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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 Love Didn’t Come at First Sight

“What about Dakotah? Are you sure you two aren’t a thing?”

For months I had been fielding this same question from my family and other friends from campus ministry. They had noticed how much time I spent with Dakotah, and naturally wanted to know if it was a budding romantic relationship.

To this day, I can’t remember the first time I met Dakotah. We attended the same Bible study our first year of university, and we ended up running in the same social circle. He was a really friendly person, flexible, and always available to hang out. From the beginning, he was a solid friend.

But he was just a friend. So, when my best friend asked me the question I was so used to hearing, I shut the idea down pretty hard. I explained to her that I couldn’t picture Dakotah in a romantic way.

“He’s too short . . . ” I remember confessing with honesty and an equal amount of shame for being so superficial.

I always pictured myself marrying a tall guy—or at least someone who was taller than me. And, even with the silly height issue aside, at the time, I was not interested in having more than a friendship with Dakotah. He was solid “friend material”, but he wasn’t as outgoing, athletic, or charismatic as I imagined my future spouse might be.

Fast forward seven years, and I am so thankful that first-year-of-college me was mistaken. As it turns out, Dakotah is very much my type. And we are deeply in love, praising God daily for the blessing of being married and sharing this life with one another.

I think as our friendship grew deeper, my misguided expectations for my future husband faded. Even though I had a lot of good, healthy expectations for my future spouse—being a dedicated Christian, a strong leader, a loving partner, etc.—I got caught up in my own specific ideas of exactly how these characteristics were supposed to look like.

Ending up with the husband I did once again proves that God’s plans are always better than mine.

The truth is, I am rarely correct when I think I know what’s best for me. While I had a picture of the person I wanted to marry, I forgot that my heavenly Father knows me intimately, and would bless me with someone who balances me and counters my weaknesses in a way I couldn’t have planned for.

God has a way of giving us exactly what we don’t realize we need. Many of us experience this in a variety of ways. Whether it is related to finding a spouse, or thinking we know which house, job or church is best for us at any given point in our lives, God has a way of proving us completely wrong—while pouring out unexpected blessings at the same time.

As a first year university student, I was concerned with finding someone who shared hobbies and interests with me. I neglected to consider how irrelevant this would become when my own interests and hobbies shifted as I got older. Instead, I needed someone who was patient and calm, someone who would help balance my own stress and anxiety as I encountered different people and circumstances.

Often times, we do not expect or understand God’s provision. But when we look back, we get occasional glimpses that help us understand why what we wanted wasn’t actually best, or maybe even good, at all.

These little glimpses of understanding God’s unexpected provision are rare for me, but I hold to them closely. When God allows certain circumstances, or when He leads me in a direction that doesn’t seem to make sense, I reflect on these little glimpses in the past, and they give me confidence in God’s provision.

So after a few years of dismissing any suggestion that Dakotah and I could be more than just friends, my perspective started to shift. During our third year of friendship, it dawned on me that Dakotah had gradually become my best friend. As I considered why, I recognized that he cared for me deeply and gently. He encouraged me with kindness. Even while we were “just friends,” the patient love he had for me was evidenced in simple and daily interactions.

It took me several years, but I came to the realization that I wanted Dakotah to continue being my best friend for the rest of my life. Thankfully, the feeling was mutual, and, to no surprise of our family and friends, Dakotah and I did start dating the fall after I graduated.

The story of my husband and I is a sweet reminder to me that God’s plan is the only plan I want for my life. Two years into marriage, it’s laughable that I once used height as an excuse for not being interested in Dakotah. But the sheer ridiculousness of that helps remind me to trust God’s perfect provision in all areas of my life, even when it doesn’t match what I have envisioned for my own life.

When Marriage Isn’t Quite What You Hoped For

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

I grew up with Ashley (not her real name) and we attended the same schools. We talked a lot about relationships when we were younger and the kind of married life we hoped for. Eventually Ashley started dating a guy who would surprise her with flowers and little treats. However, he could also be quite demanding and unreasonable at times, and Ashley wasn’t sure about continuing the relationship.

