another face of humility

imageThere’s a lot to be learned about humility. Right when I think that maybe I’m starting to get it…BAM. Pride smacks me in the face. Am I the only one who feels like trying to understand humility is like grasping for the wind?

But God has been teaching me humility in rather surprising ways. He’s been showing me that one face of humility is opening wide your hands and accepting with gratitude whatever God chooses to give. Not just the good things, but the hard, painful and disappointing things too.

Without going into all the ups and downs of life’s circumstances this year, I’ll just say this: I haven’t liked all of the things God has chosen to give me. I’ve thrown up a few fists and shouted “Why, God?” because deep down I’ve bought into the idea that I deserve better. I deserve to succeed, to live life pain-free, to be happy. I become the center and it’s here, here that ingratitude and pride squelches out joy.

Wasn’t ingratitude the problem from the beginning, from the Garden of Eden? Adam and Eve had everything and yet they let themselves believe that it wasn’t enough. They thought that they deserved better, and because they chose ingratitude, they were banished from the garden and broken off from communion with their Source of eternal joy and happiness.

Ingratitude. Pride. Fists in the air. “I deserve better.” This has been our story ever since that fateful day in the garden.

Thousands of years later, a better and more perfect Adam came, and it was He (Jesus) who lived the perfect life of gratitude to His Father, gave thanks over the Last Supper, and accepted the path of suffering that His Father had willed Him to endure. If anyone deserved better, it was Jesus. He wept, grieved, and He even asked “Why?” but then we see Him doing what Adam, Eve, and everyone since have failed to do. He completely trusted His Father’s love for Him and accepted the cup that was before Him, even though it meant losing His very life. He opened wide His hands to receive and because He did, we can now live and be restored to the only source that will bring us true joy.

Humility is opening our hands and accepting with thanksgiving whatever God chooses to give. Pride clutches it’s fist at troubles and let downs and says “I deserve better!” but humility sees everything – the good, the bad, and the painful – as given from an infinitely good and loving Father, Who loves better and more fully than we could ever imagine, and who uses even our troubles to prepare us “for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” [2 Corinthians 4:7]

The Universe and You

The Carina Nebula

I’m not sure if the Chinese language has a similar way of expressing this, but in English we have a saying (typically spoken as an exasperated reminder): “The world does not revolve around you!” Implying that you are only concerned about your personal needs and problems and want to be treated like the entitled ruler you believe you are. When analyzing ourselves objectively, we usually can realize the arrogance in living with that mindset. If you’re a Christian, then hopefully you can take James’, the brother of Jesus, reminder to heart: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

But what if we look at this even deeper? Part of living of like God is real is honoring Him for the holy and awesome creator that He is. We know that we are not the center of the universe, but how would we live if we fully understood how mighty this God is who with a word spoke the heavens into place, flung the stars, and gave the earth its frame? This point is emphasized in Psalm 89:6-7 – “For who in the skies is comparable to the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty is like the Lord? God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence by all those around Him.”

Feeling kind of small and unimportant yet? You should. Our God is mindful of us, loves us dearly (Psalm 8:3-5), and even tells us to boldly approach His throne (Hebrews 4:16) – but you cannot forget He is deserving of all your respect and devotion. If that doesn’t translate to a life that’s lived in humility then you’re still not recognizing the greatness of our King. With every new discovery that science makes, it simply confirms the complexity and awe of everything around us and tells of a magnificent designer (check out this “Scale of the Universe” if you want to have some fun with that topic).

Our God is great. Greater than we’ll ever realize – but that should not stop us from trying to realize or understand it. The minute we start treating God like an equal or even approaching Him like we’re entitled to something, we’re placing our Creator on a level that is blasphemous. You aren’t the center of the universe – but how about we all start living for the One who is.

Disclaimer: My apologies if this post comes off a little “preachy.” I recently had the opportunity to do a study on this topic, and since then it’s been hitting pretty close to my heart.

pursuing the fairytale

classroom-379216_1280

 

Recently, I’ve been wrestling over the decision of what to do about Arianna’s education.

