What is prayer to me?

Lessons I learned from praying…
1) No matter how bad or hopeless or sad I feel, prayer sees me through. One night, I felt so sad and frustrated I went out alone to drive around town. It felt like I was at the end of the rope – didn’t know what else to do. I texted a friend thousands of miles away to pray for me. She and her husband prayed for me. It got me through that night and the following day till today… as I look back, prayer works!

2) God is always ahead of me. He answers my prayer even before I thought of it. When I was about to give birth to Mimi, I said: Sana my girl would look like hubby so my in-laws would love her just like they would a grandson. How silly of me to pray that on the day i was to have my caesarean section. But out came Mimi and of my 3 children, Mimi looks the most like hubby. When she was 1 week old, a friend observed Mimi looked very much like her ama (granny). And it’s true.

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3) God gives me more than I asked. Although my children are all girls, my in laws loved them just as much and even more than what I could hope and pray for. I learned that God gives me beyond what I know how to ask for. My shallow qualification for a hubby was for him to be tall. Not tall, dark and handsome.. just tall. God gave me tall, fair and wise. Perhaps a bit too domineering. 😉 But God used hubby to shape me into the person I am today. I was too young and immature – I was naive. I did not know how it was to marry an only begotten son. God used my in-laws to transform me – to do what I would not and could not have achieved – because I was married into this family.

4) God is always on time. Prayer is waiting on God’s time and expecting God’s best even when it is hard. Prayer is antidote to worry. It is easier said than done. But God allows me to learn step by step. He lets me experience his timely provisions when i learn to let go. Each little step is a scaffold for me to go up higher in the school of trust and obedience as I pray.

5) Prayer is talking with God anytime, anywhere, anyhow based on relationship of intimacy – knowledge of the pray-er for his object and subject of prayer – getting to know the One who listens to his call – to obey the One who answers with a yes or a no. And prayer is the means where God and I – we become one – through the Holy Spirit by the blood of Jesus. Amen.

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New Year’s Musings of a Chinese Christian

Another year is ending. Around the dinner table, a friend shared he has cancer. His positive attitude of accepting whatever God has planned for Him is encouraging. He read from Psalm 90 n was reminded of God’s peace in the midst of challenges. He said if it’s his time, he is ready. It reminded me of my prayer years ago when I learned that I had cancer: Lord, if you think that your purpose for my life on earth is done, then I am at peace with that. But if there is anything else I need to do, please guide me through this journey.

Death is a morbid subject. Many do not like to think about it, talk about it. They avoid anything that looks like it n sounds like it. In the Chinese culture, four is not a good number because it sounds like death, whether in Mandarin, Cantonese or Fookienese. No matter what our attitude is, mortality is a reality. Even Christians are not exempted from cancer. What differentiates them is their attitude towards death. It is more than just passive, fatalistic acceptance. It is an acceptance in peace and being at peace, in hope… Hope to a future in God’s presence for eternity.

Today is the last day of the year. No one really knows for sure if it will be his last. The Bible teaches us that there are three things that last: faith, hope n love. (1 Corinthians 13) God’s children live each day in faith that God loves them n He knows best. They live with hope that there is life beyond mortality. They live in love just as God loves them and calls them to love. As we usher in the new year, let us face each day with renewed faith, encouraging hope n enduring love that only our Creator gives. Happy new year!

These were my thoughts written on Chinese New year’s eve in 2016.. about 3 months before my mom passed away and 4 months before my dad followed her. Today, my mom and dad are both in the eternal presence of God.  Today, that friend is still undergoing treatment for his cancer. Today, I have other friends going through similar journeys. Yesterday was Chinese New Year. It was my first time to celebrate Chinese New Year at a funeral. I attended the interment of a 93 year old family friend – a very close friend of my father. He was our family doctor when my sister and i were young. He was bedridden for the past 8 years. As I attended the farewell service of this dear uncle, I am both sad and glad. I am sad for his wife who is grieving and missing a lifelong friend and companion. I am reminded of man’s fragile mortality. I am also glad that he is now enjoying eternal bliss in the presence of his Creator – free from pain, no more tears and no more night.

