Monday, May 17, 2021

Forgiveness Brings Freedom

In his book, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote this about forgiveness: "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you."

Connecting with God

When people get hurt, they often react with resentment, anger, rage, and even hatred. While some of these feelings may be appropriate responses, holding on to them will cause more emotional pain and stress. Nurturing old wounds and resentments is like tending weeds in a garden. The more care you give them, the more they take over until there's no room for the feelings that can nourish you.

Forgiveness doesn't mean condoning inappropriate behavior and excusing personal violations. It doesn't mean hiding or denying what was done. To forgive someone of something doesn't necessarily mean turning the other cheek so that you can be hurt again. To forgive doesn't mean you forget that you were harmed. Or that you felt the way you did as a result.

What it does mean is letting go of the feelings of anger or resentment, so that you can get on with your life. Forgiving is a process -- sometimes slow -- that heals wounds and returns our power to us. So long as we hold onto old feelings, we give control of our lives over to those who have hurt us. Forgiveness sets us free.

In spite of this tremendous potential of freedom, could mere mortals really forgive? The Bible (Luke 5:20-21) recorded that Jesus said to a paralytic, "Man, your sins are forgiven you." In their heart, the Pharisees retorted, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" It is true that forgiveness of sins is beyond human. Thanks be to God, that the spirit of each Christian has been united with the Spirit of Christ (Romans 6:5). Therefore, each is given the resource for true forgiveness.

Renewing Your Mind

Forgiving is an active process. Christians could practice forgiveness through the renewing of their mind (Romans 12:2). To get from here to there is a journey to be traveled. But you don't have to take it alone. Don't be afraid to ask for help along the way. Here are some suggestions:

• Acknowledge all the feelings. Though anger and resentment might be on top, beneath may lie feelings of hurt, betrayal, loss and grief. Uncovering these more tender emotions may be painful, but, like curves in the road, it is part of the journey to be traveled.

• Stop blaming. So long as you hold someone else responsible for your feelings or circumstances, you continue to hand over the control of your life to others. As a Christian, you belong to Christ and the Holy Spirit dwells in you. Therefore, you could rely on the divine resource within you to forgive.

• Release the desire for revenge. The wish to inflict suffering or pain on the person who hurt us keeps us in a place of suffering and pain. We cannot experience the freedom of forgiveness until we are willing to move away from the need to punish. We can refrain from taking justice into our own hands because God is the judge of all.

• Learn to accept. It's virtually impossible to stop judging. However, the fewer negative judgments, the easier it is to accept the established facts. Does complaining about "the weather is awful" or "the sunset is not pretty" really change things? Acceptance is an expression of forgiveness.

• Decide to confront or not. Talking with the person who has harmed you may or may not be the best action to take. You need Godly wisdom and timing. Professional counseling can help you in making this decision.

• Let go. Only through releasing all feelings of anger, resentment, or animosity can forgiveness be unconditional. Unforgiveness is incompatible with our new spirit in Christ. Letting go is possible only because we now trust that God cares for us. Forgiveness would free us from captivity and bondage of the past when we let the Holy Spirit lead our new life.

Practicing Changes

When we say, "I'll never forgive myself," we sentence ourselves to a life of guilt and shame. Forgiveness is not just an outward expression toward others. Turning the open hand of forgiveness inward is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us. When we forgive ourselves we acknowledge our human limitations, release ourselves from our own judgments and practice self-acceptance. These actions are essential for a life of freedom and joy.

You can practice self-forgiveness in the following ways:
  •      accepting yourself rather than judging yourself
  •      honoring yourself rather than blaming yourself
  •      nurturing yourself rather than criticizing yourself
  •      releasing the past rather than holding onto it
All the above is possible only through identifying yourself with the new spirit already in you because, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Forgiveness, even self-forgiveness cannot be forced. And it may not come easily. Like many other skills we must learn, self-forgiveness takes practice. If you are unable to immediately release the past and move on, be forgiving of yourself and continue the practice.

Still find it hard to forgive someone or yourself? Remember, your Heavenly Father has forgiven you in His Son. God loves you. You belong to Him as His children. Nothing can separate you from His love. Approach His throne boldly.

