Fear of the Lord (& other lessons from July)

The past few weeks have held a lot of realizations and lessons. They’ve come from blogs I’ve read, conversations with my husband, and verses that have cut me deep to my core. I’ve solidified some through powerful talks with friends and mostly, really, through times of prayers. It’s those prayers that don’t happen while the candle is lit or while my Bible is open, though. The prayers are said and realizations have been made when I’m washing dishes or on the back of our motorbike. A lot came in full force last week when I stepped away from Facebook.

That was hard. It was harder than I expected and more beautiful too. It felt hard when I had six minutes of eternity to wait for an Uber and the boredom drove me to swipe for the app that I know was switched to “off.” I stopped. I knew there could be better, more important things to do in those six minutes. I prayed, but it was the fast prayer of an junkie who just wanted her fix back. I stuck with it in those minutes and also used my eyes to look at the world around me, to slow my heart down, to remember that every spare second does not need to be filled with input, words, images, distraction.

I felt it when I laid in bed, anxiety gripping my heart in the form of cultural confusion. I wanted to hide, to run away, to take my mind off of these uncomfortable feelings. As I lay in bed, eyes toward the ceiling and heart racing, I remembered that God is bigger than these emotions. He’s bigger than these fears and these bouts of anger. He is the one who can calm my heart to sleep and who beckons me to lay my anxiety on Him. I knew that the temporary fix I seek will not sooth my soul. It is toxic poison that feeds an addiction.

I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller. It’s one that he first spoke in 2003 and I first heard in 2013 and it finally reached my soul on a Sunday afternoon this July. Jesus came to live the perfect life so we don’t have to. He came to die the perfect death so that we wouldn’t have to. Our goal isn’t to be like him, but to be freed by him. To stand before God, not because of anything we’ve done, but because what was needed to be done is already finished. I have a relationship with the Creator of the universe because of that. Not because I love my husband well or give alms to the poor or don’t make mistakes. It is finished.

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I read an article that talked about how we look for answers in the Bible, verses that speak to our worth and beauty, but we miss the beckoning of God to fear Him. Fear Him first. How our efforts to validate our being can be self-seeking and how our eyes need to turn toward Jesus before they can truly see our beauty and our worth. The first thing we are to do is fear the Lord.

Moving to a new place with new rules and new norms and a new language, not just the verbal kind but the nonverbal kind too, has brought out more uncomfortable emotions in me than I know how to deal with. My pride screams loud and clear when a guard reprimands me for rules I broke that didn’t know and when I don’t get the correct change at a restaurant or store. A system with seemingly new and ever changing rules reveal a part of my heart that aches to be in control, in a place of power, and right. My anger against injustice moves past righteous and straight toward self-seeking. While two years ago I would have described myself as kind, forgiving, and honest, I know I can no longer claim those attributes to be inherently true.

And if Jesus could submit himself to the governmental system under Pilate even to the point of death, can’t I too submit myself to a system to the point of losing my pride.

A few weeks ago, I thought that maybe it was better to not ask God directly for things. Maybe it was better, more kind, to passively share my heart with Him and explain my desires, and that then He would do what He wills. I don’t know the best anyway.

Then I found out that my dad was going to be in Korea on a business trip and I wept that I might not get to see him. He didn’t, after all, mention a possibility of coming to Manila. My friends encouraged me, “Just ask him! It won’t hurt anything.” But what it hurt was my pride and it made me vulnerable to ask for something he could say no to.

I asked.

I didn’t hear back.

God spoke to my heart, “Child, now ask Me.” That felt just as hard. At the Spirit’s prompting, I asked even still. “Boldly approach the throne of grace,” I thought, still timid.

I asked.

They both said yes.

My parents shared with me that they had no idea how close Manila was to Korea (a four hour flight from Seoul). My dad shared that it was an odd turn of events that led him to be the point-man for this trip in the first place, but now he could see why God wanted him there. He wanted him to visit me.

God brought my dad to my home in Manila.

