forgiveness

“The Faith That Lives In You Also.” (A Family Testimony)

But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.

Exodus 20:6

My paternal grandmother passed away in 2014, but she remained a constant presence in my life, even after her death. More specifically, it was the unforgiveness I had for her that haunted me.

To say that my grandmother–Amah–and I had a difficult relationship is an understatement. Though I was her first grandchild, and long-awaited granddaughter, I often felt that she was disappointed in me. After all, my father was the black sheep of the family, and with my hot temper, emotional nature, and tendency to talk back, I reminded her a lot of her son. As I grew older, I would notice this more and more. Playful scolding little by little turned into disapproving lectures on whatever facet of my behavior she was displeased with that day. I grew to expect, and resent, the constant sermons, which would often escalate into arguments as I would try to defend myself from her claim that I was becoming more and more like my dad. At one point, my Amah even told my mother to be careful not to love me too much, because I might hurt her the way my father had hurt my grandmother.

Looking back, I can clearly see that these were the actions of a hurting heart, and that Amah was simply doing her best to help me and my mother. However, at the time, all I felt was rejection. My relationship with my father was also quite bad, and I was terrified of ending up like him, so it hurt every time my grandmother brought up that possibility. Her certainty felt like a vote of no confidence, and I clearly saw the distance between mother and son being mirrored in her actions towards me.

Things got a little better when I became a Christian at the age of thirteen. My grandmother was a devout follower of Christ, and had served as a missionary in refugee camps when she was younger. She had such a heart for the poor and the lost that she bought land to build into a farm, church community, and Christian retreat house called The Lord’s Garden, growing fruit and flowers there that she sold to fund the ministry. Until the end of her life, she was praying fervently for the salvation of her friends and relatives, admonishing them on her deathbed to come to Christ. Amah was passionate about the Lord, and it was her long-cherished wish that at least one of her grandchildren would carry on her legacy of faith. I remember many conversations she had with my mother where she talked giddily of her belief that one of my cousins had received the calling to serve God. Her joy at that prospect stood in stark contrast to the fear and reluctance she often seemed to have when talking about me. I have no doubt that she prayed for me often, and admit that she had good reason to–the years immediately before and after I became a Christian were turbulent ones, as God was working to tame my rebel heart. She seemed comforted somewhat by the fact that I was now actively going to church and being discipled, but then again my father himself had been a preacher in the mountains before he’d backslid.

Once I got into college, landing a scholarship to a good university and racking up academic awards–contrast from my messy high school years–Amah seemed to become less cautious when it came to her treatment of me. Around that time as well, having undergone my church’s “Victory Weekend” and constant discipleship from my spiritual family, I was also trying to make an effort to understand her better and act more loving and forgiving towards her, hoping that my emotions might follow my actions. The result of this was that we managed to make a sort-of peace before her death, even having long conversations where I spoke to her about my faith journey. She seemed satisfied that my walk with God was rooted in more than just appearances, and in the year before she passed away, she seemed almost proud of me, while I also thought that I had forgiven her.

Little did I know, I was still nurturing the hurt and bitterness in me from those years of being held at a distance, and when she died–a few months after my father, her son, had suffered a massive stroke that he struggled to recover from–all that hurt came pouring out. From a bubbly, if emotionally erratic, people-person, I suddenly found myself becoming withdrawn and depressed, prone to fits of anger, fear, panic, and sadness that seemed to come out of nowhere. It felt like my grandmother’s old predictions were coming true, as this shift in personality started to take its toll on my professional and personal life, such that I was nearly fired from my first job–where I had been and still was a star performer–because my officemates found me, emotionally, too difficult to work with. Finally, I was diagnosed in April of 2017 as having dysthymia, also known as “persistent depressive disorder.”

Living with dysthymia has been humbling, and has taught me a lot about grace. As someone who used to pride herself on being self-reliant and getting things done, I have now become someone who openly gets by due to the patience and support of a lot of people. It has also, in its own way, been eye-opening, as I’ve become more aware of the negative thoughts, feelings, fears, and mindsets that form the undercurrent of my depressive episodes. Chief among this is the fear that my worth is based entirely on “making it” and “making good,” and that failing to do so renders me unworthy of receiving love. Because of it, I have tended to push people away the moment I sense their displeasure, even going so far as to outright scream at my mother that I knew she would leave me in the end, just as Amah had left my dad. 

