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Sunday, August 17, 2008

292,000,000 Breaths

I’ll be 32 years old on Monday the 18th. It’s kind of funny to me that, on my birthday, I often get surprises, cards, presents, cake and other treats. Being born wasn’t my doing (but you can still keep the surprises, cards, presents, cake, and other treats coming). I read somewhere that we take approximately 25,000 breaths in one day. If I did the math correctly, that means 292,000,000 breaths for me on Monday! A friend of mine who is a doctor told me that concentrating on her breathing makes her more aware of God because she knows what a miracle even one breath is. Psalm 150:6 says, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!” My 32 years of breath have given me many, many, reasons to praise the Lord. Here is some of my testimony to that:

For as long as I can remember, I loved Jesus. However, for my early life, I had more of a “religious” understanding of Christianity. My understanding of faith was more about doing than believing, and my concept of the Christian walk was more about refraining from “bad behavior” rather than living in a relationship with Jesus. My belief about God (doctrine) was not sound in that it did not come from Scripture. Instead, much of what I believed about God came from the world around me, my culture, my upbringing, my desires and my own opinions.

Mostly, my “relationship” with God was based on escaping pain. I would pray and read the Bible when I experienced hardship as a child. God often met me in these times and comforted me in His grace. When my interaction with God wasn’t based on escaping pain, it was based on fear- not fear as in respect for or adoration for God- but fear of the consequences of not being good enough for others and for God. I cared a lot about what people thought of me. I wanted to be well liked by everyone, which meant cool enough, pretty enough, smart enough, fun enough, etc. I also wanted to “win the approval” of God. I can even remember as a child thinking, “If I do this and this and don’t do this and this, God will like me more”. On the whole, I thought I was doing a pretty good job at pleasing God. I even thought I was in the running for being the “best little girl” in God’s eyes. Looking back, I can see how I had such sinful and wretched pride, even as a small child!

Right after 8th grade, we moved from Everett to Edmonds. One of the neighbor girls invited me to her youth group. The youth pastor asked us to close our eyes and to raise our hands if we knew that we were going to heaven after we died. I found that question to be so offensive. How could I know if God would decide to let me into heaven?! It sounded so presumptuous to me. Yet, that question also nagged at my heart. I felt that I had somehow let God down by not raising my hand. A couple weeks later, I attended a Billy Graham Crusade with my family. Rev. Graham preached the gospel. He read John 3:16 and all of a sudden, I got it: “For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him, will not perish but will have eternal life.” I had memorized the verse in Sunday school as a young child, but I did not understand what it meant until the Holy Spirit opened my eyes that night. God loved me, He sent Jesus to die for me, and I believed in Him, therefore I would live eternally with Him! Nothing else mattered! I went down to the front floor of the Kingdome during the alter call. A woman prayed with me and gave me some literature to read. I stayed up all night reading the material and reading the book of John. I confessed that I was a sinner. I acknowledged God’s perfect holiness and righteousness. I realized I could never be acceptable in God’s perfect presence because of my sin, except that Jesus took my sin and paid the price with it so that I could have fellowship with God. This was such a liberating and freeing time in life. I read the Bible and God taught me through it.

This immediately changed my life in so many ways. First of all, I had a relationship with God! I actually conversed with Him through Scripture and prayer regularly. I actually wanted to have these conversations all the time- not just to escape pain or out of fear. I actually began to treasure God as an end in Himself. I enjoyed Him! This also had practical effects in how I lived my life. I became much less shy, as I was learning to be less self obsessed. I became more outgoing because I knew I was free. My heart was changing on so many things. Some changes were instantaneous, and other changes were slow to come, and many are still coming.

When I started high school, I became more outgoing as I grew in my faith. I was active in school and church activities, and I was learning more and more about God everyday. However, I still never felt comfortable in church. Church as I had experienced it so far had a fake element to it- others seemed fake & I felt fake- like I could not be myself or be honest about my struggles in church and with Christians. I felt more comfortable around non-Christians.

