My Sister Died Last Month

My sister died last month and I didn’t tell anyone. At first, it just hurt too much, and I wasn’t ready to talk about it. Then two days later I was in labor, and by the end of the week I had this beautiful, amazing, exhausting bundle of joy that I was all too happy to focus all of my energy and attention on, especially if it meant forgetting about the wound that Tracy’s passing had gouged in my heart.

I remember a time when I was grieving a different loss. My first marriage was coming to an end. I had grieved the loss of my husband for a long time at that point, but had just come to grips with the fact that it meant I would also lose my job (my absolute passion in life), my home, and many other people that were family to me. I remember sitting on the floor of my classroom during fall break, sobbing, feeling that I was losing everything that mattered to me, and worse still, that I had brought it upon myself.

I remember talking to Tracy about it, especially about the feeling that I was losing my entire family, and I remember her response: We will always be sisters.

Always seemed like a very long time then, and I was grateful for the promise of it. But barely a year later I found myself sitting on the side of the road, crying, as I heard the inevitable bad news: Stage IV Colon Cancer.

It’s funny, because until that point, I believed I had learned the hard, valuable lesson of letting things go. Of trusting God’s plan, and knowing that there were better days and better things in store. But when I heard those words, I was suddenly back at ground zero: Not her. You can’t have her, too. You promised (ok, ok, she promised) we’d be sisters forever. I was supposed to get to keep her.

I didn’t share these thoughts with anyone. They sounded pretty fatalistic to immediately follow diagnosis, but I guess I was fresh off the pain of losing another dear friend to cancer just a couple years prior.

And here we are again. I didn’t get to keep her. She wasn’t promised to me, or her parents, or even her husband. The truth is that nothing in this life is promised to any of us, except for the hope of better things to follow.

Sounds a little hollow, doesn’t it? Like, what better things could possible follow Tracy’s death? But I have to believe it – she would want me to. So I’ll just close with this verse from Romans, which she so often reminded me of when I was in no state to believe it:



Full Disclosure: The Cost of Following Jesus

I opened up Facebook this morning, and this is what I saw in my newsfeed:


I could talk about typos (but then I’d probably embarrass myself by littering my own post with typos lol). I could talk about how my church doesn’t fully understand how to capitalize on the social media platform (in their defense, they tried to get me involved with it and I was like “Uh-uh. Social media I don’t.”). But what I really want to talk about today is the title on the front of the bulletin: The Cost of Following Jesus.

When I first read the title, I wont lie, my initial reaction was ugly: “Boy, I wish I had gone to church this morning, because I would just love to hear what white, middle class America thinks the cost of following Jesus is.”

Now, that was a pretty nasty thought. If I didn’t know the person thinking it, I’d probably say they were a judgmental asshole. Ok, I’ll say it even though I do know the person thinking it: I can be a judgmental asshole.

(Also, full disclosure: I am an asian/white, middle class American, so it’s not like I’m socio-economic worlds away from my pastor.)

I didn’t have to think hard to know where that ugly thought came from though. I’ve been frustrated with my church lately, because even though they speak a good word about being inclusive and loving and welcoming toward everyone, I have found that on a case by case basis, we turn a blind eye when the truly downtrodden come a’knockin’ – when the homeless man comes to our service, we don’t speak to him, we don’t offer him shoes. When the addict comes to fellowship with us, we don’t ask her name or tell her we “hope you’ll come back!” When someone sits crying in the middle of service, we don’t embrace them and pray with them (either during, or after).

It kills me on a personal level, the way we (as a collective church) ignore the downtrodden. Because I may be their white, middle class, young family ideal that they are so happy to have in the church now… but I used to be the one without shoes. The one with the addiction. The one who sat crying in the middle of service with no comfort, no help, no hope in my heart of things ever getting better. It kills me because when Jesus told me to take up my cross and follow him, it meant to leave behind my family, my home, my friends, my church, my job (my students!), and the man I loved so much that it was destroying me.

