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A Dream I Had to Give Up . . . Hong Kong

Written By Cecilia Leung

You know that oft-quoted verse, Jeremiah 29:11? I hate it. If you bring it up to me right now, I’m liable to break down in tears or leave the room, slamming the door behind me.

Here’s the context. I’ve long had an irrational fear of ending up living on the outskirts of a small town in America. It might seem silly, but this is something I’ve really struggled with, and thought I eventually made peace with. For the first few years of marriage, my husband and I, and eventually our son, lived very happily in that dreamy, suburban neighborhood I had feared so much.

But two years ago, we were given the chance to move to the Asian metropolis I had spent some of my formative years in, Hong Kong, and we leaped at the chance.

From the day we landed, it felt like this was where we were meant to be. My husband, my son, and I, all thrived in different ways on this side of the world. Without need for much discussion, we both agreed that this is where we wanted to raise our son. This is where we were going to live for the next 20 years, and maybe for the rest of our lives.

We dreamed about the future. We relished the little daily memories we were making—picking out greens at the wet market while our child admired the frogs for sale; ordering roast pigeon for dinner at the noisy outdoor restaurants; watching the old men play chess in the park, chattering happily in the local language on the playground . . .

Then, because of a series of complex reasons, we made the decision to move back to America.

While we were convinced that a move will be best for our family in the long term, in many ways, it was the last thing we wanted to do. We both cried as we made the decision. America is great and all, but it is just not what we imagined for our lives.

I look around the home we thought we would raise our son in, and realize that it is not to be. Looking at frogs in the market, eating at outdoor restaurants . . . these things will no longer be a part of our daily lives. This will not be my son’s childhood.

And that hurts.

Letting go of dreams really, really hurts.

As I was crying myself to sleep the night after we made our decision to move, it occurred to me that I had been reading Jeremiah on and off throughout the summer, and would be reading chapter 29 the next day.

That threw me into a fresh round of tears.

I knew that in chapter 29, Jeremiah writes a letter to the Israelites in exile in Babylon. He tells them they are to remain in Babylon for 70 years. In the past, every time I heard that “70 years” promise (Jeremiah 29:10), I had always thought to myself, “Hey, that’s not so bad. They know when they’ll get to return to Israel.”

But this time it struck me. 70 years. That’s long enough for a generation to die. The parents who took their children from their ancestral homes in Israel to the foreign soil of Babylon—they would grow old and die, never seeing the familiar trees and bushes and boundary stones of their home again.

Is that how long we would be away from the place we had wanted to call home? Of course, we could (hopefully) come back for visits. But it wouldn’t be the same.

Through Jeremiah, God told the Israelites to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters” (Jeremiah 29:5-6).

Build houses. Settle down. Plant gardens. Marry off your children. This is your new home, Israelites. You’re here to stay. Dig in. Invest. Live life.

It felt like God was talking directly to me.

You know, I’ve always been interested in growing things. I have a peanut plant growing in a pot in my tiny kitchen at the moment. But gardens are a near-impossibility in my beloved metropolis. “Plant gardens,” God says. Move back to America.

If I were less emotionally distraught, I would have admitted earlier that planting a garden would be lovely. I could grow peanuts, carrots, leeks, sunflowers . . .

But I did not want to move back. Don’t You dare tell me to plant gardens!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).

But they are not my plans! In that moment, I did not want God’s stinking plans to “prosper” me. I did not want His hope and His future. I wanted my hope, my future—a future that involved raising my family here!

I cried myself to sleep.

I cried myself to sleep the next night as well, and the night after that.

But God is patient. He let me throw my little tantrums, and I didn’t get struck by lightning or anything.

Letting go of dreams hurts. But it’s something all of us have to deal with at some level or another. So many people throughout history have had to make harder decisions than we are making. At least I don’t know that we will be in America for the next 70 years. Who knows, maybe we’ll get to come back after 10 or 20 years or something. One could hope.

