red and Blue; my friends introduced me to Pokémon through the card game. (As an aside, I still remember opening a foil Charizard card in those days. My kid brain thought that was literally impossible, and so I was convinced that I had to be dreaming for something like two days before it finally sank in that, no, I really had, in real life, opened a foil Charizard card. It was a very surreal experience, and one that's obviously stuck with me!) Anyway, I got a Nintendo 64 because of how much I enjoyed Goldeneye 64 at my cousins' house.

At this point, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with trusting God. Well, as a little bit of a spoiler: I went to DigiPen Institute of Technology for college, which I learned about through Nintendo Power magazine, which I got because of getting into Nintendo. Then at DigiPen, my closest group of friends (and one that'll become relevant when I get to that point) was developed at Pokémon club. By looking back at these things, I can see that God both knows how to give me my interests and how to use those interests to guide me.

Rewinding back to childhood, I borrowed a program called Learn to Program Basic from a friend. It came on a CD (which is where the interpreter lived, for those familiar with programming languages), and I really enjoyed programming simple games with it. However, I figured I ought to return the CD to my friend at some point, and I'd enjoyed programming enough that I wanted to keep doing it, so I went to the bookstore and happened to select one of the most readable textbooks I've ever read, Learn to Program with C++ by John Smiley. From it, I began my journey of learning to program in C++. Choosing that language turned out to be an amazing, and I believe providential, choice.

There are a number of other neat chains of things between there and college (the best one is probably discovering StarCraft at a programming camp, getting into StarCraft modding, then having a friend from the now defunct WarBoards.org forums introduce me to Guild Wars 1, one of my favorite games), but I think it's best to jump ahead a bit.

So, as I mentioned, I learned about DigiPen through Nintendo Power magazine. The summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school (grades 10 and 11), I went to one of their two-week-long summer workshops. A few things happened during that time. First of all, I had a lot of fun. Second, my mom was able to go to an open house with me, which convinced her it was a real school. Third, we discovered a church that we went to that'll come up again shortly.

This kicked off a chain of events where I got my GED, applied to DigiPen, and was accepted. I dropped out of high school to go to college. As I've always been a homebody and DigiPen didn't have dorms, my entire family decided to move to the Seattle area. This turned out to be a great move for us in a lot of ways. For example, my dad has always loved mountains—anyone who knows anything about Indiana knows that there aren't any of those there—so he'd been wanting to move west someday. As I like to say, I gave my parents the excuse they needed to finally do so!

As I mentioned, while at DigiPen, I made a group of friends, primarily composed of people from Pokémon club. (I was also introduced to and learned to play Magic: The Gathering while there, and learned a ton about game design by reading Mark Rosewater's articles. This is highly relevant to me, but is a bit tangential to this story. For anyone wondering, I learned to play by watching people do so for about a year before finally getting into the game myself in 2007, around Lorwyn's release. I was especially fond of Time Spiral block, but now I'm getting really tangential...)

After graduating, I joined some of those Pokémon club friends and we formed a game studio together. We called it Vernacular Games. As a way of trying to promote our studio, we made podcasts about game design, which is how I learned that podcasting is something I could do. After the release of our first game, Highway to the Moon, didn't exactly make waves—marketing is hard, what can I say?—I've ended up going in my own direction.

During this time, my Christian faith had been steadily growing. The church my family was attending (the same one I mentioned several of paragraphs ago that we had discovered when I went to that DigiPen summer workshop) had proven to be a good place to learn more about God and to grow in maturity. I feel like a lot of this paragraph is pretty jargon heavy, and I do apologize for that. Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure how to un-jargon it. That's probably why the Bible often uses metaphors.

At any rate, as I was trying to figure out what to do with myself, I came to believe that God wanted me to be creating stuff online. It started with a pretty general podcast and transitioned to scripted videos about Christianity that I called Geekdom of God; then when that became too much, I transitioned to a heavier focus on video game content. I'm really better suited to live stuff, though, so I finally started streaming.

On that front, God provided a webcam as part of a short-lived period of doing some contracted programming work.

This next part requires a bit of additional setup. So, as I mentioned way back at the beginning, I feel like I'm better suited to a 26-hour day than a 24-hour day. I've traditionally had problems with sleep schedules—I remember in high school having to wake up at 6:30 AM to get ready, but usually not getting to bed until midnight. I hated being tired all of the time, and I loathe alarm clocks. I believe that God has often used this time issue to direct me. It has definitely been a struggle.

With that context established, it's time to return back to the church my family had been attending, where unfortunately things were not going well. At this point, I'd become the head of the (very small) sound tech department. In fact, I was running the booth most Sundays, as we just didn't have any additional candidates. The church was shrinking. I prayed and sought God, and He told me to give it seven more months. During that time, my ability to tolerate waking up early to do sound tech was slowly taken away, and at the end of those seven months, I left.