But each person’s cross is different, and each person’s struggle is different. I know as much as any person can that it is difficult to love someone in the midst of mental illness, addiction, hopelessness. My church struggles to find the place in their hearts and their community for these people. And sometimes I struggle to find the place in my heart for my church.

My favorite story in the Bible is from Genesis 32:22-32: When Jacob lies down for the night, but instead of sleep, he finds himself wrestling with an unknown assailant until dawn. The man agrees to bless Jacob in exchange for his release, but first he tells him, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Israel, which means he who struggles with God.

Israel and his descendants were not blessed because they adhered perfectly to God’s laws, or because they loved his people perfectly. They are blessed – we are blessed -because we continue to struggle with God, and with each other. Because we continue to take up our cross and follow (Matthew 16:24).

“Boy, I wish I had gone to church this morning, because I would just love to hear what white, middle class America thinks the cost of following Jesus is.”

I could have left that ugly thought floating in my own head, instead of airing it out on the internet. No one was here to hear it. I could have pretended that I am not what I am: Still broken, still in need of forgiveness, still with a cross to bear. This cross looks different than the one I was asked to shoulder four years ago, but let me tell you, it is no easier for me to carry. Luckily, I don’t have to carry it alone:

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

I am a Church Member, Pt. 1

I will be a functioning church member.

Are you a church member?

Membership counts are important to churches for measuring growth, for stable revenue sources, for volunteers. And as church members, we expect the church to serve us in turn – to pray for us, to feed our spiritual growth, to teach our children, and to bring meals when we are sick or injured (to name just a few).

Now, before we go any further, I have a confession to make: I’m not actually a church member. At least, not officially.

Because in an official capacity, I’ve always thought of church membership as a denominational issue: Do you subscribe to Methodism, or perhaps Presbyterianism? Or maybe Catholicism. For me, the answer has always been: None of the above. This can likely be attributed to the fact that my first serious exposure to the Bible and theology was an interdenominational college study group. This gave me a wonderful foundation for engaging with and struggling with Scripture on a frequent and personal basis – but it also left me feeling a bit outside any single established church.

But in the first chapter of I am a Church Member, Thom S. Rainer wiped away all my preconceptions about church membership and belonging with his astute observation that church membership as actually biblically based – not social, economic, or even denominational. As a basis for his argument, Rainer cites 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, where Paul describes what it means to be church members (aka “the body of Christ”):

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body and one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.

In short, Paul says that is our belief in Christ and our acceptance of his Spirit into our hearts that binds us together and make us church members. So… I guess I am a church member after all?

Church membership doesn’t just end there though, because the Holy Spirit is anything but passive. In fact, in John 14:16-17, Jesus describes the Spirit as “the Advocate… who leads into all truth.” He says that the Spirit which lives in you and me, and every member of the church, is not a passive spirit – it is an advocate, a word which Merriam-Webster defines as “a person who works for a cause or group.”

What cause or group does the Spirit work for? 1 Corinthians 12 says that the Spirit works to help church members achieve two ends:

1. To serve the Lord (v. 5).
2. To help each other (v. 7).

Or in other words, the Spirit works to help us fulfill the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:36-40):

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Rainer goes on (in great and fascinating detail) to discuss spiritual gifts, and how they impact our ability to serve the Lord and help each other, but above all of these, he points out that Paul specifies one single thing that is “best of all” to help us fulfill this commandment: Love (1 Corinthians 12:31). (Ok, so he doesn’t actually say “love” there, but the entire following chapter sort of spells it out in not-so-subtle detail.)

I’ll be honest: This new context for reading 1 Corinthians 13 – the so-called “Love Chapter” – completely blew my mind. I (and most people, I assume) typically hear this chapter in the context of marriage, but Rainer emphasizes the fact that Paul wrote it in the context of church membership, and how we treat our fellow members. So what happens if we read it and hold ourselves accountable to that standard?

