innocence

In front of her was a Man who was offering her a magnificent necklace. On it was the most stunning stone she’d ever seen. When the light caressed it just right, so many colors exploded from the jewel, and it shined radiantly.

“This is for you,” the Man said.

“Me?” she questioned, confused.

“Yes, I bought this and am giving it to you.”

She smiled and shyly began to reach for the chain.

And that was when she noticed how dirty her hands were.

Embarrassed, she withdrew her hands. Her eyes were fixated on the dirt, the blood, the filth that stained them. And then she looked down and realized it covered the rest of her, too. She was so dirty and messy and pathetic-looking.

How could she accept this gorgeous piece of jewelry? How could she ever wear it when she was sullied to this degree? It would look ridiculous.

She dropped her hands and looked apologetically at Him. She needed to decline His gracious gift and remove herself from His presence. Much like the necklace, the Man was also too beautiful, too pure, too clean to be associated with her. She took a step back.

And then it started raining.

She looked up at the sky. Hadn’t it been clear and blue up till a second ago? How was it suddenly raining?

A soft laughter escaped the Man’s lips. She looked at Him then, and He gazed at her like she had gazed at the stone: like she was something rare and precious. He nodded toward her hands. She brought them up in front of her face.

The rain was washing away the muck.

A smile burst across her face. She turned her face to the sky so that it, too, could be washed. She held her arms out to the side and began to spin. Laughter spilled from her lips like a kiss from the sun. She closed her eyes and smiled, reveling in the feel of rain against her skin.

Then she remembered she wasn’t alone.

She stopped twirling in the rain and focused her attention on the Man once more. He stood there, watching her spin, an amused smile decorating His calm face.

“The rain I give you is called ‘Grace.’ I’ve showered you with it and made you clean.” He held the necklace out once more. “This,” He regarded the jewel, “this is called ‘Forgiveness.’ I purchased it for you. It is available to you should you choose to accept it.”

She transfixed her gaze on the gem. Such a beautiful gift, and He was offering it to her.

“I give you forgiveness—wear it on your heart. Your innocence is restored through what I freely extend to you. I have washed you clean and declared you righteous before Me.”

To accept something as precious as forgiveness, as delicate as innocence, was beyond comprehension. It was right in front of her, and He granted it to her as a gift. She knew she didn’t deserve it, but He was giving it to her because He loved her. Her grin stretched so wide across her face, the corners of her lips reached her ears. She nodded her acceptance.

“I also betroth you to Me with this and with your acceptance. I will betroth you to Me forever, in righteousness and justice, lovingkindness and compassion. I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you will know Me” (Hosea 2:19-20).

I have been given a gift I could never afford to buy, a jewel I could never earn with all my days’ wages. He has bestowed to me new innocence, and I have become His beloved.

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hemmed in

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.

You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
~ Psalm 139: 1, 5, 7

I have a stalker.

Okay, not really. Not at all, actually.

I broke out along my jawline overnight, and after a round of weeping and mourning that my skin is up to its old tricks again, I thought about what else could’ve caused it. And I think I figured it out.

Stress.

As you beautiful people know, I quit my job a little over two weeks ago now, and I’ve been waiting for a position I really want (I’ve also applied to some other places and signed on with a temp agency). As rough as this time has been, there hasn’t been a part of me that’s regretted leaving the Renaissance. I’ve also been very thankful that so many people have been encouraging at this time. I know more than anyone the weight of that decision, and I’m grateful a lot of people understand that.

I think that in this waiting period, God’s trying to get me to make up a bit for the Sabbaths I’d skipped the past decade (hopefully not ALL of them, or else I’d be out for over a year). I’ve been spending time in the Book of Hosea, and what I clearly see in that book is how faithful God is, how patient He is, how loving He is while we are none of these things. And He pursues us and refuses to let us live apart from Him for our sake.

