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Handing in My Self-Degrading Thoughts

One of the most natural habits I acquired through life was that of putting myself down. I didn’t need anyone talking down at or to me because I was already so good at doing it to myself.

I was never berated while growing up. I just always wanted to be the best at everything, so I put unnecessary pressure on myself to succeed no matter what.

In school, if I got a 96 instead of a 100, it was easier to beat myself up for “not being smart enough” than to celebrate the fact that I had passed with a high mark.

Such self-deprecation never actually helped me accomplish or achieve good things. It only fostered a heart prone to endless pain. And it was tiring. The burden of self-degrading thoughts was overwhelming.

Where I erred most, however, was when I never took my heaviness as a sign to stop and surrender. Instead I allowed my mind to further fall into the destructive habit of thinking poorly of myself.

My views of who I was were low. Putting myself down was natural. And my feelings weren’t me just being “modest.” I truly did think very little of myself, to the point where I felt I had no purpose.

I insisted on holding on to my self-made mirror instead of looking at the one Jesus wanted to give me instead.

Throughout the years, I knew the truth in my mind—that my value is far more than I could ever imagine, because Jesus died on the cross for me. Sinful, seemingly insignificant me. He gave me new life and new hope. But that head knowledge couldn’t access my heart for the longest time while I held on to my own beliefs of how insignificant I still thought I was.

Until one night at church when my pastor came over to pray for me. As he prayed, he reminded me that God not only loves me, but He is delighted to call me His daughter. And that is what I am. A daughter of God.

As he said those words, it was as if a switch were flipped in my brain. And in my heart, I suddenly understood the truth about myself.

It left me broken, but also with a newfound joy as I learned to surrender my thoughts.

To my low self esteem, God says . . . He has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV)

To my fears of failure, God says . . . Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. (Isaiah 41:10)

To my physical insecurities, God says . . . My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

To my people-pleasing ways, God says . . . Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)

To my feelings of hopelessness, God says . . . The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

To my self-demeaning thoughts, God says . . . See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1)

In time, I’ve found my prayers going from “Lord, help me as I seek to do things for You today” to “Lord, help me simply ‘be’ for You today.”

At times, it’s still easy to slip into old habits of beating myself up, but I don’t stay stuck in those ruts anymore. God in His great faithfulness meets me where I’m at and beckons my heart to move forward with Him.

When I moved from Mexico to Hong Kong nearly three years ago, I found it so easy to compare myself to other women’s academic achievements and statuses. I constantly imagined what life would be like if I had had their qualifications, and I often berated myself for not being as smart or as accomplished. It was draining, unnecessary, and, quite frankly, all superficial.

Over time I learned that as great as such outward qualities may be, at the end of the day, God is more interested in my heart.

Within the last year I’ve slowly stopped comparing myself to others’ academic achievements or statuses. Berating and thinking poorly of myself has lessened more and more as I’ve allowed the truth of Scripture to really sink into my heart. The verses I mentioned above have been key in my life as I learn to see myself as God does.

I keep learning that “being” for the Lord looks like simply listening to what He has to say about me, enjoying His goodness, and resting in His freedom.

The truth about me and the reality of my identity is this: I am a child of God.

4 Ways to Know It’s Time to Move On to Marriage

Our relationship was unusual from the very start. I came from Mexico, and Brian lived in the United States, but we ended up meeting in Hong Kong (his native city) while working in ministry at the same church. Along with romantic interest in each other, our attraction sprung from a mutual pull towards missions.

Three months after our first meeting, we prayerfully entered into a relationship. The next nine months were full of falling in love, facing hardships that come with an interracial and cross-cultural relationships, as well as experiencing immense spiritual growth. We prayed about our love for each other and our hearts for mission, and realized we were ready for the next step in our relationship. So it came as no surprise when he asked me to marry him. And I replied with a joyous “Yes!”

As wonderful and exciting as it was when Brian proposed, there was a lot to process and consider before we committed to marriage and a life together. How did we know when it was time for us to take our relationship to the “next level”? We had to really press in to hear God’s voice, and ask Him to help us understand the purpose of marriage, the grounds for it, and whether we should pursue it together.

These are several tips that helped us confirm our decision to get married:

 

1. Seek the Lord in Scripture

It may be easy to set the Bible aside and make our own decisions since the Bible doesn’t seem to say anything about engagement. But nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible talks heaps about marriage (Colossians 3:18-19, Ephesians 5:25-33), family (Joshua 24:15), sacrificial love (1 Peter 4:8), and our future (Proverbs 3:5-6).

As Brian and I studied these and other passages, we were reminded that marriage is meant to reflect the relationship between Christ the Groom and His Bride the Church. Christ’s sacrificial love unites us to Him and gives us access to the Father (Ephesians 5:25-33). As we contemplated marriage, we had to ask if we were ready to love each other sacrificially. Were we willing to take on the privilege of pointing and spurring each other on towards God as a couple?

