Overwhelmed

Shoes

Do you ever feel overwhelmed? Do you feel like life is way to hard? Do you look at what you need to do and thing, “That’s impossible”? I do. Very often. There is so much to do, nothing seems like it will work out, or the pressure is just too much.

I’m not just talking about big things. Sometimes small things overwhelm. Even tying my shoes can seem so hard and overwhelming that I just sit down and take a nap. Yes, I’ll admit it. I am weak. There is nothing inside of me that has any great strength. Even the littlest problem can paralyze me.

So how do I survive? How do I get up, go to work, and live my life? That’s a good question. I was waiting for you to ask. Let me tell you.

First of all, I have learned that it is ok to be weak. In fact, it can be better to be weak. God likes to work with weak people. It is often easier to recognize His work in a weak person than in a strong person. If a strong person does something amazing, then we assume that person did it themselves. But if a weak person does something amazing, we have an easier time seeing God’s hand in it. Also, we are less likely to be puffed up with pride. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians talks about this:

…God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong… …so that no man may boast before God. …you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” ~ from 1 Corinthians 1.

That’s awesome. Take a minute to think about what that means. God works awesome things in the lives of the weak. To us who are weak God offers strength. It is not our strength, it is His. So in the face of overwhelming circumstances we can be courageous. Our courage comes because we trust that God is with us.

The next time you feel overwhelmed or afraid, remember that God knows your weaknesses, and still wants to work in your life. Here’s what He says in Isaiah, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41.10.

Trust vs. Self-Reliance

As many of you know, I married Matthew around two weeks ago. The conversations we had while dating were often about how to trust. Both of us have had people fail us, and we’re not too naive to realize that we would fail each other too.

While I was writing my wedding vows, I struggled with what exactly to say regarding trust. I finally said this:

“I take you with all your faults and your strengths as I offer myself to you with my faults and strengths. I will freely forgive your faults, knowing that my own have been freely forgiven in Christ…. I commit to honestly communicate and I give you my heart and my trust, willingly, and without reservation.”

Two weeks after saying those vows to Matthew, I’ve come to realize even more what a huge task trusting somebody is. My attitude in the past toward family and friends has always been “they’ll fail me; I can do it on my own.” But with Matthew, there are times that it is necessary to trust him. I can’t throw him aside and do it myself like I’ve done with so many other people.

I always thought that the opposite of trust is doubt. But for me, the opposite of trust is self-reliance. Self-reliance is the action; the reason why I’m unable to trust. It’s silly, isn’t it? Because I’m once again placing all my trust on someone who can fail me, myself.

One of my favorite authors, Tullian Tchividjian, whose recent moral failure was part of the inspiration for this post, said:

“…the deepest slavery is self-dependence, self-reliance. When you live your life believing that everything (family, finances, relationships, career) depends primarily on you, you’re enslaved to your strengths and weaknesses. You’re trying to be your own savior… Real life begins when we transfer our trust from our own efforts to the efforts of Christ.”

I sent this song to Matthew at the beginning of our relationship, and we even sang it together at our wedding. I still don’t know really what trusting in God means, but this song continues to express what I do understand of trust.

Lead, kindly Light, amidst the grey and gloom
The night is long and I am far from home
Here in the dark, I do not ask to see
The path ahead-one step enough for me
Lead on, lead on, kindly Light.
~ “Lead, Kindly Light” by Audrey Assad

matthew & cami lantern

Love

June 26, 2015 will become known as a very historic day in American history. As I’m sure everyone has heard, the United States Supreme Court passed a ruling making gay marriage legal in all 50 states. For the past few years living in Taiwan I have intentionally ignored much of the political news coming from the U.S. However, when I arrived in the States on the 24th for a nearly two month visit I was almost unavoidably thrown back into the very polarized environment that is the American political culture. On one hand, I am enjoying discussing hot topics and hashing out my own beliefs. On the other hand, I was disappointed and somewhat disheartened to see much of the response coming from Christian circles to the government’s ruling. In contrast to the gay marriage debate, I also attended the wedding of VOICE’s very own Matthew and Cami last weekend (6/28). In addition, my sister is getting married this weekend (7/4). (The craziness of weddings and wedding prep is partially why this blog post is so late!)  All of these things have set me off thinking deeply about love.

Love

Throughout the gay marriage discussion the importance of love is trumpeted by both sides despite having very differing ideas on the actual meaning of love. So what is love? Wedding ceremonies often have someone read 1st Corinthians 13 which is a very popular Bible passage about love. It is a beautiful summary of why love is so important and what love looks like. It also applies to the kind of love we should show one another every day and not just the love inside a marriage. I’d encourage you to read it and think about your interactions with people you disagree with. Are you patient? Are you kind? Are you acting out of arrogance, envy or pride? Are you irritable? Easily angered? Do you get excited about truth? Those are the things we should be thinking about when addressing not only gay marriage but also in our general, everyday encounters with Christians and non-Christians alike. Love is so important here.

