Downtown Cornerstone Blog
Jan 7
2019

Stories of Grace | Weakening My Walls

Stories of Grace

“The Stories of Grace series is intended to capture snapshots of God’s grace and glory amidst our every day lives. They are real stories of real people who have seen the fingerprints of God amidst the ordinary—God’s favorite canvas. Each story is personal, unique and, often, unfinished. Through it all we get glimpses of God’s steadfast love, sufficient grace, and ongoing presence with his people.” 

I am a great builder, I can set up walls without even trying. During the “Greet your Neighbor” time on a Sunday morning, it’s easy for me to put on my best smile and keep conversations at the surface level. With community it’s trickier for me to just pass by, but I often opt to keep quiet during discussions, consuming from others but never contributing myself. 

Recently I’ve had thoughts of how did I become this way? Have I always been this quiet? Was this a part of my personality or have I conditioned myself to be this way? Why do I feel so isolated? Why do I feel like no one knows the real me? Why do I keep myself hidden?

I remember I wasn’t always this way — when I was a little girl, I would smile and be friendly to everyone. I was bold, honest, and carefree, always rushing off to help those in need. But then the painful realities of our broken and sinful world soon set in. It started with finding out that girls who I thought were my friends weren’t really close with me at all and continued with enemies in disguise who caused my peers to turn their backs on me to the point where I was all alone. My mother would often permit me to skip school so I wouldn’t have to face the immense isolation.

From there, self-hatred seeped in whenever someone would leave or abandon me and I would always find faults within myself. Eventually, I learned to protect myself, building up walls around my heart so that the rejection wouldn’t be so painful. Unfortunately, this allowed me to become comfortable with isolation; I had to learn to survive all by myself. I lived this way for years, keeping others at a distance, hiding my true self, keeping quiet. Even though I feared lonely circumstances, I discovered that numbing my heart and feelings was an even more dangerous place to be.

I gave my life to Christ in high school but my relationship with God and others didn’t change drastically until college. I was in a connection group with some girls who really challenged me to be vulnerable and authentic in community and I finally found the friendships I had always dreamed of. This group of women showed me how wonderful it is to know and be known by others. I was in a great time of knowing God as well, and had such an overwhelming sense of joy in the Lord.

At the time, I couldn’t imagine the horrible trial I had to go through my Senior year of college, suffering through a very long season of overwhelming depression. I felt empty inside and as if nothing mattered, this hopelessness again isolated me from my loved ones. My friends couldn’t understand what I was going through and with the best intentions would suggest reading my bible and prayer to help me. I know they meant well, but their suggestions made it seem as if my relationship with God wasn’t good enough and was the cause for my sudden despair. Experiencing apathy and emptiness, I was at my lowest point and I felt my hands slip from clinging to God. 

Amidst this internal turmoil, I re-learned some important truths about God. 

  • We don’t need to desperately cling to God because he has always clung to us.
  • God’s love is steadfast and his faithfulness is awesome.
  • Our feelings muddy the truth that God never leaves us (Psalm 139:7-12).
  • God allows trials so that we can grow in endurance which leads to hope (Romans 5:3-5).

Recently, God has once again been challenging me to be more authentic in my community by confessing my sin, seeking accountability with others, and sharing my testimony. I still catch myself fighting my natural impulse to hide away and protect myself, but God, with his grace and mercy is shattering my carefully constructed walls and inviting me to build something far more beautiful – an authentic biblical community with Himself and others. 

Deleah Pettie, DCC Member

If you are a member with DCC and have a story of grace to share please email info@downtowncornerstone.org

Oct 5
2018

Stories of Grace | How God is Redeeming my Asian American Identity

Community, Stories of Grace

“The Stories of Grace series is intended to capture snapshots of God’s grace and glory amidst our every day lives. They are real stories of real people who have seen the fingerprints of God amidst the ordinary—God’s favorite canvas. Each story is personal, unique and, often, unfinished. Through it all we get glimpses of God’s steadfast love, sufficient grace, and ongoing presence with his people.”

“What’s it like being Asian here?”

I’ve been asked this several times in Seattle, and I still don’t know how to answer this question. I’m an Asian American, and among many other first-generation immigrants, we are often times called “third culture kids,” because we’ve created a third culture among ourselves that is neither truly “Asian” nor truly “American.”

As a result, much of my life has been a quiet tug-of-war, of never quite fitting into the Asian norms or high expectations set by my family, but also feeling like a foreigner to many American mannerisms. Was I supposed to stay silent or speak out? Was I supposed to obey authority or challenge it? To me, it was a dichotomous place of tension I lived in, never really knowing how to reconcile the two cultures from which I learned.

Coming to DCC, the disparity of Asian and minority representation in leadership was something I acknowledged but was not unaccustomed to. I grew as a believer in predominantly white churches, but the personhood of Jesus Christ always made me feel so close to Him and His people, despite our ethnic differences.

It wasn’t until recently that I felt safe enough to talk about my Asian quirks and heritage to non-Asians here. I attribute this space of comfort to my community, which has taught me so much about God’s acceptance and love far beyond any body of Christ I’ve encountered.