It is well worth taking time to study what Scripture has to say about love, family, and marriage. By studying these things and allowing the Lord to show us whether or not we were ready to embrace these responsibilities, Brian and I were able to make an informed commitment to each other, with an understanding of how significant marriage truly is.

 

2. Seek the Lord through prayer and fasting

Throughout Scripture we see fasting as way of drawing near to God. When we fast, we let go of physical comforts in order to depend entirely on God. Traditionally, this has been done by forgoing food for a period of time, but can also be done by temporarily giving up social media, entertainment (e.g., movies, video games, shopping), or anything that might take up our time, so that we can focus instead on prayer and listening to the Lord.

While we were dating, Brian and I made time to fast and pray both together, and on our own. It is a discipline that gave us space to listen to God without earthly pulls distracting us from being near to Him and seeking Him specifically about the marriage we wanted to have together.

 

3. Seek the right counsel

When we first started dating, we had friends who committed to supporting us as we navigated our new relationship. It was important for us to listen to these people who were a part of our lives—people whom we knew loved us, who had provided godly guidance in the past, and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again.

For Brian and I, the Lord used our parents to help us grow by considering their perspectives on marriage from our varied cultures and traditions. It proved very helpful and necessary for us to seek our parents’ counsel about the future of our relationship, and to do so with a willing heart, free of pride and full of humility.

Of course, there have been those who have tried to be discouraging and even demeaning of our relationship (one of the reasons being that Brian and I come from extremely different cultures). But through this, we really learned to recognize who God had placed in our lives that knew us and truly cared to invest in us. All this was key to our growth as a couple.

We found that in seeking advice, it was important for us to go to people who loved Christ, and had produced fruit that showed it. These people were well-equipped to offer us Kingdom-focused advice instead of getting caught up with worldly concerns.

 

4. Make sure it’s a relationship that drives you TO Christ

At the end of all this, we had to take a step back and ask ourselves, has our relationships drawn us closer to the Lord? Have we matured in our faith during our time together? Will we be able to work well for the Kingdom together? Our answers to those questions helped us move forward into engagement together with great anticipation.

If the answer to any of these questions is, “not really”, this might be a signal to slow down and revisit the guidance we can get from Scripture, prayer, fasting, and fellow believers. It would be worthwhile to ask God to guide the relationship and give wisdom for the decisions that need to be made in the relationship.

 

Marriage Is A Lifetime of Faith Together

I am encouraged to know that God’s grace and forgiveness—which Brian and I have placed our faith in—is evidenced in the continued transformation in our hearts. We don’t walk into marriage blindly, but we walk by faith with boldness, expecting God will do great things in our lives together.

We remember the finished work of Christ on the Cross, and that our lives are defined by that work because we are saved, we are loved, and we are called to share that good news with all nations. The idea of getting to share this kind of life with another like-minded, passionate worshipper of God is unspeakably beautiful.

 

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a two-part series on dating and marriage. If you’re considering entering into a dating relationship or are currently in one, you can read the first article here.

3 Questions to Ask When You’re Dating

Dating can be such a thrilling adventure, especially since it might possibly lead to marriage! However, before we even step into a relationship, there may be many questions in our minds. For instance, how can I know that I’m ready for a relationship?

While I don’t claim to be an expert, here are three qualities that I have found to be foundational in my own relationship, and I hope they will point you in the right direction.

 

 1. Are They Good-Looking or Looking at God?

What attracts you to someone? Is it their physical appearance? Character? Personality? Career?  I’m sure you can add a few more items to the long list of traits that might attract us to another person. But if we dig deeper, we know that none of these things on their own can sustain a relationship in the long-term. As Christians, we must look for something much more important: whether Christ is the director of their life.

When I first met my fiancé Brian, I wasn’t entirely attracted to him. I thought he looked kinda cute, but hardly gave him a second thought after our first encounter. However, over the next few weeks of working in the church office (we were both interns at the time), sharing break time together, and sneaking conversations over work tasks, I began to see his passion for the gospel and his desire to spread it wherever he went. This was very much in line with my own desire and calling in life—I have felt a burden for foreign missions for the past several years.

As the months went on, I came to develop a deep admiration for Brian—for his dedication and loyalty to Jesus. Since then, my romantic interest in him also started building, and I became deeply attracted to him. Safe to say, I was falling in love. As it turns out, he was too.

So, my relationship with Brian didn’t happen the way most people expect. Instead of being brought together by a physical or personality attraction, it was his dependency on Christ as the author of his life that drew me to him. I found that attraction to the other traits followed close after.