We’re making plans for the move now, obedient to where we think God is calling us to.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

These are most definitely not my plans. I would prefer things to go my own way. But I guess God knows best. He’s probably working things out right now, planning minute details that we won’t even notice until we look back with 20/20 hindsight years from now. He knows better than me what I need, what my husband needs, what my child needs.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

I’m trusting You on this one, God. I don’t like Your plans right now, but I trust You. You’ll work things out, one way or another. I’m sure in the long run, I’ll look back and be thankful for everything that’s happened. But it might take me a while to get to that point. Be patient with me.

You know what’s best, God. I trust You.

 

When Reality Doesn’t Match Up With Your Dreams

Written By Sean Tong, England

“MORE!!!”

Through the tiny slit of the curtain, the baying fans coalesced into one voice commanding that we come back on stage. It was a frenzy. The floor began to thump with the incessant pounding of feet declaring their need for more. I held back a few moments to bask in my success. Then I calmly walked on stage, grabbed my Fender Mustang guitar, and enjoyed the overflowing joy of the crowd as I struck the first staccato chords of the encore.

I wish.

Since I first caught the primal energy of the band Nirvana, I had wanted, nay, longed to be on a stage with a guitar whipping a crowd into a stage-diving, beer-flinging, arm-waving sea of joy.

Instead, I find myself in a normal nine-to-five job. In a normal town. In a normal life. Is there any purpose to this? What is life for if I can’t spend my days rocking it out at the world’s greatest rock festivals? This wasn’t the life I had hoped for. But the need for a stable job, lack of a drummer (why are drummers so hard to find?), and a growing desire to stay in my local church precluded that from ever happening.

Perhaps you feel a sense of unfulfillment too. Life may not be all that you were expecting. That dream career with a big fat salary and excellent pension fund never materialized. That exceptionally beautiful/handsome spouse never showed up. You are just waiting for life to. . . happen.

So, what is the point? What are we to do?

One of the Pharisees once asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus’ reply?

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)

We are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind. And also we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is our purpose. That is what we are to do. These two things do not sound particularly appealing or exciting, but they are better, more beautiful, and longer lasting than any life as a rock star, award-winning actor, or sports personality. Indeed, James Bond author Ian Fleming was once asked what it was like to be successful. “Ashes, dear boy, ashes,” came his despondent reply.

It’s been a journey in learning to lay down my dreams and obey God’s commands, but God has worked wonderfully in my life so that I am currently content. He has given me a wonderful (though at times frustrating and annoying) church family to love and enjoy. I am fulfilled despite the lack of loving adoration from a rock concert crowd. Spending time with others in my church is where I get my contentment—from serving them as I serve Him. Getting to share the joys and disappointments of everyday life with my church family is what I enjoy and long for now.

Loving our neighbor doesn’t have to show itself in extraordinary ways. This purpose in our lives doesn’t have to (though it definitely might) involve something dramatic and outlandish. We don’t have to be a famous preacher with book sales through the roof. We don’t have to start organizations that will feed half the world’s poor. We don’t have to be the best at everything at church.

So, what does this love look like?

It looks like a humble life that seeks to serve God and others. This will likely be in a variety of ways, but it can be as simple as helping others at church. Offering lifts to the elderly, sharing your home with others, reading the Bible and praying with others, cooking meals for those who are ill, or just sitting down with someone over a cup of tea.

We don’t have to despair with our lot—we do have a purpose. And even work hours (that nine-to-five spent not performing rock songs) provides opportunities for me to obey this command. The joy in helping others in their work and sharing life with them is truly more meaningful than any response from a killer distorted power chord.

 

When God Rejects our Dreams

Written by Krisandryka Wijaya, Indonesia

I love Neurology. The study of the disorders and diseases of the nervous system fascinates me. During my time at medical school, I participated in Indonesian Medical Olympiad and though I didn’t win, the experience strengthened my love for the branch of medical science. After graduating from medical school, I applied to be a neurology resident at a public university.

From where I come from, you can choose between a public or private university if you want to be a General Practitioner (GP). But if you want to be a specialist, i.e. a neurologist, surgeon, pediatrician etc., you must attend a public university.

The thing is, the odds of getting accepted into a public university are very low. According to my seniors, test results and work experience play a tiny role in determining whether or not you get accepted. Instead, your connections, faith, and ethnic group play a much more significant part—or in their words, “Those who are accepted are either blue-bloods or the lucky ones.”