I moved from a group of Asian Americans to a community of majority white members. I knew my community cherished me, but there were many times I still felt on the fringes, catching the tail ends of pop culture references and missing punchlines to jokes. Those were the moments I asked myself, can a Christian feel lonely even among Christians? How terrible if this were the permanent reality—of being not only a stranger to this world but also a foreigner among other believers as well?

But thankfully, this was not the plan God had for me. After a year of persistently attending community, sharing vulnerably with my discipleship group, and receiving an abundance of generosity from my Christian friends here, I’ve been deeply filled and refined into a godlier woman.

When I was overwhelmed and pining desperately to leave Seattle, it was my Scottish-Swedish friend who comforted me when I had no words left to say. When I was flailing for friendship and laughter, it was my German friend who brought me ice cream and took off her make-up alongside me. When my lease ran out of time and I didn’t have a place to stay, it was my Jewish-German friend who immediately offered her place for me to stay. When I was harassed on the street and felt completely helpless, it was my German-English friend who empathized with and comforted me. When I was stressed from the demands of work, it was my German-English friend who gave me perspective and reminded me of the grace of God. When I felt stagnant in my faith, it was my Chinese friend who consistently prayed for me and challenged me to think beyond myself.

I say all of this to remind myself that the Lord provides, loves, and restores. He created me with black hair, brown eyes, and a small frame. He created me and put me in an Asian household among American neighbors. He planted me in Seattle and watered me slowly, nurturing me through interracial friendships and a church that is becoming more and more diverse.

For most of my life I had always believed that ethnic differences were divisive. But I’ve learned that humility, vulnerability, and intentionality regardless of race are the things that break walls of judgment and lies about people. I’ve received such deep love from these brothers and sisters that I want to continue demonstrating the same kind of God-given love to those in the next chapter of my life, whether or not they are Asian or American.

“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” -Colossians 3:11

-Michelle Shieh, your Taiwanese-Japanese-American

If you are a member with DCC and have a story of grace to share please email info@downtowncornerstone.org.

Sep 13
2018

Stories of Grace | Desperate with Thirst

Stories of Grace

“The Stories of Grace series is intended to capture snapshots of God’s grace and glory amidst our every day lives. They are real stories of real people who have seen the fingerprints of God amidst the ordinary—God’s favorite canvas. Each story is personal, unique and, often, unfinished. Through it all we get glimpses of God’s steadfast love, sufficient grace, and ongoing presence with his people.”

I have come to know God in the face of Jesus by taking deeper and deeper draughts of His love over the years, usually desperate with thirst. Weary with my own failure or the evil in the world around me, I am forced to decide – do I self-medicate with spiritual platitudes and worldly comforts, or do I accept my desperate neediness and dive in to the Fountain of Life for another sweet drink of his grace? Every increase I’ve felt in my love for Jesus has directly coincided with my need of Him. These needy experiences have been tough and painful, but all have been a divine gift.

Prior to officially planting Downtown Cornerstone Church, the core team completed a study on The Gospel-Centered Life. Alongside a messy group of church-planters, I remember encountering a diagram (image below) and understanding its sense completely. Yes, God’s holiness can clearly be seen in the Scriptures and the universe at large. Yes, sinful selfishness and its consequences was all around. But the impact of Jesus’ death on the cross had yet to grow greater in my life. I still maintained a small, comfortable view of my own sin and God’s holiness, despite “understanding” it. By God’s grace, the significance of the cross grew in my heart, but it took a journey of pain mixed with joy.

My first pregnancy wrecked my health, energy, and emotions. Without yet feeling the little baby within, my mind couldn’t make sense of the physical consequences I was experiencing. Inwardly, I railed against God for these uncomfortable inconveniences and other secret grievances I was harboring. Instead of Christ’s grace and goodness growing greater in my heart, I was shrinking the cross by putting myself in God’s place, asserting that I knew the best way for me.

While pouring out my bitterness, a friend kindly rebuked me, reminding me that indeed this trial was a good gift of God if only I had eyes to see it. Life inside of you, what a gift! But I blindly allowed his rebuke to offend my hardened heart.

Fast forward one year and thousands of miles, I now had two little children in a land of snow and ice called Connecticut where God had led us for my husband, Giulian’s graduate program. Though every change is initially exciting, the thrill had worn off and we found ourselves trapped in a church that lacked any real community.

Reluctantly, I joined a women’s book study, in part thinking I could teach them what genuine community should look like. Oh what pride I had! What initially softened my heart wasn’t an alleviation of my worldly burdens, or the wisdom of an excellent book, but witnessing another believer face a grave trial beautifully, by trusting in God.

The group had only met a few times when Kim shared that she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. A wife and homeschool mom to three little boys, I witnessed all her emotions and started to feel them too. She found something amidst the trial that I wanted, a profoundly deep faith in God her Maker.

All of a sudden, God brought back to mind that gentle rebuke I received in my first pregnancy and I was finally able to see it as kindness. Through continued meditation and a perspective shift to see suffering as an act of grace, my love for Jesus and view of His goodness finally began to grow. I began to see that the highest form of “self-care” was in caring for others and shouldering their burdens with them and allowing them to help shoulder mine.