I found myself in an odd place. I wanted community—truthfully, I missed the community I'd had in college. I especially wanted to interact with peers. I was also feeling disillusioned with traditional church services (well, the main type I'd been interacting with, anyway) which followed the formula of singing songs and listening to a sermon, which is another word for a lecture. I find I'm not fond of singing most Christian songs. I often get too self-conscious about it, feeling like I need to perform for those around me. I also frequently find something objectionable about the song: weird grammar, poor theology, or a lack of personal relatability. I commonly have both of these issues. There are some songs that do connect with me (I'll talk about one later!), but even then, I rarely feel like I'm actually able to praise God through singing songs in a group setting. I'd also reached a point where I wanted more discussion instead of lectures.

So it was that while eating lunch with my mom after visiting a church service, I just so happened to be sitting next to a Christian Young Adults group coordinator from that church. My proactive mother made sure we got connected, and from there I've joined a fantastic group of peers! More recently, that coordinator has started a new church that I've joined because God told me to.

Throughout all of this, I can see God's hand of guidance. He's used my interests, my nature, and my character to direct my path. I know that I can trust Him because I've seen how He has been trustworthy throughout my life, from using friends and family to introduce me to my interests and passions, to using my nature and struggles with sleep to direct my path. It's hard to tease out all of the little details—there are so very many of them!—and the myriad "coincidences" that are actually God at work, but I hope I've been able to at least demonstrate the bigger details and His influence in them.

So while I feel like I'm in a rut right now, when God tells me to persevere, I know I can trust Him as I do just that. He's been faithful to help me through this time and to teach me more and more through the living of life. Speaking of which, that brings us to the next major topic.

Truth

Our society is built on many useful illusions. For example, money, which has value because we all agree it has value. Unfortunately, these useful illusions have a tendency to go wrong. Much of what I'll talk about in this section has to do with addressing harmful illusions.

But first, I want to share the story about how God taught me the importance of honesty. Or, perhaps more accurately, the danger of lying. Winding the clock way back to those DOOM-playing days, my mom had had something to do at the church we were attending at the time. She left me and my sister in a children's area where there were toys we could play with while she went about whatever her business was. When it was time to go, she asked us if we'd put the toys away. We told her we had.

But we hadn't.

My mom got in trouble for that. And that's how I learned lying was bad—it could hurt the people I cared about. Since then, I've strived to be honest. (Though not necessarily open—those are different things. I've become much more open over the last few years, and even in the last few months!)

It is at this point that I need to talk about sexuality and lust. These are often awkward topics to talk about because society has taught us that they should be awkward. I think this creates problems, however; therefore, I want to try and be open about these things.

Let's start by establishing the definition of pornography that I'm going to use. Porn tends to be a very nebulous term, a sort of "I know it when I see it" word that then becomes somewhat functionally useless when trying to discuss anything. I do consider pornography as art, as I tend to be very broad with what I consider art. I would also consider a lot of pornography to be somewhat bad or unoriginal artistically speaking, but that's an entirely different kettle of fish. What I do not do is consider all art that depicts nudity to be pornography.

For the purposes of this discussion, pornography is any piece of art depicting a sexual act. Erotica is suggestive art, made to titillate but without showing an actual sexual act. It can be nude or clothed, and indeed, erotica tends to be more effective if it is less explicit, since this allows it to engage with lust more effectively.

Speaking of lust, it too can be a difficult-to-define term. I personally reverse-engineer a definition for it from Matthew 5:28, which reads, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." That is, I define lust as imaging performing sexual acts with someone. I think it is important to define lust somewhat narrowly, or we begin to think perfectly natural reactions are signs of lust. Rather, I have come to understand that lust is a disease of the imagination, but more on this later.

I first began thinking about sex as a teenager. This was always a third-person thing; as I said at the top, I don't self-insert. After some time, I wanted to know what female genitalia actually looked like; I'd consider this a natural curiosity. So I did what any boy growing up in the Internet age would do: I searched the Internet. My honesty meant that I was stopped by many an age gate (I was around 17 at this time), but some sites had previews. Somehow, I ended up on naturist websites, which tend towards candid-snapshot photos—not erotica or pornography—and artistic websites. I would not consider either of these actually pornographic. Anyway, my dad caught me one day and told me, "Not in my house." And so that was ended for a time.

Fast forward to college, and the memory of what I'd seen years previously had faded. I was once again curious about the female body and female anatomy. It was during a time that I was, in fact, no longer in my dad's house—my parents wanted me to get some experience living on my own, so I spent some time in apartments. And so out came the Internet searches once more.

