Monday, April 13, 2015

Three questions for a busy week ahead

How's your week looking, Dear One? My guess is that we're in a similar boat—with hearts, minds, and to-do lists overflowing. 

Here are three questions I occasionally ask myself, to find my center and refocus my priorities. (How would you answer them today?)

1. What is the most important thing in life?

2. What kind of woman do I want to be one year from now (and what choices can I make today to help me become that woman)?

3. How can I turn today's stresses into songs of praise and gratitude? 

"This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it."
Psalm 118:24

Photo Source: 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Confessions of a former Supergirl

By the time I was 20, I had an enviable skillset for ministry: I could sing and speak in front of crowds, mentor younger girls, write with passion, and lead Bible studies. I wielded a personal holiness that impressed even senior saints. I was vigilant in daily Bible study and sought to cross my t’s and dot my i’s in order to please God. After all, He’d saved me from my sin—now I owed Him an exemplary life.

I was admired, respected, and told I would do great things for God.

I held my breath, ready to take on the world. First would come marriage, then a celebrated move overseas into missions work. Children would soon follow, and as a family we would change our foreign corner of the world for Christ.

But, as I’ve written about before, bouts with deep depression and life-altering disappointments began chipping away at my larger-than-life dreams, and my perfect exterior and self-assured interior quaked.

Simultaneously, I began to experience what it meant to be raw and real with a handful of close friends who were also on a similar journey. For a girl whose heart beat perfectionism, letting others in on my mess was a messy process.

The untouchable pie-in-the-sky Colleen was getting down and dirty.

And slowly, oh-so-slowly, I began to understand that my dreams and my strengths were not the best formula for dynamic ministry. As counter-intuitive as it seemed, I saw that my weakness and ugliness were where I encountered the beauty of God. In fact, it was my brokenness that helped me experience unspeakable depths of His love—and compelled me to love Him back.

I wish I could say that I figured it all out in my twenties, that I wrapped my arms around weakness and mastered the art of humility and trust by the time I turned thirty. But the truth is, life is more cyclical than linear, and a decade later I continue to revisit these same lessons, again and again. As I turn 39 this month, I’m still an ambitious Type-A perfectionist and performer at heart, ever as much in need of my Jesus.

But didn’t the psalmist promise we would go "from strength to strength till we appear before God"? Isn’t He conforming us more and more to the image of His Son? Aren’t we commanded to use our gifts to serve others? Why then is my life characterized by so much weakness?

In his sermon series, Unstoppable, Tullian Tchividjian says,

"Most people, when they think about what life looks like after they become a Christian, it’s this sort of escalator of progress. You’re just getting better and better and better every day… you make fewer and fewer and fewer mistakes.

"So often we think about Christianity as a way to protect us, guard us away from making big mistakes. If your theological framework does not have room for the fact that your biggest failure may be in front of you, scrap it."

Failure. It’s a word that makes me quiver to my core. I hate failing. I hate coming up short, lagging behind, and being considered mediocre.

I want to lead by example, set the pace, and maintain a perfect track record. I want to climb that escalator of progress so others can look up to me and say, “Wow. What a godly woman! That’s who I want to be like.”

But this is pride and idolatry at its finest, no? God cannot abide our worship of any other gods, even if they come in the appealing form of fellow believers. So He gives us cracks and crevices that leak out need and disorder of every kind.

Think about the biblical accounts of Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Ruth, Hannah, David, Jonah, Mary, Timothy, Paul, and every other individual recorded in the Bible who God used mightily. Due to their frailties and failures, they should have been hopelessly disqualified from God's work.

Instead, we read that out of their mess, He wrought miracles. Nothing thwarts His purposes. As we surrender our weaknesses and have-nots to an all-powerful God, whose Spirit lives in us, we know true Strength.

Psalm 84 says, “Blessed are those whose strength is in You. As they go through the valley ... they make it a place of springs. They go from strength to strength till each appears before God…”

Our weakness is a divine invitation to experience His strength. Our failure is a beautiful opportunity to return (again and again) to His gospel.

And when we return to His gospel—to the cross and the empty tomb—we point others to Jesus, we brag on Him, not ourselves.

