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If Not for Her, My Life Would Have Fallen Apart

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

Whenever I recall the good things Christ has done for me, I always think of Maureen Ong, a godly woman God used to bring me into His presence. Had it not been for her, I might still be in darkness. Today, I acknowledge her as Godma.

The year was 2013. I was in my second year of marriage and staying with my in-laws. Coming from a family where I had the freedom to make my own decisions, I had a hard time adjusting to my new environment. Unlike my parents, my in-laws were involved in every decision, regardless of how big or small. Though they tried their best to treat me as part of the family, I felt like an outsider and frequently wondered if my feelings mattered. It didn’t help that my husband didn’t see anything wrong and couldn’t understand where I was coming from.

Things took a turn for the worse when my son was born. All matters pertaining to the family were handled by my parents-in-law and every time I tried to express my own ideas, I would be deemed “disrespectful”. As a result, I got into frequent quarrels with my husband and my in-laws.

One day, while having a heated argument with my husband inside our room, I voiced out that we should seek marriage counselling. My father-in-law heard me and immediately arranged for his cousin, Maureen, and her husband, a pastor, to meet us. Though my husband was not keen to undergo counselling, Maureen reached out to me. She encouraged me to share my feelings with her and was willing to guide me. We began to meet to study the Bible and I felt her genuine concern for me.

Knowing how broken I was, she was sensitive to my feelings and never reproached me harshly. Instead, she corrected me gently while showing me the value of mercy and grace. However, this angered my in-laws, who thought that she was siding with me. They would not listen to what she had to say and blamed her because they felt she was sparing me from correction. Looking back, I can see that I was at fault as well. I did not respect my in-laws and often shouted at them whenever I did not agree with their ideas.

I did not expect things to turn out the way they did. Because of me, Maureen’s good relationship with my in-laws was shattered and I felt very sad about it. However, she took the burden of this broken relationship upon herself and did not blame me for causing it. She kept affirming me of God’s truth and assured me that everything would be fine.

Initially, the hurts I had accumulated over the period of my stay with my in-laws made it hard for me to forgive them. But with Maureen’s constant encouragement from the Scriptures, healing began to take place in my heart. She showed me love and counselled me with the Word of God.

Among the passages she quoted was Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” What had happened in my life was all part of God’s plan; he had allowed it to happen to bring me to himself so that I would be complete and lacking nothing.

The other passage that impacted me was Romans 8:31-32: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” I realized that if God loved me so much that He did not spare His own Son, He would surely give me all the things that I needed to grow, and the faith to overcome all things.

Knowing that God was sovereign and in charge helped me to see things from His kingdom’s perspective. I no longer felt that my in-laws were at fault. It helped me to forgive them and move on, knowing that what had happened was part of God’s plan to set me free, and for me to know Him more and experience His presence with me.

I am glad Maureen had persisted in showing me concern and counselling me from the Word of God, which is the truth that gives life. Had I been counselled by someone who did not know God, I might not have been set free by the eternal Word of God.

Recently, in my quiet time, I came across Hebrews 10:32-36. The author wrote about how the saints had stood firm in their faith despite sufferings, insults, and persecution. They stood by the side of those who were persecuted, sympathized with those who were in chains, and joyfully accepted suffering knowing that their reward in heaven was greater.

I thought of Godma. She anchored her faith upon the Lord, did the will of God at the expense of her earthly relationship with her cousin, and allowed herself to be accused. She accepted the pain of a broken relationship without a word of complaint, having confidence in the better and more abiding relationship with God. Because she stood by me, I knew my soul was precious. Because she showed me such great confidence in God, I was assured that our heavenly Father was a greater possession than anything that we have on earth.  She assured me that God will make everything right in His time.

Today, because of Godma, I have a new perspective and identity in Christ. Now, I am less self-centered and focused on my own problems. My husband, who used to be uncaring to me, has also become more understanding. The love of God has changed the both of us. If not for God’s intervention and a mentor who walked me through the darkest moments of my life, we would have gotten a divorce. I believe, in due time, my in-laws will see the light of Jesus and reconcile with Godma.

Godma has lived up to the standards of the “older women” as described in Titus 2:3-5, and has trained me to be become a better woman at home.  She taught me how to love and respect my husband and his family.

Now, I pray that God will prepare, train, and equip me to walk with another distressed younger woman whom I might meet one day. I pray that I will endure whatever it takes, just like Godma, so that another precious soul can be saved and transformed to see the light of Jesus.

What if God Made Me Pretty?

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

I am short, stocky, and average-looking. When I was growing up, people used to comment about how flat my nose was. A friend even told me that my nose looked like it had been hit by something.

I was introduced to Barbie dolls as a kid; they were so pretty, tall, and slim. Lead actresses of my favorite television series were similarly attractive, and I wished I looked like them. Though I knew it was more important to be healthy than pretty, it was difficult to accept that God gave me such ordinary looks compared to other females around me.

Around the age of 18, I decided that I wanted to change my appearance. Instead of my usual t-shirts and jeans, I started dressing more fashionably, wearing accessories, hats, and jackets.  I also started wearing make-up whenever I went out. However, make-up could only cover my flaws, not change them. I could not change my height. And despite exercise and sweat, I could not change my body shape either; all I wanted was a bit more curve. I wanted to be pretty and popular, like the models and actresses I admired.

In my early 20s, I met with an aesthetic doctor to talk about possible procedures to enhance my facial features. But after considering the risks and regular Botox injections required, I shelved the idea. Aside from changing my looks, I also wanted to change my body shape, but the doctor could not suggest any procedure that I was comfortable with. Height lengthening procedure is extremely risky as it involves major leg surgery, and the success is not guaranteed. After considering these risks, costs, and non-guaranteed outcomes, it did not take me long to put away the idea of cosmetic surgery.

On top of wishing that I were more attractive, I secretly wished to have a boyfriend. Many of the girls in school who had boyfriends were pretty, and I assumed that I did not have one because I was not good-looking. I was also shy and thought that pretty girls were confident, sociable, and popular because of their looks. I envied them. I hated God and felt that He was not fair. He made so many girls pretty but not me. I disliked my pretty friends. I did not like mixing with them because being around them made me feel ugly and uncomfortable. So I tended to ignore them and their feelings.

I simply could not understand Psalm 139:14, which says that we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made.” I felt that it did not relate to me. I was upset and told God, “You must be kidding me. If I am really carefully and wonderfully made, I would have been a pretty sweet young lady.”

It was not until I came across Proverbs 31:30 one day during my quiet time that I realized how God was speaking to me. It says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Another verse which impacted me was 1 Peter 3:3, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.”

God is not looking for someone charming or beautiful, but for someone who fears Him. He does not look at our exterior beauty, but at our hearts. These verses humbled me and made me realize how superficial I had been by focusing only on temporal beauty instead of Him. God had never condemned me; I was the one who condemned myself because I felt ugly. In fact, God praises women who fear Him. So if I wanted to be praised by Him, I had to fear him. I had to honor Him by placing Him before myself.

Though I still do not know why God made some girls pretty and not others, I know we are safe when we run to Him with our feelings. His word speaks truth to satisfy the void in us. Bible says in Isaiah 55:9 that God’s ways are higher than my ways and His thoughts than my thoughts. Surely I can trust God that He has made me perfect in His own ways, as it says in Psalm 139:14. He made each of us exactly the way He meant us to be, in order to fulfill our unique individual calling and purpose in the highest manner.

As I progress in the knowledge of His word, I feel called to serve Him in writing. I feel God’s truth seeping into every area of my life and speaking to me. I also gain fresh insights when I read the writings of fellow Christians who share their thoughts about how God has worked in their lives. It encourages me. And I feel the burden to do the same, to share with others my own experiences and thoughts so that others can be encouraged as well in times of need. To write, I need not be pretty on the outside. What I need is a pure undivided heart that desires God above all else, and to make Him my sole desire.

Looking back, if I had been pretty, I might have my earlier dreams of being a model fulfilled. The nature of the job may not allow me to dress modestly, and I may also be too proud of my body. I may not treat my body with respect or remember that it is the temple where the Holy Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 6:19). God has made me the way I need to be to focus on Him and to embrace my calling in Him.

Now, although I am still tempted to wish for physical beauty whenever I see someone pretty, I remind myself that the world’s definition of beauty is not God’s definition of beauty. I fully understand that I do not need to be pretty to be confident. My confidence is in God who praises those who fear Him and speaks to us in our calling. I am now assured in Psalm 139:14 that I am perfectly made. He gives me confidence that I am handmade by Him personally and that my identity is in Him.

Why Am I Getting Baptized?

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

I was baptized some years ago by immersion—but not for the reason you might think.

At the time, my fiancé and I were looking for a church to get married in. The church he attended was a beautiful church, the ideal setting for a wedding. But there was a problem: church policy required that both of us had to be baptized before we could get married there.

Although my husband-to-be had already been baptized, I was still exploring. Though I had said the sinner’s prayer earlier on, it was only to please my fiancé. I was not ready to commit to Christ, much less get baptized. But I decided to go through pre-baptism classes so that we could be married in that beautiful church.

It was not a true conversion. It was merely my way of getting a glorious wedding venue. But I hid my motive well and I was successfully baptized, but it was a baptism without meaning. My faith was dead; I had bluffed my way in. I had lied to everyone about my conversion.

Over the past few years, I have been attending another church, and through Bible study there, I was convicted that what I had done was wrong. I saw my former baptism as a mark on my sinful past―a lie.

But God did not abandon me even though I had lied. Even though I did not take Him seriously in the past, He was gracious to save me and make me His own. He led me to see that my baptism was not “the pledge of a clear conscience towards God” (1 Peter 3:21); it was the opposite of what God expected of us. Ashamed, I repented of my wrong motives in getting baptized.

A clear conscience towards God in baptism is to have no other motive aside from following Him with a sincere heart. It is important that we do not take God’s name and His grace towards us for granted. God cannot be mocked, and nothing we do can be hidden from His sight (Galatians 6:7, Hebrews 4:13). We should check our hearts and our motives in everything that we do, and in everything we should seek to bring glory and honor to God, including in baptism (1 Corinthians 10:31).

As I reflected on my own sin, I learned of other reasons we as believers could have when considering whether to get baptized.

 

1) To fit in. 

Some people get baptized so that they can better fit into a church culture where almost everyone is baptized. Some churches, for example, have a rule that only baptized members can come forward to receive communion. There may be many people who are already baptized, and it is easy for those who have not been baptized to feel left out.

Don’t feel pressured to fit in. God does not need us to fit in. He only needs us to seek Him.

 

2) To please family or friends.

Some people get baptized in order to please family members or friends, or because they feel pressured by others and do not wish to be a disappointment. However, these can become the wrong reasons for baptism.

Baptism should not be for the purposes of pleasing other people. If your family or friends are true believers, they would want you to please God instead of them.

 

3) To be saved.

Some people think that they can be saved by getting baptized. Before I became a believer, I had this wrong understanding as well. I thought that baptism was a means to salvation. However, our salvation cannot be earned. No deed of our own can please God or earn us salvation. Instead, salvation is a gift freely given by grace, and the only way to receive it is by the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Baptism is an outward declaration of faith to follow Christ. But it is not a requirement of salvation. The thief at the cross next to Jesus recognized that Jesus is God, but this thief was not baptized. Nevertheless, Jesus said that he would be with Him in paradise (Luke 23:43).

 

Baptism reminds us that our past is dead, and that we are now alive in Christ, redeemed, resurrected, and restored. However, if our heart is not ready and we do not have a clear conscience towards God, we should consider taking a step back. We should take time to prepare our hearts, to set it right before God so that we can truly enjoy the beauty and significance of baptism. God does not blame us for being slow, since He knows our hearts. He is pleased when we seek Him and honor Him above our own motives, and that is more important for our true salvation.

Our preparation for baptism should draw us closer to God, and help us to align our will with His will. We can ask God to search our hearts (Psalm 139:23), to weed out any of our own fleshly motives and turn our hearts to follow Him, so that we can be pleasing to His sight. Philippians 2:12 says we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. When our hearts are purified, God becomes our sole desire.

As I learned more about baptism, I wondered if I should be re-baptized. But a few trusted Christians that I talked to assured me that, by grace, God accepts my previous baptism as my commitment to Him. I am content with this assurance, and I take my baptism as a reminder of my sinful past and God’s faithfulness at work in my life.

A Family Crisis that Redeemed Me

Photo taken by Becky Roberts
Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

Three years ago, I was involved in a family dispute. My willful, unforgiving, and prideful character deeply hurt my family and it reached a stage that I eventually left home.

During the worst of the crisis, I often asked “Why me?” or “Why is life so unfair?” When I did not get any answers and finally realized the problem was too big for me to solve, God did the most wonderful thing in my life. He humbled me and began a period of sanctification in my life. He taught me many truths, showed me that He was working in the situation, and redeemed me through this crisis.

 

Rely on the Bible

Living on my own was very lonely. I missed the good times when I would return after work to a spacious home filled with people who loved me. After I moved out, I was confined to a small room with only my own company. My landlord was very kind and allowed me to use his living room as my own, but it still did not feel like home, and so I confined myself to my room most of the time. I sometimes even worked late to avoid the loneliness. Outside office hours, I had a lot of time for reflection. I shed many tears on my own, and those weak moments ultimately drove me to God.

In those desperate times, I ransacked the Bible and found many of God’s promises. I memorized many verses that comforted me, and I treasured them. God’s word kept me from sinking.

Through reading God’s word, I learned to process my emotions in a healthy biblical manner. Becoming familiar with God’s word helped me resist the temptation to hurt myself and others when overwhelmed by emotion (Psalm 119:11). By hiding His word in my heart, I was not destroyed by negative thoughts.

Though I was bitter against the people who in one way or another triggered the crisis, God’s truth set me free from my hatred. God assured me that all things happen for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). I was chosen. I was set apart. I felt God’s love and assurance.

As I read the word of God, I began to shape my thoughts according to God’s truth. I slowly learned to exercise faith and to preach to myself. During the crisis, the Bible that I had once found boring and hard to understand became the book that held my greatest interest.

 

Rely on fellow Christians

Faithful believers reminded me during those dark moments “to cling onto God”. Fellowship with believers was very important during that time, because they reminded me over and over again that I was not alone. They reminded me that God was with me, and that God would work things out.

Church leaders gave me tremendous emotional support and treated me as family. The pastor and his wife reached out to counsel me when they learned about my situation. They gave me the love that I was lacking. They shared in my burden and made me feel better. The pastor’s wife became my spiritual mentor. She taught me to pray about the situation and ministered to me through bible study to deepen my faith. Whenever I went to church, I no longer felt alone.

Members of the small family church I attended showed a lot of care and concern for me. During the Christmas and New Year festive period, I avoided my own relatives since I was not prepared to face their questions as I was still hurting inside. I felt lonely since it was the first time I had to spend festive season on my own. But the Pastor and his family invited me to their home. It was a sweet and memorable gesture. The support I received grew my faith and showed me how important the body of Christ was and how faithful believers could aid in my healing.

 

Sing worship songs

Just like how King Saul found relief from David playing the harp (1 Samuel 16:23), I was also lifted up by songs. I especially loved the song “Be Still and Know”, which reminded me to be still, and became a comfort to me during those times. I began to appreciate worship songs, and learned to lift my hands in praise to the Lord even while going through difficult times.

The songs I listened to also taught me to give thanks, and reminded me the importance of thankfulness in all circumstances. Burdens become strangely lighter when we enter God’s sanctuary with thanksgiving in our hearts.

 

Through this crisis, I learned to read the Bible and find comfort in the word of God. I learned that being in fellowship with other faithful believers helped me stay strong in the faith. I learned the importance of worship in all situations.

By the strength of God, I found healing and courage to approach those who had in one way or another caused me hurt. Just like me, they had emotions and needed love and acceptance too. During one of my devotions, God showed me 1 John 4:18 and assured me that perfect love drives out fear, the one who fears is not made perfect in love. Hadn’t God showed me His love in the darkest night? Wasn’t it His love that sustained throughout this time? What did I have to fear? Even if I were to get hurt again, my God would be with me. As I pondered this verse, my fear of getting hurt again seemed irrational. My heart softened and I was finally able to let down my guard to draw near to people who had hurt me in the past to seek reconciliation and show forgiveness.

Today, I no longer feel the hurt that I once felt. I no longer feel that bitterness that once consumed me. Although the house no longer has room for me, I appreciate staying alone for now as it gives me more freedom to seek God’s face. There will come a day when we will stay under the same roof again in God’s perfect timing. For the time being, I have learned to cherish the solitude.

Had it not been for Christ, I believe I would have slipped into depression during the crisis. But what could have led me astray, Christ used for good―that I come to know Him. In Philippians, Paul says that nothing surpasses the worth of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8).