My daughter got married yesterday to a wonderful young man whom I have come to love as a son. While I felt all the joy and tenderness of watching my daughter and my now-son-in-law exchanging vows and starting a new chapter in their lives as husband and wife, the reality of what has transpired yesterday, that she’s now married and no longer a part of my household, didn’t really hit me till this morning.
You see, yesterday, I simply did the same things I’ve always done before in her life. I was there to share her joy. I helped her and supported her whenever she needed me and called for me. I held her close and kissed her. I told her she was beautiful. These are all things I’ve always done for her as her mother.
But this morning, I did something I’ve never done before as her mother. . . I changed her last name on my cell phone directory. That’s when it hit me that she’s no longer Rebekah Constance Doell. She’s now Rebekah Constance Barker. There’s just something so final about that, and it caught me off guard.
I kept telling myself that she’s still the same person, that she’s still my daughter, that only her last name has changed. But somehow it hit me hard. The last name Doell is yet one more thing we used to share that is now gone in the process of watching her grow up and letting her go.
It will take me a while to get used to her new last name.
And so He came. . . The Creator taking the form of His creation. . .Becoming one of us. . .Living among us. . . Experiencing our pain, joy, sorrow, despair. . .Relating face-to-face with us. . . Giving us His all. . . Becoming vulnerable to our wrath in order to demonstrate that He had no wrath toward us and that we’ve been forgiven long before He came.
Humbly He came, as a baby born in a lowly stable, to show us how to live, how to love, and how to have heaven in our hearts at all times. He came to love us in all of our messes, then showed us a better and higher way to love ourselves and others. His love is the transforming kind of love, the kind that makes you content in being just the way you are, and at same time encourages you to be much more than you thought you could ever be.
That’s what Christmas is all about to me, God becoming man to show me the truth about Himself and me. Love coming to the beloved, telling me I am precious and valued beyond measure. I have been touched by this love and have forever been changed. This is why I celebrate Christmas.
Look at this leaf. It’s a leaf in transition, from the green of Summer to the red and orange of Fall. It’s beautiful! We humans tend to fear change. We are more comfortable with things staying the same. We like things to be predictable. But life is full of change. And growth cannot happen without change. Do not resit change, for to resist change is to resist growth and the necessary transition from season to season, from immaturity to maturity, from naive to wise, from inexperienced to experienced, from wounded to healed. Embrace the change. It’s a beautiful process!
Today, I want to share a song with those of you who feel you’re facing life alone, and your hope is fading. I have been there, in those dark days when I literally had no friend to talk to (moved to a place where I knew nobody). In your dark hour, don’t be afraid to look inside you, into the darkness. Perhaps you see things you don’t like about yourself, and wonder how anyone can like you. Or you’re facing problems you just don’t know how to solve, or dealing with difficult situations that you don’t know how to get through.
Here’s a truth I hope you will hear from me today: You are created in God’s image and deeply loved. God’s goodness is your origin, and you will find Him when you dare to look inside yourself. Yes, you will see some things that aren’t so good, wrong choices you’ve made that brought you to this junction in your life, things that you want to change about yourself but don’t know how, things you’re ashamed of, or things you’re afraid that people will reject you for if they knew, or things that make you hate yourself. Don’t be afraid to look at them, because as you dare to look at the truth about yourself, you will also see God and His grace there. He will show you the good things about you; teach you to accept yourself, forgive yourself, and love yourself. He will help you to move past the pain and forgive others who’ve hurt you. There’s a Voice inside your heart that knows you are purposely designed for good. Listen to that voice. Inside you is all the strength you’ll ever need to get up and get going again, because inside you is the seed of Life that God has planted.
We are all created in God’s image and His Life is in us. When we look inside us, and truly seek to find what good there is, we will find God in all that’s good about us. That’s where I found Him–in the deepest place of my heart, And He showed me how to see myself with His eyes; that I am beautiful. He showed me I could be a hero and triumph over the darkness. The strength came from within me where He is, and when I started seeing myself through His eyes, I became a hero.
Hero (2009) by Moriah Carey
There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don’t have to be afraid
Of what you are
There’s an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away
And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you
It’s a long road
When you face the world alone
No one reaches out a hand
For you to hold
You can find love
If you search within yourself
And the emptiness you felt
Dreams are hard to follow
But don’t let anyone
Tear them away
There will be tomorrow
You’ll find the way
I feel exhausted today, like I’d just given birth to another child. And in a sense, I have! This “baby” — the compassion for the homeless from a source much bigger than myself– has been growing in my heart for a very long time, ever since I was a little girl.
I hope you will take a look at this new blog (if you haven’t already done so). It’s called Faces of the Homeless, and its purpose is to acquaint the readers with homelessness, in particular the homeless people. I hope to change the public perception of the homeless people from one which sees them as a social problem for the government to solve, to seeing them as individuals just like you and me, with a need for respect, friendship, and encouragement. For more details on how this project got started, go to http://facesofthehomeless.org and click on “How This Blog Got Started” to read about my recent experience in Nashville, TN.
Don’t worry, I will still post to the Songs of My Heart blog every so often. 🙂
I recently accompanied my husband on his business trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee. We had one day to visit The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, about a two-hour drive from Chattanooga, where I hoped to photograph the sunset. On the way there, as we got closer to the mountains, white clouds turned into black rain clouds, but having lived in the Midwest for 10 years now, we pressed on knowing that the storm could be short and sunshine could return. We were correct, and were blessed with sunshine while we drove around Cades Cove and hiked on the trails. But when the time came to drive up toward Clingmans Dome, where I planned to photograph the sunset, it started raining again. The sky turned dark, and I was really losing hope of being able to see a sunset. But we had come all this way, so we drove onward toward Clingmans Dome anyway. We got caught behind some very slow cars and would not make it to Clingmans Done before the sunset, so we stopped at an overlook along the road instead. There were some other photographers there, so I figured it was a good spot. This photograph below was taken there. As beautiful as this photograph is, it fails to capture everything that I’d seen with my eyes. As I stood there watching the sunset, I realized that this scene before me was the aftermath of the rain storm just moments before. If not for the storm clouds, there wouldn’t be all the different hues of orange and yellow in the sky.
Life is like that too. Sometimes there need to be a storm for us to see the beauty of life, the joy of living. There are things that have happened to me in my life, mistakes I’ve made that had led to much grief, that I wish had not happened. There have been hard times, sorrowful times, for me and my loved ones that I wish we didn’t have to go through. But as I have experienced cycles of these hard times, I’ve come to realize that, for one thing, I would not be the person that I am today, if I had not learned the lessons I’d learned through forgiving others for what they’d done to me, and forgiving myself for my mistakes; and the hard times in life had made me and my loved ones stronger, better, wiser than we were before. The beautiful things of life often follow brokenness, sorrow, and hardship, like a beautiful sunset that comes after a storm.
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.