Since I finished writing Path to Greatness: Christian Edition of the Tao Te Ching, I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of thoughtful questions about the book’s content that I have received from readers. “How can I know the purpose of my life?” people ask. “How can I achieve happiness?” they inquire. How do I know the right path to greatness?”
What has surprised me even more, however, is the number of questions I have received about the book itself—the behind-the-scenes story of the writing of Path to Greatness. “How did you get interested in this topic?” people ask. “How did you write the book?” they inquire. “What did you discover during the process of writing it?”
But what has surprised me most of all is just how much spiritual encouragement people have gotten—not just from the insights and teachings found inside the book, but also from the nitty-gritty, nuts-and-bolts story of how I wrote Path to Greatness. Having focused so closely on the content of the book for so long, I didn’t realize until people started peppering me with these questions that the long, rocky and intensely personal experience of writing the book was teaching me perhaps the most important and fundamental spiritual lesson of all. So, if there were just one spiritual insight that I could share with people—whether they read my book or not—it would be the one I learned while working on the book, for all the lessons inside the pages of Path to Greatness are built upon the foundation of this one fundamental truth.
The lesson is this: If you have faith in God, you can accomplish anything.
Please don’t be tempted (as I have been at various times in my life) to dismiss this insight as simplistic cliché, wishful thinking, pious hogwash, or worse. Instead, listen to my story of how this book came to be, and let this lesson resonate in your life. For the tale of how I, Keith D. Hoang—a man who has no special talents or gifts, who has never studied theology (or been a good student in any subject, for that matter); a man who could never write well, nor had any idea at all how to publish a book; indeed a man who has failed spectacularly many times in life—the tale of how I could actually get this book published is a story filled with events that I can only describe as quiet miracles.
I call them quiet miracles for although they were dramatic enough, I believe that God is capable and even eager to provide similar miraculous solutions to insurmountable problems to anyone when they have faith enough to take action, even small actions, toward the goal that God has called them to. It doesn’t matter about your past, your failings, your mistakes, your lack of credentials, or any other worldly thing. Many times when I was writing this book, I wondered: Am I crazy? Yet I discovered that when I kept stepping out in faith—when I persisted, despite my deep-seated and troubling doubts—God provided inspiration, resources, and a host of gifted people who helped make my vision a reality. When God calls you to do something, the only thing that matters is that you act. And if you just act, and keep on acting, through you God will accomplish what appears to be impossible.
Let me share with you how this fundamental truth became a living reality in my life.
After graduating from college in 2006, I struggled to separate myself from my mother’s dreams of me becoming a dentist. I had no desire to do that—but neither did I have any real motivation for any other career or life-direction. Other than the desire to marry my girlfriend—who was also eager to marry me—I just didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. To escape from the pressure of my mother, I moved into my girlfriend’s garage and lived there for the next few years.
My new-found journey began just as we were approaching the new millennium in the year 2000. I had been raised Catholic, and although deep down I still believed in God, my faith had lapsed. Before the start of the new year, I felt an intense desire to go to St. Vincent de Paul Church in downtown Los Angeles and pray about my future. When I arrived I knelt in the church’s garden, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and I prayed for four things: to start a successful business, to own a beautiful home, to marry my girlfriend, and to start a family. I promised God that, in return for these blessings, I would serve Him.
Of course, at the time, I didn’t quite know what it meant to “serve Him,” but that didn’t stop me from rushing home and telling my girlfriend that I would marry her within five years—the time within which I believed all these things would come to pass. I was so excited that I even told my dad what God had promised to do for me. My dad, however, did not share my enthusiasm. In fact, he was deeply disappointed in me and said so, telling me that this new vision of mine was no different than all the other business ventures I had started over the years, at which I had failed horribly. Even now my heart breaks when I look back on this almost unbearable memory, for my dad, who is normally tough as nails, was so worried about me that he was reduced to tears.
