About Camellia Chan

God's work in progress.

Be, Not Do

Last weekend, when I was supposed to have posted this, I was at a young adult retreat out in the middle of nowhere. No signal, no wi-fi — only massive bugs that bit like none other. On my 4-hour drive down, I could see messages flashing on my phone – questions, comments, and concerns from students, their parents, and school staff. Because the retreat occurred over a long weekend, I was unable to work for almost 4 days, and it bothered me so badly that I sometimes found it difficult to focus on the sermons and enjoy “free time” with the other attendees.

So now I’m one week late in writing my VOICE blog post, it’s 5:20am, and I’m at the airport on half an hour of sleep. After a few more legs of flight, I’ll be in China for a two-week mission trip, teaching English in universities as a means to build relationships for Christ.

Six years ago, on the same mission trip, our missionary contact shared three words that I have since spoken to others and myself countless times: “be, not ‘do’.”

Be, not do.

This phrase may very well summarize my greatest struggle. My life has been about “doing” for as long as I can remember, and for anyone like me, society calls for a relatively-conservative, performance-based, Asian, female Christian to be nothing less.

This spring, after months of sleepless nights and early mornings and “almost-sick” and “still sick” and being stricken with deep fear to the point where I could only sit and think of how scared I was of every day, I took a week for recuperation. (Granted, it was Spring Break, so my break was mandatory, but.)

During that time, I pushed aside the majority of work waiting for me, read a few chapters from Shauna Neiquist’s “Present Over Perfect,” and went to a different church to escape “being” and to simply hear and be. And I heard. God knew what I needed to hear from Him because the pastor spoke on how fear is a result of pride, pride the child of a lack of humility, and humility only gained when we allow God to take complete control of our lives through daily surrender, basking in His word, and choosing to let go of any incidence that causes me to bristle in defense.

It’s been better, since. Better, but a far cry from the complete surrender I want in Christ.

Yet the more I see my human incapacity to let go of all the tangled threads I’m clinging to, the more I know that God does not call me to do anything by myself.

A snippet from one of the messages at the retreat reads: “Godly character finds its identity solely in the Lord your God.” My frazzled doing, if it fully believed that all my worth rested in what God has done, is doing, and will do for me, would morph into a trusting being.

In Christ, we are both called to strive 100% to complete the tasks He has given us and to allow God to take 100% control of all circumstances.

We are human beings, not human doings.

And so six years after the words “be, not do” were spoken into my life, I’m encouraged to know that in my constant struggle to surrender my fear and pride and idolization of control, God is slowly but surely working His will into my life. I have been called to complete the good works in Him that He ordained for me before creation, but I have been saved in grace and faith, and it. Is. Not. My. Own. Doing.

Act, Love, Walk

One week ago, President Trump issued an executive order temporarily banning “immigrants” and “non-immigrants” from seven countries for the subsequent 90 days and suspending the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for a minimum of 120 days. Protests ensued, detainees were released, and federal judges took a stance, but if this country’s division was evident before, my tiny section of America has made it clear that the gulf now gapes at widths precarious for those on either side. Deeply-rooted fear, rational or not, is here.

This post has taken me over a week to formulate. I would prefer to give tangible answers of how I’ve sought and now understand the key to responding correctly to politics. I’d prefer to.

But I am the child, friend, and teacher of immigrants, I am an American who desires a safe future for myself and those I love, and I am a Christian whose hope is to shine for Jesus. How do I reconcile those parts into a whole?

I have listened to atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, agnostics, individuals of all different sexual orientations and gender identifications, educators, the educated, and both the blue- and white-collared, and their hearts make sense in one facet or another. So how do I find an answer for myself?

A sign in one of my favorite coffee shop’s restroom reads “Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly”.

This verse comes from the Bible’s Book of Micah. God is speaking to the Israelites, calling them on trial for their disobedience, dissatisfaction, and disrespect. He reminds them of His faithfulness and mercy in bringing them out of Egypt and consistently protecting and blessing them.

The Prophet Micah asks God what, in light of all His mercies and blessings, would satisfy Him.

“With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

And God answers with oft-quoted Micah 6:8 –

“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”

Thomas Constable’s Expository says, “There is a progression in these requirements from what is external to what is internal and from human relations to divine relations. Doing justice toward other people demands loving kindness, which necessitates walking humbly in fellowship with God.”

The bottom line is that I don’t know what to do. I have no plan of action that every Christian should march upon. I cannot tell you an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts. I will not tell America to freely take in foreigners as God did and does because it is not the same. I will not tell America to shut her doors and give her people the guarantee of everlasting peace and protection that God has and will continue to offer to all His children.

But the overarching idea is that in light of what God has done for us all, we must individually and collectively seek His guidance on what it looks like to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

How do you treat immigrants, refugees, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, women, police, and blacks? The same way God has called us to treat everyone else, and certainly, as Ethan wrote over the summer of 2015, with empathy.

