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 (Manna 74: Standing Firm)
A Symphony of Grace: Committing Our Lives to God
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Yang Liu and I-Hsuan TsaiChicago, USA

Hallelujah, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we bear testimony. It has now been four years since we first came to know the living God in the True Jesus Church. Indeed, God has worked mightily in our lives to reveal Himself to us. We are blessed to be able to share these wonderful testimonies of His grace.

MOVEMENT 1 [I-HSUAN]

Encountering God

The journey of my faith began twenty years ago, in 1994, when I had just completed my freshman year at Indiana University in Bloomington, USA, majoring in Piano Performance. My sister who studied music in Germany came to visit me, so we decided to go to New York. She, being a True Jesus Church (TJC) member, planned for our first stop to be the Philadelphia church so that we could attend a spiritual convocation. Consequently, I spent the entire first day of my vacation singing hymns and listening to sermons. That was my very first exposure to God and Christianity.

The following day, we arrived in New York. After checking in at the hotel, we stepped out onto the sidewalk, armed with our maps and ready to explore the city. Suddenly, a taxi careened onto the sidewalk and hit us from behind. My sister managed to roll away, sustaining only minor injuries. I, on the other hand, was smashed against a building’s wall by the vehicle. Suspended in mid-air, my intestines, stomach, liver, and gall bladder were badly injured, my pelvis crushed, and the flesh on my right thigh was dangling from the exposed thigh bone. I looked at the blue sky and thought, perhaps, this is the moment between life and death. I wanted to lift a finger but couldn't.

The injuries were so extensive, the medics did not quite know what to do with me; so they just focused on keeping me conscious in the ambulance. On the way to the emergency room, they kept telling me they couldn't find a pulse in my leg. They warned me that I might be paralyzed; and later, given my extensive pelvic injuries, doctors told me that I might not be able to have children.

As things turned out, I underwent four major surgeries in three weeks. I spent a total of ten weeks in the hospital, bed-ridden and totally immobile for the first six weeks because of my crushed pelvis.

Sis. I-Hsuan during her recovery stage.

Back then, I did not know anyone in the US, and my parents, who do not speak any English, could only come a week later. So

during those weeks in hospital, my visitors and helpers were TJC members. I was a complete stranger to them, yet they visited and helped me. Their concern was sincere and their care, abundant; they brought me food, a compact disc player, words of comfort, and the word of God. I was very touched. I heard the word of God and learned to pray. I liked the church and the truth that I heard; I told myself that if I ever decided to embrace Christianity, this was a church I would consider.

I took a semester off and gradually recovered, graduating from the wheelchair to crutches, to finally walking on my own. Back in Indiana, there were TJC members who visited me and studied the Bible with me. While I liked the teachings of the Scriptures, I did not pursue the truth any further. In time, I lost contact with the church. I went on with my life, which continued very smoothly. I got my Bachelor of Music, followed by double Masters degrees, and my Doctor of Musical Arts. Soon, sixteen years had passed.

Searching for God

In 2004, I met and married Yang Liu. When we moved to Chicago, we had nothing in our pockets. But we were eventually able to secure professorships in different music conservatories at the same time. This was a really great blessing. Also, despite the doctors’ gloomy prognosis during my accident, I conceived and bore a son, Julian Liu (I have two sons now). Overjoyed, we felt truly blessed. Life could not have been better.

Our contentment and sense of gratitude grew day by day. One day when we were reflecting on this, we realized the love in our little family was so great that it could not possibly just have come from within us. We started to trace the blessings in our lives. Yang felt that a higher power from above had been guiding us, opening the way for us. He suggested that we look for this Being to thank Him because He had given us so much.

Since Yang has a Buddhist background, we began our search for God by visiting two temples. When we entered the first one, we were greeted by a Buddha statue, with burning incense and fruit offerings laid out before it. We saw a nun surfing the Internet and a monk walking around aimlessly. As we walked in, their expressions reminded us of businessmen expecting customers. We did not feel comfortable with this, and we certainly did not sense the presence of a higher power there, not to mention that Yang had invited the temple Abbot and some of the monks and nuns to give a speech about Zen in our lecture concert “Music and Zen,” yet no one recognized us. So we left.

Next, we went to a Tibetan temple and found ourselves in a dark eerie space full of idols. Even though I had no religious background, it was extremely unnerving to have all those idols and several monks stare unblinkingly at us. We immediately turned around and left.