Now if you don’t have children, please don’t write this off as a parenting post just yet. Last year, I was able to put off this decision, because we weren’t sure where Luke would end up. Now that he’s living his dream as a full-time student, it’s time to focus on the next student in our family.

But there is nothing straightforward about this decision. For one thing, there are hundreds of options here in Saint Louis. For another thing, right now this decision is more about me facing the fears and doubts in my heart than it is about discerning what’s best for Arianna.

I spent most of my school years in good private schools, but we can’t afford private school on a graduate student budget, so that means we consider either public school or home school.

When I was a junior in high school, my parents made the difficult decision to start home education. That created nothing less than an uproar in our home—and in our community. God worked in my heart, and I eventually came to terms with what I believe was God’s will for our family at the time. But now those old misgivings have come flooding back.

That’s not all. I’ve been in the homeschooling community long enough to hear plenty of negative opinions on the public school. So here I am surrounded by other people’s voices and the fears in my own heart.

Luke and I are making this decision together, but part of that means letting God confront those dark corners of my heart. It means asking Him to free me from my fears and help me trust Him one step at a time. It means wanting whatever He wants regardless of how things turn out in the end.

That’s hard—whether you’re deciding your child’s education or pursuing a specific career or figuring out a relationship or choosing a university or major. Most of the time, I just want the path of least resistance. I want the outcome that will encounter the least amount of problems. I want to live a “happily ever after Christian life.”

I am learning that while God gives us promises in the Bible, He never promised us a problem-free Christian life. Instead, He became flesh so that we who were doomed to death might have life. He gave us His presence that we might find strength to face the darkness in this world. He bore the weight of our sin that we might experience the hope and freedom of His resurrection.

That is our fairytale. That is how we face life’s problems and decisions one day at a time.

 

A Tale of Two Composers

Two cities

Photo by will_spark and alvincchen / CC BY

Imagine two different 28-year-olds.

One is a New York Broadway lyricist and composer. His first musical on Broadway has just received the prestigious Tony award (the Oscar award for Broadway musicals). His future is bright, full of exciting opportunities.

The other was born in New York, but has lived in Taiwan for the past 20 years. He works at the VOICE Conference, and every year, he writes a musical for the conference attendees to perform. His future is uncertain, with nothing exciting planned.

You can probably guess that the second 28-year-old is me. Several years ago, I remember watching with admiration at a clip of a new, young composer named Lin-Manuel Miranda rapping his acceptance speech upon receiving a Tony Award. In my heart, I thought “When I’m 28, I want to be just as successful.”

Now that I’m the same age, I’m faced with the reality that I haven’t accomplished what I hoped to. I can’t help wondering, does it mean I’m not talented enough? Am I not hard-working enough?

More to the point, am I… a failure?”

Recently, I’ve gained a new appreciation for Psalm 42. The Psalmist is experiencing great, unsatisfied longings within his heart. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul…”

Sand_gazelle_(gazella_subgutturosa_marica)

Now, the Psalmist could try to convince himself he wasn’t thirsty. “You know, I actually have a pretty good life. I should be grateful with what I have.” Or what if he tried to solve the problems on his own? “If only I had chosen differently, I wouldn’t be thirsty now. If I work really hard, then everything will be okay.”

The key point is he knows what can truly satisfy. “…So panteth my soul after Thee, O God.” Though a thirsty hart may enjoy grass, hay, and corn, only water will do. And while I would like to be famous and successful, none of those things will satisfy. Only God will do.

So what does the Psalmist do? He acknowledges his desires, and looks to the only one who can satisfy them. “Why art thou downcast, O my soul? and Why are thou disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”

The point isn’t whether or not I am a failure. The point is, am I putting my hope in God? Is He MY God?

An Uncourtship Story

“Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.” —Psalm 32:7 (KJV)

I searched the Bible for character qualities my future wife should have…and some I should have.