Despite my dad’s misgivings, however, God’s promises began to come true much more swiftly than I had expected. That same year my wife-to-be and I started an Internet retail business, and within months of our Web site’s launch, Bride magazine listed us among the top five online wedding favor companies, and soon we moved out of our cramped basement headquarters into a spacious office building. Fast forward five years, and with my business still going strong, the rest of the blessings I had asked God for came to fruition. My girlfriend and I got married, we bought a beautiful home and had plans to start a family. Life was good.
The First Miracle
I had promised God that if He blessed me with all these things, I would serve Him. But now that the time to fulfill my promise was at hand, I drew a blank. Just how was I going to serve God? I had no theological training, no obvious special talent, and no dramatic personality trait that God could use. As I pondered how I was going to keep my promise to God, time began to move on, and my other responsibilities began to take priority. Early 2005, when the promise had been shoved into a remote corner of my mind, Niseem, a young street musician whom I had met back in 2003 suddenly became homeless.
I knew that this was the promise God had in mind for me to keep. So, against the wishes of my wife and the rest of my family, I decided to take him into our home. In order to help him get back on his feet, I taught him practical life-lessons that I had learned in building my business: the importance of taking responsibility for your actions, the need to repay or replace things that you borrow, and so on. It was a real challenge to teach an adult who did not have a normal childhood growing up. Simply put, he struggled with every imaginable problems you can think of in 10 life times. It was a very long road to recovery but I knew everything is possible if you have faith in God.
But as I commenced this kind of mentoring relationship, everyone else in my life, and I do mean everyone, reminded me that it was a terrible idea to bring this young man into our lives and into our house. My family and friends continued to hound me so persistently that I began to doubt the wisdom of my decision. So I desperately asked God for a sign to let me know whether it was His will or not for me to shelter and support this young man.
And when the sign came to me that very same day, it was a whopper. I was standing on the stairway in our house, praying to God for an answer, when Niseem came up the steps holding something in his hand. Unbeknownst to me, earlier that day he had taken a three-hour bus ride across the city to attend a worship service at Time and Destiny where he attended about four months prior to becoming homeless. At one point during the service, he had screamed out loud to pastor Gary Zamora from where he was sitting to speak a prophesy in his life. To his surprise, the pastor had begun to prophesy over him. Now, there on the stairway, this young man handed me a recorded CD of the service and said, “This is what God asked me to give to you.” I was completely stunned at how fast God had answered my prayer, and I immediately popped the CD into my laptop to listen to it.
It was a recording of the prophecy that pastor Gary had spoken over this young man. As I listened to it, I became more and more astonished. The prophecy correctly proclaimed that 1) this young man was living on the third floor of a building (he was living on the top floor of our 3-story house that looks like an apartment building); 2) the young man was the house guest of a man and a woman he met 2 years ago (which was true, despite my wife’s reluctance), 3) he wrote and produced 2-1/2 songs for my book. Worked on the 1/2 song, Your Love remix with Michael McCary from BoyzIIMen that was never completed. Two of the completed songs, Your Love and Nhu Pham were produced several years later after receiving this prophecy for my book; and 4) if he wanted to be blessed, he must payback what he borrowed and promise to always honor his word (the very lesson I had been trying to impart to him). What’s more, the prophesy proclaimed that if this young man would keep his word, God would make the man (that is, me) keep his word: “The Lord says I will make the man keep his promise,” is how the prophecy was worded.
April 10, 2005 Prophecy by Pastor Gary Zamora:
Niseem wrote and produced 2- 1/2 songs:
Song 1 Produced in 2009: Your Love – Song lyric based on chapters of my book
Song 2 Produced in 2009 with Michael McCary (BoyzIIMen) but only completed 1/2 of the song: Your Love Remix – Song lyric based on chapters of my book
Song 3 Produced in 2012: Song Title: Nhu Pham – I dedicated the book to my grandmother who passed away in August 2012. She will always be remembered. Song tribute to my grandmother Nhu Pham
Two of the songs are included in my online book at www.pathtogreatness.net/book
First, this prophecy was confirmation that hosting the young man in our house was what God had wanted me to do all along. Second, it was a powerful reminder to me that I needed to keep my word—to keep my long-ago promise to serve God. Third, it laid the groundwork for how I could serve God. For as the young man later pointed out to me, the life-lessons I had been teaching him were so helpful that he suggested I write a book about them.
