How I met Jan, when I knew that she was the girl I’d marry, and why I believe in the power of prayer.
January marked the one year anniversary of my marriage to the most incredible woman. Easily the best year of my life.
As I reflect on the past year and how she came into my life, I believe with all my heart that she’s a gift from God — one I don’t deserve. One that testifies to God’s abounding faithfulness. For He’s written me into a story I could never have imagined.
It began with a simple suggestion that would profoundly change my life. Let me explain.
It was 2013. And my mentor suggested in passing that I write down a prayer: “Pray for your future wife. Be specific. Write it down. Carry the prayer around with you.”
It wasn’t the type of advice I was expecting. Those around me would tell you that I wasn’t really in a rush to get married. In fact, some might suggest that I would be the last to get married among my friends (if at all!). I was too consumed with what seemed like much more pressing things. I was struggling to get my life together. I was focused on finding a sense of fulfillment in what I was doing. And I was definitely failing at managing any variation of relationships in my life — starting with my relationships with girls.
Relationships, sigh. Wasn’t really my forte. At the heart of the problem was the attitude I had towards them. Whether consciously or not, I had mostly treaded through them haphazardly, as an outlet to scratch an itch for intimacy. I was more prone to focus on what I wanted from them, rather than a sense of respect for them.
Over time, I found myself in a destructive pit of sin and misery, one I had dug myself into over the course of many broken relationships. And after years of hurting others and myself in the process, I was convinced that something needed to change. I felt led to begin cutting away the parts of my attitude and behavior that were simply not pleasing to God. In the process, I took a break from romantic relationships altogether. A relationship fast, so to speak.
It was a year and a half into this fast when my mentor made that suggestion about the prayer. And it was not too long after that I decided to act on it. I sat down one day and simply started writing. And kept writing. It just flowed out, as if the thoughts were coming from something deep within. As if the words were just waiting to be written.
In the end, the letter to God consisted of 39 sentences. A total of 607 words!
I emailed the prayer to my mentor and also to one of my best friends. My mentor wrote back suggesting one addition: pray that your wife is a woman that you respect. I included that in the prayer and sent it back, taping a copy of the prayer in the front of my Bible.
The date was December 7, 2013. It was 1:17pm.
Little did I realize that at that very moment God had already set in motion a series of events on the other side of the world.
Let’s rewind a bit. It was August 2012. A girl named Jan had just moved to Denmark after concluding her work at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Beginning a much needed sabbatical from her media career, Jan had believed she would stay in Denmark indefinitely as she joined Hillsong Church’s church-planting team in Copenhagen.
A year later in August 2013, however, she was notified that there were unexpected and unprecedented complications with her Danish residential visa renewal. This sudden turn of events meant Jan was required to leave the country, and reapply for her residential visa after the authorities resolved the complications, which could take at least a year. It wasn’t quite the plan she had in mind, and it was with sadness that she wrestled to understand why this would happen. After all, she didn’t want to leave the community she had built in Denmark.
Within a few weeks, however, Hillsong announced plans to church plant in Los Angeles in 2014. There was unwavering certainty in Jan that it was a door God was opening, even though she had never been to California before. And so, she decided to go.
Soon thereafter, she boarded a plane to come to the United States.
The plane took off from Denmark on December 8, 2013 at 9:10am. Less than 24 hours after I had prayed that prayer!
In January 2014, the most peculiar girl walked into my office in Los Angeles.
Given Jan’s background in film production and media consulting, we had invited her in to interview to become a consultant for our production team. This one was supposed to be a 30-minute interview. But I’d soon realize, it wasn’t just any ordinary meeting. Halfway through, I felt compelled to postpone my next meeting, taking any opportunity to prolong the interview.
Indeed, there was something captivating about her from the get-go.
But after that first encounter, we both had travel engagements outside of the US for the next two months and barely stayed in touch.