Today, God and I had a pretty good chat. I was thinking about the stress that caused me to break out and realizing how much it just wasn’t worth it. And while I’ve been honest with God as to how I’m doing and feeling, I’m not so sure I was honest as to the depth of it.

I’m nervous. I’m scared. I’m frustrated. I’m annoyed. I’d voiced these (you learn eventually that you can’t hide your feelings from God, and also that you don’t have to protect Him from them. He can handle it) just about every time we talk. But deep down there’s more.

I’m petrified.

I’ve never not been able to take care of myself before. I have student loans coming due in a little less than a month and another round of rent and bills in the next few weeks.

I am literally in a position where I can do nothing about that.

And this verse came to mind earlier: Psalm 139:5 “You have enclosed (NIV says “hem”) me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.”

I’m sure many find a lot of comfort and security in that verse, and I probably would’ve as well.

If I weren’t feeling trapped and stuck instead.

God has fenced me in. There is nothing I can do by my own power to escape or take down the fence.

At first, I did what anyone would do in this kind of situation: panic. I was crawling up the walls, frantic for something to do! (Can you tell why I need a Sabbath?)

And then I realized who I was stuck in a yard with.

And it really wasn’t so bad. There are worse people to be trapped with (way worse).

If I was going to be enclosed behind and before from God and with God, I’d best make the most of it. So I pulled a chair up and we chatted and hung out.

The time we spent together drove some truths from my head into my heart: that I am not able to do anything for myself but He is. And because of who He is—because He is good and works in us and for us for the sake of His glory—I am in a safe place.

John Piper said this about Ruth, “She has esteemed God’s protection superior to all others. She has set her heart on God for hope and joy. And when a person does that, God’s honor – not the value of our work – is at stake, and he will be merciful. If you plead God’s value as the source of your hope instead of pleading your value as a reason for God’s blessing, then his unwavering commitment to his own glory engages all his heart for your protection and joy” (excerpt from A Sweet and Bitter Providence by John Piper).

God knows what I’ve got coming at me. He understands the urgency. He knows that these are needs, not desires (I’d desire nothing more than to not pay student loans and rent). And He’s laid His hand upon me.

There is not place I can go to escape Him. There’s nothing I can do to hop this fence and go off to try and fix my life, though days will come when I’d want to, as they have before.

But because the Person in here with me will fight for me, I also know that it is a safe place.

a multicultural family of God

“We are a part of the body, we are North American Christians every bit as much as any other North American Christian, and we are weary, hurt, and disillusioned by the continuing offensive actions of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. When one part of the body experiences pain, should not the whole body feel the repercussions?”

Angry Asian Man and Kathy Khang have posted an open letter to the North American evangelical church from its Asian-American congregation. I’ve read over it before signing it myself. It’s not church-bashing in any way, but it does call the church out in order to seek reconciliation for some blunders. The letter is an invitation to understand Asian-Americans and why it hurts to have our culture minimized by the dominant culture, and it also offers ideas on how to bridge the gap that causes us to misunderstand each other.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me I put too much emphasis on my cultural and ethnic identity. And it really hurts me to hear that. Yes, my identity is first and foremost a child of God, but under that umbrella includes my being first generation Chinese-American amongst others. You cannot ask me to separate my Chinese-American-ness from my identity as child of God any more than I can ask you to separate your culture from your identity as child of God. It is a beautiful thing that people of all colors can worship one God, so why are we trying to make this family monochromatic? When you look at me, I want you to see how God has put me together down to the smallest detail—this includes my ethnic background, my gender, and my history. Look how God has made sense out of this mess that is my identity! It’s a thing of beauty, and all the things that make it up should not be diminished.

I’ve also been told that my American identity should be most dominant because I’ve chosen to be here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. But what kind of “American” should I be? What does it even mean to be American? My American identity is affected by my Chinese identity as much as my Chinese identity is affected by my American identity. This country is built on immigration, and I am as much an American as anyone else here. The “American Dream” is attainable by me as much as it is by anyone else. It is a bloody, brutal, and dirty road to get there as evidenced by the need for such a letter to be written.

