daughter day one

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”Luke 8:48

“Daughter.”

In a time and culture where fathers advocated for their daughters, this woman came to Jesus alone and ashamed. She was known to all as unclean, and there was no father to defend her or speak on her behalf.

Upon touching His cloak, she was healed from her ailment, from what made her unclean.

Yet, it is the word “daughter” that restores her identity and heals her soul. In a situation where no other defended her, Jesus chose to be her father. With one word, Jesus filled the lack and accepted her. She was clean. She was directly addressed. She was seen―seen by a man who would call her His child.

I have always been uncomfortable with this relationship of father and daughter. It is the identity of God that I relate to the least. While I never expected God to hurt or betray me in this role, I simply didn’t get it. I didn’t understand who I was in this relationship or who He was. I didn’t know how to be a daughter to a father, and I didn’t know how a father would normally relate to a daughter.

Several months ago, I felt that God was inviting me to discover this with Him. I felt that He wanted me to know Him fully, and this was the relationship that was most awkward for us.

So I did what any daughter who grew up with an absent father would.

I turned around and walked―no―ran the other way. I could not get away fast enough.

Because I know that exploring this would ultimately bring me back to the father I never had, the father who never wanted me.

I spent years trying to heal, forgive, and move forward from the abandonment I experienced at his hand. While in college, I had finally done it. I was at peace that he was not there, and I decided I would forgive him so as to not be eaten alive by the pain and anger I felt toward him. His sin was my sin―just manifested differently.

This was the place I refused to go. I already healed. That was it. I would revisit this no more. So I built up my walls, hardened my heart, and wondered why I felt so empty.

(Pro-tip to those who receive an invitation from the God of the universe, Maker of heaven and earth: take it.)

Last night, my mom and I somehow got on the subject of my father. My mom asked me a question about his new family, and I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. So she told me about an article she found, and I looked it up.

Within seconds, I realized this was the biggest mistake I’d made in quite some time.

What I was looking at was an interview about my father, conducted by a girl who could possibly be my half-sister.

I read about his upbringing in China, which was similar to my mother’s. I read about how he did not want his children to experience not having food or clothing like he once did. I read that he came to America in 1988 and struggled until he learned English and could open his own business.

And I was angry.

In one sentence, he managed to insult both my mother and me, as he didn’t seem to care if we had food or clothing. The factual error of 1988 tells me that no one knows about my part in his history because we were a family in America by 1987. There were no details of how he came to America because that would have to include the ugly story of how he married a woman so that he could join her family, who was beginning to emigrate from their side of the Pacific. And then sired a child with her that he did not raise.

And then at the end of his interview, he boldly proclaimed that what he was most grateful for was that he would not have known Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior had he not come to America.

I was livid.

We may have happened before this, but we still happened. There was no attempt to reconcile, despite having been in contact with one of my uncles for years. This made me furious, but my anger only served to mask the deep hurt that was coming from a wound I thought was long closed.

This was why I didn’t take that invitation. This was why I ran. I had been hurt by this man long enough, and I did not want to invite him to live rent-free in my head once more. It took too much to heal the first time.

I have written countless letters, journal entries, and at least one poem regarding what I was feeling toward him, how I was processing, what I needed to do. And a few years ago, I wrote him an eviction notice. I was free from him. Finally.

I do not regret my life without him, despite having wondered more times than I’d like to admit, “why not me?”, “what would it have been like?” I was sent into the fire early, and from there, one can burn, or one can rise. It’s no one’s choice but your own.

But in the midst of this, God blessed my father and allowed him to gift the character “phoenix” toward my name as part of His plan: before I was even born, God declared that I would be victorious.

I was afraid to come to this place because I did not want the wound to reopen. I feared returning to a place of darkness, anger, hatred. But it seems the difference this time is that the wound is shallow and uninfected, and I am pressed to address it while it is so. And it is God who will have to help me keep it this way because my natural leaning would be to pick at it.

