Belonging [Part 2]

Part One is HERE

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So where were we?  Ah, that’s right… Scripture.  Finally!  🙂

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named […]” – Ephesians 3:14-15

As I prepared for last Thursday’s study, I decided to finally utilize the Greek & Hebrew Bible app that my friend, Sherri, had told me about.  I had seen her use it on multiple occasions as she led the Women’s Fellowship in a study of Genesis, and because I gleaned so much from knowing more about the words used in a particular passage, I was inspired and curious to see what that kind of word study would do in Ephesians.

Father

Father

From those two verses, I honed in on “Father” and “family.”

No big surprise there, right?  With everything going on with my family, they are always on my mind.

But the Apostle Paul was a single, childless, adult male.  Why would he use those words?

The study Bible that I have notes that in his Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul was addressing a group of believers who were living as spiritual paupers because they did not know the full riches they had in Christ.  But why and what didn’t they know?

I think Ephesians 2:11-22 gives us a clue; here’s an excerpt from verses 11 to 13:

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. ” – Ephesians 2:11-13

For someone like me in the 21st century, the distinction between Jew and Gentile doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.  But to the Gentile believers that Paul was addressing, it was.  From birth, they probably knew who they were, or more importantly who they weren’t, in relation to God’s chosen people, the Jews.  There must have been some sense of alienation and of being outcasts deeply ingrained in their thoughts and feelings.

Family

Family

Which is why when Paul spoke of unity so intimately in the way that he addressed them as part of one family, one body in Christ, it must have been a truly life-altering mental shift.  What he was proclaiming was radical; the implications were huge.  Centuries old divisions and hierarchies were being struck down in Christ.

The Greek & Hebrew Bible app noted 2 other instances in the New Testament where that particular form of the word “family” is used:

1) Luke 2:4 – “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David.”

2) Acts 3:25 – “You are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘In your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed.”

Of David.  Of Abraham.

But while Gentile believers had been living their lives apart from the Jewish people who were of that human bloodline, Paul was now affirming that Christ’s death on the cross had made them part of God’s own family.  They belonged to God’s family because Christ had paid for their sins, His righteousness was bestowed upon them, and now they “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” – Ephesians 2:13.  And that was not an identity that could be shaken or denied them by anything or anyone.

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My Daddy & Me (early 90s)

My Daddy & Me (early 90s)

If you’ve grown up going to church/in the church, you’ve heard the phrase “family in Christ” tossed around a lot.  But if you take a second to stop and think about what it really means and looks like in your mind, what do you see?  Who do you see?

And another question… do you belong?

Not do you feel like you belong.  But do YOU belong?

From what I shared in the previous post, I carried pretty large wounds and chips on my shoulder towards those who called themselves Christians.  But according to this passage, and many others, there was no need for me to feel that way.

I do believe that hurt is a natural and valid reaction to being othered, but to carry a grudge?  No.  I’ve come to realize that I didn’t have to, and that I don’t have to.  You see, the only reason I felt that way was because I was giving others the ability to tell me my identity and to decide whether or not I belonged in God’s family, when He had already affirmed me in His Son as His daughter.

I can bypass the inner turmoil of always waiting to see if I’m going to be accepted, and for how long, because I claim the fact that I belong because I am a forgiven sinner and a child of God.  That is my only identity and in Christ, I not only have a place in Heaven for me, but wherever God calls me now, I have, as one of my sisters in Christ likes to put it, “a place at the table” – whether others recognize and/or grant me that space or not.

Now, this doesn’t mean I get to figuratively or literally bust through doors and shove it in others’ faces.  No.  I can come boldly, but in humility, or else God will certainly have something to say about the pride and hatred in my heart.

Celebrating Daddy's Birthday (mid-90s)

Celebrating Daddy’s Birthday (mid-90s)

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Lastly, if you look through some of the pictures that I’ve posted around this blog, you’ll probably notice that I look Asian (I’m Filipino), but that my Dad is… most decidedly not, lol.  If you think so, then you’re right.  He is African-American.  The larger story behind this happy circumstance will definitely be something to post on later, but I will say that even if he isn’t my biological father, he has shown me all the love any father could ever show his daughter.  I’ve been blessed to have been given such unconditional love from another human being in the role of an earthly father to me.

But it is an entirely different thing on a whole ‘nother level to know the endless love of our Father in Heaven.  I pray that we can come to know and accept that, and stand secure in who we are, and what we have, in Him.