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Moses prayed: Teach us, Lord to number our days that we gain a heart of wisdom. This prayer reminds us to make each day count. Numbering our days is to put a significant value to each moment of each day. As children of God, we need to savour each minute God gives us with a thankful attitude, a contented heart and a joyful disposition in this broken world. We need to be joyful in hope, patient in tribulation and persistent in prayer.

Let these values guide us in the coming days of the new year… faith, hope, love, joy, patience and wisdom to live life to the fullest.. what God intends for all his creatures.

Waiting in the Shadows

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When Mama passed away, I wrote in her eulogy: There is “a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die. . . a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–2, 4). We comfort those who are mourning, and we rejoice with those who are rejoicing. We laugh and weep together because there is a time for everything, and everything in its time.

God has made everything beautiful in its time—the time to do whatever needs to be done, whatever is fitting.

But God has also set eternity in our hearts—a sense of timelessness. We can never understand what God has done since the beginning of time, nor will we ever imagine what God will do till the end of time. And so even as we live in time, we wait with hope for the end of time. Yet waiting for the fulfillment of this promise is difficult, especially if we do not know how long we have to wait.

Paul encouraged the Romans to be joyful, patient, and faithful. Joy and affliction are paradoxical realities. It is not easy to be joyful in affliction. But when there is hope, joy is possible. Hopeful joy helps me to be patient in suffering. I wait in joyful expectancy that the suffering will end. Days will be better.

This joyful hope sustains my prayer just as much as hopeful joy keeps me praying. When I expect God to do good things for me, I wait patiently with joy, even amidst sufferings. This is not possible by my own strength, but only by persistently keeping in touch with the One who is faithful, who is my source of joy and hope.

I thank God for the lessons I learned through my parents’ sufferings, in sickness, and in death. In the days and weeks that followed my mom’s passing, I kept visiting my father, who was so frail, weak, sad, and sick. Many times I prayed, “Lord, have mercy, take Papa quickly so he will not suffer so much.” But God’s ways are not our ways, and over time, I began to pray, “Lord, have mercy, Thy will be done.”

During Papa’s sickness, my sister and I learned how to help one another, forgive one another, pray more and depend on God more. We each discovered new meanings in Jesus’ prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

I learned that the greater the pain, the more I would learn about humility, patience, courage, trust and dependence on God. I practiced how to be strong, one step at a time, moment by moment, day by day as I sought to depend on God’s grace and call on his mercy.

One day, my sister called me and said: Papa is so different today. How?

“He ate ice cream, asked for water, asked to go to the toilet because he didn’t want to pee in the diaper, and he also asked for bread,” she told me. “He also asked,  How old is your elder sister?, and I said, ‘She is 54 years old.’ And he smiled.”

“He’s asked me that before,” I told her. “Biya, How old are you?

During these times, my sister and I were ‘mababaw ang kaligayahan’ (shallow happiness), because we were easily pleased by the simple pleasures in life.

Because he could not see, each time I visited him, I would say, Pa, I’m Biya.” Happily, he replied:You, Biya?”

We learned to find joy in each one of papa’s talkative or alert moments, to delight in his memories, to record the words he spoke, or, later, the way he opened his mouth to utter words his voice could not sound. We learned to be grateful for his good appetite (for ice cream, soup, and siopao (pork buns) —which we did not give him because we worried he might choke). We learned not to take for granted his toothless smile in unexpected moments, his nod or his furrowed eyebrow to acknowledge our presence when he could not speak. We learned to praise God for sunshine on dialysis days, for kind nurses or hospital staff, for light traffic along the way, for arriving safely at his destination. We even praised God for solid poops.

I paid attention to the way God faithfully provided such good caregivers for my father. I remember with gratitude when a friend who visited me during my sickness ministered to my father when he was in need of a catheter not available in the hospital he’s staying. She helped us source the catheter.

The fire of our father’s suffering—his peg installation, pneumonia, sepsis, bed sores, colon obstruction, stent insertion, and on-going dialysis—enabled our family to experience greater heights of joy together. After watching him endure excruciating pain, we rejoiced when he received relief. Because of our journey through the long dark tunnel of sickness and death, we began to watch hopefully for each momentary glimmer of light. These flashes of light and hope gave us courage to face the road still ahead of us.