In April, I came back to the States, and happened to run into her at a night market in LA. I struck up a conversation with her, not expecting that conversation would last for four hours! It felt like 15 minutes.
In May, using my birthday as a pretext, I took her out for dinner — Korean BBQ, of course — and had a very interesting DTR.
In June, after we had the ‘where we stand’ conversation and went ‘Facebook official,’ we went on a ‘vision’ trip to San Francisco. In July, she helped me direct the short film Blind Devotion and subsequently helped close out my LA season in August. In September, we went to Singapore where I asked her parents for their daughter’s hand in marriage. In October, I asked her to marry me in New York City where we had gone to attend the Hillsong Conference. In November, we traveled to Zimbabwe with World Vision. And in December, we moved to San Francisco, settled into our church family and found an apartment to rent in the most expensive city in the country — no job, no masterplan, just a desire to seek God.
In January 2015, we went to the San Francisco City Hall to officially get married.
In February, we held an intimate wedding ceremony in our pastor’s living room.
And just like that, an undeserving boy with an undignified past prayed an unexpected prayer that would bring the most unbelievable girl into his life.
The Bible says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15 ESV)
Sure it may sound a bit naive, but I sincerely believe that as I prayed that prayer, God sent the Holy Spirit to search far and wide across the globe and found the answer to that prayer on the other side of the planet. And that He set in motion the series of events that brought her across the ocean, and into the very office we were in.
The prayer I wrote that day in December was so specific that it was only possible to fulfill by a move of God. While Jan and I were still dating, I shared with her the prayer I had written. And as I read it to her, it became clear that the prayer was about her — and get this, she fit every single petition of that prayer! All 39 sentences, and 607 words — starting with being a woman that I respect (which has come to be more important than I realized) to being a woman of strength and character, all the way down to her passion for making films and her unnatural love for Korean food (some may argue that this is the most crucial one).
And still, what I have come to love most about Jan are the things that I didn’t even know to pray for. Not immediately obvious but that much more instrumental to our marriage. Jan’s conviction to abide by Ecclesiastes 12:1, choosing singlehood for her youth and all of her twenties. Her sense of security in knowing who she is, which enables her to live out the fullness of life that Jesus has promised us by dying on the Cross. Her childlike heart for her Abba Father. Her incredibly refreshing gift of spirit-inspired wisdom. Her relentless distaste towards fitting her life into a box. Her love for the local Church and the global Church. Her martyr-like faith in God that has taken her on an unconventional journey around the globe.
Before I prayed that prayer a little over two years ago, I hardly ever thought about marriage. Now that I’ve met Jan, I cannot imagine living a life without her in it. It’s a testimony of God’s amazing faithfulness and grace that He would send His best angel into my life. It is indeed truth that we serve a God who is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us!” (Ephesians 3:20 KJV). C’mon, somebody!
As I reflect on this most incredible year (sometimes it still feels like it’s only been 15 minutes), I search my heart for what moves me most about this story — why I feel so compelled to share it here. Interestingly enough, it’s not the revelation about receiving a priceless gift. Instead, this story is really about the Giver of that gift.
To understand this, we need to rewind even further. Before I met Jan, I was well into one of the darkest seasons of my life. Truth be told, I had been stuck in that season for close to ten years. Living a life full of anxiety. Ruled by fear. Emotional burnout. I lacked the energy and drive to function. I dreaded the thought of interacting with people. I spent countless hours curled up in bed, afraid to face the world. Years of depression. I didn’t have any joy in my life. And yet, for the longest time, I couldn’t get out of the darkness that I was in.
I was tired of the internal strife that brewed inside me. Holding up a pristine facade, to hide the deep emptiness within. And though I wouldn’t admit it publicly, I was bitter towards God. After all, how could He allow such depression to fill my life for all those years? Why wouldn’t He just take away that burden? Maybe He’s angry with me? Maybe He’s not there.