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Belonging [Part 1]

Isn’t this a lovely portrait of Christian community?

The whole concept and experience of “Christian community” is still fairly new to me.  Even though I grew up going to church, I decided pretty early on that I didn’t want much, if anything at all, to do with the “Christians” I would encounter on Sunday mornings.  Not only did my innate introversion keep me very much inwardly oriented just as a matter of course, but I had such low self-esteem, too, that I couldn’t possibly fathom why others would want to bother being around someone plain and forgettable like me.  So growing up, I’d just preempt their rejection and direct myself towards the sidelines – literally and figuratively.

But there were other reasons.

My mom and I had a lot of issues growing up, but no matter what I thought and still think her glaring flaws are, I cannot deny that she possesses a great deal of humility and honesty when it comes to telling others about the great work that God has done in her life.  It’s astounding, really, what she will share concerning her own past failures and even present brokenness.  And while it used to make me cringe as a child, as an adult, I realize that there is so much power and peace in a life lived like that.  After all, you aren’t gagged by secrets or enslaved by the false image of yourself that you project outward to others.  With a casual flick of your wrist, you can effortlessly dissipate the black smoke of condemnation rising up from the candles of others’ judgmental, prideful hearts.

Or at least, there can be so much power and peace if you claim it in Christ.  If not, the poisonous fumes billow up around your flailing arms to fill the space around you, closing in until it enters your lungs and disrupts your breathing.

The women my mother shared her life story with at church used what she shared as ammunition against her.  My mom dropped out of dental school in the Philippines because her father had left their family to be with his mistress-du-jour, and her mother had fallen ill, no doubt heartbroken and also overwhelmed with the task of caring for their thirteen children alone.  As the eldest, my mom went to work to support her family financially.  When this became known to the group of college-educated “Christian” women, they looked down on her and told her that she wasn’t “one of them.”

As her family crumbled, my mom, who had walked away from God, looked for emotional support and found it in a relationship with my biological father.  Or at least she found the distorted form of “love” that he offered her, and nothing of its actual substance.  I am a product of that much misaligned union, and when the women found out about the circumstances surrounding my conception, they treated her with contempt and disgust.

In high school, I was already not too keen on going to church, being religious, etc.  I had stopped going to youth fellowship and would actively seek ways to avoid church service by just walking out of church and around the surrounding neighborhoods and shopping centers at times.  The harsh treatment my mother received only served to drive my misgivings about who I believed God and Christians were deeper into my heart.

I might have been more inclined if everyone looked like this.

I might have been more inclined if everyone looked like this.

Though many more reasons (excuses?) exist as to why I avoided Christian community all my life, I’ll list just one more to complete this trifecta – pride.

In 2007, my father lost his job and we ended up losing our house.  This was not the final nail in the proverbial coffin, but the tiny fissure that breached a dam.  I will save many of the elements to this story for subsequent posts, but let me just say that by the time my family moved in with my Dad’s sister in February 2010 and found Regen, I felt completely bereft of any dignity, my sense of worth erroneously tied to material things, and I did not want anyone to see me in what I felt was my great shame.  Though many members in the Body of Christ at Regen reached out to me for three years, from 2010 through the end of 2012, and even though I could feel God’s tug on my heart to allow them to embrace me, I just wouldn’t.

Chocolate or Strawberry ice cream?  Hm...

Chocolate or Strawberry ice cream? Hm…

Insecurity.  Old Wounds.  Pride.

But if you asked me at that time what kept me from participating I would have kept back all three of those things.  Indeed, whenever someone at Regen extended an invite, I would brush them off with an “I’m busy juggling work and school.”  Whenever God would confront me about this area of disobedience in my life I would tell Him that I was too busy, too, willing myself not to think about the Book of Jonah.

I graduated from college at the end of 2012, though, and I knew that even if I had by and large shut down everyone at Regen with my cold stubbornness, God was not deterred in the slightest.  My walk with Him had been feeling very stale and empty, and I knew it was because He wanted me to address my brokenness over community which had become a real sin issue between us as I was blatantly refusing His call to it.

At the beginning of 2013, I got in touch with someone I had formed a pleasant acquaintance with in 2010 because we happened to sit in the same area of the sanctuary during AM service.  She was the same age as I was, and had also just finished up college as well.  I asked her if she would like to check out a home group with me and, as God would have it, she was thinking of doing that, too.

