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.

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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.

broken cisterns

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.” —John 4:7-30

What kind of water have I been drinking? Where have I gone to fill my waterpot?

The water that I’ve been drinking is intimacy—or rather, an imitation of it. Growing up, I’d never seen an example of intimacy (healthy or not) between a man and a woman. There is a great desire in me to seek it, find it, and experience it. However, I am looking in dodgy places with cheap copies.

Intimacy is not cheap.

Intimacy requires time, energy, effort, amongst other things, and I have been left thirsty because I chase after these substandard replicas that appease my thirst for the moment, then I come back when I can afford to, and repeat the cycle, investing mass amounts of valuable time and energy into something that is worth as much as a piece of rubbish on the side of the road.

Then appears this Man, sitting by the well I draw my water from, asking me to give Him a drink.

“This isn’t fit for You, Sir.”

“Let Me give you what is, then. And we will drink of it together.”

This Man, this Jesus, this Messiah, offers me His water, which satisfies the soul and more than quenches the thirst. He tells me this water is alive, that if I drink of it, I will never thirst for any other water again. All other water will pale in comparison and be revealed for what they truly are.

Poison.

Filling ourselves with something other than Jesus will never satisfy us. The water we drink is dead and only satisfies for the moment, and when we are thirsty again, when the tickle rises in the back of our throats, we guzzle more in hopes that we will not be thirsty anymore—merely to repeat the process shortly after and hoping again that it will be satisfied. (What’s that they say of the definition of insanity?)

“None but God can satisfy the longings of an immortal soul; that as the heart was made for Him, so He only can fill it.” —Richard Chenevix

The body, the flesh, has a time limit. We’re given 70, 80, 90, maybe 100 years, and to God, it is a blink of an eye. Each soul will have eternal life—the question is only where we will spend it. God existed in eternity past and will exist in eternity future. Absolutely only an eternal God can satisfy an eternal soul. He created each of us with a purpose, and in seeking our purpose from Him, He is glorified, and we are filled by Him to do His work.

“Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, Nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied.” —Proverbs 27:20

Death and destruction are being filled day after day with more and more of the lost, and yet they keep taking. Our desires are just as demanding and gluttonous. We keep going back to the well day in and day out to find a way to be satisfied, but that can never happen. It takes an exorbitant amount of effort to seek after a water source that does not satisfy. In running toward it, we spend ourselves and become more thirsty, and the swamp tempts us with the rancid water that it holds, and we, being so desperately thirsty, drink it in gulps and allow it to pollute us from the inside.

“…and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” —Ephesians 4:19

It becomes easier to sin each time we choose to do it. Our guilt may be heavy, but our thirst is more urgent still. We see the well for what it is; we know it is unclean, made up of the dirtiest, most putrid stuff we’d ever seen.

But it is there.

It is the closest thing to an oasis we’ve seen in this desert, and we are parched from our journey to seek it out—it is a destructive cycle indeed. After a few gulps, it’s not so bad. After a few gulps, we’ve drowned out the Voice of our Maker that tells us this water is poisoned.

“For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” —Jeremiah 2:13

We are a prideful people who are trying to usurp God’s place in the universe. This verse has roots deep in Eden. In the Garden, our sin wasn’t merely disobedience—disobedience was the medium by which we truly sinned. Our sin was that we told God He didn’t know what was best for us. We told God that we could take care of ourselves. We told God that we are God.

But we cannot be God.

Our feeble minds and the dirt that formed our bodies are not meant to hold God. We are broken cisterns. We cannot hold all that is God inside us—we would go mad trying. But we put a lot of effort into trying, and we put a lot of effort into failing.

“Men are in a restless pursuit after satisfaction in earthly things. They will exhaust themselves in the deceitful delights of sin, and, finding them all to be vanity and emptiness, they will become very perplexed and disappointed. But they will continue their fruitless search. Though wearied, they still stagger forward under the influence of spiritual madness, and though there is no result to be reached except that of everlasting disappointment, yet they press forward. They have no forethought for their eternal state; the present hour absorbs them. They turn to another and another of earth’s broken cisterns, hoping to find water where not a drop was ever discovered yet.” —Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Human pride is an amazing thing. We will go to the point where we are broken and beat up and near death, when we can receive that which we are searching for should we simply extend a hand forward. And yet, we ignore it and try to gain it with our own will and strength. It is the age-old concept of karma—as we reap, so will we sow.