A book! “What a great idea!” I thought. A book would allow me to share with a wider audience the same principles that I taught him during his stay with us—namely, how to have a truly great life by building it on love, trust, and faith.
But just what form would this book take? A series of essays? A self-help manual? I had a lot of unanswered questions.
Fortuitously, about this same time, I happened to pick up a copy of the Tao Te Ching. I was instantly enthralled: the principles I found in it were the very ones I had been following in my business and personal life—the very things I had been teaching that young street artist residing in our house. What’s more, from the very first lines I found that it had a deep resonance with the Bible. Not only would reading the Tao Te Ching illuminate practical principles that could be followed to achieve a good life, it could also serve as a kind of primer or introduction to the spiritual teachings of the Bible.
So here, I thought, was the way I could serve God—by writing a Christian edition of the Tao Te Ching to help readers discover the spiritual principles they could use to achieve a truly great life by building it on love, trust, and faith. Even better, it would point them toward the deeper religious messages of the Bible itself.
After an initial burst of energy and productivity, however, I ran headlong into my own limitations. I couldn’t write well. I had no experience in publishing a book. I didn’t know nearly enough about the Tao Te Ching or the Bible to have anything new or interesting to say. Frustrated with my lack of progress, I abandoned the book idea altogether, and—against the strenuous objections of my wife, family and friends—turned my energies to … of all things … investing in real estate!
The way I see it now, what I did at that time was stray from the very principles found in Path to Greatness, and I fell flat on my face. I stopped trusting the Spirit; I stepped out of the flow of the Tao and took the reins of my life into my own hands—with disastrous results. Fundamentally, I stopped taking action toward what I believed God had called me to, and instead took action toward my own self-serving ends. And it was a total and utter bust.
Between 2006-2007, I risk all the money we had saved and borrowed money to purchase several homes. Not long after I was invested up to my neck in the real estate market, the housing bubble burst in 2008. I was losing all my properties prior to 2008 because I was not able to sell or rent them. My Internet business, which had been so successful, hit the skids and was no longer sustainable. The bank foreclosed on my own house in 2007, and I even had to sell my car. It was a humbling experience, to say the least. As an entrepreneur, I didn’t mind the roller-coaster ride that often comes with striving to achieve a dream. But as a husband and father, I was terrified of what would become of my family. I was homeless like the young man who came for me for help and desperately looking for a place to stay. When will we end up on the streets?
Miracle at St. Vincent de Paul
Amidst all the guilt and feelings of failure that overwhelmed me at that time, I decided to reopen that chapter in my life when I felt closer to God. One night near the end of 2007, I came to my wits’ end. I knew we had a few more weeks before the bank came knocking on our door asking us to leave the property. I fell to my knees and prayed to God to give me a second chance to write the book. God answered my prayer that night by moving me to go to the Virgin Mary’s garden at St. Vincent de Paul—the very garden where I had gone to pray some years before. My wife was a bit concerned about my safety, because it was after midnight and the church was in a rough area of downtown Los Angeles. Nevertheless, I went.
When I began to pray in front of the garden, I felt that Mary was speaking to my heart, asking me to wake a homeless man who was sleeping nearby. The man’s name was Richard. Almost right away, Richard and I began to speak of the Virgin Mary’s powerful presence in our hearts. He told me that he had been living on the streets of Los Angeles for six years and that he always slept across the street. He also mentioned that he did not sleep on church property because the security officials would not allow it. However, that night he hadn’t been able to sleep because a voice kept telling him to go over to Mary’s garden. I believe this was the same voice I’d heard that had convinced me to get up from my knees and drive to Mary’s garden.
