Advent: God with us, Jesus Christ our savior and Lord

I privately journaled the following on December 1, 2020. Some things have been edited to deidentify some personal information.

“Today has been an unnaturally hard day. Some of the usual triggers – talk about marriage, raising a family. wishing that was something I “got to do”. It’s not just simply that. No, it’s this nagging feeling like I could be the one to make it happen and yet there’s this huge gaping hole of hopelessness that separates me from my goal. There’s also this feeling of distrust in those over me, perhaps even in God that this is not how things should be.

I tell myself this is the way things should be because God is sovereign, and He loves me beyond compare. This should be enough. But today it isn’t. And it’s not because it isn’t enough, but it’s because I’m struggling with longing for what I shouldn’t. 

I don’t know what to do in these situations. I know I should pray. I know I should reflect on the great gospel of God. I know I should remember the moments of relief that I have when my heart is turned away from idols and turned towards God. But today it has been a great magnitude harder for me.

I struggle with shame on all fronts, of feeling like I’m not as mature as I should be at my age. The only reason I’m moving out is because my parents are enabling me to with immense comfort and security. I had always wanted to move out because I was getting married. I didn’t care if I moved out into a small apartment on the not-so-good side of town. Now I get to move into an idyllic neighborhood in my very own home. But I feel sadness sharing the story because I feel shame that I am not more grateful. I also fear I will be berated for my covetousness.

I went out and prayed and wrestled with my heart. My emotions and sadness while real and experienced do not match with the truth that I know. and I prayed that God would help me to cling to truth above all else.” *

Sunday December 13, 2020 –

Christmas is under 2 weeks away. With the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ approaching, my pastor preached through Genesis 2:15-3:7. To understand our need for Jesus, we need to understand the sin we need to be saved from. Our scripture reading included Matthew 4:1-17. Both are passages that show the nature of the devil. He is a tempter, a flatterer, a deceiver. He twists God’s word and preys upon peoples’ knowledge, experience and emotions and turns them into the most important things to us which shape our convictions and actions in place of God’s word. In Genesis 2:16, God gave Adam and Eve his abundant and gracious provision saying “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden” before warning them not to eat of the tree of life. In Genesis 3:1, Satan casted doubt on the goodness of God’s words, and asked Eve “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Eve is deceived. She doubted the goodness of God and added to and exaggerated God’s word, painting a picture of a harsh, tyrannical, miserly old man. And, from her own thoughts and desires, she was tempted and lured away to sin, to death like it says in James 1:14-15. My pastor ended the sermon challenging us, that it is not simply enough to have Christ with us as if he were simply there when we needed him to be and afterthought when we feel we can be self-sufficient. No, Christ came to save us, and to rule in our hearts over our own desires, opinions, experiences which actually enslave us in fear. With Christ’s lordship in our hearts comes freedom from our enslavement, and that freedom also by the word of God. In John 8:12 Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

It struck me how helpful, sweet and convicting this message was. I rejoiced because this mirrored the battle that I had underwent 2 weeks earlier. The world’s messaging about what is meant to bring happiness and joy in this life is so tempting, and it affects so many people around me, even Christians. It’s such a strange life stage being 30 and not dating while most people my age are dating, engaged (or on their way), married, or becoming parents. I know that the years of dating and first years of marriage are as rough as they are sweet and so much time and attention is needed to focus on nourishing that relationship. Still, it’s hard not to feel left behind. The messaging from the world says that I’m lacking, that I’ve somehow not been “successful”. Internal lies from the devil also make me feel unwanted. Looking at Instagram and YouTube and you’d see people my age fighting the world’s messaging by finding their happiness and security in celebrating being single, unmarried, without children and displaying their expertly make-upped faces, perfectly curated closets and statuesque bodies. It’s easy to see those who are well put together on the outside and feel like it makes them more mature, confident, attractive and admired, and turn around and think I need to do all those things to be perceived as such by my married peers. And while there’s nothing wrong with wearing makeup, dressing well and exercising (in fact these are good things!) it’s absolutely a lie that I’ll find true, lasting happiness in any of these things (and that includes marriage!). From the world’s perspective, the solution is to online date, put myself out there, even ask guys out. A decision not to do any of those things came from a combination of counsel and my own convictions after reading passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, even Genesis 3 and considering the biblical roles of men and women as laid out in 1 Tim, 1 Peter and Titus. For me it’s clear, men are to lead in the life of the church and in marriage. I have committed myself to my church and the community there, and to trust that if God has marriage in store for me, that it will happen by a man’s initiation and not my own. If you’re Christian woman reading this and have come to a different conclusion about dating, fine-that isn’t the point- the point I want to make is that the messaging about what the world and even Christians think about where I should be at in life…all of it is rubbish! But I’m influenced by it and I am so tempted to believe it as evidenced in my very painfully raw thoughts I decided to put out there for this post. And thus I must strive daily to remember that God has chosen me, that God has loved me, what God’s will for me is, and what great and glorious hope He has already gifted to me (Ephesians 1-3). I must also strive daily to give Jesus full reign in my heart, to trust him with my whole heart and put to death the idols my heart that arise. * God’s message is not that He has withheld marriage from me so I have to go seek it out for myself, but that He has given me Himself! Jesus (and not Jesus+marriage) – Jesus alone gives life, freedom, joy and peace. This is the reason for the season. God with us, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our savior and Lord.