Be patient and kind to your fellow church members. Do not be jealous of them, do not brag about yourself to them, and do not be rude to them. Do not demand or expect to get everything YOU want from the church, or its members, and don’t be irritated or hold a grudge when things don’t go your way. Don’t be happy when unfair things happen (even if they’re in your favor), but always seek and rejoice in the truth. Never give up on your church, never lose faith in your fellow church members, always be hopeful, and stick by your church & its members through every circumstance (paraphrased from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Gulp. I mean, I know I’m supposed to be kind and patient and forgiving to my husband, and to never give up on himThat is a tall enough order when it comes to the person I’ve chosen to be my one true companion in life. But… to the church elder who is always bossing people around? To the woman always nagging and trying to guilt me into volunteer in areas I am not spiritually gifted? To the pastor who was unfaithful to his wife?

Sure am double glad I never joined a church, now!

Except, by Rainer (and Paul)’s standard, I am a church member. So can I use the fact that I didn’t attend a little class and participate in a little ceremony as an excuse to shirk my duties to both my church and my fellow members? I suppose I have, and I can, and I could.

But there’s this saying that I like to toss around: “If we knew better, we would do better.” Now, I know what it means to truly be a church member. So now, I can do better.

Drawn to Love

No one told me that I was wrong. Wait a second, that’s not true. Conceited. Arrogant. Self-centered, selfish. Cold. Uncaring. Controlling. Or, in the words of a girl in high school, when she didn’t know I was standing behind her, “A total bitch.” Now, my own mother might choose to contest those words, or she might choose to remember the Christmas that I unapologetically brought her to tears. (Sorry, Mom.)

The truth is that a lot of people told me I was wrong. The truth is that a lot of the time, I knew I was wrong. The truth is that a lot of the time, I even knew what was right.

So why didn’t I just… do the right thing?

It’s harder than that. Because no matter how good your reasons (or even my reasons) are for the right thing, there are always better reasons to do the wrong thing – otherwise, why would I have started doing the wrong thing in the first place? Why would the Jews have needed a Messiah, when they could’ve just followed the Commandments and been set?

It starts with hurt. It becomes fear and anger, jealousy and bigotry. But it starts with hurt.

And no rule, no logic, no sound argument or persuasion can stop a person who is hell bent on keeping hurt out in the only way they know: Be cold. Be controlling. Be self-centered and uncaring. Hurt others before they hurt us.

That’s why the Commandments weren’t enough. Why rules and logic and morality will never be enough for a hurting, broken world.

So if we can’t draw people away from a broken and sick existence, then we need to refocus our efforts: On drawing them toward love, toward community, toward acceptance.

You see, we think it begins with healing. That if we could just fix ourselves, we would be worthy of love, that people would accept us and want us. But the truth is, we weren’t created to live alone or hurt alone or be healed alone. We were drawn to love, and to be loved. And that’s the only way any of us will ever be healed.

Easier said than done.


My husband worries when I am calm.

You see, I’m a worrier, control freak, anxiety ridden perfectionist. I constantly analyze what has gone wrong, what could go wrong, what I could do differently next time and how that might change things in the future.

But when the storm gets too big and the burden too heavy, I simply let go. I ride the waves of anxiety, of fear, of not knowing, until I find the Calm at the center of the storm. And He is always there, finding me, too.

Last night I bled. It’s a terrible thing to be 6 1/2 weeks pregnant and look down in the toilet to see blood, but I didn’t respond with panic. I took a calculating look at exactly how much blood appeared to be in the toilet, flushed it, washed up, then stepped out and announced to my husband, “I’m bleeding.”

I sat down quietly with my phone and googled “first trimester bleeding,” and what I found was both comforting and not at all comforting. 20-40% of all women experience bleeding during their first trimester. Only 1/3 to 1/2 of those will go on to miscarry. So I have a 1 in 3 chance to miscarry. Not comforting.