You may be wondering why this homeless man was one of my quiet miracles. After our introduction at St. Vincent de Paul, Richard and I went for some food and we began to discuss the Bible. To my amazement, Richard understood the Bible in such depth that I thought he was speaking in tongues! Not only was he able to explain the Bible, he could recite from memory any scripture I asked him about. It was like Jesus speaking to me in parables; I had to ask him many times to explain the message because it was beyond my understanding. It was such an amazing experience that I decided to visit Richard about four times a week for many hours each night, just to learn more from him. He taught me the word of God in restaurants, on street benches, and in parking lots. After three months of teaching me, Richard told me that he would be moving on and would no longer be found on the street corner where he slept. These are the last few words he told me. “Keith, everything I told you was the truth, even my name.” And so it was. When I returned to visit him again, he was gone. I asked a good friend of Richard if he knew his whereabouts, but he didn’t know anybody name Richard. I found that to be a bit strange because we were all speaking together the night before Richard left. I do not know where he is today, but wherever he is, I know the Spirit of God was working in him.
There were many teachings Richard shared with me, but perhaps the most lasting was a lesson he taught me about the power of prayer. Richard helped me believe that if I pray, have faith, and take action, I can be an authority in sharing God’s message without being anyone special or significant—for God often uses the least qualified person to demonstrate His miracles.
Miracle to become a Public Speaker
Just as with my experience writing Path to Greatness, I find myself entering an arena in which I have little talent or experience. I love to talk; when I’m speaking one-on-one with anyone, even complete strangers, I am completely at ease. When I speak in front of groups of people, however, I’m much less comfortable—in fact, I get pretty nervous. But nervousness aside, my real concern has been this: How am I supposed to deliver the message in my book as a public speaker if I’ve never had any experience in this area?
Having learned that the most important thing is to have faith and take action toward what God is calling me to do, I did what any aspiring public speaker with stage fright would do: In 2008, I joined the local chapter of a well-known organization that helps its members learn how to speak in public. For my very first speech, I chose to speak about the topic that I’m most passionate about: God. To my surprise, it went quite well; I even received the award for best speaker that night, and I got rave reviews from all the 25+ members, except one: the president of that local chapter. Afterward, he approached me and asked me to not speak about religion, saying that it was an inappropriate topic and that I should instead find a subject that everyone could relate to. He felt many people were not Christians in the group and I could be offending their beliefs. In fact, I asked a Jewish lady sitting next to me how she felt about my speech. She responded, “it was very moving and I would like to know more about your faith.” I know the president meant well, but I didn’t feel my topic was religious or in any way offensive. I was speaking from the heart and the speech was my personal relationship with God. As I continued sharing my story of God, I got ridiculed by another officer of our group. At one point, I was told my an officer of our group he will have me removed if I don’t stop because it is against their organization policy.
This caused me more confusion, because God is really the only topic I want to talk about. What’s worse, on a deeper level, the comments made me start to doubt my new vision for becoming a public speaker. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this, after all. Who was I to think that anyone would want to hear what I had to say? The old familiar patterns started to re-emerge. So, much as I had during the writing of Path to Greatness, I asked God for a clear sign—and I even told him what that sign should be! “God,” I prayed, “if you really want me to be a public speaker for you, then send help to me at my public-speaking group—in the form of a priest.”
In truth, I thought that I was a pretty much off the hook after that prayer. After all, what would be the odds of a priest—a professional public speaker—joining that public-speaking group with me?
Never tell God the odds. Immediately, God blessed my prayer that same week. I happened to be discussing my public speaking experience with Fr. John Tran who I met for the first time at St. Lawrence Martyr church in Redondo Beach. I visited the church that day because I wanted to ask God to give me the courage to deliver His message as a public speaker. Out of the blue, Fr. John offered to join my public-speaking! This was such a precise answer to my prayer, I had no other option but to chalk it up as another of those quiet miracles that continue to keep me on the path God has laid out for me.
