Another In the Fire

“I Don’t Measure Up” 

Definition of” worthless” adjective; without worth; of no use, importance, or value; good-for-nothing.

Have you ever looked back on your life and wonder how you ended up where you are now? When I look at my past and where it led me today, it overwhelms me to see how every season has played a crucial part in shaping me into who I am today. I struggled with low self-esteem all my life. This feeling of inadequacy resulted in those sick-in-the-guts feelings I have to deal with all the time. My struggle with self-confidence made me feel and think that I was not suitable for anyone.

Abandonment and identity issues. 

When I was 11 years old (Grade 5), it was the first time in my life, I had experienced the pain of separation. We lost our house because my parents could not pay their mortgage. I found myself separated from my parents, who lived closer to my dad’s parents, while my sisters and I stayed with my mom’s parents. On weekends was the only time my parents and I would see each other.

My family wouldn’t talk about what had happened. I didn’t understand why we had to be separated. I had a deep yearning to understand whether my parents ever wanted me? If they did, why are we not together? 

In my second year of High School, I acted out my bad feelings by getting into a lot of trouble: drinking, smoking weeds, joyriding (driving while under the influence), and fights. I think this was when I medicated my emptiness, the way I process the pain I felt. The stress I felt. I also developed stomach ulcers. Probably from stress. Because I was getting into trouble, my parents recommended that I live with my uncle (My dad’s brother.)

Psychologists say that when a foster child first enters care, a critical attachment or bond has already been disrupted. Yet, another unexpected change gives birth to my life. 

At the start of my third year in HS, I remember throwing up inside my dad’s car on my way to my dad’s brother’s house. My first night in my uncle’s house, I rolled myself in a fetal position and cried myself to sleep. I remember one instance when I was depressed for days. I cried and cried and wished it was nighttime to sleep (because I didn’t think about how hurt I was when I slept). As soon as my eyes opened up in the morning, the pain would come rushing back, and I would drag myself through the day. I began to hate my friends. I was jealous that they could be happy while I was left hurt and angry. I questioned, What is wrong with me?

In high school, I had developed psychiatric problems that include anxiety disorders, depression, and thought disorders like paranoia. I imagined that everyone was repelled by who I am. 

I hated my personality because I thought I was too quiet. I felt that the only people who had friends were the outgoing ones, so I tried to be outgoing. When I forced myself to talk, I always embarrassed myself, which caused me to beat myself up for it. My thoughts overwhelmed me, and I thought there was no good thing about me. I was always worried about what other people thought of me. I couldn’t walk by anyone without a wave of self-destructive thoughts crushing me. (I thought they must be thinking about how ugly or fat I am.) Everywhere I went, I felt judged and felt that I had to prove myself to everyone. 

I thought I was worthless, a walking disaster. I had assumed that I wouldn’t be accepted. I was convinced that who I am, me, made me ugly. But in reality, most of my classmates didn’t see me that way. They like me. I would feel good about them for a while, but I slowly reverted to covering them up. It was easier that way. I went back to believing the lies I had told myself: No one likes me, and I have no value. By the end of my junior year, a destructive cycle had run its course. I learned not to hope for or trust relationships. Attachment and bonding are regarded as harmful and dangerous. I’ve developed a mechanism that has chosen detachment. Those seasons represented an orphan soul filled with feelings of worthlessness, rejection, and sadness. 

But God had a plan for me; he always had a vision for me…

It was in my senior HS when I heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. An uncle from my mother’s side talked to me about Creation, The Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. He coerced me to listen to the story. I gave him an hour to speak, and after that, I had asked him not to bother me again with his Religion.

But see, God still pursued me even in my stubbornness. My dad’s brother’s wife started a Bible study at their house. My auntie gave my first Bible, a black leather-bound Living Translation Bible. God positioned all the scenes in my life to get me to start reading the Bible on my own. I became curious and saw myself in the stories. It was difficult to stop reading.

(I felt God was leading me to situations that would help me get to know him better)

One Summer day, after HS graduation, I would read John 14, 15, 16. In these chapters in John, I heard Jesus tell me, “You have a home, and I am preparing it for you. I will never leave you. I love you; remain in my love.”

Jesus’ words in John 14:2-3 and John 14:18-20 tells me:.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; also believe in me. In my Father’s house, there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I would go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may also be. I will come back and take you to be with me.”