To be here now, as difficult as it is, God had gone to drastic measures to barrel through all of the walls I had built up, for the sole purpose of extending His invitation to me again.

God is a God of second chances, and when your heart is as hard as your head, He will break that rock-hard heart to give you one that beats and lives, and ask you to try again.

A spiritual mentor recently told me that because I have endured this much pain, my capacity for hope is this much greater. My wounds and scars run deep enough that the foundation is set for hope and love to be poured in to fill these broken places.

Months have passed since I was invited on this adventure. I was not ready to accept it then, but I think I am now.

It feels like the first step toward something huge.

I am terrified of the idea, but I am also feeling something I didn’t feel the first time.

Hope.

The one gift my father gave me is also my greatest burden. To bestow the name “phoenix” is ironic and fitting and everything I don’t want to bear. But it is a name that is redeemed because God called me something else.

Daughter.

He saw my lack and chose to fill it. He saw my wound and chose to heal it. With one word, He claimed me as His own―His own daughter. With this word, He chased away the hurt, shame, and lies that I had chosen to believe for much of my life.

He gifted me the bearing of a phoenix to fulfill the promise He made to me with this name. I will be refined with fire in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10)

And a phoenix will always rise.

Above the ashes.

I am a daughter―His daughter. And I will learn to live what that means.

This is day one.

love your neighbor (redux)

We hear it all the time.

Love your neighbor. Jesus tells us to love. Jesus is love, and He wants us to love like Him.

What is that supposed to look like? Do we “love” someone by tolerating them? Do we love someone by doing our best not to offend them? Do we love someone by keeping our mouths shut regarding their actions, even if they may be dangerous, but it makes them happy?

What does Jesus say about what it means to love? What does He say it means to follow Him?

To know that, you must look in the Scriptures.

It demands our life, and it demands our comfort (or lack thereof). We like the “hippy Jesus” that tells us to accept people and be good neighbors, as some consider to be the “core” of Christianity, but let’s take a look at what that actually means.

In Luke 10:25-37, we have the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We have our cast: the wounded Jew on the side of the road, the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan man. Let’s take a look at the last three a little more closely.

Many priests at this time lived in Jericho and went on two week assignments to Jerusalem, which was about seventeen miles away. The road they traveled was a common one and was known to them. A priesthood is extremely exclusive; it stayed in the family. This priest was likely wealthy and riding on an animal.

What were the stipulations and requirements to be a priest? What was his duty according to Old Testament Law?

1) he was not allowed to approach or touch a dead body, lest he became defiled
2) had he approached the wounded man to discover he was dead, the priest would have had to return to Jerusalem to be ceremonially cleaned
3) he would not be able to use the offerings he received (usually of food; his family and servants would also not be allowed to use them)
4) if the wounded man died later, the priest would still be considered unclean
5) serving as priest while unclean was punishable by death
6) when upon a dead body, he would have to tear his robes, but he could not tear ceremonial robes

The Levite was an assistant to the priest in the Temple. He likely just assisted this particular priest and was on his way home as well. Knowing that the priest just walked by, he could not challenge the decision made by the priest to pass the man, and so he would pass as well.

There’s a lot more than meets the eye, right? This isn’t in any way to excuse or pardon the fact that they were not neighborly, but we cannot deny the gray area in this situation. And isn’t the gray where most of life is lived? It’s not as pure as black and white.

Inserting a Samaritan into this story was a particularly radical move by Jesus. Samaritans are a mixed-race between the Jews of captivity and the Samaritan people of the land in which they were captive. The relationship between these two peoples were hostile as a result of their history with one another. The Mishna states, “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.” The Samaritan is not a Gentile but is bound by the same law as the Jews, yet they were considered impure “half-breeds.” The Samaritan would not naturally be from that area, so the half-dead man would certainly not qualify as his neighbor. And the Jewish man would likely have chosen death over associating with a Samaritan.

