I sit in this room, not the next.
You’ve prepared this room for me,
I need not wonder who I’ll find next door.
I came to the bittersweet end of a few things today… I had my very last counseling session – something that was unexpected, yet very timely. I also wrote in the very last page of both my sermon notebook and my journal. I should be studying for a midterm at the moment, but I found it much more pressing to share with you all that God has done for me. Here are some of the most valuable lessons I have gathered from the sermons I’ve heard, from the prayers I’ve prayed, and from the counseling I’ve received:
Highlights from Sermons (since September 2017)
Self-Reflections from Journaling (since July 2017)
Lessons from Counseling (since May 2018)
It is almost 3am and I absolutely should be sleeping but I feel this must be said.
These past two years have been a battle for me – to understand why I am a Christian, to understand on what or whom my salvation depends on even when my faith seems to falter. I have allowed criticism from fellow believers about my life choices to breed bitter tears and desperate questions deep within me… Why do they seem more godly than me? Why am I the only one struggling with depression, seeing a biblical counselor? Do I not trust God enough? Am I even saved?
Philippians 4:6, (a verse that would not be so drilled into my head if it were not for biblical counseling!), tells me to not be anxious about anything, but to pray about everything and present my concerns to God. So I prayed about this fear of being lesser than other believers and of having seemingly weaker faith. And God was faithful to answer.
My sister and I have been studying the Old Testament book of Daniel this summer. Today’s passage told the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace when they refused to worship the Babylonian gods and the golden image of King Nebuchadnezzar. When King Neb looked into the furnace, he saw four men – the three he cast in, and “one like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25). All were completely untouched and unharmed by the fire. There was no doubt, even in the eyes of King Neb, that their God was the only God who could do the impossible.
I was then reminded of a sermon I once heard from a young youth pastor years ago. He pointed out that God’s miracles never left room for doubt. When Jesus calmed the storm, the wind and the waves stopped immediately. When Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead, Lazarus had already been dead for 3 days…(also he stank). When Peter and John healed a lame man in Christ’s name, the man didn’t struggle upward until he could walk…he leapt to his feet as he praised God. Yet Jesus himself, the Son of God who shares in all of God’s divine attributes, did not seem powerful or impressive…especially to those who expected a great and powerful king to overthrow Roman rule. What a paradox – that Jesus Christ “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8), yet achieved the greatest miracle of all time.
Sometimes I am extremely saddened that the Gospel doesn’t seem to pierce my heart or bring me to tears more often like it did this evening. I am tempted to think, I must not be a Christian if the Gospel doesn’t convict me every second of every hour of every day. But God has taught me again and again that the power of the Gospel does not depend on the constancy of my passion for Christ – it is solely rooted in the power of God which will never fade, never dim, never be put out. Therefore I can boldly say that if I have a weaker faith than my neighbor, I do not have to be discouraged. Instead, I can rejoice because Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness. Indeed, like Paul, I can “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” And yes, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10-12).
I still do not understand. The truth that grips me and pulls at me when I just begin to experience joy is something I haven’t yet been freed from. It is the truth, how can I escape it? Joy, even joy in Christ, seems to fade in and out of my life. How can I be secure in anything if everything changes? You say that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Why can’t I be more like Him?
As a child I was more fickle than I am now. I saw a child on the bus today, and he began to cry for seemingly no reason, then he stopped as if nothing had happened. I must have done the same, crying over the most trivial things, begging for things that were clearly not good for me. Still now I feel fickle, like a child whose mood can turn in an instant. Yet I see that it is not truly so – I am no longer a child.
I no longer cry over spilled cereal, no longer read picture books and draw my father with a single horizontal line for his hair. Sending birthday invitations to all my friends is no longer my favorite event of the year.
So am I strong, unmoved by changing circumstances, free from emotion? Certainly not. I feel emotions even more deeply, it seems. Hurts hurt more than ever. But – the defining evidence of Christ maturing me is that as I realize more and more of my weaknesses, I also see more and more His sufficiency.
I do not feel much stronger, better, or smarter than a child. What once was spilled cereal has been replaced by equally trivial troubles, at least in the grand scheme of things. I still cry often, I am still extremely sensitive and selfish. And even if I imagine myself 50 years from now, I think I will still be this child whom I’ve always been. But the ironic, comforting truth is that as I grow older, I will also increase in childlike faith…and that is why I can rejoice in trusting Christ.