But then in bursts Grace—glorious in its modesty, simple in its complexity—to tell us that we are doing it wrong. Grace topples our defenses—the bricks we lay in stacks to build walls high above our heads—and tells us we are wasting our time trying to fulfill something that was fulfilled by God, trying to attain something that God has freely extended to us.

“I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?” So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” They went out of the city, and were coming to Him. —John 4:7-30

When one meets God, all other things seem trivial. The things we thought we needed, the things we sought to grasp and keep, the things we filled our broken vessels with—all of it is rubbish when faced with Heaven’s glory. The Samaritan woman met God face-to-face. What good is a waterpot after this meeting? He sparked something in her, made her curious about Him. The Messiah would surely prove more interesting than a waterpot. He was more important than anything else she did or had to do that day, and He was so important that she dropped everything and hurried back to town to face the people she lived in community with—all of whom seemed to know about her history since she so casually mentions that He knew all she had done—and told all of them about Him.

We seek to satisfy our desires on our own, but that only leaves us thirsty again later. The bait is placed in front of our eyes in our lowest, most desperate moments of hunger. And we take it, even knowing a hook spears the bait and will spear our cheek and hold us captive. Then along comes Jesus, who—seeing all of the hooks that pierce our flesh, indicting us on account of evidence of the baits we gobbled up as though we were starved for years—gently removes them and places our hand in His in order to show us a better way.

Jesus is the only one who can satisfy us eternally. Nothing is hidden to Him, and though He sees all that I have done, He refuses to let all that I’ve done be all that I am or will be. Instead, He says that He is the fountain that won’t run dry, that He is the one who will give me rest. Instead, he satisfies my desperation to be filled and continually fills me each day with what I need. I want my entire life to change as a result of this teaching. What more can I do or give as response to having been given more than what I could ever hope to deserve?

Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost… Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David. —Isaiah 55:1, 3

This water is quite possibly the most intimate thing that exists in the universe. It comes from a Man who has been so wronged by all people—by me—in so many ways, yet He offers it to each of us in reconciliation to Himself and lets it cleanse us from the inside, blessing us in order to fulfill His promise for His glory.

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.

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.

Ashes

So this was my first assignment in my creative writing class. It was a personal narrative assignment, specifically about a difficult time. I played on a theme and talked about two. You might recognize parts of the second half of the narrative cuz I had to supplement the assignment with some old blogger posts since I couldn’t quite summon the same emotions anymore. Funny thing about healing, eh? XP

Some parts were pretty hasty, partly cuz I couldn’t quite figure out what else to describe and how else to describe it and didn’t want to conjure things that weren’t real at the time or otherwise. Not the strongest work, but hey, that’s why I don’t have a degree yet, right? 😛 Judge me if I’m still doing this after the MFA. ^^

Thanks, Cam & Levi and everyone who helped proof and look over it. 🙂 And thanks for all you guys who’ve walked with me in some way or another whether through these times or another (or another or another or another :P) and for bringing some light into my life (especially when it’s so overcast all the time up here). 🙂

I’ll take literary criticism if you wanna leave some (please don’t rip my heart out and stomp on it, though :P). Encouragement is good, too (primarily on the writing, but encouragement on life is nice, too). ^^ Both are needed for an (hopefully) up and coming (hopefully ^^) writer. And give praise where it’s due (::cough:: to Jesus ::cough cough::)!

But please, no comments about how much these times sucked or that you couldn’t do it if you were in my shoes (I wouldn’t have volunteered if I had the choice) or how “strong” I must be to get through them. I’m not strong. It’s clear from the text that I’m not. God could’ve given this life I’ve been living to anyone. Really, he could’ve split my story up into a dozen or more lives, and it’d have been traumatic for each one. But somehow he found enough faith in me to put the stories all into mine. So who’s really the strong one here?

Appreciate the thoughtfulness, but let’s give credit where it’s due, yeah? ^_^

~*~*~*~*~*~

I am a phoenix.