Rather than seeking to “bounce back” after personal trials, I have received a far greater gift by submitting to trials as a force to shape my character. I recently learned that water is the single most erosive force on the planet. The Fountain of Living Water has eroded parts of my person, and in turn created something far more beautiful. 

“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” – Revelation 7:17

“God disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful but it later yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness [here’s the important key] to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:10 

The torrent of life can be overwhelming and at times discouraging, but I hope it leads us to the Everlasting Fountain again and again until we are brought there by the hand of Christ Himself never to depart again. 

– Christy Giusti, DCC Member

If you are a member with DCC and have a story of grace to share please email info@downtowncornerstone.org.

Jul 11
2018

Stories of Grace | Community Over Comfort

Community, Stories of Grace

“The Stories of Grace series is intended to capture snapshots of God’s grace and glory amidst our every day lives. They are real stories of real people who have seen the fingerprints of God amidst the ordinary—God’s favorite canvas. Each story is personal, unique and, often, unfinished. Through it all we get glimpses of God’s steadfast love, sufficient grace, and ongoing presence with his people.”

I sink onto the stained and faded not-so-white carpet, surveying the cardboard boxes stacked half way to the ceiling. My fearless toddler free-climbs the newly formed summits. I call to her to descend and decide to leave the boxes hungry while I rest. Though tired and a bit overwhelmed, I pause to thank God for this entirely unexpected but miraculous move.

I’ve never lived alone. Born the youngest of three kids, I immediately moved into a full house. After high school, I moved into college dorms. I shared a house with six women and then my husband. I moved six times in less than four years, but not once did I reside on my own.

The summer following my senior year of high school I had no residence to call my own after my family’s house, the only home I had ever known, was foreclosed, and we were evicted. It was that summer I first lived with my friend, Anne Johnson.

I crashed on her couch until the dorms opened. We were roommates throughout college, which is where we met our respective husbands, who also happened to be high school best friends. We intentionally sought to be next-door neighbors, both couples renting apartments above our church’s gathering space in Pittsburgh, PA. When Ben and Anne moved to Los Angeles, we figured our co-residing days were past. But God had other plans and brought us all to Seattle.

We shared an apartment in South Lake Union until Ben and Anne were ready to become foster parents. God provided a home for me and Justin just two blocks away so we could continue to do life with the Johnsons. During our sabbatical, we asked God “What’s next?” He answered by providing a four-bedroom house in the heart of Capitol Hill so that Justin and I could begin our family while living with the Johnsons.

Many single people cut costs by communal living, and some married folks do as well. But two families living together seemed unique to many, enticing to a few, and flat-out absurd to others — namely our Washington State Foster Licensor. She sat across our dining room table, eyeglasses situated sternly on the edge of her nose, staring at us in disbelief.

“I just couldn’t understand why two families who were unrelated would ever want to live together. I thought you all were crazy. But now that I’m talking with you, I see what you have here is really quite special.”

God not only changed our licensor’s mind but He also moved mountains of paper work and bent bureaucracy to create our co-joined foster home. He fashioned a family that shares no DNA but dinner around the table every night. And then He nudged us to grow more. God laid it on the Johnsons’ hearts to extend hospitality to more children in need of a home, but we had run out of space in ours. We either needed to live apart or do the impossible of finding a five-bedroom house within our budgets in Capitol Hill.

With the unlikelihood of us finding such a house, the comforts and conveniences of living apart crept into my mind. I began to linger on how I could put things where I wanted them and not have someone else move them. I thought about a fridge full of food only I wanted to eat and having no parameters around using shared space. I could finally build my own little kingdom unchallenged by anyone else.

But as I pressed into prayer over our next living situation, the Spirit changed my plea from “Lord, provide a place for me to build my kingdom,” to “Lord, what will bring You the most glory? Living together or living separately?” As I prayed, I became confident He would provide the exact residence that would give the glory to Him rather than to me.

After several weeks of looking for our “unicorn” house in vain, we decided to stay in our current house until God provided a bigger space. Letting go of my fantasies of the control and comfort of living as separate households did not come immediately or easily, but I trusted this was the best option even if it felt like a sacrifice. But the Johnsons still wanted to grow their family, so as a last-ditch effort, we reached out to our landlords to see if we could convert the basement into a fifth bedroom.

“No. That’s totally illegal,” they responded, “but we have another larger four-bedroom house if you want to check it out.”

Though it lacked the essential extra bedroom, we agreed to look at it. The house happened to have a second living room space, which we asked if our landlord would be willing to convert to a fifth bedroom.

“Sure. I could do that. It’d take me a weekend to put up a wall and a door.”

We were astonished. Our God, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence that which did not exist, created the exact house we needed. And in doing so, He obliterated any bases for me clinging to my comforts over the narrative He was unfolding between our two families living together.

If you’ve ever done it, you know living with others can be tedious and frustrating at times. God has used those moments of unwashed dishes, misplaced items, and damaged property to again and again reveal the depths of my own selfishness and idolatry of comfort. Community living provides regular occasions to die to myself and out-do my brothers and sisters in showing honor, whether by taking out the trash or cooking a meal. Living with another person helps challenge the happy delusion that I’m in control and the world revolves around me. Multiply that by two families living together and the opportunities for conviction are constant.