Even after the support of the priest and receiving an award for winning best speaker 4 out of 5 times in my local chapter, I still get very nervous. People tell me it is because I care. Perhaps, but nothing stopped me from rushing to the restroom several times before speaking. I left the organization too soon and didn’t get the experience I hoped for to be a great speaker. Later, I found myself searching online for a few world champion speakers to train me but none of them responded to my emails. I gave up looking after having no luck for months.
Fast forward 3 years, my grandmother passed away in August of 2012 and I was determined to dedicate my book to her the same year. The week of her passing was the greatest transformation in my life and the reality of death hit me like a brick wall. During that week I learned a hard lesson of forgiveness because the doctor misdiagnose grandmother and was aware of it. About 15 minutes after grandmother’s last breath, I whispered in her left ear if she can ask God to help me deliver the message in my book to the world. Seconds later as I started to pray the rosary, the people in the room saw a tear drop from grandmother’s eye. It was a sign from God He heard me.
After the book got published in December of 2012, I was invited to attend a leadership conference in March 2013 but had no intention to go. The speaker was someone I heard before in previous conferences. However, I later find out a few days before the event Ryan Avery was going to be a guest speaker at the conference. He is the youngest 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking in history; competing against more than 30,000 people from 116 countries to claim the 2012 World Championship title.
For some odd reason the speaker was offering a free ticket for one lucky winner because someone canceled just days before the event. It was my chance to get the free ticket, so I contacted the speaker and entered to see if I won. Miraculously, I was the lucky winner! I met Ryan Avery at the conference and we built a pretty good relationship but unfortunately I didn’t hear from him after the conference. So I decided to return to my local chapter to retrain myself as a public speaker. However, my entry back into the organization didn’t feel the same and I never pulled myself together to return.
Finally, Ryan Avery emailed me in April of 2013 to discuss a conversation we had at the conference to support each other. Now I am back on the drawing board to become a great speaker which I am really excited about. Having the support of Ryan Avery as my private speech coach will definitely make things easier.
Miracle Theologian and Taoist Master Supporters
After spending those months learning from Richard in late 2007, I re-dedicated myself to reading and work, studying more than 40 translations of the Tao Te Ching and systematically working my way through the Bible. I faced more challenges along the way, but I kept on working, kept on taking action toward what God had called me to, until finally I had completed my manuscript in mid-2009. What a proud day! Right?
Not exactly. Once the excitement of finally completing this arduous task had worn off, I began another slide into deep self-doubt. Who was I to think that I could pull this off? Me—a nobody. A nobody who had completed a manuscript, sure, but still a nobody. What a monumental waste of time this had been—or so I began telling myself.
During this season of doubt, I received a word from God in my prayers to guide me further. God reminded me that if I were to just have faith and take action, He would provide all the people I needed to help me the get the book published. One day I asked Fr. John Tran who is the top educator in the Catholic Church in the U.S. He suggested that I contact Dr. Michael Downey, a noted teacher, writer and editor of The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality. I thought this would be a waste of time, because he is a famous and busy man, and why would he want to take the time to meet with insignificant me? But to my great shock, Dr. Downey read my book and agreed to meet me at a coffee shop to discuss it.
I was super nervous and fearful of Dr. Downey’s critique. As we settled into our seats in the coffee shop, I realized I was expecting the worst. I was filled with doubt, once again. But just then an aging woman wearing clothes that you might politely call “eccentric” crossed the room, touched my shoulder and said, “You are the joy and the light in this room!” Suddenly, my heart was lifted and my doubts fell away. It was as if God Himself and spoken audible words that said, “You, Keith D. Hoang, are just the right person to do this.” In amazement, Dr. Downey asked me, “Do you know that lady?”