Just as Amah had left me.

It became very obvious, then, that I still had issues about my grandmother.

Let me be clear: I believe my grandmother loved my dad as best she could. Their relationship was also very difficult, and it is not my place to expound on that, nor is it my place to speculate or judge. What I can say is that I had clearly not forgiven my grandmother for those years when she had withdrawn from me out of fear of what I might have become. That unforgiveness fueled my insecurities, which then affected the way I related to other people and lived my life. My bitterness was causing me to self-destruct.

Thankfully, God is merciful. Even in my brokenness, he still allowed me the opportunity to minister to others, and, in late 2018, in the midst of a long season of pruning, I received what I believed was my own ministry calling. While I am not yet 100% certain what that path will look like, I can say that God has already clearly started moving, such that during this year’s prayer and fasting, I had several people actively praying for and encouraging me regarding a confirmation of my calling.

Just last Christmas, I had a long talk with my mother about how I still found it difficult to forgive my grandmother, even after so much time had passed and even after understanding where she was coming from. I explained to her that I still heard Amah’s words in my head, could still feel her disapproval every time I failed or proved unstable. I admitted that on some level, I still felt condemned as her embarrassment, and wanted some form of justification to prove that was not the case. I knew these were stupid requests: my grandmother was dead, and could not be expected to apologize from beyond the grave. I was the only one left with the baggage, and so it would ultimately be my choice to let go. Still, feeling unable to do so, I decided I’d leave that up to God, asking him to help me forgive.

I did not expect the form that help would take.

On the last day of prayer and fasting, as we were praying for personal breakthrough and spiritual direction, I sensed God telling me something rather surprising: “You are your grandmother’s reward.” I had not thought about my grandmother at all throughout prayer and fasting, being focused on praying for great faith and the breakthrough that was my season of pruning. In fact, I had pretty much forgotten about asking God for help to forgive her, and yet here God was with the strangest answer: “You are your grandmother’s reward.”

The Bible is full of examples of faith as a legacy, of generations reaping the rewards of one person’s faith. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…the list goes on. These were not perfect people, not by any means–Abraham often acted out of fear, Isaac played favorites, and Jacob was an outright deceiver–but when the time came, they responded to God in faith, and God rewarded them with the blessing of their descendants. It didn’t register at first, but soon the clarity sunk in: for all of my grandmother’s flaws, she had been a woman of great faith, and great love for God, and God was calling me her reward, designating me the fruit of her faithfulness.

Instead of being offended that “my” calling was a result of the faith of a woman who had rejected me, I was awed by God’s wisdom and moved by his grace. In giving my grandmother her reward, he honored her faith despite her mistakes. In naming me the reward, he undid the distance our fractured relationship had created, reconciling us through the bond of a shared faith. My Amah’s fondest wish had been for at least one of her grandchildren to want to take up her fight for the lost. Now, I was that grandchild, the source of her joy, my faith seen as the fruit of hers. I could feel only gratitude and wonder at how God had managed to redeem the damage done, perfectly balancing justice, mercy, and grace.

I’m sure that my battle with bitterness isn’t 100% over. Forgiveness, I know, is a daily choice, and one I honestly should have made long ago. Still, I won’t lie: this makes that choice so much easier for me. I am in awe of God’s mercy, that instead of condemning me for being bitter, he would choose to comfort me with a term such as reward, while reminding me at the same time that my grandmother really did love me as best she could, and that my faith is as much the fruit of hers, as it is a product of God’s all-consuming grace.

More than anything else, this breakthrough reflects that God really is faithful, even when we make mistakes. My grandmother was fearful. I was resentful. Yet we both held fast to the same God, and in the end that God made all things right.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

2 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)

Written as a testimony for #ENFast2019. 