I started college at UW in 1994. My parents allowed me to stay in the dorms. This was a pretty big change for me, since my parents were very protective of us. I was not allowed to stay out past 9 pm in high school. All of a sudden, I was going to have a lot of freedom. My “randomly” selected freshman roommate happened to be a solid Christian girl, Rebecca, with whom I soon became best friends. We lived on a co-ed dorm floor with men’s and women’s clusters. Our entire dorm floor was filled with really nice people, mostly non-Christians. Despite my fears, I quickly made a lot of friends- many of whom were all the people who lived on our floor.

This boy, Kristian, lived on our floor too. He was an interesting guy. I met him through a mutual friend when a group of us got into a debate about one of the endless topics we talked about together. From that day on, Kristian and I talked (okay, usually argued) about everything. In fact, if it weren’t for our mutual interest in debating various topics, I doubt we ever would have become friends. We were about as different as could be. I was a Christian; he was a very passionate atheist who hated Christianity and Christians. I grew up sheltered; he grew up with quite a bit of freedom. I hung out with the smart kids in high school; he hung out with the party crowd. He was kind of aloof, I loved being around people. I went home on the weekends in college; he spent most of his time partying, getting drunk, and meeting girls.

Ironically, this “bad boy atheist” had a huge impact on my faith. He always wanted to talk about God and rarely wanted to talk about anything else. He hated God, yet he constantly asked me questions asked me difficult questions about what I believed. As a result, I began to question, study, and grow in my faith. Sometime around my sophomore or junior year, I started occasionally attended young hip church called “Mars Hill Church” in the evenings with Rebecca after returning from my weekends at home. It was the first church I had been to without my family. Throughout college, Rebecca and I prayed for Kristian, but I am not sure how much I believed that he would become a Christian. He was probably the last person I could imagine who would ever become a Christian. Rebecca used to say that if Kristian ever became a Christian, he would be a pastor- just because it would be such a radical transformation and because he was such a passionate person.

Throughout college, Kristian and I talked for hours at a time on a daily basis- in person and on the phone. Our friends used to joke with Kristian and me about how we were going to get married someday since we spent so much time talking with each other. I knew I would never date him because I knew it was wrong to date a non-Christian, but I was attracted to him. There was something about him- he was a person of great depth in thought and in love for those he chose to love. As I got to know him, I gradually became attracted to him for many good things- for his intelligence, for how articulate he was, for how much he loved his family and his close friends, for his fierce loyalty, for his passion, and even for how he handled crisis moments. I remember one time in college when a friend of ours had come back from partying (with Kristian and others). She was very depressed and suicidal. Although he was drunk at the time, Kristian de-escalated the situation and calmly talked her through the crisis. Looking back, I can also recognize that I was attracted to him for many worldly things- his image, his charm, his looks, etc. Internally, I constantly battled my attraction to him versus my desire to honor God and be with a man who loved Jesus. Unfortunately, I lost this battle many times, which dishonored God and compromised my witness to Kristian and others.

At the end of college, I didn’t know what to do with my life. I was a philosophy major. My parents expected me to continue on in school and to have some sort of career. In theory, I wanted to get married and have kids someday, but I didn’t give it much thought since I had never even had a boyfriend. I decided I wanted to do something that would be intellectually challenging and that would allow me to serve God by helping people. I chose law. I knew I didn’t want to work in the corporate world. I was really interested in international human rights law. Yet, looking back, I know there was something in this decision that reflected my desire to be “somebody,”and my evaluation of what that meant came from the world and not from God.

In 1998, I moved to Washington, D.C. to attend American University for law school. Kristian and I kept in touch a little bit in law school. During Christmas break 2000, I came home to Seattle. Kristian and I went to a New Year’s party at the house of one of our friends. We ended up getting into a huge fight- mostly because the “friends who want more than friends but can’t” thing was not working. We decided it was best if we did not talk anymore. Also, as someone who struggles with people pleasing, this was hard. I hate broken relationships. Kristian and I didn’t speak for a year and a half.