The news only got worse, as my husband was concerned, for I went on to read that there is nothing the doctor can do about it. I can call to schedule an appointment, but they will either confirm that I am (or have already) miscarried or that the baby is fine. They can’t change it either way though.

Whatever it is, it cannot be changed. And I know what to do with the things that cannot be changed: Accept it.

So I closed my eyes and prayed:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

It’s a prayer I’ve prayed hundreds – if not thousands – of times without finding any serenity at all, but I knew if I kept praying it, if I kept believing in the goodness of the God whom I know and trust, eventually I would find what I was looking for.

So I prayed it again:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
(Help me to place this baby and this pregnancy in your loving hands,
and to know that whatever comes of it,
you work all things for the good 
of your people),
the courage to change the things I can

(Help to calm my worries and fears, help me to comfort my husband,
and to see the correct course of action from here),
And the wisdom to know the difference
(Remind me to return to you when I am doubtful, mistrusting,
fearful, or uncertain of the road ahead. Bring me back to your loving
embrace, where I can find truth and peace).

And I prayed it again and again until I felt it. And I can’t believe it, but I slept well through the night (other than the usual five bathroom trips), and woke well rested and calm.

I know when the doctor’s office opens and the phone call gets made, I will experience more anxiety. I know that sometimes not knowing is less frightening than knowing, because right now it can be either or, but once I know, it can never be the other thing again. That could be good. It could be bad.

Hopefully, when anxiety strikes again (as it always does for me), I will remember to return to God, to place it in his hands again, and to trust him to work for the good of me, my husband, and our unborn baby – whatever the outcome may be.

If You Cannot Lead, Get Out Of The Way

Source: If You Cannot Lead, Get Out Of The Way

I really did sit down to write today…. but this post said everything that I didn’t even realize was on my heart until I read it.

It isn’t just about Syrian refugees, though the point about the refugees is important and profound. It’s about coexistence, and loving one another. Christ didn’t call us to love just our Christian neighbors (there was no such thing as Christians when he was alive). He didn’t even call us to love just our Jewish neighbors (thank goodness for me, or I’d be left out of the equation). He called us to love all our neighbors – young and old, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile and Samaritan and yes, even Syrian – alike.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

(John 21:15-17)

Let us not be shepherds who feed only ourselves. Let us tend to our brother’s flock, as he tends to us.

S/he Who Struggles

“I don’t like to be told what I should do.”

That’s what Pastor Phil told us on Tuesday night, and it rang true in my ears. In fact, the more I thought on it, the more I realized – not only do I not like being told what I should do, but I really dislike being told what I shouldn’t do, what I must not do, and especially, oooh, I especially dislike being told what I cannot do.

The church has a long history of telling us what we should do – it’s easy, after all, to read the prescription for a holy life straight out of the Bible. (Well, maybe not easy – have you tried to make sense of all the rules in Leviticus, or sort through all the names in the books of Chronicles? – but I digress.) It’s easier, I should say, to read the Bible as a rule book, than to experience it as God’s love letter.

The problem the church is finding, though, is that more and more, people are not responding to what they should do.

The American Christian Persecution Complex [ACPC] (as I like to call it, with credit to Rachel Evans) has an answer to why: Movies like God’s Not Dead pin the problem on atheist teachers and professors brainwashing young people into disbelief.

Yes, brainwashing us with their scientific facts and sound logical arguments. >.>

I can’t speak for my whole generation, but I can certainly tell you why I spent my entire childhood and young adult life as a confused agnostic (at best) and staunch atheist (at worst): It’s because, despite what the ACPC would have us believe, professors and atheists and scientists don’t brainwash – and they also have never told me what I should do or believe.

I admired (and continue to admire) atheists because they aren’t afraid to roll for disbelief (a lil’ D&D analogy there). They aren’t afraid to ask tough questions, to ask – to demand – the answer to the question that eats at the deepest regions of my heart: Why?