Sitting in the bathroom, tears sketching lines from her eyes down her cheeks, she looked in the mirror at the exhausted and unfamiliar face.

“What have I become?”

Living in a nightmare, surviving one day just to get to the next, she wondered when it would be over. Was she strong enough to put another foot in front and another and another? Her thoughts fell into the abyss of potential and plunged ever deeper.

It can end now.

Eyes shot open, the tears continuing their solemn brushstrokes along the canvas of her face. It can end now, the consideration echoed in the pathways of her mind.

The thought echoed down passageways she had never traveled before. “It can end now.”

“But then… what about mom?”

Can she truly forsake her and leave her alone in the nightmare?

If you end it now, you lose. They win. Don’t do it.

New voice. Logical. Hopeful.

No, she could never do such a thing. To be this selfish? To seek release when the one dearest to her needs her the most? This is something she could never bring herself to do. Instead, she would rise above revenge, her problems, and her abusers. With that in mind, she exited the bathroom.

When her uncle had moved in a few months ago, it was a difficult transition from a house of two to a house of five when he brought his son and nephew with him. It had gotten progressively worse as time went on. Arguments, neglect, emotional abuse – these things made an appearance more and more consistently, to the point where she and her mother avoided returning to the house they lived in for eleven years until late evening hours. Still, she never expected to find herself in her bathroom contemplating suicide.

Her uncle had probably been the closest to a father she had ever gotten, though his living on the other side of the world majority of the year hid many of his shortcomings and the dark part of his personality. Yet her mother had always described him to be an upstanding, responsible man, who sacrificed much to care for his siblings when they were growing up. His was the model to strive after.

And one fated encounter brought her to the road towards freedom. The road shook and the pedestal he was placed upon crashed to the ground, and it was shattered in the blink of an eye.

One morning, her uncle and his family waited in the living room for her and her mother as she left for school. With a video camera. An ambush. He advanced upon her, and fearing for her safety, her mother pulled him away. He grabbed them both, threw them down, and pretended to be assaulted to pose for his camera.

And all of this… over a phone bill.

A sudden strike against her cheek, even she wasn’t sure it would ever come to that. The endless war was ending soon. A restraining order was placed, and a fragile, temporary peace descended upon the two females.

Amongst the chaos and confusion, she was growing up too quickly. An outstretched arm reached toward her in peace and offered her the ability to be a teenager. Out of love and grace, a friend’s family brought them to a church, filled with believers who spoke her mother’s tongue, lessening the burden that fell on her shoulders.

In the courtroom, what she least expected to see was mercy, especially coming from the wounded. After hearing that this man could ultimately lose his visa and be sent back overseas, her mother chose to drop the charges because the crimson in their veins runs thick with the same blood.

A picture of the Gospel.

Unbeknownst to her, her steps had been guided down the path to her freedom from the moment she chose to listen to that second voice.

Don’t do it.

Thinking of it now, she realized just how much she would have lost had she listened to the first. Instead, she was led down freedom’s path, a road not frequently traveled – though well paved and well tended – by a mysterious voice, powerful enough to calm the crashing emotions on the shore of her heart, yet gentle like the sun drifting to sleep beneath the horizon.

He called to her again. Many times. Interspersed between the whispers of the velvet night, His voice could be heard echoing in the depths of her soul. And as she followed the path her uncle had opened for her, she found Him: the Man who commands the voice, seated in humble majesty, a lazy smile crawling across his simple face.

“You’re finally here.”

She dropped to the earth, knees caressed by the gentle brush of the grass, and folded into herself, tears cascading down her face, heart pounding erratically against the steel bars of the cage erected around it, begging desperately for release.

He continued to call to her; she continued to cry. She knew that to follow Him would cost her everything. The face of her mother flashed across her mind. How would she tell her? Then the face of her late grandmother, humbly knelt in front of the family’s idols bent over and praying the sutras off the page. What would it mean to be eternally separated from her?

“It’s your choice.”

Again, an extended hand. She placed hers in the flat palm of the warm hand, calloused by labor, scarred by nails, and she found freedom in His embrace. She belonged to Him, thanks in part to her uncle.

Her uncle: the man who bestowed the second character of her name, meaning “the appearance or bearing of.”

