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?

you keep using that word

Words are powerful little creatures, made up of as little as one letter. They have the ability to lift up and tear down, encourage and demoralize. Humanity is fascinated by the strength of words. We seek to wield its potentials as a weapon, using it to cut our enemies down and defend our loved ones.

But sadly, we don’t often do the work required to wield them. We don’t train, we don’t listen to another’s words or what they mean. We throw around single retorts like a wild swing in order to end conversations. If someone doesn’t agree with you, s/he is an ignorant bigot. If someone is very passionate about faith or theology, s/he is a dogmatic fundamentalist. If the same someone speaks up about it, s/he is intolerant and needs to learn how to coexist.

Someone with the figure of a model is called beautiful, whereas someone with a full-figure is called overweight. Students who are more partial to math and science are called intelligent, while those who are more partial to arts than logic are not given such high a praise. Asians are nerdy, non-Asians are something else.

Can you see the problem?

We decide a word needs to fit another word, and when it doesn’t, then we use a third word to judge it.

One of the biggest words against me is how unfeminine I am. That’s the word I’m going to focus on for this entry.

I’ve been called “kind of like a dude,” a “guy with boobs,” a lesbian, among many other things–just because I love hockey, sci-fi, action movies, and the like. I’ve been asked if there’s anything about me that’s actually girly, if I’d ever considered wearing more makeup and dresses, and a whole slew of the same such questions. I am a word that doesn’t fit a word that people have decided I should fit, and as a result, the aforementioned words are used in a desperate attempt to define me.

What does it even mean to be “feminine”?

When we take traits and interests and apply them to gender, this is where we get into stereotyping people into this one area, and this is where people who don’t fit such a stereotype become confused, upset, or depressed as a result. Who died and made the rule that boys like blue, and girls like pink? Who decided that boys can love Batman, and girls get left with Barbie? Why do guys get action movies while gals get romantic comedies?

This is where the judgment sets in: I hate pink, I love Batman (I just purchased an adult onesie for crying out loud), and my idea of a romantic comedy is Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

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I’ve been slowly going through this book for a while. She describes dominant masculinity very well, and it’s her James Bond example that I used in this entry.

Hollywood has a type of masculinity that it calls “dominant.” This is your misogynistic James Bond-type character, but he has to rely on other masculinities in order to exist and be elevated. We, as a society, buy into this dominant masculinity, and, as a result, we allow it to define what masculinity and femininity mean. Guys have to be suave yet totally tough and rebellious (and a bit of a jerk), and ladies have to be Bond girls—size 0-2 (but super curvy), sexy (like, objectifiably-sexy), and flawless (and often need to be rescued by a guy).

Why do we allow ourselves to be put into boxes? Why do we tell the six-year-old girl that she can’t like Batman or the color blue because she’s a girl? Why do we shame the six-year-old boy if he doesn’t like Batman but likes the color pink? What exactly are we telling them when we treat them like they’re doing something wrong by enjoying things that they aren’t “supposed” to like because of their chromosomes? What will the repercussions be?

I had a conversation about these two words with a college roommate several years ago, and this is how she defined masculinity and femininity:

“Masculinity, as it should be, like femininity, is having confidence and strength in one’s own skin—gender and sex and whatever essence the individual has claimed for himself or herself—while remaining respectful for self and others.”

She says there is room for this quote to grown and change. I think we just have to let it.

When I was first trying to figure out what “femininity” meant, I did what lots of people do: I read a book. It was a book called Captivating, which boasts of exploring what biblical femininity looked like. And I spent most of my time yelling at the book in the margins: about its theology, about its use of verses out of context, about reading into verses what they were not saying, and mostly about the fact that all of the females they used as examples were characters in movies (I mean, I’m sure the elven ladies of Middle Earth had their own struggles and strengths, but they kind of don’t apply here, so… yeah…). I also talked with girls who seemed to have this femininity thing down pat. But every time that happened, I ended up getting dressed up by them, and I kinda hated it. Whether or not this was their intention, the third word I kept hearing here was “conform.”