The Apostle Peter instructs us, “If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”

Let me give you a real-life example. My motherhood is pockmarked with shortcomings and failure. I am often impatient. I prioritize tasks over time with my son. I compare myself with others who seem to be doing it better than I, and I worry. I grumble about the constant messes and needs and interruptions (oh, the interruptions!). But whenever I mutter even the simplest prayer (“Help!”), God always shows up. He gives me wisdom right when I need it. He gives me endurance to weather the hardest weeks. He gives me humility to ask my son for forgiveness when I fail him. He gives me grace to watch my son suffer chronic illness that’s out of my control.

In fact, many times He makes this motherhood thing downright enjoyable, even fun.

Dear One, my weaknesses are not going away. But the difference is (and it's all the difference in the world)—I know and love Jesus better now than I did thirty years ago. I’ve tested and tried Him and found Him true. He is who He says He is. He does what He promises to do. He is faithful.

As I put my son to bed at night, I often ask him, “What do I want you to never, ever forget?”

And in his little chirping 3-year-old voice he says (with all the faith of a child): “That God loves me, and He is always with me!”

In the midst of great weakness, I can say with confidence, “God loves me, and He is always with me.”

And that, Dear One, is my Strength.

*J. I. Packer has an extraordinary 3-minute video on weakness. Watch it here.

**Scriptural italics mine.

***Photo credits: First photo: Second photo: infinite.paradox.tumblr.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The idolatry of numbers (and how He sets us free)

Photo Source: @chrisinplymouth.

I hate math, but sometimes I act as if numbers are my thing. I’ve been guilty of counting “likes” on my Instagram post, girls in my Bible study, RSVPs to my party, and visitors to my blog. Then, just like a certified hypocrite, I inwardly roll my eyes when a friend boasts about how big her church is, or posts how many words her two-year-old can say. And really, who cares how many activities you crammed into this weekend?!

Oh, we do. We really, really do.

Shortly after I gave birth to my son, I lopped off exactly 899 friends from my Facebook account. Those first months of motherhood were overwhelming, and social media stressed me out. But within the year, I started to regret the lopping—not because I missed those “friends,” but because I wanted people to realize that despite my new motherhood status, I still had an impressive social circle.

Um, excuse me. What?! Did I just admit that in public?

The idolatry of my heart is pathetic, causing me to worship something as ridiculous as numbers. But like any good idol, statistics can give me a (false) sense of security and value. If I have a large network, receive multiple emails in response to my latest article, or have more friends than you do, I’m special, right? Unique. Different. Better. Valuable. Desirable.

Isn’t that what we women long for more than we dare admit? If our hearts could beat in words, surely they would say,

I want to be loved.
I want to be known.
I want to be desired.

So we post selfies and successes, that the crowds might adore us. We fill our calendars to overflowing and juggle dozens of relationships.

The problem with numbers is they make impressive promises, but they lie like a lover whispering sweet-nothings just before breaking up with you. The more you measure your worth by your stats, the more you need stats to feel worthy.

And chasing down "likes" is just plain ol' exhausting.

But there is One who can bestow on us all the beauty and love and value we desperately desire. We could have the attention and adoration of a million people, but without This One, we would still be left empty and wanting.

Instead of baring ourselves to the masses, we were made to hide ourselves in God. We were made to measure our worth by His Son Jesus. What He has done (not what we have done) defines us. God is not impressed with numbers and crowds and claustrophobic calendars. Rather, He says, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My word.”

Dear One, we will never learn to tremble at His word if we are codependent upon everyone else’s words. Humility will constantly elude us if we keep looking to them and not to Him. We must practice the art of slipping away from the crowds, as He did. To be quiet and still before Him. To find refuge in Him.

In Him, our hearts go from chaotic to quiet.
In Him, we become grateful instead of greedy.
In Him, we don’t earn love, we exult in it.

Then, and only then, can we effectively engage our world—social media and all—for greater purposes than our own image and identity. Only then can we filter both compliments and criticisms through His love for us.

Only then can we freely love others.

Does everyone around you seem to enjoy a wealth of amazing friendships while you feel the sting of loneliness? Is your ministry small and unimpressive? Do you look at your numbers on social media and feel like you’ve come up short?

The psalmist said, “Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. [But, wait!] He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

And there is no place sweeter, safer, and more satisfying than in His shadow.

So how do I shelter myself in God in a culture of overexposure? How can I value the opinion of One more than a hundred? How do I tune my heart to listen to His Word above theirs?

I come to Him. I draw near to Him. I make room for Him.