The first burning of her nest, the first rebirth: complete.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I don’t want you.

This was the voice she heard as she read over a letter from an attorney in San Francisco. On the page was a short, quick, professional letter asking for her to contact this sender: an abduction lawyer.

I don’t want you.

The words on the page raged and swirled, the words pulled deeper and deeper into a black hole, where emotions went to die.

A year previous, during her last year of high school, their financial struggles brought them to the end of their rope. Her mother reached out and applied for welfare and was put into a training program and eventually found a job in which to support them with. During the time however, much information was collected, and it was revealed that no financial support came from her father, and he was to be informed and sought after.

No word – not for a whole year. Then again, it had been much longer since he’d left.

Upon visiting home for winter vacation after her first college semester, she received this letter in the mail. It hit her harder than she wanted to admit, especially to her mother, and weighed heavier upon her than she could bear to carry. No contact from him, still, just a letter from a stranger. She wasn’t even worth his time.

Her parents did not have the “fairytale romance” – or any kind of romance. They were barely friends. Their future together, decided economically by their families, and her father and mother were married. And his life continued to be shrouded in darkness – his life, his heart, his lover. His heart had left long before he ever had. It may not have been there at all.

On the day she received this greeting, she took her first step into the spiral of depression, anger. What about her made her so detestable in his eyes? Was she not flesh of his flesh, no matter what happened between he and her mother?

Struggling to banish him from her thoughts, she focused her energy into her studies, choosing to ignore the loneliness and bitter heartache that had already taken root deep within her soul. This pattern continued for years, and had it been her choice, would likely extend to today.

But He had bigger plans for her, and what marvelously creative plans they were.

From the outermost recesses of her mind and heart, a still small voice called out to her yet again. Thoughts, which she fought desperately to suppress with the weight of a thousand mountains, rushed through the cracks and flowed like lava, searing and transforming her rock-hard heart.

She needed healing – more so than she would admit in a million years.

And He wanted to heal her. Wholly. Make her an entire person. He wanted to mend her heart so that she could love from all of it and not just the parts that feel comfortable, the few unscarred parts she allowed others to see. This was the gift He wished to give her: a heart that is flesh and tender, a heart that is whole.

All around her, others speak of trivial requests from their fathers. They talk of ways their fathers have loved them, and the ways they wished their fathers would have loved them.
How much would she give to be in those shoes? The shoes that belonged to the fathered, the shoes that belonged to those who can say their fathers loved them even if it were just for a minute, the shoes that belonged to those who can talk hockey and culture and faith with their fathers.

How much would she give?

To be able to picture as a little girl a knight in shining armor with the face of her daddy coming to save her from distress. To be able to ride on her dad’s shoulders as they walked around, enjoying the kiss of the sun’s rays and the embrace of the autumn wind together. To be encouraged every time she fell down from learning to ride her bike as a kid. To have little trivial disagreements about the boys she liked.

But these things she could never have. In the years under her belt, the one gift she wished to have received from him was that he wouldn’t have given up, he wouldn’t have left.

But he did.

He left.

And he never looked back.

Still.

Though she may not be able to express love to a father she barely knew, she could be thankful for the physical life he’s given her that, in truth, came from the creativity of a Father who would never leave her heart lonely.

In the end, it is for His glory. He calls her His – in every sense of the word. She belongs to Him. She is His daughter, His princess. He gives her the love she’s always wanted from a father and gives it freely and abundantly everyday.

Yet she doesn’t know how to receive it.

Love from a father. What is it like? How does one go about receiving it? How does one go about giving back?

Forgiving her earthly father… she never thought she needed to. He had departed so early and abruptly from her life and growth that she felt he was a stranger in nearly every way. But he was not a stranger; a stranger would not be able to wound her heart so mortally. He was a man whose responsibility was to raise her and love her, and he threw it all away along with a daughter he wished he never had. He was a man who left her to fend for herself when she needed a father the most, in order to chase after his own fleeting desires. He was a man who broke her heart, shattered it to pieces, and scattered it to the four winds.

To pray for him? To forgive him? To… love him? Who am I that I can do such a thing? By the love and mercy of God, this daughter was called to do such. And by His strength alone she could pray blessings on a man she would rather curse for eternity.