These days, I’m taking my friend’s advice and claiming femininity for myself. I am a feminine female in some areas as well as a masculine female in others. I possess an undefinable, unboxable feminine masculinity and masculine femininity. I am in the cluster of “other masculinities” that the dominant masculinity needs to reduce in order to build itself up. And I love it here, but I won’t be reduced for it. I don’t have to become someone I’m not in order to be me. I’m already me! I like what I want! And I won’t let anyone try to package me up with nice, shiny wrapping paper, crisply folded and taped where things need to be wrapped and hidden away, and then finish me off with a bright pink bow.

The most harmful things in this world are words and the people who use them without thinking of what they actually mean or learning to do so properly. We decide girls should play with dolls, and boys should play with superheroes. We decide girls should be nurses, and boys should be doctors. This makes it very confusing for adults, let alone children.

So what does it look like to be biblically masculine and feminine? Who knows. Seriously. Whoever knows, please tell us, because this whole exercise is getting exhausting. But one thing I believe it means is that our masculinity and our femininity work together in the Body for the glory of God. We don’t reduce one to raise the other. Both are necessary to work in the Kingdom. Both fall under the umbrella of the identity “child of God.”

Carry your uniqueness proudly, and take words with a grain of salt or learn how to put some on as armor. But don’t be the person that cuts people down with it. Words can just as readily bring peace as well as war.

How will you use your words?

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.

Do you wish to get well?

Jesus asked the man at the pool if he wanted to get well. The man made lots of excuses in his response: no one would help him; people keep getting in front of him (John 5:1-17).

Jesus asked a simple “yes or no” question. And I think the message underlying it is, “Say ‘yes,’ and I’ll make you well.” He was there. He was ready. Like in Isaiah 65, God made Himself available. He made Himself ready to answer when His people cried out to Him for help.

But no one did.

Not the Israelites. Not this man.

Not me.

Sometimes we convince ourselves we’re too dirty for God to want anything to do with us. It’s easier to believe God doesn’t care than to ask Him for help. Why is that?

“I’ve screwed up too many times.”
“God has better things to do than care about me.”
“I need to atone for this myself before I can be ‘clean enough’ to see God.”
“God bailed me out of this exact same thing last week; His patience has to be wearing thin.”
“I’m afraid to face the people I’ve hurt.”
“I’m afraid to face the people who hurt me.”

We make so many excuses, but are they actually valid?

How can they be if they are keeping us from God?

We hold onto everything: our excuses, the reasons we think we’re “doing God a favor” by keeping away from Him; and they are poisoning us slowly.

It’s time to let them go. As the chorus from “Yesterday is Over” goes, you have to “open up your hand.”

And let go of what’s behind you
The past can’t hurt you anymore
Or keep you on the ground
Will you let this be the moment
That you let go of yourself?
Let His love hold onto you
And He won’t let go

“I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me” — so let us ask for Him.

“I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me” — so let us seek Him.

“I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ to a nation which did not call My name” — so let us call His name.

(Isaiah 65:1)

“I called, but you did not answer” — let us answer.

“I spoke, but you did not hear” — let us hear.

(Isaiah 65:12)

And be healed.

“Do you wish to get well?”

Yes, I do.

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.

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.

above the ashes

God has given me a powerful name: “the appearance, the bearing, of a phoenix.”

It’s this name that the devil must destroy in order to defeat me.

Names make one strong, mighty, significant, but they can also make one vulnerable. It is at the name of Jesus that every knee will bow, that expels devils (Mark 16:17). Yet in other cases, naming something gives one power over it. In Bible times, demons were cast out only after its name was learned. Naming our sin releases its burden over us. Naming an animal endears it to us.

Naming and names should not be taken lightly.