God wants me to ask Him. He showed me that my earthly father would want it and so would He. He showed me that my earthly father would spend up to $500 on a plane ticket just to spend two days with me. Then He showed me that He would provide for my family by giving my dad that ticket for free.

dad at naia

He showed me the delight I could feel by hosting my father, the man who gave of himself to raise my siblings and me. God gave me a glimpse into what it looks like to serve, not to get or earn, but because of deep gratitude for the one who gave first. I cooked dinner for my dad, we took him around town, made him coffee, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I could honor my dad by giving back just one, small ounce of what he’s given to me.

My obedience to God isn’t to earn anything. What I do doesn’t matter. I can, in fact, end each day with peace in the deep truth that whatever has been done is enough. That obedience is rooted in who God is – in my awe of Him, my fear of Him.

I asked God to show me what it means to fear Him.

When Dad was here, I felt dizzy with excitement and disbelief that he was here. I was never certain it would happen and I didn’t dare dream that the world would seem so small. The whole two days felt like an alternate reality where anything was possible. It felt big – bigger than myself. Powerful, too, that God would care for the longings of my heart I didn’t fully realize.

And that reminded me of the time I went scuba diving. When everything under the water was so magical and incredible that I couldn’t take it all in without feeling dizzy (not for lack of oxygen, either) and overwhelmed with the possibility of what God can do.

It reminded me of the moments I’ve walk out onto the Atlantic Ocean, sea reeds dancing in the wind and sand lying in stillness before the tumultuous sea. That feeling of BIG inside my heart as the waves crash on the shore as if to say, “Look what we can do” and yet they hold their power back to protect us all.

“That, my dear child,” the Spirit of God whispered to my heart, “that’s the fear I’m talking about.”

He’s so big it makes us dizzy. He’s so powerful it makes us feel weak. He’s so wonderful it fills us with joy. And while all of that reminds us that there’s nothing we can do to earn His presence, there’s our whole life to give to celebrate that gift.

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Nothing to Prove

It was only a dream.

But it was the kind of dream that wakes you up feeling like you need to stare at the scrolling credits of a movie long enough to process what just happened.

None of it was real.

But the truths were all to real.

I was me: same person, different back story. I lived with my mom and siblings in a split level condo. From the living room, there’s a narrow set of L-shaped stairs that lead up to a platform which receives the front door. There is a doormat.

I don’t have a father. I mean, I know I do, but I don’t know him. I don’t know what he looks like. I don’t know his name. I wonder if he knows mine.

Here’s where the narrative of the dream begins – my father is coming over.

I scurry around, cleaning and preparing. I’m distracting myself from the fear and anxiety that grips my heart. “What if he doesn’t like me? What if he leaves again? What if I’m not good enough?” I’ll carry the burden for my siblings, I’ll face him first. I’ll protect them.

I consider the fact that he’s missed out on over two decades of my life. He doesn’t know what I’ve done, what I’ve accomplished. There is no basis for his approval.

I fold a blanket and put away a dish. There’s a knock at the door. I look around at my family; we freeze.

I walk up the stairs to the landing. Opening the door slowly, I peak out as soon as I’m able to glimpse the man whose genes are a part of mine.

He looks kind.

I open the door wider and he walks in slowly.

He looks at me, carefully. Then he sighs. “My daughter, you’re beautiful.”

I’m stunned. My brain races to make sense of this. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know what I’ve done, where I’ve been, who I am. And yet…

“You’re mine. You’re beautiful.”

I wake up.

My mind is alert and my eyes still closed. I am loved simply because I am his daughter. I think of my own dad, the man who loves me more than I know. The man who gave me his curly hair and taught me how to fly a kite. He loves me just because I am his daughter.

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In The Message‘s translation of Psalm 5, verse seven says: “And here I am, your invited guest – it’s incredible!” I read it and I’m that girl again, the girl from my dream. Now I’m in the banquet hall, looking around at the spread of the feast and the elaborate decor. I catch a glimpse of my Father and I know that I belong. I’m His invited guest. And I’m here not because of anything I’ve done, but because of who He is and who He says that I am. I’m not an impostor trying to prove my worth. I belong.