However, this time apart was God’s mercy to me. The Lord worked in my heart to convict me of my sin in all of this and He used this time to grow me closer to Him. I sinned by putting my fleshly desires above loving God and loving people. I sinned in making romantic relationships in general and Kristian in specific, an idol that displaced my love and loyalty to God. I sinned in my witness to non-Christians, including Kristian and all of our friends, by showing them that God was not my treasure. I sinned against my friend Rebecca who tried to lovingly point out my sin and discourage me from my foolishness. I had a warped and sinful view of the purpose of the romantic relationship between a man and a woman as God had designed it- in that I viewed it as only for my comfort and pleasure rather than as a means to glorify God by reflecting His image and growing in sanctification. I had a warped and sinful view of what to look for in a man, as my desires were shaped by pop culture and my flesh, not by Scripture. I behaved sinfully in my dress and my behavior toward boys in general, and toward Kristian specifically. My conviction and repentance in these areas really started in law school, although God is still revealing to me the depth of my depraved heart and behavior.

Despite my sin, God was so faithful in granting me repentance and restoration, and in causing me to grow in the knowledge of Him. In law school, I began to grow in my faith through studying the Bible, attending a gospel preaching church, and having Christian fellowship marked by praying together, confessing to one another, spurring each other on in Christ. I also attended a women’s Bible Study through my church. One day, about a year and a half since I had last talked with Kristian, I was at this women’s Bible Study and I realized it was Kristian’s birthday. I had the women in the group pray for him- for his salvation and protection. I had no idea what was going on in his life. I sent him a birthday card with a Bible verse in it. After putting it in the mail, I did not give it much thought. I had made peace about not ever seeing Kristian again. I was very shocked to come home one day soon afterwards to hear a voicemail message from Kristian. I was afraid to call him back because I did not want to open up those wounds and make myself vulnerable to entering into sin with him again. After praying about it, I did decide to call him back. It was strange to talk with him. We caught up on each other’s lives, but we had never been good at small talk. The conversation got deep quickly. Kristian sounded worse than I had ever heard him. He had finally hit rock bottom, which wasn’t too surprising given that he constantly pondered life’s questions without believing in God. From that point, we started talking regularly and e-mailing. I continued to pray for him.

As law school graduation was on the horizon, I took a trip to London with a friend to celebrate. I was in an internet café in London, when I got an e-mail from Kristian that said that he wanted to go to church. I literally almost fell off the barstool upon which I was sitting! Mars Hill Church was the only church I felt comfortable in suggesting to him. He did not end up going, but when I was home in Seattle for Easter vacation, he decided to go to Good Friday service with me at Mars Hill. The service was held in the old Earl building and was very dark. Pastor Mark sat up at the front reading the crucifixion story in a deep husky voice. The music was dark. It was the first time Kristian had been in a church since he was a kid. It was hard to tell what he thought about it. He didn’t say much. As we walked out, I told him that Good Friday was not the end of the story. Even that night, I could tell that something had changed about him. There was a brokenness about him. There was a lessening of his pride and arrogance, and his heart was soft and humble. That night, I gave him the Message translation of the Bible and a few other books.

A couple weeks later when I was back in D.C., I received a phone call from Kristian. He had read some of the Message, and he was moved by it. We continued to talk. I prayed for a Christian man to come into his life to walk beside him and to mentor him. I knew that we had a complicated history and I did not want to fall back into that mess. God was very gracious in guarding my heart at this time. Kristian met a guy at work named Drew, and they became friends. Drew was a Christian and he going through some transition in his life as well. He agreed to go with Kristian to Mars Hill. The two of them started attending Mars Hill together and, Kristian heard the story of Jesus washing Judas’ feet. Hearing about the radical love that would allow Jesus to wash the feet of the “friend” who Jesus knew would betray Him changed Kristian’s life. Krisitan’s heart was captured by Jesus. It was amazing to experience the change in him. From then on, he devoured Scripture- reading books of it at a time. His desires and demeanor changed dramatically. It was like witnessing Jesus turn water into wine- to me I was no less miraculous. Jesus had really performed a miracle in Kristian.

When I moved back to Seattle in May 2001, Kristian and I and some other friends started attending Mars Hill. Another one of our college friends began attending Mars Hill and he was saved as well. A group of us friends spent that summer studying the Bible together. Kristian and I spent a lot of time reading at the waterfront or in a café. He loved to read Scripture, even as he actively struggled with doubt. He was in love with the person of Jesus. It was so liberating for him. By the end of the summer, we both knew that we were best friends and that we had feelings for each other. This time it was very different. God had redeemed our relationship. Kristian was the only guy with whom I had ever felt comfortable- the only guy I had ever kissed, and now He loved Jesus! He loved Jesus so passionately! We dated for about 8 months before we got engaged. He was my first “boyfriend”.

Marriage has been good, but not so easy- especially for the first couple years. I have no doubts that God brought Kristian and me together. But, as Pastor Mark said when he married us- “There is only one problem with marriage- the man and the woman.” That was such a prophetic statement! Marriage has given us both a greater glimpse of how truly sinful we are and how much we need Jesus.

Looking back on my life, from childhood, to my relationship with Kristian in college, to law school, to dating and being engaged to Kristian, to marriage, and to this season of our lives of struggling with next steps, I can see areas of sin and foolishness in my heart back then that I did not recognize at the time. Many of these were manifestations of the sins I named earlier. I regret my sin because it was a hurdle to the richness of walking with God. But, the nice thing about looking back is that I see God’s grace so clearly in it. He has continued to reveal to me in greater detail how sinful I am, and how gracious He is to forgive me- which makes me recognize His goodness, and which makes me love Him more and more. It also gives me hope, as I see how He has delivered me from sin and I know He will continue to convict me of sin I have in my life now and He will continue to deliver me from it!

I am so blessed to be my husband’s wife. Some things about Kristian have not changed. He is still passionate, intelligent, fiercely loyal, and still hates “small talk”. However, in most ways, I can hardly imagine that he is the same Kristian I knew in college. I know it can only be a result of God’s tremendous power and grace. It did not take long for me to see that Kristian was called to be a pastor. It is so obvious. So many others have also confirmed that call in his life as well. Kristian’s passion is the gospel. He lives that out through loving me and through preaching. He has an extraordinary love for scripture and an amazing gift for understanding scripture and teaching it. He has taught me so much about the Bible and what it means to be a Christian. He used to hate public speaking, yet now he speaks with ease and passion when preaching the gospel to a crowd of people. That is simply God’s work in Kristian. There is no other explanation for it. Kristian also has a pastor’s heart for loving the people in his care. He is deeply invested in the spiritual health and the lives of the people who are under his care. I definitely see this in our relationship.

We have so many dreams about ministry and family. There have been a lot of seeming “dead ends” and heartaches along this path. It would be a lie if I said I was not nervous about the future. Yet, even looking back at my life as I have just done, I can see God’s hand guiding us every step of the way. I know all the steps along the path He has led us down have had the purpose of showing us more of Him, of enthralling us more with Him, and of causing us to reflect more of Him. This gives me great hope for what lies ahead. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:36


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your heart in this post. Loved reading your story and look forward to the stories to come.

I am learning a lot from your blogs. Please keep them coming!!

You are an amazing woman, full of wisdom, kindness and compassion. There is NONE other like you. You were uniquely and wonderfully created, and we are praising God for your life today. Happy Birthday!

keisha brown said...

Amen. What a beautiful story of God's redemptive work and blessing.

God is definitely getting the glory through the sharing of your testimony.

Love you dearly and THANK YOU for sharing your heart Bina.


Meg said...

Bina, I know this is an old post, but I wanted to let you know how happy I am, still, for you and Kristian. As you know, my life is so different from both of yours, but I truly believe that all of us work hard to care for others. I'm so glad you have Kristian with you to do so.

Bina said...

Thanks, Meghan. It's cool that you got to see our story together begin. :) Love, peace & blessings to you and yours.