And when I don’t have the “want to,” I ask Him to give it to me. He is in the business of changing hearts and minds, and doing “abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine.”

God’s numbering system is so different than ours. We bring our nothing and He gives us His everything.

Getting 127 “likes” on social media is a lot like getting breadcrumbs for dinner. Crumbs are fine to eat, but they really aren’t satisfying—especially compared to the feast of love that’s waiting for us in Him.

Scriptures referenced: Isaiah 66:2, Psalm 91, Psalm 142:4, James 4:8, Psalm 119:36, Ephesians 3:20

Monday, December 22, 2014

He Made Himself Nothing

These words have been on repeat in my head (and heart) as I anticipate Christmas: “He made Himself nothing.”

He, as in GOD. The Great I Am pressed Himself into nothingness, bound Himself up in mere flesh and blood.

It’s beautiful and bewildering. “Nothing” is not attractive to me. I want to be “something.” I want love and affirmation and respect and value. I want to feel significant, to make my mark in this world and be remembered well for it.

But He turns our world upside-down and inside-out and says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

Do we appreciate what He did? What Christmas truly means? How do I—a naturally self-absorbed, self-important person—embrace this kind of humility?

This past week I journeyed back to Bethlehem, to that extraordinarily ordinary stable, and I marveled. I marveled at Scripture after Scripture, teary-eyed and awestruck at the perplexity and paradox of the Incarnation….

The One who owns “every beast of the forest” and “the cattle on a thousand hills,” made His first bed in an animal’s feeding trough. (Psalm 50:10; Luke 2:7)

The One whose voice “breaks the cedars, flashes forth flames of fire, and shakes the wilderness,” took on the cries and coos of a newborn. (Psalm 29; Job 38:34, 40:9; Revelation 1:15; Isaiah 53:7)

The One who rides through the skies in His majesty, who binds the chains of the Pleiades and looses the cords of Orion, looked up into His star-studded sky through the wonder of a child’s eyes.  (Deuteronomy 33:26; Job 38:31)

The One whose love for His children is “as high as the heavens are above the earth,” became the humble recipient of a mother’s imperfect love.  (Psalm 103:11)

The One who alone treads the winepress of wrath, who has “walked in the recesses of the deep,” became a toddler who took faltering steps and stumbled and fell as He learned to walk for the very first time.  (Psalm 104:32)

The One who is the King of kings and Lord of lords, who rules over the nations and whose “chariots are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands”; entrusted the first news of His birth to a shabby group of social outcasts. (Psalm 47:8; Psalm 68:17; Revelation 19:16)

The One “who can number the clouds by wisdom” and numbers the hairs on our heads, and keeps count of our tossing and tears, learned how to count from the beginning: 1-2-3. (Job 38:37; Luke 12:7; Psalm 56:8)

The One who adorns Himself with majesty and dignity; who clothes Himself with glory and splendor; whose appearance is as jasper and carnelian; He let Himself be wrapped in swaddling cloths and “had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” (Job 40:10; Revelation 4; Isaiah 53:2; Luke 2:7)

The One who created all and before whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess as Lord—He became a misfit, “a root out of dry ground,” despised and rejected, “one from whom men hide their faces.” (Isaiah 53:2-3)

The One who fights for us, who daily bears our burdens, who is “the Shield of our help”—became a helpless babe, a child utterly dependent on human parents. (Exodus 14:14; Psalm 68:19; Deuteronomy 33:29)

The One whose fame leaves men prostrate and speechless, became the child of scandal (a virgin mother, indeed!), the subject of hushed (and not-so-hushed) conversations and chastising sideways glances. (Habakkuk 3:2; Psalm 19; Daniel 7; Revelation 4)

Dear one, our God became poor so that we could become rich in Him. He set His gaze upon the cruel cross, “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,” taking our place so that we could know Life forever and ever.

He became like us so that we could become like Him. 

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

This post also appears on True Woman

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When darkness seems to hide His face

Depression first found me when I was an idealistic 19-year-old with plans to change the world. Panic attacks and obsessive thought patterns soon followed, and the promise and excitement of my 20s was to be often overshadowed by mental and emotional angst.

I’d grown up reading the biographies of dead saints: men and women who gave up everything—from worldly comforts to their very lives—in order to love Jesus and love others. My young life was immeasurably shaped by the compelling examples of these courageous believers who accomplished great feats for the Kingdom of God.

