The Promise of Easter Sunday

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With death comes the promise of new life. With sadness comes the promise of restored joy. With pain and sickness comes the promise of healing. 

That is the promise of Easter morning – the promise of hope despite the present difficulties and tribulations.

The apostles and the rest of Jesus’ followers and friends waited; they waited three long, depressing, agonizing days. In fact, they had locked themselves in a room out of fear after Jesus died. All was bleak. All was dark.

We live through many dark and bleak moments here on this earth. A lost loved one. A broken heart. A failed relationship. A lost job. A financial crisis. An addiction. Psychological trauma. Physical handicap. Depression. Anxiety.

The list goes one.

In our own lives, we experience death – a metaphorical three days before the resurrection, locked in our own room of fear and sorrow, not daring to hope for the impossible, doubt and unbelief at the helm. 

I was locked in my own room of fear and depression for the better part of 3 years. All was bleak; all was dark. I lived in a world of pain, sadness, and shame.

And then… JESUS.

Jesus walked through the walls of the room and back into my world, just as he walked through the walls of the room the disciples were hiding in, bringing them peace. He had come back into the world, three days later; Jesus was alive! He is alive; HE IS RISEN!

The impossible happened. Life conquered death. JESUS IS ALIVE.

Whatever your present difficulty is right now, whatever dark and bleak moment you may be walking through, Easter is your hope that is WILL end. There IS life. There IS healing. There IS hope.

Jesus DIED; three days later, he came back – he fought the battle that none of us could ever fathom winning AND WON.

And he gave us the power to defeat death in our own lives – the same power that raised him from the dead.  

He is risen. He is risen indeed.

HAPPY EASTER!

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The Challenge: Day 1

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For someone like me, dumping a bucket of ice water on my head or eating a ball of wasabi isn’t a challenge. It’s easy, and it’s fun; and it puts me in the center of attention. I do that kind of stuff on a dare. I don’t find it challenging at all.

But when I’m challenged to post three positive things for the next five days in the middle of a super stressful week of starting Chinese school, menstruating, trying to figure out how to survive with limited finances, and then having my wallet end up missing with all my money to my name inside (not to mention all the other important cards that cost a lot of money to replace) right before an anticipated 4-day hiking/camping trip, I don’t feel like calling attention to myself. Positivity is the last thing I want to express. THIS is a challenge.

I find it very challenging to focus on thankfulness when I feel like every important material thing is gone. I find it very challenging to be positive when, truth be told, I’ve been crying or holding back tears ever since my wallet disappeared late this afternoon. I find it very challenging to be happy when I literally have no money. I find it very challenging to smile when all I wanted to do after work today was study Chinese and visit with a couple of friends and instead I’m at the mercy of everyone around me and filing a report at the police station. In the middle of a crappy situation, the real challenge is TO BE POSITIVE.

So here I am, in a very non-ideal state, accepting the positivity challenge. And it’s the last thing I feel like doing right now.

1. My friend Felicia, who is staying with me for a couple months before moving to the States, came into my room and found me crying over my state of affairs. She brought me water, rubbed my back, prayed for me, brought me to the police station to report my missing wallet, called my bank to cancel my debit card, and bought me dinner. She got me through all of those first steps when I couldn’t think straight by myself.

2. On our way to the Aroma Coffee Shop from the police station, Felicia and I encountered a group of runners racing by on the sidewalk. I saw that they were actually in a race and found out it was Moon Festival Night Run. Their route was 10km city run and in the shape of a Chinese character (I couldn’t tell which one). As they were running past the coffee shop, I cheered them on. They wanted me to join them and a lady gave me this paper folded in the shape of a heart:

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Translation: “I am so happy to have encountered you in this beautiful city.”

She has no idea how encouraging those words were to me in that moment.

3. Two of my friends gave me cash without me asking for it. And my friends I’m hiking with told me not to worry about not having money right now. It’s moments like these when I’m not sure if I truly let myself receive the kindness of other people on a regular basis.

Focusing on what I HAVE, not on what I don’t have, is the key to positivity. And I have been challenged to intentionally tap into this and share it with others for the next four days. Challenge ACCEPTED.

Thank you, Jill. This post is for you and Andrew and all of the other reasons we have in this life to choose positivity over the darkness and the voices of a crappy situation.