But I spend many days trying to prove myself. I feel the burden it in subtle ways: when I compare my life to others’, when shame cripples me from trying to speak this new language, when I struggle to say no to things that aren’t mine to do and I thinking my value depends on it.

In those days I’m not living as the girl in the end the dream or the girl in the banquet hall. I’m missing out on the joy of the spread of the feast and the elaborate decor. I’m missing out on the freedom to embrace what I have, to fail, and to say no. And I’m not able to truly extend that grace, that truth, to those around me as my energies are spent on striving toward worthiness myself.

During a season filled with those days, the dream comes to mind. The words of the father – not my earthy father, though I know he would say the same, but what if, instead, those words came straight from my Heavenly Father.

It’s been years since I woke up with those images fresh from the dream, with joy and a heaviness from another world. I’m reminded of the words spoken and the freedom felt. I’m reminded on the days I forget it, when I need to hear it, when I need to remember that my worth isn’t based off of how I compare to others. And that the worth of others isn’t based off of how they compare to me.

…when I need to remember that my worth isn’t determined by how well I accomplish something or how many times I fail or don’t measure up. And that the worth of those around me isn’t based off of how they succeed or fail either.

…when I need to remember that I can say no to things, since my value isn’t determined by what I do for others. And that the people around me can say no too, because their value is based on what they do for me.

While I may keep these truths in my head (though they’re so easily forgotten), how they take root in my heart? How can I live from them rather than striving to them? How can my first response be grace to myself and to others?

born makers

The first step, I think, is to try.

To accept and offer grace, without fully understanding it.

To offer forgiveness, to someone I don’t feel completely deserves it.

To write about it, to create something from it, when I don’t adequately live it myself.

And to live fully now, in the banquet hall, practicing gratitude for who I am, Whose I am, and leaning to live in the freedom that comes from knowing that I don’t have to prove anything.

What I Really Need

How can I prepare for reentry?

We’d gone just an hour outside of the city to a hotel with the view of the skyline. Looking out the window we could almost make out our building, almost. I wasn’t looking too hard because to me, it didn’t matter. We were far enough away to see how big the city really is, how many skyscrapers and how much smog. The day before I’d physically felt stress leave my body as we rolled onto the express way and away from the metro area.

I forget how much subconscious stress I carry just from living in close quarters with 20 million people.

We soaked in each moment of our getaway – no emails to answer, no urgent decisions to make – just books to read, food to eat, and long, hot baths to draw.

The day before we made the journey back on the long, elevated highway back into the city, I was determined to create a plan for reentry. I had come to this break limping, gasping for fresh air and a new perspective. How can I build more space into my daily routine, I wondered, so this doesn’t happen again.

I made lists.

I love lists.

I made categories for my responsibilities and numerous bullet points under each heading. I took the  thoughts and concepts swirling around in my head and gave them letters and words and put those on paper where they could stay and where I could see them. I made a weekly schedule, plugging in the responsibilities to numeric points on each day.

And I didn’t feel any better.

I still didn’t feel prepared to enter back into the city, swirling with pollution and people and priorities.

I’d made lists before. I’d tried plotting out my monthly schedules in a planner and keeping a weekly routine. It even worked for a couple of months.

But in a place where plans are made just as quickly as others are cancelled, where traffic can make you two hours late (or keep you from an event altogether), and where energy gets sucked by the heat alone, I can’t live in such a programmed manner.

I felt sad by this. Hopeless, even. How can I keep myself from coming to the point of exhaustion again? How can I guard myself from over committing?

I wrote my prayer in my journal, after my realization that making lists wouldn’t make it better. I asked God to help me see this from His eyes, to stay open and willing, and for Him to teach me how to keep margin.

breathe

These past few weeks have been heavy with unknowns, decisions, and an incredible amount of questions. We’ve been seeking advice and asking for wisdom and are learning and being stretched in the process. I haven’t gotten great sleep. My heart tightens when I wake up in the morning. I’d rather watch a show or scroll through Facebook with my free time because it feels like a break for my mind and heart.This morning I read the second chapter of the book of Proverbs.