Grace-Healed Eyes

DISCLAIMER: I stole the title of this blog from Chapter Thirteen of Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace?  I haven’t actually read the whole book, but I’m constantly drawn to that chapter, and it’s informed the opinion that I’m writing about today.  I highly suggest you buy the book, read it, and read that chapter, as Mr. Yancey does a better job of writing than I.

~*~

Facebook is a warzone.

Ever since a few days ago, when Manny Pacquiao made his controversial statement about the LGBT community, my newsfeed has been a firestorm of violent opinion. It’s been almost painful to read. No, scratch that—it has been painful to read. I’ve never dealt well with conflict, and seeing a world erupt in it is frustrating, upsetting, and…terrifying. I can’t count the number of posts from friends and people I admire that I’ve had to “hide” because their angered sentiments towards the Christian community—towards the God I love—have me shaking in a mix of rage, grief, and…guilt.

Do they know? I ask myself. Do they know what I am? And if they do, do they think I’m the same way too?

The labels sting. They’re supposed to. They’re labels, spoken in justifiable rage. The LGBTQIA community feels like it is under attack, because, frankly, those words—whether or not you believe they were taken in and out of context—are attack words. Calling someone sub-human because of something they believe they can’t change about themselves? Actually, calling someone sub-human period? That’s wrong, no matter what you believe in. They’re hurt. And hurt people have a history of hurting other people, because the grief is sometimes so big it can’t help but spill out.

Christians, I am writing this mostly for you. Your neighbours—the ones Jesus commanded us to love as ourselves—are hurting, and that is why they are lashing out in anger. They are bleeding. They are scared. They just want to love and be loved. And while yes, as Christians, we believe (I believe) in that offensive black-and-white fact that homosexuality is a sin…we have to remember we’re sinners too.

I do. I have done some really bad things, and in the spirit of…proving a point(?) I’ll tell you a story about one of the worst things I ever did. When I was twelve I cyber-bullied a girl named Cara. She was the best friend of my then-best friend, and somehow I became her friend by association. And I bullied her, for no good reason but that at the time, I thought she was stupider than me and so was fair play. I messed with her head in ways that were as ingenious as they were cruel. I called her brother a—excuse my French—bastard, at her own birthday party. I offended her family and shamed my own and if I could take back all that systematic abuse, I would. But I can’t. It’s done.

(Cara, if you are somehow reading this, thank you for forgiving me. I am still so, so sorry.)

There is filth on my hands, and in my soul. I don’t deserve to be loved. But that fact doesn’t stop me from wanting to be loved, from craving human connection, from wanting someone to see me and say that I am still somehow worthy of being cared for. And it doesn’t stop me from hurting when I don’t get that. Far from suffering in silence, I still lash out when the loneliness rips me apart. I hurt someone, but I am hurting, and so I hurt someone again.

The cycle continues, and the only thing that can break it is real love.

Christians, before you rush to God’s or Pacquiao’s defense…listen to the pain under the words. These people—and I will keep repeating that they are people—feel rejected and under attack. Maybe now they feel a little vindicated, since Nike’s just dropped Manny as an endorser (not surprised), but that doesn’t completely take away the sting. If I think Facebook is a battlefield for me, I’m sure they think it’s one for them too, because for every comment lambasting Pacquiao and religion and “backwards thinking” there is another that brutally declares that gay people are being intolerant and brutal and unforgiving.

Friends, I’ve learned that when you say sorry, that’s no guarantee that you will be forgiven. You hurt someone. You face the consequences. Manny is facing them, and I hope he is facing them with grace. But I’m not here to talk about Manny. I’m here to talk about us.

I know the comments hurt, and it’s tempting to react in kind. God is…important to us Christians, to say the least. To have our faith in Him blamed for proliferating hate is painful, because it’s just not true. 1 John 4:19-21 says “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” God would not condone any hate, commands us to have our speech “seasoned with salt” and full of grace so that we don’t hurt anyone unduly, “…for an offended brother is like a fortified city.” This debacle is not God’s fault, but because we profess to be Christians he is dragged into this mess and we feel we need to defend Him, to “stand up for our faith.”