______________________

An Appendix of sorts:

I just want to clarify something from my thoughts at the start of the post. When I say “And it’s not because it isn’t enough, but it’s because I’m struggling with longing for what I shouldn’t.” — I really am referring to this covetous, idolatrous view of marriage. Desiring marriage is a good thing. But when that desire grows, and the lack of it turns into bitterness towards God, that’s sin. I feel like someday I’m going to write a much longer post devoted to my prolonged singleness and why this is a GOOD thing despite how much I’m struggling with it, ha ha. God was quick to answer me after I wrote my above thoughts. After I went to Him in prayer and laid out everything I was feeling, confessed my lack of trust and faith and asked for His help, He gave me the peace that surpasses understanding. He could have withheld that peace and He would still be worthy of my undivided allegiance (a la Daniel 3:17-18)

*I also want to share one other thing. How does one remember and cling to God’s truth? Well, one should have a regular diet of reading God’s word. I was reading 2 Peter 1 this very morning and I was struck by this very unassuming few verses that are between a list of godly qualities that Peter is hoping would be the true fruit of salvation in his Christian audience. He says the following in verses 12-14: “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.” — and he goes on to describe the more sure word, the inspired scriptures.

It struck me for a couple reasons:
– Peter intends to always remind his Christian audience to be fruitful in their faith (refer to v1-11).
– Peter recognizes that these Christians have been given the truth and are established in it already. He writes these few verses to show that it’s not enough that these Christians know truth. They have to be stirred up by way of reminder.
– Peter’s about to die, and by writing inspired by the Holy Spirit, these reminders are now part of scripture which has endured long after Peter and the other authors have gone.
– It is scripture that we have that we can refer to be reminded of truth. This is also a gift from God, we have His word.

Thanks for reaching to the end of this very long post. I didn’t think I would be posting again until 2022 haha. But I have time these days, and I felt moved to write about this in light of the sermon today and to share both the struggles and triumphs in my faith. Merry Christmas 🙂

Advent: God with us, Jesus Christ our savior and Lord

Growing pains at 30

I’m 30. Thirty. Three-zero. Three decades old.

Here it is, my mid-life! It is so different than what I would have ever imagined for myself. I say at the outset of this post that truly God knows best. It is strange and wondrous, definitely supernaturally provided, that I can praise God today and thank Him for what he has done in my life. I have so much to share: thoughts and musings on my life, personal commentary on the state of the world, hopes for myself, and as always longings for the kingdom to come. Thanks for reading.

My last post two years ago in 2018 was titled “Growing Pains at 28” and here I am still going through more growing pains at 30. I feel like every year since post-grad life, I’ve had to confront the parts of me that I’ve held on to for the better part of my life, relinquish my grasp on them and instead cling to Christ. Towards the end of 2019, I came upon this verse that helped focus me through the pruning that has since taken place in my life.

“and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
2 Corinthians 5:15 (ESV)

I read this verse in a book called “From Pride to Humility: A Biblical Perspective” by Dr. Stuart Scott (highly recommend). It was a slow but jarring shock to the system to have the ways I was living for myself be exposed. I’ve had my idea of and desire for relationships/friendships challenged and totally upended. I’ve had my identity and personality challenged and some aspects left behind and others remain. I’ve had my motives and desires for ministry challenged and refined. And through it all, I had my understanding of, belief in, and dependence on Jesus and the gospel challenged. Praise God that as I write this, I can say that the gospel has grown more sweet to me and I am so thankful Christ has held me fast through it all because it’s certainly been one tumultuous ride.

I have to take you back to the beginning for the background. I believed in the gospel at a very young age. God existed and I had to have a relationship with him. I understood I was a sinner and in order to have a right relationship with God, I had to believe in Jesus Christ whose death on the cross covered my sin. That Jesus came to save me was the good news and I readily believed and committed to live in that reality then. At that time to me, it meant going to church, telling people about God and wanting them to believe too. But reading the Bible and prayer were nonexistent, and serving in the church seemed more like joining a cool kids club and I was an outsider. But not being in the in-crowd was something I eventually treated like a badge of honor. I formed my identity and personality around not being a cool, popular kid, while still wanting to be liked and accepted. At that time in my life God and his gospel was just one of many things I wanted people to know were important to me. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but what was true of me then was that I had many idols in my life that I was looking to that I hoped would bring me happiness and fulfillment. The end goal was to be me, to do the things I liked to do, and to find friends who would accept me as I was.

My parents gave me a lot of freedom growing up. In fact, during shelter in place it’s been fun telling them more about myself and the dumb things I did to evade them noticing that their youngest child was actually quite rebellious. But I praise God for my sister who didn’t leave me alone but would always remind me how much my lifestyle did not actually line up with being a Christian. I would always cry because I felt guilty for falling short, mostly of her expectations. And yet I still had no desire to read the Bible or pray because that took time, precious time away from other things I desired to do. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just be believed to be a Christian and to live my life the way I wanted to. Why did she have to tell me I was living incorrectly? Why did she have to question my sincerity? I would be angry at her and defiant, but inside I knew she was right. I just didn’t really know what was wrong yet.

