spirituality

my husband’s greatest gift

One of the greatest gifts my husband will give our children is forgiveness without shame.

I grew up believing I had to apologize in a certain way before I could be forgiven. To prove my sincerity, I had to hang my head low, use a specific vocal intonation, and have tears in my eyes. Forgiveness was obtained through earnest repentance, and only maintained if I demonstrated over time that I wouldn’t do the same bad thing again.

Sometimes I would refuse to forgive others so I could feel powerful. I would give off an attitude of resentment to feel superior. Even after offering forgiveness, I would convey disappointment or passive aggressively remind them about it later. I wanted to make sure they still felt guilty. I wanted them to know my forgiveness didn’t come lightly.

I grew up believing people had to work for forgiveness. Or at least put on a convincing performance.

When I met Noah, he offered another way. He showed me forgiveness is not the reward someone earns when they act sorry enough. Forgiveness is choosing to not hold something against someone, whether it be an offense, mistake, or perceived flaw. Forgiveness depends on the one who gives it and not on the one who receives it.

I don’t recall a single situation in which he has not immediately forgiven me.

In fact, for the first year of our marriage, I never once apologized to Noah. Whenever he apologized to me, I felt emotionally reconnected, and didn’t see the need to humble myself and make amends for anything in return. In my victim mentality, I blamed him for every conflict and didn’t know how to take responsibility.

Noah never condemns me. Once he forgives, it’s not that he forgets, but he moves forward. He doesn’t hold it over my head. He doesn’t bring it up at a future time to make me feel bad. Whenever I apologize or confess anything to him, it always directly results in forgiveness and restoration.

Forgiveness is a tool to stay in relationship.

We want to teach our kids that forgiveness restores the previous standard and the past won’t be used against them. They are safe to mess up not because their actions don’t have consequences, but because we don’t live in fear of how they will behave. They are freely forgiven for the sake of love, and we hope they, too, will learn to forgive without prerequisite.

My parents still withhold forgiveness for things I’ve done years ago. It hurts less than it did before, but the pain doesn’t go away. I never want my children to experience this.

Noah and I believe earthly fathers play a crucial role in reflecting the father heart of God. The heart that stays engaged in relationship no matter what, that wants his kids free from guilt and shame, that is always ready to love and reconcile. The heart I never truly knew until Noah mirrored it for me, the heart that has changed my life, the heart my husband now shares with our own children.

Happy Father’s Day to the best father I know <3

 

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phoebe’s victory

It was one of the scariest moments of my life, and also one of the most beautiful.

In January, as our Christmas gift to each other, Noah and I went to Florida to attend Overland’s annual conference. I was excited to learn more about the organization (Noah went with them to Zambia last summer), but the trip was primarily so we could see our friends Adam and Kelly before they moved to Cambodia.

During the opening night of the conference, I was suddenly overcome with an immobilizing pain in my groin. Not wanting to be distracted from the speaker’s message, I tried to ignore it. As the meeting came to a close, I realized I had some discharge, enough to leave a huge wet area that covered more than half my chair. Embarrassed, I whispered to Kelly what happened and quickly tied my sweatshirt around my waist to escape to the bathroom.

I was 11 weeks pregnant. The first trimester is the most vulnerable and the most crucial part of pregnancy. It’s when the baby develops all his or her organs. It is when the risk of miscarriage is greatest.

Once in the bathroom, I discovered it wasn’t discharge — it was all blood. I was shocked by the amount. The only time I ever bled this much was when I gave birth to Atlas. I immediately burst into tears.

But God was taking care of me, providing more than what I could have ever asked for in comfort, encouragement, and protection.

If this had happened here in Colorado, where we had few friends in the area, I would have felt utterly lost and alone. At the time, we were living in the basement of another family’s house, where I never truly felt at home.

It was messy and inconvenient to bleed through a chair in public, but I am thankful it occurred while sitting next to my best friend, in a room that felt safe, full of people who unhesitatingly rushed to my side when I needed it most.