Me: locked in. Jesus: broke in.

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It was the end of my first week out of counseling. It had been really rough. It was like everything I would normally have my counseling session to hash out at had come to the surface and punched me in the face. It was all I could do to hang on to the few moments of victory I did have. And when I think about it, that’s all we can ever do anyway.

I remembering talking to myself A LOT that week, talking myself out of negativity, talking myself out of assumptions I was making, talking myself out loneliness. I did a lot of praying; I made a lot of good choices. But it was SO hard. Trying to ward off depression like this was exhausting.

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At one point that week, I came upon this blog post that really hit home. It was about breakthrough.  The words that grabbed me were:

You’re on the verge of giving up. You’re barely holding on to the hope that someway, somehow, God is going to show up.

That’s a great place to be, my friend. You’re closer than you think.

And then the author provided these 4 conditions of what your situation before experiencing breakthrough:

1. It looks impossible.
2. It looks like failure is final.
3. It looks like you’ve waited forever.
4. It looks hopeless.

On an emotional and spiritual level, that’s exactly how I felt.

There was a specific area in which I knew I needed breakthrough, but I didn’t know how to get myself there. My silver linings playbook therapy just wasn’t cutting it.

It was this: Every time my mind went back to a moment I was crying in a room full of people or hiding in the bathroom at a group event or sitting paralyzed on a park bench or lying in bed in the middle of the day waiting for someone to do something to pull me out of this – every single one of those moments would still come back to haunt me and threatened to pull me back into the darkness.

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I didn’t know how to shake these memories. They were so powerful all I could do was ignore them and look away when they came up. If I didn’t,  I would go back down with them.

And then Thursday happened. Then Saturday. And then Sunday. Let me start with Thursday.

Thursday night, our church community went out on a treasure hunt. (Basically, we spent time asking God for clues and then wrote down these clues in 5 categories: location, a person’s name, clothing, illness, and other. Crazy, I know. There’s a book about it.)

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I was on a team with a lady from Hong Kong, a lady from Korea, and a lady from Australia. The lady from Australia (who had no idea who I was and had only just arrived in Taiwan the other day) had written down “American,” “smiley,” “beautiful,” and “depression.” The lady from Korea (who happens to be a good friend), upon hearing these clues, exclaimed, “That’s you! We need to pray for you!” To which the lady from Australia replied, “But I wrote down depression and you’re not struggling with depression.” (You see how little she knew about me, which is extremely significant in terms of these clues BECAUSE THEY’RE ALL FROM GOD!) No one prayed for me, and the night went on.

On Saturday, this team of people from Hong Kong planned this mega prayer and worship event. I went to as much of it as I could, because somehow in my heart I felt like this was going to be it, going to be where I get my breakthrough; and I never feel like that.

It was the prayer stations that did me in, or I should say, let me out. There were 4 prayer stations and a prophetic room (a prophetic room being a place where people pray for you and say things to you and even draw a picture for you, all of this based on things God told them about you). The prayer stations were built around the passage John 20:19-22:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said,“Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Context: This was following Jesus’ death on a cross.

Each prayer station had a different “task” based on this passage. At the first prayer station, I took a padlock from a chain and thought about the lies that had me locked in darkness, just like the disciples were locked in a room out of fear and sadness.

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Then at the next station, I sat at the foot of the cross, asking Jesus to unlock me. As I sat there, every moment I was crying in a room full of people or hiding in the bathroom at a group event or sitting paralyzed on a park bench or lying in bed in the middle of the day waiting for someone to do something to save me came to my mind. And, just as Jesus had appeared to the disciples, He broke into my darkness.

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And just as Jesus appeared to the disciples hiding behind locked doors and the truth of His resurrection had set the disciples free from fear, Jesus appeared to me as I cried in a room full of people. Jesus appeared to me as I sat on a bathroom floor, sobbing. Jesus appeared to me as I sat paralyzed on a bench waiting for someone to come save me. Jesus appeared to me while I laid in bed in the middle of the day, feeling cut off from the world.

And He said to me, “Peace be with you!”

You’d think after such a powerful breakthrough like this, it would be enough. Now, I can go home, rejoicing; but there was more.