It would be September 2011 when I would come to understand through growing in knowledge of scripture that what was wrong was that I wasn’t living my life fully submitted to God. I was allowing my mind, my heart and my affections be divided among the various idols in my life instead of loving the Lord with all my heart. The consequence of worshiping these idols was rampant, obvious sin in my heart that could not be present if I truly was a regenerate Christian. I understood then that what I was missing in my understanding of the gospel was a need for confession of sin and repentance that accompanied my confession of faith in Jesus. Looking back now, though that was an “a-ha!” moment for me, it would take several years of drawing near to Christ through his word and by prayer, inviting in accountability and fleeing these idols before they truly no longer had a hold on my heart.

So, fast forward to 2016-2019. I was older, and though I knew I would always be growing, I thought I had learned quite a bit and that I had wisdom of my own to share. I was involved in church ministries and had a desire to see people come to faith, to grow in knowledge and love for Christ. And there was always a hope that friendships would be borne out of these relationships. So I would share with people my experiences, my learnings, my understanding of scripture, what God had done in my life and I loved doing that. But I got discouraged when spiritual growth (or even a desire for it) was not evident in those I was pursuing. Continued pursuit then meant pointing out areas of their lives that did not reflect a life given over to Christ and walking alongside them towards greater Christ-likeness. Up to this point in my life, I would pursue and be pursued by my friends as my sister had pursued me many years earlier. I took for granted that the real agent of change at work was the Holy Spirit. I didn’t realize this, but I had blurred the lines between the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of friendship.

I also had blurred the lines between ministry relationships and friendships. It can be helpful to formalize when a relationship is primarily for the purpose of discipleship or accountability. And there is a sweetness when that relationship blossoms into a friendship. But not all ministry relationships turn into friendships (the kind where you can strike that balance of being super silly and intentional). And that’s totally ok, because the unity that we share in Christ is really what makes the relationship sweet. That was one of the lessons I had to learn about myself though, I was using ministry as an avenue for friendship more than I was serving in ministry to point people to Christ.

The other side of this lesson was not everyone I became friends with would share in a mutual pursuit of Christ. But I was ready to protect my friendships, even if the pursuit of Christ was not there. Behind it all was still the desire for friendship, the desire to be liked. There was the desire to defend those on the fringe – those who hadn’t knitted themselves into the life of the church for whatever reason. I identified with them because of my experience of not being included in the in-crowd all those years earlier. There was the desire to avoid confrontation. I understood what it was like to have the sincerity of my faith questioned, how the barrage of questions hurt and made me feel guilty and often ended in tears. However I didn’t want to think about the fact that the hurt, guilt and tears had meant for me a recognition that something was wrong with the way I was living as a Christian. There was the shaky hope that over time they would grow to love Christ and hate their sin like I had, even when the evidence from their life said otherwise. But I was short on time with them. If I wasn’t going to pursue with intentionality and just have these friends to hang out with, time would run out and they would never encounter Christ with me. This was not at all representative of biblical love, love that spurs one another on to attain the fullness of Christ.

This began a revealing of many things, that I valued myself and my comfort over living for Christ, that I had a fear of man, desiring to please and be liked, rather than to hold accountable and potentially be rejected. Only the gospel can save and transform lives and I was having trouble rejoicing in that truth when people I had pursued in hopes of friendship and mutual encouragement in Christ reciprocated friendship, but not pursuit of Christ. I realized I could not win people to Jesus because of my personality, or through sharing life experience. I had built up so much confidence in myself and once it was taken down, I realized I did not have as much confidence in Christ as I thought I did. 1 Corinthians 5:15 became my prayer, that I would not live for myself, but live for the one who died and was raised for me.

The Lord was really doing a great work in me at that point, though I was probably at my lowest. The COVID-19 pandemic struck and we were all forced to shelter in place. Trust in God’s sovereignty was tested as the virus spread with fearsome speed and leaving thousands dead. As the world shut down, church went online. Personally, I was challenged to think…is Christ really enough? The time I would have spent meeting up with people was now empty and thankfully I eagerly welcomed it and turned to spending more time in my own scripture reading and study, more time praying in earnest. I was also confronted with building relationships with my parents. Something I had verbalized wanting to work on but hadn’t really put much effort into. Part of it had been fear. Unease of having difficult and uncomfortable conversations that I wasn’t used to having and would be easier not to have. I was beginning to see a pattern…

Our church was in the middle of studying through the book of Ephesians. Chapter 1 begins with this amazing reminder of the blessings we have in Christ having been called by God to salvation through belief in the gospel. Studying through Ephesians, reading through other parts of scripture through my daily devotional, and reading resources like the 9Mark’s books on conversion and a testimonial called “I Dared to Call Him Father” by Bilquis Sheikh over the course of SIP were all instrumental to revitalizing my hope in the gospel. I was reminded of the incredible truth that God loved me and showered grace and mercy upon me to give me faith in Jesus– Jesus the God-man whose life was lived in perfect obedience to God making him the only person capable of satisfying the wrath of God for sin through his death on the cross and bringing hope of true life through his resurrection. Faith in Christ meant living for him, it meant repenting and turning from sin, from the things that were keeping me from living for him and submitting my life to him. Faith meant trusting in the promises of Christ and acting on them. My confidence in Christ had been refreshed and strengthened.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
1 Corinthians 2:1–5 (ESV)

I heard a message on this at a conference earlier this year (pre-COVID), and these verses provided helpful perspective on friendships, evangelism and ministry. I decided I would focus on being faithful to share the gospel, to share Christ and his word with others and pray for the Holy Spirit to do the work. Because then I wouldn’t boast in myself, in my ability (or lack thereof) to speak eloquently or debate winsomely. But if anyone was won to Christ, or if I gained any friendships, it would unquestionably be due to the work of the Spirit and the power of God. So I prayed that I would be content to receive whatever and whoever the Lord would bring my way and that I would be faithful to present Christ.