I admire scientists because they don’t presume to know or dictate how the world or humanity or even I, as an individual, should be – instead, they look at the way we are, and ask: How? How did this come to be? How does it stay like this? How can it be changed, and what happens if we do change it?

I admire my teachers and professors because they have never made the answers easy by simply giving them to me. They have challenged and encouraged me to question, seek, and above all, decide for myself what I should do and believe.

So you shouldn’t be surprised to discover that the first Bible story to really move me, to really connect to the deepest part of my heart, is the tale of Jacob, who wrestled all night (and truly, all his life) with God, and was blessed because of it. Jacob, who was renamed Israel (“he who struggles with God”) and became the father & namesake of God’s chosen people because of his willingness to truly engage with God.

Jacob didn’t simply ask what he should do. If he had, he would have remained the second son, and his family’s entire inheritance would’ve passed on to his brother. But instead, he questioned, he sought, he struggled, and he demanded the truth & his inheritance from God.

There’s a song that I love, that suddenly springs to mind: “Oh God let us be a generation that seeks, seeks your face, oh God of Jacob”

I believe that we truly are a generation in search of the God of Jacob. The God who challenges us to question, to seek, to struggle, and to find his truth within and for ourselves.

I don’t believe that most churches afford us that credit or opportunity though. And that’s where they lose us.

So give us clean hands
Give us pure hearts
Let us not lift our souls to another
And God let us be
A generation that seeks
Seeks your face
Oh God of Jacob
(Give Us Clean Hands)

I didn’t know that last time would be the last time.

So I didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t cry, or tell you that I love you. I didn’t tell you how you changed me – how you made me strong by believing that I was strong, when all I felt was weak and scared. I didn’t get to hold you tight, or really let you go.
You were just gone.
But it still felt like you were here. No, it still feels like you are here. Sometimes anyway. Sometimes when I am not thinking and just feeling, I forget that we will never laugh together or play together or steal bread together again.
But you’re not.
And I missed out on when you were, because I didn’t know what cancer was – that it would kill indiscriminately. Caner was for old people, not the young, the beautiful, the vibrant. So you had cancer – big deal. You were strong, smart and fierce. We would have plenty of time to catch up after you beat this thing – “now” was for the people closest to you; the people I knew would help you beat this thing.
If I had known that last time would be the last time, I wouldn’t have let it be. If I had known that even your amazing strength, combined with the strength of those who loved you most, wouldn’t be enough to defeat cancer, I would have given you my strength too, even if I knew that it wasn’t going to be enough either.
So why now, Christina? After all these years without you, why do I suddenly NEED to drag myself out of bed in the middle of the night to talk to you?
My friend Tracy has stage four colon cancer. This isn’t news though; it’s been over a year since we (she) found out. She’s too young; but you were even younger.
The thing is, I know I screwed up with you. I should’ve been there, and I wasn’t. Who knew that lesson would be applicable to my next friend with terminal cancer though. I don’t want to screw up again. Except, I can’t be there for Tracy. Or, at least, it’s difficult. For starters, we live on opposite sides of the country. For seconds, she’s married to my ex brother in law. Oops. Their whole family kinda doesn’t really like me, and that’s putting it nicely. It makes it awkward (for me & her) when I am there, or if I try to do things to help.
But I know what you’d say. So someone doesn’t like me? Sounds like their problem, not mine, right? Right.
Once upon a time, when I was a little college freshman, you made me stronger by believing that I was stronger than I was. Maybe that’s why I feel like I need you now.

I Missed Communion, But Finally Got It

I like to pray before I take communion.

You see, I got it in my head (and by that, I mean at some point I assumed and then never thought to question) that I have to be RIGHT with Jesus before being welcome at his table: I have to look at the bad things I’ve done, actually feel sorry for them (sometimes I don’t *gasp* !), and then ask for forgiveness. And if I can’t make my heart right, then I should not come to his table.

I think it’s a common belief. Maybe even a liturgically correct one – how should I know? I never bothered to ask.