I made commitments to “courtship” when I was 12. I had crushes, accompanied by prayer and journaling. I read blog posts about “being the right one” rather than “finding the right one.” I looked for more character qualities I should have.

If I did what was right, I wouldn’t hurt others or be hurt myself, right?

Then I tried to “court” someone.

That’s when I discovered well-intentioned people treat one another shabbily, even when—maybe especially when—they’re trying to do everything right.

Along the way, I heard lots of advice. There were admonitions to be “serious” about relationships. But being “serious” didn’t guarantee I wasn’t also selfish.

There were admonitions to “pursue” relationship, that relationships take work. This idea pointed out where I focus on myself rather than another person. But my initiative and effort did not guarantee relationship success.

The shame became the hardest part.

While my friends were getting married and then having kids, I wondered why my relationships would last a while…and not work out.

In the two and a half years before I met my wife, Tina, at VOICE 2013, two 8-month relationships came and went—one mostly on Skype that couldn’t survive meeting in person, one relationship I ended for reasons I still struggle to articulate.

Even my good desires were all mixed up with something else. I’d think myself in the right…and realize how self-righteous that thought meant I was. I would decide my life direction didn’t match someone else’s…and then I would realize how much fear was influencing my decisions.

So when I met Tina, I didn’t experience it as answered prayer. I hadn’t thought to pray…although the guys on my team at VOICE did.

I didn’t “love Jesus more,” or receive a “rhema,” or get myself to a place where I had “no will of my own,” though those sound like good things.

Knowing Tina has been more like a sudden rain than like turning on a faucet, more like being forgiven than like “clearing my conscience,” more like grace than anything else.

Now that we’re married we need each other’s forgiveness even more. And the other’s forgiveness makes God’s promised forgiveness feel more real.

Maybe that’s the point.

Maybe grace is not “the desire and power to do what is right” but the work we discover God was doing all along. Maybe what we’re meant to know isn’t “how to live the Christian life” but to behold our Savior.

What Did You Expect?

I was watching “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” with my daughter not long ago, when there was a scene that took place that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. After the children arrive back in the fantasy world of Narnia, they find it’s changed drastically, and Aslan (the Jesus-type figure) is nowhere to be found – and it’s looking like he isn’t even in Narnia anymore.

As the kids start roaming the countryside, the youngest child, Lucy, looks across a deep gorge and claims to see Aslan. However, after her siblings look, Aslan isn’t there. Since no one believed Lucy, they took the long way around the gorge. Later that night, Lucy’s brother, Edmund, asks her “Why do you think I didn’t see Aslan?” Lucy responds with a very wise answer: “Maybe you didn’t really want to.”

Lucy trying to convince her siblings that she saw Aslan

The point is that Lucy probably first noticed Aslan across the gorge and over in the woods because she was expecting to see him in the first place. The other children were just going through the motions and weren’t sure if they even wanted to encounter Aslan. In the end, everyone meets up with Aslan, but some challenges could have been avoided if they had simply wandered through Narnia with a greater level of expectancy right from the start.

Now before you start believing that you’re the Lucy in this story, don’t forget that Jesus’ own followers were not even ready for Him after He rose from the dead. We’re talking about people that walked with Jesus face to face, heard Him say that He would die and rise again, and they still didn’t expect to see Him.

Walking through life with a heart full of faith isn’t an easy thing. Do I expect God to show up each day? Am I anticipating God to do the impossible even when God doesn’t seem anywhere to be found? The reality of living like God is real boils down to maintaining a level of expectancy that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him. The awe of our God is that He is still faithful despite our unbelief; nevertheless, do we really want to miss out on an encounter with our King merely because we were not expecting Him to show up?

Learning a New Song

First, it was the beautiful and wonderful proposal by my now-husband, Nate. :) Then it was the heart-wrenching shock of my fifteen-year-old brother, Joseph, being diagnosed with Leukemia (cancer of the blood). After that came months of mixed emotions: joy and pain, fulfillment and love in relationships with hurt in the suffering of my little brother and family.