“My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commands with you,
making your hear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding,
yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek for it like silver
and search for it like hidden treasures…”

“Yes, yes!” I thought as I read, “Tell me what happens! I’m seeking! I’m asking! I’m calling out! What does it look like when it comes?”

“…then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.” (2:1-5)

Fear of the Lord. Understanding the fear of the Lord, that’s what comes first. This made me realize – when I seek wisdom and all out for insight, it’s not my questions that are answered immediately – God’s presence, His very self is the answer. He provides Himself and through Him, we find His knowledge.

When we wait for the things our hearts long for, we wait on God.

When we seek for wisdom and answers to questions, we seek God.

He promises to provide His Presence.

I didn’t come back into the city with a game plan, and honestly, it made me a little uncomfortable. But I did come back with an overwhelming sense of what I need, of who I need. I can’t rely on lists and schedules. But I can rely on God Himself.

Fixing My Eyes

Fixing My Eyes

There’s something about being by the ocean that gives me life. Maybe it’s the connectedness to the rest of the world, by just dipping my toes in its wake. Maybe it’s the vastness and the reminder of my size compared to the power of the water and to God. Maybe it’s that salt water heals more than just physical wounds.

During college, I would drive to the ocean when I needed to think, to pray, and to be alone. (My general life rule is to never live more than an hours drive from an ocean.) One of the places I often went was the Long Island Sound, that small strip of water between the shores of Connecticut and New York. There, I would sit on the rocks, on a jetty not too far from where my parents had their first condo, where I learned to fly a kite, and where my mom took us after school one day just before a hurricane to watch the waves.

One particular day when my soul needed connectedness, vastness, and a bit of salt water, I made my way to the Sound and as I got out of my car the wind came on strong. I walked toward the sand and approached the rock jetty. (Mom, you should stop reading now). As the winds blew, the waves grew strong, and I walked slowly onto the wet rocks. The waves and the wind spoke to the state of my soul – and I wanted to conquer them. I neared the end and I stopped to turn around. Looking back at the land and the stable ground, I felt the wind slowly sway my stance. I turned around toward the vastness of the clouds and water, the horizon hazy in ocean mist and rain. I took a deep breath and I praised God, the Creator of the wind, the waves, the rock, and the solid land. I thought of the day that Jesus sat in the boat with his disciples during the storm. He slept, they panicked. I thought about the day that Jesus walked on the water and how Peter did it too. I thought about the fear Peter must have felt and, in that moment, I understood. The wind is a strong force.

My dad has this image for a painting. He’s not a painter, so when he thinks of things like this he just speaks them out loud. I’m not a painter either, so I listen to his words and I use them to paint the image in my mind. He imagines Peter wearing sunglasses. (I often picture Peter wearing sunglasses too, he seems like that kind of guy.) The painting is a close up of Peter’s face and we see the reflection of Jesus and the waves in his sunglasses. We see what he sees. We are his gaze. And we’re looking directly at Jesus.

My cousin is a painter. He paints on paper and on people’s skin. (If you are near Asbury Park, NJ and want a tattoo, look him up.) Earlier this year he painted this fantastic piece that reminds me of both the rocks I stood on by the ocean that day and my dad’s image of Jesus drawing Peter’s eyes toward Him. The waves are strong, but those rocks are firm.

waves
Original painting and photo by Evan Lindemann (Instagram)
When Trent and I got married last year, we weren’t far from the ocean. Our reception was just by the lighthouse standing watch by the shore. This past July, I thought back on that day. I was thinking back to that moment Peter had on the sea – to he gaze that, when broken, caused him to sink. What does it look like, I thought, to follow Jesus – eyes only on Him? Here’s what I have written in my journal:

On our wedding day I stood in the back of the church, arm around my dad. As I prepared myself to walk up the aisle, toward my bridegroom, I wondered – where do I look? My dad? Pastor Jeff? My friends and family all standing there, eyes on me? I quickly decided – TRENT.