"If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

I'm so grateful that my Dad believed in Christ a few months before he died of lung cancer. A few years later, I became a Christian and learned to love and to forgive.
Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Friday, May 7, 2021

A Loving Mother with Needlework

Mother's Day is coming again. This year I miss not only my mother, but also my mother-in-law, my second mother.

On March 10 this year, my mother-in-law went to be with the Lord in her sleep. In her memorial service, James' older sister showed everyone a beautiful sweater knitted by their mom. At the graveside service, James' younger brother recited the poem "You Zi Yin" by poet Meng Jiao of the Tang Dynasty.  I found an English translation on the Internet to share with you:
A Traveler's Lament by MENG Jiao, translated by Betty Tseng
"A loving mother busied herself with needlework
On clothes for a son who was going away;
On the eve of his departure she sewed thread after thread,
Worrying that his return would be delayed and late.
How could the love of grass only inches tall
Ever reciprocate spring after spring of sunshine day after day?"
Skillful Hands of Mommy (My Mother)
Mommy is what I called my beloved mother. At the end of August 1973, the day before I left Hong Kong to study in the United States, Mommy accidentally burned my favorite silk blouse while ironing. However, Mommy quickly tailored the burnt collar from sharp corners to rounded corners, and turned my tears into laughter.  The next day we embraced and said goodbye. It was the last time we saw each other.
Two years later, Mommy suffered a heart attack and died in Hong Kong at the age of 48.  Another Chinese saying described how I felt: "The son wants to provide but the parents are no longer there." For years, I was tormented by the thought that I failed to fulfil my childhood promise to buy her a house and take her traveling. I never had the chance to take care of Mommy as she aged (she didn't). But the most regrettable thing is that she had never seen my husband and son.
"Why did I leave Mommy for the United States?" There was a knot in my heart for many years. I couldn't forgive myself until I became a believer in 1989.
The Story of Mama (My Mother-in-Law)
Mama is what I called James' mother after we got married. Mama  had a happy and easy-going personality. It is hard to imagine that she lost her father at the age of 6 and was raised by her widowed mother and widowed grandmother. (Both lost their husbands in their twenties.)
In 1948, Mama took a boat to Taiwan to marry her fiancé. She did not expect her separation from her mother and grandmother would be permanent. Mama got married, taught school, and raised four children. She walked with her husband through many challenges, including moving to the United States in 1968.
In 2000, James' father passed away after a stroke and Mama experienced tremendous grief. Attending seminary at the time, James visited her weekly on a weekday and read the Bible with her. Mama was a skeptic about resurrection (although she was a Catholic) but eventually she believed in Salvation through Jesus Christ and understood and accepted the sovereignty of God.
In 2003, James took Mama to join a senior fellowship in a Christian church. Mama was invited to start a Chinese painting class in 2004 and taught until she was 92 years old. Mama lived a meaningful and joyous life by participating in Thursday fellowship and Sunday worship, teaching Tuesday Chinese painting class, and enjoying time with her children, grandchildren and friends.
Unless we were out of the Bay Area, James and I visited Mama every Sunday. It was always a special time instead of just a routine. Mama loved to sing hymns and praise songs. After Sunday dinner, Mama and James sang one song after another while I played the piano. We read the Bible, talked about happenings during the week, and prayed together. Every Monday morning, we took her for a walk around Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park, year after year.
She loved looking at photos in her family albums. Many times she would suddenly say, "Winnis, thank you for bringing James to church so that Baba and I can also know the Lord Jesus."
I remember a time when James and I were going to Europe to train disciples of Christ. As usual, Mama walked us downstairs. Before we left, she hugged me tightly and said, "Winnis, thank you for taking care of James all these years." I hugged her back and said, "Mama, thank you! I love you!"
Thank God that James' younger sister and her husband moved Mama to live downstairs with them three years ago. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, James' sister helped Mama to zoom with us every Sunday until two weeks before her passing.
On the afternoon of March 5th, our brother-in-law called James and said that Mama was approaching her end. We rushed to San Francisco immediately. Mama was in bed with her eyes closed, but she still responded to her favorite songs: "Whom I Have But You", "Jehovah is Love", "Sing a Heavenly Song", and "Thanks to God for My Redeemer".
Gifts from Mothers
Thank God that I have two mothers who love me. Mama lived for 98 years and Mommy was only alive for 48 years. I have learned that nobody can control how long we live. But whether our life is long or short, we can still make the best of our lives because living is the grace of God.
I love Mommy because she encouraged me and sacrificed for me. I admire Mama because she pursued the development of a healthy true self throughout her life, and was the pillar of her family. Mama used her words and examples to build a healthy and happy marriage and family.
After Mama believed in the Lord, she even lived out a Christ-centered life in faith.  Other than her own children, grandchildren and friends, she served faithfully in church, leaving many precious gifts to the next generations.
Reflecting on Mama's life, James realized how God had looked after her all her life, even when she left China for Taiwan and then moved to the United States. In Taiwan, Mama believed in God when some nuns visited the school she taught in. Through the hard years of immigrant life, God kept her faithful in attending Mass every week. Although she did not know Christ before understanding the Bible, she held on to God's love and faithfulness.
What can a mother leave for her children? The apostle Paul once wrote to Timothy, "I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also." (2 Timothy 1:5)

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Hoping Is Not A Hopeless Endeavor

Having a healthy dose of hope can be motivating and inspiring. It keeps people focused on what's ahead instead of what's in the past. It can also help keep the focus on possibilities, and reframe obstacles as opportunities.

For some, however, being hopeful goes hand-in-hand with feeling naïve or foolish when things don't work out as planned. They would rather not have hope at all if it means later disappointment.
But for others, having hope doesn't mean living in denial of life's difficulties; it simply reminds them there are better times ahead.
The Benefits of Hope
Research indicates that it's more beneficial to have hope than not. Hopeful people tend to show more resilience when faced with difficulties. They have healthier lifestyle habits and, on the whole, are more successful, personally and professionally.
According to the Mayo Clinic, having a hopeful, positive attitude has health benefits as well. These include: increased life span, reduced depression, lowered levels of distress, increased resistance to the common cold, greater emotional and psychological well-being, decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and improved coping skills during difficulties and stress.
In addition, people with hope typically have meaningful long- and short-term goals, a plan to achieve those goals, flexibility to find alternate ways to achieve goals when faced with obstacles, and positive self-talk.
We human beings are sometimes too inventive for our own good -- we can envision a future course of action along with every potential catastrophe that could occur along the way. Being aware of everything that can go wrong often makes doing nothing -- in an attempt to avoid failure or pain -- seem like a viable option.

Cultivating hope, on the other hand, helps activate creativity and inventiveness and prompts us to solve the predicaments we face by taking action in spite of our fears.

Hope brings with it the belief that things can change for the better. Regardless of how dire things may seem, there is potential for a positive outcome.

Is It Possible to Be Too Hopeful?

It could be said that optimists have a healthy dose of hope while "extreme optimists" suffer from blinding hope. They want nothing to do with bad news.
Researchers at Duke University found that extreme optimists (you could call them "high-hopers") don't save money, don't pay off credit cards and don't make long-term plans, but they are more likely to remarry if divorced.
Moderation, as usual, is the key. The researchers also found that "moderate optimists" tend to work harder, work longer hours, make more money, save more money, and pay off credit cards.
Being a moderate high-hoper doesn't mean keeping your head in the sand when it comes to life's occasional unpleasant circumstances. It just means keeping a positive attitude -- believing the best will happen, not the worst.
Studies seem to suggest that being hopeful is a skill that can be learned. So whether you're an extreme optimist, an extreme pessimist or somewhere in between, there is hope for us all.
A Different Kind of Hope that Gives Us Strength
Feeling the love of God and believing in Jesus as our resurrected Lord has brought us a different kind of hope.
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." (Romans 5:1-5)
Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Have a Goodnight's Sleep

According to a National Sleep Foundation poll a few years ago, 40% of adults say they get less than seven hours of sleep on a weeknight, compared with the seven to nine hours that are recommended.

