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My Friend Is In God’s Hands

Written by Constance Chan, Singapore

Yen* and I walked down a narrow alley in silence. A few days earlier, Yen had sent me a text message: “I want to go to this clinic where you can check for AIDS…” He had gone for a medical check-up prior to messaging me and the doctor had raised some troubling news.

We went, but were told to go back later—or it was the wrong clinic—I cannot remember. Leaving the clinic that afternoon, Yen was silent. And I had nothing to say. I prayed and hoped hard that Yen was not HIV-positive, feeling a great heaviness and powerlessness to do anything to help him.

A few years before that visit to the clinic, Yen had called me late one night. There was desperation in his voice. It sounded like he had been crying. I think if he had not been so depressed, he might not have shared what he had shared then. Yen said that he was upset with a good guy friend because this friend seemed to take him for granted and paid a lot of attention to others. Yen then admitted that he was in love with this friend but felt suicidal because that love was not reciprocated.

That was an unexpected revelation, but not entirely surprising. As Yen spoke, I realized that I had been carrying this fear for a while, that one day he would tell me that he is struggling with same-sex attraction (SSA). I do not recall what I said to Yen that night, only that I listened and did not say much, partly because I did not know what to say or do.

In the last few years of journeying with Yen and a few other Christians with SSA, what stood out for me was how little I knew about what to do and how to relate to them rightly. I respected Yen because he was always honest with where he was with God. I saw how, at times, he had faith and trusted that homosexual acting out was not God’s will for him. At other times, he was angry at God, doubted God, or just wanted to not care or think about what God thought of homosexuality or of him.

I knew that he hoped God might allow him the blessings of living together with a long-term male partner. Yen knew I subscribed to the orthodox position that homosexual acting out was against God’s will, but at times when Yen was questioning and struggling with God, I often wondered, was I supposed to be communicating more about how his sexual acting out is sinful? Was I supposed to warn Yen more about the temptations of hanging around gay friends? Was I supposed to do more for Yen?

Looking back, perhaps it was good that I did not know what to do, because it made me listen to Yen more and empathize before giving any hasty advice or counsel. It gave me the enormous privilege of crying with Yen when things were hard, helping him come before God when he felt ashamed and wanted to confess sins. Aware of my utter helplessness to do anything to take away Yen’s SSA feelings or make his questions, doubts and anger at God go away, I realized that I could only trust God with Yen. Praying for him was the only thing I really could do for him.

What was not helpful to Yen, especially in the first few years journeying with him, was how I amplified his struggle with SSA over any other struggle or aspect of his life. I was also unconsciously comparing myself with Yen and concluding that his SSA struggle was greater than any struggles I had or could have. And this manifested in the way I responded to him on one occasion. We had agreed to meet up for coffee one day. But he had failed to confirm the details the day before our meet up, and also did not answer my calls on the day we were to meet. It was only a few weeks later that he apologized and explained that he had been really busy the whole day with work and, therefore, had not replied to the message I had sent.

My first thought then was that it was okay; after all, how could I hold Yen accountable for his rudeness and inconsideration when he had such big struggles in life to battle with? It was only later that I realized that, in some way, carrying Yen’s secret about his SSA struggles was causing me to treat him with kid gloves, to expect less of him than I would with other friends, to see and treat him as a victim because of his SSA struggles.

As a result, I had also refrained from sharing much about my personal struggles and problems with Yen and did not let him be a friend to me although I demanded of myself to be readily available to lend a listening ear to Yen and be there for him when the need arose.  Unconsciously, I had treated Yen less as a peer, a friend, and more as if he were a needy case God had assigned to me.

 

We Are All Wounded

That changed when I got to know of a discipleship ministry that cares for people struggling with relational and sexual issues while I was in Vancouver. As I heard brothers and sisters share openly about their struggles in the ministry’s small groups, I recognized that no matter the specific nature of the sins each of us struggle with, all of us have been wounded by others and are wounding others. And before God, we are all unable to respond rightly—whatever the nature of our sins.

What was more surprising was being convicted that I was not excluded from this. When I compared and downplayed my struggles and sinful tendencies in relation to Yen, I was conveniently turning a blind eye to all that trapped me from a free and loving response to God or others.