I stood in the bathroom stall, soaked in blood from the waist down, weeping uncontrollably, but I was only alone for a moment. I was instantly surrounded by a group of powerful women to whom I was a stranger, but also a sister. There was Jessi, the speaker’s wife, earnestly praying over me. Richelle, who bled throughout her entire first pregnancy and now has a healthy 4-year-old son, proclaiming her testimony over me. Julie, a midwife who witnessed firsthand countless miracles on the mission field, and would continue to send me messages and check up on me in the weeks to come, as if she, herself, were my midwife.

Unbeknownst to me, there were more who covered me with support. Guarding the door, Joe announced the bathroom was closed and instructed everyone to use the one upstairs. In the main room, God revealed to the couple in the row behind me what was going on, and they interceded for me the entire time. Without anyone telling her, our friend Rachel also knew I was pregnant and something was wrong. She and her husband dropped what they were doing and decisively announced they were accompanying us to the ER.

Pregnancy is a holistic experience, and this felt like a spiritual attack on my family — more than just a physical emergency. But fear didn’t have a place while I was shielded by so much love. From the women in the bathroom, to Adam and Kelly taking care of Atlas at our shared Airbnb, to Rachel and Dalton hopping in our car and staying in the ER with us for hours. Driving to Cape Canaveral hospital, we sang worship songs and declared words of life and health. We stood on the truth that God is creator, healer, savior, and life-sustainer. We felt full of hope and courage. We believed everything would be fine.

As we waited for tests to come back, I posed for silly photos. As the bleeding slowed, we shared jokes and laughter. I had my first gurney ride to get to the ultrasound room and it was reminiscent of an amusement park ride. Noah and I watched with anticipation as the technician displayed various images on the screen: my ovaries, uterine lining — and then, just as we had believed — there was our tiny baby: kicking, moving, with a healthy heartbeat.

We were overjoyed to see our little girl was okay. Every test came back normal, but I was put on pelvic rest until the bleeding stopped. This seemed like another spiritual attack, on marital intimacy, but in spite of this, Noah and I felt even more affectionate, unified, and emotionally connected.

We had one more week in Florida, and while some might view it as a vacation ruined, it was a huge blessing. Bed rest is practically impossible with a toddler. If we had been home, Noah would have kept going to school, leaving me home alone with Atlas. But since we were already together, Noah could help me and I could rest. If a crisis were ever welcome, now was the most convenient time.

Five weeks later, shortly after moving into our new home, I stopped bleeding completely. Five is a symbolic number for “grace,” and Noah and I truly felt showered with kindness and strength during that month. Looking back, it represents the end of our most discouraging season and the beginning of a new season, one that is full of peace and the promise of what is to come.

 

a letter to my future daughter

To my daughter,

“I have always loved you.”

Those words I heard for me, but as I prayed to break the generational stronghold that had been passed down from my mother’s birth mother, I knew those words were for you too.

Your grandmother’s biological mother abandoned her as a baby. Your grandmother’s earliest days were spent in a crowded orphanage in Seoul, underfed and underloved. She was adopted by an American family and grew up in New York. Although she was raised with love, she unknowingly carried a spirit of abandonment, rejection, and death with her that had been given to her from her birth parents.

Unknowingly, it was passed to me.

I am responsible for my actions, just as we all are, but I have been learning that there are spiritual forces everywhere, which encourage us to act in one way or the other. I am still new to discerning spiritual things, but I will teach you what I know.

Although my mother decided for herself to reject me, she doesn’t realize there are powers in the spirit realm lying to her and justifying her choices. She doesn’t realize that she inherited a spiritual genetic heritage from her birth parents that provokes her to hurt others because of the sin committed against her.

My struggle is not against my mother. The battle is not against people. 

My precious, beautiful daughter: I want you to receive all the blessings I have to offer, all the blessings from my parents and my parents’ parents that are in our family line. I am not ignorant enough to think you will not have mommy issues of your own, but I firmly believe that you will have fewer issues than I have, and that your children’s children will have even fewer than you. I have faith that from whatever hurts you encounter, you will receive complete healing and freedom sooner than I did, and that the pain of rejection and abandonment will not be among them.