Olivia and I (or our shadows at least) waiting near the Tacos Mi Rancho Food Truck

Olivia and I (or our shadows at least) waiting near the Tacos Mi Rancho Food Truck

I was commuting an hour to and from Vacaville from the East Bay for work at the time, and having to pick-up my brothers from school, so the one home group that seemed to fit my schedule was Late Night, which met on Thursday nights from 7 to 9 pm.  My friend, Olivia, and I went that first meeting on January 10th… and we’ve been there ever since.  Lots more, of course, that I could say about this, but this post is already growing longer than intended, and I haven’t even gotten to the Scripture verses.  🙂

But let’s save that for the next post, shall we?

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Part Two is HERE

Yogurt

“Yogurt.”

If I didn’t have my phone in my left hand and a pen in my right, I would have facepalmed.  I couldn’t believe it.  That was my dad’s answer to my inquiry concerning what he had for dinner last Thursday night.  I sighed.  Knowing my dad, it was probably the most unhealthy iteration of Yoplait badness, complete with some syrupy fruit concoction lurking at the bottom.  “Daddy!”

“I know, I know.”  My dad didn’t even bother to point out the flipping of the script where parents address their wayward offspring by their full name in a chastising tone.  He knew what I was getting at.  Growing up, he always stressed healthy eating habits.  When I was in middle school, he would sit in the car and not start it up until I had eaten something for breakfast.  And now here he was, a grown adult, eating just a cup of yogurt for dinner.

“Dad, haven’t you been to the store since last week?”

“Well, yes.  I finished the steak I bought last week a couple of days ago, and when I went to the store yesterday, I bought some cod and chicken.  But there’s no stove in the kitchen of my hotel room, and I really didn’t feel like frying either thing in the pan.”

The pan.

My mind raced back to an old email chain in which he told me that the nearest supermarket was Meijer’s, and when he went there, he bought Uncle Ben’s rice, steak and some petite peas.  He only had one pot and one frying pan, though, so that night he cooked the rice in the pot and the steak in the pan – hold the peas.  I thought back to the hearty dinner I had before I left the house and my heart ached.  It only intensified as I remembered the last line of that email, and how he noted that it was the first meal he had cooked “since those Chicken Pot Pies J.”

Ever since elementary and middle school, I have had a strong aversion to chicken pot pies.  Of the can-be-found-in-the-frozen-foods-section variety.  And in particular, the version made by Marie Callender.  It’s not because they have the same amount of sodium as 8 small bags of potato chips, the fat equivalent of 23 strips of bacon, and the calorie equivalent of 7 Taco Bell Fresco Beef Tacos, but because on the two separate occasions that my mom visited the hospital to give birth to my two younger brothers, those little things were what my Dad put on the menu every.single.night.

I still remember going with my Dad to visit my Mom after she had given birth and was recuperating, only to, with manyyy tears and sighs, regale her with the awfulness that was breakfast, lunch, and dinner without her culinary skills.  And I still remember her handing me her tray of hospital food so that I could eat to my little heart’s content.

Those memories normally elicit many chuckles, but this time, they just made my heart heavy.  Dad was so far away and so far removed from us.  Carless out in Chicago, just buying the groceries he could manage to carry with two arms.  Cooking just a single portion because his whole family was together somewhere else.

I looked at the time: 8 PM.  I was already half an hour late for home group, but it was worth it just to get a chance to check-in with my Dad.  “Dad, I’ve got to start heading to home group.  Can I just pray for us really quickly?”  I started the engine of my car, switched to speaker, and began to pray and drive.  I lifted up the sadness and the worry, I lifted up the way and timing of his return as God would have it, and I asked for guidance for myself as I led that night’s Bible study on Ephesians 3:14-21.

After I finished, my Dad said, “I’m sure you’ll do well tonight.  I know that you know God really well and can understand His Word.”

I smiled.  “Thanks, Dad.  Goodnight.  I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

I put my phone down, and wiped away some stray tears.  I found parking across the street from where we meet and tried to compose myself.  I was simultaneously feeling both bad and good about the phone call.  I definitely felt his distance more keenly, but I was so grateful for his words of encouragement.  It meant a lot to have my Dad affirm me in that way, and moreso, to be the kind of father who prized closeness with, and understanding of, God in his daughter.

I’m normally very, very nervous before leading a study or lesson of any kind, even with the little ones on Sunday mornings.  I was still somewhat nervous last Thursday, but I could also sense a peace present and available for me.  There was an assurance that as long as I stuck to God’s word, He would work His truth out that night.

And I believe He did.

I look forward to posting about that in subsequent posts.  Stay tuned.