Realizing that, I resolved to treat Yen truly as a friend and a peer, someone who, like me, needs community and friendship but also someone who is responsible before God for all that he chooses to do or not do.

As I did so, I found that I truly enjoyed Yen‘s company—beyond just wanting to spend time with him to help or fix him. God was enabling me to see Yen beyond his SSA struggle as a person with strengths and weaknesses, with traits that really annoy others as well as ones that were truly admirable and fine. I also started sharing more of my life with Yen, revealing my true self, and how I wanted to be respected and treated as a friend as well.

The problem with comparing Yen’s struggle to mine and amplifying his struggles, was that it made me doubt that God could really do anything to help Yen. Though I prayed, I didn’t really believe that God would do anything for Yen. It was as if I had more empathy for Yen’s plight than God did. It was only as I increasingly noticed how much I also needed God to deliver me from my own sins and saw that God truly could and did meet me in my places of pain and emptiness, that my confidence in God’s care and His ability to transform Yen grew.

***

Let’s go back to that day when Yen and I visited the AIDS clinic. We eventually found out that he did not have HIV. I don’t know what Yen thought of this outcome, but I am convinced that God did do a miracle that day and kept Yen from HIV infection. For me, that was a profound moment. I saw that Yen was and is in God’s hands. And that God did care for him greatly and cares more than anyone can to lead Yen to Himself.

Also, knowing that Yen has had experiences that make it hard for him to deny that God is real in his life has helped me pray for Yen with more faith. I ask that God have mercy on Yen and on me, that God draw Yen nearer to Himself daily and that Yen, like myself and any other person, would daily live more and more into the life that Christ died on the cross for each of us to live.

Nowadays when I see Yen, I find myself thinking this: I do not fully understand your struggle and why God allowed it. I know this causes much pain, confusion, and loneliness. I do not know what God is doing in your life. However, I trust (some days I do and on other days, I want to trust this!) that whatever He does in your life, or in mine, is truly for good—real solid good that we will be able to “taste and see” one day. For now, what I do know is that you know God and you know God’s voice, just as I do. So, can we help each other hear and respond to God’s voice today?

 

*Not his real name. Changed for confidentiality purposes.

This article was originally published in Good News For Bruised Reeds: Walking With Same-Sex Attracted Friends by Graceworks. Republished with permission.

Having Unproductive Weekends? You’re Not Alone

If you glanced at my list of intended accomplishments for this weekend, you might think that I’m superwoman. According to my checklist, I am a Social Queen who balances fitness goals, academics, and extracurricular hobbies like a champ.

In reality, I often groggily tumble into the weekend with an ambitious list of things to check off, but am quickly distracted by more primal demands: food, shower, sleep. So, Friday night vanishes, but hark!—Saturday is here, promising to be the productive day I’ve been waiting for!

Amid a coffee-filled morning and near starts to tackling “the checklist,” something unforeseen occurs. Maybe the dishwasher makes a growling noise, or maybe my car won’t start. Saturday is then absorbed in crisis control and, before I know it, Sunday evening arrives. Yikes—time to start another week?

Does this sound at all familiar? Weekends, as well as life itself, seem to pass by at an alarming pace—sometimes made worse by sudden crises that drop in uninvited.

Perhaps it’s against this backdrop that Proverbs 19:21 states that, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” It’s comforting to be reminded that the apparent twists and turns in my life do not thwart the intentions of the Master Planner.

 

The Twist in My Life

Long story short, I was involved in a horrific car accident five years ago, which crushed whatever long-anticipated, nearly accomplished goals I had at my fingertips, including expecting to earn the clinical credentials I had been working toward for the past six years, completing my first intense, obstacles race I had trained for, and accepting a role as deacon in my church.

Instead, the remaining years in my 20’s were a blur. Time slipped past as I focused on regaining basic abilities, like walking and trying to remember people’s names.

In the first year of my recovery, I felt like my years on earth were being unfairly taken from me. But then, a friend told me that that he believed the accident allowed me to touch more lives than I probably could have otherwise, and the truth of his words really impacted me. If God was willing to work through the most unlikely of circumstances and make use of my “changed plans”, then it’d be an honor to let Him do so. True enough, I have been given opportunities to share my observations as a brain-injury survivor, for example, in several prestigious locations, like the National Institutes of Health. I have also been able to include in my presentations how my belief in God has given me security, regardless of the circumstances.