In that time, a tradition known as “blood revenge” was practiced. In it, a relative of the guilty party may be punished for the crime in his place. It did not have to be an immediate relative but could extend to the most distant branches of the family tree.

So let’s recap the sacrifices this man had to make in order to love a man who was not necessarily his neighbor and would not likely have welcomed his help or offered it in turn:
1) he risked defilement
2) he poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds, sacrificing monetary and material resources
3) he paid for a place for the man to rest and heal
4) he paid for the man’s treatment
5) there was no way of guaranteeing that money returned; he was not expecting repayment at all
6) he exposed himself to the innkeeper and made himself and his entire family and tribe vulnerable to blood vengeance

Loving our neighbors requires sacrificing our comforts and possibly even our lives. It means more than just being tolerant. I would hate to just be tolerated by my neighbor. I would hate to just be tolerated by my friend.

What often keeps us from what’s best is what’s good.

Tolerance is “good.”

Acceptance is “good.”

Love is best.

Yes, Jesus preached love, but this love is dirty. It is demanding and sometimes demeaning; it requires us to get in the middle of people’s messes in order to love them. It requires us to point out what is wrong but not stop there—we must replace it with what is right.

It required a sinless God to step down from His throne to become a Man, made of dirt and clay; and it required His death to overcome death itself and His blood to cover all of our sin.

Pointing out the hypocrisy of Christians has been done over and over by the national media. Do we as Christians really need to add to it? When the world sees us dividing against each other, would they really want to know the Jesus we both claim to serve and love? Choosing to turn from each other is a declaration of a Pharisee, praising God that he is not a sinner like the tax collector, who is quietly begging God for His mercy to be extended toward him (Luke 18:9-14).

We don’t like the Christianity that is being portrayed in the media. We don’t like the hatred that is preached by some who call themselves Christians. We don’t like the misconceptions with which we label others, and we certainly don’t like the misconceptions with which they label us back.

Then what are we going to do about it?

Are we going to shame those people into submission? Did Jesus ever do that?

The kind of love we need in order to heal each other doesn’t come from us. It can never come from us. Look how easily and willingly we can choose to tear each other down.

So no, the core of Christianity is not to be a good neighbor. Even if it were, by context we are failing horribly at it. No, friends, the core of Christianity is Jesus.

If we are going to preach real, biblical love, this is it. It is gritty and it demands so much more than words and Facebook posts talking at people. Real, biblical love demands for us to destroy our pedestals and use those pieces to build homes. It demands for us to dig deep into our our poverty and feed someone else. It demands for us to love someone with a ferocity that destroys apathy and hatred in its wake.

Are we ready to do that?

your Savior has come

I was looking through some prayers and messages I’d written down in my notebook in the course of the last year or so, and I came across this that I honestly don’t even remember writing down. But it was the word that I received from God at the time, and it’s an encouraging one:


Your Savior has come. I am right here with you. You are My child. I see where you’re prone to stumble. Trust Me during those times. Fall into Me when you fall. Make Me where you turn, not yourself, not your old habits, not what you’re used to protecting yourself with, not what you think you deserve. I will protect you. I will catch you when you fall over, and I will heal your wounds. Your Savior has come, Daughter; I am here. I came for you, and you have Me.

“Liar” is not your identity. “Prideful” is not your identity. I wash these names that you have seared into your heart. I remove the scars you’ve inflicted upon yourself on account of those names. Trust Me from now on. These “identities” are no longer there to “save” you. Only I am here to do so. They will trap you and ensnare you if you give them the chance. I will release you. I will set you free.

Fall into Me. Let Me be your identity. Don’t try to live up to what you think I want. I want you. As you are. Let Me make you what I want you to become for My glory. I know you, and I still want you, I can still use you, and I will still use you. I finish what I begin.

Don’t ever lose sight of that.

ohana

Dear Family,

What does this word actually mean for you? You toss that word around when it’s convenient for you, and when it’s not, you hoard it to yourselves and keep it exclusively. When has that word ever been used to describe us?

