Saturday, February 22, 2020

Things to Say Before It's Too Late

Last week, James and I spent a quiet Valentine's Day. After all, with so much bad news in the world, being alive together is God's blessings and grace.

As a pastor's wife and a licensed marriage and family therapist, I often hear people say, "we are an old couple" even though they are not that old at all. Seriously, when young parents feel that there is nothing left to say other than the trivialities of life such as: "Can you go to the dry cleaner? ... Have you pulled the garbage can out?" What is the implication?

Life is short. Why not say something true, good and beautiful while you have the chance to build a warm and loving relationship?

Deeper communication requires deliberate changes, including a willingness to reveal one's vulnerability. But isn't it worth taking a risk for your happiness and relationships? After all, your spouse is your life-long partner, and will be with you all your life. At least that was your original intent for your marriage, wasn't it?

Always remember that your body language and tone of voice are often more important than what you say. Of course, actions may speak louder than words. However, don’t let the Chinese culture and saying such as "Love is to be treasured in the heart but not expressed with your mouth" block you from expressing your love and care verbally. Please try to practice the following phrases that could change the atmosphere of your home:

"Thank you for... " Everyone likes to be acknowledged and appreciated for what they do. Thank your partner for more than just what you asked him/her to do. For example, you might thank him or her for being a great parent, for always making time for the children.

"Would you please... " Expecting your partner to read your mind is expecting the impossible. Say what you want and need. When you articulate your wishes clearly, resentments don't have time to build up, and you can also work together to find win-win solutions.

"How do you feel about..." Ask, and then listen to your partner's response, withholding judgment or any need to change or fix the feelings.

"I feel... " State your feelings and tell the truth. Notice the difference between "I think" and "I feel" statements. Learn to use different feeling words (e.g. disappointed, hurt, frustrated, worried, appreciative, excited, etc.).

"I'm sorry... " Admit your mistakes and apologize for them. You may feel vulnerable, but your honesty is likely to inspire the same in the other person and open the door for closer connection.

"I forgive you...Accepting apologies for mistakes your partner makes is a way of letting go of resentments, and that frees you both.

"I appreciate your... " Shine the light on your partner's qualities. You'll create an arena of goodwill that shines back on you.

"What I hear you saying... " Listen, really listen, and let your partner know he/she has been heard.

"I agree with you because... " Validating your partner's point of view and perspective helps him/her feel heard and understood.

"What have you been reading recently?" Open up communication on an intellectual level and you may feel the warmth of common views -- or sparks of difference—that drew you together in the first place.

"Where do you see yourself in five years?" Listen to your partner's vision, and then share your own. The question may inspire a new, shared plan or uncover the need to build a bridge between your dreams.

"I love you... " Find your own variations on these three little words; you can't say them too often. Don't be shy or afraid to express your love! Never use "I love you more than I can say" as an excuse!

Every day is our Valentine's Day when James and I walk, talk, read the Bible and pray together. Since our time on this earth is limited, we love to share life around the Word of God, and we hope that you will also seize the opportunity to express your love to those around you.

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Handling Anxiety

So many of us were looking forward to celebrating New Year 2020 and Chinese New Year in the same month as we hoped for a better year. But bad news like the outbreak of Wuhan Coronavirus and the helicopter death of Kobe Bryant remind us that life is unpredictable and out of our control. Who wouldn't be nervous, worried and anxious?

Anxiety is different from fear but they are related. Fear is a feeling of tension that is associated with a known source of danger. Anxiety is also a feeling of tension, but in this case, the danger or the threat of danger is unknown. Anxiety is often anticipatory—worrying about the future. Without apparent reason, a person may worry about their job, fret over the well-being of a child or feel apprehensive about their own health.

Anxiety is the culprit that wakes us in the night and won't let us go back to sleep. It distracts us and makes us irritable and forgetful. Physical symptoms can include trembling or shakiness, clammy hands, dry mouth, sweating, headaches, neck pain, frequent urination and heart palpitations.

Mild anxiety is normal in our daily lives and can be eased with some basic tools. Answer the following questions to find out how well you use some of these tools.