After Jesus appeared to me, I threw my padlock in the basket at the foot of the cross and stood up. Right before the third prayer station was the lady from Australia who had basically described me in her treasure hunt clues but didn’t know it. She was MY third prayer station, so I asked her to pray for me.

The words she prayed and everything else that happened after that was literally like God restoring me with truth: the truth of who He is, the truth of who I am, the truth of my connections with everyone around me. It WASN’T enough to just be set free. He was sending me out, just he like he sent his disciples. He was sending me out to break into the darkness of people here in Taiwan, where he sent me 5 years ago, just as he had broken into mine. And everything else that happened after that experience at the second prayer station were just words and words of truth and encouragement from people who didn’t even know me. Their words spoke directly to where I was, emotionally and spiritually. Their words were from God. 

It was powerful. And then Sunday happened.

I want to share what happened on Sunday, because it can be quite easy to fall in the trap of thinking that everything gets easier after a breakthrough like that. It doesn’t; don’t ever think that.

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It was Easter Sunday, and I was translating for the speaker that night. As a rule of thumb at our church, the speaker and the translator always spend time in the prayer room together before the service, in preparation and prayer. Later, they are joined by the pastor and the worship team and everyone prays for the night together.

You may or may not have gathered from other writings that I am currently taking a break from my church’s leadership team. Anyway, when I saw the words “the leadership team is getting stronger and stronger” as we were all praying, rejection and worthlessness suddenly overcame me. For 15 minutes I struggled to take a position against these feelings but kept failing. Finally, I knew the only way to fight this was to speak out (something I NEVER did during my depression and every time was worse for it), so I did. The lie was broken, truth was declared, and I felt God’s peace. I felt God’s love. I had done something I didn’t have the strength to do before.

And it was an amazing Sunday night!

And that is how Jesus unlocked the door of depression in my life and broke into my darkness. That is what He wants to do for everyone who feels trapped by the darkness of lies and depression.

 

I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES

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I’ve come to realize that I was not called to be silent. Let me explain before those who know me start laughing out loud. Sometimes I’m under the impression that all my thinking entitles me to a certain right of silence about my experiences and ideas, especially the crazy ones that I seem to be eternally processing. I only express things once my thoughts have been refined to readiness and clear articulation. This is great – for complex issues. But miracles have turned out to be much less complicated than I once thought. 

Last Thursday, I went for a run. I went 12k (7.5 miles) and was feeling pretty good, which was a little surprising since I hadn’t run for over a month. New Year’s happened, then I was sick with a sinus infection for 3 weeks, then winter vacation finally came and I travelled the world for a couple weeks. It was time to start running again (especially now that my runner’s knee was healed!) so that’s what I did. 

After my run, I started experiencing this intense pain on the side of my right foot. The top of my foot hurt as well, but the pain on the side stayed and made it extremely painful to walk. I kept my pace slow, thinking it would soon wear off. It didn’t. I googled the issue and was advised by a Runner’s World Forum to go see a doctor. Other runners who had experienced the same kind of pain found this to be the best first step before trying to google self-help solutions. So on Saturday night, a Taiwanese friend helped me make an appointment online with an orthopedist. 

The next morning during our team meeting, I felt compelled to ask the team to pray for my foot. (I don’t know, maybe it had something to do with experiencing God’s healing before.) After praying, the pain went away and walking was no longer painful. It was crazy. Then at church that night, the floor was opened up for testimonies. The entire time people were sharing, I felt like God wanted me to go up and share about my foot – and not only share. He also wanted me to ask for more prayer since there was still some pain around my ankle because of the way I was walking when my foot hurt. What happened next still amazes me:

My church family praying for my foot

Sharing time had ended and Chris was about to start preaching his sermon. My hand shot up in the air. (I always try to wait it out when I feel like I’m being pulled to the front.)

“Chris! I have something to share.”

“Victoria! I was thinking about making you come up here. Everybody! Victoria has something to share!”

So I went up, took the microphone and, feeling extremely inarticulate and needy, said – and I’m paraphrasing my own words here – “You guys are my church family. This is why I’m up here saying this. It’s a big step for me to be up here. Who was here when my leg grew? Who saw that? (Hands all over the room shot up.) The pain in my knee ever since then has been gone, but I went on a run last Thursday, and after the run, my foot was really painful. It hurt to talk. So the team prayed for this morning, and the pain went away. But there’s still some pain around my ankle and I believe that if you all of you pray for my foot right now the pain will be gone and my foot completely healed.” 