And that’s where I am today. There are been some great steady friendships, but there are others where I’ve had hard conversations, some I don’t talk to as much as I used to and some friendships that just fizzled. But I don’t fret about that any more. I know the Lord will do his work in his time. Ministry is opportunity for me to bring people to see Christ in scripture and walk alongside them to grow their love and affection for him. My parents are pretty much the same in their state before God, but there have been many opportunities for the gospel which I have been thankful for. Conversation among us has become much more open and free flowing, fun at times. We even bought a house together that I’m now remodeling into what’s pretty much a dream house in a dream neighborhood. Talk about totally unexpected things to happen in 2020. And I’m still totally single! That was more…expected haha. I’m amazed because I see God’s providential hand working through this. Marriage is something I still desire, but I just don’t know if will happen. My parents have stepped in place of a spouse to provide security and stability for me and I still get a little emotional thinking about that. It has helped my contentment to know God has not left me alone but has provided for my every need, spiritually and physically now through my parents. I am so thankful.

All of this happened while the world erupted in chaos. And though I am so grateful to see the work that God is doing in my life presently, I hope for the day to come that I go to be with Him. The world can’t even fathom or begin to understand why I would go through everything I detailed above. Without God’s saving grace, I would have just done what pleased me. I would have clung to all the things I desired. I would have seen my personality and identity as things to protect rather than to give up to be sanctified and made more like Christ. That’s what I see going on in the world, and it’s causing more and more chaos every day. True peace is only found in Christ who reconciled us with God through his blood and if you are a casual reader passing by this blog and have come this far, repent and believe in Christ today to know this peace!

I know that as I continue to grow in faith, I will be called to leave other things behind to follow Christ with my whole heart. Admittedly it will probably be another battle and another blog post for another day. But today, I am thankful for the blessings I have in Christ and and for the peace that transcends understanding from God.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Philippians 3:8 (ESV)

Growing pains at 30

A belated pandemic life update

I started writing this back in April 2020. It went unpublished until now Sept 2020 //

As I write this, we are in month 4 of a shelter in place order. Just for posterity’s sake I want to record what’s taken place.

A global pandemic struck. COVID-19, the unseen enemy had been mingling among us likely months before the US realized it was a threat. Once it was understood how devastating this virus could be, we entered into shelter-in-place. Over 100,000 people have died in America alone. Emotionally the toll has been large, with people dying alone in isolation and friends and families torn apart suddenly. We are still without a definitive cure or vaccine. So even now as we are just now coming out of our shelter-in-place, it is with great caution and likely at great cost that we are trying to come together and reestablish togetherness all while wearing masks, refraining from touching one another, and…possibly the most egregious and difficult thing for me…not singing in church. But this is so that as a church we can love our neighbor and respect the government-issued guidelines. 

The world economy screeched to a halt, the stock market crashed, unemployment skyrocketed and the government was forced to create money to keep people alive. I continued to go to work as healthcare was deemed an essential service. What a blessing it is to work in healthcare. The economic impact hurts now, but the money that was created out of nowhere will be the burden to pay back for me and my nieces’ and nephew’s generation.

America is “going up in flames”. I’ve heard this phrase a lot over the last weeks. Sin is being exposed. Racism has raised it’s ugly head yet again and the viral deaths of 3 black individuals at the hands of police and white vigilantes lit up the powder keg of racial tension within our country. COVID-19 was already beginning to cause our country to burst at the seams as it exposed health disparities along racial and socioeconomic lines. I think I honestly feel America is at the worst it has been at least in my lifetime. Possibly, America is at its worst in its entire history? Depends on your perspective. Through workplace discussions I’ve heard there is what I feel is misplaced optimism that the “moral arc of history is turning towards justice”. But according to the standard of God’s law, His morality, America continues turning away. I feel like we’re being judged now because of this.

Personally for me, I’ve had several sweet months with my dad and mom. We have all been healthy. I’ve been able to spend the time with them I had always wanted but to my shame I never made as great of a priority as I always said I wanted. I’ve honestly enjoyed being at home with them. I’m thankful for friendships, thankful for the internet and video calls which have probably made me more social than I expected I would be. I’m thankful also that God has used this time to grow me (discipline me?) in so many ways I did not expect… //end

This past year has really been the beginning of a turning point for me, hopefully I’ll get that out in another post coming shortly. This post feels sort of unfinished but I’ll leave it this way because it still serves as a marker of where my mind was at that time of this year. 

A belated pandemic life update

Growing Pains at 28

Hey, it’s been over 2 years since I last updated here. Recently I’ve been thinking about my blog and how it has documented the change over time of the things that I find to be pressing on my heart. Relationships, singleness and how to glorify God while waiting on those things have been swirling around in my mind for quite some time now. This post is a long time coming. I’ve had a lot of growing pains and so this post is pretty raw for me. But here it is because I want to be able to look back and see God’s faithfulness and His mercies in my life, which endlessly renew, day after day. I hope whatever that is expressed here may be encouraging and an exhortation to be eternally minded.

So my story picks up after joining a new church upon moving back home after my studies. My spiritual walk with the Lord was refreshed and rejuvenated after a year of stress and hardship. I was finding that the single life is one of blessing because of the potential to have undivided attention and to be fully devoted to the things of the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). That’s where I was and it was wonderful.