I didn’t have the answers. I reached a point where I couldn’t hold the mask up any longer. And things just fell apart. I became extremely self-absorbed, and started lashing out at others. I began to push people away only to dig myself deeper into my self-pity. As much as I pleaded with Him, God didn’t take away the difficult circumstances. He didn’t magically make the pain disappear.
Eventually, I decided to leave my job. But looking back, it was a much bigger decision than that. It was ultimately a decision to start surrendering my own obsession with living the version of life where I was in control. And I really had no idea what to do next. Perhaps go to Thailand and become a missionary. That will make God love me more right? Anything it takes to make the heart-wrenching hell go away. I had never felt more lost and uncertain about my future.
And that’s right around the time when God put Jan in my life.
Things began to turn around. Not because she was what I have long been looking for, or because she suddenly filled the void in my life — but because her life pointed me to the One who does. There was something about her life that made me want to know God more. She lives with an infectious joy, which nothing I had previously attained or achieved could provide. Her #livebig attitude towards life was marked by the overcoming power of redemption, while mine was stuck in that religious and legalistic routine. And she has been the living proof of God’s amazing grace in my life.
Encouraged by the victorious Spirit she demonstrates in her life, I began seeing transformation in my own.
I began to see that the root of my problems didn’t lie in the people around me, or the circumstances I was placed in, which is where I tended to put the blame. I realized that the very things that fueled my self-destruction were inside — me. I was in a sinking boat, and instead of holding onto my life jacket, I was holding onto the very things that were weighing me down: my ambitions, my platform, my feelings, my pleasure, my pride. They were my drugs. But this time, I was desperate enough to listen to the nudging in my heart — it was time to let go.
Having nothing to lose, I started to trade in a life full of distractions and addictions for one that was singularly focused on knowing Him. And as crazy as it sounds, I felt God drawing closer to me. I’d get reminders or run into situations that made it so clear that God was the one leading, His fingerprints so present in my day to day.
Over time, the way I saw myself and the world around me began to shift. I started to realize that the pristine image I had put up for people to admire was built on lies. As I began to turn from my own self-serving attitude, God revealed Himself in surprising ways through Scripture, friendships, unexpected circumstances, and convictions.
This first year of marriage has in turn given me the courage to start breaking away from unhealthy relationships and a past marred by sin and shame towards a more hope-filled future. We moved to San Francisco where we became grounded in a community of believers. And in each of them, I saw and experienced God in a whole new way. Amongst healthy friendships, God has begun to shine a light on the broken areas of my life — even if it meant going through an often painful process of feeling exposed and refined. Nothing that kills your pride faster, I tell you that.
As I’ve taken steps along this journey of faith and started serving in ministry, I’ve begun to experience God as a Father. A Father who’s pursued me while I was in the messy depths of my pit. A Father who really was listening to my prayers. A Father who shows compassion to the undeserving. That’s the true miracle of this story — in 2013, I prayed for a wife, and He responded by rescuing me and inviting me into the thing I needed most, a relationship with Him. I suppose that was the point of it all.
It was never about the gift. It was always about the Giver.
As the first page of marriage turns with anticipation to the pages to come, I take pause to reflect on the incredible painting God is masterminding. On a palette once filled with darkness and shame, He has begun to add strokes of light. Where the colors on the canvas once ran awry, God has begun to reveal an unexpectedly beautiful design. When it seems like the outcome doesn’t look much like what I initially had in mind, I’m believing that God is doing the real work beneath the surface.
Where I was once eager to flip the book to the end, and figure it all out, God has shown that there is a process to the madness. A patience required to persevere through the tougher times. For I have come to see that God has His perfect timing. Even when it seems like He’s silent, be assured that no prayers go unheard. No struggle goes unnoticed.
And as the process takes its course, I remind myself again and again to be patient. For it takes time. For the paint to dry. For the story to run it’s course. For the pretty young lady to make her way across the ocean.