Even so, as time has gone by, peace had begun to heal her heart. It continues to be painful to pray for him. To pray against the wrongs he’s done and possibly still doing… that’s simple. That is something she can do. To pray blessings on the man who trampled on her heart? To pray blessings on the family he replaced her with? How can she? They are the hardest prayers she will ever have to pray.

Struggling to forgive, straining for justice, she judged this man and labeled him a sinner. His sin cut deep and severed tendon from bone. He abandoned her, he cut out her heart and dropped it without a second glance. Yet she is called to forgive him.

She felt, however, that if she could forgive this man, she could do anything. She knew deep within that her lack of forgiveness for him and her anger that boiled into hatred would poison the fruit He wished to grow in her. She wanted to be fruitful for Him, and more than anything, to be made whole.

Forgiveness would come soon enough – soon enough on His time. To be forgiven, one must forgive. Were his sins really much different than her own? Had she not once left her Love, ripped out His heart, and spat in His face?

The sinless God came to the earth He created, relinquishing His right to be praised, clothing Himself in frail human flesh, and donning a servant’s clothes to wash the feet of those He taught. The sinless God, who had and still has every right to be angry and hateful toward us who break His heart over and over and over and over again, chose to forgive, and His love compelled Him to die for those who break His heart and His laws in order to allow them to come back into fellowship with Him.

The innocent sought the guilty for reconciliation.

So how could she, in her selfishness, justify hating this man for what he did? She was just as guilty as he. And their sins were against no one but Yahweh, God Almighty.

She would learn that forgiveness was the key to her freedom, and it was just within her reach. Forgiving him would release her from her anger, release her from her bitterness, release her from the cage she slammed shut long ago, and allow her to use all the wasted energy and time to focus on that which was more important and lasting like putting a smile on her Father’s face.

Her earthly father, having taken no active role in her life for over twenty years, taught her the only lesson he ever needed to teach her: how to forgive.

Her father: the man who bestowed the first character of her name, meaning “phoenix.”

The second burning of her nest, the second rebirth: complete.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Phoenixes are magnificent creatures. Through severe physical and emotional trauma, they are able to rise more beautiful than before, wearing their scars like jewels.

The appearance of a phoenix – a name given to her by the two people who would push her to live up to it for years to come; her name is a promise – a promise that life would not be easy for her, but also a promise that the scorching fire that licks her skin is a temporary sting that would lead her to be born anew.

Her name is a promise from God, a promise of a difficult life and a promise of perseverance through the fire. Scars etched deeply upon her heart and upon her past – they are being refined by the fire to shine like silver and gold.

He wants her heart. The heart that had been trampled on and forgotten about is the heart that the King of the universe wants to set His throne upon, to make His home in. He reveals to her from beneath a shrouded veil a heart that is whole, a heart that is radiant, a heart that is beautiful.

This is her heart. The scars that were once adorned on its surface have been healed and transformed by her Savior. These storms that were meant to batter and break and dirty this heart have caused it to shine even more radiantly than it once had, and more radiantly than it once could.

This is her heart. This is His home. There is still healing that must take place.

But He knows her.

And He will meet her in the storm.

And when the rain subsides, peace comes like waves spilling over each other before finally breaking on the beach, the scent of the sea an hour after a storm – the scent of peace – lingering lazily in the air.

In the scream of silence, the caress of a whisper brushes across her face. Born from the imagination of the Most High God, He seals her with His promise.

She is His masterpiece.

I am a phoenix.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-
featured in WitnessLA Part 1 Part 2

One

Lies.

She is not good enough. His grace can never extend to the likes of her. She has reached the point where He is tired of forgiving her and has walked away. Everyone in the world can be forgiven, but she has expended His mercy.

Lies.

… Lies…

What has she been so afraid of? What was she thinking? The cataclysmic effects of her decisions of late have taken a heavy toll on her holistic well-being.

Pushing the boundaries, testing the limits. The result lands her face-to-face with the fact she has known all along.

His grace is limitless. His love is fathomless.

Truth.

She has broken His heart. She has wounded Him greatly. She had lost sight of the path He leads her on. She had lost sight of Him.

Truth.