We then decided to try Christian churches. Up till then, I had rarely mentioned the TJC to my husband. We had visited many Catholic cathedrals in Europe but had not experienced anything there. We had also gone to various other Christian churches but were very disappointed with the message, which focused solely on material blessings and human achievements.

One Saturday, around December 2009, our family planned to visit a state park. But the feeling that something was missing gnawed at us. I realized it was because we still had not found God, although we knew there was one. Suddenly, I remembered what I had told myself sixteen years ago, that if I wanted to believe in God, I would consider the True Jesus Church.

Initially, Yang was not keen on TJC, as he had heard negative remarks about this church from one of his violin students’ parent. Nevertheless, I managed to persuade him to take a look. I told him that if he did not feel comfortable in this church, I would go along with his instinct and we would leave. So we googled for the address of the local TJC and went.

We were a little disappointed when we arrived at the church location. The True Jesus Church in Chicago is quite small and resembles a residential house more than a place of worship. We entered the chapel, sat in the last pew and listened to the sermon. A sister was preaching about the Ten Commandments, declaring that adultery would lead to spiritual death. Perhaps some people may find this merciless, but because we had been so resolutely searching for the truth, Yang was moved right away.

We stayed for the entire sermon and drove home in silence. Suddenly, Yang said: “It’s a bit strange; when we were in that church, I felt like I was dirty ….” I immediately agreed, “Me too, me too!” Such remarks from Yang were incredibly rare, as he was a very confident man. Since the age of nine, he had performed as a solo violinist with many major orchestras in the world. He had released several albums and was given a two million USD violin on an indefinite loan. His portrait had been on the home page of our university’s website for years. And he had been featured in major music magazines such as “Strad,” “Strings,” and even the Asian edition of fashion magazine “ELLE,” together with Hollywood celebrities. Yet, as we sat in the chapel, it felt as though we were in a gutter, while the brothers and sisters around us were on a much higher plane. I had never felt this way before.

MOVEMENT 2 [YANG LIU]

God’s Training

We agreed to study the Bible with the resident preacher of Chicago TJC. On his first visit to our home, I asked him “What is a Jew—is it a race, a country, a region, or a religion?” It turned out to be the right question. His reply took three hours but it gave him an excellent opportunity to give us a summary of the entire Old Testament. We fell in love with this approach of providing a thorough explanation based on Scriptural truth, rather than just a short convenient reply or one that is politically correct. My wife and I had always believed that truth comes from God and needs no compromise, decorations, or sugar coating. After this first session, we decided to continue attending this church.

In April 2010, there was a spiritual convocation at Chicago TJC. We decided to get baptized but the preacher rejected our application. He advised us to study the Bible more first. In retrospect, this was indeed God’s will. At that time, my faith was still not fully cultivated. Even though we had started attending church services regularly, had learned to kneel down to pray, and I knew God was in this church, yet deep in my heart, I did not truly feel that I had to worship Him. To be honest, I was not totally convinced that I needed to kneel down to worship God the Creator. After all, I had created everything I needed in my life with my own hands.

I started playing the violin at the age of four, and by 2010, I had played for thirty years. I had received numerous accolades for my violin performances. When I was a teenager, I performed in China, and the Chinese prime minister then came to congratulate me.

At that stage of my life, I was supremely confident that as long as I had my two hands, I could play the violin, make a living, and achieve great satisfaction in life. Plus, I always reminded myself, “There's never an end, don't be greedy.” With such skills and understanding, I simply didn't see how anything could possibly go wrong in my life.

I neither saw nor understood a need for God. In fact, despite my visits to church, I did not have even an inch of faith. God was merely a romantic figure that fulfilled my religious curiosity.

One day, during dinner, I remarked to my wife that survival in our world required skills. But for me, my skills were inseparable from my two hands. Since God could not take away my hands, what is God to me?

God then taught me an unforgettable lesson. As a general rule, I practiced the violin daily. I could practice a scale at a speed of 250 beats per minute. At four notes per beat, this worked out to be 1000 notes per minute or sixteen notes per second. Doing this was the only way for me to keep in top shape.

One morning, not long after I had this dinner conversation with I-Hsuan, I started my usual practice routine. But that morning, when I took up my violin and placed one finger onto the violin string, I could hardly move nor place my other fingers onto the violin strings. My fingers felt as though they were all tied up!