Are my actions just?

Have I given mercy?

Do I walk humbly?

Not one exists without the other.

One thing remains: in, out, and up, seek the example of Jesus Christ.

 

A Life of Worship

What does it look like to worship God? Is worship restricted to a song set on Sundays, to volunteer work with your small groups, and to reading your Bible?

When I began teaching 9th grade English at a Texan public high school, one of my greatest fears was to cross legal boundaries. As a university student, there were no rules against inviting my classmates to fellowship gatherings, no eyebrows raised were I to wish my professor the joy of Christ on a Christmas card. A country’s education system, however, is often its most politically charged and micromanaging organization, so as a first-year teacher, I wondered how I could live my life in worship within the classroom.

Aw man, I thought when I read the educator’s handbook warning against religious music and decorations, how can I show my kids the love of Christ when my 48 daily minutes are devoted to grammar and state-mandated tests?

Oh dear, I muttered when I saw my schedule, I have barely enough time to microwave my food, let alone pray conspicuously over lunch in the Teacher’s Lounge.

Aha, I said to God when I met my 130 kids, they need exactly what only You can offer, so I’ll be the best channel I know how to be.

For each person, a life of worship looks different. For me, it means taking extra time and resources to care for children falling through the cracks. It means knowing these kids’ names, their needs, their likes, their dislikes. It means stopping to listen when there’s only time for me to speak. When students ask the same question for the 7th time, it means taking deep breaths and choosing to be patient.

Is it easy? Oh, goodness, no. When my students steal my supplies, try to physically intimidate me, talk back in class, skip my course, and blow up in my room, I sense a redness within me that I’ve rarely felt before. That, however, is when I must faithfully be an ambassador of Christ.

It is not “our job” to make people come to Christ. We are called, no matter where we are, to be a mirror of Jesus Christ. And there is no law against beaming his love, grace, and mercy into the lives I meet.

I fail often, no doubt about that, but it is my desire that my entire life gives glory to God, government-restricted job or not.

Is your life a representation of Jesus Christ? Do your actions and words speak Who you belong to?

Pray about what God has for you, specifically. As friends, children, parents, mentors, mentees, co-workers, leaders, employees, and employers, we are to be faithful where He has called us to be. He is worthy of our worship. Are you living it out?

This Tragic Place

Last night, my sister and I saw the musical Beauty and the Beast.

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I’ve wanted to see this musical for years because of one particular song: “Home”.

Belle sings “Home” during her first night as prisoner in the castle. In just hours, she has been accosted (and “proposed” to) by a misogynistic oaf she hardly knows, lost her father for what’s sure to be forever, and is now doomed to spend the rest of her days with the terrible Beast. I, too, would burst out in tragic song.

Is this home?
Is this what I must learn to believe in?

With what’s happening around the world, I ache for Heaven. For the heartbreaking losses of Orlando and the horrific ways we have responded, for the outrageous Brock Turner assault and our apathy toward and perpetuation of rape culture, and for the little things that scratch at my own life, I pray that Jesus will come.

Try to find something good in this tragic place –
just in case I should stay here forever, held in this empty space.

I am overwhelmed, wary of saying or doing something to release the politically-correct wrath of someone more educated than I. I am ashamed of how I-as a Christian- focus more on the legalities and the formulas than the gospel. And at the end of the day, I’m scared that nothing I do will be of any benefit to this broken world of ours.

Oh, but that won’t be easy. I know the reason why:
my heart’s far, far away; home’s a lie.

So if I were Belle, I’d sit on that cushioned bed and crank out one sob song after another.

98% of me is blissfully drifting down the river, hands folded, eyes closed in ignorance, waiting to reach the feet of Jesus.

2% wonders: what would happen if we cared?

What if we, like Belle, finished bawling, picked ourselves off the floor, and made concentrated efforts to engage our world in love?

What if we stopped fearing things and people we didn’t understand and initiated means to do so?

What if?

Let’s stop running from the world-“those people” and “those things”-because the very situations we’re shaming and hating are places where the love of God is most needed.

Belle stayed.  She listened to, ate with, and cared for the Beast. She realized he wasn’t willingly ignorant-he’d just never learnt to read. He wasn’t hateful-he actually cared for her relationship with her father. He wasn’t against her-he simply had yet to understand.

Yes, Belle married the Beast. No, we are not meant to marry the world (John 17:14-17).

But we are meant to transform the world as God’s hands and feet (Matt 28:16-20). And if the feet are busy running in the opposite direction, and the hands are twiddling their thumbs, don’t be surprised when even the world says “depart from me; I never knew you”.

“Oh,” you may say, “it’s so uncomfortable.” It is. It’s uncomfortable to step outside of what you know and reach into another’s life. But if God was willing to put His life aside and mingle, love, and die for the most mind-boggling creatures of existence (read: us) and not judge them aside from what He alone as the Judge can do (John 8:11), then what are we doing?