Love has won

The LGBT community loves the word ‘love’ and so do I. “Love has won” was chanted by a crowd of people immediately following the announcement of the decision in favor of gay marriage. I agree with the phrase but not for the reasons they were chanting it. Love has won because Christ offered himself for our sins. My sins. Your sins. Straight sins. Gay sins. All sins. Love has won because there is hope for redemption. Love wins when Christ-followers show Christ’s love to everyone around them.

Choosing Baking Soda

My grandma was happy with me yesterday because I rolled up my sleeves and cleaned the house. And in the process of cleaning, I used lots of baking soda.

My mom believes in using baking soda for cooking, cleaning, deodorizing, brushing one’s teeth, removing stains, etc. There’s a container of baking soda in the pantry, a cup behind the sink, a box on the washing machine, a bag in the cupboard above the clothes dryer, and, if I’m not mistaken, a cup underneath the stove. As a child, I was so convinced of baking soda’s magical properties that I sprinkled the stuff on cookies and ate them.

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But Mom’s in Canada for two weeks. She couldn’t have stopped me from using Clorox, Lysol, and Dawn. I could have saved myself the extra elbow grease that natural cleaning requires.  I chose to use baking soda because I know that’s what she would want. At the same time, however, she gives me freedom to make my own choices, so I bleached my bathroom because desperate times call for desperate measures. Combining my knowledge of Mom’s nature and the fact that I’m a free-thinking adult, I used both baking soda and an appropriate amount of “other stuff”.

This week, I’m stepping back from a situation to seek God’s will for it. Some of the questions I’m asking are: Is my heart in the right place? Does this over-consume my time? Have I placed God on the back burner?

That’s why I cleaned the house – I needed an outlet for the mental energy thrashing about.

These are some excerpts from my nightly thought process documenting:

Day One: Confused about the peace I have after stepping back. Does it mean God’s telling me I’m in a good place and haven’t been idolizing, or is it just the other way around: this was what I needed to do to put God back in first place?

Day Two: No revelations yet. Is no news good news? Or does it mean “keep puttering on, Camellia; you’re pretty good here?” Should I ask for a miraculous sign, or is what I really need to simply trust and jump? Do I need something? What if nothing happens?

Day Three: Last night, I asked God for a sign, a big sign, a small sign, a nice sign, any sign. But why do I need a sign to trust and walk? It’s like so-and-so’s whole “I would change if God told me to change, but He hasn’t said anything” when DUH!- He’s using your friends, your family, and the Bible, and you inherently know it’s wrong. So then…what is happening with God’s gentle voice and those around me? Good. Question. But, a sign would be nice.

I don’t see red flags for this situation, although I see areas for my improvement. After seeking counsel from friends, older women, and family, the choice remains mine to make.

I haven’t made a decision yet, but as I’ve evaluated the situation, I’m remembering something God’s been teaching me over and over: as I seek Him, I will know His nature. As I seek Him, He gives me grace to fall, arise, and grow. As I seek Him, He gives me freedom to choose. And out of love for Him, I will choose what I know will please Him.

Mom gives me freedom to do my thing, but knowing her nature, and because I love her, I chose baking soda.

And I guess that’s what faith looks like sometimes: moving without a given sign. Jumping into the unknown as I trust the nature of God.

Day Four: A sign would be nice, but I don’t need one. God reveals His nature as I walk with and learn about Him. I will know which roads will damage me; I know which paths will please Him. I can choose in the freedom of knowing His nature.

Safe.

Safety…

I had never really considered it before.

Even when I lived alone, half-a-world away from family, I’ve been blessed with a sense of security & protection all of my life. With safety a seemingly natural thing, I never really considered what it would be like to feel UN-safe, UN-secure, UN-assured. UN-protected.

Then I began a relationship… with someone who made me feel completely safe. Even safer than ever before! So I still didn’t notice it.

As I began preparing for our wedding, I ran across a few blogs, snippets of books, etc that talked about marriage and relationships. They talked about how to overcome common threats to deepening relationships: Anxiety. Insecurities. Inadequacy. Fears.

Suddenly, I began to realize what a precious gift I did have, by understanding what I didn’t have. I was so grateful to my parents, grateful to my fiancé, grateful to God! Moreover, I’ve begun to feel the beautiful weight of how our relationship with our earthly spouse is a mirror of our identity in Christ. (Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’d heard that all my life… but I didn’t KNOW it.)

For those who are 2nd or 3rd generation Christians, we take Salvation through Christ for granted. It’s hard to imagine life without Him. We obviously don’t want to turn back time and live a more sin-filled life in order to drink more deeply of His grace, but… we don’t know what it means to return to our first love, because we scarcely remember that far back! (Except maybe what our favorite toy was!)

And yet… it’s HUGE! It’s such a HUGE THING to be Saved. Washed clean. Redeemed. Uncondemned. Pursued. Loved. Secure. Accepted. Adopted. Wanted. Cherished. Completely whole in Christ. Made new. Safe.

The prayer of an unbeliever.

The prayer of a not-yet-believer.

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

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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.