But, certain seasons come and go, some more quickly or slowly than I would like. This particular season lasted only a few months when all of a sudden… someone piqued my interest. This wasn’t my first rodeo (I’m a little boy crazy, I must admit). But this one was different from the others who I had secretly admired from afar because, embarrassingly enough, he was the first I would have considered a true friend (I’m a late bloomer for sure). Well, it was clear that despite being a kind friend, the lack of pursuit signaled a lack of interest for something beyond friendship. Yet, even with that knowledge the feelings lingered, as they naturally do. I was so disappointed when things didn’t progress and eventually I had to let go. It was a lesson learned to even be ok with feeling sad. I had struggled with feeling guilty that I felt so forlorn, but Proverbs 13:12 became a bittersweet reminder to me that it is normal to feel heartsick. Psalm 119 among other passages was what I turned to and what restored me: “v.25 My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word! v.28 My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!” It might seem dramatic, but I am dramatic.

The big question was, “why didn’t you DTR him?” DTR stands for “define the relationship” if you didn’t know. I had another valuable lesson to learn. It was so important to have objective God-fearing women in my life who had been through these kinds of things and made it to the other side, who loved me enough to tell me the hard truths and to shut down any crazy notions I had about the other person’s feelings or vibes. Regardless of vibes, I had come to the conviction that I wouldn’t act on solely feelings of attraction, that I’d want the guy to show leadership and be the one to express interest. Not that there’s never a time to DTR (and sometimes it is helpful to encourage the brother in that way!), but in my situation, it wasn’t warranted. You’ll just have to trust the wisdom from the Lord on that. Because if left up to me and my own mind and feelings, I would have felt completely justified to do so. It was the wise advice I received to refrain, and looking back, it was the correct advice.

After that ordeal, my discipler gave me a book called “Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith when Dreams are Delayed”. A helpful book that showed me that I was in the school of waiting, and boy was I getting my education. I was not alone in this school though. Everyone is waiting for something. The Israelites waited for a Messiah that would redeem them. Abraham and Sarah waited for a son in their old age.The father waited for his prodigal son to come home. And in this season of waiting on the provision of a husband, I am reminded that all this is pointing me to the even greater hope that I wait for: the fulfillment of the promise that Jesus Christ will come back again to bring me into eternity with Him. It was this simple truth that brought contentment back to my heart. Summer had just begun, and with it I felt as if I had just entered a summer break. Various ministries at church were on break while other ministries like our short term missions, one of which I was a part of, were starting to get into full swing. I thought I had entered into a nice long season of peace.

“It is not good for man to be alone.”

The words disrupted the perfection of the newly formed world. Likewise, in my heart, the words disrupted my contentment. They caused me to question, am I lacking as I am in my singleness? I struggled with this a lot. How am I to fulfill my servant-helper role if I don’t have a servant-leader? This puzzled me and I felt lonelier than ever. The discontent I had been fighting was threatening to overwhelm me. Summer was over, I guess it was back to school for me and I had to tackle even more questions. What did I really expect marriage to be? How was I preparing for that now as a single person? What did I really expect my role as a servant-helper to look like?

Honestly, up until now, I’ve had nothing but idyllic, heavily romanticized visions of matrimony. For the longest time, I’ve dreamed of that day when I’d look at a guy with a goofy smile plastered over my face, laughter ringing out from my insides, heart a flutter… and he’d be the reason for it all and reciprocate. But I knew that dreams and feelings are fleeting. Even if they are the building blocks of a blossoming relationship, these emotions are unable to sustain a relationship battered and worn down by anxieties, fears, misunderstandings, and exhaustion among many other things. It’s not an easy choice to make to persist in loving someone more than yourself when the foundation of your relationship is made of butterflies and blushes alone.

Then I realized something. I’ve already experienced choosing to love someone. I’ve understood the heartbreak of unmet expectations. I’ve prayed to love selflessly, as Christ has loved me. These are lessons I’ve learned from through the relationships with my family and my closest girlfriends. We’ve gone through incredible heartache together with torrential tears. We’ve screamed with delight in the face of incredible victory and joy together. I’m thankful for the lessons I’ve learned from them.

But a curious thing has happened. God has given me more male relationships, more male friendships and men to do ministry with than I’d ever had prior to this point in my life. It’s been a little much, and I’m sad to report that in my interactions with many of the brothers in the church, I’ve lacked grace. I’ve lacked the same love for the men than I’ve had for the women in my life. I’ve seen a stark difference in how I treat the men I have respect for, or even have an attraction to, and how I treat the men who I don’t have the same attitudes toward.

I’ve been given the answer to my questions but the answers have come through the revealing of much sin in my heart. Of pride, of anger, of frustration, of anxiety, of bitterness, of partiality, of lust, of a lack of true brotherly love. Oh, it’s been so difficult to have this be exposed, and the weight and guilt of sin is so heavy. But the recognition of these areas of sin is a grace that is undeserved. It means the Holy Spirit is at work in me, sanctifying me, making me more into the likeness of Christ. It’s crazy when I look back on the last 10 years of my life and I remember how each year brought ridiculously difficult trials and how I would hope that the next year would be easier, but it would never be. I would grow, but I would be reminded time and time again of how far I was from God as conquered areas of sin gave way to other areas of sin that needed to be addressed. That’s the Christian life though. These days I try to think of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus’ own example for the disciples’ prayer and mine. A prayer that recognizes my daily dependence on God and His daily provision of exactly what I need: enough grace to cover the difficulties of the day and of the moment I’m in.