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Those words of Jesus I would cling to as a promise and would change my life forever. Little did I know that God had a different plan. He spoke to me in a profound way that year, and I gave my life to Christ. Yes, I gave my life over to Christ – believing the promise of a better life.

Coming To An Empty House 

After graduating from high school, my parents and I were reunited. This was the year that was supposed to be the start of my happy moment, but that would not come. I was living with them but remained a gaping hole in my heart. Woven into my being an ache to be known and a longing to be welcomed. 

I remember a day when mom started scolding me for being sick. She told me that I was thin (I wish I were that thin now). Still, I tried to make an emotional connection with her. Since she was a University professor, I would ask her for help with my school work. But she was stressed out and impatient with me all the time. I didn’t know why she was behaving as such as I was her son. I felt guilty about being angry at mom. 

After a year and a half of living with them, my mom’s health started deteriorating. One morning, I was woken by my dad’s yelling. “Jojo, help me carry your mom to the car.” I carried her weak body, but I was emotionally numb. I felt like I had taken a tranquilizer, unable to respond to her needs. At this time, my depression was replaced by coldness, a lack of caring. “It doesn’t matter! What’s the use? Who cares anymore? I don’t.”

I went to school that day to take my final exams. I should have stayed with her. I was not able to talk to her before she passed away. I didn’t forgive myself for not abiding by her side. 

She wrote me a love letter, though, just a month before she died. In her letter, she apologized for not demonstrating love towards me. She expressed that we, my father, and my other siblings, would vocalize our love to each other – and to start saying, “I love you” more often. Giving hugs. Be affectionate. I later learned after her death that she began attending Christian services.

Sometimes home isn’t 4 walls, it’s 2 eyes and a heartbeat. A home without love is just a house. Love, practically speaking, enables us to share together that life. It is the cement of love that binds together those living stones that are being built into a spiritual house. Love is the ligament that binds the members into one body. And though our individuality and uniqueness are important in the functioning of the home, it is love that gives unity to the home and makes that functioning effective.

Trying To Fill My Empty Heart

My dad remarried again, and I moved to the US with my dad. I brought with me not only my faith but all the guilt and loneliness. 

My first year in the US was not comfortable. My step mother’s family would make fun of my faith. Things felt uneasy, and I had a sense of unwelcomed. If I can be honest with you, there were days when I asked myself if God cared about me.

“God, if you are real, please show me.” I was desperate. Hopeless. My life was a mess, and I figured I’d give God a chance. If God even existed, that is. So I prayed. And waited. And looking for signs of God. My thoughts and heart were filled with a desire for someone who would help fill my heart’s emptiness. 

I had an idea that maybe I just need a relationship. Perhaps a girlfriend or a wife. Perhaps that is the solution. I had prayed for someone who had a missionary heart – and why not? Missionaries love God more than their comfort and happiness. She would love me as Jesus does. 

There were no answers written in the sky. But slowly, God brought people and circumstances. God did answer my prayer, and met two godly women who had a heart for missions beyond any doubt. I married one of them. 

This God whom I had heard about was indeed real. He had called me out of darkness into light. And my world would never be the same again.

An Orphan Once Again 

In the summer of 2013, my heart would break again because my wife had sought that we get a divorce. The separation almost cost me my life. I thought of committing suicide. Thoughts about jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge entered my mind. But the pain that I was experiencing was no match for His grace. Those suicidal thoughts escaped my mind. Day and night, I would call out for God’s mercy. It was an affliction, a burden so heavy that I lack the strength to carry it. The pain was so great that my body would shake … not able to do my work. 

For the first six months after the separation, I would plea to God and pray non-stop in my room; I would be on my knees and with my arms stretched out, begging God to remove my guilt, shame, and pain. To help myself get my mind off the situation, I would go to Church daily at 5 AM reading scriptures followed by prayer with my pastor and other men. I would try to fight my pain with worship songs to focus my attention on God rather than the problem. 

Then one evening in March 2014, God invited me to go out to watch the sunset at Land’s End. He said to me, the sunsets, and tomorrow it rises again. This was the year I discovered I had the gift of photography. 

The times when I encountered God and sensed his presence were all borne out of pain. With each loss, he has pulled me closer to Himself and shown me the depth of his comfort. The more profound the sorrow, the more profoundly he draws near.