I agree that you need to stand up for your faith. I’ve done blogs on the agony of that decision. And it has cost me, though thankfully not too dearly. But standing up for your faith means living it, and in this instance it means reflecting grace.

To quote Philip Yancey, “…every gay person has heard the message of judgment from the church.” They know what our stand is. We’ve made it very clear. What’s not clear to them is how our disapproval of the act can somehow exist alongside our profession of acceptance for the person, because that part, I admit, is where I’ve personally been amiss. See, I’ve been tempted to react with “us versus them,” because some posts even go so far as to blame the very core of who I am for all that is wrong in our society. But, and I’m quoting Yancey again. “Grace dies when it becomes us versus them.” Love dies. And that’s a love we sorely need.

A few LGBT people have approached me, and asked how it is that I can say I respect them while disagreeing with something they believe is fundamentally part of who they are. To me, the answer is simple, the frequently-quoted refrain of “Hate the sin; love the sinner.” But that phrase, while true, has basically become a clichéd excuse, because it’s so easy to say but so difficult to see. They won’t believe me when I say that phrase, because they’ve never seen evidence of how that could be possible.

I don’t know what I can do to break through that wall. But I know that reacting in anger to their anger doesn’t help, not when I can’t even begin to imagine what they’re going through. It’s easy to visualise the cliché of “angry gay man” who shoves his sexuality in people’s faces “for kicks.” It’s not so easy to imagine the pain, loneliness, fear, frustration, and internal conflict that fuel that rebellion. These people are hurting (I think I’ve said that 1,000 times in this blog), and while that doesn’t take away the sting of their words it does make clear God’s stand on the matter:

They are hurting, and we are called to heal.

They are hurting, and I am called to heal.

So here’s, I guess, what we can do. Pray. Ask God for wisdom. Refuse to pour further fuel on the fire. Ignore the comments as best we can, and when we can’t—if the fight really does come to our door—acknowledge the pain that the issue has caused, and reinforce the value of our relationships with those who were affected by it. While our stands won’t change, we can at least tell them that we understand why they’re hurting, and we’re here. Not as combatants, but as friends. Because being friends with anyone is a privilege, a gift, and a responsibility.

One of my friends admitted that just the thought of my beliefs already offends him, but he treats me with as much kindness as he can muster anyway. If that’s not a picture of acceptance despite a lack of agreement, I don’t know what is. So here’s what I have to say in response. To my LGBTQIA friends: My fundamental position has not changed, but I know you are deeply hurt by what has happened, and you have the right to be. It has only reinforced the fears that many of you might have. Some of you have parents who won’t treat you as their child. Some of you are afraid that you’ll never find someone to walk with you into forever. Some of you are even trying to still walk in a faith that by definition says what you are doing is wrong. These are wounds that can push someone to madness, and I won’t pretend to fully understand them. But I will be here for you, when and where I can.

I’m not a perfect person, a perfect Christian, a perfect anything. I am sure there will be days I fail to act in love, fail to walk the talk I’ve laid out here, and I’m sorry in advance if and when I do. One day we might have to face each other on opposite sides of a significant line, and I pray our friendship survives it because, frankly, it is my privilege to know you. And while I cannot agree with you—because I cannot deny something that is at the core of my very self and my survival—I will do my best to listen when you need someone to talk to. To defend you when the world is vicious. To remind you that you are a valuable when you feel that you are worthless. To try my hardest to extend to you the same kindness that I want people to extend to me.  The people we love most are often the ones who hurt us deepest.

I will take the blows as they come, knowing that many of you have had to do the same with me.

I’m not good at loving people, but with the help of God, I would like to try.  I hope you’ll let me.

With Love,
~a Roaming Tsinay~

Of Weights, Wins, and Winds

My flu-addled mum took a minute to scold me for my inability to let go of my past. As in she yelled at me, in that way that mums do when they mean “I love you so much why can’t you see what you’re doing is hurting you?!”

And she’s right. It is hurting me.