Being a part of the minority (as a Chinese and a Christian) with neither work experience nor connections, my hopes of getting accepted into a public university were not high. During the residency interview, one of the interviewers implied that I didn’t have any work experience and failed to prove my interest in neurology. So when I was notified that I didn’t get accepted, I only felt a tinge of disappointment, knowing that I had two attempts to try and get in. I held onto the tiny glimmer of hope that I would get accepted the second time and prove them wrong.

Two months later, I started working in a hospital as a GP. I worked shifts and on top of that, I was attached as an intern to the two neurologists working in the hospital. I got into work early five days a week to follow up on their patients, assist them in their rounds, and also help out in the neurology clinic. Though doubling up as an intern and a GP was exhausting, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I believed that this would greatly boost my resume and give me a fighting chance when I made my second attempt to apply for residency.

I had high hopes when I took the test the second time. I thought I did pretty well in the written tests—I had studied much harder this time than the first round—and at the interview too. It also seemed like the interviewers were much nicer to me; I didn’t pick up on any possible hint of rejection.

But I was completely wrong.  On December 20, I received my second, and final “No”.

I was in disbelief. Though I knew that I was up against all odds, I believed that God was able to make it happen if He wanted to. Apparently that was not the case. It was like God Himself had rejected my dream and I was left hurt.

“Why didn’t You give me what I want?” I asked God repeatedly during that time. Though I still prayed and read the Bible daily, I was disappointed and angry with God. I celebrated Christmas and New Year’s half-heartedly. I felt lost. I knew that God works for the good of all who love Him (Romans 8:28 is actually my favorite verse in the Bible) but I just couldn’t see the good in this at all. My top new year’s resolution was to trust God’s plan for my life. But how was I going to do it now?

God provided the answer soon enough. On the first Sunday of 2018, I attended the second service for young professionals and new parents (I usually attend the youth service but I overslept that day). The sermon was based on Jeremiah 29, with an emphasis on the verses 11-14. Most of us would find verse 11 familiar, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Though I’d heard these verses many times before, I’d never really understood them in their original context. What I learned that day was that God had given this word to the Israelites during a difficult and dark time in Israel’s history when many of them were exiled to Babylon. They couldn’t accept the fact that 800 years after being freed from Egyptian bondage, God would once again allow them to return to bondage in Babylon. But God said through His prophet Jeremiah that 70 years must pass before they would be able to return to their homeland.

Hearing the passage in its original context gave me a much better appreciation of the promise God made to the Israelites. I felt like I could identify with the Israelites, who must have struggled to hold onto God’s promise to them in the midst of their bondage. But, at the same time, I was reminded that the same God who took care of them—delivered them from their slavery, provided for them in the wilderness, defeated the mighty Canaanites, gave them the Promised Land and made them into a great nation—is the same God who takes care of me. He gave me life and the gift of salvation, provided for my family, and enabled me to go to medical school and become a GP, among other things. God allowed the Israelites to go into exile as part of His plan for them and I could trust that He allowed me to go through this as part of His overall plan for my life.

At present, I am continuing my work as a GP in the same hospital I was previously interning at and I will be getting married at the end of this year to a fellow doctor. Though I know I may never be able to attain my dream of becoming a neurologist, especially if we do start our own family, I do not fear the future anymore because I know that God holds my future.

He is the author of my life who has good plans for me. So I trust Him and His plans as I journey on this road of life with Him by my side.

How To Get Up After Your Dreams Are Crushed

Written By Josiah Kennealy, USA

One of the biggest life hopes I had when I was a kid was to play professional baseball. That dream was shattered when during my freshman year of high school, I was cut from the high school baseball team.

This made me feel like a failure in life; I felt so small and I wanted to hide. My identity was wrapped up in being a baseball player. I desperately wished my life would be different from the sad reality I was in.

I’m sure that you can relate to this feeling of emptiness inside you when you’ve had a dream crushed. Maybe it was a break-up, or a situation that didn’t turn out as expected. It could be that you failed a class at school, lost a scholarship, or didn’t get into your dream university. Or an injury that took away your abilities.