Yet you asked me this week—no, you shamed me—in order to convince me you’re my family. You tell me that you can’t believe I would trust an outsider over my own family. It’s not the first you’ve shamed me with this either.

But let me ask you something.

Where were you?

Where was my family when I had to put a restraining order on one of our members? You were on the side of my abuser. Where was my family when I longed to belong to it? You were abusing me and shunning me from your presence. Where was my family when the inheritance I received from my grandmother disappeared and the account closed? You were the ones closing it. Where was my family when I was suicidal in high school because of the abuse? You were oblivious to your role in my suffering, and you could not be found.

How do you ever expect me to trust you? How could you ever ask that of me?

I have not allowed you to define this word for me for quite some time now. The word “family” does not belong to you.

It belongs to the Person who guided me out of suicide. It belongs to the Person who redeemed my greatest abuse to lead me to my greatest salvation. It belongs to His children, who have walked beside me and carried me these past fourteen years when you were nowhere to be found.

“Family” does not end with blood.

Blood may be thicker than water, but grace runs deeper than blood.

You made me feel that I needed to earn a place in this family. Was being my mother’s child truly not enough? Yet in this grace community, there is no such thing as earning a place in the family. We are family because of Him.

This word is still being redeemed for me, but here and now, I claim it as my own. It is not a word for you to throw at me to acknowledge your authority. This word will not be reduced to something so petty.

This word means hope. It means acceptance. It means love—love unconditional, love to the point of sacrifice, love for life.

This word is too precious to me now. You cannot define it for me any longer because I know what it is now.

My Father told me. He showed me with His loyal love.

I have a new family now. Maybe you can join it some day. But you’ll have to understand, it’s on His terms, earned by His death.

I hope you can give up your small definition for His great plan.

What is Grace?

(Someone sent this to me in an email. it meant a lot to me, so I wanted to share)


The following is from a book by David Jeremiah called Captured By Grace. I thought his insight here on the difference between mercy and grace was quite illuminating, and make sure to see the illustration below. It will most likely bring tears to your eyes:

Mercy is God withholding the punishment we rightfully deserve.

Grace is God not only withholding that punishment but offering the most precious of gifts instead.

Mercy withholds the knife from the heart of Isaac.
Grace provides a ram in the thicket.

Mercy runs to forgive the Prodigal Son.
Grace throws a party with every extravagance.

Mercy bandages the wounds of the man beaten by the robbers.
Grace covers the cost of his full recovery.

Mercy hears the cry of the thief on the cross.
Grace promises paradise that very day.

Mercy pays the penalty for our sin at the cross.
Grace substitutes the righteousness of Christ for our wickedness.

Mercy converts Paul on the road to Damascus.
Grace calls him to be an apostle.

Mercy saves John Newton from a life of rebellion and sin.
Grace makes him a pastor and author of a timeless hymn.

Mercy closes the door to hell.
Grace opens the door to heaven.

Mercy withholds what we have earned.
Grace provides blessings we have not earned.


He also includes this story which is quite amazing:

It’s autumn in New York. November 2004. Freezing rain, weary drivers. One carload of delinquents on a joyride. Got the picture?

Their spree begins at the local Cineplex. Bored with action flicks, the teenagers decide to act one out. They break into a car, grab a credit card, and proceed to a video store. There they charge four hundred dollars’ worth of DVDs and video games. Why not pick up a few groceries while they’re at it? A surveillance tape catches the kids selecting a twenty-pound turkey. Remember the turkey.

Pedal to the metal in a silver Nissan, the kids move along an irregular line intersecting with a Hyundai containing one Victoria Ruvolo. The two cars cross paths at approximately 12:30 a.m. Victoria Ruvolo, forty-four, is heading for her Long Island home. Having attended her fourteen-year-old niece’s vocal recital, she looks forward to home and hearth—particularly hearth. She’s ready to unravel the overcoat and scarves, burrow under an electric blanket, and rest her weary self.