CRAZY.

You can see everybody praying for my foot in the picture. My foot was completely healed and there’s been absolutely no pain since then. I didn’t bother going to the doctor Monday morning since it would have required me to wake up way earlier than I preferred, and – I’m not saying this as a rule of thumb – I really didn’t feel like I needed to. GOD HEALED MY FOOT.

The conclusion of the matter? How can there be a conclusion? All conclusions we draw in this life are bound to change. But there is one thing I can be sure of: It is impossible for me to know everything there is about the God I have chosen to believe in. And because I can’t know everything about Him, I am also incapable of saying what he can or can’t, will or won’t do. I don’t know. All I can do is trust God every time he reveals more of Himself to me. It’s like getting to a know a friend and taking her at her word when she tells you something about herself. Maybe it’s shocking or surprising or unexpected, but she told you. And you trust each other because your friends, so you believe her.

I have no choice but to believe it when God heals me. When he gives me this experience of his power – and more importantly, of his love and compassion.  It doesn’t mean that I’m completely comfortable with or even sure about what is happening, but it means I believe. I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES.

part four, The Miracle

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And then it happened; life came full circle. It normally does this for me. Sometimes I see it; sometimes a close friend has to point it out for me. This time, it happened right around New Year’s and knee problems. (Some of you may think you already know where this is going.)

If you follow me at all in my blogging journey, you may be aware of a few posts I blogged about my knee and a certain half marathon. Allow me to recap here:

In the following blog posts that you can go read by yourself by clicking on the titles, I explored and expressed the feelings I was experiencing in response to my runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome) that I discovered I had 10 days before the Taipei Fubon half marathon some friends and I had registered to run:

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To fear or be free… THAT is the question

dear Andrew: 21k or bust

As you will find from these words, it was not easy for my ambitious and competitive personality to feel slowed down. It hurt on a lot of different levels, but in the end I would not be daunted.

Right after all of this at the end of December is when life came full circle. A guy that I knew from college (Remember college, when I was a super cynical feminist? Still am, in some ways) spent 3 years at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California. He now travels the world teaching about and doing healing ministry. He’s been passionate about healing ever since being healed from cancer when he was about 20 years old. He was literally one of the guys at Crown who was known for being in the prayer ALL THE TIME. He studied, went to class, and prayed. This was my perspective. Paul (his name) and I knew each other and were always on good terms; he was simply running where I would not tread.

And now here he was, in Taiwan, bringing his teaching about healing ministry right into everything I’ve poured my life into the last three years. How ironic that at this same time I was suffering from knee pain. 

By this point in my life, I had already released the anger and bitterness I had once held against overly “holy” and “pentecostal” Christians who I always felt judged me by my lack of faith. I had found freedom through forgiveness. And Paul’s a great guy, so I was actually a little bit excited to hear/experience whatever it was he did when he visited churches.

On Saturday afternoon, we all gathered for a session on healing and experiencing God, followed by pizza and a treasure hunt. During this session, Paul shared some things that really struck a chord and began to shift some paradigms about this whole healing thing.

  • Nobody should disqualify him/herself to pray for a miracle. Paul spent two years of his life after he himself was healed praying for the healing of other people and saw nothing. Then one day, after watching someone who was not nearly as well-versed or theologically trained or as passionate a Christian as he was pray for someone to be healed and see it happen, Paul realized he had making this whole thing way more difficult than it was. It didn’t matter how often one prayed or read the Bible or sang worship songs. Healing was God’s thing, and it was done through the power of Jesus’ name. That’s it. 
  • Healing is a lifestyle, not an event. Hearing someone in the healing ministry say this was so encouraging and even a bit disarming. My eyebrows ALWAYS shot up in disgust when I heard people talking about a healing conference or a healing gathering or a famous healer coming into town. It was like there was going to be more magical healing power in the air on that particular night, so go there and get healed. This simply wasn’t true, and even Paul knew that.
  • During this session, Paul led everyone in a “Do you want to feel God?” exercise and also in praying for anyone in the room with any type of ailment or pain. Of course, the first category he called out was knee pain. After everyone had gathered around someone and laid their hands on a knee, Paul said, “Before you even start praying for that person, just take a few minutes and have compassion on them. Some people may even start being healed simply through the compassion you have.” He had also pointed out earlier that in the Bible everyone who came to Jesus was healed, and Jesus had compassion on every person he healed. 
  • We have the cure for cancer living inside of us. It’s called the Holy Spirit. These were such extreme words to my ears, yet they are extremely true. Jesus came back from the DEAD. If that same power is inside of me, nothing is impossible. SAY WHAT!!!!????