Eventually, his persistence won Ashley over and they got married. At the time I wished them a happy relationship, but was a little worried about how long their marriage would last. Yet while her marriage has never been quite what we dreamed about as young girls, I have learned so much from her.

Though Ashley hoped that marriage would lead to greater mutual understanding, she found herself quarrelling with her husband often. He seemed to expect to know her whereabouts all the time and wanted her to be there for him whenever he needed company. He even expected her to pay all the bills because she earned a higher salary. Whenever she protested, he asked her, “Don’t you love me?”

As a friend, I watched Ashley walk through those difficult days. I saw her find peace as she became active in church and fell back on the Bible. In the midst of her marriage, Ashley clearly took comfort in a God who healed the brokenhearted and abhorred evil.

Though well-meaning friends advised Ashley to divorce her husband, Ashley chose instead to keep the promises she made at the wedding. While her marriage was not a bed of roses, it did not endanger Ashley or her son in any way. So instead of walking away, she decided to trust that God’s grace is sufficient in even her weakest moments, and that God’s strength is perfect. Such trust is amazing to me.

When I talk to Ashley about her marriage, she makes it a point to avoid comparison with other marriages, and instead focuses on God as her protector and provider. She reminds me that even the best spouse cannot guarantee protection or provision. Ultimately, our help comes from God alone, and He is able to save us from falling into despair or self-pity. We are not alone in the marriage—we are not left to shoulder our burdens on our own—the Lord Himself will help us as we honor our marriage vows.

The Lord has been faithful to Ashley as she chooses faithfulness and obedience to His call in the marriage. Although her marriage is hard, she manifests God’s strength and shows a confidence in Him that cannot be shaken. She once said that she finds true love in God as she surrenders her loveless marriage to Him.

While some of our friends say that her marriage is “blind suffering,” I see how this marriage has brought her closer to her true love. I see her joy in the Lord deepened each day. As she goes through this marriage of long suffering, I can still see the smiles on her face as she anchors her hopes in her true love. She speaks of the joy of being in God’s presence, and willingly shares the hope of the gospel with anyone she meets.

I am reminded by Ashley that all our weaknesses—whether in marriage or other areas of life—are actually opportunities for us to surrender and grow in the Lord. Whatever difficulties we might face, they can point us to experience the deeper joy and hope found only in the sovereignty of our God, beyond anything the world can offer.

My own marriage is not exactly a bed of roses either. My husband and I sometimes have different views and ways of doing things. I have often quarreled with my husband when things were not going my way. But God reminded me through James 4:1 that quarrels are often due to conflicting desires of my own heart—on the one hand, I want to honor God in my marriage; but on the other hand, I tend to be impatient and easily frustrated and angered. But as I marvel at God’s faithfulness to Ashley, I am humbled to ask God to change my temper. I am reminded to place God as the first priority in my heart.

Marriage will always be imperfect. It is after all, the union of two imperfect beings. Yet it is continually preparing us for a higher glory. Ashley knows this, and awaits the coming of the Bridegroom who is her true love. As I walk with her, I am also encouraged to put my trust in God, who is able to keeps us from stumbling and to present us blameless before His glorious presence (Jude 1:24).

A Letter to the Friend Who Feels Like Giving Up on God

Dear friend,

I was devastated when you told me that you’ve decided to “give up” on God.

But in some ways, your decision didn’t come as a complete surprise to me.

For a long time, you’ve been struggling with deep hurts, unresolved conflicts, and emotional baggage. You took your pains to be signs that God had abandoned you and left you alone in the wilderness.

I know it doesn’t feel this way right now, but I want you to know that nothing could be further from the truth.

Sometimes it can be difficult to see past what we’re going through, especially when the end seems to be nowhere in sight. And I know how hard you’ve tried to seek after God through the different trials you’ve faced over the past few years. I know how tightly you held on to Him even when you went through situations that you couldn’t understand. I know how desperately you tried to look for answers.