Maybe the silver Nissan, approaching from the east, catches Victoria’s eye—maybe not. Later, she won’t be sure. She certainly won’t recall the image of a teenage boy leaning out the window of the Nissan as the car approaches. Nor will she retain any memory of the bulky projectile taking flight from his hands. This is the part about the turkey.

The twenty-pound bird crashes through Victoria’s windshield. It bends the steering wheel inward, smashes into her face, and breaks every bone it encounters. Victoria will remember none of this—frankly, a stroke of mercy. Eight hours of surgery and three weeks of recovery later, however, friends and family fill in the blanks. Victoria lies impassively in a bed in Stony Brook University Hospital and listens to every detail. Yet her emotions are difficult to discern, given the mask her face has become: shattered like pottery, now stapled together by titanium plates; an eye affixed by synthetic film; a wired jaw; a tracheotomy.

The public reaction is much more vigorous. The media has run with this story; weblogs follow every new detail of arrest and arraignment. Over Thanksgiving, New Yorkers whispered prayers of gratitude that they were not Victoria Ruvolo. Over Christmas, they cherished their health and their fortunes a little bit more than usual. Over the New Year, they cried out for justice. Internet bloggers and TV pundits suggest what they’d do if they could be in a room for five minutes with those punks in the Nissan. They’d especially love to lay hands on Ryan Cushing, the eighteen-year- old who heaved the turkey. His face should be shattered. His life should lie in ruins. That’s how the man in the street sees it.

But it’s all in the hands of the justice system. On Monday, August 15, 2005, Ryan and Victoria meet face to restructured face in the courtroom. Nine agonizing, titanium-bolted months have passed since the attack. Victoria manages to walk into the courtroom unaided, a victory in itself. A trembling Ryan Cushing pleads guilty—to a lesser charge. Sentence: a trifling six months behind bars, five years probation, a bit of counseling, a dash of public service. People shake their heads in righteous indignation. Is that all the punishment we can dish out? When did this country become so soft on crime? Let’s lock up all these criminals and throw away the key. Who is responsible for this plea bargain anyway?

The victim. That’s who. The victim requests leniency.

Ryan makes his plea and then turns to Victoria Ruvolo, all the essence of tough guy long since drained away. He is weeping with abandon. The attorney leads the assailant to the victim, and Victoria holds him tight, comforts him, strokes his hair, and offers reassuring words. “I forgive you,” she whispers. “I want your life to be the best it can be.” Tears mingle from mask of reconstruction and mask of remorse. It takes quite an event to bring tears to the eyes of New York attorneys and magistrates. This is such an event. TV and radio reporters file their stories in voices that for once are hushed and respectful. The New York Times dubs it “a moment of grace.”


I’ve looked at grace as the thing I could never deserve (which is true), so that means I can never accept it (not true).

Aside from my cultural heritage, my religious upbringing taught me exactly this: we have to deserve the gifts we receive. We have to deserve the good stuff as much as we deserve the bad stuff. In life, there’s suffering because we are broken, messed up people. After death, there’s more suffering because we were broken, messed up people.

It is difficult for me to fully experience grace because I have to rewrite 15 years of theology from my developmental stage in life. And slowly work toward completing 11+ years of new theology that is personal and very, very strange.

Grace should move me to tears in gratitude, not reduce me to tremble in fear.

This is the prayer I need you to pray for me. And if this is the prayer that you need for yourself as well, I will be overjoyed to pray it for you as well.

sealed by Spirit

Sin, by definition in the Bible, is not wronging another person. It is assaulting the glory of God, rebelling against God. Sin, by definition, is a vertical phenomenon. — John Piper

Ephesians 4:30 says not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, who seals us as God’s own.

To grieve = to oppress or wrong; to inflict sorrow on.

Grief goes beyond anger; it is the intersection of anger and love. It is anger after being stripped of its bite, its bitterness; anger softened by affection, turning it toward the offense and not the offender.

