The Beauty of Brokenness

Elaine Cheng is still changing the world; she's just not burning out to do it.

Written by Shelaine Strom, originally published in Hope Notes Is 30

As a young adult, Elaine Cheng was a machine of activity. It all started in university when she began working her dream job as Program Assistant to the manager of the Health Check BC Dining Program—an organization that audits restaurants to ensure compliance to health standards.

This diminutive powerhouse is out to change the world. But first she’s changing herself.

After completing a Master’s degree in Italy, Elaine returned to Canada to launch and run six businesses, reaching the peak of her entrepreneurial ventures in her early 30’s.

Elaine worked with university students and the government to reduce food waste. She gave oversight to a church ministry,  and co-produced a series of short films featuring farmers, producers, and restaurant owners in Oregon, BC, and Japan. Her food consulting business served a wide range of client portfolios, including a commissary kitchen where entrepreneurs from all over the city came to prepare their products and get free business tips from Elaine. She launched a thriving business facilitating cooking classes for groups like wedding parties and birthdays in her family’s restaurant, and ran a successful event business. All the while, her identity became more and more wrapped up in her capacity to change the world around her.

Cooking classes in her father's restaurant was just one of the many food initiatives Elaine launched.

Most days involved five or six meetings for each company she ran and Elaine soared with the challenge, success, and opportunities to influence others. Until she didn’t.

Just before Christmas in 2018, at only 33 years old, Elaine got a fever and for four days couldn’t get out of bed. She assumed that the fever would pass and she would resume her adrenaline-packed pace of life. Instead, after the fever, an unexpected depression set in and her capacity disappeared. Her boundless energy and drive vanished and an inner battle began to rage.

For the first time in her life, Elaine felt shaky, fearful, anxious. Her drive disappeared. Humbled and scared, she began a slow, deep, and painful journey. “I had to reconcile that part of me (anxiety) with myself because I really hated it.”

When her ability to do was stripped away, Elaine wasn’t sure how to be. “I guess I had a fragile sense of worth because I tied my identity to success,” she reflects.

Over the last three years, Elaine has walked with God on an intense journey of self-discovery and reconciliation to the realities of her own limitations.

“It used to be that I would launch project after project without stopping, but then I got burned out so now I can’t run at that pace anymore.” 

Elaine is recognizing the need to live from deep within herself, from her relationship with God, and not rely simply on her skills.

A piece of Elaine’s journey to deeper acceptance of herself has come from her recently embraced role as a facilitator with Food for the Hungry’s Ending Poverty Together Workshop, where root causes of poverty are explored.

The reconciliation with self that Elaine is experiencing rises, in part, from a humble willingness to address childhood issues and trauma that have shaped her behaviour as an adult. “It’s super uncomfortable,” Elaine admits. “I didn’t want to touch that root thing because the world sees the outside and doesn't see the [inner] crumbling, fragile thing as beautiful.”

But it is beautiful.

God is using Elaine’s willingness to dip deeply into the causes of her own brokenness—her own pride, her own mess—to empathize and connect with others. She’s able to help those who share similar stories of incredible worldly success, like celebrity chefs, renowned food writers, and culinary consultants, but who struggle with mental health and feelings of isolation and worthlessness. 

The authenticity and vulnerability of her story is drawing people to her, to God.

Elaine also credits some of her ongoing healing to the people God has brought into her life who are living on the margins.

“The very people who are in the marginalized community—the ones I’m trying to help—they humble me and teach me otherwise. They are some of the most resilient and courageous people I've ever met. My deepest desire right now as I'm transitioning back into my career, is to create a platform for others to see each person's beauty regardless of social class, through the medium of storytelling, social hiring, or hospitality skills."

Elaine describes her newly found life philosophy: “The only way I know how to connect with people is to put down the professional consultant-type veil and just be real.”

Be real with God and her self. 

Reconciliation with Self:
FH Canada believes that poverty isn’t just a lack of material things. Poverty is about broken relationships with God, self, others, and creation—and it affects all of us! It’s complicated, but real change is possible. To learn more about reconciling a broken relationship with self, visit https://www.fhcanada.org/Education/



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Food for the Hungry: The Beauty of Brokenness
The Beauty of Brokenness
Good mental health is critical to the fight to end poverty - both here, and abroad! Elaine learned the hard way, but God was faithful to lift her up.
Food for the Hungry
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