Saturday, April 19, 2008

Making the Given Fit for the Gift

Yesterday, my US student visa was approved. Lord willing, I will be studying in Pensacola Christian College (PCC) starting this September.

Many people know that I had applied to universities in Hong Kong and Singapore before, all in vain. Many know I’ve been preparing to go to the States for a while already. Yet there’s a story behind my journey to PCC, an invisible story written inside of me.

PCC is known for accepting and training homeschool graduates well, and I had long wished to study there ever since the fliers and catalogs began to arrive many years ago. Yet back then, my dad could not fund a North American education, and nor would he leave his only daughter alone in Florida.

Therefore, when the time came for me to start college applications, my parents disregarded PCC and applied me in Asia. I obeyed. After all, those were good universities they chose. Yet inside of me there was a twang...there was an idea tugging at my brain of how much more I'd experience freedom and independence if I were on the other side of the planet, away from parental supervision. I liked Asia, but it wasn't far away enough for me. I wanted independence, or so I said.

It’s true that I love independence; it's in my personality, upbringing, and pride. Yet as with all things, sinful nature attacks. That love for independence often turns to longing for self-sufficiency and autonomy. During that period of time back then, it turned even to rebellion.

I wanted to be away and "free." I wanted to exercise control over my life, free from submission to my parents’ god-given authority. I held secret hopes that studying abroad would be my chance to break free from expectations, all without rebelling outright.

In my heart, I harbored hidden fantasies. I dreamed of being so distinguished in my field that people would beg me to work for them after graduation, against my parents’ wish for me to return. I imagined meeting someone who would win my heart, convince my parents, and marry me away from my life here. Sometimes, to sound more spiritual, I would envision a call to a far, unreached land...and my parents would certainly be unable to argue against the calling of God Himself.

There have been even sillier fantasies than these, yet all with one similarity: I was thankful for the life God had given me, but discontent with containing myself within that life. I wanted to break free. I wanted to study abroad for wrong and selfish reasons.

After my denial from the Asian colleges last year, my dad told me to apply to PCC. It seems stupid that I should apply to this school only now, when I had known it for years. It seemed crazy that the Asian universities wouldn't give me a final word of rejection until it was already late August, way too late to apply for PCC's 2007 schoolyear. Yet God has His plans. Dad has oft repeated that this is apparently the way God has led him, and led me.

And as I look at myself now, I realize why God would not have me leave any earlier…

I have changed. Somehow, through direct teachings, prayers, and so countless occurrences in the past year, God has changed me.

When the lady at the embassy asked me if I intend to return home after studies, I answered yes wholeheartedly. It's not because of sentimental ties or legalistic requirements. It's because of the change inside of me.

I want to study abroad to learn, to grow...for His glory. I want to concentrate on studying, not on having fun with my independence. Growth and independence are no longer goals in themselves, but parts of a process of preparing myself to serve Him better. And at the end of the day, Lord willing, I will return to my Asian roots...for the harvestfield of souls is most abundant here. My heart has been severely humbled.

I cannot conclude God’s purposes in the past and coming years. I just know that at every moment, He has His perfect timing.

I've long wanted to study in PCC, and God has granted me the gift I had asked for. Yet He had withheld it firmly from me, until I was ready for it. It is the same gift, this gift He has prepared...but I, the one to whom the gift is given, had to be made ready for it first.

I am thankful that God had not let things transpired earlier than this. If I had, I would have left Manila with a proud, rebellious heart and a discontent attitude. I was not ready for the gift, and God knew that. And even today, I am discovering with fear and amazement how much He knew that I did not.

I am not perfect, but I guess I am ready for this particular gift now. And as I look ahead in life to all the things I still want--in ministry, family, life, love, and achievement...I try to remember this lesson.

Some of those gifts might not be for me, and God will surely withhold them;
Some of those gifts might be perfect for me, but I am still unready, perhaps severely unready.

A gift cannot be a perfect gift unless the given is fit to receive it. There's nothing wrong with the gift, and definitely not the Giver, but there might be something wrong with the given. God still has an incredible amount of work to do on me before these things come.

Making the given fit for the gift...God has taught me with more than a few big things in my life. I pray hard that I remember, lest the pain has to come again, and perhaps with wider and direr consequences. And may He continue to mold me still...for the perfect tasks, and the perfect gifts, in His sovereign plan.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Camp Testimonial (YGC summer camp, April 7-12, 2008)

"Every single time I attend a YGC (Youth Gospel Center) summer camp, things manage to turn out far different from my expectations, and this camp was no exception to that rule.

"I had been looking forward towards this camp for many months already, and about a week ago, I declared myself to be fully prepared for it in strength, in mind, in heart. However, three days before camp began, God struck me on a very sensitive area within me...a wound I thought had already healed suddenly had salt sprinkled on it, almost as if just to remind me that the wound is still vulnerably there. I broke down in tears; my tower of confidence toppled, and I suddenly dreaded camp with all my heart.