1. When I feel anxious, I take deep breaths to ground and calm myself down.
2. To ease some of the tension, I relax my body and physically release the tightness in my shoulders, neck, arms and chest.
3. I vent my feelings of anxiety by writing or talking to someone who listens with empathy to help get the strong emotions off my chest and out of my body.
4. I channel the tension into some kind of physical activity like walking, sweeping the floor, doing the dishes, or watering the yard.
5. I get a reality check by talking to someone I trust about my reasoning or thinking or the conclusions I've come to.
6. If I know I'm going to be in an anxiety-producing situation, I plan through how I will handle it; I get myself ready.
7. I watch how others get through stressful situations and model them; I ask questions about the best way to handle situations or events or people.
8. When the same anxiety comes up over and over, I log and assess possible causes and solutions.
9. When it doesn't interfere with my normal life, I generally try to avoid people, places and events that I know will produce anxiety.
10. Sometimes, when I have to face a situation that I know will cause anxiety, I take someone with me.
11. I face and take responsibility for problems and commit to a plan of action, rather than avoiding, denying, minimizing or blaming.
12. I nurture a positive attitude.
13. I seek support from friends, family, counselors, support group, and brothers and sisters from church.
14. When I feel anxious, I go directly to my Savior and Lord Jesus Christ to ask for help because I believe I cannot save myself!

Anxiety is a normal emotion that most people experience in their daily lives. Some anxieties are healthy and can motivate us to to complete difficult tasks. However, intense anxiety is a very painful emotion and can interfere with one's daily functioning. If you are worried about your fear and anxiety, please feel free to visit ParentingABCtoday.com for help, or just let me pray with you.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7)

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Cultivating a Grateful Heart

"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever." (Psalm 136:1)

With so many bad news in the world, near and far, do you sometimes find it hard to give thanks?

There was a time that I was scheduled to give a talk in a support group. When the time came, I had reserved one morning to finish my handout. But that day as I was fixing breakfast, my back suddenly hurt so badly that I couldn't stand up straight.

Oh No! My sciatica pain has flared up again!

I carefully moved towards the wall and started doing the "Untwisting Your Nerve" exercise that I learned in physical therapy. But when it did not seem to work, I started to panic.

There is no way for me to prepare for the talk! May be I cannot even go!

I prayed and slowly walked to my home office in a crouching position. After sitting quietly for awhile, I sent an e-mail.

"Hi, I'm still planning to be there but I may not have handout.  Most likely I will send you the handout pretty late because my back is hurting and I have other responsibilities. Please pray for all attendees and me, especially for my sciatica pain. See you."

I sat quietly and accepted (not just enduring) the pain of the moment. Before I knew it, my back pain was gone. Two days later, I shared this most recent example in my "Dealing with Emotions -- How Emotions and Stress Affect Our Health" workshop. How could I not give thanks to the Lord?

Counting our blessings and giving thanks can take our minds away from troubles in our life and in this world. I like to use the following list to cultivate a grateful heart during Thanksgiving. Please try one or two questions.

1. What one biggest gift (tangible or intangible) have you received this year?
2. What two things changed your life this year?
3. What three incidents help you grow in your faith this year?
4. Which four blessings in your home are you willing to thank God for?
5. What five happy experiences have you had?
6. What six things created by God are things that we cannot live without even though we sometimes take them for granted?
7. Who are seven people, inside or outside of your home, for whom you are most thankful?

My biggest gift in 2019 is our fifth grandchild. After my daughter-in-law's mother took care of them for a month, I went to help for 24 days. I could hold the baby all day, even though I had to first sit down and wait for her parents to bring her. I also enjoyed spending time with the other grandchildren, often playing one game after another, or reading one storybook after another. Thank God that my son and daughter-in-law are responsible parents and they understand my sciatica. Going to bed early and taking naps, I was more relaxed there than in California!

There were many other incidents and changes that helped me grow in my faith this year.