I was in shock. Perhaps I had too much to drink the previous night. I used every ounce of strength to force my fingers up and down. Every finger took me at least five seconds. I concluded that I must be sick because such a thing had never ever happened in my life before. That day, I practiced for ten hours. In the evening, it was better, so I celebrated. But come the next morning, the same thing happened. I was really anxious, but when it improved in the evening, I celebrated again. Then on the third morning, the cycle repeated itself.

After one week, fear started to enter my heart. I could not possibly turn a ten–minute warm up exercise into a ten–hour daily horror. My traveling schedule could be very tight, and ten hours of warm up would be unthinkable.

This condition continued for two consecutive months, and considering that I had to travel and play concerts during that time, it was driving me to near-insanity. I was convinced that someone was playing a prank on me, because I just could not believe my hands could do this to me. I had begun to play the violin as a toddler, in fact, not long after I had learned to speak. Playing the violin was as natural as speech to me, but here I was, my fingers ‘inarticulate’!

So great was my fear and so colossal my helplessness that I soon turned to alcohol for comfort. I-Hsuan was also close to the end of her tether, hearing the same scale played over and over for ten hours a day and seeing me returning after practice, sullen, silent, and drunk. Finally, I-Hsuan pointed out to me, “I know that you believe God exists. But when you pray in church, it is just an act of superficial courtesy, because you never pray at home. God is mightier than you, but you have elevated your violin above God. Why don’t you try to kneel down and pray once at home? Please, just once. ”

By then, I had suffered for two long months; I was utterly defeated by my ailment. I had absolutely no where to go but to take my wife's advice. I prayed, telling God, “If You are there, please stop this joke; there is just so much my heart can take ….”

The next day, my hands were significantly better, albeit not completely. I was so excited, I prayed again that day. Over the course of the week, my fingers returned completely back to normal. I was so ecstatic, I played through ten concertos in five hours! Then, hugging my violin, I knelt down, wept, and prayed out loud, “God, please stop. I know I am wrong. I know you are mightier than I. Your power is greater than mine. What I have built in thirty years, You can tear down overnight!”

That was the very first time I witnessed the almightiness of God. “What can God do to my hands?” had been my proud challenge. God can teach us a lesson by taking away the very thing that we are most proud of. I have never dared to challenge God again.

God’s Calling

In April 2010, a friend of ours called us from Europe. He asked us to drive his daughter, Laura, who was studying music in Chicago, to the airport to catch a flight home. She was nineteen years old, a pretty, intelligent, and elegant young lady who was a very good violinist. Unfortunately, she had been accused of drug abuse and expelled from school.

On the way to the airport, we learned of Iceland’s volcanic eruptions and how the ash had caused airport closures across Europe. We contacted her father who told us to just leave her at the airport to catch the next available flight out. But there was an inner voice in me that urged me to take her to the hospital instead.

So contrary to her father’s instructions, we did not leave Laura at the airport. Since it was a Saturday, we took her to church with us to attend the spiritual convocation instead. She listened to an entire day of sermons and joined in the hymn-singing with us.

The next day, heeding my inner voice, I took her to the hospital. My family and I then headed to church to attend the spiritual convocation. After the church service, we returned to the hospital in the evening to pick her up. When we got there, the doctor told us that it was fortunate we had brought her in that day—she had a brain tumor of the size of a fist! This tumor was probably congenital and had remained undetected. By then, the tumor was so large that it impinged on her nerves, affecting her daily functions. Although the girl had never used drugs, the tumor made her appear to be under the influence of drugs. Had she taken the flight, the air pressure might have caused the tumor to rupture and she could have died. The doctor said: “She is extremely lucky that you guys brought her here, because she is one or two days from dying.”

The doctor then informed us that immediate surgery was necessary. Thank God, a top neurosurgeon was on duty, and the next morning, he canceled other surgeries and took her as priority! He explained her scan results to us and warned us that her survival rate was almost zero. Even if she survived, she might remain in a vegetative state, go blind, or lose her ability to walk. In short, surgery was critical but she might not be normal again.