I think this letter is thoughtful and inviting. Please try to understand the hurt and the pain that is felt when our family doesn’t try to understand who we are—when my new family hurts me as much or more than my first family did. I’m still trying to figure out this identity as an Asian-American Christian. I’m inviting everyone to walk alongside me in that endeavor and understand a bit more clearly what the struggle is and how to overcome it.

Also, mad props to Exponential for giving a thoughtful and sincere apology and for taking the steps to reconcile and understand their family.

working and waiting

I quit my job.

And I don’t have a new one. Yet.

This decision was the most aggravating decision I’d been faced with since choosing to move to Seattle. I felt guilty that I was so pessimistic about my job. I knew that working in the hospitality industry could be a wonderful ministry opportunity. I repeated this to myself everyday.

When it wasn’t enough, I felt more guilty. Obviously my faith wasn’t big enough to see all God could do with my position and my job. I was definitely being selfish and prideful for not wanting to be in the same position I was in before I got the degree.

I tried. I tried so hard to stick with this job. God provided it for me after nearly two months of unemployment and e-mountains of e-mails sent to e-mployers. I felt like I was failing Him by not thriving or enjoying this position.

I also remembered the email exchanged I’d had with Dan from WitnessLA. He’d told me he felt the Holy Spirit’s moving to find me a job. I didn’t want to be ungrateful to God or those who prayed for me.

And then I realized how toxic the environment was there. Along with how much my worries centered on myself.

It’s difficult to describe the suffocation I felt during my time there. I am still having difficulty putting it into words. After some managers berated all the new-hires for mistakes made because we weren’t properly trained, I put in my notice.

And immediately I was relieved.

I did not make this decision lightly. Having grown up on the heels of poverty, this decision went against all my logic. As soon as I was old enough to work, I worked. This was how I could guarantee my survival. I could pay for rent, food, bills, etc. And my student loans are coming due soon. Of course, I need a job.

The one thing that concerned me most was that by quitting, I would be testing God. “I took a risk, so now You have to reward me with a blessing.” But considering how deeply concerned I was with that, I trusted God knew my heart. And I realized what my attitude and response really was.

I took a risk.

So I need You in order to live.

Working had become a stronghold, an idol, for me. I was bound by it. It was the only way I knew how to ensure my survival. I relied on my paycheck more than I relied on my God. It was the one tangible way I knew I’d be provided for: by my own hands. I think we took this stronghold down the day I put in my notice.

It was a terrifying decision, but I am at peace with having made it. Thinking back to that conversation with Dan again, I wondered if I might’ve slapped God’s hand. But instead of rebuking me for quitting, God seemed to rebuke me for other things. “Who says I’m not still at work for you? Who said My promise extended only to the job you just left? Will you trust Me to keep working for you as it pleases Me to do?”

God is still working. Amazing.

The night I put in my notice, I received an email from Mars Hill Church in regards to an application I sent in for the editor position. I could not believe the timing. I eventually had my first interview with them and am being scheduled for a second as I write this entry.

Right now—as always—my survival, my life, depends on my God. There is no firmer foundation than Him. I realized when I’d quit that I didn’t come to Seattle to work in hotels again; I came to Seattle to grow with God and serve Him in a way I couldn’t serve Him previously. I came to use the gift and talent He’s grace upon me in order to touch another soul. And another. And another.

As thankful as I am to be out of hospitality, I am still grateful having worked there. In a very eccentric way, God taught me and grew me to listen to His voice and re-evaluate my trust in Him, while providing for me until I learned the lesson and became ready to step into something new.

Here I am, jobless once again in a state where I am still new. I don’t know what’s coming next, but I know and trust that God does and is actively working to get me there. It is an absolutely terrifying position to be in, as I am in the wake of student loan payments on top of other existing bills.

Yet I am absolutely confident—more so than I have ever been—that God is working for my good and His glory.