After praying for people, Paul would always ask if anyone felt anything or if the pain was gone or if you could even tell right now if you were healed. Nothing discouraged him, and no one was rebuked. I had boundless appreciation for everything he had shared – and the manner in which he shared. I did feel like the pain in my knee disappeared after it was prayed for. I denied it for 5 seconds and then realized the pain was truly gone. Acknowledgement and acceptance of these things are not easy for me to come by. I vowed to go running the next morning to test it.

Sunday morning, just like I promised myself, I went running. I was sore afterwards, but I hadn’t been running for a couple weeks, so there were reasons for the soreness; and my knee hurt again. But that morning, the team was able to spend more time with Paul, just sharing our thoughts about healing in general and experiences from Saturday. It was really good, and I appreciated him more and more. He even addressed the whole idea of “losing your healing” and shared absolutely insane stories of people being “unhealed” for various reasons. It was interesting and just so good to talk about.

That night at church was The Aroma’s first ever healing service. Paul was the guest speaker. He started about by sharing testimonies and talking about his own experiences and the things he’s learned about healing. He even showed this CRAZY VIDEO some friends took at Disney Land when they started praying for middle school students to be healed and as a result a mini revival broke out. He took everybody through the “Do you want to feel God?” exercise. Then, it was time to pray for people’s healing. 

Paul asked for a volunteer. Now the whole weekend, Saturday afternoon included, every time Paul asked for a volunteer, I wanted to raise my hand; but somebody else always beat me to it. And that’s what happened. Oh well, I guess I’ll just sit back and watch the miracles.

Then the unthinkable happened. After Paul had his volunteer sorted, HE CALLED ME UP TO THE FRONT. Let me make this clear. VICTORIA SCOTIA CROWLEY was called to the front during a freaking healing service. This never happens. Even all those times in the past when I felt like I should have been called up to the front so I could watch my ACL be miraculously healed, I never was. In fact, nothing ever happened; and I still couldn’t tell you to this day if I wanted anything to happen anyway.

So I go up. And Paul says, “Now I don’t know this for sure, but I think Victoria has one leg that is shorter than the other.” And then looking at me, he adds, “I think it might be related to your knee problems.”

This was crazy. This was completely crazy. My mind flashed back to all those times I internally scoffed at a person reporting a longer leg or longer foot miracle. It never made sense to me, and it seemed to happen all the time in pentecostal circles. 

Paul had me sit down in a chair with my hips all the way back. He held up my legs and showed everyone (who by now had gathered to the front to the watch, since this was the opening miracle of the night) that sure enough, one leg was shorter.

I had no idea what would happen next. I wasn’t sure I wanted to think about it, either.

Then the volunteer was instructed to put his hand on my foot. (The volunteer was great, because he kept the questioning the entire process. “Should we take off her shoes?” “Sometimes, people have things in their shoes.” “We should measure it with a ruler, so we can really make sure.”) Then the volunteer was simply instructed to say, “In Jesus’ Name, grow.”

There were too many witnesses to deny what happened next. I had closed my eyes and prayed the whole time. I felt like I was about to undergo a painless surgery. My roommate Sarah made a sound between a scream and a squeal and by the look on her face I knew she saw it happen. MY LEG GREW.

And there you have it, the miracle. Was it what you expected? Because it wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t even know how to respond. I decided to believe it. Too many people saw it. A little boy reminded me that I had a longer leg before saying good bye when he was leaving church with his mom. Little kids don’t lie about that stuff.