Ephesians 5:22-24  “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

1 Peter 3:4-5 “But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands.”

It’s easy to overlook these verses and say, “it’s talking about wives and husbands, what kind of application would there be for me?” What’s talked about here is Christ being the head of His church, how the church submits to Christ and how the relationship between a wife and husband is to point to the relationship between the church and Christ. Likewise a gentle and quiet spirit describes the submission of married women to their husbands, but it also points to the grander picture of a spirit of a person that is in submission to Christ. I used to hate that description, gentle and quiet. But I had a wrong understanding of what these characteristics meant. I thought it meant I had to be like a mouse, and I’m more like a hyena. I’ve learned there’s a difference between personality and my heart before God. My personality is unique to me, and a God-given gift. But my heart during this season of waiting has definitely been at odds with God, not wanting to submit to His plan for me now which is to be single or His will for me which is to be holy. But as I struggled with obedience to run from sin, to put off bitterness, anger and to forgive and be tender-hearted as it states in Ephesians 4:31-32, I remembered again the example I have in Jesus. Take a look at this:

Hebrews 5:7-8 “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”

Jesus, fully man, fully God, had to learn obedience as a son to the Father through what he suffered! What humility! Philippians 2 on full display! What a blessing, what a grace it is to learn obedience through the same (and yet so, so much less severe!!) means. I pray so much for Philippians 1:6 that he who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. That these trials are for a purpose greater than I can imagine.

This is more than I deserve as I continue on in my labored journey heavenward. I desire to grow in supporting the men in my life to be godly Christian men. Hopefully they will grow into leaders in the church and of wives of their own. It is an awesome privilege to be a part of their growth. Before I was frustrated and bitter. Now I am thankful and with more contentment than I’ve had in a very long time. Praise God for working this growth in me. My relationships now, and Lord willing–a marriage in the future, is all a stewardship that I want to offer back to the one who gave it to me, all to the glory of God.

1 Peter 1:3-7 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

 

Growing Pains at 28

Japan STM Day??, Joy Joy Day ???

The days are starting to blur together as weariness compounds. Currently it is the morning of last day of Joy Joy. I’m lying on this insanely comfortable futon mattress and woodenjoy frame. I leared from Maaya yesterday how to say: I’ll miss you. Samishikunaru. Mata aitai. Which kinda just means, I want to see you again. We still have about 3 days left, but even now, I’m feeling that I will greatly miss this church that we have served alongside with.

I’ll briefly recap the last two days: my kids have been so great. They listen, they try hard, they teach me Japanese. They know I am terrible at speaking the language and yet they keep trying. I’ve also gained a lot more vocabulary since last week, and was able to explain to them my prayers. After hearing the lessons twice, I can repeat phrases I’ve heard to attempt at reinforcing the message. Most of all, the kids seem to be really paying attention and trying to learn.

On Wednesday, Alyssa Jeanine, and I went to Et-chan’s house for dinner. It was amazing to receive her hospiality especially after such a long day at Joy Joy. We learned that she had been at joy joy since she was 13 and that her family was comprised of believers. Her sister Tomoko-San was also eating with us and helped prepare the meal. She is the one who shared the gospel with our home stay Yuuko-san. We played Japanese UNO and learned a Japanese card game called Daifugo. Super fun. Kou-San baked us a cheesecake which was so good.

On Thursday I was able to talk to the mom of one of my kids. She explained to me that she has been a Christian for almost 30 years. Her youngest is 9 and going to Joy Joy, but she also has two older sons in their late 20s who are not Christian. That seems to be a big pattern that we have seen among the members. The parents are Christian but the children are not. Please keep the families of the HBC members in your prayers. One of the English missionaries also told us last Sunday that even the believing parents sometimes do not have priorities straight. “Oh my son got into top name university and he is dating a nice girl (non-christian)” is just one example.

We got to explore a bit of Namba yesterday which was nice. No time for pictures. Quick overview for the next few days: today we eat at an HBC member’s restaurant and karaoke, tomorrow church fellowship, hanabi (fire works) and onsen, Monday swimming pool and mall, Tuesday we are back in the states!!

Japan STM Day??, Joy Joy Day ???

Japan STM Day 12, Joy Joy Day 2

Joy Joy is going well! I have an angelic group of kids comparative to last weeks… and yet it’s a bit funny how I miss the mischievous ones. Somehow, the mischievous ones are also the most helpful, and interact the most with me.

The great thing about today was that we had a dinner with our homestay families. For most of us, that meant eating with our respective host families. But for Jeanine, Alyssa and myself, we got to eat with Hamadera Bible Church’s secretary and Joy Joy organizer extraordinaire, Et-chan, her sister and niece who was one of my students last week, our home stay mom Yuuko-san as well as Kat! It was such a great experience. Et-chan made a great spread of grilled chicken, and we had cheesecake made by Kou-san, who helps with crafts for Joy Joy, as well as watermelon which we had brought!