But living in community with fellow believers yields far sweeter fruit than my creature comforts could. We enjoy a house filled with laughter and prayer, singing and always an extra set of hands, others to pick up the burden when one of us falls sick or exhausted. We play board games; we talk about what we’re reading in the Word; we sharpen one another.

There are days I’m still tempted to believe that conveniences of living as a single-family-unit outweigh the riches of living together. At those times, I recall how God has gifted us this house and that He is building His Kingdom, not mine. So I join Him by praying, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, in our home as it is in heaven.”

– Jen Keogh, DCC Member

If you are a member with DCC and have a story of grace to share please email info@downtowncornerstone.org.

Jun 25
2018

Stories of Grace | Treasuring God’s Design

City Life, Community, Stories of Grace

“The Stories of Grace series is intended to capture snapshots of God’s grace and glory amidst our every day lives. They are real stories of real people who have seen the fingerprints of God amidst the ordinary—God’s favorite canvas. Each story is personal, unique and, often, unfinished. Through it all we get glimpses of God’s steadfast love, sufficient grace, and ongoing presence with his people.”

Three years ago I was on a plane, flying out of Honolulu. In the last week, I had stayed in a high-rise resort, dined at five-star restaurants, and visited the most exclusive venues. From my first-class seat, the ocean below was otherworldly, a perfect blue.

It was just another business trip: days overflowing with meetings and projects, and very little sleep. On these weeks, my colleagues and I arrived at the airport on Sunday morning at 5:00am. I traveled a few times a month – once, five times in five weeks. At home, I lived alone. In the office, I alone knew Jesus.

Before, the weekly presence of God’s family in my life had been constant. They were the people with whom I learned, sang, and prayed on a regular basis. Now, time together was rare. I read and prayed alone, and listened to hours upon hours of sermons. In isolation, luxury, and fatigue, the months passed in a blur.

This work was never meant to be a long-term situation, just a stopgap while I figured out what to pursue after college. But work and worry closed around me like a trap. The breakneck pace and all-nighters that were supposed to end after graduation only increased. I was too busy to let anyone into my life, too tired to have any profound time in the Word, and too stressed to think about making a change. Underneath the glamour, my heart felt deeply anxious. I knew, and learned again, that not even professional success can satisfy the deep places of my soul like Jesus can.

One year in, I took a long-planned mission trip with a small team. During those two weeks of kingdom work in Christian community, I knew more joy, more clarity, and more peace than I had known in months. God graciously gave me time to pray deeply with people, enjoy his company, and consider the direction of my life. Shortly after, I decided to trust God with my priorities, leave the familiar safety of my job, and move to Seattle after my projects ended to be closer to family.

The terrifying thing was that I didn’t know what was next. I had no job and no plan. But week by week, Jesus was with me as I prayed, thought, and researched. He encouraged me with his promises to sustain me and provide for me (Matthew 6:19, 25-34). A friend offered me a place to stay outside the city while I looked for housing. Two days before the move, God gave me a great job downtown. I unpacked and got involved with a gospel-teaching church near my friend’s house. All seemed to be falling into place.

But in the next few months, my social safety net unraveled. Best friends got married, moved churches, and drifted apart as they either neglected or forgot to live out the gospel and show grace to each other. I also struggled as a friend and roommate; the long commute and a shared room left little time for me to be alone with the Lord. After months of looking for an affordable place, and heartache over all the personal and relational failure, I moved into the city. I learned that not even my greatest friendships are as trustworthy as Jesus’ care.

It was wonderful to have my own room and to cut an hour each way off my commute. But it was very challenging to get to the suburbs during the week in time for community, and then back to the city. I asked Jesus what he wanted me to do.

A few days later, a work errand brought me past a large “EASTER” sign posted on a nearby building. Surprised to find a church two blocks away, I read its doctrinal statement and discovered with joy that it taught the gospel and the whole Bible. The first visit confirmed that it was indeed home. My church in the suburbs sent me off with their blessing, and I have been with DCC for the last two years.

My life is so simple and quiet compared to what it was three years ago. Instead of jet-setting for demanding projects or rushing through a work-filled week, I have time to be with the Lord and his people. For the past year, I have relished living in a house with four dear sisters in Christ and a family downstairs. We pray for each other, challenge each other, and delight in giving grace to each other. We host coworkers, family, and friends, making connections between them and disciples of them. I am daily in awe of God’s kindness to us. It is a mighty gift to know that my life’s greatest accomplishment is simply to know and love him and others in the ins-and-outs of life.

Two months ago, we were on the plane, flying out of Boston. A dear DCC sister and I had just spent a week walking, laughing, and learning about this city and each other. Every morning, we took time to be alone with Jesus. The trip used the last of my frequent-flyer miles from business travel. It was a special chance to celebrate not only a sweet friendship, but also the gracious way the Lord taught me to treasure his design of life together, for his glory and our joy.

“He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” – Psalm 18:19

– Megan Addison, DCC Member

If you are a member with DCC and have a story of grace to share please email info@downtowncornerstone.org.

