Irene Lee, daughter of God, did not see the hands of her Father in Heaven during her ‘darkest night.’ Yet, as she looked back, she could see the perpetual Light shining out of darkness, softly and tenderly bidding her to come…
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)
“My mother would always remind me that I need to take care of my two younger brothers because I was the oldest. I was the hope and the backbone of this family if anything happened to her,” said Irene Lee.
At that time, her mother had to work to not only support the family, but also her father’s gambling habits. Her father would work but he would spend all his salary in gambling.
The five-year-old Irene could vividly remember how her father would place his empty wallet on the prayer altar, expecting it to be filled with money upon his return. A filled wallet would result in a kiss. But an empty one would result in a blow.
“I saw the beating. But I didn’t think it was a problem because I was so young. I only cried because I saw my mother crying,” said Irene.
At one point, her father lost so much money that he came home one day and tied the seven-year-old Irene, her two brothers, and her mother’s 12-year-old sister to the foot of their rattan couch in the living room.
An argument broke. And her father swung a motorcycle helmet to her mother’s head, which sent her mother to the ground with blood oozing out her forehead.
“My auntie kept asking us to shout. And we just shouted and shouted. We kept shouting, ‘Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!’ But my mother did not move.
“As a child, we thought that once you bleed, you will die. From that day onwards, my hatred and bitterness to my father started. I hated him because he made my mother bleed,” said Irene, recalling how her father quickly left the scene and locked the door behind him.
But thank God – a neighbour heard their shouting and saved Irene’s mother by sending her to the hospital. Since then, Irene and her brothers would move from house to house of her aunts, while her mother worked from job to job to feed the family.
Nonetheless, God was with Irene every step of the way since she was young. Even before her father left, Irene recalled how their landlady of Christian faith, would offer her family the biggest house in the village, at the cheapest rental.
“Our landlady didn’t mind taking care of us while our parents worked. She really loved us. And I think God started to get near me from her. She would bring us to the Sunday school and that is when we fell in love with Sunday school,” said Irene.
The landlady even offered to sponsor their schooling fees through her church and brought them out for leisure activities. But when Irene’s father left, Irene and her siblings moved to Penang to stay with their grandmother. Even then, God sent a schoolteacher, Miss Cheah Lay Kian, to Irene who became her guardian angel during her most important formative years.
“Miss Cheah was God-sent because I was always sitting right behind at the corner and I was always looking outside the door. My heart was not in the class. But she noticed me and she would always approach me and talk to me.
“I didn’t know why I felt so comfortable with her. So, when she talked to me, I told her everything happening at home. I would cry in front of her. And I was only seven years old at that time,” said Irene.
Miss Cheah would offer Irene free tuition and regularly bring her out during school holidays. Even when her sisters returned from Australia for a visit, Miss Cheah would bring Irene and her siblings to play in the hotel’s swimming pool. And every Sunday without fail, Miss Cheah would bring Irene and her siblings to Sunday school despite the far distance of Irene’s home. Every Christmas and birthday, Irene would also get gifts from Miss Cheah, whereby her favourite was a thick-cover colourful Bible stories book.
“Every time when I talk about Miss Cheah, I will get emotional because my attachment to her was very strong. I don’t feel any ordinary person would do that to a student with no blood relations.
“I feel that it’s a difficult thing to do for me. That is why I feel that I need to do this for others as well. I feel that I owe many people a lot for doing things for me without regret and without asking anything in return. They just come and help. That’s why I am so grateful to God,” said Irene.
When Irene reached 11 years old, her oldest aunt wanted to personally take care of Irene, because she was the only girl growing up in the house at that time. Hence, Irene moved back to Klang to stay with her aunt.
However, the distance did not break the strong bond between Miss Cheah and Irene. In fact, they would write letter to each other every two days and talk daily on the phone. In every birthday and Christmas, Miss Cheah continued sending Irene gifts. And although Irene’s aunt was a prebeliever, she found the 12-year-old Irene Life Harvest Assembly Church in Pekeliling Lama through her friends in the market, upon request by Miss Cheah Lay Kian.
“So, I was very active in church events like Christmas, Easter, Children’s day, and camp. I thank God for my aunt in allowing me. When I am 13 years old, I said my sinner’s prayer and at that time, I decided to follow God. I felt that it is fated that I must serve Him,” said Irene.
However, the challenge came when Irene had to practice nursing alone in Penang, with no friends or connection to the church, at 21 years old.
“I backslid slowly and I felt less and less connection with God. Though I still prayed, somehow I did not feel a need to go to church. My focus deviated to work, career, and money. I wanted to climb the ladder more than God,” said Irene.
A passionate nurse, her meagre two-hour sleep a day would last her for six days of night shifts, followed by 24 hours of non-stop work.
“My grandmother even told me, ‘Why don’t you move to the hospital.’ But I find my work so meaningful. At that time, I believed that my patients would die and the hospital would collapse without me,” said Irene.
She recalled how she would volunteer to stay in the hospital for a week, following a three-day rainstorm. Without electricity, she would waddle to neck-level flood waters to the pantry to fill up a trolley with food to feed the patients. And even though she had fever, she would still run around the hospital to serve her patients. She began to earn a trustworthy reputation, where she would even wake up at 3 AM to a phone call to perform a lumbar puncture, a high-risk medical procedure.
