Over the years, people have asked me about my spiritual journey, so I decided to just write it down here. I hope it gives hope to people that no matter how low you get in life, there is always a way out. The path to wholeness maybe very painful, but it is very well worth it!
I was born into a Chinese Christian family. My maternal great, great grandfather became a Christian back in the days the first wave of missionaries made their way into China. He was just a young man of 18, and his family tried to drown him in the river when he converted to Christianity. He was saved and adopted by a village of fishermen across the river. As far as I can tell, my family’s tradition has been Presbyterian, though it has a slightly different flavor than the Calvinism that I have learned about after I came to America.
As I look back on my journey through my adult eyes, I can see that my relationship with God began very early on in my toddler years, when my family was still living in Bangkok, Thailand, as God came to comfort me whenever I was physically abused by my father. There was a Presence there whenever I cried that I later on recognized in Sunday School as Jesus (not so much the physical appearance, but the characteristic of love, compassion, kindness, and all the good things associated with Jesus). My father had rejected me from the time I was born, walking out of the hospital the moment he found out that I was a girl instead of the boy he had hoped for. He was an alcoholic and when he got drunk, he would beat my mother and me. About a month before my sixth birthday, my father left my mother, but I took that as a personal rejection too. My mother tried to return home to her parents with me and my two younger brothers, but she was told that while she was welcomed back home, my brothers and I were my father’s responsibility and needed to be with him. So, my father came to fetch us from my maternal grandparents’ home and promptly put us into a boarding school, another act of rejection that didn’t go unnoticed by me. I later recognized the boarding school as being charismatic, recalling the “speaking in tongues” that I was made to participate in from time to time while a student there. I memorized a lot of Scriptures during those 4 years at that boarding school.
Long story short, the bitterness of life was like a thorn that slowly grew and choked the childlike joy and wonderment out of my relationship with God. The more I learned about God through Sunday School, the more God appeared distant and impossible to please. There was a very clear message that sin separates us from God. Not just the original sin that Adam committed, the gap that Jesus came to bridge (as illustrated in the Four Spiritual Laws booklet), but the sin that I commit from day to day becomes like a cloud that separates me from God above, too. God was no longer a close presence to comfort me, but an almighty entity that has the power to snuff me out, and whom I must work hard to appease. Even as a child, I knew that I could not be completely perfect and “sin not”, so naturally, the conclusion was that I would never be good enough to be as close to God as I was as an innocent toddler again.
As a young child, I never had an adult who was always accessible and on whom I could rely on to always be there. Everyone seemed to be aloof. The school staff and teachers, as well as my family, seemed to only care about my academic performance. My mother wasn’t there when I needed emotional support, and I was pretty much on my own to deal with my emotions. In fact, I felt responsible for keeping my mother happy too. And so, I couldn’t grasp the concept of God being constantly there for me to comfort me in times of sorrow and pain. With all the performance-based teaching about God, it’s no wonder that I thought it’s just a matter of time that God would be fed-up enough with me to abandon me forever.
Throughout my childhood, I tried hard to be good, to do good in school, in hope that my father would see that I was worthwhile and would come home to my mother, and we could be a family again. I even prayed for God to change my father’s heart and bring him back to us. A prayer that, to my young child’s mind, went unanswered, which I took as another sign that I wasn’t good enough to deserve what I asked God for. God the father was just as hard to please and distant as my earthly father was.
The final rejection from my father came when I was 18, and was applying for college. I went to see him to ask if he would help me financially. He said that I was an adult, and he was no longer responsible for me. I never knew how much this hurt me till years later. At that time, after a very hard cry that day, my survival instinct took over. I declared myself as an independent and applied for financial aid to put myself through college.
I didn’t know how deep the hole in my heart was then, or how much I was hurting. I didn’t see it till later that I was setup for a codependent relationship. It didn’t take long after I started college when a young man made a move and I fell for it. It felt good to have someone who seemed to want to be with me all the time, who listened to my sad tales with empathy. He also had sad tales of his own to share, and I liked that feeling of being needed as I comforted him. I thought I had found my soul mate. It was only with hindsight that I could see that he was using me to meet his own emotional needs, as I was using him to meet mine. He was addicted to pornography, and I was too naive to see how bad that problem was. I grew up with men like that, my father being one, so I thought all men were that way. Anyhow, I stayed in that relationship for nearly 3 years. My grades went downhill. I had two abortions—one was about a year into our relationship (when he promised that we would abstain till we’re married–yeah, I know how stupidly unrealistic that was now), and the second one was a couple of weeks after the relationship ended. I broke up with him because I realized then that I was addicted to the relationship, using it as a drug to escape life, and if I continued to stay with him, I would never be well or truly happy. I couldn’t stand living a double life anymore, feeling like I was lying to everyone, including myself. Everyone at home thought I was doing well at school. I was such a goody-two-shoes, and only my boyfriend and I knew what a liar and phony I was. I realized then that the bond of secrecy was part of the reason I stayed with him for so long, all the while hating myself for deceiving everyone. I would rather live alone and be honest than to be with him and continue to live a lie.