I started going to Celebrate Recovery. I know how much it meant to me to talk to others who had walked similar paths. They offered advice and insight; they understood the unique sorrows of my particular trial and provided evidence that healing was indeed possible. 

In the pit, sometimes I doubted that. I wondered if I’d ever make it through. I questioned if the aching would ever stop. I wasn’t sure if I would ever laugh again. But just talking to fellow sufferers gave me hope for the future. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will never walk alone.

Much of my life can feel like we’re waiting on something…Waiting for my prayers to be answered … I don’t like to wait. I want immediate results and solutions to my problems. I grow weary in seasons of waiting and ask myself, “Does God even hear me?” 

But I found out God answers my questions if I am honest about my feelings. God is working in my waiting. God does His most significant work in me in times of waiting. And in the waiting, God gives us his greatest gift, Himself. 

Isaiah 60:22 says, “When the time is right, I the Lord, will make it happen” (NLT). 

I can hold tightly to the truth that God’s timing is perfect. And when I am tempted to lose trust in God’s ways, I hold on to His words, “‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the Lord. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine'” Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT). His ways are greater than what we can hope or dream (Ephesians 3:20). I may not understand what God is doing, but I can trust God’s timing in the middle of my seasons of waiting.

After my divorce, I came to a realization. I knew God was uncovering painful truths about me, namely:

  1. That there are places in me that I trust no one, not even a good and perfect heavenly Father; 
  2. That there are broken spaces in my spiritual and emotional makeup in which I choose to live as if I have been completely abandoned by God;
  3. And that I have tried to heal my childhood pain on my terms. God was unpeeling years of self-reliance and wrong thinking. 

And while the Father was surgically repairing me, there was an incredible hope kept rising in my heart. I could feel that Abba Father is calling me to something better. He is calling me to come home. 

He is inviting me to drink of Him as the living water. He is asking me into a profound relationship where I no longer need to think orphan things. His unwavering desire is to Father me through it all.

I Know Who I Am and Whom I Belong 

Between 2015-2018, God brought me to Epic Church SF, where I would get nourishment and healing. God worked on my thought patterns. He would teach me my identity was in Him.

This was the season I stepped into uncertainty with Someone more significant than I – following Jesus. I have left the unfamiliar places that shaped my identity and nursed my heart, and have helped me see who I am in Christ. This season where I declared that I am choosing to be brave. The Devil does not get to be the writer of my story. As in Job’s report, the Devil didn’t have the final word. Jesus is the finisher of my story. 

It was a season to which God calls me, inviting me to step out and follow him. To love. To dream. To plan. To build. He asks me to put my hands to work for his name’s sake, not based upon my expertise or know-how or giftedness. He invites me here, as I speak, based upon who He is Himself.

This was the season where situations stretched my faith in varying degrees. Some are intense, and others are scattered along the spectrum of the great unknown, where my fear runs rampant, and my faith feels small. It’s just what Paul says, “God brings trials into our lives to give us more of himself. Their purpose is that we might not rely on ourselves — not look to ourselves for salvation or hope or joy — but that we might rely on Him.”

Friends, do you believe in a God who wants to make your dreams come true? The Bible is full of dreamers―those who exchanged their old dreams for new ones and those who received unexpected dreams from God that changed the course of history. God’s story is one of overcoming impossible odds: giants falling, seas parting, and walls falling. 

But one of the cruelest tricks of the Devil is that he tempts me and cripples me with my fears. The beautiful thing about what God offers us is when we take those things and offer them to God. Then God turns it around against the Devil and uses it to build His Kingdom. This my sweetest revenge – to offer up my wounds to God and allow Him to do something beautiful with them. 

Knowing that I am known by God, liberates me. No one knows me better than God, and yet no one loves me more than Him. The one who knows me the best is the one that loves me the most. 

The most precious lesson I’ve learned in this season was “How God thinks of me. How He knows me (Psalm 139)” Amid my pain, God’s plan is still good, and His promises remain true. He will deliver it to me. He will free me. He will redeem me (Exodus 6:6), and come what may, He promises to be with me (Isaiah 43:2) in my highs and lows. 