Et-chan is part of a large extended family at HBC with a strong Christian family foundation. She moved to Osaka/HBC around the age of 12, and has been there ever since. We found out that Ayumi-san, one of the Bible teachers, drives nearly 2 hours to and from church (WOW) she lives on a farm!! Her children are really close to Et-chan’s family, so they all hang out together. We explained that we were incredibly encouraged by the HBC members’ faithfulness in serving tirelessly at HBC. Yuuko-san was able to talk to her fellow Japanese speakers to translate everything we had been talking to her about. We had a lot more great laughs, such a fun time.

Deep musings: One thing that has been interesting is that this trip has really been a reflection back on my Christian walk. The question people ask is, why are you going on this STM? What are the experiences that were pivotal in your life? I had to tell some unsavory bits about my past, in order to explain my gratefulness for God’s faithfulness to this day. I’m incredibly encouraged by the testimonies that I’ve read from the other team members and the stories I’m hearing from the HBC members. Yet another reminder that the gospel saves no matter the language or cultural barrier. Getting the opportunity to go on this missions trip is seriously one of THE best things ever!

p.s. No pictures of my kids go on here for HBC policy. I’m too lazy to update pics because I’m actually using my team member sean’s comp because he needs a mac for our ppts and such.

Japan STM Day 12, Joy Joy Day 2

Japan STM Day 11, Joy Joy Day 1

Joy Joy 5 days started with a blast. Each team member took charge of a new set of kids. Forging new relationships is hard haha, especially when you are longing for your previous kids. I miss them! Things went smoothly though, we are more experienced than last week so hopefully that’s why things went smoothly.

We began practicing today for a musical number to present to the church. We will be singing “Power of the Cross”. It sounds incredible, I hope someone will record it. We have got some great harmonization going on. Our men sound like Boyz 2 Men or One Direction. SO GOOD.

A deeeelicious tonkatsu dinner was prepared by Hikawa-mama 😀 we laughed a lot because she is so cute! She loves her husband a lot (oppa/noona). They are the best.

We stopped by the convenience store to get our ice cream fix, and surprisingly, there was a store clerk who ran after us to give us a souvenir! We don’t know why, probably because we were like ridiculous foreigners. I think it was food, but I don’t know because I forgot to get one.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m so thankful for the opportunity to talk to Yuuko-san. She may think I am weird. Alyssa has a “cool” personality and I have a “hot” personality. We are working against a language barrier, and Yuuko-San speaks way more English than we speak Japanese. But I’m glad she always laughs easily, and that is a universal language for having fun. Alyssa and I have gotten to know each other really really fast 😛 and I am yet again grateful for the bond that we share in Christ.

Thank you for your prayers. Please pray that we would not be content with the level of our performance, but to strive for excellence in loving the children and the HBC members as well as looking for every opportunity to share the gospel.

Japan STM Day 11, Joy Joy Day 1

Japan STM Day 10

Exhaustion is setting in like crazy. Please pray for energized bodies, especially mine. I seriously fell asleep before writing blog post.

Today we visited Iga castle, home of the Iga clan of ninjas, of the likes of Hattori Hanzou. Five of the HBC members kindly drove us to sight seeing. It was so nice to be able to spend some time with them.

I talked a bit more with Maaya, one of the college aged members of HBC. It is difficult for people to grasp the concept of sin or the consequence of hell. That is why, Joy Joy is aimed at showing the children that God is creator of all. I shared that the turning point for my Christian walk was understanding the grace that I had been shown to be able to place my faith in Christ. The second realization indeed was that God created everything for the sole purpose of glorifying Him, and that my highest role is to glorify and enjoy Him forever!

We got to eat delicious Ika udon and conveyer belt/electronic order sushi today. So grateful for your prayers. Joy Joy starts up again tomorrow. We will need every bit of energy to go towards caring for these kids!!

iga ueno
Iga Castle! Ninja museum inside. We also watched a ninja show. It was like Naruto except REAL LIFE. Yes. Amazing-ness ensued. One of our teammates popped a balloon using a blow dart. 

Japan STM Day 10

Japan STM Day 9

Today we had a good time of fellowship at church with the Hamadera Bible Church members as well as with some of the junior high and high school kids at Summer Joy afterwards. Kondo-sensei preached from Revelations 19 on the second coming of Christ.

This morning at breakfast before heading off to church, my roommate Alyssa and I prayed a bit and one of the prayers was to hopefully see some of the JOY JOY children who were not part of HBC come to church. And wonderfully, that prayer was answered. Two of my girls actually were at the Sunday School! As I was waiting in line to get the church’s lovingly prepared curry lunch, I heard a cute little voice go “Kiyari-sensei!” ahhh my heart melted… I am incredibly grateful to know that they did come back to church on their own. Please continue to pray for them to grow in the knowledge of Christ.

After lunch, Summer Joy began. Akira-sensei gave a sermon on the prophesy of Christ in Isaiah and took us through the New Testament passages that showed the fulfillment of that prophecy. Then we played a crazy fun game, steal the bacon + rock paper scissors, Japanese style. The poor American staff stumbled over the Japanese style rock paper scissors (“sai showa gu, jan ken pon –then if you tie– ai kowa sho, sho, sho…” until someone wins…something like that haha)

Then we just hung out and tried to talk to the junior high/high school students. Many of them had been coming to JOY JOY 5 Days for many years, then once graduated, they came to Summer Joy. It was intense learning about the pressures of the Japanese school system… I’d hate to be a part of it. Our girls thought the message was difficult to understand. Earlier that day, I was talking to Fumika, a UCLA student doing an internship in Osaka for 2 weeks who was visiting HBC. She said hearing a sermon in Japanese was very different from English. In English, the Bible to her, evokes a strong feeling. But, in Japanese, the Bible seemed like an ancient text book. I thought to myself, if it felt ancient to a believer, how much more difficult must it be for a non-believer… Even so, I know that the gospel is powerful and if the Holy Spirit works a heart to believe, they will accept the message. It’s only a matter of time.