 

2. Are There Opportunities for Healthy Growth?

We’ve all probably heard the words “love is a not a fairytale.” Which is true, because for any relationship to succeed, it takes work, effort, and sacrifice. Feelings are not strong enough to get a couple through all of that. No matter how strongly in love or “mushy” a couple is . . . feelings change.

There are days when we have arguments, disagreements, or opposing views, and it can cause both of us to question whether God really did mean for us to be together. In those times, it is especially important to be on guard against frustration, anger, impatience, and even self-righteousness.

As we worked through these challenges, we’ve learned to make room for God to mold and shape our hearts. We’ve learned to allow these circumstances to catapult us toward prayer and seeking counsel in the Word, as well as from seasoned believers. It’s now our prayer that we will have the humility to accept the Spirit’s conviction and to obey whatever the Lord places on our hearts.

The inevitable difficulties and trials in a relationship demand more than simply being head-over-heels for each other. Ultimately, we need our common foundation in Christ to help us see how we can become a good team, complement each other, and most importantly, become more Christ-like through the entire process.

When we are both drawn to Christ and to helping each other be more like Him, we don’t need to fear attacks—for we know that even during  periods of trial and testing, God is working to sanctify us and make us holy (Philippians 1:6).

 

3. Do Your Differences Divide or Complement?

Brian and I could not be any more different. I am an outspoken, strong-willed, at times fierce, free-spirited woman from the jungle in central Mexico. He is a reserved, thoughtful, strong, silent man from metropolitan Hong Kong. The comments about how different we seem never cease, and we laugh because others don’t even know the half of it.

Of course, sometimes these comments can be discouraging, especially when we hear others tell us that we won’t be a good fit, or would mostly likely end up having a catastrophic relationship because of our differences.

For Brian and I, we are reminded that in the early times of the Apostles, the Spirit of God brought together multiple nationalities and people of different cultures and languages in birthing the Church (Acts 2). And we know that at the end of the day, it is not culture and traditions that would carry on into eternity, but what we do in obedience to the Lord.

Just as diversity in the body of Christ allows it to work so effectively (1 Corinthians 12:12-14), we believe the same applies to marriage. Together, Brian and I have discovered that we complement each other with our strengths and weaknesses, and are able to reach a wider range of people in our international surroundings because of this multicultural relationship we have been given.

Having said that, we also believe it’s important to be humble and seek God with an open mind, especially if trusted friends or family raise concerns about a relationship. Sometimes these concerns are unfounded, while other times people outside of the relationship may have a clearer perspective.

One instance where having outside input was helpful was when one of my spiritual mothers gently shared that I needed to be more patient and understanding of Brian’s Chinese upbringing and less stubborn about only doing things according to my culture. Another time was when one of Brian’s close friends helped him realise how he needed to grow in boldness as the leader of our relationship, especially when times get hard. These insights have helped the both of us see our own blind spots, and enabled us to grow in the way we relate to and love each other.

It is important for us to always examine the differences we have with our partner, and seek God to understand whether these help us sharpen one another, or whether they will create a division in the relationship.

 

It is often easy to seek fulfilment and purpose in a significant other. But we know that ultimately, nobody can meet our needs the way God can. Whatever our circumstances, we belong first and foremost to God. He loves us like no one else will, and values us like no other (Matthew 10:29-31). In every step of our relationships, let us not chase after what the world values, but instead seek to please God.

As you consider dating or entering a relationship, don’t panic or worry over how you’ll handle it. Pray about it, and ask God to bless you with wisdom, strength, and guidance. Surround yourself with godly counsel and couples who will be able to help you navigate the challenges you might face. Take this opportunity to trust in Him more, know Him better, and He will show you the way you are to walk in because He is a faithful God.

 

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a two-part series on dating and marriage. If you’re considering taking your relationship to the next level and wondering if you’re ready for marriage, read the second part of the series here

The Girl I’ll Never Forget

I had barely turned 17 that fall in 2015. Newly arrived in Hungary for Bible college, I accompanied a group of pastors and students that were going to one of the many refugee camps at the Serbian border to help with relief and supplies.* 34 hours working non-stop. Those hours are mostly a blur now, but the devastation I witnessed will forever be etched in my mind. 

The smell of human waste, the windy cold air, and my shoes caked in mud. My brain is trying to catch up with all the things I’ve seen tonight, but I can’t seem to fully comprehend the extent of this pain.

After midnight, my friend and I took a break from the camp area where there were thousands of people, and started walking through one of the corn fields. Soon, we came upon a family and a young girl, very clearly pregnant, laying on the ground, her mother propping her up from behind. I stayed with the family while my friend went to get a doctor. I can’t explain the fear and alertness I saw in the young girl’s eyes. I couldn’t even begin to understand what she must be feeling: fatigue, exhaustion, panic.

Oh dear one, the things you must have been through.

This girl, very likely my own age, had left her country and fled for her life, and for the one she carried within her. She must have yearned for hope in a new land, a better life for her and her little one.