That operation took sixteen hours. Laura’s parents could not fly over because of the volcanic eruptions. Some church ministers and brethren had come to join us at the hospital. Their presence was comforting, but I kept thinking of the agony her parents must be going through, since she was their only child. Throughout our wait, I was constantly on the phone with her parents. Knowing that there was nothing I could humanly do, I turned to God.

I prayed and told God, “I know you are an almighty God. I know that You can take away what's built over thirty years. But can you please, please not take such a wonderful girl away?” A tumor the size of a nail can be fatal, but hers was the size of a fist. I prayed earnestly, “You are the Almighty God, please don’t let her become vegetative, blind, paralyzed, or lose her memory. God, if You answer my prayers, I will give you my whole life.” This was my prayer for sixteen hours.

When she was finally pushed out of the operating room, she was still unconscious. So we left for home. When we returned to the hospital the following morning, she was already up. Her first words on seeing me were, “Hey Yang, I’m so hungry! I have leftovers in the fridge, could you get it for me please?” She could see, hear, and remember everything! Three days later, she was able to go to the washroom on her own. God had indeed answered my prayers.

MOVEMENT 3 [I-HSUAN]

Hearing God’s Voice

Sometimes, God uses the same incident to edify people in different ways. Seeing her up and about, I suddenly realized how similar her situation was to mine sixteen years ago. She was nineteen years old, just as I was when I had the car accident. She was a foreign student with no parents around, and she also spent all day in church before everything happened. Like me, she was also taken care of by many TJC members whom she had never met before.

The only difference was that now I was looking at this from the other side. It was then that I realized how many intercessory prayers the church had made while waiting for me during my surgery. Now the church was again praying day and night for Laura, a girl they had never met; just as they had done for me.

Then I heard God’s voice. This personal experience of God was so powerful that just recalling it is overwhelming. Until today, I can remember that stern voice, full of love like a Father, saying, “Take a close look. This is what I did for you sixteen years ago. I have been waiting all these years. What have you done for Me?” I felt a chill running down my spine. Looking at this young girl, I told God, “I know, I am back.” This incident was like a final push in our journey of faith.

MOVEMENT 4 [YANG LIU]

Seeking His Kingdom First

We decided to be baptized on August 22, 2010. We had made all the necessary preparations when I received an email from my agent in South America, informing me that I had to perform in two concerts, one in Argentina and the other in Brazil. There was no problem with the dates when I had agreed to perform earlier. But one of the performances had been re-scheduled for August 21, while the other remained at its original date, August 25. This meant that I could not possibly be back in time for baptism. Out of professionalism, I agreed to the date change without thinking. Closer to the date, I asked the conductor, a good friend, whether the dates could be shifted again. But I was told tickets were already being sold.

Every one advised me to proceed with the performances, since this was about my livelihood. They said I could be baptized the following year. But my wife reminded me, “Don’t you feel like you’re negotiating with God if you change your date of baptism?” Truth be told, I did feel the same way, but I had just begun to establish my career in South America. It would have hurt my career if I turned down this opportunity. Furthermore, with a child to bring up, every penny counts. But to delay my baptism was like trading salvation for my career. So I finally told the agent that if the concert had to change to August 21, I would not be able to go.

Two days after I made this decision, my agent emailed me. He said he had never seen anything like this happen before. “The orchestra manager in Brazil doubled your fee from $5,000 to $10,000 per concert. You only need to stay one day in Brazil and you’re done ….” Moreover, I only had to arrive in Brazil by August 24. “They will pay for the air ticket. Although the initial arrangement did not include accommodation, for some reason, they have put you in the best hotel and will sponsor you. All your meals and beverages are covered.”

When I received this news, I knew this was God’s reward. Indeed, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt 6:33).

Played by an Angel

In late January 2011, after our second son, Isaac, was born, he had severe problems with his stomach. He would vomit whatever we fed him, even breast milk, until he vomited blood. This was so frequent and prolonged that we were unsure whether Isaac would even survive his first birthday. In those days, we had a suitcase packed so that we were ready to go to the emergency room whenever he vomited blood. We were in and out of the hospital, day in and day out.

In those days, I had no time to practice my violin; in fact, I did not even open the case for five months after Isaac was born—I had to stop everything just to be next to him. All we did was pray for Isaac’s life. We told God to give us strength to accept it if it was His will to take Isaac away. We were very upset; I don't remember any day being sunny. I did not care about day or night, I did not dare to have a relaxed sleep. In fact, I developed the skill of being half asleep and half alert—whenever I heard Isaac cough, I would automatically jump out of my bed to check on him. Yet, through prayers, our Almighty God gave us strength and hope to rely on His grace. Despite seeing top notch specialists and undergoing all kinds of tests, including two painful gastroscopies and endoscopies before age one, the cause of Isaac’s problem remains unknown until today.