So tonight, as people started to rise to come to the Lord’s table, I closed my eyes, as I am wont to do…. and I really meant to pray. But instead my mind got distracted: Didn’t I read something about communion this week? Something I really wanted to remember the next time I took communion? I couldn’t remember what though (of course).

I started to backtrack: That book I was reading…. Searching for Sunday. Right. Something she said about communion. Uhhh…. people she doesn’t like. Wait, no. Who make her uncomfortable at communion. Because she doesn’t like them. (Guess I was right the first time.) People! (I’ve got it now.) Who don’t deserve communion, but are welcome at the table anyway, and it boils her blood.

Why the hell would I want to remember that? Oh. Right. Because she concludes with something like “thank God they’re welcome, because I’m one of those people who don’t deserve it.” (Paraphrase, obviously.)

I am one of those people who don’t deserve it. But I am welcome at the Lord’s table. *light bulb*

How foolish of me. To think that I could wash away all the hardness from my heart in a single, hurried prayer. To think that anything I could do (let alone say) could ever make me worthy to come to the Lord’s table. And yet, he invites me anyway. Just as he invited Judas, though he had already made arrangements to turn Jesus over to the chief priests. (I can’t imagine he whispered a quick little prayer of repentance before accepting the bread and the cup.)

I want so badly to MAKE myself RIGHT before coming to the Lord’s table, that I forgot that it is his supper that makes me right. “Do this in remembrance of me,” he said. “Christ’s body, broken for you. Christ’s blood, spilled out for you, Jessica.” They’ve reminded me over and over for years now, but tonight, for the first time (when I wasn’t even listening) – I finally heard and understood.

I can’t make myself right with God. And I don’t need to make myself right with him. Christ made me right when he died for me on the cross. I remember.

I opened my eyes, finally ready to take communion, and got halfway up to the front before realizing – communion was over! Everyone was filing back to their seats. I had sat, eyes closed, contemplating what it truly means to commune with the Lord… and missed my opportunity to do just that.

I turned to go back to my seat, hesitated, then turned around and ran up to the front. “Am I too late? Did I miss communion?”

Of course I didn’t. (Seriously, what kind of pastor would deny a girl communion for being 30 seconds late?) And we (I) may look late (or foolish) to everyone else – but whenever we come to Jesus, we’re always right on time.

To My Abuser, With Love

To My Abuser:

Even though years and miles now separate us, I want you to know that I still think of you often.

I now understand that the way you treated me was not right. Even more, I realize that many of the things I thought were “not okay” were not just “not okay” – they were blatant, obvious verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. I just couldn’t see it at the time because I loved you.

No. That’s not why. Because the truth is – the truth that most will probably cringe to hear is – that I still love you (in a way, at least). The real reason that I couldn’t see how deeply you wronged me at the time is because I didn’t love me.

I want you to know that I don’t blame you for the things you did to me, and (as much as I know some do) I hope that the people who love me don’t blame you either. You see, I’ve discovered that blame doesn’t solve anything. I know now that you were sick and hurting too (just as I was) and that’s why you did those things to me (why I allowed those things to happen to me).

In fact, blame doesn’t just not solve anything. Blame nurtures the cycle of abuse. As long as people point fingers at you, tell you that you are not worthy, a coward, a bad person… how can you be anything else? And as long as people criticize and belittle the abusers that we victims (survivors) so dearly love, how can we possibly trust those people to help us (me and you)?

I don’t know what has happened to you, and I don’t want to know – but I do want to hope. I hope that you have found peace. I hope that you have found acceptance, healing, and forgiveness. I hope that you wake each morning to a beautiful life, better than your wildest imaginings, and that you go to sleep each evening overwhelmed with gratitude for the second chance you’ve been given – just like I do. And I hope that you don’t waste or take a second of it for granted.

With Love,

Your Survivor

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. If you, too, are a victim and/or survivor of domestic violence and need assistance (or just a sympathetic ear), I encourage you to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline from a confidential phone line: 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224.