Then decisions had to be made.

-Do we have a wedding even if Joseph can’t come? (He is staying in a different city getting treatment.)

-Do we continue on when we don’t know when the transplant will come?

-How do we make plans around the wedding knowing I may need to go to Memphis at any time to be Joseph’s bone marrow donor for the transplant?

Up and down it went with tides of emotion sweeping me this way and that. Yet, underneath, there was a Rock, a Foundation that didn’t move. His Hand was there in every moment to hold me and to still my desperate thoughts. Looking back, its clear that every moment was guided carefully by an All-Knowing and Loving Shepherd.

Joseph graciously understood when Nate and I decided to have the wedding before Joseph could be there in person. He was even able to join in through video calling on the internet. The transplant was postponed till mid-January, giving Nate and I time to honeymoon and even unpack at the new house.

And now, sitting here , hundreds of miles from my old home and family, with life so strange and different, I wonder how I am still tempted to doubt my Great Heavenly Friend. He fights for me. All the change of moving and marriage and Joseph on the slow road of recovery is the gift of a new song. It’s an old truth of God’s faithfulness sung in a new way, different than any other I’ve ever known, but the same Changeless God. It’s the song of my life -Praise to our God, who is worthy!

The stem cells and plasma I donated for Joseph's bone Marrow Transplant.

The stem cells and plasma I donated for Joseph’s bone Marrow Transplant.

“He has put a new song in my mouth -Praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord.” -Psalm 40:3

(Joseph had a very aggressive kind of Leukemia which the doctors felt, if killed, would simply come back. The doctors decided to do a bone marrow transplant with my stem cells so that Joseph has a higher chance of his body staying cancer free.)

You Have My Full Attention

Do you give people your full attention? Recently I read some advice about friendships that said, “When talking to others, show respect by giving the other person your full attention.” My reaction? “Well, duh. That’s pretty simple. Of course you are supposed to give people your full attention.”  But as I thought about it, I realized that there was someone very close to me who did not receive the attention he deserved.

For the past several years, something very important was missing from my life. I would usually read my Bible every day. I would talk to God while running, in the shower, as I went about at work, and with my head on my pillow as I went to sleep. My time with God was spent thinking about other things. There were times that I would focus on God, but many days I would let the activities of the day or tiredness crowd out my time alone with God. I was never really stopping to give God my full attention.

Ouch. God has been my best, closest friend, and I was treating him like trash. God was loving me and I was doing my own thing. Finally, he had my full attention. I knew something had to change. I knew I needed God close to me like I need food and water.

So I set a timer on my phone. I sat down to pray and said, “God, talking to You is the only thing I’m doing until that timer goes off.” For the past month, that’s the way I have started and ended each day. Those times with God are short, but they are essential to my survival. I need God’s words of life every day.

That was about a month ago. What has happened since then? God spoke to me. I received direction. I received peace. I received joy. My life’s course was corrected. A light shined on my path. There is now a spring in my step that has not been there for a long time. I am at home again, in a place better than you can imagine: at the feet of Jesus.

What now? Check out this chapter from the book of Isaiah. This chapter sums up what I have rediscovered in the past month.

Read it. Think about it. Act.

Time With God

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.

Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

“For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

~Isaiah 55

Front-Row Seats

Hello

I’ve never seen myself as a compassionate person.  Yes, there are things I’m passionate about, and I very much feel my feelings, but for years, I’ve wanted a heart of compassion from God.  Prayed and prayed.  I thought that one day, God would miraculously open my eyes and I’d perch atop fluffy clouds to peer down benignly on His people.

That never came.

On December 31st, as I mulled over the last year, God reminded me that although His ways are not my ways, He is always working in me:

Last year, I struggled with personal unrealistic standards justified under the guise of God’s expectations.  I can only be a testimony if my life reflects the beliefs of this certain society.  As chaining as it sounds, I worried that letting go of these standards created by people would damage my usefulness to God.