What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit?

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…”

AKA.

Do not stir up this painful anger soaked in love, do not distress Him, do not cause Him to mourn.

“… by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

We carry the Holy Spirit with us everyday: when we love, when we laugh, when we worship.

When we sin.

No wonder David said, “Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight.”

Just before this confession, David also described sin to be “transgression” and “iniquity.” And forgiveness is described to “blot out,” to “wash,” to “cleanse.” These words express the seriousness of sin and the great lengths God goes to in removing ours.

Our sin grieves the Holy Spirit.

Grief is anger tamed by love.

The Holy Spirit loves us.

He loved us without beginning. The words used to describe the love of the Father and of the Son apply also to the Spirit. His love is just as eternal, just as sovereign, just as loyal, just as unchanging, just as unfathomable.

He loves us by sanctifying us to be more like our Savior. He marks us as God’s own. When we stray, when we sin, when we grieve Him by our sin, He pursues us and brings us back to Him.

This is why it is only against God that we sin. Yes, we do sin against others, but it is first God that we grieve before all else. It is first God that we offend; He lives in us. Sin is disobeying God’s Law, going against His holiness, denying that He alone satisfies our souls completely and totally, rather than our addictions (which, isn’t the reason why we are addicted to these things because they do not satisfy?).

When Nathan exposed David’s sin, he did not pick at what David had done to others (which were definitely legitimately sin); he instead asked David, “Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight?”

God’s love is loyal. The Holy Spirit’s love is loyal.

Was it not the Spirit who showed us Christ, who brought us to Calvary, to the base of the cross of Jesus? What love is this, that He should bring me to the place, the moment that would change my life forever?

Because of the Holy Spirit, I can fall in love with Jesus and be His bride. Because He let me see who Jesus was; because He broke my hardened heart and made way for Jesus to rest His throne in it. Because He opened my blind eyes, opened my deaf ears, opened my clenched fist to allow me to see and receive His grace.

He loves me as deeply as my Father and my Savior. He compels me to return after I wound His heart, after I grieve Him. He calls me to confess, to release all the dirtiness of my life into His hands; to repent and replace those things with gifts given by Him for the work of His glory.

No faith is genuine which does not bear the seal of the Spirit. No love, no hope can ever save us, except it be sealed with the Spirit of God, for whatever hath not his seal upon it is spurious. Faith that is unsealed may be a poison, it may be presumption; but faith that is sealed by the Spirit is true, real, genuine faith. — Charles Spurgeon

He calls me His and brands me with Himself to set me apart as His most beloved bride, daughter, friend, and servant. He walks through life with me, and He is a Friend and Helper beyond my wildest dreams.

I do not want to grieve this Friend again. Through I know, in my imperfection, it is inevitable that I will fail and sin, I pray that I will recover quickly, seek Him out immediately, and be willing to be humbled, discipled, changed for the better—because He will not leave me where I land.

Because He loved me, I can love Him back.

What a wonderful gift of grace and love we have.

Glass Heart

A piece of glass is created from chaos. It comes about when sand is struck by lightning hotter than five times the surface of the sun. Or it is created in the heart of a volcano.

It is transparent. Glass has no means to lie. It is recognizable by anyone. It is vulnerable. It is strong enough to shelter people and create fortresses.

Yet weak enough to be shattered to pieces when struck.

This heart of mine is much like a piece of glass. It is transparent, it is strong, it is fragile.

It is vulnerable.

When I love someone—friends and family (and sometimes foe) alike—I love deeply. My heart is strong enough to do so by the grace of God. I give it all, or I give none of it, but it wasn’t always this way.

I learned of the fragility of my heart long before I learned of its strength. I’d given my heart freely to those I thought would protect it—those whose hearts pumped the same blood through their veins.

But they were the first to shatter it.

I’d given it to others: some of whom became family in a deeper way than biology allows, some who asked to receive it, some who seemed to need it.

And more often than not, it was damaged in those hands as well.

To whom can I entrust this heart of mine—one that has been dropped, stepped on, thrown against a wall; one that is missing a few pieces and lopsided with pieces that don’t completely fit together; one that is held together by duct tape and super glue, and prayers and good thoughts—so scarred and bruised and damaged with nothing to hide its imperfections?

No person should ever possess it. Even in this state—especially in this state—it is too precious.

The only hands that would keep it safe are the hands that formed it originally. This heart holds the throne of the King. It is His home. It is His heart.

I’m tired of giving my heart away to those I judge as someone who’d protect it. In my Jesus’ hands alone will it remain until He judges someone worthy. I’m tired of failing in this task that was never mine to begin with.

Though bruised, still beating. Though broken, able to be repaired. Though pieced together, still beautiful.

My heart is a most beautiful heart.

And it will not be easy to gain it.

It’s a Wonderful Life

I could have died when I was fourteen.

No, I didn’t run up against any near death accidents or get kidnapped by a maniac or anything that dramatic. No one was threatening my life either.

Except me.

My dear reader, I know by now you’ve picked up a bit on how traumatic my childhood and youth were. What I haven’t really talked about is how I’d coped at the time. Yes, I’m a tougher, wholer, person today, but then? Then, I was a mess. Then, I was tired. Then, I was sick of it. Then, I was ready to end it.

Day after day of surviving, of doing everything possible to not go back to a house and see the relatives who had invaded what was home for eleven years—it wears on you. Not having a home, not having a place to belong, to feel safe—or rather to have had it ripped from you—it wears on you.

I sat in my bathroom one day; my eyes were dried up from tears long shed. My heart was weary, and my body followed. I sobbed a tearless fit, and I wondered, “how much longer?” How much longer do I have to feel so cornered? How much longer do I have to feel so broken? How much longer do I have to feel so oppressed? How much longer do I have to feel so unwanted? How much longer do I have to feel so unloved?

And a solitary answer drowned all other thoughts.

Not much longer… if that’s your desire.

I could end it. I could finish it. I could finally stop feeling lonely and hurt because of my oppressors’ actions and words. The power was in my hands to never suffer again.

But then a rebuttal resounded through all of the dark corners of my battered soul.

If you do this, they win.

What did they care about what happened to me? Would it have filled them with remorse?

No. No, I doubt it would’ve. They were incapable of remorse.

Instead, my last action on Earth would’ve been breaking my mother’s heart and leaving her completely alone with them.

What a legacy that would’ve been. I would’ve proven to them that they could overpower me.

If I ended it this way, it would’ve been my loss.

And I have never been a gracious loser.

My focus shifted at that moment. I was going to come out of this a winner. I was not willing to allow anyone that much control over me to the point where I no longer had the ability to fight back, prove them wrong, and heal.

So instead, I thought of how I could win, how I could make something of myself, prove that they couldn’t break me.

Being that I was fourteen, plans to change the world weren’t exactly on my mind. I started small. I was going to be a leader in my extra-curriculars, and I was going to graduate high school, and have a life defined by my own terms.

What prompted this entry… you know, I’m not completely sure. I just started thinking about the people in my life and how much I would’ve missed out on had I not chosen to live.

I would’ve died never knowing what family really was.

I’ve just started figuring it out within roughly the last year. I would’ve missed out on redemption: the experience of real family and unconditional love. And I would not have hope for everlasting life but would be living in everlasting death.

Looking back at this time, it’s clear to me that, in this moment before I even knew Him, God had His sight set upon me.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”—John 10:27-28

It makes no sense, right? As far as I know, there has never been a Christian in my bloodline. I was a Buddhist in an abusive situation.

And God said, “I want her.”

In the midst of a hopeless situation, God saw me and led me into His arms and shared with me His family.

No one else can write a story this good. What a legacy this will be!

My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you know just how loved you are; that when you see no hope, God will shower hope on you; that when you want to give up and let go, you find something to live for, no matter how small it is.