I believe that even though the darkness gets darker, the light grows brighter. I believe that you are blessed because of the work God is doing in me, that it will make a difference in the life you live, that it alters the paths of future generations to rise up higher. Because of the love and truth I am learning to receive, you will be loved with greater capacity and more tangible hope. You will hear my voice and hear my heart’s intention, and in turn know the Father’s heart for you. You will experience the love of God and feel his words resonate inside your being:

“I have always loved you.”

<3

love after marriage

This past year, there were often times, for one reason or another, that I wanted to skip Wednesday night youth group, Friday night worship service, Sunday morning home fellowship gathering, or Sunday evening Eleventh Hour School of Ministry session — but I never wanted to miss a Thursday night of Love After Marriage. If you know me and my love/hate relationship with commitment and social groups (on my list of things to deal with), this is a big deal.

Love After Marriage is more than just a marriage workshop; it is an identity course that targets a married couple’s identity of oneness through an intentional progression of spiritual, emotional, and sexual intimacy. Since it is fundamentally about identity, the class is applicable to any and everyone; in fact, Single Life Workshop is constructed from the same curriculum.

I wanted to do Love After Marriage because I had a fantastic marriage filled with mutual trust and good communication, and I wanted to go deeper. There were people from every background needing every sort of breakthrough: from the wise and experienced Bahamian couple – married 54 years, to elders in the church and other worship leaders, to newlyweds like Noah and me. We all needed something a little different and were met by the same Holy Spirit, who set the stage for revelation and healing in the deepest parts of us. I ended up learning more about myself than anything else, and it was exactly what I needed:

  • Breaking generational strongholds and getting rid of spiritual baggage: My tendency to live in the past stems somewhat because in the past, I loved my mom and I knew she loved me.
  • Differentiating godly grieving from self-pity: Seeing my friends’ engagement and wedding pictures always makes me sad. I am in the process of addressing pain and disappointment from events surrounding the beginning of our relationship. It’s slow deliverance, but good things can take time.
  • Learning to dream again: In March, I decided to pursue a Master’s in Social Work, was accepted and received my first-choice internship as a victim advocate with the State Attorney’s Office, and then decided to let my dream go.

Noah calculated that we participated in Love After Marriage for over 1/3 of our marriage. The 18 weeks of LAM correlated with so much growth, decision-making, and maturity that it is impossible to compartmentalize the results from other catalysts. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest personal blessings from the past four months has been our adoption into the Magua family. Dave and Sylvia were introduced as the parents of my incredible friend, Gaby. They soon developed into friends and parental-figures for us too.

I vividly remember February 21st, the first day of Love After Marriage at the Harbour. Shaila was giddy with excitement. “This is the fulfillment of my dream!” she exclaimed, contagious with expectancy. Little did the rest of us know, it was the beginning of the fulfillment of our dreams as well – even dreams we didn’t know we had:

  • dreams of nothing hidden
  • dreams of reconciliation
  • dreams of sexual freedom and blessing
  • dreams of unity as the basis of successful parenting
  • dreams of hope, of future, of abundant living

For me, it was the fulfillment of the primary dream I had moving to Florida a year ago: the dream of having a mother.

Throughout the course, I was reminded of how fortunate I was to be married to have the opportunity to be involved in Love After Marriage. Next month, Noah and I celebrate our 1 year anniversary, and we are in awe of all that we have learned in our first year being together. Thank you, Barry and Lori, for spearheading this ministry. Thank you, Igor and Shaila, for bringing it home. In such a brief amount of time, God has transformed lives, healed marriages, revolutionized families, and brought revival to our community – and this is just the beginning.

Looking forward to the fall semester :)

my father lies over the ocean, so bring back the daughter in me

How do I honor my father, respect him, and bless him, while also being honest with my struggles stemming from my relationship with him? His story is his own to tell, but where do the lines of ownership begin and end?  When does the granting of permission to speak freely and openly occur? Years after his death, years after my own, long after anyone may care to spare a thought and offer an opinion of him, or my mother, or any of his children, long after there is anyone who may take offense?