Jun 6
2018

Stories of Grace | This Side of September

Prayer, Stories of Grace

“The Stories of Grace series is intended to capture snapshots of God’s grace and glory amidst our every day lives. They are real stories of real people who have seen the fingerprints of God amidst the ordinary—God’s favorite canvas. Each story is personal, unique and, often, unfinished. Through it all we get glimpses of God’s steadfast love, sufficient grace, and ongoing presence with his people.”

Years ago, I prayed: If you teach me, Lord, I would learn. Teach me to fear You, to love You.

When I prayed that, I hadn’t the faintest idea exactly what it would require for me to learn those things, and I probably still don’t. In my more foolish moments, sometimes I think I would have liked to retract that prayer, but I am so thankful that the Lord in His infinite goodness went ahead and answered it anyway.

Circumstances took place this past September that brought me along the hardest and loneliest path I have yet walked, resulting in great depths of depression. Coupled with my acutely self-aware, introspective, introverted self, things were hard, to say the least.

In my many lonely, bitter hours this year, the Lord Himself sat with me–sometimes I did not even recognize Him–and did some of the most painful and tender searching of my heart. I found out how confused I was: I confused discipline with condemnation, I confused God’s voice with my own, I confused Christ’s righteousness in me with the call to “work out [my] own salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2:12) among other things.

It was okay for me to be confused; it was good for me to learn the difference between all of those things. But it was not good for me to do it alone. In all my confusion and navel-gazing, I would not go to God for answers or comfort or assurance, determined I could find them all within myself if I just looked hard enough. But I only became more confused and despairing of my sin, all the while thinking God was unapproachable.

When I came to the end of all these roads I walked alone, God met me there every time. Through a mess of sermons, books, and conversations with some trusted friends, He bid some storms to cease in me. He helped me and He taught me, with all patience. I learned that, of course, Satan would do everything in his power to keep me from going to God. The good word Jesus had for me was a word I was looking for for a long time without even knowing it: self-forgetfulness. There was no assurance that I would gain from mere self-analysis, because I could always doubt its genuineness. My best moments of assurance were not when I was thinking about my assurance. As Frederick Buechner wrote, I was “too busy apologizing for my own unworthiness to notice” the loving face of the Lord, which had never turned away from me. It required the power of God to simply lift my head and see it.

I am thankful that God is God, and as a college student, I know very well that it makes the world of difference to have a good Teacher.

If you teach me, Lord, I would learn. Teach me to fear you, to love you.

Would you pray this again, Vanessa? Will you continue to pray for this? I hear the Lord ask me sometimes, this side of September.

Yes, Lord, yes.

My word of encouragement is to all, but directed especially toward those who, even in the church, feel silenced by uncertainty or shame:

First, go to God, look to Him, ask Him. He is big enough for any emotion, and give the devil no opportunity for a foothold, because there is nothing to be gained the more we delay going to God.

Second, seek all of the above with the Lord Himself and with community, too. One thing I learned especially this year was that Christ called me out of my loneliness to dwell in Himself, but also to dwell with the family He gave me.

Lastly, it is cause for rejoicing and thankfulness when the Lord brings us to the day when we can say, in our own voice, that the gospel is good news to us. Even on days when we cannot do the things required of us, things we know we should do but have not the strength to do them, He will continue to do good anyway. And if you can’t believe that, He will help our unbelief if we would but ask. He who does not lie has promised it.

“O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways…Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:1-3, 23-24

– Vanessa Lim, DCC Member

If you are a member with DCC and have a story of grace to share please email info@downtowncornerstone.org.

Apr 27
2018

Stories of Grace | God Answers

Discipleship, Scripture, Stories of Grace

“The Stories of Grace series is intended to capture snapshots of God’s grace and glory amidst our every day lives. They are real stories of real people who have seen the fingerprints of God amidst the ordinary—God’s favorite canvas. Each story is personal, unique and, often, unfinished. Through it all we get glimpses of God’s steadfast love, sufficient grace, and ongoing presence with his people.”

“I should use my time more for others.”

This half thought, half prayer flitted through my mind during my community’s discussion of this year’s earlier sermon about using our time. When I left community, the thought left my mind.

Exactly 24 hours later, I was sitting in my car with a distraught friend, assuring her she could stay with me as long as she needed. She’d called me sobbing, barely able to get words out, but I knew instinctively she needed to leave where she was. When I went to pick her up, she was standing on the sidewalk, a giant suitcase next to her. A relationship that had never been great had turned categorically abusive and manipulative.

Feelings of overwhelming inadequacy seeped into my mind as I listened to her pour out months of pent-up problems that had festered in this relationship. I’ve never been in her situation, I thought. How do I empathize, offer anything true or helpful? I’m not a counselor. I have no idea what to say. What do I do? My half-hearted prayer from the day before flashed through my mind. The feeling of inadequacy was immediately replaced by a certainty that God had received that prayer, chuckled a little, and opened wide the gates on a situation He had been carefully preparing.

Let me clarify one point about time: I love being alone. My routines and time to myself each day have always been vital to my well-being. Having an indefinitely-invited houseguest was not what I’d meant by using my time more for others. I’d vaguely pictured volunteering once a week for a couple hours, something I could comfortably leave when I wanted.

