By Claire Lin '23
August 18, 2019
I think some of my favorite memories together are the simplest, the ones where we talk about anything and everything in between. It used to be in our small upstairs bedroom, us lying on the two wooden beds that Dad built and painted himself, whispering through the night under the soft yellow glow of the moon-shaped light nailed crookedly to the wall. And whenever Mom barged in horrified at the fact that we were still awake, you and I would squirm under the covers, squeezing our eyes tight and biting our lips to stop giggling… waiting for the moment she’d leave so we could continue whatever adventure we’d dreamt up again. And then as we got older, our conversations grew more and more infrequent as we climbed into bed exhausted from school—but they also grew deeper, as we talked about our fears and the future and our faith.
And most recently: this six-hour drive down to Los Angeles, when you and I took turns driving at night so Dad could get some rest. Three hundred boring straight miles of Highway 5 under an inky black sky, the only light from the long-haul trucks passing by us on the other side of the road every twenty minutes. You tried to feed me a cold Costco churro an hour into my shift, the cinnamon-sugar landing in my nose as you missed my mouth in the dark—a few disgusted shrieks from me and a delighted laugh from you in the otherwise hush of the night. Worship music was playing from the radio; you were trying to convince me to expand the collection of Christian music I had faithfully listened to since sixth grade. But what I remember most is that we talked… and talked and talked. About the memories we’ve built the past eighteen years, the new life you were about to start in a couple of days, the new life I also was about to start in two weeks… and how God had led us to this exact moment in our lives.
Tonight I drive back to San Francisco alone (well not really alone, because Mom and Dad are in the back sleeping, but still very much alone in the sense that you’re not here). In a week you start college, and I celebrate our birthday at home without you for the first time in my life. It’s still so weird to think about.
Mom always speaks of this idea of bǎo hù: if there’s anything she has taught us all these years, it’s that as sisters we must protect one another. That you can tell me anything and expect me to keep your secret, and that I can do the same, knowing you’ll offer me advice and call me out when I need it. That you’ll have my back and I’ll always have yours, no matter where life takes us. Like that time in preschool, when Madison bullied you so I pushed her down onto the cement (where she scraped both her knees) in some twisted sense of justice. I don’t think that was what Mom intended when she said to protect one another, but that was all my four-year-old self really knew. Or that time in high school, when I found out I was failing Physics after earning the lowest exam score in our whole class—you hugged me and prayed for me and handed me tissue after tissue as I cried in embarrassment and sadness. And then you shook my shoulders and sensibly told me to stop being so pitiful (“You’re wasting my tissues,” you said), before helping me work up the courage to talk to our teacher the next day.
But I think what Mom really wanted to teach us was that protecting one another doesn’t just lie in the world’s definition of protection, but also in spiritual accountability—just like how the apostle Paul exhorted the saints in Thessalonica to “therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1). In his epistles, Paul reminded the Church what it meant to edify and strengthen one another in unity, and urged his fellow workers (like Timothy and Titus) to remain faithful to the building work they had been called to at their respective assemblies. Because whether it be the Roman empire that was persecuting Christians during Paul’s day, or a science-driven society that scoffs at the belief in a Creator today, the world doesn’t make being a Christian easy. And so Paul reminds us why it’s so important that we remain in community with our brothers and sisters. It’s to check up on and lift up one another, because God’s glory is manifested in every one of His vessels as we progress and rejoice in our faith.
And in the same way, ever since we accepted Christ that sunny April morning over ten years ago (when Mom was crying out of joy, and you and I were also bawling because it felt awkward letting Mom cry by herself), Mom’s wish for the two of us has always been for us to keep each other spiritually accountable. Especially when we are most discouraged, and it feels almost impossible to endure and find joy in the lowest valleys—that we would remind one another why Christ and this life in Him is so worth pursuing. Or when we feel like we’re alone in this arena of great spiritual battle—that we would remember that there is someone praying for and fighting alongside us.
Anyway, this reminds me of Paul’s letter to the saints in Philippi. Enduring in the faith was tough: they were experiencing persecution from zealous Jews and the local government, threatened by the possibility of false teachings that had already divided other churches, and struggling with internal conflicts between members. But Paul saw all of this as an opportunity for their spiritual maturity and joy in the Lord to grow. That in challenging circumstances like this, they would continue to testify of their faith, “[letting their] manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, … standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by [their] opponents” (2).
Whether I am there to witness it or not, this is my hope for you when you’re at college. That no matter how much people may discredit or despise you for your faith, you wouldn’t be afraid to declare it all the more boldly. That no matter how much all these new ideas and idols and distractions that you encounter at school may try to pull you away from the Truth, you would cling even more tightly to the Lord. And that no matter how much human sin and pride may test relationships, you would find a church and campus ministry to grow and be discipled in, brothers and sisters to stand firm and serve in one spirit with.
So walk in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Walk on the narrow road that presses you closer into the One who accompanies you, until you’ve become salt that is pure and fresh and makes people thirst for living water, and light that shines brightly and clearly in reflection of our source (3).
But walking is really hard sometimes. The road can be long and weary and uncomfortable. Like two summers ago, when Dad took us back to Wuhan, excited to take us to that small eatery he always frequented in college. The taxi dropped us off by campus, and we walked… and walked … and walked. (I still shudder at that memory.) 104°F and 80% humidity outside, a haggard sweaty family of four trudging through blistering summer heat, following a clearly outdated map, searching for a restaurant that—three hours later—a native told us had closed down ten years ago.
And as much as we love Dad, walking with the Lord is quite different. In fact, it’s much better (sorry Dad). For starters, we know we have an end destination: a place prepared for us in heaven; a crown of righteousness stored for us at the throne; a privilege of seeing the Lord face-to-face, reserved for us throughout eternity.
And more importantly, the One who walks with us knows how to get us there. An older brother once told us that walking in the Lord is actually like ballroom dancing. One partner leads and the other follows—and the one who follows can enjoy it, because they know the one who is leading the dance will take them all the way to the end. So when you don’t know how to or it feels hard to walk worthy of the gospel, remember that it’s a dance: the Lord leads and you follow, and there is joy and rest in knowing that He will take you all the way until you've become the salt and light you're supposed to be.
I think the funny thing, though, is that even before this letter reaches your mailbox, you’ll have also written me a letter. It’ll be waiting for me when I get to campus in two weeks. And I know your letter will be about the same thing, but in your trademark silliness that never fails to make me laugh. You’ll probably comment on how God has too much confidence in me by letting me reach adulthood, thank me for not eating you in the womb to become a double-DNA chimera human, and declare how you wish you had an older brother instead (like all good birthday messages do). But you’ll also tell me to pray and read the Bible and go to church. You’ll encourage me with two pages of your favorite Bible verses, printed in your neat little handwriting on sheets of crumpled binder paper. And above all, remind me that God’s love and promises and faithfulness for me are very real, that I must abide in and testify of Him, just like I know you are doing on the other side of the country.
Because as much as I want you to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, I know you want the exact same thing for me too. And so even though we are physically 5000 miles apart, we remain and continue together in spirit, progressing and rejoicing in this faith we’ve shared since we were nine years old.
I hope you’re settling in okay.
Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all,
for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause
to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,
so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you t
hat you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side
for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.
This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.
(Philippians 1:25 - 28 NIV)
(1) 1Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)
(2) Philippians 1:27-28
(3) Matthew 7:13-14, 5:13-16
Illustration by Claire Lin '23