I only know to do my best to emphasize the lessons I have learned, and the good that has come of life, and not complain of misfortune and hurt and the mistakes of my parents. This life is personal, but not private. My father issues are, more or less, somewhat universal in regards to being loved, and, as a believer in God, being loved specifically by God the Father.

When I became a Christian at the age of 17, I was told that my relationship with my father, or lack thereof, would affect how I viewed God as my father. I did not think very highly of my father, but I also did not think I was harboring any unforgiveness or bitterness towards him, either. I genuinely did not see any influence of earthly to spiritual understanding of what it meant to have a father, what it meant to be a daughter, and how that affected my identity.

My father grew up in Shanghai, taught himself English, and became a U.S. citizen as a young man in his twenties. After my parents’ divorce, he remarried, had two more children, divorced, and remarried again. He has overcome many obstacles, and as the only English-speaking adult in his family, has much responsibility in caring for his parents, children, siblings, and nephews. Last year, he had lymphoma that had gone untreated for years, and I thought he was going to die. He is getting older, growing weaker, but continues to do the best he can.

During this past month, God has shown me what I had never seen before:

LIE: I am just one of many children.

TRUTH: God loves me individually and personally. I am important and worth loving.

Among my father’s four children, I am not special. I am the eldest, but I am not an eldest son. Growing up, I was not cute like my round-faced little sister, I was not gentle or kind like a good mild-mannered Asian girl. Byron (the youngest, fattest, and most spoiled), is the only boy, and therefore, as in traditional Chinese culture, the most important. I remember doing well on a test in elementary school, and my father telling me it was pretty good for a girl. I know he was proud of me, but even when I was valedictorian in high school, my father could not help but compare me to other Chinese boys he knew, and other Chinese girls who could play violin and do calculus at the same time.

I want to believe that God loves little ole me, even though I am not the smartest, nor the most talented, nor the best at anything. I want to be the best Bethany Yin-to-Brown-to-Goodson that God created and intended for me to be, to believe that I have purpose, that I am needed, that I am unique and special and loved.

LIE: Fathers give gifts to prove their love, as a substitute for spending time with and listening to their children.

TRUTH: Giving can prove love, but it doesn’t always. Giving can be motivated by love, but it is not the only measurement of it. God gives gifts just because he wants to. He always has time for his children, and always wants to be with them.

As a child, during visitation, my sister and I would ask to go shopping. It was routine at the check-out counter for my father to turn to us and say, “See? Daddy spent [x amount of dollars]. Daddy loves you. Next time, Daddy will spend [x²]. I promise.” After the first few years, I stopped trying to convince him I wanted to receive love in other ways, namely, being listened to. It was easier to avoid an exhausting discussion that would inevitably end in misunderstanding, and instead respond to his purchases as he expected, and continue to get more stuff. But at the “next time,” he wouldn’t spend the promised amount; his words meant nothing, his promises meant nothing, and his so-called love meant nothing.

Sometimes I don’t want to ask God for help because I don’t think my problems are big enough. At other times, I don’t want God to just bless me for no reason because I have a skewed understanding of what it means when a father gives a gift. God doesn’t give gifts as a replacement for spending time with his children. God gives good gifts as an act of grace: I can’t earn his gifts, and he doesn’t give them to try to buy my love.

LIE: My father will never understand how to love me. He will never change.

TRUTH: God does not change, but my relationship with him grows and changes. I believe now that he can and wants to speak to me, and my heart is receptive to how he wants to interact with me.

He won’t remain silent. He does understand.

Conversations with my father are always one-sided. I do not remember a single time that I felt heard, let alone understood. He loves me how he knows to love, but I wish he loved me the way I wanted to be loved, the way I need to be loved.

My father recognizes he has an anger problem, but says there are some things that will never change. He says I got my temper from him, who in turn got it from his mother. He says there are bad habits that won’t leave the family, that especially cannot leave an adult.

When I first learned about God, I was told that God does not speak to people anymore, that direct revelation no longer exists, that the tangible Bible is all one needs to hear from the Lord. Sometimes I forget that God will change in the sense that he will change how he communicates with me.

LIE: I don’t have a great relationship with my father, but at least it’s something.

TRUTH: There is more.