Yet He still left His ninety-nine to find His one. His one silly, brainless sheep that strayed from His flock. His one, weak and fragile lamb that yearns to be whole.

Truth.

She is not beyond His grasp. She will never – can never – stray so far that He cannot find her and bring her home.

Home with Him.

In His arms.

In His heart.

She belongs to no one else. The world does not define who she is, cannot give her an identity. He has known her from before her beginning. He has named her, claimed her as His own, written her name on His heart and His hands.

She is not weak, not helpless, not hopeless. She is daughter of the Most High, heir with Him to the highest throne, beloved of the Creator of the universe, saved by grace through faith.

Truth.

Freedom

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” ~ Matthew 6:14 –> 爸,我要神原諒我,所以… 我就原諒你. 但是… 我們都已經沒家人的事了… 我只想要媽媽開心,想她終於能看到她是神最漂亮的女兒。你碎了我們的心,但是為了我們的自由還為了讓神開心… 我就原諒你,要是你就永遠都不會有力量傷我們的心. bye.

This headed up my Facebook status earlier. Translating the part I wrote in Chinese, it says simply this: “father, i want God to forgive me, so I will forgive you. However… we are already not family. I only want my mom to be happy, I want her to finally see that she is God’s most beautiful daughter. You broke our hearts, but for the sake of our freedom and for the sake of making God happy, I forgive you, so that you will never have the power to break our hearts again.”

Struggling to forgive, straining for justice, I judged this man and labeled him a sinner. I name his sin. Adultery. Abandonment. Pride. Lust. Greed. Materialism. Selfishness. Being a dbag in general.

But what makes me different?

Adultery. Have I not forsaken my Beloved in order to chase after things of this world? Have I not walked away from Jesus, broken His heart, and chosen sin above perfection?

Abandonment. I leave my first Love in order to find something He is willingly giving me: unfathomable, inexplicable, beautiful beyond reason LOVE.

Pride. If I ever claim not to be a prideful person, I show my pride already. I take great measures to never seem wrong, even if I must attack God’s person.

Lust. I hunger for and chase after things that are not godly, things that break His heart.

Greed. I want. I want. I want. I want this. I want that. My want is insatiable.

Materialism. This will make me feel happier. With this, I need nothing else… but the only thing that will allow me to need nothing else is if I have God.

Selfishness. I don’t know why people don’t think I’m selfish. Do I really hide it that well? I am more self-centered than I let on, I suppose.

Being a dbag… well……. I mistreat people. I judge people. I play favorites. I ignore those I don’t like. I will be the biggest jerk to you if I find fault in you.

His sins are my sins. They may have manifested in our lives in different ways, but what difference is there, really? Sin is sin. I need to take the plank out of my own eye before I can ever hope to take the speck out of another’s.

I want to be pleasing to God. I want to be forgiven by God. God wants me to forgive those who have done me wrong, and even more so, He wants me to love those people.

The sinless God came to the earth He created, relinquishing His right to be praised and putting on a servant’s clothes to wash the feet of those He taught. The sinless God who had and still has every right to be angry and hateful toward us who break His heart over and over and over and over again… the sinless God who chose to forgive and whose love compelled Him to die for those who break His heart and His laws in order to allow them to come back into fellowship with Him.

The innocent sought the guilty for reconciliation.

So how can I, in my selfishness, justify hating this man for what he did to me? For breaking my heart and abandoning me when I am just as guilty as he.

Forgiveness is the key to freedom. Forgiving someone is not for them, it is for us. Forgiving someone releases us from our anger, releases us from our bitterness, releases us from the cage we locked ourselves in, and allows us to use all that wasted energy and time to focus on more important and lasting things like putting a smile on our Father’s face.

The person who hurt us could care less what happens to us. The person who hurt us probably doesn’t even think of us anymore.

So why do we give them the pleasure of thinking of them everyday of our lives? Why do we waste our energy hating them when they don’t waste theirs thinking of us?

Forgive. Forgive and be free.

Forgiving him… forgiving my father… it will be something I will be doing for the rest of my life. I will pray for him. I will pray against his sin, but I also must pray blessings on him. I am called to a higher standard: Love those who persecute you.


By this… they will know we are God’s disciples: our love.

Hey.

Mr. Gao.

I forgive you.