I had known they were broken too. Many had suffered cyclical depression as I was now experiencing in my 20s, and I clung to their stories of God’s faithfulness in their brokenness. I needed to know that others had walked this path before me and still been fruitful and effective in living out God’s purposes for them.

But 17 years after my first depression, now a wife and mother at 36, yet another season of crippling panic attacks, insomnia and darkness was upon me. The long-awaited joys of marriage and motherhood were finally mine, but I was struggling to string together three rational thoughts. I wrestled with God. Why had I waited 15 years for such joys, simply to watch them snuffed out by this demon depression?

Join me at today as I review the book that God used to shed light on a dark season of my life....

Sunday, November 23, 2014

When the holidays are hard

I was 31 and it was Christmas Eve when we had The Talk. Everyone thought we were the perfect match, and I'd already given him too much of my heart. So even though I put on a happy face, my heart reeled as he told me we should "just be friends." We wished each other a merry Christmas, he walked out the door, and I fell apart. Then I pulled myself together again to join my family for Christmas Eve dinner—where loved ones joyfully announced their pregnancy. I rejoiced as I choked back soul-deep sobs.

My single years held many Christmases like that one—sweet joys in the midst of silent anguish, bitterness tangled up in beauty. The very things about the season that enchanted me, also served to magnify my heartache: parties with everyone coupled up but me; romantic Christmas music and movies; and those annual Christmas letters brimming with friends' burgeoning families. It all reminded me of what I didn't have, of what I longed for with all my being. My fight for contentment and hope was so much more intense through those holiday weeks.

But I didn't have the corner on the market of pain. Others were also hurting and hoping for better Christmases to come.

Over the years I wept with friends who suffered the loss of a newborn baby, a parent's sudden death, a broken marriage, a barren womb, and financial hardships. My heart grew tender toward those who lacked the very basic necessities of life: shelter, food, and love—as well as those who suffered "smaller" pangs: strained family relationships, the betrayal of a close friend, or the loneliness of living far from home and loved ones.

And while marriage and motherhood have taken much of Bitterness' bite out of the season, my husband and I have navigated a job loss, flooded home, debilitating illness, and other such stresses, all while celebrating "the most wonderful season of all."

Dear one, you've been here too, haven't you? You have fasted in the middle of the feast, and you've tasted the bitterness in the bounty.

The holidays, especially Christmas it seems, represent all that is generous and beautiful. We sing of peace and well-being and hope. We give thanks and we exchange gifts. We cherish the idea of an invisible Santa Claus delivering wishes-come-true, of family gatherings around a festive feast, and of hot drinks sipped at the fireside with Bing Crosby’s voice crooning in the background.

But we feel the deep disparity between this broken world we live in, and the world we were made for. Our hearts long for unadulterated happiness and peace, but we are marred by brokenness and need.

And therein lies the greatest gift of all: this deep disparity brings us back to the true meaning of Christmas. Our heartaches, our have-nots, and even the brokenness of the world around us—they drive us to the Only One who can satiate our souls. And that longing within us for something more, that discontent that follows the feast and the gift-opening—it reminds us of the immeasurable gift God gave us in sending his Son Jesus to us...

To live with us.
To die for us.
To give us the infinite riches of Himself.

And not only did He give us His Son, but He also constantly works this brokenness and heartache for our good—our infinite, perfect, glorious good. Though I won't know the fullness of that good until eternity, I've experienced it here in a million ways. Do you know how thankful I am for those years when God didn't give me what I so desperately wanted? Oh, how I praise Him for that long wait that made me fall in love with Him, and for saying "no" to every other man so that I could marry the best man of all, Edward Chao.

These holidays are for us, dear one—for the hurting, the broken, and the needy. Our culture is enamored with busy, expensive, indulgent, feel-good holidays. But God is always about us finding our highest good in Him, even when that requires us to suffer, to do without, or to wait an inordinate length of time. He loves us too much to let us settle for lesser loves.

This Christmas, may our silent aches and longings compel us to worship the God of the Universe, who wrapped Himself in flesh and blood so that our lives would have meaning, so that we would know the Hope that does not disappoint.

{Scriptures referenced: Hebrews 13:14-15, Romans 8:32, 2 Corinthians 4:17, Romans 5:5}

This article is from the archives (originally posted November 2013). This was also posted on True Woman