It was a magical sense of relief to walk forward on such an important day, with just one person to focus on. His eyes were glued to mine (except when he blinked and looked down to wipe away a tear). It was trance-like as I walked forward and it’s crazy now to look back on photos and see other people there and see the look of deep love in my dad’s eyes. In those moments walking toward the altar, everything else melted away.

aisle walking
Photo by Heidrich Photography

Jesus calls Himself our bridegroom, the bridegroom of the Church. The book of Revelation even talks about a wedding feast, when the Bride is made ready for the Lamb. We’re still waiting to walk down the aisle. Our eyes, gazing straight ahead.

That moment on my wedding day is what I think of when I consider fixing my eyes on Jesus. This is the moment I go back to fear starts to creep in, when my gaze slips to the world around me. I envision everything else melting away – the strong wind, the salt water spritzing my face, the voices, the lies, the chaos – my feet firmly planted to the rock and my eyes fixed on the Author and Perfecter of our faith.


* This post’s featured image is also by the talented David and Breanne of Heidrich Photography.

In Light of Paris, Do the Word

In Light of Paris, Do the Word

On November 14th, I woke up to a message from my friend, Nathalie, to our small group: “Hi Ladies. Please pray for France. Terrorist attacks in Paris overnight… The country was declared a state of emergency, the borders are closed. My family is okay but this is ridiculous.” Our group went on to pray and process together, asking why and how do we respond. 

Nathalie is a speaker of Truth. She speaks truth into my life and challenges me to see God’s Word outside of my cultural lens, especially when it’s uncomfortable. Soon after the attacks in Paris, she was tasked for a class to write an article or blog about a passage that she studied. 

She passed it along for me to read and after I did, the next time I read my Bible I thought about it differently – it’s not just something to read – especially those hard verses. It’s to be read and then acted on. I asked her if I could share her words here.


But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (James 1:22-24)

The message is clear. Put the word of God in action, do not be content with just hearing it and end up fooling yourself that you are with God when you are not. However, I must admit that when I first studied this passage, I did not feel the weight of it. In many ways I thought it was an easy text to follow. That must point to the easy circumstances of my life, so I found myself glancing over it and moving on.

Then, Friday November 13 happened and terrorists decided to slaughter as many people as they could in Paris, the capital of my country. Currently across the world, I woke up, confused, to several messages asking if I was in Paris and an email from my mum to tell me that though she was in the city she was safe. I spent the next few hours waiting to hear from one of my brothers and several friends I knew were there while catching up on the horrifying news. Thankfully, I am not among those who have lost loved ones and yet, I was devastated. It made me angry that people could believe murder was good and that there were people actually rejoicing over the success of this terrorist act. It broke my heart to be reminded again that humans are capable of the most atrocious acts and that considering the spiritual state of France, the chance of the victims being with Christ are slim. It made me scared because there is no way I can prevent it from happening again and that means my family and so many others are at risk.

So, in the middle of the chaos and confusion I am not sure what to do. Yet, God is clear, “be doers of the word and not hearers only.” Though I am angry and all I want is revenge and to inflict the same pain that was inflicted, the word of God says, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). Though I am afraid that other attacks will happen and that they will steal time my family and others might need to get to know Christ, the word of God says “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1a) and “do not be anxious about anything” (Phil 4:6a). And though I am sad and do not understand, the word of God says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5).

Being a doer of the word is not easy, especially when my flesh screams out, “I don’t want to!” But the Bible is clear, not putting the word of God in practice leads to self-deception. On the other hand, James 1:25 says “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

So when the time comes to do the word when the circumstances make it so hard, I bow my head and pray to ask the Almighty for help. I ask Him to give me the grace to love the people I want to hate. Even though my heart might beat frantically in fear I ask Him to give me the peace that comes only from knowing Him. When all I see is evil I ask Him to help me trust and cling to Him. And every time I fail I look again to Christ and thank God for Him and the evil He endured for my sake. Faithful as He is, He gives me the strength to fight my sin and be a doer of the word a little better, promising that in obedience comes blessing.