In the last few months of Papa’s sickness, whenever Marian and I asked if he was in pain, he always answered in the negative. Only once did he admit to his caregiver that he was in pain. Even so, we always knew it was painful for him – from his facial expressions: when he winced, jerked his arm or hand, or covered where it hurt. His courage and endurance of pain encourage us to be brave.

With the psalmist, we began to delight ourselves in the Lord, trusting him to give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). For the God of yesterday’s pain is with us today and forever, and His grace and mercy will lead us through each step of our journey.

Lord, help me to delight in you. Shape my desires to your desires so that I can receive whatever you give with gratitude, trusting in your love and goodness. Enable me to be joyful, hopeful and faithful even as I wait in the shadows. Amen.

Groaning in the Shadows

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.                           –Romans 8:22–28

I cry easily. I cry when I watch dramas on TV or in movie houses. I cry when I see people cry. In Tagalog, we call it ‘mababaw ang luha’ (shallow tears that easily overflow).

On the day of my mother’s funeral, I remember crying, “Mama… Mama…” as I stood beside her coffin. I didn’t care that my cries were loud and long, but then I had to stop crying, because it was time for the cremation to begin.

After my mom died, I did not have much time to cry, because I was too anxious for my father, who was ninety-two, was blind on one eye and almost blind on the other. He did not have an appetite. It was a constant struggle of anxiety and stress to feed him.

Because I did not know how to deal with my grief, I had a hard time comforting my father. As I sat by his sick bed, I often did not know how to pray. So I would pray, “Lord, have mercy.” (wishing for God to take him so his suffering would end.)

Although I’m thankful that Mama is now in heaven, where there is no pain, sorrow, or sickness, I could not pray this thought with my father. I thought – how good this was for mom, but how hard it was for dad. Whenever I prayed with him, I felt even more grieved when I opened my eyes and saw tears in my father’s eyes. I thought my prayers had made him cry, and so I prayed silently, “Lord, please take him to eternal rest, to be with Mama, where there will be no more pain, no more sorrow, no more tears.”

I tried talking with him about the past, about details from his younger days. In our talk, I could not speak much of my mom or their times together. I worried these memories would make my father sad. And so I grieved in silence with him, crying silently, grateful that he could not see my tears.

On the last day that I visited Papa at home, I sat in Mama’s favorite chair and cried like a baby. I cried, “Mama… Papa…” over and over again. The nurse was in the next room with Papa, who was asleep. As I stood by his bedside, he spoke his last word to me, “Mama…,” but he could not continue because he was having a hard time breathing. “Mama is resting,” I told him.

After my father died, I stood with my daughter, Hannah, by his body. As the mortician combed his hair and brushed his coat, I touched his cold hands and cried, “Papa… Papa..” I had to hold back my crying because it was time for him to be transferred to the coffin.

At the funeral, as I took one last look at Papa, I cried again, “Papa… Papa…” My whole body shook as tears ran down my face. But then I had to stop crying because it was time to close the coffin.

One morning, as I reviewed the eulogy I had written for Papa, tears flowed again. My husband woke and heard my sniffles. “Are you crying?” he asked. I gave a muffled answer and wiped away the tears.

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I used to think I was ‘mababaw luha’ because I was emotionally weak and full of self-pity. So I learned to be strong and held back my tears.

I remember the times of my deep depression when I could not cry at all. It was horrible. I am reminded that tears are a blessing.

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In the Gospel of John, Scripture says: Jesus wept (John 11:35). Jesus cried in public with Mary. Jesus grieved with Mary for the loss of her brother and his friend, Lazarus. Though Jesus wept in solitude in the garden of Gethsemane, he also wept in the crowd alongside Mary. His last cry on the cross that God, his father had forsaken him is the ultimate example of the greatest grief possible.

When I feel hurt or sad, crying relieves me. Once, after my husband and I had a big argument, I went to see the movie Phantom of the Opera, and after immersing myself in the story and crying through the movie, I went home feeling much better.