The lie that is attacking my name, my identity, promises fire, ash, destruction, desolation—nothing more. There is pain. There is misery. There is suffering. They will keep coming, I will keep surviving—no more, no less. There will be no redemption, no healing, no hope, no end.

This is to be my fate: forever waiting—waiting faithfully—only to have promises broken and dreams dashed.

But that is not what God has promised me through this name.

The phoenix does indeed burn, but it is not reduced to ashes.

flip

And neither am I.

From the ashes a new creature is born—stronger than the last with 1000 more years to thrive. It will emerge from them with eyes that carry all the wisdom of a previous life and wings spread wide to challenge the skies.

“A simple step of faith for you as you move towards what God has in your future is always rewarded with a God-spoken promise for the now.”—Andrew Gardener, The Vine Church HK

This is my promise bestowed by my God through two men who would cause me to live up to it over and over again.

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

Take heart, little phoenix; the fire doesn’t burn forever.

I will burn.

But I will rise.

I am above the ashes.

deeper than blood

Family is a loaded word.

For some, happy memories come to mind first. Smiles, laughter, enjoyment, safety, love—these are the things that encompass their family.

For kids like me, that is the family we long for.

Sorrow, pain, brokenness, fear, humiliation—these are what come to mind for me.

Never enough, always alone; surrounded by people who share half my blood, yet I was the stranger. I was the intruder. To me, they wore a mask that showed kindness and offered me terms for admittance. The mask was all I saw for most of my life. Beneath it lie deception, pride, hatred.

I was the relative. They were a family. Of sorts.

I think I feared the word “family” for many years. Aside from my mother, there was no one else I was related to that I would ever call family. I hated being asked about “my family.” It was a simple question that to me was the most complicated thing to try to answer.

What do you want to know about my family? Do you want to hear the truth? That the people I called “family” for over a decade tried to destroy my soul? That I had to prove myself and overcome my last name—both of which were impossible stipulations that shouldn’t have been in place—in order to be allowed access to the small ounce of hope of feeling accepted by those who should’ve accepted me for the simple miracle that I was born?

This was what I thought of family for years.

And this is what God is unteaching me.

There are many things I see and have seen in my life that bluntly tell me God works to redeem us for His glory. The simple fact that my heart still has the capacity to love is one. That I can praise God for using my loaded past to get me to who and what and where I am now is another one. At our current chapter, however, the biggest thing I’m seeing Him redeem is family.

I’d always been taught that your family is your greatest asset, that, in times of strife, it is your family that will stand by you and get you through.

I was taught this, but I didn’t see it. I couldn’t believe it.

And then here come all these people who become my greatest asset, who, in times of strife, stood by me and got me through.

And not a single drop of blood is shared in common between us. There had to be a catch. If those related to me couldn’t love me, how can those not bound to me by blood do so?

Blood is thicker than water.

But grace runs deeper than blood.

By grace, I’ve been given new life. This new life includes new family. Of course, it it does. Why wouldn’t it?

What do you want to know about my family? Do you want to hear the truth?

I have been blessed with the best people biology couldn’t give me. From the hard-working airplane mechanic (and future pilot) who didn’t give up on me when I probably gave plenty of reason to do so, to the tea-loving freedom fighter who gently encourages me, to the best friend who saved my life and led me to Jesus over a decade ago, to the talented brother who emboldens me to be the faithful servant I was meant to be, to the hug-givers, Asian food-eaters, tender rebukers, positive speakers, and warriors of prayer, to those who radiate love from the centers of their souls—this is my family. This is where I’m accepted, forgiven, built-up, and loved.

To be able to say this is testament of the holistic healing I’ve been given:

I have the best family.

And I’m spoiled; more people keep coming into it.

To all of you: I’m so grateful for you in my life. I don’t have enough words in my vocabulary to express it, and I know I haven’t said it enough.

But thank you. And I love you.

God’s pretty great, isn’t He? ^__^