Saisho no shu

Grace is my middle name, and it feels a lot like this writing space. Nobody calls me by it, nobody associates me with it. A few people know it’s there, mostly close friends but sometimes not. With those who do know about it (hi, reader) it feels like a vulnerable spot, not like this-is-the-real-me and my first name is a façade, but more like nobody-needs-to-know and the obvious first name is all that matters anyways. I don’t really believe that… but I wouldn’t write that in an Instagram post, either. Maybe I don’t mean that so much as a principle as I do an insecurity. Not an argument, more of a confession. So here’s to vulnerability, because the One who knows me best loves me most.

I guess this small beginning also fits with being the third day of lent (close enough), so we’ll see where it goes.

To bear witness.

It feels right to start off with a testimony. We did speed rounds in life group the other day, planning, sharing, and listening in turn, and the things we could have unpacked are endless. I want to hash mine out here, at least the current version, because I realized a testimony can indicate my very understanding of the gospel and salvation. It’s so much more than a turning point, or proof of before-and-after. Redemption of my soul is just the beginning (or not even — He knew me far earlier!), and my life is the gospel played out over and over again. Neither betrothal nor wedding can fully characterize the marriage. And it’s not my own change that I testify of, it’s His faithfulness. I don’t really want to bear witness about myself, not compared to who He is. Here I am, not much, alive and growing, but nothing new under the sun. If I testify, I guess that implies a confidence in what I say, but thank goodness I don’t have to be confident in myself — I can just be confident in Him.

Phase One.

I grew up in the church, with Christian parents, born in Torrance, raised in Irvine. When I was nine years old, my parents heard the Lord calling them to move to Japan, to partner with Him in reducing the suicide rates. They deliberated for a year (I didn’t find out until later) and then they did it. They sold the house, my dad ended his stable career, they ‘burned the boats’ as they like to say. We moved to Tokyo with eight suitcases, 90-day tourist visas, zero Japanese fluency, zero income. Ok, but the story is not about us. God moved in miraculous ways, repeatedly, and it would be more foolish than everything my parents gave up, to then say it was our own power in everything we gained. He gave us favor to rent a house without visas or income. He led my dad to our long-lost relatives within ten minutes of walking around the city with a single photograph. He led the Japanese banker to find my parents’ nonprofit on the internet, three days before my dad walked into the bank to open an account. Through all those stories, to this I bear witness: God is faithful and powerful to provide. He is worth giving up everything for, to abandon possessions and to step into suffering.

That was truth I never had to doubt, and the foundation of my faith as a child.

Phase Two.

I’m actually not sure how this became so significant, but Holy Spirit is amazing. Around the end of eighth grade, I had a conversation with my mom about spending time with God. She was frustrated, honestly, that as much as I knew about the Bible from my parents and going to a Christian international school, I made no effort to actually spend time with God on my own. I believed the gospel, sure, but clearly I didn’t value it in life. My mom challenged me to actually have quiet time (whatever that means) every day for 30 days, though she didn’t say exactly how. What I remember is that I ended up journaling a prayer to God every morning, just half a page, and that became the foundation of my being able to talk to Him personally. I would pray about the things ahead of me that day, thank Him for my friends, tell Him random thoughts, and eventually I found myself talking to Him throughout the rest of the day, wherever I went. He became my friend, and I couldn’t talk to myself without turning and talking to Him, too.

Looking back, I see how my first understanding of God, the truth about His power to provide, is critical to the faith, yet markedly different from this second realization. I knew Him first as constant and able, but I knew Him later as personal and near. I think this second entering into an actual relationship with Him is just as foundational. So, to this I bear witness: God hears my voice and knows my experiences. He goes before me, yet also walks beside me, and there’s no part of me that He doesn’t want to be invited into.

Phase Three.

Fast forward to the end of tenth grade, when my family moved back to Torrance. I entered public high school for the first time ever, not knowing a single person out of 2,000 students, and also not understanding American culture. Even as an Asian American, I looked like I belonged, and I was a junior, not a freshman, so I should know people already, and I had braced myself for trying to explain to people why I lived in Japan, but nobody actually cared to ask. I think I cried almost every night for the first semester. I was stupidly lonely and constantly disappointed by my own inability to make friends. To this day, I still don’t fully understand, but at the same time as I recall these memories of eating lunch by myself or sobbing in bed, I also remember walking to class every morning, smiling and knowing there must be a reason I was there? Maybe it’s naivety, or maybe it’s His grace to cover me in resilience. I remember sitting in AP English one day, feeling the need to mentally withdraw, and as soon as I remembered His presence, I felt peace surround me completely — the physical relaxation of every tension in my body. I’m not really sure how to explain that one, but Jesus was kind and close. Despair and peace both existed, and Jesus was in the middle of it.

Fast forward a bit more, into quarantine, the last few months of senior year. Within the first couple weeks of being home, no longer surrounded by my peers, it was like meeting myself for the first time again. Suddenly, as I went about my day, I didn’t have to agree with everyone, to physically and mentally conform, to prove I was normal and nice and enough. Until its absence, I hadn’t even realized what I had done to myself, and that broke me down. I thought I knew the obvious church-kid truth that my actions didn’t define my worth, but wow, that one’s easier said than done. It’s also not just about rejecting an identity based on production, but rejecting an identity based on anything at all, other than God’s firm and intimate truth. I took a wide step back, and started with the basics. He calls me precious, known, beautiful, and intentionally created. He made me empathetic, resilient, and to carry wisdom. This became a third foundation for me, the beginning of really leaning into what it means to be His beloved. So, again, to this I bear witness: God is the lover of my heart and soul, perfect, enduring, and pursuing all of me. He invites and enables me to lean into Him, too, to abide in His presence which satisfies every deep longing.

Phase Four.

This one’s brief(ish). It starts in November 2021 and leads into the present, and I feel that I can’t share all the details even now. What I can say is that what happened was one of the most emotionally and mentally traumatic experiences I’ve ever faced, a combination of grief, fear, accusation, and feeling wildly out of control. A thousand unknowns, a hundred wounds and more welling up inside myself and those around me. It was a shocking realization of the depth of human brokenness, and the truth that nothing and nobody could ever be enough to cover over us, except for Jesus. I myself am so limited — I can do so little to save other people, and it’s not my place! Church leaders, too, though I continue to love and look up to them, also failed my expectations —and it’s still hard sometimes to admit how I felt hurt by them. Yet, through it all, as traumatic responses seized me unawares, undeniable and seemingly inescapable, so the good promises that held me close also brought undeniable peace. I can’t make up traumatic grief, and neither can I make up His deep and close presence. Not for the last time, to this I bear witness: Nothing other than Jesus will ever be close to enough to redeem our brokenness, yet Jesus Himself is so much more than enough.

He is faithful, true, and worthy!

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open spaces & quiet places.

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Sarah Grace

Sarah Grace

open spaces & quiet places.

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