The theme since I’d moved here was God telling me to take a step and see what He could do.

Here’s one rather large step.

I’m pretty stoked to see what God will do.

I’m in the middle of one enormous adventure. It’s alarming and scary and very exciting. And I’m not going it alone.

Please be praying for me in this season. I am excited to share what God does with it and to see where He brings me.

“They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the LORD.” —Jeremiah 1:19

restoring the temple

I’d done it.

I redecorated.

Happily, I lead Him around, pointing out things I learned, things I’d done, things I’d changed—all because of Him. My heart is being changed still by Him; it is being changed for Him.

He smiled, and my heart fluttered a bit, knowing He was pleased with my progress.

But then He turned and walked down a hallway I hadn’t finished—hadn’t touched really. It was badly lit, the walls were in bad shape, the pictures were crooked—some even shattered on the floor—and I was embarrassed.

And then my heart stopped.

He stood in front of a door that was completely swollen with secrets that the hinges groaned with gossip and accusation. A foulness seeped from the cracks.

“Open this door,” He requested.

Hesitantly, I shook my head and dropped my eyes. “No.”

He looked at me then. “Why not?”

I wanted to crawl into a corner and disappear. He didn’t—wouldn’t—look away. “Why not?” He asked again. There was no anger in His eyes nor bite in His voice, but those words were burning me from the inside.

“Because,” I started in a small voice, “because this is where I lock away what I don’t want You to see.”

“What you don’t want Me to see, or what you don’t want to see yourself?”

I froze. What a question! I expected nothing less from the One who knows me best.

I took a deep breath and gathered my words. “What I don’t want to see,” I answered. “In there is everything that reminds me I’m a sinner, everything that says I screwed up, everything that makes me—”

“Human?” He offered.

I nodded.

“What’s so wrong with human?” He asked.

I looked at Him like He’d lost His mind.

“Yes, you’ve sinned. Yes, we needed to fix our relationship because of that, but isn’t that why you have Me? Isn’t that why I’m here?”

I had no words. I had allowed everything in the room to define me and keep me from seeing Him. I looked at the door and slowly reached a hand to the knob.

But I couldn’t do it.

He placed a hand over mine. “May I?”

Before I could think too long on it, I answered, “Yes,” and He turned the knob and opened the door.

The scene before us was horrific. The sounds, the smells, the sight of it all made me want to vomit. I covered my face. I was so ashamed.

“Hm,” He commented. He tapped His chin. “We’ve got some work to do.”

I was surprised at His reaction, but I wanted to get Him out of there. This dirty room was no place for the Son of God. “Can we just… I don’t know, destroy this room? Forget it ever existed?”

“Destroy it?” He asked and smiled. “Absolutely not, this is a perfectly good room. Look how much space you have in here!”

Yeah, and look what I’ve done with it.

“This is perfectly good space,” He continued. “Think of all the love we can put in here.”

I looked at Him then, hope struggling to reach my eyes.

“It’ll take a while, but we can get this place cleaned up and repurposed soon enough,” He offered.

I shook my head, disbelief and defensiveness attempting to drown the small bud of hope that was trying to bloom. “You shouldn’t bother with this.”

And then He did the unthinkable.

He dropped to His knees, ripped off a piece of His garment, and started scrubbing.

“Nonsense. Look at the rest of your heart. I made it into a pretty nice home, didn’t I?”

He was right. This place was redecorated, but I didn’t do it—at least not alone. He supplied everything—the lessons, the material, the support—I just cooperated. He cleaned up the broken walls and fixed the foundation. He rebuilt this heart so that He could live here and be with me.

He stopped and looked up at me, playfulness dancing in His eyes. “Are you going to keep standing there, or are we going to clean this up together?”

A smile stretched wide across my face as I got down and started cleaning.

There’s a lot of work to do, but I’ve got the expertise of a Helper, the love of a Father, and the hands of a Carpenter working to make me whole.