The next few days, I processed the whole thing through humor and research. I found comfort (I have to be comforted because of a miracle, imagine that) in joking with friends about how fast I was now or what a beast I was going to be playing Ultimate Frisbee with a longer leg. In my research, I stumbled across a statement in an article about runner’s knee and it’s causes that I felt answered a lot of questions, especially in terms of whether or not this miracle healed my knee:

“There are also factors that are out of your control that can lead to runner’s knee. These are biomechanical or anatomical aspects such as leg length inequality, over-pronation of the foot during running, pelvic muscle imbalance, or the alignment of your leg bones.”

It’s been a week and a half now, and there has been no more pain. Sitting for a long time, going up and down stairs, running – things that consistently irritated my knee for 3 straight weeks (I even got knee braces!) – no longer cause any pain. I haven’t been out running yet, but I’ve played Ultimate Frisbee twice now without any problems.

Am I still searching for proof? Yes. And I still want to see a diagram or some kind of visual that demonstrates how leg length inequality injures a knee. I still want to sit down with a doctor or knee expert and talk about the facts. I stil think people can convince themselves to feel or see things, and I’ve still never seen gold dust or felt the ministering winds of an angel.

But I believe. I believe my foot grew that Sunday night through the power of Jesus’ name and that because my legs are now even my runner’s knee is healed. I have chosen to believe this, because God did this; and He did it for me. Because he loves me and has compassion on me. And perhaps for me, the greatest miracle of all is that despite my childish groaning and complaining and angry tear-streaked attitude about my knee, God pulled through. He pulled me through. He didn’t leave me there in the pain; he healed me. 

And that, my friends, was the miracle. The four-part miracle, because being me, there was no way I could have told you all that by saying any less.

A miracle, part three

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Not long after graduating from college, I left the country. One of my spiritual experiences during college had been a missions trip to Taiwan. I did this right after my freshmen year of college ended before going home for the summer, the only summer I did go home during college. Those ten days or so in that country opened my eyes to an incredible opportunity of attending language school, teaching English, and being part of a ministry solely based on relationships with people.

The thought of moving to Taiwan after college never left me, despite the fact I explored other options and jobs for my post-graduation life. Then the team leader of that missions trip and her husband (he had also gone on the same missions trip to Taiwan I did) moved out to Taiwan after they finished college to start up a ministry that would let college grads come out for a year, teach English, study Chinese, and be involved in ministry in the specific area of Ximending. They left a year before I graduated. These two people were also very good friends of mine and knew how I felt about Taiwan and definitely contributed to the relational pull I began to feel in that direction. Every chapel service that mentioned what they were doing during their first year out there made me feel things I couldn’t explain and I would just start crying. I wanted to be there. I needed to be there.

Why did I move to Taiwan? This is the answer I still tell people today: I came here on a missions trip during college. While I was here, God put a love for Taiwan in my heart that has never left. That is why I came to Taiwan. 

Almost instantly upon arriving in Taiwan, I knew I was home. It didn’t take long. I was washing dishes behind the bar during a Friday Night Coffee House, the event that characterized the ministry before much else had been developed. While I washed cups and spoons, I soaked in all the faces and the voices that filled the 2nd floor of that building. And one word filled my heart and mind: home.

Since coming home, I’ve been living a life that many might consider lucky and exciting. I started out as a foreigner, living legally through a work visa and an English teaching job in another country and studying Mandarin Chinese, one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. I’ve also been surrounded by a strong community of friends from the very beginning, never being deprived of native English speakers or a “little America” outlet. Life certainly has been an adventure, and I wouldn’t trade my life for the world.

It is in this context of home that I began to release falsity and accept truth, give up pride and depend on people, face embarrassment and then immediately find comfort in friends, say what I mean and mean what I say, give up my anger and learn to forgive.

I didn’t need a suitcase to pack everything away in anymore. I just needed an open mind and an open heart. I needed love from the people who knew and cared about me, and I needed to trust these people. I needed free conversation where I knew I wasn’t judged. And I found all of this and more when I came to Taiwan.

So I knew I was safe. I didn’t need to defend myself or argue to establish my capacity for independent thought. I could just be. And this was very significant for what happened next. 

When you’re on a ministry team, you pray together. You sing worship songs together. You go to church together. You plan things together. You, such as our case, plant churches together and run things…together. You get the idea. Any funny spiritual ideas come out into the open super quick, because the spiritual process is so key to who we are as people, and we were now processing spiritual ideas TOGETHER.