The following is an open letter to those who find the time to read it. It is not perfectly composed. Most of it is my thoughts being spilled out without a filter. But these thoughts are coming from the raw emotions I have in response to the amazing things I have seen God do this day.
Today was a day full of things to remember… things I am still processing. I am unable to collect my thoughts and emotions, which are currently a combination of satisfaction, gratitude, and awe. I think of Mary’s response to the scene at Jesus’ birth, shepherds and complete strangers coming from afar to see the newborn Messiah. She “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart,” according to Luke 2:19. That’s exactly the state of my heart at the moment. So where do I even begin to tell you what great things God has done in my life, leading up to today? It seems like so much has happened since we last spoke. Indeed, so much has. I feel like I’m a completely different person than I was during the summer…even just yesterday’s words seem so far from me. I guess this is what happens when God works in my life. There is never a season where He is not growing me. There is never a time where He is not faithful to discipline, comfort, mature, strengthen, and love me. Truly, every day is a new day. Truly, every day, He is worthy of praise.
I have been dating a young man named Austin for almost three months now. We met under very special circumstances, circumstances born out of very unique trials in our respective lives that ultimately brought us together in a way only God could have orchestrated. In fact, there was seemingly no reason for us to meet otherwise. He had just graduated from UCLA, already working successfully for the NFL, and had moved on to the young adult ministry at church. Meanwhile I was just starting my second year of college, with a slightly unrealistic view of college based on nostalgic memories of freshman year, zero cooking skills, and way too many meal swipes. From the surface, it seems that we should never have crossed paths… but, he had become a Christian about half a year prior to our first conversation. And one day, recovering from surgery in NorCal and reading my last blog post about depending wholly on God through seemingly unbearable trials, he messaged me (yes, slid into my DM’s) to tell me how encouraged he was to know that someone else also understood the pain of trials and the importance of relying on God alone. This is what brought us together, and this is the beauty of joining God’s family – fellowship that would otherwise be impossible or illogical between two people suddenly becomes rich, sweet, and grounded in something (or someone) higher than the two of you combined.
And that was just the start. Soon after that initial message, we continued to talk….and talk…and talk…about the innumerable things we had in common. Our mothers were both raised in Catholic homes. Our fathers are both unreligious. We both play tennis. We both love music and art (he was a design major and I’m a music major – I mean come ON that’s a pretty darn cool combination). We both love cold weather and Christmas. We love the same movies, our family values are on the same page. Things like that. 🙂 But through all of the personality traits and hobbies we share, still the glue that has held us together is the common love we have for Christ and the inexhaustible Word of God. I’ll never forget what he said to me one night on the phone: “We’d never get bored of talking to each other. Like, one of us could open the Bible and point at something and be like, ‘What do you think of that?’ And it would be heretical to not want to say anything.” How right he was.
But our growing interest in each other conflicted with my decision to refrain from dating for a year. So through hours and hours of prayer alone in my building’s garden, I struggled with this question: “Lord, is my desire to date a selfish desire?” I knew in my heart that I wanted to honor the Lord whether I dated Austin or not. But was dating going to be too much of a distraction from that goal? I became ashamed to admit how much I liked Austin. I felt judged for wanting to date and for wanting to get married eventually because I felt weak comparing to other sisters in Christ who were single. In the end, however, God pointed me towards 1 Timothy 4:1-4:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
I then realized, marriage is a gift from God – not something to be ashamed of. I knew that I had gone to God in prayer, asking that He guide me in my decision-making with His wisdom rather than letting me be blinded by my own desires. I knew that Austin was striving to honor God through his actions as well, waiting to date until God revealed to Him the right person and the right timing. And so, seeking additional counsel from multiple disciplers and my very wise parents, I decided to trust God with the outcome and to cease my agonizing and fear of judgment. Later that week, Austin drove to my parents’ house, first seeking their wisdom and opinions on our relationship, then asking for permission to date me. And to my pleasant surprise, my parents were happy to say yes.