One is regarding my sciatic pain. This time last year I told my primary doctor the recurrence of lower back pain. Once again she prescribed physical therapy and plenty of rest. Since I already tried Physical Therapy a few times without lasting outcome, I was skeptical. Nevertheless I made an appointment for December when I wasn't so busy. However, my back was hurting so badly the morning after Thanksgiving that I had to call for help.

Amazingly, they said I could see another Physical Therapist that afternoon. After asking me about my situation, she asked me to stand naturally in front of a mirror and put my hands on my hips. She showed me how my left and right sides were not leveled. She diagnosed the cause of my sciatica pain and taught me exercises and sleep positioning in the next few months. She even prepared me the right way to hold my new grand-baby.

The "Untwisting Your Nerve" exercise was so helpful that I was able to resume daily walk with James since the end of May. Thank God for His divine appointment for me to meet this knowledgeable, skillful and caring Physical Therapist!

I also experienced God's amazing grace with James' eyesight changes. In late July, his left eye suddenly had blurred vision. I was scared because that is his only functioning eye. After seeing a Retina specialist, an injection was given to his eyeball in early August to slow down the build-up of fluid in his retina. The off-label drug was normally prescribed for chemotherapy treatment. There was no guarantee for healing. "Perhaps we can rely on injection to keep his vision from getting worse. When his vision is stable, perhaps he can wear special glasses."

I sent out prayer requests pleading our merciful God to allow James to drive, read, preach, and lead Bible studies.

James remained calm. I tried not to be emotional but I was feeling very scared and worried, especially after searching the Internet and reading many negative reports. What if the shot had negative effects? What if James became blind? What if ...

Amazingly, James' could see clearly in just 2 days after the injection. In his September check up, even the doctor was surprised how fast his eye had recovered. James did not need another injection but had to be checked again to make sure his vision was stabilized. Imagine our joy when James tested 20/20 on his left eye in November! The doctor said, "All is well. Let's check again in December because we need to keep an eye on you." I could not help but say "Thank God!" Even the doctor nodded his head.

In 2007, James underwent surgery on this left eye to treat the macular hole in the retina. I was scared to death before his operation until I was comforted by the Word of God in our Thursday Bible study. 12 years later, the same eye needed an eyeball injection and I was scared to death again. Amazingly, a few days before the injection, in our Monday Bible study in a different city, God spoke clearly to me again using the same passage (Mark 6:45-52). Jesus said to me, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." How can I not thank the Lord?

Life is unpredictable but we can thank the Lord Jesus for saving us and walking with us. Please Click HERE to read my article titled "Giving Thanks While Bowing Down" to find out how James' left eye lost and regained central vision in 2007. Thank God for His love and faithfulness!

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

How are you? Let me listen to your gratitude and stress, and pray for you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Lord Gives Peace

"People have sorrow and joy; they part and meet again and again. The moon dims or shines; it waxes and wanes again and again." This quote by Su Dongpo reminds us the reality of life. On this day of the Autumn Moon Festival, I would like to share a real life experience many years ago.

Four days after the 911 terrorist attack in 2001, my husband James and I drove our son to college. We stayed at a friend's house on the way so that we could arrive at the campus early. Unexpectedly, there was already a long line of cars waiting for the "freshmen move-in" service provided by upperclassmen and we had to line up a few blocks away. Fortunately, the college juniors and seniors were strong, and the line moved fast. When our van reached the front of the line after two hours, some muscled guys unloaded all of our son’s belongings and placed them into huge canvas containers with wheels. With ease, they rolled the containers through winding pathways connecting different buildingsBefore we knew it, our son's belongings arrived the upstairs suite where he would live for one year with five other guys.

I was relieved watching how our son took initiative to greet people and strike up conversations. We met a young man who was helping his younger brother to move in. When he noticed the cross on the homemade necklace our son was wearing, he asked, "Are you a Christian?" The two of them became friends and quickly exchanged phone numbers.

With lightning speed, our teenager set up his PC and made sure everything worked. While I was making his extra long bed, he and James took turn checking their e-mails. Sitting in front of his desk in his single room, our son put his hands behind his head, looked out the window, and proclaimed, "This place is like a palace."

Not wasting a moment, James said, "Time to go."

