My Spiritual Journey

Lily ReflectionOver 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.


Honoring My Mom on Mother’s Day

This is an old photograph of my mother, me, and my two younger brothers.  Given that I was so young then, my memory is foggy as to the exact time the photograph was taken, but I would guess it was 1968, when I was about 6 years old.  I found out as a teenager that this picture was taken because my mother thought she was dying from a severe case of stomach ulcer, and she wanted my brothers and I to have a picture to remember what she looked like.   Miraculously, she got better, and I am so glad that I was spared the loss of my mother at such a young age.

Life hasn’t been easy for us since my father left when I was 6 years old.  I’m not sure if it was before or after this photo was taken.  It wasn’t till I became a mother myself that I truly comprehended how heart-wrenching it must have been for my mother to be told that she could not bring her children back home to my grandparents’ house when her marriage with my father failed, and to have my brothers and I taken away from her by my father (whom she knew was an abusive man).

To compound her pain, my father then placed us in boarding school, and the only time she could see us was to visit us at school, and occasionally take us home for a weekend.  When school was at recess and we went to our father’s house, my mother was forbidden to visit us there.  There were no laws governing divorce or separation in Bangkok, Thailand, at least not then.  Long story short, years went by where my brothers and I grew up without daily contact with our mother.  It wasn’t until I was 13, when my mother took me with her to the U.S. in October of 1975, that I got to live with my mother again, and my brothers joined us about a year later.  By the time all of us were together again, I was already 14.

Though I was a teenager by the time she had us with her again, in my mother’s psyche, my brothers and I were still the little children that were taken from her.  She never did get over the pain and sorrow, even to this day, and emotionally, she’s constantly yearning for that happy scene with her children in her arms.    Because she’s unable to let go of the past to find that inner peace that’s so vital for healing and maturity, my mother did not have that to pass on to me, and I grew up very insecure, and always feeling responsible for my mother’s emotional well being.   I resented this as a teenager, and my relationship with my mother was rocky as I fought for my independence.  I could not understand my mother until after I got married and experienced the love of a mother from the vantage point of a mom, when I had my first child at the age of 24.   As I held my own child, imagining what it would be like to be separated from him, I wept in my mother’s place.

Now, as a middle-aged adult who has raised three out of six of my own children to adulthood, I completely understand how my mother could have difficulty letting us go while she continued to treat my brothers and I like little children as we grew into adulthood.   As I progressed in my own healing, living each day in the unconditional love of God for me,  I’ve grown in my acceptance of my mother as she is, with all her human frailties and shortcomings.  She never really had a chance to be a mom, because her children were taken from her, and later on, because she was still stuck in the past, she did some things in my teen and young adult years that were harmful to my emotional development.  But, there is one thing I can never doubt about my mother,  and that is her fierce love for me and my brothers.  Even when she made the mistakes, she did so because she truly believed that was best for us.   And I will forever be thankful that when my father tried so hard to hide us from her and cut her out of our lives, she never gave up searching for us.  She worked hard to support us as a single mother, and taught us many lessons about good work ethics, kindness, and generosity.  I don’t know how she did it, but we always had enough to meet our needs and to share with others.

If I have the power, I would turn back time and start us all over again as a family, changing the circumstances to give my mother that happy time with her young children in her arms, fulfilling her heart’s deep longing, so she can have peace.  But alas, I cannot do that.  I can only live in the present, and love her through her pain as I grieve the mother-daughter relationship that we could have had, if only things were different.

But things are different for me and my own children.  And in my mother’s honor, I am loving my children as fiercely as I know she has loved me.  In her honor, I am loving  my children as I believe my mother would have done had circumstances been different for her and me.  And in her honor, I want the whole world to know how very much I love my mother.