Since then, God has indeed been faithful to grow the two of us. Austin was baptized today. He shared his testimony, one that I will never grow tired of hearing. And for me, the most amazing part of the whole night besides the already beautiful baptism, is that my unbelieving father not only agreed to attend church with us for the first time in so long… he also brought his video camera to film Austin’s baptism.
If you know my dad, you know that video camera means a lot.
In the past, I’ve associated my dad and his trusty video camera with piano recitals, graduations, and family road trips. Yet here he was, sitting as close as he could to the baptismal, filming my boyfriend (whom he had only really met a couple months ago) getting baptized in church… as if Austin were his own son whom he took personal pride in. It was a bittersweet thing… I was amazed to see how my dad had opened up to this boy, and consequently to our faith. At the same time, I cannot shake the fact that he has not yet come to full repentance and trust in Jesus Christ. I know true fellowship that is rooted in Christ cannot come to be unless my dad completely accepts the Gospel.
Yet as I ponder all these things in my heart, I am overcome with hopefulness and thankfulness to God, my Heavenly Father and the one who has orchestrated every single second of my life. I pray with so much hope for my father! Yes, Austin entering my life has turned the tide for my family’s spiritual life. For the first time, we pray at the dinner table as a family and discuss the sermons we have heard and the great things we have witnessed God doing in our lives. But I know that ultimately, all of this… this mere glimpse of Heaven… would not be possible apart from the God who created us and sent His son, Jesus Christ, to die for us.
Thank you, God. How you love us!
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -Corinthians 12:9-11
All I can do is let go. If I am rightfully accused of sin, I can only repent and seek to be made right with You. If I am wronged by others, I can only ask You to help me forgive. It is my desire to see justice carried out that keeps me dwelling on my feelings of hurt and of being wrongfully judged by others.
It’s agonizing, God, it really is…how I long to see justice, and to see Your name be glorified… yet what good would it be if I strived to achieve this through my own means? It pains me to see my weakness in fighting sin, but even greater still is the pain of seeing my inability to stand up to my accusers when I know I am right before You.
Lord, help me find the solution to this divide between pleasing You and honoring my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ… I only desire to please You, yet even in my greatest efforts to do so, others doubt me. God, help me be gracious towards imperfect messengers, me being one of them… help me test everything, yet put weight on nothing but Your Word…
My conscience is clear. I am right before God. All I can do is let go.
Psalm 90. From Everlasting to Everlasting.
A Prayer of Moses, the Man of God.
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. 3 You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” 4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. 5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: 6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. 7 For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. 8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. 9 For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. 10 The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. 11 Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? 12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. 13 Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.16 Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. 17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!
We are so temporary – like dust (v. 3), like a dream (v.5), like grass (v. 5-6). Yet God is eternal, our sanctuary, reigning from everlasting to everlasting. He is beyond what we think we know. He transcends nature, time, and human understanding (v. 2). In His sovereignty He can make us come and go however He pleases (v. 3-8).
We cannot hide from God even our most deeply hidden sins… God, in all His glory and holiness, is the mirror in which we see our uncleanliness (v. 8). Our lives are vanity, passing away quickly, filled with toil and trouble, and ending as quickly and pitifully as they began (v. 9-10).
How then are we spending these fleeting moments on Earth? Are we numbering our days, acknowledging the fact that God created us and gave us this life for a specific purpose – to know Him, worship Him, and glorify Him? Do we humbly receive and apply His wisdom, which is to focus on His sovereignty and salvation (v. 12)?
Recognizing the ephemeral and transitory nature of our lives, Moses prays that God would show us favor. We are mere servants, only capable of begging for God’s mercy and pity (v. 13). Only by His steadfast love can we find joy (v. 14). Only by His grace can our works produce fruit, and our lives have value and significance (v. 17).
God, I am but a mere servant, clothed with rags and unable to show my unclean face in Your courts. I deserve nothing – not even my first breath…no, not even the first thought You had to create me. Yet You, in Your grace and mercy, delight in me. You save me from the punishment I deserve in all my sinful filth. What a wonderful and lovely and amazing Gospel You offer to all mankind…I love you, Lord. I praise You, for Your works are beyond what I can even begin to comprehend, yet they shake me to the core and bring me to my unworthy knees.
He awakes me from my slumber and sits by my bed as I slowly open my eyes, blinking away tears that had remained from the night before. I peer around the bedroom, still cherishing the pocket of warmth sustained between my blanket and my body. My eyes meet His gentle gaze.
“My child,” He whispers, “Come.”
The chill of the morning air causes me to hesitate. Yet He says again, “Come.”
I know I have stayed here for much too long. I rise and the blanket falls away, but His steady, warm hand takes mine and all else is forgotten. He leads me out the door. Our feet pad softly along the carpet down the hallway.
He lets me wonder what is to come until I see it sitting there on the living room floor. It is everything. It is unreal. It is more than I have ever dared to ask for.
I take one step towards it, then quickly look back at Him. He smiles warmly … tears fill my eyes, tears of unbelief.
“Lord, for me?” I whisper. I can barely speak, I can barely breathe.
“Go on,” He says, nodding towards it. I barely touch it with my fingertips before I start to sob.
“Lord, why me? I did nothing to deserve this.”
He laughs softly.
“Because, my child, I love you.”
I saw this beautiful painting called The Hand of God by Yongsung Kim a few days ago. In my life, I have seen several paintings of Jesus. He never looks exactly the same from one painting to the next, which has made me skeptical to focus too much on these man-made images of Him. Yet this painting communicated something to me beyond the usual kind smile and warm eyes on Jesus’ face. This was a representation of the Savior I personally know Jesus to be.
Just a week ago, my life was sinking fast. I was saying goodbye to a relationship that I had invested much hope in, realizing fast that God had other plans for me. I was struck with the reality of my father’s unbelief when I received the news that he had been hit by a car. And I had immensely lost trust in a friend who was not strong enough to resist temptation, resulting in a painful break in our friendship and a huge blow to my sense of self-worth.
Nothing and no one truly comforted me in that time. There was too much noise to distinguish love from lies, the people who cared for me from the ones who did not understand my suffering. My Bible, which I usually opened every morning to spend time with my Father, sat silently on my bedroom floor. I stared at it and found no courage to pick it up for days.
I was at my wit’s end when I fell to my knees and forced myself to flip to a random page. I had always been skeptical of this too – I had long since stopped believing that turning to a random page of the Bible would be of any miraculous use. Yet the first words I read were, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21).
Of course I would be led to Job. The man suffered so much, and lost everything but his own life in such a short amount of time. But it was not the idea that someone else had suffered much more than I that comforted me. What comforted me was Job’s response to the Lord… The Lord gives. He also takes away. And through all of that, His name is still to be blessed. Because of this wise response and deep understanding of God’s sovereignty, Job was seen as righteous in God’s eyes.
I at once understood that I was more like Job than I thought. I knew in my heart that I did not once blame God for what had happened, for all that I had lost. I knew I had faith that God would pull me through these trials, even when I could not hear His voice. The one question I asked him was not “Will you comfort me?” I only asked, “When?” And He was not slow to bring comfort. So I praised Him for fulfilling His promise and for instilling that promise in me in the first place. I could not have withstood those traumatic few days if I did not have this truth to cling to: the Lord is my helper, I shall not fear. What can man do to me?
Then a day or two later, I came across this painting. Right away, I thought of Peter when he eagerly joined Jesus and walked on water with Him for a brief moment. Scripture says, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'” (Matthew 14:30-31).
My own skepticism was not so different from Peter’s fear. Yes, I believed God would lift me out of trials and comfort me. But if I had been so sure of this from the start, then why did I despair at all? This flaw in my faith troubled me greatly. How could I say I wholly put my trust in Christ as my Lord and Savior if I sank so quickly?
Sometimes I still look away from Him. My eyes are drawn to the waves below me that relentlessly threaten to pull me underneath the current. I catch myself looking back at the sinking boat I once found comfort in. And every single time I take my eyes off of Him, I begin to sink, fears rising all around me. I almost lose sight of Him, it’s too late to catch a breath and cry out for help. Then I see His hand break through the surface. I think He will be angry, disappointed in me for forgetting who He is. But past His extended hand, I see Him smile at me.
That is the point, I realize, of needing a Savior. God knew I would be afraid. He knew I would let my eyes wander from His steady gaze, giving in to fear and doubt. But He also knew I could not pull myself out of my own sin. So when trials come, I may stumble and start to drown in fear…but because of His grace, Christ will always be there to extend His hand and lift me up.
Before I begin, I’d like to preface this testimony by saying that I share these personal details of my life and sinful past with a purpose in mind. This is not merely a confession to get guilt off my chest. This is not a cry for attention or consolation. This is a true story of God’s glory and relentless pursuit of me, a sinner. This is proof of the living God who loves me and cares for me.
Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he did for me.
As a child, I recited the same definition of sin over and over again: “Sin is anything I say, do, or think that displeases God.” While this definition is not wrong, and is just simplified for children to understand, it implanted a wrong image of God in me as a little girl. “Say, do, or think”? I began to watch every little thought I had that was “bad.” I was afraid. I had to be good. I had to be fake. “Displeases”? I saw God frowning upon me. I saw God ready to punish me like a parent waiting with a rod, staring me down as I cried in the corner of the room. I grew up wanting to please God and people so intensely that at times, that desire to be good became crippling. I let myself become a doormat to friends who made fun of me about little things. I let myself laugh whenever my family said I was dumb or silly or forgetful. I let myself apologize for every little thing I did wrong, and only apologized more when people told me to stop apologizing so much. This terrible habit of fearful submission spiraled into me thinking I had to obey whatever my boyfriend at the time asked of me. And eventually, I made the biggest mistake of my life by letting myself say yes to sex before marriage.
And at the end of it all, was I good? Did I please my parents? Did I please God? Or did I please myself?
I’ll always remember this quote from one night at my youth group that changed my view on sin: “God commands us not to sin – not because He is just waiting for us to fall and is out to get us and punish us. God commands us not to sin because He knows it will hurt us.”
To hear the word “sin” in a context of love rather than of punishment was revolutionary to me. My sinful past came hurtling towards me, but this time I did not feel the shame that had gripped me and silenced me for years. Instead, I felt loved by my Father. Instead of thinking, “God is punishing me because I lost my virginity,” I realized the truth – God commanded me not to have sex before marriage because He knew what emotional turmoil would follow. Because He loves me, He does not want that pain and brokenness for my life. And even more importantly – God still loves me even though I have broken His commandments, and is just waiting for me to return home.
I would continue to struggle with these new realizations in the summer before college, swinging back and forth between feelings of shame and forgiveness. Old habits still remained, and I would cry and hide myself from the world whenever I remembered that I could not take back the sin I had committed. But God was still pursuing me, and He finally caught me at a fall conference I attended with my fellowship.
My group got to the conference late. We snuck in through the back as the speaker, Jim Rinella, continued his message. I praise God for His perfect timing, because the first words I heard Jim say were, “Sex made me stay longer than I wanted to stay.” At that moment, my heart cried out to God. I knew He wanted me there at that very second, surrounded by those very people, listening to that very message on healing sexual brokenness. Jim continued to teach about the prodigal son, quoting the following Scripture:
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
While he was still a long way off. What an amazing image – the father stood at the door, hoping and waiting to see his beloved son long before the son was even in view. I saw Jesus Christ standing at the door with His hands raised to His face, shielding His eyes from the sun and peering into the distance, longing for me to come to Him before I even knew I needed Him.
Looking back now, I see for just how long God has been waiting for me. His pursuit of my heart did not only begin when I sinned. It did not even begin when I was born into a sinful body and a broken world. It began before He created the world, before He created man.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,
I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
And so I realize the paradoxical thinking of my childhood years. How could God have created me so intricately and with so much care if He was only out to punish me? How could a loving Creator want to destroy His own creations? And hear this – why would He send His only son to die in our place and receive the necessary price of sin for us? It simply does not make sense to see God through a lens of fear of condemnation. The only possible conclusion is that God wants us and loves us, and commands us not to sin because He wants us to live completely and to be with Him in Heaven someday.
I am still a sinner, and as long as I am on this Earth I will continue to sin because that is human nature. But I can live in confidence that God loves me and is constantly at work in my heart and has good plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11). I can rejoice in my suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance (Romans 5:3). And as I continue to seek Him, allowing Him to sanctify me for His glory day by day rather than striving to sanctify myself in order to please God and people, I can look forward to that final day when I can stand before Him and hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
I leave my testimony with you in hopes that you too will come to know this amazing, loving God, and see the great work which has been completed for your sake through His son Jesus Christ.
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.