If only I could hold you close and protect you from all this evil.

She had trekked across mountains, forests, cities, borders, perhaps even waters to reach a safe haven. She could have very likely been killed in her country, along with her family, and that’s why they were here, that’s why they’d left everything behind, simply to save their lives.

God forgive me for complaining over inconveniences in my own life.

I wanted to offer some form of comfort to this poor girl lying on the ground in front of me, a pool of blood slowly forming around her. I knew what was going on, but I didn’t want to cause more panic. She wouldn’t remove her gaze from me, and I physically ached to be able to communicate in her own language. But as I looked back into her eyes, I found the words “Jesus loves you” coming out of my mouth. They were in English, but nevertheless they were a truth I wanted her to know so badly.

Every part of me is in agony for her pain. Why oh why can’t I do more?

My friend came back with a doctor who did a quick examination of the girl and radioed for a stretcher to be brought over. Soon the girl was whisked off to the nearest hospital. Even though her whole family wanted to go with her, they were not allowed to do so for the sake of space in the vehicle. So I helped get them a large camping tent, food, and blankets as they waited through the night to receive their beloved daughter back.

I hope they understand my love for them. I hope they understand there is still hope.

The hours that followed are still a haze to me. I vaguely remember running back and forth between our ministry’s supply tent and the endless line of refugees waiting on the highway to board buses that would take them to the Austrian border, handing out food and water. I remember helping families acquire camping tents and necessities to make it through the cold night as they waited out in the fields for transportation to the rest of Europe. I remember accompanying little children into the Red Cross tent with their parents to receive check-ups and medicine for those that were sick. I remember pleading with God in my head to help all these families find comfort in Him, and peace as they escaped the horrifying upheaval in the Middle East and came to countries and languages unknown to them in hopes of starting new, safer lives.

I’m so tired, but I can’t stop. There is so much to be done.

And then, news came back from the hospital.

Oh God, please give them peace.

The girl had been eight months pregnant. Due to the strain of all the traveling she’d done and the trauma she endured along the way, she suffered a miscarriage and lost the child.

I remember feeling so numb at the time, so completely unable to process the news.

I’d been there in the field with her when she started to bleed, and I couldn’t help her when she needed it most.

This can’t be real. This isn’t actually happening.

I nearly went mad. In all my life, before and after that night, I’d never felt such a piercing pain in my heart. It brought me to my knees in grief.

There was so much to be done though, so I didn’t have time to cry at the time. I went about working again and tried to suppress my feelings.

Numbness of mind. Numbness of feeling.

The sun rose and the refugees were still pouring in from the border, though not as heavily as the night before. I spent the rest of my time at the camp picking up trash and tidying up tents for the next influx of refugees coming in. The events of the night started to seep into my mind and I replayed the girl losing her baby in the corn field over and over.

I could’ve done more. I should’ve done more!

To my knowledge, the family was transported to a location where the girl was also taken to. I never saw or heard of them again.

As I was walking back to the main tent, a young man who was volunteering with another organization came up to me very shyly and said, “I think you look very beautiful right now.” He took off running and left me shocked and gaping.

What?

I suddenly became very aware of how I must have looked at this point; hair scraggly and oily, clothes smelly and even torn in a few parts, glasses smudged with dirt, and arms covered here and there by mud. All this mess, and he calls me beautiful?

I slowly began to understand. I looked around me. I could feel the pain and reality of what was going on that day, in that camp. And it was bittersweet.

For such a time as this. . .

Many lives have been lost throughout the heartbreaking ordeal that is the refugee crisis throughout Europe and the world. But that night, one life was saved. The young girl made it through. The extreme agony of losing the precious baby will forever be a great sorrow to bear. But even so, the hope of Christ is greater still, and I trust that child rests safely in the arms of the Father.

It took a very long time for me to come to terms with it, but just having been there with her, even without speaking her language, and telling her that she was loved by Jesus was part of what God could have been using on her journey to a new life, and hopefully a life where she would meet with Him eventually.

God uses all our circumstances, situations, and occurrences to bring about the bigger picture He is painting (Philippians 1:6) . I will always count it a deep honor to have played a small part in the events of history at that time.

The Middle East crisis has by no means stopped. Refugees are still fleeing their countries and flooding into parts all around the world, and not just from the Middle East.

This, Church, this is our time. This is why we are here. So let us rise.

 

* In 2015 and 2016, the EU experienced an unprecedented influx of refugees and migrants. More than 1 million people arrived in the European Union, most of them fleeing from war and terror in Syria and other countries. (European Commission)

** You can do a quick Google search or visit the World Vision website to learn more about the Syrian refugee crisis, how it affects the world, and how you can take action. As you read, ask the Lord how you might be able to help with this crisis in any way.