 

Tips for a Meaningful Weekend

When things go differently than planned, we are given a chance to appreciate the bigger picture. Cancelled plans over a weekend, for instance, provide the gifts of much-needed respite and re-prioritizing. I’m still keen on productivity, but the last five years have shaped my idea of how to best pursue it.

So from my recent experiences, I have some pointers for any fellow checklist-followers out there:

  • Be realistic. If you’re like me and you find satisfaction from crossing something off a list, make the goals challenging while still attainable. Take into account other commitments that will impact your availability, so that the list is achievable, not just idealistic.
  • Think ahead. Starting with the end goal, work backwards, creating a list of sub-tasks that you can accomplish in a hierarchical order. I have found that working backwards to form tasks helps me achieve goals in the most practical and time-effective manner.
  • Don’t dismiss the mundane. If things aren’t going as expected, don’t write-off the potential worth of the circumstance. Seemingly “boring” seasons, for instance, may provide you with the vital growth and restoration you will rely upon in upcoming occasions.
  • Demonstrate gratitude. Even during a busy day, reserve intermittent moments to appreciate your journey. Don’t allow your tasks to distract you from acknowledging and celebrating the joys currently in front of you.
  • Trust in God. “We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). Even when something doesn’t go according to plan, we can take comfort that God has a purpose, and He knows what He’s doing.

A challenging season is much easier to accept when I recognize that it may be used by God to have an eternity-altering effect on another soul. You may not get to see the impact you have on this side of heaven, however, so don’t let disappointment slow you down (1 Corinthians 3:6). This means that when your car breaks down or you have what feels to be an unproductive weekend, don’t give much weight to any discouraged feelings.  Every day is a gift, possessing great potential, regardless of the thoughts or feelings it brings about.

James 4:13-15 makes the humbling but accurate comparison of our earthly journey to that of a mist, which is here today, gone tomorrow. All we can do is try to be faithful in whatever circumstances come our way, then leave the intended productivity and end results up to God. That’s His job.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15).

The Baby Who Wasn’t Meant to Be

Written By Grace Tan, Singapore

“We are going to have a baby!”

My husband and I couldn’t contain our excitement that night as we told our two children I was expecting. They let out a squeal and jumped for joy when they heard the good news. My son was so excited that he went to school and told all his classmates about it the next day.

It wasn’t always this way, though. When I first suggested to my husband the idea of having another child, his immediate reaction was, “It will rock the boat.” We were very comfortable with our two children, who were seven and four at the time; they no longer required us to feed them during meals and could sleep soundly through the night. Having another child would bring us back to the days of interrupted meals and sleepless nights.

But somehow, I couldn’t get rid of the niggling feeling of wanting another child. I started to seek God and pray that if it was His will for us to have another child, He would speak to my husband. And God did, giving my husband the peace that we would be able to cope. When the pregnancy test came back positive, we were both elated and immediately told our parents and our kids.

At the six-week mark, we went to see our obstetrician for a routine check-up. She did an ultrasound scan on my uterus, and saw a big blood clot beside the gestational sac. I was asked to rest more and to return to see her in a week.

As my previous pregnancies had been smooth sailing, this was a bolt from the blue. The following days of waiting felt like years as I didn’t know what to expect, but we committed this to God as a family. Even though my husband and I were worried, we prayed with the children each night, asking God to protect the foetus; my daughter even asked her Sunday school teacher and friends to pray for me.

 

The Devastating News

One week later, our obstetrician did the scan and told us that the blood clot was gone. However, she could not see a foetus in the sac even though the sac was growing bigger. I was devastated by what she said. I had thought the only issue was with the blood clot, so I was crushed to find out that the foetus was absent all along. Once again, we were asked to return one week later for another check. My heart sank. I had to endure bad morning sickness, without any guarantee that I would eventually have a baby.

I wrestled with God during that period. There were times when I blamed God for giving me false hope and causing me to experience morning sickness even though there might not have been a foetus. There were also times when my husband and I went on our knees and prayed for God’s will to be done.

Deep down, I was questioning God, “Why, God? Why did you allow this to happen?” Our family was looking forward to welcoming another child into our lives and my children had prayed every night before going to bed that God would protect our baby. How was I going to explain to them that we weren’t going to have a baby after all?

But as I looked at my children, I began to realize that I had so much to be thankful for. God was teaching me to treasure my two precious children and not focus on what I did not have. Slowly, I began to accept the fact that we may not have a baby after all.

Through my disappointment, I felt God teaching me to trust Him in good and bad times. It’s very easy to tell others to trust in God’s sovereignty and say things like, “He is in control.” But the real test comes when we’re struck by bad news. Do we truly believe that God is good all the time, with not just our heads but our hearts as well?

One week passed, and the day finally came when the obstetrician told us that there was no baby in the sac. I was diagnosed to have a blighted ovum (also known as an early pregnancy failure), which is a common cause of miscarriage. This happens when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine wall, but the embryo does not develop. I didn’t know how to feel when I heard the final diagnosis. The news was a final closure to the weeks of agony, yet I couldn’t help but bewail the loss of my “child”.

 

Processing Grief

We decided to go through a natural abortion and wait for the miscarriage to happen instead of going through surgery. I spent the next few days crying in bed; my heart was filled with immense grief.

Through this difficult time, I was surrounded by support and love from family and friends—my concerned helper changed my blood-stained sheets without any questions, my mum cooked tonics for me and helped to look after my children, and my mother-in-law prayed with me.

As I cried out to God to reveal His purposes for this, God led me to listen to a podcast by American pastor Timothy Keller that spoke of the unwavering faith of three men. In Daniel 3:16-18, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were going to be thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to the image of gold set up by King Nebuchadnezzar.

When they were brought before the king, they replied, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ”

In my moment of grief, I felt like I had been thrown into a fiery furnace. God could have delivered me from the furnace by giving me a healthy baby, but He did not. Like these three men, I had to decide: Would I continue to worship Him with unwavering faith, or would I now walk away from my faith and bow down to other gods?

A few months after the miscarriage, I brought my children to the zoo. On the way there, it threatened to rain. I asked my children to pray for God to hold the rain, if it was in His will. My son answered, “Mummy, God has always answered our prayers, except once.” I was taken aback and asked when it was. He replied, “When we lost baby, Mummy. Sometimes God says ‘Yes’, sometimes He says ‘No’, and sometimes, ‘Wait’, but we know that all things happen for our good, right, Mummy?”

Tears started to stream down my face as I continued to drive. I said to God, “Lord, You worked through this trial. You spoke to my children and built faith in them.” God was teaching me to see the bigger picture in life, that I should not fix my eyes on the present, the trials and the pain, but live my life with eternity in mind. Sometimes, God’s answer might not be what we desire, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t love us. He loves us all the same, because He has given us His only Son.

 

Now, three years later, I have three beautiful children. God provided when we decided to try again for a child. A friend said it would take great faith to try for a child again after a miscarriage, but we decided to do it and trust God to provide. We named him Josiah, which means “Jehovah has healed”.

God provided when the time was right for us. My prayer is that in all things, we will continue to trust in His perfect plan and in His perfect timing.

I love this quote from American author Ann Voskamp: “Sometimes God takes us into the wilderness not to abandon us but because He wants to be alone with us.” God did not abandon me when the storm came, but He brought me into a deeper intimacy with Him as I went in search for answers through the reading of His Word.

I need to prepare my family for the storms that are sure to come. We need to spend time in the Bible and strengthen our relationships with a godly community, so that when (not if) the storms strike, we will have shelter.

4 Reasons Why Not Knowing Our Future Is Good

Written By Ruth Lawrence, UK

My sister does this thing that drives me bonkers. She will take a book and, rather than reading it from start to finish, she will skip around the chapters, often reading the last page first. She says that it takes the stress out of reading the book if she knows how it will end.

I might hate to do that with a book, but I would love to do that with life. It’s for the exact same reason my sister reads a book from the end: I dislike the feelings of stress and uncertainty. When I was in school, I wished that I could be certain that I would pass all my exams and be settled in a job in 10 years’ time. Then I could sit back, relax, and just enjoy studying (yes, I am a geek).