The Summer Joy “ended” at 3:30pm, but it was nice. The girls that I and some of the other STMers were talking to stayed until around 5pm talking with us about anything. It was just good to know that they didn’t mind “hanging out” with us and it was kinda sad when we had to go. It’s hard, when I don’t know if I will ever see them again.

We then went to Namba, a happening shopping district. Went to Loft to scope out gifts, and split into three groups to eat omurice, ramen, or tonkatsu. Of course I went with the katsu group 🙂 We were all very exhausted by the end of the day.

Tomorrow we go sight seeing again. We head to Iga castle, to see a ninja house. Thank you as always for your prayers.

Japan STM Day 9

Japan STM Day 8, Joy Joy Day 5

Passed out last night, no blog. I’m writing for the team blog, here’s the unedited version. Spelling and grammar mistakes galore.

Hey! This is Carrie. Thanks for taking the time to read. Our STM team is incredibly thankful for your support and lifting us up in prayer. Today was the last day of JOY JOY 5 Days. Hopefully I can recap days 3-5 quickly!
Please see our previous post for an overview of our typical day.
Day 3’s Bible lesson described what was necessary for life, and what God’s hand in creating these things. The craft for that day was creating a wind chime out of a plastic paper cup and a bell attached by paper clips! It was decorated with stickers making it look like a universe.
On Day 3, two of our STMates Camille and Alex went to stay with the family of one of the Joy Joy kids. This was an incredible opportunity to continue developing relationships with the kids, as well as witness to their families, as these were non-Christian families. Ask Camille and Alex about their experience! For the rest of the team, we were treated to a meal prepared by Nishimoto-san, one of the HBC members. Delicious vegetables from their garden! Jeanine and I discovered the wonder of Goma sesame dressing!
Day 4’s Bible lesson was given by the incredibly intelligent Akira-sensei. I believe the lesson was about the physical creation of the world. Akira-sensei talked about the chemical make up of the world, and I think photosynthesis!! I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, but later, he would share that many of the children were having a difficult time believing that God had creating the whole universe and everything living in it because they had learned about evolution growing up. Not unlike our own schooling in America. This day’s craft was making paper flower/pipe cleaner flower pencil tops. It was really…difficult. But these would be placed in the pencil case.
On Day 4, 3 more STMers Alyssa, Sophia and Jeanine went to their Joy Joy kid homestays, while Geo, Sean and Josh had a meal with their HBC member homestay family…and the rest went to MacDonalds and Daiso.
Day 5, was DDay. The schedule was unlike any other day. There was a lot more time provided for rehearsal for the younger classes’ songs, and the older kids’ skits. But I had a real privilege of having one of the HBC members Tamie translate the Bible lesson for Sean and my class. Akira-sensei taught again, and he presented the whole, unadulterated gospel using the illustration of 5 colors: Gold, Black, Red, White, Green. Tamie also would translate some of the kids’ questions. They had a lot of good questions like “Are God and Jesus the same?” or “Is it enough to just believe in God to go to heaven?” And 1 kid even said himself, “Everyone has sinned!!”  It was encouraging for me that they received the whole gospel and that they were attentive and desiring to understand. I don’t know that any of them were totally accepting of the gospel, but I am praying that through their time at Joy Joy year after year, that a seed would be planted, that would take root and continue to grow and flourish. One of my kids requested that Akira-sensei would read a Bible passage that talked about heaven, so Akira-sensei told him to read Revelations haha. It was crazy, once Akira-sensei finished his lesson, many of the kids raced to the bookshelf, pulled out a Bible and began sifting through trying to read some of the passages. I am so so grateful to know that they did not leave Joy Joy without hearing the gospel.
The parents of the children also received a gospel presentation, but we did not get to see that as we were corralling the kids in the craft room. One by one, each class would go in to do their song or skit presentation. Then we said goodbye to our kids. It was a heavy feeling for, not knowing if the next time they’d be back to church would be the next Sunday, or this time next year. But I trust that God is sovereign over their lives and will continue to pray for their salvation.
It was not too long until we had some junior high and high school students come through for Summer Joy. A time of singing worship songs, a Bible lesson taught by Akira-sensei, games and dinner. They will be coming back after Sunday service for some more time of hanging out. They are also non-Christian, so this was a really great opportunity to witness to them as well.
Sorry if this was an essay to you. TL;DR – the kids were so much fun. They and their parents were able to hear the gospel at the end of JOY JOY 5 Days.
Prayer requests:
1. The salvation of the children and families who came and heard the gospel today.
2. HBC staff to be encouraged. Pray that we as an STM would continue to seek ways to support and help them. They’ve been so amazing in their efforts, Some of them coming after work, during their lunch break, on vacation days….they work so hard. I am so humbled by their example.
3. Continue to pray for energy and strength for our team members. Praise that we get along so well as a team.
4. Next week we get all new kids, and JOY JOY 5 Days begins again. Pray for the staff involved, and the children and their families.
Japan STM Day 8, Joy Joy Day 5