But after that second abortion, I became even more depressed and withdrawn. I was on a downward spiral that eventually led to thoughts of suicide. The night I made the decision to kill myself, for some reason (I now believe it was God leading me), I wanted to say good-bye to a very good friend. As I was leaving, my friend noticed something was amiss, and kept prodding till I told him my plan to take my life. He hopped in the car with me, ignoring my protest. He talked to me in the car of God’s love and how I had been forgiven, but I kept going back to “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” justice system. Then I saw the perfect opportunity to ram my car into a semi truck ahead of me on the freeway. As I accelerated the car, my friend pulled on the emergency brake between the two front seats, slowing down the car. I screamed that I deserved to die, because I’d taken two lives. My friend raised his voice to match mine, saying, “Yes, I know that’s how you feel, but don’t you see that Jesus died on the cross to take that guilt away for you? He died to set you free from all this!” At that moment, miraculously a light went on in my brain, and I saw for the first time in my life that God wasn’t angry at me, but loved me. He loved me so much, that He’d died on the cross to take away all the guilt that was literally killing me. For the first time in my life, I felt loved and accepted as I was. I cried buckets that night, but it was such a release. All the pain, the self hatred, the shame, the guilt, I laid it all there, between God, me, and my friend. We talked all night long till the sun came up. That sunrise was the start of a new life for me. I started to see the world through the eyes of grace, love, and forgiveness.
My friend and I continued to walk through the healing process together. I named my babies, and properly mourned their death and reconciled with my part in it. Having no reason to run away from pain anymore, I was freed from the need to use anything to mask the pain. As I healed from my brokenness, I gained the strength and courage to face everything and deal with it head on, knowing that God will be there everyday of my life, just as He has been at this lowest point in my life.
My relationship with my friend deepened through this process from friendship into the kind of deep love that made us want to spend the rest of our lives together. Paul had seen me at my worst and loved me through it all, just like God did. To me, he was the vessel God used to pour His love on me when I felt unlovable. I couldn’t see anyone else better to be married to than Paul. And I still feel that way today after being married to him for nearly 28 years.
As I became more secure in God’s love, my understanding of His grace also deepened. I began to see how the false belief about God, whether taught to me or caught by me, had damaged the relationship I had with Him as a young child. Since then, the more I understood God’s love and lived in that reality, the more disparity there was between what I believed and what the traditional Christian churches were teaching about God’s character, His attitude toward His children, and the role of church leadership in a believer’s life. The older our children got, the more uncomfortable Paul and I became about what they’re being indoctrinated into as we took them to church week after week. Eventually, we really questioned why we kept going to church every week, and we felt a stronger and stronger tug to leave that whole “going to church” lifestyle altogether. But we continued to go to church partly because we really didn’t know there was an alternative, having been raised to believe that that’s what all Christians are supposed to do, and worse yet, if you don’t, your faith would surely fade away and your relationship with God would fade too.
But, eventually, we both heard a clear “Follow Me” on Easter Sunday of April 2001, after the church service, and that was when we left that lifestyle for good. It has been nearly 12 years now, and our faith did not fade away, and our children did not become “worldly”. We have, as a family, become more in touch with the world (which is a completely different thing than being “worldly”). Our friends now span all walks of life and wide spectrum of faith. We believe that though we can never know all there is to know about God, we have come to know Him more fully than before, and our relationship with him will continue to grow deeper in the years to come. It has been a trial through the desert, as we have had people pulled away from us once we stopped attending the same church they did. I still remember how lonely the first few years after we stopped attending Sunday services were. So many times the loneliness almost drove us back to attending church again, but we kept following the voice that said, “Trust me. I am here with you.” And God has been faithful to bring new people into our lives, and over the years, He’s knitted a whole new network, both locally where we live and on the Internet, that is based on love and our common bond of humanity. We see them all as children of God, created in His image, who are deeply loved and cherished by Him (regardless of whether or not they believe this to be so). And we can love and accept them, spend time with them, without requiring them to believe exactly the same thing we do.
So here I am, having traveled a full circle back to the same pure and simple love relationship I had with God when I was a toddler, unencumbered by man-made religious rules. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.