I viewed grade school and high school–my ten years in my pre-university alma mater–as a nightmare. I carried with me, in an ever-enlarging backpack, every single drop of hurt: the exclusion; the official labels from my teachers that I was a “problem child” with a “bad attitude;” the taunts of my classmates of “You’re not smart enough to get a real scholarship.” and “You’re not pretty.”

I carried them with me for so long I began to believe them, and my angry, rebel’s heart, acting out, ended up acting according to expectations. It took many long years to re-program, to let God be God over my life, to embrace the status of “new creation.” I’m still learning to embrace it, to act according to my status as beloved child of Christ and not wounded, angry rebel. And part of the reason for that is because of my inability to let go.

Pain pushes us forward. But it can only do so for so long. Part of the reason why I fought so hard, in university, was because the pain gave me something to prove–that I wasn’t worthless, or useless, or stupid. That I was an asset, not a liability. But I forgot, mid-stream, to let the pain go and the little victories keep pushing me forward. And the pain kept me angry. And the anger turned to pride.

Now, when I face my high school teachers and classmates, it is with that scornful face of angry pride that masks a girl who has hung on to the pain for so long it has begun to fester. The wounds should have healed by now, should be faint scars, but at each turn I’ve been ripping off the scab. I can’t forgive. I’m too angry. I want them to answer for their “crimes.”

…but in the end, the bitterness has me answering instead. I am taking poison and expecting my enemies to die.

My friend Jethro had peculiar insight into my inability to let go. He’s a philosophy student, and writes with a poetry and compassion that I wish I had. In our last email exchange, he explained, in not so many words, that we hang on because we want control. Want possession. Want for things not to fade away.

I want control. I want possession. I want to rule my life and wave my successes as a banner that says “SEE! YOU DIDN’T BEAT ME! YOU LIED!” But the fact is, it is not my banner to wave, but God’s. He has done the work. He has proved them wrong. My pride, my ego and anger, is only marring his triumph. What’s worse, it’s destroying me–until now I am crippled by an insecurity so strong all because I care so much about the opinion of people who honestly, truth be told, did not know what they were saying because they did not know me.

(How deeply do we know people, anyway?)

And it was partially my fault, because I carried a backpack of pain so big it blocked out who I was underneath. I wanted the pain not to fade away, even as I mourned it and wanted to heal. I hung on to this pain…

…And now I need to let go. As difficult as even saying the words are. I am so full of pride it’s beginning to ruin the happiness that is my life now. It is beginning to poison my redemption. And that pride is deeply rooted in the pain I won’t release, the victim mentality I hang on to.

That old life, those old pains, are over. I am not that ten year old “problem child.” If I could, I would hop into a TARDIS and visit her as Amy did her younger self, to hold her and give her ice cream and tell her she was all right, that she would be okay, that things would get better and people would and do love her and these things shall pass. That God loves her, and so there is nothing to prove.

But I can’t. I can only tell those things to myself. That I am okay. That God has made me okay. That I am loved. That I can lay down my arms, my big backpack of pain, my pride and anger, and submit to the will of the One who has led me out of every Valley into green pastures and still water. Every little win has been a little wind buffeting me upwards until I gain confidence to soar, but pain and pride have been weights weighing me down.

I don’t know how long it will take. Hatred has become a habit. I am reluctant to forgive because it feels too much like absolution, like saying I never hurt. But God demands we forgive, because he forgave us, and for all my pride I know there are still many crimes that can be laid at my door. I am not innocent. And I need to grow up, to mature in Christ, to step into the plans he has for me deliberately, even if it means letting go of so much that has been “me” for all these years.

I choose not to hate anymore. Not to shroud myself in anger. I choose an open heart. I choose the wins and the winds buffeting me upwards. I choose love instead of pride. I choose to let go and let things fade. Because I trust in God’s justice and God’s mercy.

One last hug to that sad ten year old, then I give her to God to comfort, and I take wing from where I am, to the next challenge, the next storm, the next set of wins and winds, where He will see me through.

~aRT~

(Probably was more incoherent than I intended but I’m fighting off the beginning stages of my mum’s flu.)