It became immediately obvious who was more into miracles and who wasn’t. I was handed a book by Bill Johnson called When Heaven Invades Earth during my first year in this country as required reading we were doing…together. I didn’t really know what to think of all of it. So I just read the book. And prayed. And watched CRAZY things happen around me.

Then one day I had a fever and was experiencing terrible stomach problems and didn’t feel good at all. I went to the doctor and got the word acute gastritis.Then I got medicine.

The next morning before I left for work, a couple friends shared that they felt really led to pray for me. I allowed them to lay their hands on my stomach and pray.

Another friend showed me where I could get congee for lunch. About an hour later at work, I went to the bathroom. It was like everything had passed through me because it was all gone.

That night, I had a beer and the next day ate sushi for dinner, two things I would not have dared consume if I was still having stomach problems. I was pretty much in shock for two days.

That was the first “crazy” thing to happen to me. At the time, I felt like there could have been multiple explanations for it: it was just a matter of time after I started taking the medicine and the timing simply lined up. That congee really did its job. I decided, however, after talking to loved ones and through encouragement from friends, to just accept it. So that’s what I did.

(Around this same time I was only half accepting the even crazier things that would happen to people around me. Fevers dropping, legs and backs being healed. It was all crazy.)

Life continued. My spiritual paradigm was constantly being shifted, especially living and doing ministry in the East, where spirituality is literally taken for granted. Praying, in any form, is common practice, and temples or some sort of shrine are set up on every street corner. The spiritual landscape is completely different here, and as I discovered and experienced this more and more, I became more open, allowed for more exceptions, and considered theology more of an educational tool than something to be used in evangelism.

As life continued, so did the ministry I am a part of here, and things were rapidly changing AND growing. We had gone from a weekly Friday night gathering that to running a coffee shop that served as the location for a weekly church service every Sunday night, among other multiple ministry functions. People were getting baptized. New costumers were becoming new friends and community members. Testimonies were being shared.

Lives were being changed; and when lives are changing, spiritual priorities naturally fall into place, right? Despite all the questions that still remain, just keep loving the people. Changed lives are the real miracles that happen everyday, all around us. These are the miracles we should all be seeking.

And I still believe this to be true, which at last brings me to the final part of my story, the miracle.

A miracle, part two

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I headed off to college in the fall of 2005. I was packed and ready to go, in every sense of the word. Even though I had been ready for college since kindergarten, it was still an emotional parting with my family when it was finally time for them to leave me in the state of Minnesota and return to the home state of Washington.

I spent four years of my life at Crown College, a small private Christian school located in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota, a small rural town 45 minutes west of Minneapolis. This is what I told people for four years. During my time there, everything I believed or even thought might be true was thrown into the academic blender of spiritual, physical and intellectual development; and by the time the stuff was poured out into a glass it had all changed color, smell, and consistency. 

And this is where part two of my miracle story begins.

Going to a Christian college exposed me to all forms of Christianity. It quite literally changed my world and blew my mind. I already knew there were “crazy” Christians and was aware of the ultra conservative groups, but there were so many more hybrids and and doctrinal leanings that I didn’t really knew what any of this meant for my own faith.  And I had been exposed to quite a lot of growing up and considered myself somewhere in the middle, or so I thought. I considered myself rather tolerant though cynical, but everything was still throwing me off.

Thus my suitcase of Christian spirituality became quite meaningless. I, in actuality, had failed to pack EVERYTHING. In fact, that was a quite impossible feat. There seemed to be only one option after I realized this. I emptied the entire suitcase out onto the floor. The days of being a packrat Christian were over. I didn’t even know if I was a Christian anymore!

The examination of what was in my suitcase characterized my 4-year collegiate journey. The contents of the suitcase became cases against Christianity. Contents of the suitcase became shining beacons of truth. But all of it was questioned. I spent a lot of my academic energy debating and arguing everything. My favorite emotion was anger. I was casted as the queen on controversy on campus, and every leadership role I took on just gave me more fodder for my case against the institution.

And of course, I found new experiences, too. Some practices I just went ahead and threw out the window, like praying before every meal and reading my Bible everyday and raising my hands in worship and – for better or for worse – crying. But I did allow myself to attend prayer meetings. They were like experiments for me. I still prayed as well, because somehow the one thing I never doubted was the existence of God; but I questioned all explanations of it.

