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?

Three Christmases

This is the story of three Christmases:

Last Christmas was the most difficult Christmas I’ve ever experienced. I was a team leader in Taiwan, juggling responsibilities of team, family, and friends. My sister had recently lost her first child in a late, painful miscarriage. My family was visiting, but instead of a joyful reunion and celebration, we were all in mourning; our celebration muffled by our loss. Christmas Day was spent going numbly from one activity to the next. To sum up last Christmas in a phrase: dark sorrow.

This Christmas, I experienced the best of both worlds in Taiwan and America. I spent all the anticipation of Christmas in Taiwan with my sister and her husband, waiting for their second child Lórien to be born. I arrived in the States the day before Christmas Eve and spent Christmas day preparing and eating a joyous feast with the rest of my family. For the first time in three years, I spent Christmas in my childhood home looking out at piles of snow. This Christmas in a phrase: joyful light.

In the stillness and sorrow of last Christmas, a refrain echoed “God with us.”
In the activity and joy of this Christmas, that refrain still echoes.

By contrasting these two Christmases, I have started to see the bittersweet nature of the first Christmas, when we celebrate God coming down to be with us. At the time of Jesus’ advent, Israel was under foreign rule that had lasted for 400 years. Ancient prophecies spoke of a virgin conceiving and giving birth to a son whose name would be called Immanuel–”God with us”.

The joyous occasion of Jesus’ arrival was muffled like my family’s last Christmas. A jealous, insane king searched for the Baby to kill him before He even grew up and slaughtered the baby boys of Bethlehem. It is likely that the shepherds who had witnessed the glory of God shining around them and seen the Child themselves suffered the heartbreaking, dark sorrow of losing their own children.

Photo by Lars Kasper

Photo by Lars Kasper

Platitudes are unhelpful when sorrow cuts deep–but instead of offering a platitude, God offered Himself.

That’s why Jesus’ title of “God with us” is important to remember, because it was HE who came into our dark world as the light “shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out.” (John 1:5 CEV).

“…finding out the greatness…”

- 2013 -

“Lord, why am I here? You clearly opened the door for me to work at this job, but I feel like I’m dying inside! I don’t care about business; I don’t even believe in the work that I’m doing!”

A year and a half ago, my heart cried this regularly. I didn’t understand what the point was for me to be working at that company. I sought to share Christ my coworkers, but other than that? Ick. – I saw no purpose in my work.

Finally, I began to rest and trust God. I began to rejoice, even though I didn’t feel like it.

- 2014 -

Just this morning, long-anticipated plans threatened to collapse. Excitement turned to worry and frustration. Someone else’s money could be lost, myself and others would be sad and disappointed… I prayed frantically as I tried to fix things. I groaned. I wanted to cry.

Just as I began giving into my fear and sorrow, an old hymn came to mind. “Jesus, I am resting, resting in the joy of what Thou art. I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving heart.” I knew the words were not true of me, but they needed to be! Because God’s faithfulness was already true of Him. I began to sing.
- – -

Fast forwarding to my current self… >>>>

Now, I see so much more clearly! To my surprise, the skills that I use every day at my current job [which I love] are the very same ones that I learned at the job I felt unfulfilled by. – - – God knew the future. He knew my need. He knew what purpose He wanted to fit me for, and provided me with free (in fact, paid!) training for the work He was leading me to. – “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in [my] eyes.”

And as for Today? 3.5 hours after it began, the crisis was over. The problem was solved. I’m still feeling an adrenaline rush from the “excitement”, but more than that, I’m so grateful to God for working it all out AND for teaching me again that rejoicing is always appropriate. That His name is worthy to be praised with or without the sun shining; with or without a silver lining.
- – -

These two circumstances remind of a lesson I learned 4 years ago… in the middle of yet another trial,

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“I will be praising God in a week or a year’s time for what is happening now, so why should I wait to praise and thank Him for His loving-kindness? He is ALWAYS good!”

Growing Pains

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I recently started a new job as a teacher at a developmental center for children and their parents. After two years of teaching in Taiwan, I figured this job would be pretty easy. But after just two weeks of enduring some pretty rigorous training, I’ve been having second thoughts. Every day, I have to surrender my old ways of teaching in order to adopt all new methods and lesson plans. My trainers give me loads of grace as I’m figuring it all out, but at the same time, they’re seriously invested in seeing me change into the teacher that they want me to be. Turns out that this process feels anything but “normal”! It actually feels really uncomfortable at times. But, they keep telling me it will get better, because soon enough I won’t even think about the involved lesson plans once all these things grow into me as a teacher. Apparently, all the things that I’m rigorously learning will simply become a part of who I am.

Well, I’m not there yet, but slowly, day after day, mistake after mistake, I’m learning what it means to change. I’m becoming a different kind of teacher, and growth – as uncomfortable and hard as it is at times – is the vehicle that’s getting me there.

As I was sitting in trainng the other day, it hit me that growing into a new position isn’t just for new jobs. The Bible tells us that the gospel is the good news that Jesus’ death on the cross secures for us a new position. We, who once were enemies of God, have now been called daughters and sons and co-heirs with Christ. Redeemed, restored, and forgiven are  all a part of our new identity. As we come to more fully understand who we now are, there should be a very real change that is working it’s way out in our lives. Will that growth always feel comfortable? Probably not. Will it happen overnight? I wish! The older I get, the more I see just how sinful and far away from God my heart truly is. But God’s not giving up, and the redemptive work that He’s begun, He will complete…no matter how hard the process may be.

What’s God using to grow you today? Does it feel uncomfortable and hard? Let the growing pains remind you that God is at work at your life, because He loves you too much to simply leave you where you are.

To the Max

keep-calm-and-live-life-to-the-max-smallI was talking recently with a father of nine. His youngest are now about junior high age. He had an interesting perspective on the difficulty level of raising different amounts of children. “When you have your first kid, it’s all you can handle. You’re maxed out,” he said. “Then when you have your second kid, you’re maxed out. When you have your third kid, you’re maxed out. It’s all you can do just to keep up. With four kids, you’re maxed out. With five, you’re maxed out. It’s all you can handle.” And so on. Actually he might have only gone up to four and then said, “That’s how it just keeps on going.”

What’s going on with that? Clearly there’s more going on in this guy’s life with nine kids than there was with one. Clearly there’s more going on with two kids than with one. Did his capacities just keep on increasing? Did his need for sleep keep on decreasing? I doubt it. Probably there were some changes in his personal priorities, some willingness to pursue his own interests less, so that he could spend more time and energy on the kids. But surely that cannot account for all of the “more going on” that happened as his family’s size increased. It seems like there must have just been a lot going on that he wasn’t even aware of, and that group of “things going on that he wasn’t aware of” increased as more kids came along. Nevertheless, he remained engaged in as much as he possibly could all along the way: he was “maxed out.” (It would be interesting to find out whether his wife would describe it the same way he did, but if she would, I bet this analysis would apply to her as well.)

I think it makes sense that there is a certain amount of stuff that I can be engaged in at any point in my life…and that God would put the situations into my life at each point that would “max out” my engagement capacity.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Col. 3:23).

The parable of the talents also seems to say that God has given us the right amount of business to keep us busy doing His business.

What does this mean? Well, if it’s true that God has put just the right amount of stuff in my life to max out my engagement capacity, then if I’m over my capacity, there must be something I’m engaged in that isn’t for me right now. Conversely, if I don’t feel maxed out, there must be something in my life that I need to be dealing with, I need to be engaged in, that I’m not. Think about it. Are you overworked or underworked? Are you over-engaged or under-engaged?