I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. — John 14:18
“Your adoptive parents showed you so much love,” I said. “Did that point you toward Jesus? How did you end up becoming a Christian?”
“We were at a beach in Korea, and my daddy asked me if I wanted to be baptized, and I said, ‘Sure, let’s just do it in the ocean.’ So my daddy baptized me.”
“Did you really have faith at that point, or were you trying to please your parents?”
“I loved the Lord as much as I knew how, but I just had so much hurt inside. My problem was that I was scared to show people my pain. If my mommy and daddy saw my pain, I thought they would bring me back to the orphanage. If my teachers saw my pain, they would tell my parents. If my friends saw my pain, they’d tell my parents. I never wanted them to find out about my life as a street kid. I was afraid they’d reject me. That went on until I was about seventeen.”
“What happened then?”
“We had moved to a small town in Indiana, where my father was a pastor, and I was doing everything to deny my Korean heritage. I was the only Asian in high school, and I wanted to be the perfect American girl. I was the homecoming queen and won the citizenship award, yet every night I’d go to bed scared to death I’d be discovered and lose my parents’ love.
“Then the summer before my seventeenth birthday, I was sullen and irritable and withdrawn, and my mom gently confronted me. I stalked off to my bedroom, shut the door, and looked in the mirror. I felt like I was still nothing but a toogee, a piece of trash. I crawled under the covers of my bed.
“A little while later, my dad opened the door, and I heard him call softly, ‘Stephanie?’ He came in and sat next to my bed and said, ‘Your mother and I want you to know that we love you very much, but you seem to have a hard time accepting that love. The time has come for us to release you to God.’
“Now, I was a pastor’s daughter, so I knew the Bible, right? But my dad knew better. He said, ‘Stephanie, can I share with you about Jesus?’ I sort of rolled my eyes and said, ‘Sure.’ He told me to think about Jesus — He knows how I feel, and He is the only one who can help me. And then my daddy left me by myself.
“Until that moment, I only saw Jesus as the Son of God. I knew He had come down to earth, but that night for the first time it dawned on me: He understands me. He walked in my shoes! As a matter of fact, He was sort of a toogee. You know? His daddy — His earthly father — wasn’t His real daddy. He slept in the straw as a child. He was ridiculed and abused. They chased Him and tried to kill Him.
“And it was dawning on me, Oh, that’s what daddy means when he says Jesus understands me. So after my dad left that night, I prayed — but my prayer was not a nice prayer. I said ‘God, if you’re what mom and dad say you are, then do something and do it right now!’ And He did.”
“What did He do?”
“I started crying. I hadn’t cried in years; I hadn’t been able to. In the process of being abused and taunted, I realized that the more I cried, the more pain I would experience. But that night something cold and hard broke inside of me — a barrier between me and God. He finally let me shed tears — and I couldn’t stop them.
“I started wailing, and my mom and dad came into the room. They didn’t say anything. I wouldn’t let them snuggle with me, so my dad held my feet and my mom held my hands and they prayed silently to the Lord. And I had this supernatural intervention.
“Suddenly, it just came to me: Jesus knows me — and He still loves me! He knows all my shame, He knows all my guilt, He knows all my fears, He knows all my loneliness — yet He still loves me. And I’ve never been the same since.
“Before then, when I would hear about God’s love, I always felt it was love for everyone else. He couldn’t love me, right? I was a mistake! He couldn’t love me — I was born out of sin. He couldn’t love me — I’m biracial. I thought you had to have some status in life to be loved. That was so ingrained in me that after I was adopted and my parents talked about the love of God, I still thought, He can’t love me! I was raped. He can’t love me! I was abused. He can’t love me! I have this awful anger inside. He can’t love me! My daddy says I need to forgive, and I just don’t want to.
“But that night came the realization: He… loves… me! He loves me as I am. And that changed me, inside out. It took me many, many more years to let go of certain patterns in my life and to heal. I hated myself for so long. The fact that I could finally look in the mirror and love myself was nothing less than a miracle. It’s God’s grace.
“So these days I have a phrase that I use. For me, I can honestly say there is no event in my life that I am better without. Why? Because everything in my life brought me to Jesus.”
“That’s radical, Stephanie, given all you’ve been through.”
“Maybe so, but that’s what I live on. I counsel a lot of women with abuse in their past — in fact, that’s a large part of my ministry today — and they’re always looking for a finished resolution. Maybe that will happen for some of them — I hope so. But for me, that’s not going to happen until heaven.”
“And when you get there,” I said, “what do you want to ask Jesus?”
Stephanie settled back in her chair. She glanced out the window, where the afternoon sunshine had chased away the Oregon gray, and then she looked back at me.
“You know,” she said, her smile gentle, “some people say they will ask tons of questions when they get to the other side. And that’s fine. But I don’t think that way anymore. I’ve come to realize that when I get to the other side, then I won’t need the answers.”
I nodded. “I think I understand,” I said. “But your story is so completely different from mine that I can’t imagine how you’re able to process it all.”
She took a sip from a cup of coffee on the table next to her. “Maybe we have more in common than you think,” she said.
I wasn’t sure what she meant. In an earlier conversation, in response to her questions about my background, I had mentioned the issues that prompted my exploration of grace, but I still didn’t see the connection she was referring to.
“The Bible talks about orphans, but sometimes it uses the word fatherless,” she said. “It sounds like your father protected and provided for you — believe me, that’s good. You should be grateful for that, as I’m sure you are. But still, a person can be an orphan of the heart.”
An orphan of the heart. I shuddered. Her words penetrated to my core.
“And that’s where God can provide,” she said.
“That’s where grace can come in. As the psalm says, ‘Thou, God, art the helper of the fatherless.’”
Excerpted with permission from The Case for Grace by Lee Strobel, copyright Zondervan 2015.
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