Because you never know when a small thing can change your life in a big way.

I have hope for a unified Body

I came across an article today from LifeWay, and my soul smiled.

Dr. Thom Rainer, the current CEO and president of LifeWay Christian Resources, issued a formal apology for VBS material that was released 10 years ago called, “Far Out Rickshaw Rally – Racing Towards the Son.” The material was the subject of major controversy, utilizing Asian stereotypes and generalizations to teach kids about Jesus.

In his apology, Dr. Rainer addressed the issue, acknowledged the hurt that it caused, and proposed a solution to move forward. According to the article, LifeWay is planning to train staff members to be culturally sensitive and avoid disrespecting other ethnicities and cultures. And the fact that this man had nothing to do with producing that material speaks volumes as well. Above all else, his focus is on the Body of Christ and its members. It takes a lot of love and humility to give a 10-year overdue apology for something he didn’t personally do, and it has made the biggest difference in reconciling our cultures.

This is a huge step since my last entry regarding cultural insensitivity within the Body. It is a bigger issue than just skin color—when my culture is made one-dimensional, my identity is attacked. I am Chinese-American and Christian and female, and this is how God made me. It’s when my brothers and sisters don’t try to understand the implications of this identity that I am hurt. It is a complex identity. Being Chinese-American is already complicated. Both of these cultures clash in many areas as it is. And on top of that, I’m a Christ-follower, which clashes with both of those. When my Chinese culture tells me that my family, my blood, is the most important thing, that I am to be loyal to that forever, no matter what the circumstances, how do I reconcile that with my American culture, which tells me that the individual and the individual’s freedom is the most treasured thing? And then there’s this Jesus guy who says that He is the object of greatest value, and even our love and commitment to our family has to look like hate in comparison to our love for Him (Luke 14:26).

Being female in these cultures is a whole different can of worms. I don’t fit the stereotype of the typical Asian woman, and I have no desire to. I often wonder what God was thinking when He put me together. “I’m going to make her make no sense at all, and in doing so, make perfect sense.” Because essentially, that’s what it is. All of my cultures and pieces of my identity clash, but in me, they work, and they work together.

Someone once said to me that with Jesus, there is no culture. I would absolutely disagree with that statement. With Jesus, there is perfect culture. We, as broken mirrors, reflect that perfect culture imperfectly, but reflect it, we do. This thing called “identity” isn’t simple. It’s not just one thing. I’ve been told often that my identity is “child of God.” Yes, absolutely, but what does that mean? What is the makeup of a “child of God”?

I think “child of God” is more like an umbrella or a body. Underneath this identity is all that makes it up, like a skeleton, if you would. Underneath this yellow skin, God has, as I mentioned, created me to be Chinese-American and female. These absolutely affect my identity as child of God as much as child of God affects these identities. And beyond that, my identity as a healed and healing person also affects my identity as child of God. The way I see and experience God is very much influenced by everything that makes up who I am.

I feel most loved when those around me make an effort to understand or at least respect my identity—this includes my ethnicity and culture. I feel stripped of my identity when people try to be “politically correct” or “color-blind.” Color-blindness didn’t work for anyone else, it won’t work for us either. When you tell me you don’t see color when you look at me, I will hear that you don’t see me. I will feel like you’ve taken something away from me, like you’re denying something that is deeply rooted in me.

This article gives me hope for healing within the body. The Body of Christ cannot be masochistic if it is to be healthy, and when one part is hurting, the rest of it is also afflicted. We in the Asian-American community have been hurting, and this wound has been neglected for a long time. But we are a part of the whole.

As the Body is conscious of the pain it feels, I am excited for the healing that can come about now. When I signed my name on the open letter to the church, I hoped that someone would listen. We are hurting, and it needs to be addressed in order for this Body to be whole.

I am grateful both to Exponential, for their apology and speediness in addressing their contribution, and to LifeWay, for showing that it is never too late to reconcile.

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.