This time, however, I was over 18, and thus the age gates didn't stop me. I discovered actual pornography and I fell into lust. To be clear, I don't blame the pornography for this, nor do I consider it to be the thing I was having a problem with. Lust was to blame.

After a while, God woke me up. I remember distinctly having the thought, "This isn't me." God gave me the truth to realize the lie of lust, the emptiness of it, and its inability to be what I craved and desired (and what I still desire to this day): a real, flesh-and-blood lover. With that, the power of lust was broken and I was given a powerful tool to combat it whenever it tries to rise up again.

The Bible says that truth sets us free. It does this by shattering lies, illusions, and deceptions, breaking their power over us. These are Satan's tools and weapons, and by them he strives to enslave us to sin and make us enemies of God.

I will add that God was faithful during these struggles with lust in another way. He saw to it that I was never in a situation where I would be tempted to engage with someone sexually. This extends all the way back to middle school and grade 6, when the female friendships I'd had in elementary school ended, and not out of human desire that that should be so, but accidentally. So while my sister has been a dear friend to me, I've not really been in a position to develop a close relationship with any other single women (or really any women in general) despite my desires otherwise. College was rather devoid of women. (Women are less likely than men to become programmers in the United States, especially back when I was in college in DigiPen's game programming degree. DigiPen does have several other programs that are more likely to appeal to women—an art program and design programs—but during the bulk of my time at DigiPen, the artists were on a different campus, as the school had grown too big to house everyone on one campus anymore, and the design programs didn't exist until after I'd started, and they were extremely small during those early days. For the record, DigiPen did relocate to a much larger campus during my last year there that was able to accommodate everyone.) The church I was going to was composed mostly of young families, and thus had a lack of single women. The college friends I worked with after college were all men. While part of me is deeply frustrated by this, I also see it as a blessing that I was not tempted on a weakness. God knows my limits, after all.

This brings us to the next topic, which is idolatry. I think it is useful to start by defining idolatry, which I have learned means to rely on something or someone other than God. Incidentally, the first idol I want to discuss is one I call the "Wife-Idol." This idol is a statue, an amalgamation of all of the imaginings of what I think a wife could bring to my life, but ultimately devoid of true personhood. It is an idol because I am tempted to think that this "perfect wife" will somehow solve any number of problems. I'm tempted to look to her for transformation instead of to God. This idol is one I've been struggling with for a long time now. It'll be interesting to find out, when I finally do get married (I'm single at the time of this writing) whether or not the idol is ultimately upended by marriage, or if it just takes on a new form. I'm guessing the latter.

The next idol I want to discuss is perhaps a bit of an odd-sounding one: the "Good-Computer-Luck-Idol." You see, for a very long time, I had few serious computer problems. I came to think of myself as having good luck with electronics because of this. And then one day, not so very long ago, I finally had a hard drive die, and the main one in my desktop computer, too.

This might sound bad, but thankfully I (a) had Carbonite (a backup solution) and (b) most of my data on other hard drives. As a result, I lost essentially nothing. This was very dramatic, very scary, but ultimately easily recovered from.

Through this, God taught me that I'm not technologically lucky; rather, He had been keeping my hardware working. He taught me to attribute to Him what He had done, rather than credit "good luck."

The final idol I want to talk about is a classic one: money. As I indicated at the start of the Trust section, I'm in a period of my life where I'm not making very much money. Thankfully, my expenses are commensurately low, and I'm highly privileged to have very generous parents. I know many are not so fortunate, and my heart goes out to them.

The way I recognized that I had money as an idol (and, oh, how I'm tempted to put that idol back on an altar!) was when I found myself hating it. That's right, not loving money, but hating money. I hated how important it seemed, how vital, how much power it contained. And then God reminded me of Matthew 6:24, where Jesus says, "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

I loved God and was devoted to Him. I hated and despised money. That meant I was serving it, that I'd taken it up as an idol. In other words, did I really trust God to provide for and take care of me? Or did I not? And indeed, God has proven faithful. The lie is that money is more necessary than God. It isn't.

There are more lessons I've learned from having effectively no disposable income, but I'll discuss those in the Transformation section, which is coming up.

The final thing I want to talk about here is God Himself. As one might expect, there are many false conceptions about God floating around. What I find I most suffer from is a narrow conception of God—albeit a deep one, like a coin a thousand miles thick. God is so much broader than that. He is deep, oh indeed He is, but He is also broad.

I'm reminded of one of the Christian songs I do actually like, "What do I know of Holy?" by Addison Road, particular the following line:

What do I know of You, who spoke me into motion?
Where have I even stood, but the shore along Your ocean?