Of course, most of us know this. We burn the midnight oil, we get up way before the kids just to get things done. Our days are go, go, go! And it’s often hard to stay asleep once we get there.
And while most of us know that too little sleep makes us cranky, less focused and less available to those who need us, did you know this?
• Bodies deprived of sleep produce less leptin, an appetite-regulating hormone; this increases our craving for sweets and salty carbohydrates.
• Shortened sleep produces metabolic changes. These may lead to diabetes or may alter the nervous system in a way that could contribute to high blood pressure and heart-rhythm irregularities.
• Insomnia substantially increases the risk of developing depression.
In short, not getting enough rest can affect both our mental and physical health much more than we thought. Here are some DOs and DON’Ts that will help you get healthful, renewing sleep more often.
 DO structure your sleep. Try to go to bed and arise at the same times every day. Irregular hours can throw off the internal biological clock.
 DO create a soothing bedtime routine. Watching the news or reading the latest page-turner are not good sleep inducers. Meditation or soothing music helps to end the day.
 DON’T work, eat or watch TV in bed. Keep your bedroom for sleep. DO keep it quiet, dark and cool, and your feet warm. However, within five minutes of waking, expose yourself to bright light.
 DON’T exercise or eat heavily within several hours of bedtime. Both energize the body. However, DO exercise in the late afternoon or early evening. This reduces tension and makes falling asleep easier.
 DO avoid stimulants and alcohol late in the day. Caffeine, nicotine, sugary snacks and alcohol all can cause wakefulness.
 DO head off potential anxieties at the bedroom door. Make lists of chores or tasks for the next day, and/or gather things you will need. (It’s like laying out your kid's school clothes!) If worries keep you awake, write your concerns down and list possible solutions already swimming in your head without analyzing them.
 DON’T look at your clock if you wake up in the night. Figuring how much sleep you’re missing intensifies the wee-hours stress of insomnia. Cover your clock, if you need to.
Do you have a habit of staying up late and waking up early to do things on your own? If you feel stressed, anxious, frustrated, lonely and terrified, you are not alone! I felt the same until I found real safety and security in Christ. We all face pressure and challenges of life; but I trust that Jesus loves me and will never leave me nor abandon me. 
By nature we all want to fix problems and make things better on our own. But who is really in control?
"In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety." (Psalm 4:8)

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Love Them in the Ways that They Get it

Love is powerful. Being loved and cared for are basic human needs. Holding premature babies in your arms, talking with them, and singing to them can make up for their congenital shortcomings.

Love Languages

One couple was in distress over their teenager. The mom lamented, "I do this and that for him all day, but he doesn't appreciate me one bit." The dad added, "He always asks for homework help at the last minute. Instead of giving thanks, he questions my logic and gets mad at me!" When love and dedication are taken for granted, parents will inevitably feel hurt and depressed.

Are today's young people just selfish, inconsiderate, and ungrateful? Is it possible that they don't feel loved deep down in their hearts?

Author Gary Chapman described "The Five Languages ​​of Love" in a series of books. Depending on experience and needs, everyone has his or her dominant language of love: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, and Gifts. A loving relationship can only be established after the most heartwarming expression of love is received.

For example, a daughter yelling "You don't care!" may wish to spend quality time with her parents listening to her fear, anxiety and dreams instead of advising, nagging and lecturing. Therefore, don't get upset at "You don't love me!" but try listening to their feelings with empathy. There is a Chinese saying, "You will only understand the love of your parents when you raise your own child." Maybe someday our children will really understand our love and sacrifice. But why not try to love them now with the love they desire so that they can truly feel your love?

Depositing Love into Your Marriage

Another author Gary Thomas once said to a young friend, "If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there's no question--stay single. Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you want to become more like Jesus, I can't imagine any better thing to do than to get married. Being married forces you to face some character issues you'd never have to face otherwise."
Some couples do not feel loved in their marriage even though their spouse keeps saying: "Am I not cooking, cleaning, and driving around all day for you and our children?" or "I work so hard to make money to support our family, and you still say I don't love you?" The truth of the matter is that people wants their needs to be understood, and they want to receive the kind of love they desire. Therefore, please pay special attention to complaints in the home. Does a exhausted mother need acts of service from her family? Does a problem solving father wish to be respected and affirmed?
Regular deposits are required for the "Love Bank" between two people because every negative interaction may cancel out 5-7 positive interactions. Do more positive, effective, and constructive things. Pay particular attention to your words and body language such as facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and movements.  Couples need to date regularly in order to cultivate their marital relationship.
On this coming Valentine's Day, would you like to stop destructive interactions and negative thoughts, and start making a list of positive things you like about each other? Try to express your love by encouraging and affirming their efforts, listening to their feelings, hugging and kissing, saying, "I love you!" and buying (or making) a heart-to-heart gift.
Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Plan Your New Year Today