Love cannot be a means to an end. Love does not promise success, power, achievement, health, recovery, satisfaction, peace of mind, fulfillment, or other prizes. Love is an end in itself, a beginning in itself. Love exists only for love. The invitation of love is not a proposal for self-improvement or any other kind of achievement. Love is beyond success and failure, doing well, or doing poorly. There is not even a right and a wrong way. Love is a gift. One can never be proud of being in love. One can only be grateful.

After every trial, I can honestly say that I have come out with a stronger grasp on the truths I’ve always known to be true in my head and needed to live out to believe it in my heart. Sometimes the things we go through leave scars that take time to heal, but they do heal. And the scars remind us of the things we needed (not always wanted) to learn to become more of the masterpiece God always intended us to be.

The now and future 

I’ve met hundreds of people. And out of those people, a few people stand apart from the rest. These are people that I had an encounter with that impacted my life. I can’t imagine how my life would be like without them. All I know is that it would look completely different. These individuals have changed and set my life on a path and direction that I never expected. 

All my life, I wanted to learn how to receive love and how I can give it away entirely without fear. I know the definition of love, but I have not fully experienced it. For me, it was just a four-letter word. 

In May 2019, I started coming to Reality SF. I enter a new room, and I don’t know where to sit—the old ache returns. I’m frantically eyeing the place for a spot, but beautiful, fashionable, and high-achieving people fill every seat in their circled groups. I sat by myself for a minute, fighting back my negative thoughts. I didn’t know why, but I was ashamed. Something was wrong with me. Eventually, I dragged myself to a nearby Church pew, and painstakingly sat myself up. 

Reality’s Newcomer CG was where I discovered my new community, my new family. These people had given me a new understanding, that in knowing the love of my brothers and sisters, I would begin to grasp all the more the love of my heavenly Father. This deepening of love is the real purpose of the dark  night of the soul. 

Psalm 23 says that The Good Shepherd prepared a table for me. I may now take the seat that is always reserved for me at the table, the returning prodigal sitting amongst fellow prodigals.

The dark nights helped me become who I am created to be. I saw that I am not defined by what other people have said or done to me. I am defined by who I am in Christ. Jesus alone can tell me who I am. And he tells me that I am loved. Accepted. Of great worth. I can see the way God has used these seasons in my life to shape me. Through those wounds, he has given me compassion, resilience, and grace. He is exchanging my ashes for beauty as he fulfills his life-changing promise to use my handicap for his glory.

God has taken my dreams and blessed them while I am barely watching: The one who calls me is faithful, and He will do it. (Mark 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:24). 

I am content and have accepted that some people see me as BW and label” boring.” Others see me as colorful and see my journey. 

Goodness Is Waiting To Happen

 My journey from worthless to worthy has taken me through many landscapes. God first had to deal with a distrusting, useless little boy who didn’t want to move from her pitiful lonely spot because he didn’t have anything to contribute to the world.

 But had God has taken all the bad news, and what appears irreparable, seemingly unredeemable. And God says, “Wait until you see what I’m gonna do with this.” 

God had to teach me about surrender to get me to move to that place in my journey where I could feel the warmth of the Son and feel His burning love for me. And finally, after healing my broken bones, He commissions me every day as long as I don’t forget to hold out my hand and cling to His because this journey was never meant to be traveled alone. I don’t know where I’m always going, and I’m not sure exactly what will be there at the end of this road, but I will continue to let Him guide me because I am worthy.

Some of us used to have dreams about what God might have for our lives, but those dreams eroded somewhere along the way. Others of us have a sense of what God’s vision is for our lives, but we can’t seem to close the gap between our dream and our reality. And there are more than a few of us who wonder if this challenging season has eliminated God’s purpose for our lives.

Then thought that God is always with me whether I rise or fall (Ps 139: 7-8). This truth allows me to overcome those thoughts of “I might stuff up”; or “Can I do this?” or “I’m not good enough.” 

All Waiting Children Have a Father

God is the loving Father of all children who have been orphaned. Psalm 68:5 tells us, “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” He aims to show orphans mercy, care, and protection, and because these waiting children are essential to him, they should be essential to us as his Church.

”And When I thought I lost me. You knew where I left me, You reintroduced me to Your love. You picked up all my pieces; Put me back together. You are the defender of my heart.” Lyrics ”Defender”, Jesus Culture

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