“At that time, my focus was only in working. In my mind, ‘I want to help people, I want to help people, I want to help people.’ It came naturally. I felt that if someone needed me, I must help them,” said Irene.
Her dedication eventually earned her a promotion as a senior staff nurse (SSN) at merely 24 years old, a major feat because she was only one step away from being the manager. However, although she was soaring as a nurse, her pride began to swell as well, resulting in an argumentative behaviour.
“I became very confident in what I do. But my attitude also changed. Yes, I was promoted. But if you ask me what I gained in that five year, I have gained nothing but tiredness and sickness,” said Irene.
In that same year of promotion, Irene was diagnosed with stress-induced systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). As a nurse, it was even harder for her to accept the truth, having witnessed and known the likely end of this disease.
“For me to accept this truth, its worse than calling me to die. I even wrote a will that if my kidney and lungs are affected, please let me go, I don’t want to be treated. I witnessed how a patient suffered and I don’t want to go through the stages,’” said Irene.
Even the long-term medication she had to take would gnaw at her body, resulting in internal bleeding, diabetes, liver malfunction, kidney failure, and even dialysis. But she had no choice but to take these medications to preserve her life.
Yet, she could not hide her condition for long. The 20 pills of medication she had to swallow every day caused puffiness due to water retention, so much so that her aunt began to notice the changes of her appearance. Psychologically, she also felt stressed not being able to release the liquid she ingested daily.
“I became the doctor and I started to reduce my medications to reduce the effects. But my skin began to flush because my medications were supposed to help reduce the inflammation
“I became crazy. I scolded the doctor and negotiated with the doctor. I told him, ‘Reduce my medication! I know my body.’ But the doctor said to me, ‘If you want to die, don’t see me. If you want to live, follow my instructions,’” said Irene, who began to listen to her doctor in following treatment.
But due to the stress of handling the illness alone, she went to see the psychiatrist to share her illness. The psychiatrist told her to reveal the news to her family, also to ease her mind on whether the SLE she had was hereditary, as most cases are.
“I asked God, ‘If you are real, why did you let this happen to me? Why me out of so many thousand people?’ I have not travel the world. I have not get married. There’s so many things I have done yet,” said Irene, though she did not think about asking help from her Heavenly Father even once, at that time.
Realizing the strangeness of Irene’s behaviour, her aunt started to persuade Irene to reveal the truth. And under the weight her aunt’s amazing love, Irene could not help but eventually revealed her illness to her. Wailing over the phone, her aunt asked Irene to return to Kuala Lumpur (KL), so that she could be well taken care of. Hence, Irene decided to return to KL. Plus, maybe her SLE can subside if she managed her stress well, according to her doctor’s advice.
And indeed, upon returning, her condition of SLE stabilized! (though she had to take extra precautions of not having the second flare, which could result in more severe and fatal complications) In terms of career, God has also blessed Irene in completing a basic post course specializing in ICU management. Irene was also promoted to be a Clinical Instructor in the hospital, which allowed her to sharpen her skills while managing her stress.
“I can see God’s hand in my life. I cannot believe that I would meet my teacher Miss Cheah in Penang. She kept encouraging me, ‘You cannot let go of God. You need to walk close with God.
“And my aunts had been so kind to me as well, especially my oldest aunt who took me into her home and treated me like her own daughter. She took care of me with so much love and support.
“Also, everywhere I go, I would meet very good and godly Christian friends, always reminding me to go to church and pray,” said Irene.
As for her father, Irene last saw her father at 15 years old when she angrily threw a chair at him for the hurt he caused the family. “I said to him, ‘Don’t come back. I don’t want to see you. I would rather be fatherless than have a father like you. You do no good to us!’” said Irene.
However, by God’s grace and people’s prayer, Irene found the grace to forgiver her father. She realized that she is also a sinner. And because God has forgiven her, she would forgive her father as well. Keeping bitterness would only breed hatred and eventually kill her.
“Also, I felt that there’s something in me telling me that I am not God, and I am still human. If that’s how I treat my father, next time my children will also treat me like that. And I see this happening. You cannot blame them because we as the older ones, are their role models.
“So, if I see my father today, I will still say hi to him. If I hear that he is ill and need help, I will definitely go to him. I wouldn’t be able do it on my own because it’s not easy but it’s only possible with God,” said Irene.
A girl whose life story can be made into a movie – of family trauma, deadly illness, and even a near-death car accident – Irene Lee has certainly experienced the ups and downs of a Christian life. Yet, it is in the darkest hours, that God’s light shines the brightest.
“I think death is just a temporary departure. We all know that we are temporary in this world. It would be more painful for our family and friends than us. So, I am not afraid of death. I am only afraid of what I leave behind for those who are still alive. The best is to not leave anything that will burden them or make them suffer.
“Natural death is also a good thing because we are going back to God. We should be happy because we are going to a place without worry, without illness, without stress, and without hunger. It’s actually something for us to look forward to,” said Irene.
Indeed, God’s light shines the brightest in the darkest hour. And it is in the darkest hour, that much wisdom is acquired. Although Irene did not think about God or forgot about Him, God did not forget about her. And although she left God in pursuit of her career, God never left her or forsake her! Such is the faithfulness and the goodness of our Father in Heaven!
Are you undergoing hard times right now? Do not be afraid. Even though God might seem that He is not there, the truth is He is always there. He is with you, even now… bidding you to come to his marvellous, shining light.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
| Share the Good News |
Written by Adeline Lum