After what we have gone through in 2020, everyone is yearning for a Happy New Year. Unfortunately, the wake up call has shaken us to the core and deep down inside, we don't feel life is as predictable as we once like to imagine. 

No wonder someone confidently "predicted" that there would be ups and downs in the New Year. If uncertainty is the only certain thing in life, how then can we keep our hope and live life to the fullness, one day at a time?

The best way to have a good year is by living life on a daily basis, letting the good days accumulate, one by one. And it doesn't have to be New Year's to resolve to have a good year. Start anytime. Today, for instance.

1. Take time, slow down. Be present in your life and mindful of the present.

2. Care for your body, eat well, exercise, treat yourself to loving, nurturing self-care.

3. Spend quality time with family and friends. Communicate, keep in touch. Say I love you. Tell people you appreciate them.

4. Take time throughout the day to renew yourself. Take a walk, read a poem or a good book, listen to music (really listen); bring beauty into your life. On a monthly basis, take a whole day for yourself—play, treat yourself to something you want to do; retreat from your daily life. Mark these special days on your calendar (in ink) so you'll be certain to take them.

5. Clean up what needs to be cleaned up. Make amends, fix what's broken, clear away clutter, forgive what needs to be forgiven and let go.

6. Commit to a project you really want to do or to learning something new or attaining something you want. Commitment is the first step. Then set achievable goals and work toward them on a daily basis.

7. Give yourself to a cause, volunteer at a nonprofit organization, a community group, your church or lend a hand to an individual or family who could use your help.

8. Practice your spiritual discipline on a daily basis. "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:21-23)

9. Laugh every day. "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." (Proverbs 17:22)

10. Take time to dream. Life on earth is short. Instead of doing the same old thing out of habit and tradition, ask yourself, "What's God's calling and plan for me?" and boldly follow your dream!

Monday, December 14, 2020

Love Without Fear

Nobody wants to be hurt, but protecting ourselves often prevent us from loving freely and living courageously. Let's face it: love is messy. With its magnified highs and lows, love is unpredictable and never what we expect—so much so that we might be tempted to cower in fear. But if we approach love with the courage of a warrior, we can have relationships of heroic proportions. Here are 10 ways:

1. Be your true self. If we want to be loved for who we truly are, why put on an act? Do you know that you and I are so valuable in God's eyes that He was willing to rescue us, risking the life of His Son Jesus Christ?

2. Don't believe just your side of the story. Our interpretation of events and feelings is, in fact, just one possibility for what is actually true. Focus on what IS to get closer to the truth.

3. Stay open. Fear's favorite pastime is to shut us down. But when we are vulnerable, true connection to others is possible because "there is no fear in love."

4. Speak up. We become silent when instead we desperately want to connect.

5. Stop looking for perfection. More than likely, what we call "high standards" is a mask for our own feelings of inadequacy.

6. Embrace the messiness. It gives us the gift of growth.

7. Allow yourself to feel mad. Learn the difference, though, between expressing anger responsibly and dumping it.

8. Love with no thought of what you'll get in return. This is fearless love in action.

9. Take responsibility. Be accountable for your own emotions, thoughts and actions.

10. Love yourself. Only then can you love others and be loved.

Are you living in fear or in love? It might be a good time to find out what you are afraid of and where that story came from.

Even after being married for 13 years, I still did not understand the true meaning of love. When I met Jesus Christ, I finally realized the Truth. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." (1 John 4:18 ESV)

Thank God for what happened one night more than two thousand years ago. In the wilderness of Bethlehem, the angel said to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications