Lindsey was consumed with the fear of death, but in turn, God taught her what it meant to live and thrive in love.
Hello. My name is Lindsey.
Someone recently reminded me that it is ok start a conversation by really introducing yourself first, even if we are supposed to live on this weird highway of the twenty-first century where everything is communicated so quickly and concisely. I think that in order for you to better understand me as you read through my writing, it would be helpful to first get a glimpse of myself, and why I am sharing my story with you.
I am quite a smiley face. I am mainly known as a happy-go-lucky person, so many people assume that I have enjoyed a pretty safe, protected life. Around my friend Miranda, I have not had a chance to share my life at a deeper level; however, for some reason, she said that I seemed like a person with a story or two to share. I thank her for being the catalyst of this writing.
Her first request came about six months ago. Ever since then, I started with outlining some high-level overviews of how God had recently blessed me, only to find myself scrapping draft after draft. Although it is true that I have been endlessly blessed in my life, I just felt that there was so much more underneath the surface that I needed to share, if I was going to commit this piece of writing as my testimony. I really wanted to fully convey who God is to me, and how He has shaped me to be who I am today – not just the thick, strong, and all-smiles exterior of mine, but who I truly am inside.
So after six difficult months and half a dozen drafts later, it is with a humble heart that I share with you a little bit about who I really am, along with my journey with God so far.
My Christian faith did not start at birth. I was born into a non-Christian Korean household of four different generations. My great grandmother lived till I was around 12. I was mostly raised by her, by my grandmother, and most substantially, by my grandfather. My dad operated a well-oiled family business that was originally developed by my grandfather while my mom took care of all the household chores for our large family. In the meantime, my grandparents focused on raising my brothers and myself. Looking back, I am not sure if this was the ideal family structure, but regardless, it was how my family was, and it worked.
Let me talk about my grandfather. Oh, grandpa – how I loved thee. It is safe to say that I viewed him as my perfect and almighty god before I knew who God really was. I revered him, feared him and loved him with everything that I had, and everything that I was.
My grandfather was a man of excellent virtues – ethical, intelligent, respectful, honest, sociable, loyal… you can probably throw any positive adjective at him and the definition would’ve fit his character. I am not saying this because he was my grandpa – he really was a great man and was known as one throughout our whole town. He took care of everything and everyone in our household, as well as our extended family. He also exercised his power of influence and charisma to make positive impacts on the local communities. Therefore, my immediate and extended families thrived economically and socially under his control.
My grandfather took a special interest in me, and he taught me a magnitude of things in comparison to what he offered my siblings or cousins in terms of education and culture. I’m sure that the fact I was the firstborn of his first son helped for him to pick me as his “favorite”, even though I, unfortunately to some, was not a son. Ethics, languages, music, calligraphy, martial arts, math, science, art… you name it, he taught me all. I learned the entire multiplication table, a language and a half, intermediate piano and martial arts skills, the history of many major countries and their great leaders… all well before I entered the first grade. I didn’t mind it – I enjoyed learning. Whatever the class, I pretty much soaked up the lessons like a sponge. Needless to say, the things he taught me I learned to believe as truths within my life.
Discovery of death, and God
Amongst all the good things I learned from my grandfather, there was one thing – yes, just one thing – that I learned from him that simply was not, and is not true. And it had a HUGE impact on my life ever since I was introduced to the idea of it. The subject was the existence of God.
I clearly remember my grandfather telling me that everything in this short life ends in an absolute death, and that there is no such greater being as God. I was probably around 3 when I first heard this from him. His point was to discipline me early on so that I could live each day to the fullest. My grandfather was a great motivator, and this was one of the statements he liked to use as a motivation when I would struggle to wake up in the early mornings to go jogging with him. Just like anything else he taught me, I simply absorbed his statement as the truth, without any doubt.
This is when my initial curiosity of death began. Believing that there was no God was easy – I had never physically seen Him anyway. However, my 3-year-old brain couldn’t process what death really meant and wanted to understand the secular perception that there is an absolute end to all things alive: physical death.
Around the same time, my aunt, who was one of the only two Christians in my extended family, visited for the weekend. She was always full of laughter and energy, and it was such a treat for me to get to spend time with her. She would take me to many fun places and I’d laugh and play all day long with her. One particular day, my aunt decided to bring me to church.
Just as I can vividly recall my grandfather’s first speech about death today, I can also clearly remember that day when I walked through the beautiful garden of that church, where it was filled with the charming scent of roses. I curiously walked around the church, passing by a wooden cross where a delicately sculptured Jesus Christ was hung on. I eventually made my way inside the church building and was immediately captured by the warmth of the place. The church building was not warm in temperature; it was actually rather chilly. My feet were cold from standing on the wooden floor bare-feet, as wearing shoes inside the church was not allowed. Despite my physical sense of the cold room, I still felt there was something that was keeping the place so warm. And I began to wonder where this warmth came from.
As I cautiously browsed through the corners of that rather mysterious place, perhaps searching for that warm, I suddenly felt this click inside my heart. That something clicked inside me. Right there, right then, I knew that the something that I felt… was God. I could tell that this God was very powerful. In fact, this God was so powerful that He could control the warmth of my heart.
At this point, I didn’t know how to process anything else – my brain hadn’t been exposed to anything “Christian” yet, and although the sights I saw in that church weren’t out of the ordinary – the garden, the wooden chairs, the people within my community… in the midst of such familiarity, I discovered and felt something completely new within my heart: there was a God.
This is where and when my Christian faith began.
Sadly, I was not equipped to grow in this new found belief of a God. I was too young to know how to increase my understanding of God, His gift of eternal life against death, and salvation through Jesus Christ. More importantly, I didn’t even know what it meant to learn about our God or grow in my faith. There was simply no one around to “raise” me in my Christianity, especially since my aunt had gotten married shortly after and moved further away. So instead of learning about God as a “normal” kid who grew up in a Christian family, I found myself in a deep and lonely pit of confusion each time my grandfather would try to motivate me to do something productive with his “death preaching.”
In order to seek understanding of these two clashing concepts of eternal God versus mortality, I tried out a few things. One, I snuck out of my house on Sundays to attend church. My grandfather, who was extremely against the concept of God and Jesus Christ, often tracked me down and dragged me out of the church, yelling at every member of the church as he felt necessary. However, I managed to find clever ways to attend church and Sunday school as much as possible and eventually got baptized in secret.
Two, I mimicked death in order to understand what it must feel like to die. I genuinely wanted to understand the concept of death because I was so stuck between the two opposing schools of thought. Perhaps I had wanted to prove one side over the other. Perhaps I was simply a weird child (after all, I was only 3 when I started exploring this concept). I don’t really know why. Regardless, I’d follow many funeral ceremonies around my neighborhood, sometimes even to grave sites, wondering things like, ‘So, that lady I used to chat with is nothing but a stiff log laying inside that casket now. What would that be like? How will she decompose? How long will it take before her body completely disintegrates? Will her soul ever be alive again? What if so? What if the soul wants to live again but can’t? Will her soul feel trapped? Forever? What exactly is forever?’ Other times, I would search out a dark corner behind a closet or inside a tall, bulky piece of furniture, lay there still, and hold my breath until it was no longer physically bearable. I experimented with the feeling of death. Yes, I was that curious.
One day, God answered my curiosity, even though I didn’t specifically ask Him for it. When I was around 8, while reading a storybook, the two opposing thoughts of death versus eternity with God finally clashed. It’s hard to explain, other than describing it as a click of understanding in my brain. I was reading this one particular chapter where the character’s mom passed away from sickness and there was an illustration on that page that described a falling star above the house where she lived in. At that exact moment as I was observing the illustration and processing what it meant, I felt, physically, the concept of death. I felt, emotionally, the extent of one’s physical ending. I saw, visually, everyone’s body eventually turning into a handful of ashes. The fear swept through my entire body. I screamed like I had never screamed before.
At that moment, the knowledge that was on the surface of my brain finally penetrated underneath to my very core. I realized that everything on Earth lives a temporary life. And when that given period of time is over, the living become dead and its physical components perish along with it. The fact that I wouldn’t be alive anymore in the year 2095 (probably sooner) took away my breath in fear. The fact that I wouldn’t be able to think again, or smile again, or put on my favorite pair of shoes again, made me sweat incessantly. The fact that my tiny body would become nothing but a handful of soil made me scream in complete helplessness.
I tried to explain this extremely scary feeling I had begun to feel about death to my parents and grandparents, but no one seemed to think that it was a big deal. So in the absence of help or understanding, I could only rely on God by simply thinking about Him, along with that warm feeling that I had felt at church, whenever the fearful thought of death would haunt my mind. Every time I thought about Him, I felt protected, thankful, and relieved. This is how I realized that God loved me, and that I in turn loved Him. It was a childish love that I discovered on my own, but it was how I learned to cope with and overcome my private fear of death.
“In the name of Jesus…”
A few months into my struggle, I had the opportunity to study under a teacher who left me with a gift that would last a lifetime. She was my second-grade substitute teacher and was supposed to teach us a relatively random and boring subject that I can no longer recall. Noticing that almost none of us were paying full attention in class, she decided to share a story with us that was refreshing, shocking and touching – especially for me, given the state of my heart and mind at the time. She talked about how calling on Jesus was the key to conquering her fear. She taught us that all fears came from Satan, and that each of us had the power to conquer all things evil by saying out loud a short prayer: “In the name of Jesus, Satan, go away!”
It was a short sentence, a short prayer; however, it was a powerful one and I took it to heart. I have never forgotten that prayer ever since, and I still recite it today, every time I feel like I am losing it, whether it’s about death or something else. More importantly, that was the day my journey of conquering curiosity, fear and trauma of death began.