I tend to think of God in the worldly sense of holiness: anti-fun, anti-pleasure, pure white light, simple.

God is holy, yes, but not in those worldly ways. God is an artist second to none, an amazing engineer and designer, and generous. He isn't against pleasure: He invented pleasure! He's the one who created taste buds, sex, and the beauty and wonder of the human body. He's the one who gave us the capacity to enjoy a sunset or a pleasant breeze. He made creation to be delighted in!

And then Satan comes along and convinces us to seek pleasure instead of God. Because that's what Satan does: he twists us so that we abuse the good things of God—indeed, so that we abuse God Himself. Like I did by giving credit for my lack of computer problems to "good luck," humanity likewise gives credit for what God has made to other things, often randomness or nature.

I write all of these things because I myself need to be reminded of them, and often. I'm so quick to put that box on my head, the one with four walls and no top, and think God is simply the tiny patch of Him I can see when I look up. But that isn't the truth of who He is, because He is so much more than that, so much broader, and we can see and behold that in the world around us, in the beauty and pleasures of creation.

God patiently and continuously reminds me of who He is, teaching me more about Himself. Which leads us neatly into...

Transformation

Transformation is the process by which the sinful nature is replaced by the divine nature. That is, the cruel and selfish human nature is replaced by the loving and compassionate godly nature. This typically comes about through enduring trials and suffering. I wish transformative growth didn't have to come through suffering, but alas, it often does. This is the process of maturing in the faith.

The changing of our nature might sound scary to some—I know I myself have felt scared around the idea of being changed. Who will I be if I'm no longer myself? But this fear comes from a misunderstanding. Our nature is not our personality. Rather, it is a sort of symbiote with our personality. Think of it this way: our personality is like software running on the operating system of our nature.

Sometimes this process of transformation is simple. For example, while I was working with Vernacular Games, one of the primary people I was working with is someone who needed to think verbally during conversations. I had a habit of interrupting to state whatever I presumed the conclusion of his thought was going to be. I didn't think about why I did this, but eventually he (rightfully) got fed up with me doing it and asked me to stop. Thankfully, God had matured me enough at that point to receive this rebuke well, and through it, He taught me that I'd been using my speech to try and prove how clever and smart I was, not to engage in genuine communication. A valuable lesson, taught in a brief, simple moment that led to transformation.

Sometimes a trial can provide us with many lessons. To return to the topic of my current low income, it has taught me three valuable things. The first is to learn to be content with what I have. I know this is clichéd, and for good reason, but it is nevertheless a valuable lesson, and one that our consumerist, capitalist society is constantly trying to countermand. Another lesson is to rely on God, and indeed, that He is reliable, which I went into in detail earlier when discussing trust and idolatry. A third lesson is to have compassion for the truly poor and all those struggling financially. It can be hard to have this compassion without actually experiencing the suffering caused by such difficulties.

Speaking of compassion, and its relative, empathy, God has done a mighty work to develop these things in me. My human nature is cruel, both sadistic and manipulative. Neither are traits I desire, and God has been faithfully working them out of me. I remember when I was a relatively young child (probably around 6-7 years old) riding the bus home from school, that there was another boy I enjoyed torturing. There's no other word for it. I'm horrified by that memory. These days, I desire to be rid even of schadenfreude.

I do not share these stories of transformation to boast in myself, but rather in what God has done in me. To change me so much is a testament to His capabilities, not to anything I have done.

Alas, transformation is a process; it takes time. And that means we sometimes are left with deep regrets. Probably my biggest comes from towards the end of my time at DigiPen, roughly a decade ago as I write this. I was still living in an apartment at the time, and I had a roommate. This roommate came out as a transwoman, and I was not properly respectful. I don't want to get into all of the regrettable details; rather, I simply want to state that I've been left sorrowful that I both shattered our friendship and was a poor ambassador of my faith. For those wondering, know that I have tried to apologize, though I know not if those attempts were ever seen (I only had messaging as an avenue open to me by that point).

I could make many excuses about why I behaved in the unloving way I did, but they're irrelevant. Excuses do nothing to change what happened, but regret can help ensure that such incidents are not repeated. Some lessons are painful, but that's why they're effective.

Conclusion

This brings us to a close. I hope I've been able to demonstrate God's trustworthiness and wisdom as a guide and provider through life, the power of His truth to free us from illusions, and how God can (and does!) use the things we walk through to transform us. If you have any questions, I'm happy to answer them as best I'm able.

There are, of course, many events that I've omitted here for the sake of this not being even longer than it already is. I hope to share many of them here over time! For those that want something more immediate—a continuing of the story, if you will—you can head over to my Patreon page, where I share daily diary-like entries with my Patrons.

Thank you for reading.

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