To combat day-to-day uncertainty, I make lists and plan my day so that I know how I will be spending every single minute. No second goes unaccounted for. Wasted time makes me feel terrible because it can never be got back, and one thought that always goes through my mind is this: What if I’ve failed to do something that will be really important in the future? For example, would I have a novel published by now if I had spent more time working hard on writing it?

As you can imagine, living like this isn’t really sustainable. Things come up and plans have to change (Proverbs 16:9). There’s no way I can come up with a plan that will take into account every possible life event.

While I was writing one of my many lists one day, I started to think about why I was so desperate to control things. One of the reasons that surfaced after some time of honest reflection was that I didn’t really trust that God was in control. I thought that I could control things if I planned and did things in a certain way. Essentially, I wanted to be God. Being patient and trusting that God knows what He is doing is not easy.

But the reality is that I am powerless to control things. I can’t stop illnesses, deaths, or disasters. All I can do is manage my own response to such events. And even that requires me to seek God’s help on how to respond well and deal with what life throws at me.

Coming to terms with my own limitations and weaknesses has helped me to see more clearly why not knowing the future is a good idea.

Here are three reasons (in list form!):

 

1. Knowing the future is overwhelming.

If we knew everything that was ever going to happen to us, we might not want to keep on living. For me, that involved going to university. There were many things that happened in those three years that I did not enjoy, and if I’d known about all of them before I started, I would never have dared to take that step.

But those were experiences that I needed to go through in order to grow, and God used them all. For a little while after I graduated, I was able to help new students who were trying to adjust to life away from home. Thankfully, God kindly reveals His plans to us one step at a time, along with all that we need for each day as it comes. Only He is able to handle knowing everything, and His plan is infinitely better than any one that we can come up with ourselves. Colossians 1 describes what Jesus has done for us and how He is completely in control. Whenever I feel worried, I read that chapter; it gives me confidence that nothing that happens to me is a surprise to Jesus. It tells me that He has a plan and that He is good.

 

2. Not knowing the future can deepen our walk with God

God did not create us to be self-sufficient but to be dependent on Him. When we don’t know what will happen in our lives, we learn to trust Him—not ourselves or our resources.

God isn’t being mean by holding back information so that we will be forced to trust Him. Instead, He’s giving us opportunities to experience the goodness of His faithfulness and wisdom. Because I don’t know what’s coming, I can go to God and tell Him what I am worried about and leave it with Him. Taking everything to God like this can deepen my relationship with Him by causing me to explore His character and learning to trust Him.

At the end of the day, we can rest assured in God’s plans: His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not the same as ours (Isaiah 55:5-9).

 

3. Not knowing the future makes me recall God’s goodness

Not knowing what is coming next allows us to focus on what we do know—that God is good and faithful, and that He gives good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:9-11).

In Matthew 6, Jesus taught that sparrows do not worry about what they will eat because God takes care of them. His point is that if God cares so much for birds and plants, what more us? He doesn’t just know the future; He has planned it and made sure that everything we need is there for us.

We might not know the details of how our life will pan out, but we can be secure in the knowledge that God does, and that He has our best interests at heart. As I think back to 10 years ago when I was setting off to university and wondering where I would be in 10 years’ time, I can see how God has taken care of me and provided for me throughout. Not only did I pass all my exams, but I am now working in a non-profit organization, and I think my 18-year-old self would be surprised by it!

Looking back and seeing what God has done gives me confidence that for the next 10, 20, or however many years are ahead of me, He will keep on providing for me, probably in ways that I don’t expect. And it’s okay that I don’t know how it will all work out, because God does.

 

With that, what should now be at the top of my to-do list each day is a reminder that God is in control (even when it feels like He isn’t), and that having to change one of my plans is not the end of the world (because God already knows it’s going to happen).

Knowing everything isn’t the answer. It can’t deepen my walk with God or teach me about His character. It won’t even help me deal with the things life throws my way. What is worth knowing is who God is, and that knowledge leading to trust is what will help me navigate the future. It’s much more reliable than any to-do list or plan.