There were times that the journey was more like a battle. I was often possessed by guilt for my sin of fear. There were times that the journey was nothing but a big question mark. There were times that I felt so helpless with no relief in sight. Then there were times that the journey seemed manageable and easy.
It has truly been a long road to achieving freedom from my fear, and I don’t dare to declare an absolute victory just yet. But after facing all shapes and levels of adversity, I have come to realize the one thing that empowers me be who I am today: Love. Since the moment I fell in love with God, He taught me how to conquer my fears through constantly pulling closer to Him, and being confident in His love for me. And in turn, I realize that my calling in this life is to teach others about God’s amazing love that drives out all fear and evil.
Teach, and be taught
To this day, I thank my aunt for bringing me to church that one day. Actually, the title photo of this testimony is a photo of my aunt, uncle, and myself at a local park. In the background is a view of the small church where I first connected with God.
I also thank my second-grade substitute teacher for teaching me that one simple prayer in the midst of my struggles. She probably had no idea what that short teaching meant to me. After a few more brief discussions with her in the school hallway, I didn’t see her around anymore. I later found out that she had died in a car accident. I know without a doubt that she was an angel sent to me by God. I never had the chance to properly thank her. Things like this are the reason why I try so hard to immediately express my thanks to people I am blessed to cross paths with. The regret of a missed opportunity to give thanks is just too heavy.
The story I shared is only one of the many experiences that I have been blessed with. Some experiences are positive, others not so easy to go through. The thing is, the more difficult a situation is, the more strength I get to build in my love towards God. With each obstacle I face, I am learning more and more about myself, and about God, and about His love for me, His confidence in me. It is really quite amazing to discover just how strong God believes His daughter is!
Moreover, the experiences of learning and knowing the impact of each learning experience in my life have led me to reserve a special place in my heart towards teaching. God has blessed me to experience His love in many unique places, so that I could wholeheartedly understand how important it is to teach and be taught. Understanding this with all of my heart translates into compassion for those who may currently be in difficult situations without knowing where to turn for help. This is my motivation for serving through teaching. The humbling thing for me is that each time I am put in a situation to teach, God grants me with a gift to learn from that given situation. I often wonder when Jesus said, “Go and make disciples”, whether His hidden intention was for us to learn more than what we teach, so that in the end we all grow closer to God.
Sometimes I have to remind myself to pause, smell the roses, and just soak in how great His art is in this world… just as I got to enjoy the wonderful garden along the way of finding God for the first time at church. God has continually blessed me through my commitment to learning more about Him, and teaching others about His love. Some examples of blessings in my life are found within my own family – Everyone has become a baptized Christian, including my grandfather shortly before his death. I can not stop praising our Heavenly Father about this! Other blessings are found in friendships that I know will last a life time, and other families who inspire me to continually prepare for my own Godly family. It is a pure joy to witness the simple, sometimes momentary relationships and experiences that plant seeds and send water to our souls… and potentially somewhere down the line blossom into miracles within the hearts and lives of those around me, as well as within my own.
Disney’s Cinderella famously sang, “A dream is a wish your heart makes”. I am a big-time dreamer and a proponent of following the heart. But it’s hard to follow through with the dreams and visions that God has put on my heart when so many times I am bogged down by fear… when I was younger, perhaps by fear of death. But now days, fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of struggle. Every day, there is a new fear that pops up, a new struggle to deal with.
Thankfully, I’ve also learned that God has so much more intended for us than to let fear consume our hearts, souls, and minds. I have learned to find my confidence in Him, and in His unconditional love for us, knowing that He will always be there to protect and guide me. So my friend, don’t give up, and don’t give in to your fears. Try. Fail. Learn. Dream. And never, ever stop repeating… with Him at the center of it all. Keep smiling, and keep trying. Pause and take breaks if you need to, but never stop pursuing what you know is good and right. If you keep on believing and staying in His love, the dream that you wish will come true.
This is the ultimate confession of a smiley face: my deepest fear does not stand in the way of my Love, my God.
This draft was getting near completion, yet I was just not finding that last bit of courage to send the draft out to my friend Miranda. Quite honestly, I had been embarrassed to let my vulnerable side known to public. In the midst of this hesitation, God graciously gave me that last bit of reassurance in my heart that I needed to share this writing. How? A conversation with someone who also struggles with the concept of death. After talking with that person, my hesitation about sharing my story was subsided by this great need I felt – the need to reach out to those whom I could be of help for. If you are struggling, I’d like to offer my time to listen to you, and perhaps share some of my experience in more detail. I can be reached at: [email protected]. I realize that these few thousand words will only be a starting point in opening myself up to you. My prayer is that if there is anyone who can relate to my journey in any way, God will use this written introduction to connect me with you, so that I could encourage you, and so that we could walk this journey together. I know that a journey is never easy walking alone.
Lindsey can be found at South Bay Church, located at 4176 Lick Mill Boulevard, Santa Clara, CA 95054. She has also led a young adults group there, so if you want more information about the church or getting connected within the church, feel free to email her!