But then she moved in, and I knew she could not go back to where she’d been. During the next two and a half weeks, her tears were constant, her questions were staggering, and the lies she was fighting were so pervasive I almost didn’t believe God could transform them into truth.

Though she grew up in the church, her understanding of God’s love was distorted beyond recognition. One night, she described her conception of God. “He’s like an angry teacher,” she said, “waiting in the classroom to punish me because He knows I haven’t done my work and that I keep missing class. Things will only get worse if I go into the classroom, because He knows how far behind I am and what a negligent student I’ve been my whole life. I can’t face Him.”

Every time she articulated unworthiness, guilt, condemnation, self-loathing, and other hell-sent lies, I wanted to shake her and shout, – at the lies, not at her – “These things are not true of you! This is not love! This is not how God sees you!” There was a near-tangible darkness over her that I knew I was incapable of fixing. This didn’t require a mere shift in thinking – the Spirit of God needed to renew her mind and soul. The only solution I could offer was the powerful Word of God.

The next morning, I opened Isaiah and read this: “[The Lord] will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.”

I was stunned by God’s intimacy. As far as I know, this chapter is the only time in the Old Testament God is directly titled Teacher. I didn’t go looking for this verse; it was just up next in my daily reading. God wanted her to see and know a loving and pursuing Teacher, not a retributive one. And He wanted me to know that His word is sufficient truth for every situation, even the ones that seem layered in lies. I showed her the words, and from then on, we started reading the Bible together each day.

I know my initial reaction to those lies is only the faintest reflection of how God views our sin. With incisive clarity, I saw God looking at my sin as I was looking at my friend’s struggle. If I could feel devastated at the hold these lies had on her, it must be only a shadow of the way God feels when we choose sin over Him. But God’s grace is to keep gently pointing us back to Him as the only loving and good Teacher who can free us into truth.

In those weeks, God changed my ideas of what it means to serve Him with the time I like to think is mine. And as I relied on Him for wisdom, He moved in ways I had rarely experienced before. My confidence in the power of His Word grew with each conversation, as I begged the Spirit to use His words, not mine, to speak truth into the lies. Answers to problems I could not solve came directly from His Word. With that half-hearted prayer about my time, He reoriented the purpose of my days to bring healing to one of His beloved children, growth in my own faith, and glory to Himself.

– Elisabeth Schyberg, DCC Member

If you are a member with DCC and have a story of grace to share please email info@downtowncornerstone.org.

Apr 4
2018

Stories of Grace | Family Found

City Life, Community, Stories of Grace

“The Stories of Grace series is intended to capture snapshots of God’s grace and glory amidst our every day lives. They are real stories of real people who have seen the fingerprints of God amidst the ordinary—God’s favorite canvas. Each story is personal, unique and, often, unfinished. Through it all we get glimpses of God’s steadfast love, sufficient grace, and ongoing presence with his people.”

Almost eight years ago, my girlfriend at the time made a choice to pack her bags and leave the sunny shores of California for an internship opportunity in New York City.  She was confidently pursuing a dream that she had held for a very long time. I knew better than to be the one to stop her.

While Amy and I had talked about what it would look like for me to move to the East Coast as well, I was extremely hesitant to leave behind my very comfortable surroundings. Both of my parents were from families based in California. I had grown up my whole life in Orange County. Since as early as I could remember, I had been blessed in knowing and being known in church families that were integral parts of my life. From Christian summer camp friends, to small-group men that became roommates when I first moved out, I was never without friends and family close-by.

Yet despite all of these undisturbed comforts, God had begun to put on itch on my heart to leave California and follow Amy to New York.

Skipping many of the details of the way God “parted the sea” for my extremely effortless move to New York — which, talk to anyone that’s moved to New York from out of state, it’s not easy! — I soon found myself living in Brooklyn, only a block away from Amy. It was fall and the Christmas holiday was quickly approaching.

Amy and I spent Christmas together in New York that year. After doing our best to recreate the traditions we would both do with our families, we quickly realized how far removed we were from being with those people who were closest to us. We were those annoying family members who called and asked to be passed between all the relatives and family friends so we could feel like we were there.

Despite meeting numerous people over the next year, often we still felt like our closest friends were on the other side of the country. This stopped us, in many ways, from being fully present in several of the relationships and opportunities that God put before us.

Building into this same story, we were slow in finding a church to be a part of. Now, to be clear, we were going to church every weekend. In fact, we found the biggest reformed Christian church in the city and loved attending and soaking up the riches of the Sunday sermon.

But something was still missing. We were “attendees” of a church, and not creating relationships beyond the weekly meet and greet. Funny enough, the church was so big, we used to joke it wouldn’t matter if we remembered the names of the people sitting behind us, because the likelihood of actually seeing them again was so slim.

Having grown up in a family that was highly involved in the local church, I knew what we were doing was not “church’’. Going to church does not mean you are a part of the church. Even more so, we were going to church but had no desire to give back to the church.  It wasn’t until a year later when we were able to realize the joy of being a participating member of the church family. And what a difference it was.

By our second year in the big city, we stumbled upon another church we had heard about through the grapevine. It was another reformed gathering that had great music, good teaching, and people in similar stages of life as we were. The difference was it also had community gatherings, and the leaders often spoke about it and encouraged people to get plugged into these. Amy and I, now engaged, had never been a part of a community gathering in this type of sense.

In our remaining two years in New York, our Brooklyn community became a core source of support and friendship. And these were not just friends we would occasionally bump into. These were friends we would celebrate holidays and birthdays with, babysit for, ask for moving help from, road-trip with, call with heavy decisions to make, and much more. And yet, I will tell you emphatically — and this is not just because New York attracts the most unique people — we could not be more different from one another.  Something bound us together in a very fitting way.

I learned this is one of the hidden mysteries of Christ. Outside of any job or set of hobbies, any gender or ethnicity, any hometown or parallel past, Christ was the common bond that always rose above.  I had found a family of people that loved God and loved me for the imperfect sinner that I was.  We longed to do life with one another.

Reflecting on this experience reminds me of the verse in Revelation 7:9-10 that says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

God, by His grace, continues to reveal this mysterious truth to me, even now in Seattle, where we’ve been for nearly three years. There is always a family, a local church, that God has prepared for us.  Always a family that is welcoming me “home” even if it is 3,000 miles from where I just was.

After learning the joys of being a part of community, you only can imagine how eager Amy and I both were to find a community when we first came to Seattle. In fact, I sent several emails to local churches asking to hear more about their community gathering.

I received a reply from the community deacon at DCC.  He excitedly connected me to the community leader in Queen Anne. Before I could even finish typing my “thank you” response, I received an email from the local community leader, himself. He wanted to know what service I typically attended so we could meet up that Sunday.

Once again, I am beyond blessed to say I have found a family like I could never have anticipated or imagined here in Seattle.  And this, I confidently know, is something God has prepared for any and all of His disciples wherever they go.

– Dave Osborne, DCC Member

If you are a member with DCC and have a story of grace to share please email info@downtowncornerstone.org.

Feb 22
2018

Stories of Grace | God’s Heart in College Ministry

Discipleship, Stories of Grace

“The Stories of Grace series is intended to capture snapshots of God’s grace and glory amidst our every day lives. They are real stories of real people who have seen the fingerprints of God amidst the ordinary—God’s favorite canvas. Each story is personal, unique and, often, unfinished. Through it all we get glimpses of God’s steadfast love, sufficient grace, and ongoing presence with his people.”

“So… would you like to know more about Jesus?” Jeff asked somewhat uneasily as we sat across from each other in the dining hall. It was the start of my first year at University of Washington in the fall of 2009. One week prior I had stopped by a table outside my dorm, where a Christian organization was reaching out to students. I wasn’t quite interested, yet I gladly took a free laundry bag and other dorm essentials, and—mostly out of a felt need to reciprocate—I had filled out a survey card indicating I was “maybe interested in knowing more about Jesus.” Jeff had contacted me to follow up on my response to the survey.

Sitting together with Jeff, however, I responded to his question with, “Well… thanks, but no…I’m not really religious and not exactly interested, to be honest.” Yet, I asked him how he came to be involved in that work. Jeff explained to me how he came into a personal relationship with God as a college student, and how the Lord then brought him to Seattle with a calling to reach college students with the gospel.

I nodded along to his story with increasingly piqued interest, while taking note of both his timid demeanor and the sincerity that pervaded his speech. Though he seemed a bit uneasy, he was present and available with me. I engaged him with questions/reservations I had about Christianity and faith. “Isn’t the Bible irrelevant to follow today since it was written thousands of years ago? How is there a hell if God is loving and fair? And why do we have so much evil and tragedies going on if this good, all-powerful God is real?” For over an hour, I pummeled poor Jeff, who struggled to answer, and  eventually we parted ways.

Once home, Jeff, discouraged from meeting yet another hard-hearted UW student, was but a moment away from throwing away my contact card. Yet, he held onto my “maybe.” Something in his heart gripped him to pray for my salvation.

A couple months later, while home in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving break, I decided to join my high school friends to their church. By God’s grace, I started to understand my emptiness and utter brokenness and need for a Savior, a loving and merciful Jesus. Furthermore, the mental hang-ups and barriers I once held to following the Lord exchanged themselves for opportunities and ways to further know Him, all out of my growing, new-found love/surrender for Jesus Christ. And my personal relationship with the Lord started to change everything.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”- 2 Corinthians 4:6

Much of my growth in Christ happened on the college campus. By God’s rather divine arrangement, the very first friend that I made during orientation week invited me to a Bible study. As I committed my life to the Lord my freshman year and became involved in the community. The leader of this ministry, who regularly meets up with Jeff, exclaims that there is an Asian American guy from LA who just received Christ and has been attending their Bible studies. A light bulb goes on in Jeff. This is the same difficult freshman he spoke with earlier in the school year and prayed for! He rejoices in the Lord for my new relationship with God and the small, yet profound role he got to play in my spiritual journey.

By God’s grace, I learned that my role as a student and child of God is not to be a passive consumer, but an active participant and witness for His glory. I was also discipled by a campus ministry staff who cared for my soul, spurred me on towards surrendered commitment to Jesus. I learned the importance of humility in leadership through serving and gained a passion for God’s work through mission trips and student conferences/retreats. As I served the Lord via campus ministry, I was captivated to answer His call to work in college ministry upon graduation (one year part-time and two full-time internship years). These years were pivotal in getting to be a witness of God’s work in students’ lives and receiving His grace for my own journey and growth.

Recently, my wife Rose and I also joined full-time staff with Cru (the U.S. ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ), the same ministry Jeff was with when I first met him. May the Lord raise up more students like me, distant and separated from God, to a vital relationship with Himself within Christ-centered community and the local church, with a life-long passion for spreading His beauty, truth, and goodness.

College students today are coming from a plethora of backgrounds with real questions and in need of a true, everlasting Savior and Lord. The enemy in their midst is rampant to steal, kill, and destroy present realities, lives, and future hopes. With this great need and darkness, however, comes even greater opportunity for the Kingdom of Light to be the living reality in hearts and places. Imagine how students who grasp the gospel in this pivotal stage will go on to make significant decisions to impact the world for Christ, now and in the future, through their work, families, churches, community engagement, and more. In the words of a former student/disciple, Tyler, “If we could reach even one person, that would multiply and God could use that mightily. Whether it is planting a seed, watering, or reaping a harvest, it is all worth it if we trust God and rely on Him.”

May we be a people that live by faith and pray, believing in the Lord’s work. We never know how God can use even one conversation or prayer, no matter how awkward, daunting, or discouraging. He is surely doing His work. May we share the good news of Jesus Christ and engage in discipleship in the power of the Holy Spirit, leaving all the results to Him. Knowing that He is the good, sovereign Orchestrator in His story of amazing grace, may we know our labor in the Lord eternally matters.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”- Ephesians 3:20–21

– Mike Fujimoto, DCC Member

If you are a member with DCC and have a story of grace to share please email info@downtowncornerstone.org

Nov 30
2017

Stories of Grace | A Mighty Love

Community, Stories of Grace | by Anne Johnson

“The Stories of Grace series is intended to capture snapshots of God’s grace and glory amidst our every day lives. They are real stories of real people who have seen the fingerprints of God amidst the ordinary—God’s favorite canvas. Each story is personal, unique and, often, unfinished. Through it all we get glimpses of God’s steadfast love, sufficient grace, and ongoing presence with his people.”

Walking through the book of Job and seeing the affliction and suffering he experienced, I’ve been reflecting on the story that God’s been orchestrating in my life. Like many, it has included several helpings of trials, pain, and suffering. There’s a sign in Swedish’s Cancer Institute office that says, “Cancer is a word, not a sentence.” Cancer is one of the major fears of our modern American culture and most people have been touched by it in some way or another, including me. I am two and a half years out from my diagnosis of cancer. Two years after my last chemo treatment and one and a half years out from my final radiation session. A friend asked “what do you think is the biggest thing you’ve learned through all this?” There are layers of what I’ve learned and, Lord willing, will continue to learn for years to come. But in the interim, I’ve learned about the Church and God’s power to move through it when we are willing to obey. When the Church keeps “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV), we are able to accomplish such grand things through Him who strengthens us.

I thought I knew what community was. I thought I grasped everything that God had to offer through His Church. After all, I was living in Christian community and had helped lead community groups. Service was one of my love languages and I’d always had a heart for social justice. But the riches of Christ are unsearchable (Ephesians 3:8). There is no end to the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beginning and the end, which is to say He is always (Revelation 21:6). It will take an eternity to try to understand what I thought I had on lockdown after little more than a decade of following Christ.

When I reflect on my cancer treatment, there is pain, both physical and emotional. There are moments that I hope never to experience again and pray no one else would have to endure. Make no mistake, it was not fun. But what comes into focus much more sharply is Love. Not the word love that we throw around when we talk about our favorite foods or movies. I am talking about Love that came incarnate through Christ. I am talking about the Love of a community that brought countless meals and shuffled children around. I am talking about the Love of a care package with all of the cancer essentials because friends cared enough to research what was best. I am talking about the Love of a 10 year old son who prayed every night that I would be healed from my cancer. I am talking about the Love of friends who changed a cross-country motorcycle trip they’d been planning for six years to better care for me and my family. I am talking about the Love of a community who asks how they can pray for you and actually prays with you in the moment. That is not the love we give to things of this earth. That is not the love that comes from human “kindness”, but the Love that is only possible through Christ Jesus our Lord.

I can only hope that I would be able to proclaim this great news had the cancer still been ravaging my body. I am healed in my body of a disease that threatened to take my life, but moreover I stand healed of the sin that threatened to take my soul, which is of immeasurably more worth and value. So my boast will not be in the healing of my body from cancer, but my boast will be in Christ who lives and reigns and invites me into eternal joy and life with him whether I die tomorrow or in 40 years. Like Job, my suffering helped me turn my eyes upward, fixing them on the Living God, and I’m praising Him all the more.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV

– Anne Johnson, DCC Member

If you are a member with DCC and have a story of grace to share please email info@downtowncornerstone.org