You sacrificed a huge part of your youth to serve Him. You traded lucrative job offers for the mission field—giving up material comforts, financial security, and even family relationships—to live among the poor and build His kingdom there. You were crushed when things didn’t quite go as you had hoped, and you were asked to leave after many heated disagreements with your co-workers. You came home broken, jaded, and disillusioned.

But still you did not let it deter you from continuing to live your life for Him. You wanted your life to count for Him, so you threw yourself into more ministry opportunities, signed up for theological studies, and spent more time with Him.

I remember the long conversations we had as we tried to process what you had been through—Why did God allow them to happen? Why didn’t He give you a way out? Why doesn’t He make it easier for us to see what He is doing behind the scenes?—and I wish I was able to help you find better answers, greater comfort, and more peace.

I still don’t have answers for you now.

But here’s what I’ve known to be true: Even at the lowest moments of my life, God has never abandoned me.

Do you remember the time when I felt like I was on the top of the world—I was in what I thought was my dream job then—and then everything came crashing down in a single day? That day, I didn’t just lose my job. I also lost my vision and zest for life, and all my well-laid plans crumbled into dust.

It took me a long time to recover from it, and to begin to believe again that God knew what He was doing with my life. But you were there with me when I decided to take a timeout and go into missions in India for six months, hoping that I’d have a clearer vision of what I should do next with my life at the end of it.

Do you remember those nine months I struggled to find a job right after I came back from India? As if it wasn’t exhausting enough to apply for job after job and hear nothing back, I was confronted with so many questions about why I was still unemployed (with the underlying suggestion that I wasn’t trying hard enough). You knew how difficult it was to push myself out of the house to meet more questions I couldn’t answer. And you celebrated with me when an offer finally fell into place.

You were there to listen to me when I was trapped in a toxic and suffocating work environment, questioning whether I had even heard God right in taking on that job. It was a huge struggle to get out of bed each day, and I’d reach home every night drained and depressed, wondering how I’d be able to summon enough energy to get to work the next day.

You saw me grow in despair as I watched the only friends I had at work moving on to other things. I envied how easily God gave them a way out—while I was still stuck there, left to fend for myself. I was bitter and angry with God, I couldn’t understand how it could possibly be good for me to stay in that place.

It would be more than a year before I finally found a way out myself.

Now, the different threads of pain and confusion from those past years are finally coming together. And I’m beginning to see the picture that God intended to weave all this while.

I don’t know if I can ever say that the pain of what I went through was worth it, but I know that it gave me a little taste of what it’s like to share in the fellowship of Jesus’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10)—and I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.

I’m sharing my story with you not to belittle or trivialize what you’re going through, or even to add salt to your wounds. I’m writing this simply to remind you of how much I valued those times when you sat with me in silence, mourned with me in my struggles, and rejoiced with me in my breakthroughs. And I want you to know that I’m here to do the same for you.

For many years, I’ve held Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 close to my heart, and I rejoice in the opportunity to walk with you, and comfort you with the comfort that I myself have received from God (v 4).

Today, one of your favorite songs snuck into my Spotify playlist, and it reminded me of the fire that you once had, your determination to see the goodness of God in your life and the lives of those around you (Psalm 27:13). Perhaps these words feel meaningless to you right now.

But just as your friendship and prayers helped me fix my eyes on God when I was tempted to falter, I am determined to keep praying and believing with you that we will see the Lord’s goodness together. That one day, everything will make sense. And none of what you have been through would be wasted.

And the next time you sing the refrain “You are good” again, it will be with a different kind of fire. It will be with the hard-won confidence of the psalmist, who can now say, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). It will be with the purity of one who has gone through God’s refining fire, and emerged as pure as gold (Job 23:10). It will be with the tenderness of one who has tasted and seen the goodness of a God who pursues us relentlessly, even when we’ve decided to let go of His hand.

Until then, I will keep praying with you, walking with you, waiting with you.

 

Love,

Your friend