Healing of a Memory Long Forgotten

I didn’t grow up with the typical home life; not by the standard of any culture.   My family was in Bangkok, Thailand, when my father left my mother and his 3 young children in 1968.  I was a month shy of 6, and the oldest.  When my mother tried to take all of us to go live with my grandparents (her parents), she was told that only she could return home, and my 2 younger brothers and I were to go with my father because we were his responsibility.  My father came to get us, and immediately placed us in boarding school.   My mother would come visit us periodically at school, and on some weekends we’d even be lucky enough to go home with her.   Those weekends were always too short, and I can still recall the dread of the Sunday afternoon’s drive back to the school.  When school was out during the Summer, we would go stay with our father, and not be allowed any contact with our mother.  Actually, we weren’t even allowed to talk about her.

Last night, I remembered a long-forgotten incident that happened during one of these Summers at my father’s house.   I was about 9, and was missing my mother very much.  I secretly wrote a letter to her, telling her how unhappy I was at my father’s house, how I wish I was with her, and how mean my father’s new wife had been to my brothers and me, but that she didn’t need to worry, because I would do my best to take care of my little brothers for her, and I hope the Summer would go quickly so we could be back at school and she could come visit us again.  There was one major obstacle to getting that letter to my mother:  I didn’t have any envelope or stamp.   I decided to ask for help from the one adult whom I thought I could trust, the servant.  I gave her the letter, asking her to put it in a stamped envelope and mail it.

That night, my father called me into his room.  As I walked into the room, I was horrified to see the letter in my father’s hand, without an envelope, and he was very angry.  Obviously he read the letter and didn’t like the colorful words I used to describe his new wife.  I told him I was sorry, that I said those things because I was missing my mother and just wanted to see her.  But he remained angry.

It wasn’t the first time my father beat me, but it was the worst beating I’d ever received from his hands.  I couldn’t remember anything my father said to me that night, only the swishing sound that the long handle of the feather duster made as it came down, and the hot searing pain I felt when it made contact with my skin.   It seemed like time stood still as one swish came after another.  I remember not being able to stand up anymore when he finally stopped.  Somehow I got myself to bed (a sleeping mat), my whole body still throbbing with pain.  I cried myself to sleep, longing for my mother to comfort me, wondering if God even cared.

That’s how it happened, or at least how my young child’s mind remembered it.   Such memories used to bring me a lot of sorrow and bitterness, along with the feeling of abandonment, wondering where God was at such times in my life.  But this time, as I saw this replayed in my mind, I saw Jesus there by my sleeping mat, with one arm around me and the hand of His other arm stroking my hair, whispering to me that I will be alright.  I no longer felt abandoned, but loved.

In my heart, I had decided to forgive my father back in 1984, but the emotional wounds were so deep, it seems the healing process still continues to this day.  It’s been my experience that when I come to God with my brokenness, God heals me, not by telling me to forget what happened and bury the pain, but by walking with me back in time to look at everything through His eyes, and literally takes the pain away.

As I watched this memory through God’s eyes, I was not a bad little girl who’d betrayed her father and deserved his wrath (as I had seen back then through my father’s eyes), but a deeply loved child of God who’s being treated cruelly.   What literally happened in this walk back in time with God was that the adult me was there in the memory along with the younger me, and the adult me was able to understand what the younger me couldn’t in the past.  The amazing thing was that now both the child and adult me could see my own father as a child of God too, and that he also needed compassion.  He couldn’t love me because he had not known love himself.  He simply didn’t have it to give.  He was abused too as a child.  Jesus was hurting for all of us!  And now the child version of me was extending forgiveness to my father, and she was no longer in pain, and her face was one of joy and peace, not of sorrow.  Then, I suddenly zoomed back to present day, and my heart was filled with the same joy and peace.

So, one more sorrowful and bitter memory is conquered.  Maybe that’s the last, maybe not.

My father passed away in June of 2001.  I still grieve that we didn’t have a chance to reconcile with each other on this earth, but I am glad that he is now free from his earthly bondage, and I hope to reconcile with him someday on the other side, with both of us fully healed in the presence of Jesus.