One day, my US/Europe agent called me about an event I had agreed to a year earlier but had completely forgotten after Isaac’s birth. So I had not responded to her earlier calls and emails. She told me that in five days’ time I would be touring in China with one of the top north European orchestras. The selected music was a fifty-five-minute concerto by Carl Nielsen. I thought about the time available for me to practice. We would be spending two days at our local church’s spiritual convocation that weekend, so I essentially had three days left to practice. When I started practicing on Monday, the first time in five months, my fingers felt really rusty. I had previously performed this piece five or six years ago, but I had pretty much forgotten the piece. What’s more, it was a very long concerto and technically demanding.

After practicing for three days, I lost all confidence. This was no ordinary performance. The European Orchestra was on a concert tour in China, and the first concert would be telecast live; my performance of Nielsen would be its premiere in China. Given the momentous occasion and my lack of preparation, I could only practice so much, study the score on the plane, and pray very hard. From a human perspective, playing this piece would be an impossible task.

I went straight from Beijing airport to the rehearsal. My worst fears came true. I could not even finish the entire piece. The conductor of the orchestra was a world-famous Viennese, and he looked at me in shock. He must have been wondering why such an unprofessional player had been invited to perform with his orchestra. In fact, he told me later that he felt like punching me and returning to Vienna with his baton, feeling it would be an insult to his professionalism to play with me.

After the rehearsals, during the hour-long dinner break, I took a nap to recover from jet lag. The conductor came by fifteen minutes before the performance and knocked on my door. He heard me snoring! This probably did not improve his impression of me.

But thank God, from all the milestones in my journey of faith—God taking my violin ability away, God’s guidance before my baptism and during my son’s illness, God’s healing of Laura—I had witnessed for myself God’s amazing power. I had learned the power of sincere prayer.

During the remaining fifteen minutes, I prayed to God. I told Him that it seemed as if my career was over. The music circle is very small and everyone would surely have heard about how rusty my skills had become. I just asked Him to give me fifty-five minutes of courage to endure the humiliation I was about to encounter. I told God, “Please give me strength to bear with it. And tell me what career path I should choose after that. If You want me to fix cars, I will fix cars. If You want me to sell shoes, I will sell shoes. The next fifty-five minutes may be the most humiliating experience I will have in my life. I have no excuse, but it is my fault for forgetting I signed this contract and not practicing. Please give me the strength and peace to go through this.”

And thus I went on stage, clothed with pessimism and resignation. Yet, strangely, I felt an indescribable peace in my heart. The conductor was glaring at me and his baton was shaking. This Nielsen Concerto starts with a chord from the orchestra, immediately followed by a showy virtuosic solo violin passage.

I clearly remember the scene. I braced myself. The first chord from the orchestra. Then the first note from my violin …. From that moment on, it was as if an angel played on my behalf. From the first till the last note, I played with no error. The music was perfectly harmonized.

After the concert, the entire orchestra had a celebratory feast. They said they had never seen such a dramatic contrast. They noticed that I had been in terrible shape before the performance. “But when we heard you perform, you played like an angel!” They specifically used the word “angel,” and in my heart, I knew that it truly was.

The first thing I did after the concert was to rush to my dressing room to pray. I rang I-Hsuan and told her to kneel down immediately and pray with me because God had showed me His almighty power again. God sent an angel to play for me!

The rest of the six concerts were plain sailing. I performed with ease. After the whole tour was over, I remembered what a preacher had once shared with me.

The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, [a]nd He adds no sorrow with it. (Prov 10:22)

My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor 12:9)

We had truly experienced this. Whatever we strive to get in this world with our two hands will always bring us labor and worries. However, God’s blessings come with no sorrow. If we have come to know God but still want to create our own future with our own hands, He can take it away overnight.

The journey to the heavenly kingdom is long yet short, and easy yet difficult. May we encourage each other to rely on God's power, "that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (1 Cor 2:5). Amen.

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Author: Yang Liu and I-Hsuan Tsai
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