At some of these prayer meetings (specifically the ones that gathered in the prayer room – this happened every Friday night), I experienced things, spiritual experiences that had been secretly tucked away in my suitcase during high school. I let myself be slain with “holy laughter” one time. (Slain is one of those vocabulary words that I threw out most of the time.) To this day, I’m still not sure if I had any choice in the matter. I remember praying fervent prayers, because I did believe something was there. I hadn’t thrown it all out the window. But as soon as reports of miracles started happening, I pulled back again. It was like I had a whole new suitcase of contents to examine and question. 

I learned a lot in college. I poured myself into my studies, established myself as social butterfly, got super involved, and became editor-in-chief of the college newspaper, a post from which I scrutinized and commented on EVERYTHING. It was the perfect outlet, because if there was one thing I knew to be true, it was that all of us needed to think for ourselves. 

Life was suddenly and significantly slowed down for me at the end, however. During my last two years of college, I experienced great emotional and physical pain that threw a new flavor onto all of my skepticism. I was now cynical about people. After being significantly hurt by some close friends and tearing my ACL in the same 6 month swoop, the world looked different to this fiery feminist of a college student. Prayer rooms were the last place I wanted to be after tearing my ACL (though I still experimented) and I found myself leaning heavily on my community of friends as my knee was nursed back to health through physical therapy and exercise.

As the day of college graduation drew closer, I found myself itching to flee the life of studies and dormitories and Christian society. I had gained something. It’s called perspective. Perspective has this way of changing your life, and the perspective I had gained taught me that life is largely characterized by people: emotional, weak, and vulnerable homo-sapiens and I was one of them. And all of these people believed something different for a myriad of reasons from culture to social conditioning, and I was more OK with that than ever. And I was going to survive life without these people, these people who had became my family, my friends, and showed me love. 

It was time for me to go. It was time for me to enter part three of my story.

A miracle, part one

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Those of you who know me understand how I operate intellectually. You may also be familiar with the way I operate spiritually. Growing up in a home where all I ever knew was God, the Bible, Sunday School, and church songs (both traditional and nontraditional), I have come through a journey of battling with extremes. I know I have verbally shared this with some of you, but I think, because of something that happened to me a week ago, it’s time to write it down.

Just like any good traveler, I needed to pack. But I was a packrat. And by that, I mean I packed EVERYTHING. Of course, I’m speaking in the metaphorical sense, because these things that I “packed” were pieces and tid-bits and clusters of Christianity as I saw it. Let me explain.

My hard-working, Christian mother home-schooled me in elementary school. Before this, I attended a private Christian school for pre-school and kindergarten where she was a teacher. As a part of my home-school education, I was required to read my King James Version Bible and memorize scripture and psalms as my mother directed. I was also required to take sermon notesI ended up “taking sermon notes” for a large portion of my adolescent life. 

These sermon notes consisted of spiritual experiences, spiritual quotes, Sunday School lessons, prayer practices, anything and everything I ever heard a pastor or someone spiritual say. After being home-schooled for 5 years, my parents sent me to a special public school that required all students to be in band (I played the trumpet). I attended 10th Street Middle School in the 6th & 7th grade. At this point, I was adding a rather eclectic collection of Christian music to my sermon notes. My spiritual suitcase was PACKED. But I didn’t even understand it all. Quite honestly, my emotional journal entries that I began writing at age 8 were more real to me than anything in my growing repertoire of Christianity.

Fortunately, I was spared in a couple areas. Thanks to my cynical father and high-class education, I was taught to reject anything with a pentecostal flare, no matter how extreme. My high-class education kept me away from wasting my time reading evangelical literature that simply attempted to re-write the message of the Bible in less lofty terms (with the exception of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’s Left Behind Series, of course – for better or for worse). So I grew up rejecting all things pentecostal and reading classic literature that increased my vocabulary.

And this brings me to the end of part one, as a Christian packrat, with everything BUT speaking in tongues and cheesy Christian literature in my suitcase. Everything else was definitely in there, though, everything from raising my hands in worship to every single word of every sermon I had ever heard. And if you’re a packrat, you know that one of our most resilient characteristics is that we don’t know what the heck it is that we’ve packed.