Caught by surprise, I uttered, "Let's check out the bookstore and help him buy his books." 

Suppressing my feelings, I stopped by different attractions to take pictures, trying to appreciate the beautiful campus while we walked. But how I wanted to linger on!

I could not believe how fast our son found all his text books and paid for them with his credit card. I was proud of him but also felt regretful. Has my boy really grown up?

As soon as we left the bookstore, James said again, "Time to go."

I almost collapsed but still pretended to be calm. I glanced at my watch. "Hey, it's almost noon, let's have lunch. We can stay a couple more hours." They did not object, but we were all very quiet on the way to the cafeteria.

As we walked, I asked myself, "Why are they so eager to separate? My friends said their daughters were reluctant to let their parents go home. Doesn't my son love me anymore? Why doesn't my husband support me?"

Suddenly, I thought about 911 and the news that there might be more terrorist attacks. I have mixed feelings and thoughts. After I came to the United States for college, I never saw my mom again because she died of heart failure two years later at age 48. Mom had never seen her son-in-law and grandson. What if ... Thinking about all these things, I can’t help but feel sadder and sadder.

Waiting in line for food in the dining hall, my son suddenly asked: "Mom, are those tears in your eyes?"

I could not stop my tears when I poured out my heart. I was feeling angry, disappointed, sad, anxious, afraid, ... They both nodded as they listened. Thank God that they listened, understood, and accepted me! As it turned out, they also felt the sadness of separation. And that's why they longed for a quick departure to fix the pain!

After lunch I suggested, "Let's take more pictures on campus. Mom will be on her way in a couple of hours." They burst into laughter at my delay tactic. Two hours later, James took our final photo with our almost six-foot tall son wrapping his arm around my shoulders. The tears in my eyes and the smile on my face is the proof of my bittersweet experience.

When we arrived home late at night, an email was waiting for us: "Dear Mom and Dad, thank you for taking me to school. I am fine so don't worry. My new friend today will pick me up for church. Good night. Love you."

Jesus told His disciples, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Remembering Dad and Giving Thanks to Our Father in Heaven

On this Father's Day, I remember my father and give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ for His wonderful salvation. May all glory, honor, and praises be given to our Father in Heaven.

Remembering Dad -- a father who made mistakes but eventually became a "New Creation"

Although Dad has passed away for many years, he is still in my heart. My Dad betrayed my Mom and had a son with another woman when I was one year old. Mom was helpless in changing his mind. Using Grandma’s “two girls in a row ...” as a excuse, Dad made his mistress his concubine and broke Mom's heart. I became Mom's confidant as she instilled the concept of being an independent woman who would never rely on my husband.

Strive to be Accepted

Even though Dad betrayed Mom, she still desire his love and acceptance. It was evident from my preschool photo (having a boy's haircut and wearing a jumpsuit) that Mom was still concerned about being able to give birth to a son. She took risk of pregnancy disregarding her doctor's warning. After nine years of trying, she finally gave Dad a son to regain his love. At the same time, I worked hard to compete with boys. I tried to find affirmation with good grades and good behaviors so to please my Dad and Grandma, and to make Mom proud.

However, in spite of human efforts, despite the apparent peace of mind, nobody can break the tradition of favoring boys over girls, make up for the infidelity in the marriage contract, and heal the wound of being rejected. I can't believe that I am valuable, and love can last.

After the marital storm, my parents tried to live a normal family life, and finally they had a son. My younger brother brought happiness to my parents. But their good times didn't last long. In his thirties, Dad lost his son (my half-brother). In his fifties, he lost his wife (my mother). He felt deeply guilty about his two wives and children through pain and suffering.

I don't understand why Dad has to go through so much pain. In his generation, people can marry many wives. He desperately wanted to treat them fairly but that was impossible. I still remember an occasion when he was drunk, he tearfully advised my cousins: "Don't marry two wives! One is enough!"

Jesus heals my wound

Unhealthy thoughts, feelings, or behaviors are often passed down from generation to generation. The tragedy of my family of origin helped me understand the dark and struggling side of human nature. Although I have always loved my father, I have hated him. When I became a young mother, the tragedy of my parents became the shadow behind my relationship with my husband, which made me both over sensitive and insecure.

In 1989, I realized that I am a new creation. God's love and faithfulness healed my wounds, helped me to accept my past, and forgive those who had hurt me, especially Dad. I am most grateful to find out that he had already believed in the Lord before he died in 1986. This news brought me unexpected peace and great comfort, thanking God for the wonderful salvation of Jesus Christ!

I am sharing my family secrets on Father's Day because I could imagine that if Dad is still alive, he would share his failures and weaknesses without the fear of losing face. He would share how the Lord Jesus Christ healed his sorrowful and contrite heart. In retrospect, Dad still tried to correct the terrible mistakes he made in an unhealthy cultural environment, trying to be a good husband and a good father: providing for both families, sharing dinner with my mother and us four nights a week, taking us to parks, movies, restaurants, and sending me to college in the United States. 

After making his share of mistakes, he repented and became a responsible person.  This has affected me deeply to help couples deal with marital crisis today. I can't rewrite history, but I can say, "Dad, I love you! How glad I am that you and I have a new life given by the Lord Jesus Christ!"

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mom's Unconditional Love in Action

Thank you for praying for me and my family. I am back in the Bay Area after visiting my son's family. Here is a photo of my newest bundle of joy soon after I arrived their home.
On this Mother's Day, I wanted to remember my mother's unconditional love. A similar article written in Chinese will be sent separately in a short while. 
It was August, 1973. The day before I left Hong Kong for college in California, my mom insisted on ironing all my shirts by herself (even though our family had a maid).
Suddenly Mom cried, "Oh no!"
I rushed in, saw what happened, and yelled, "Why did you do that?"
I walked away to conceal my disappointment -- my favorite blouse was ruined! Then I felt really guilty yelling at Mom. Why did I do that?
I was sitting there dejected when her gentle voice called, "Your blouse is okay. Look..." She had cut the burnt tip off and made both pointed collars curved!
The next day we hugged and bid farewell. Two years later, she died of heart failure while I was still in college. Yet her love lives in me and sustains me. I treasure our last family photo taken a few months before I left Hong Kong with me standing next to Mom. Who could imagine I would never see her again after coming to California?
How do I know my mom loved me? That day when I yelled at her, somehow she knew I was anxious about going to the United States and she forgave me for taking things out on her. Her love helped me years later to understand the greater love of Christ. 
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

Happy Mother's Day!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Hoping Is Not A Hopeless Endeavor

Happy Easter! Christ is Risen Indeed!
Years ago, I did not know how I could ever repair my marriage with James while we kept on arguing who had the right way of raising our 5-years-old son. Today, I have the privilege, honor and pleasure to hold our fifth grandbaby, and to read to and play with four older grandkids. Who could have imagined?
Thank God for giving me hope when I felt so hopeless! And that's why I believe in Hope!
"Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible." - Anonymous
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 naive 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
  • Improved coping skills during difficulties/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
  • 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
  • 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.
In other words, whether you expect the best or the worst from life, chances are that's what you'll get.
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 in Christ
I came to know a different kind of hope in 1989 when I entrusted my life to Christ. Ultimately, hope does not disappoint the followers of Christ, not because Christians are "moderate high-hopers," but because Christian hope is grounded in the promises of God. Consider Abraham's story:
"He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform." (Romans 4:20-21)
What are you hoping for? Are you in a seemingly hopeless situation? You are not alone!
As a counselor, I try to understand your pains and suffering although I can never completely understand you. As a workshop leader, teacher, coach and writer, I try to share what I have learned. We all have to face problems on earth; but the Risen Christ already has victory over sin and death. I am called to be a Marriage & Family therapist and a pastor's wife because I believe there is Real Hope in Christ.
"If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Life is not easy. Are you hurt, disappointed and angry today? Please share a prayer request with me. I may not have time to write back but I will take time to pray for you and with you. I will keep things confidential. I know it is between you and God but you might want someone to pray with you.
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:23)
May our Risen Lord Jesus Christ give you peace and hope!

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications