I Thought I Would Never Forgive

Written By Deborah Lee, Singapore

When I got married and moved in with my husband’s family, there were many conflicts. I was immature and hot-tempered, and exchanged many harsh words with my in-laws. I continued to anger my in-laws for days after heated quarrels, and eventually my mother-in-law called me a “nobody’s child,” emphasizing how unwanted, unloved, and unwelcome I was.

After a year of this—my husband often siding with his parents—I left the house on a bad note. My departure supposedly marked an end to the verbal abuse I had suffered. However, I carried with me a lot of anger and hurt. These had been accumulating since the day I got married and left my parents’ home to stay with my in-laws, all the way to the day I was called a “nobody’s child.” The insults left a deep wound in my heart. In my darkest moments, I even wished misfortune upon my husband’s family.

During this time, I stayed with a church friend. My pastor and mentor continued to follow up with me concerning my family struggles, and they constantly urged me to bring them before God. In the quiet home where I now was, I began searching through God’s Word. The more I searched, the more I was captivated by God’s promises for us during bad times, He was constantly reminding me of how He keeps track of my tears (Psalm 56:8) and how His plans for me are good. In those times of desperation where I felt extremely vulnerable, God’s assurance of my future held me close to Him. Through His Word, God continually led me to a place of repentance and surrender.

But I still struggled internally. Even though I was no longer staying with my husband’s family, phone calls with my husband triggered memories and anger again. My husband continued to side with his parents and insisted that I owed them an apology. It felt like everyone accused me of being the problem.

 

God Is My Defender

Through all this, I wrestled with God. I kept telling Him, “It’s not fair that I have to go through all this. I did not marry to be bullied. Everyone has a defender except for me. Who will hear me? Why can’t I just escape it all?” I wished that I had a different battle, something I could either manage or escape. But so often in life, we cannot choose our battles.

As I wrestled with God, I was reminded of Romans 8:31-32. If God is for me, who can be against me? He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for me—how will He not also graciously give me all things? As I read those words in the Bible, I felt as if it were God speaking to me, assuring me that He is with me, and would give me the strength I needed to overcome this situation. As I continued reading in verses 34-35, I was reminded that there is no condemnation in Christ, and nothing can separate us from God’s love.

I began to see that God was not being unfair. I began to sense that He was indeed with me. Even if everyone in the world were to condemn me, because of Christ’s sacrifice, God does not condemn me. Nothing can separate me from God’s love. As I leaned into the words in Romans 8, I began to see my situation in a different light. I began to see the purpose in my hurt. Through my hurt, I experienced God’s assurance and comfort. Even if I was condemned by people around me, I found hope in God.

God had allowed these events for me to see His love for me. If I had not been failed by men, I would not have turned to God. God in His faithfulness had used events in my life to draw me back to Him and show me His blessings. I could not deny God’s sovereignty throughout these events.

 

My Struggle to Forgive

While Romans 8 comforted me, Matthew 7:3-5 convicted me. In this passage, Jesus reminds us to get rid of the plank in our own eye before accusing others of the speck in their eyes. These verses spoke to the heart of my situation. If I were to say that I was not at fault, I would obviously be lying to myself. I shouted at my in-laws instead of showing them respect. I was rude to them, and that was not pleasing to God either. These verses reminded me that, all along, I had been pointing fingers at others without paying attention to the plank in my own eye. I owed my husband’s family an apology.

I knew I needed to repent. But truth be told, it was hard for me to do so when neither my husband nor his family showed any remorse for their actions against me. They continued to insist that they were not at fault. Surely, it wouldn’t be fair if I pretended like nothing had happened and allowed them to continue to bully me.

 

Enabled by God’s Love to Forgive

Over time, God encouraged me and renewed my mind. As I continued reading the Bible, I increasingly realized that I was God’s precious child, not a defenceless “nobody’s child.” In my broken moments, I learned to anchor myself in God. I no longer needed to walk in the brokenness of unfairness, anger, and despair. Instead, I could see my situation through God’s eyes—filled with hope and purpose. I was determined not to fall back into my old self, enslaved to self-pity and hopelessness.

When I first tried apologizing to my in-laws, they remained aloof and continued to hurl words of insult and condemnation. But I held on to the promises that God had given me and persevered. And through a long period of endurance and patience, my husband and family eventually softened their hearts and accepted me as family once again.

This process involved a lot of self-denial, heartache, and pain, but God showed me that we should overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). The famous words of Martin Luther King, Jr. resonate with me. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The only way to experience forgiveness and be able to forgive is to first experience the love of God for ourselves and show others His love.

Our reconciliation eventually moved my husband to purchase a new home with me, and we had the blessing of my in-laws to live as a married couple. But more important to me than even this reconciliation, is realizing that having God in my life is the greatest good, especially in the face of conflicts or trials. None of this would have been possible if not for God’s love for me, compelling me to live a life worthy of Him and radiate His love to others. Nothing surpasses the worth of knowing God. As I see the goodness of God working in my life to redeem me from the darkness, forgiveness is made easier.

Am I Responsible for My Friend’s Salvation?

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

I remember the moment l entered a relationship with Jesus as though it were yesterday.

It happened 10 years ago, on a chilly January evening. My friend Hannah led me in prayer and confession while we were seated in her car, parked outside a supermarket. In a declaration of faith, l accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

The change was immediate: l felt clean and light, as if all my past mistakes and bad decisions had been erased. More importantly, l felt loved and accepted for who l was, despite my failures and flaws; a love which could only have come from God.

As the months went by, l embraced the chance to start my life afresh with God, with fervent gratitude and a heart that burned to know my Savior more and more. Hannah became one of my mentors, and she taught me about the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20)—how God calls us to spread the good news of the Bible.

My thoughts went immediately to my closest friends who didn’t know Jesus. I realized that the struggles and pain my friends experienced were often a reflection of their search for purpose in life, for identity. This broke my heart.

l wanted to help my friends know the same freedom, peace, and love from a merciful Father that l did. Additionally, l was concerned about the possibility of my friends’ eternal separation from God if they did not enter a relationship with Him. Therefore, l made up my mind to “help” my friends along the path to salvation, which led to an awkward incident between them and myself.

It happened one fateful weekend when my friends and l were visiting Amsterdam. On Saturday night, a few members of our group wanted to visit the red light district, where tourists flock in droves to look at sex workers behind red-lit glass doors. This did not sit well with me. While my friends thought that the experience would be a harmless act of cheeky window-watching, I thought of the desperate circumstances that pushed these women to such a place. l felt for them.

I told my friends that God intended our bodies to be holy and acceptable to Him (Romans 12:1), and that as a Christian, l would not pursue the things of this world. Instead, l would pursue God and so should they. Well, as we British say, that went down like a lead balloon. Some of my friends told me straight out that it wasn’t my place to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do, and most of all, what they should believe.

I wanted my friends to know the love of Jesus, but that setback helped me see that l wasn’t responsible for their salvation—they were. God desires each of us to willingly choose a relationship with Him, and I could not force anyone to a choice—whether through shame or other methods. However, l do have an obligation to share the Gospel. Since that awkward incident, l have been learning to minister to my friends in different ways, in the hopes that it would draw them to the light of Christ.

Here are four ways that I’ve learned to reach out to my non-Christian friends:

 

1. Let Our Faith Shine Through Our Lives

l can be a good spokesperson for Christ when my friends see the way l live my life as a Christian. I love the words of Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

One big change that happened after I became a Christian was that I no longer used swear words. Not only did my friends notice this change, but now they actually apologize to me if they accidentally swear in my presence!

Instead of speaking negatively, l now try to use my words to encourage and uplift those around me (1 Thessalonians 5:11). I try to show my friends God’s love by being patient, kind and empathetic with them, just as Jesus is with us.

 

2. Share Testimonies

God is constantly working in our lives, and we get to share it with our friends. When my husband and l were struggling financially, God came through and provided us with income from sources such as friends, an unexpected payment in our account, and even a scholarship for my husband! Not only do my friends get to witness how God has changed my life around, but they also get to learn more about God through what occurs in my life.

I have noticed that my friends are more receptive to hearing about God when they can see a tangible working of His role as a living God and loving Father. Some of my friends have even started attributing good things in their lives to God’s blessings, instead of the result of their hard work or simply luck or fate.

 

3. Create A Safe Space of Mutual Respect

My friends and l have created a safe space in our relationship, where we mutually respect one another, and each person is free to be themselves. We accept each other’s weaknesses and forgive each other when we make mistakes.

I do talk about God with my friends, but l now use discernment and weigh each situation carefully before sharing my opinions, instead of bombarding them with verses from the Bible.

Because of our safe space, my friends feel comfortable in approaching me when they do have questions about God, because they know l will neither judge them nor be sanctimonious towards them.

 

4. Pray for Our Friends’ Salvation

Have you seen the movie War Room? The elderly woman in the movie had a special closet—which she calls her “war room”—set aside for regular, passionate, dedicated prayer on behalf of people around her.

I pray for my friends’ salvation a lot. l have written down a list of people l hope will one day come into a relationship with Christ, and hung this list up in my spare room—my own “war room.” During my quiet time with God, l pray over this list and intercede for my friends and loved ones.

 

My friends may one day choose Christ, or they may not. Either way, l will continue to be friends with them and love them with the love that Christ has shown me.

Having said that, l will not give up hope that, one day, my friends will accept Jesus into their hearts. Until that day comes, l will continue to have faith, believe in God’s mercy, and pray.

3 Signs Your Emotions Are Ruling Your Life

It took everything in me not to text back. I turned my phone off in vehement protest. I would not let my emotions get the best of me. I would not be that person who was reckless with their words.

I knew my friend’s text meant nothing personal. But as an INFJ and 4 on the Enneagram Test (how scarily accurate are those personality tests, by the way?), I know that my emotions are my kryptonite. Which is why I sometimes have to keep myself in check and make sure that I’m not letting my emotions sit on the throne of my life.

Dear friends, emotions are very important, but we cannot let them rule over us. I know for some of us “feelers” out there, this can be really difficult. But it is one of the most important lessons I have been learning over the past several years.

Learning to master our emotions will grant us wholeness in every area of our lives. After all, we are not defined by our feelings. So how do we know if our emotions have gotten the best of us? Well for starters. . .

 

1. You’re reacting instead of responding

When my emotions get the best of me, I often find myself reacting (sometimes unnecessarily) in the heat of the moment. Whether it’s receiving a passive-aggressive email from a colleague, or finding the dirty dishes (yet again) left on the kitchen counter, sometimes it’s a lot easier to simply react to a situation and say the first thing that pops into my head.

Jumping to conclusions can be so much easier than demonstrating grace and giving someone the benefit of the doubt. But I am challenging myself to avoid that knee-jerk reaction, and think about how I can respond positively instead of just slinging mud around.

My husband and I have a set of “rules” that we aim to stick to when we have an argument, one of which is, “Don’t start unnecessary fires that need to be put out later on.” In other words, we don’t just say whatever we feel like saying in the moment, or else we’re going to be spending even more time putting out little “fires”—apologizing for the hurtful words we recklessly spat out in a moment of frustration.

Simply reacting may feel like an intuitive response, but understanding that our feelings don’t have to rule our behavior is the first step towards achieving a healthier emotional life. While waiting for the ‘heat’ to die down, sometimes I like to ask Holy Spirit to reveal to me the roots of my emotional reaction. Inviting God into my reactions helps me to work towards a healthier response the next time I get caught up in my emotions.

 

2. You can’t separate fact from fiction

One thing my counselor taught me is that feelings are not right or wrong, they’re just feelings. Dear friends, while I’m sharing “all the feels” with you, I am also here to tell you that doesn’t mean our feelings can always be trusted. In fact, more often than not, our feelings are lying to us. We find this truth in Jeremiah 17:9 (NLT), which describes the heart as the source of “wickedness”: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”

We know that we’re in too deep when feelings begin to trump reality for us. In other words, the moment our feelings have become an idol, and we start to believe them more than what God says about us and what’s true; that’s when we know it’s time to do a little soul-searching. Instead of following my heart (contrary to every Disney plot-line), I know I need to follow Jesus’ example and work out the fruits of the Spirit in my life–that includes self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

 

3. You feel out of control

Whether it’s throwing a childlike tantrum or withdrawing completely from a situation, our emotions directly affect our thoughts and actions, and sometimes in an unhealthy way.

If you’re reading this, then you obviously have enough emotional intelligence to recognize when your emotions are running high. But for those of us who find controlling our emotions a bit trickier, this is where it’s worth identifying our triggers. Whether it’s FOMO causing us to feel despair while scrolling through Instagram, or simply feeling rejected over the radio silence on the other end of our phones; it’s essential to pinpoint the triggers in our lives that might cause us to spiral. The more we understand our triggers, the quicker we’ll be able to submit them to God and gain control over our emotions.

 

In this day and age, where our culture is encouraging us to become increasingly transparent and vulnerable about our feelings—which is completely necessary for fostering real relationships—it’s all the more imperative that we learn to live beyond how we feel.

Becoming aware of our own emotions is vital for our personal development; however, we cannot allow our emotions to determine the path we take. We need to ask ourselves: Am I letting my emotions rule over me? Are my feelings directing me down the wrong path? If the answer is yes, we may need to re-evaluate where our emotions sit in the pecking order.

Dear ones, if you find yourself in one of the three points above, don’t worry. I’m right there with you. Emotions are part of what makes us humans. We should not try to suffocate our feelings by burying them deep down, but instead we can bring our emotions before our loving Father, who wants to nurture and challenge us to live out His best for us.

God wants us to surrender every part of our lives to Him, including our emotions. The more we seek God’s guidance in our emotional lives, the more we can grow in discernment about which feelings we can trust and which ones we can nail to the Cross.

So don’t sweat it, we’re all riding this wild emotional ride called life. Ultimately, we’re all on a journey to complete healing and wholeness with Jesus. So say it with me. “Emotions are not King over my life. Nothing in my life is King except Jesus.”

Where Our Love Story Went Wrong

Photo taken by Asher Ong Photography

“What do you find the greatest joy in?”

I paused, thinking about what puts a smile on my face, what keeps me going every day, and what gives me the most happiness.

“I suppose I find the greatest joy . . . in you,” I said softly.

“Me too.”

***

This is the part of the love story where we smile at each other shyly, clasp our hands together, and wrap our arms around each other in love—blissful, romantic, head-in-the-clouds love.

This is the part of the story where it dawns upon us that we are living out The Love Story told and played out in every fable, song, book, and movie, sold to us with every sentence written and lyric sung and scene painted, over and over again until we’ve unknowingly bought into it a hundredfold over.

But this is also the part of our love story where it all goes wrong. Because the real Love Story is not meant to be this way, and the one we’re living out now is not meant to last.

***

I’ve been in a relationship with my fiancé, David, for two years now. And with every passing day, I fall a little deeper in love with him.

Yet there is always a danger of loving him so much that I come to love him more than my first and greatest Love: God. It is a very frightening thing to find myself crossing that line: when I choose to spend evenings out with him over a time of solitude with God, when my heart finds more pleasure in him than the Lord, when I am devoted to his needs and wants but not to knowing and obeying Him.

 

But why is it such a bad thing? What’s wrong with loving my future husband more than God?

It‘s dangerous. It lures me away from worshipping God to idolizing a mere man, full of foibles and flaws (Romans 1:25). Sometimes I find myself so in love with him that I forget that he is, after all, only human. And though he tries his best to love me rightly, he sometimes fails—and so do I. And that’s when we find ourselves disappointed, hurt, and upset with one another.

It’s sinful. It goes against God’s first commandment to us: that we do not have any other gods before God (Exodus 20:3). A god isn’t just a little wooden carving or altar in my house that I worship, but it’s what I elevate to the throne of my life, it’s whom I love, adore, and value more than anything and anyone else in this world.

And it’s grievous. It saddens God when I wander away from Him and into the arms of another lover—a good gift God Himself has given to me—but which I have twisted and abused in my selfishness. Being unfaithful to Him also hurts me in ways I can’t quite understand on an intellectual level, but which I experience on a deeper, instinctual level, when my spirit mourns along with the Holy Spirit.

Time and time again, I’ve been shown how loving him more than Him has consequences. But these consequences are meant to lead me to repentance and to discipline me for my own good (Hebrews 12:5-11). As my friend rightly puts it: “God isn’t going to give you someone just to watch them take the place that only He can.”

Loving my fiancé more than my Father has more often than not led to a mess of tangled hurts and alienating distance. Because when I elevate him to the status of my god, one whom I believe can meet all my needs and wants, to love and understand me unconditionally, and to be unwaveringly present with me in all circumstances—be it physical or emotional—I find that he falls short. It shouldn’t be a surprise, yet I can’t help but feel crestfallen, cheated almost. Because I believed a lie that I had told to myself.

 

Photo taken by Asher Ong Photography

 

How do we love our partner then, without idolizing him or her?

It was a bittersweet moment when the both of us confessed to one another that we found the greatest joy in each other’s arms. Bitter because we knew that our love could so easily stray into sinful and grievous idolatry if we were not careful; yet sweet, because we have found the one whom our soul loves and with whom we will join together in union  (Song of Songs 3:4, Genesis 2:1-24).

It was a bittersweet reminder that this kind of romantic love, as with every other love, is but a shadow of the greatest Love that has and will ever be: one that was embodied on the cross through the Son of God, who took on our sins and died in our place.

I’m learning that the only way for me to love David rightly, and for David to love me rightly, is for us to love God rightly (1 John 4:19). It means asking ourselves who God is to us; and if He is our God, then living a life of total worship to Him in response.

It means acknowledging Him as the King of our hearts, by prioritizing the growth of our relationship with our first Love, both individually and as a couple. Not just when we’re in church listening to sermons, or spending time with our families, but in every other private and intimate moment when we’re alone together too.

And just as how a Christ-centered relationship is based on the building blocks of commitment, interdependence and intimacy, so, too, our relationship with Christ should be based on commitment to Him, dependence on Him, and intimacy with Him. This means intentionally choosing to love God above each other, leaning upon Christ alone as our cornerstone, and drawing near to Him daily, in the everyday choices we make.

Since we came to the realization that we needed to put God first above each other, we’ve been including a portion of time to pray, give thanks, and meditate on His Word together when we meet on dates. We‘re also continuously cultivating the habit of praying for each other daily, asking for each other’s prayer requests, and encouraging each other with His Word.

At the end of the day, our love story is all about experiencing what the psalmist experienced when he wrote: “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you,” and that “in Your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:2, 11). It means prizing Him as my greatest treasure, and therefore enjoying Him as my greatest pleasure (Matthew 6:21). This is how we can, and are, making our love story right by His grace: by finding our greatest joy in Him alone, together.