There comes a point where you will want to get up from the knockdown. For me, this happened when I received encouragement from my parents and some close friends. I started to redirect my energy towards other projects: working a part-time job and getting more involved at church. I ended up working at that part-time job for over eight years, which really helped build my career and my skills for the future. And the people I met at church have since become my inner circle of friends.

When you do find some strength to get up, here are three steps that can change the game for you:

 

1. Look up.

A while ago, I had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land and walk where Jesus walked in Israel. I’ll never forget waking up next to the Sea of Galilee, seeing the foggy mist rise off the water as the sun came up in the morning, and seeing the rolling foothills. That morning, I read from Psalm 121:1-2, in which King David wrote: “I look to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

 Anytime I have a tough meeting, a terrible day, or feel stuck and helpless, I do one thing: I look up. I pray the prayer of Psalm 121 and recognize that my help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Even though my circumstances don’t change in that instant, my perspective does. Looking up gives me help, confidence, and hope of a brighter future. It heals my heart from heartbreak.

Failure is not final. The creator of futures, the giver of dreams, and the restorer of promises—our God himself—is where your help is found. He may restore your dead dream, He may give you a new dream, or He may simply give you the strength you need to face today. So, look up!

Ever since I returned home from the Holy Land visit, I have had a small card taped to the ceiling of my office. It says: “The Sky Is The Limit.” It’s only when you look up, that you begin to realize that the sky is the limit, and your perspective changes.

 

2. Reach up.

What if your situation hasn’t changed?

I’ve found that the next step after looking up is to reach up. God has extended His hand of help faithfully to generation after generation; He won’t fail you and turn His back on you. Another psalm that offers hope and a promise is Psalm 94:14: “For the LORD will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance.” You are not abandoned and you are not alone.

So reach out and receive God’s strength. You have not disappointed the God of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. God may let your good dream die because he has something different and great in store for you. One way of looking at your situation as you reach up for help is to ask yourself the question: “What is God showing me?”

Sometimes, God helps us by providing people who can help. I’m in my twenties, and I’ve found such help and hope from mentors who are in their forties, fifties, and sixties. They have offered insight, advice, a listening ear, clarifying questions, and encouragement.

One of those people who has been a constant encouragement is my high school youth pastor. Pretty much any time I’ve failed, experienced a setback, or found myself discouraged, I’ve looked up, and then reached up by reaching out to my friend, Brent. Time and time again he has pointed me to Jesus and reminded me of God’s faithfulness in my life.

Who is someone who can help you take the next step? Mentors can come in the form of teachers, pastors, supervisors, parents, grandparents, among other wise people. God has placed the right people around you in your life—reach up to God and others for help!

 

3. Dare to dream again.

The biggest life-lesson I learned from getting cut from the high school baseball team was that there was more to life than athletics. God can give you a new future. God redeemed my brokenness in a few ways. First, He gave me a second chance. When I got to college, a small Division III university in Minnesota, I went for the open tryouts for the baseball team . . . and I made it!

Beyond one baseball season, God gave me a new dream that was bigger than just me—and it was selfless. This dream came one summer afternoon after reading the Bible, praying, and day-dreaming in my parents’ living room while on a break from college. God showed me a motion-picture in my head of what He wanted me to do with my life: Reaching college students and young adults for Christ! I could see thousands of young people on their knees, bowing before the God of heaven and reaching up to Him in surrender, experiencing personal breakthroughs in their spiritual lives.

I’ve never felt more alive than when I am working on the dream that God has given me. Through my daily time with God through His word, prayer, and worship, I grow in my love for Him and find joy in Him. Also, every time I meet a college student one-on-one, pray with a young couple, or speak to an audience of young adults, I see a partial fulfillment of that dream God gave me. It brings such a smile to my face and my heart to know that this dream is from God, for God, and coming true through God!

Just like God gave me a new dream, He may have a new dream for you. Letting go of past hurts, heartbreaks, and hang-ups can be hard. But dreaming again starts with looking up to the heavens, where your help comes from. Then it’s reaching up to God, the lifter of our head, and to mentors, friends, and family members whom God has placed in our lives to bring wholeness and healing. Lastly, you need to be brave enough to dream again.