"Yet God is sovereign. The events that led up to camp were the very things needed to make me appreciate all the more what God has done for me here, both in reaching out to me and in reaching others through me.

"Here, God strengthened me to translate, to pray, and to minister to campers new and old. Though not an official officer, I got to help out with many activities; even while I translated, I got to learn from the messages. God gave me many perfect little things, be it counseling group assignments, reunions with old friends, topics that pierced my heart, or just the chance to lend a shoulder to cry on. I had the opportunity to interact with and learn from many counselors, including brothers and sisters who cared far more than I ever thought they would. I haven't found all of the answers I've been looking for, but I was made to more deeply love and trustingly rely upon God, who is the only and ultimate source of all the answers I could ever need.

"I thought I knew what to expect, but I guess I didn't. Yet God did.

"If not for the factors in other areas of my life, I wouldn't have been so sensitive to His voice or so thankful for His love in this camp. It wasn't the perfect camp for me personally, but it is exactly that imperfection that turned me to God all the more. For that I am thankful...and at this moment, that is all I can say."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Power of (Im)modesty

It had never been a struggle until the past couple of years. It might be due to increased interactions with guys, or the fact that I’ve grown nearer adulthood than adolescence. It might be because of worldly influences. Whatever the reason, I just know…that the recent years have brought to me a growing consciousness of the power, and thus temptation, of immodesty.

I don’t have a 5’8” frame, and I don’t have the prettiest face around. I’m not known for striking appearances. Yet like most girls, I do have characteristics comparable with those beauty queens. Be it a matter of proportion, nice skin, mannerisms, or other physical features, there is always something to show off in every girl.

The problem is…is it supposed to be shown?

I’ve always observed two factors that affect girls most. One is admiration, the other jealousy. And I’m definitely not immune to both of them.

Over the years, those two factors have preyed on me and drawn me away from the formerly chubbier, purer me. The envious admiration of girls and magnetic admiration of guys have led me to greater and greater vanity; the knowledge that I could “pull off” even more immodest outfits than what some ladies wear propelled me with jealousy’s fuel.

I started to spend more time and efforts on appearances, yet I didn’t notice my heart’s wrong…until two days ago.

When I pulled on a clingy shirt in the mall fitting room, my mom exclaimed, “Wen, it’s gross! You look like a manikin!”

I didn’t expect that…”Mom, isn’t that the point?” I stammered, “Manikins are supposed to show what’s beautiful. If I have a figure that’s good, I’ll look like a manikin.”

My mom’s expression indicated disapproval still, “Wen, it looks artificial. It’s too tight, too pronounced.”

I retorted; she retorted. We dropped the issue and continued shopping, yet the idea haunted me.

True, I looked like a model on a runway, minus some inches. The color of the shirt brought out the whiteness of my skin. The fabric wrapped my figure perfectly. The right hair and pants would make me look fabulous…like a model, like a manikin.

Yes, I looked as good as a manikin on display. It was the world’s definition of beauty…but was it God’s?

My conscience weighed on me. At that point, I realized that I had crossed the line. There’s a difference between dressing attractively and dressing to attract, Shannon Harris says. I was trying to do the wrong one. As my eyes scanned the store, I was searching for clothes that would help me gain admiration or arouse jealousy, not for something that would glorify God.

God desires modesty. I had to submit.

Modesty means not trying to show off what should be concealed. Modesty means seeking His honor first. Modesty means guarding people’s hearts over exalting my own pride. And, modesty means seeking a quiet and gentle spirit more than the power of feminine physical appeal.

It’s not easy, especially when I can see the effects of immodesty upon others, including Christian male friends. It’s not easy to hand in a piece of clothing and ask for a larger size, when I would’ve looked “great” in a tighter one. It’s not easy to see attention going to those who succumb to the lure of immodesty. It’s not easy to subscribe to a values system opposite the world’s.

Yet I’ve heard enough times that modesty is the way to honor God and to help my brothers in Christ. It doesn’t seem logical, but it is what I must do.

So I handed in those pants for a looser pair; I replaced the shirt that was too transparent. There may be power in immodesty, but God’s favor rests with the obedient. It wasn’t easy, but I knew I had to do the right thing.

Ladies, let us trust God and encourage one another. Let us prioritize His approval over others’, and let us value His standards more than ours. Then guys…more than once has encouragement from a Christian brother strengthened me to pursue modesty. Please do continue. You have no idea how much your attentions influence us. Your compliment for a modest but pretty outfit does much good; your attraction to the immodest does much harm. Help us to help you, if I may say so.

As a girl, I can say that I find little pleasure in immodesty, yet much power in it. That power is what makes it desirable. Yet God help me. His standards, not mine, should be pursued. I was not nice to discover immodesty in my heart, yet it was also a test of my obedience. May God help prove me true.