But I let go.

That summer, God allowed a situation into my life — one I never considered possible because it was beyond the boundaries of my fairly creative imagination.  Yet it happened and there I was, asking God okay, but what next when someone I can’t stop loving is placing their desires above You and all else.  For months after, I battled feelings of betrayal, mistrust, confusion, and disgust.  I told God to hurry up and do something.  I tried to pretend it wasn’t there.  I cried in class.

But I let it be.

In the fall, my college life altered.  Before then, my free time was devoted to my college fellowship.  Events, proxies, meetings, outreaches – you name it, I was probably there.  I “didn’t have time” for classmates; I “didn’t have time” to talk to nonbelievers unless I was inviting them to some fellowship event.  But after the summer, all I could attend schedule-wise were the weekly gatherings.  And I felt led to walk alongside others.  I began studying with classmates, going to social events with students, and hanging out with people who thought God about as alive as Barbie.  I felt guilty sometimes – my fellowship brothers and sisters occasionally asked me why I would choose “those people” over them.  Yet I knew God wanted me to know this new group as people – real, humorous, desperate, whacky, loving people.  Sometimes I didn’t have anything to say.  Sometimes I was irritated with the things they did.  Sometimes I wished for the comfort of being constantly with believers.

But I let them in.

And looking back on 2014, I know God slipped just a little more compassion into this heart of mine.

Jesus is the greatest example of compassion.  He chose to descend to Earth and become as us.  He knew that the greatest love is not to weep and wail over newspaper tragedies displayed on a fancy screen but to understand and experience.

God gave me a chance to release my unnecessary standards and realize I’m just as stinkin’ unworthy as everyone else. He let me love those I do not want to love but cannot help but love.  And He brought me to stand on level ground among the people He has never not loved.  I am no better; we are not invincible; they are real people.  I struggled into compassion.

Instead of gifting me a poofy cloud, God handed me a front-row experience.  Instead of a miraculous transformation, God gave me a personal journey.  Instead of calling me to love from afar, God said “stand here and hold their hand”.

I still lack enough care to pray for someone every time I say I will.  I still ignore articles on racial injustice and tragedies overseas.  But I know that as I continue to ask God for His heart, He will continue to give it to me.

And for that, every year is monumental.

 

A Lesson I Haven’t Learned

I hurt my knee recently. It wasn’t serious; I just bruised it slightly playing football. However, to give it time to heal I stopped running for a few days and favored that leg until it felt fine to walk on it again.

On an unrelated note, the idea of ‘community’ has been a recent trending topic in Christian circles. I’ve certainly talked about it a lot in the past few years and have read blog posts, heard sermons, and been a part of Bible studies that have discussed what Christian community should look like.

Christian community has many different aspects including encouraging each other, providing for each other, guiding each other, warning each other and building each other up in the love of Christ, but hurting my leg got me thinking about another part of Christian community talked about in Galatians 6.

 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, ESV).

We’re told to look out for each other in difficult times. In addition to providing encouragement and spiritual companionship, the idea of community also has a very active component to it. When I hurt my knee I had to rely on my other leg more while the hurt one healed. In the same way, as members of the Body of Christ, when one of us is hurting, overwhelmed, scared or frustrated God asks the rest of us to step up. Take on some of that hardship. Help a brother out.

Photo by Creativity103

From what I can see, sharing burdens requires two things. First, it requires Christians who are willing to reach out to their fellow believers in love, compassion and often forgiveness. Now for what I haven’t learned yet. The second thing this requires is people who are willing to admit they are scared, hurt, confused, frustrated and unable. It require people to admit they need help. It requires believers to admit that they can’t handle their problems on their own.

It requires me to admit that I’m weak and incapable. I have to admit that God has put other weak and incapable people around me to help me, that I need them. It requires humility.

Are you willing to be someone’s Christian community?

Or do you need a helping hand?

Can you admit your need?