Then, as my meeting with Dr. Downey progressed, my spirits rose even higher. We talked for over an hour. Throughout our conversation, he was exceedingly encouraging about the importance and timeliness of Path to Greatness, as well as its potential for my book to reach a wide and diverse audience, even in far-flung places across the globe. I left that meeting full of energy and vision that carried me through the final stages of publishing my book: finding a publisher, working with an editor, and the million other details it took to see Path to Greatness in print.
It was already amazing how God used Dr. Michael Downey who is an expert in spirituality and one of the top theologian in the U.S., but I still questioned my book’s message because it didn’t have a Taoism perspective. Writing a Christian Edition of the Tao Te Ching needed two view points from two authority people who can be a good judge of my book, a doctorate in theology and a Master Taoist. After going through all the 40+ Tao Te Ching books I studied, Derek Lin was my favorite author. Immediately, I started to question myself again. How can I find him and is he living in China? Is he alive? Why will he care? In fact, it could be an insult to Derek Lin to write a Christian Edition of the Tao Te Ching. Again, God made the impossible possible.
It was a great surprise to learn that Derek Lin was teaching Taoism at the Temple in El Monte, about 1 hour from Torrance, CA. When we finally had the opportunity to meet for dinner, I popped the big question and ask if he will support me. Derek Lin not only wrote me a blurb, but he spent many hours editing my book and referred me to his editor Mark Ogilgee who did a great job finalizing my manuscript.
“This book is Keith Hoang’s personal journey to the spiritual common ground between East and West—an important quest for humanity and a worthy goal for all of us.”
—Derek Lin, author of Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained
The Path Continues
Chapter 6 of the Tao Te Ching sums up nicely both the insights contained within Path to Greatness and the spiritual lessons I learned while writing it:
The Spirit of God is everlasting …
This power flows continuously
It seems hidden within us
Utilize it, it will not grow tired or weary
When I set out to write Path to Greatness, I didn’t even know I was setting out to write a book! All I knew was that I made a promise to serve God. The road has been a difficult one. I have failed many times over, sometimes because of my own limitations, sometimes because of my lack of faith, sometimes because of severe self-doubt. But the one truth that I eventually returned to time after time was my belief that where I was not capable, God was—if only I would take a small action. The Spirit and power of God has flowed continually in this process, even when it seemed hidden. All it took to access that power was for me to take a step of faith to utilize it, even a small part of it, which in turn produced the quiet miracles that eventually brought this book to fruition.
Today, after the publication of Path to Greatness, I find myself in a much different place than that (second) night I prayed in the garden at St. Vincent de Paul, when my life was disintegrating before my very eyes. But in the process of living out my commitment to complete this book, my life has changed. God placed a desire in my heart to let go of my own desires and serve him by delivering his message as an author and public speaker. And this is by no means limited to me! The promise of God as summed up in those words from the Christian edition of the Tao Te Ching is available to anyone.
As I bring this to a closing, I now understand God is patient and prepares us for greatness when we are ready to take the next step. He spent 12 years carrying me through difficult years since the year 2000 to 2012 so I can get this book published. God could have easily used a famous person with experience to finish this book in 6 months or less and quickly get it out to the world. I know God spent the time to patiently teach me regardless of my title, experience, and past failures. I probably failed more times and fought with God more than anyone, but it only shows how faithful God is when I was not faithful. There is still a long road for me to share His message, but as my college math professor said, “Just keep writing and you will eventually find the answer.”
It was never my responsibility to know how to do things because God will use the right people in your life to specifically guide your path to greatness. Sometimes it takes a rude awakening to realize that God is the way and the truth. He brought together all the people I needed for support: a top theologian, a Taoist master, music artists, a priest, a pastor, a world champion speaker, and countless others I didn’t mention to make this book possible for you to read. If we can answer why we love God, then we do not need to know how.
Keep your heart open and change will happen when you lease expect it. No matter about your past, your mistakes, your limitations, your self-doubts—God’s got you covered. All you need to do is have a little faith and take an action toward what God has called you to. For if you have faith in God, you can accomplish anything.
The path continues. See you again in 5 years…