Jesus doesn’t call us to take flight.

Jesus calls us to “take heart”. (John 16:33)

Jesus doesn’t call us to hide.

Jesus calls us to be seen as the light, be tasted as the salt. (Matt 5:14)

This is not our forever home, but we’re no less called to make it a home of God’s love.

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Inconvenient Intimacy

Last semester, I read my Bible fewer than 10 times.

I don’t know how many people get up at 5am and holler “oh boy, I’m so excited to read Leviticus today,” but I sure don’t. In addition to natural lethargy, I layer excuses for skipping devotionals:

I want to use my time to its full capacity, and I can’t do stuff and read the Bible at the same time, so I’ll talk to people about Jesus, listen to lots of Christian music, pray as I drive from here to there, and fall asleep to an audio Bible.

And God didn’t strike me dead. I didn’t sustain injuries for each day I put my Bible aside.  I did some stupid things, sure, but nothing illegal or death-inducing. At the end of the day, life remained beautiful and satisfying.

A few days after 2016 began, I asked some friends to text me each morning and ask if I had done my devotionals yet.  After a few weeks of being held to my word, I realized what I had been missing: talking about Jesus’ goodness over a meal, jamming to Steffany Gretzinger, and praying on Central Expressway are all little bits of getting Jesus, BUT reading His word, spending time with Him, and dwelling on what He has to say — that is a crash course on God’s glory.

When I chose not to read the Bible, I didn’t lose my life, my faith, or my salvation, but I lost an intimacy with my Father. I remained a beloved child of God, but ignoring an opportunity to strengthen our relationship showed me how little I was willing to give to Him Who gave His all for me.

We’re all busy in one way or another, but we have the same 24 hours.  I don’t wake up at 5 to crack open my Bible. I don’t even wake up at 5. But you and I have no room to say “I don’t have time”. We all have time — but do we make time?

I still write “devotionals” on my to-do lists because I need to remind myself of His place.

I’ve missed a few days here and there, and I don’t exactly cry about it.

I’m frustrated that reading the Bible means some items on my list don’t get done.

And that’s where we make our choice: what do we value more – our tasks, or our relationship with God?

I challenge you to examine your approach to reading the Bible. Do you choose to immerse yourself in God’s Word, or do you limit His presence to when it’s convenient? Determine what you need in order to make time for Him, and then do it.

Here’s to knowing Him, His Will, and His Word.

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A Good Father

There are 2,038 middle schools in Texas, and I teach at the 19th hardest.

My students are terrified.

Like Taiwan, competition rankles among friendships, and pressure damages families.  Students come crying to me about a 90 and stress in class over a 97. And one of their greatest fears is that their teachers will not be good to them.

As a teacher, it’s hard to see my students so crippled in fear that they cannot enjoy what we do in class.  It’s hard to watch worry flood their eyes every time I call them over to my table, or the frantic fumbling of their hands when I call on students for answers.  Sure, they think I know my stuff, but they also expect me to hide behind tables, waiting for an opportunity to throw a failing grade at them.  They’ve said their past teachers were distant, leaving them to “watch their own backs.” They’ve learned to like teachers, but rarely to trust them. Maybe it’s because we hold their grade in our hands, or the very fact that we give assignments.  Whatever the reason, they do not think we can be good to them.

I, too, have been living in fear.  In years past, I was subconsciously convinced that God lurked around corners with “bad situations,” waiting to dump a load of difficulties on my head.  I believed He looked for opportunities to punish me, to call me out on sin and failure and use that as a reason to give me undesirable things. I thought that if I told God what I really wanted, He would make sure to never give it to me.

Like a sovereignly sadistic Santa Clause.

I knew God loved me in some transcendent, ethereal manner and that Heaven would be much more than “nice”. But did God like me enough to give me good things here on earth? And if He liked me today, would He still like me tomorrow?

How I viewed God also affected how I approached people – could I trust them to both love and like me? Could I believe there was selfless like in addition to selfless love? Could I trust, could I give, could I be at peace?

The Bible, the Word of God, the Revelation of life, tells us that God not only loves us, but He wants to give us good things:

“. . . Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in Heaven give good things to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7: 9-11

“You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.” – Psalm 119:68

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” – James 1:17

I cannot convince my students that I want to be good to them. Telling them to relax and trust will do nothing if they themselves do not choose to do so.

In the same way, I must choose to believe that God wants good – present good and ultimate good – for me.  My difficulties, while molding for me, have grieved Him. My pain, though instrumental in growing character, was not of His making.

He delights in me.

Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think You’re like,

but I’ve heard the tender whisper of love in the dead of night.

You tell me that You’re pleased and that I’m never alone.

You’re a Good, Good Father,

It’s who You are, it’s who You are, it’s who You are,

and I’m loved by You

It’s who I am, It’s who I am, It’s who I am

– Good, Good Father – HOUSEFIRES II 

He’s a good, good Father.

 

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.

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.