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Now I cry often both in joy and in grief. Tears fill my eyes as I remember the past with gratitude—not regrets, but fond memories. Tears clear my eyes so I can live the present with faith. Tears rejuvenate my heart so I can receive the future with hope, trusting that in all things, both good and bad, God is working for my good. He makes us right with him so that in all seasons, we will reflect his glory.

My journey through the darkness reminds me of the paradoxes of God, who gives joy in times of grief and enables me to smile even as he allows me to cry. In the despair of death, he teaches me the hope of new life. As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And one day, I shall surely dwell in the house of the Lord forever, where I shall see Papa and Mama again.

Until my last breath, when God will wipe every tear from my eyes, I know my journey with tears will continue. On that day, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

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Lord, help me remember that you have called me to become a mirror of your glory. Help me to glorify you by praising you for all things, even in dark times. Help me to cling to you and to trust in your goodness and love as I seek to live in obedience to your will. Amen.

Growing in Joy

This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
–Nehemiah 8:10

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On “this day,” the Israelites had just returned to their homeland from exile in order to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s leadership. During the seventh month, Ezra, the teacher of the law, read from the law of Moses, “making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” (v. 8). After the people understood the Law of God, they wept—perhaps because they realized how they had disobeyed God and how God had been gracious to them (v. 9). Yet Nehemiah told them not to mourn or weep, because this day “is holy to our Lord” (v. 10).

How am I to remember that each day is holy to our Lord? By celebrating each day and trusting that the joy of the Lord will be my strength. By reflecting on God’s grace and mercy. By giving thanks to God, from whom all good things flow.

In 1 Samuel 1, Hannah, who is barren, prays to God for a son: “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly” (v. 10). Her husband, Elkanah, has another wife, Peninnah, who has children and ridicules Hannah year after year because she has no children. Though Elkanah loves Hannah and treats her better than Peninnah, nothing can comfort Hannah (vv. 1–9).

Yet instead of complaining to Elkanah, or fighting with Peninnah, Hannah pours out her misery to God, promising that if she conceives, she will give her son to God all the days of his life (v. 11).

Eli, the temple priest, thinks Hannah is drunk and rebukes her (vv. 12–14). But when Hannah tells him that she has been pouring out her anguish to God (vv. –15–16), Eli answers, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him” (v. 17). “In due time,” God answers Hannah’s prayer by giving her Samuel (v. 20).

When Hannah leaves the temple after praying, the narrative tells us that she eats something, “and her face was no longer downcast” (v. 18b). Thus even before Hannah’s prayer is answered, the act of praying changes her countenance and her heart! For earlier, “she wept and would not eat” (v. 7), but after praying she “went her way and ate” (v. 18).

When we pray, it is comforting to know that we can go to God and pour out everything that is in our hearts—our sorrow and complaints—and he will listen to us. Through our gratitude and worship, we give back to God all that he has given to us.

Years ago, my husband gave me a poster that said, “Do not pray for an easy life. Pray to be a strong person.” Suffering has not made me strong—I often want to run away and wish that Jesus would return sooner! But as I remember with hope that the pain will end, I experience moments of grace—big blessings wrapped in small packages and stirrings of his still small voice amidst the noisy clamor of life.

As I rejoice in these gifts from the Lord—not the worldly pleasures that give momentary satisfaction—I gain strength. I remember God’s faithfulness in walking with me through each valley, embracing me while I had cancer and radiation therapy, comforting me through times of sickness and grief.

There is a Chinese saying: 助人为快乐之本, which means, “Helping others is an investment in joy.” Whenever I think I need help, God often sends me others who need my help or comfort, people who are facing far greater challenges. I am learning that when I help others, I am distracted from my own misery and focus less on the issues that are bothering me.

When we visited an elderly sister of my home church yesterday, she prayed in fookienese: “Zhu ah, goa kam sia di eh thia ho tsua tsi beh lang lai thia goa.” (Thank you, Lord, for your love through these sisters who love me.)

A former deaconess in her nineties, she is around the same age as my mother-in-law. But she has changed so much physically since the last time I saw her. She is no longer the strong-built lady that I remember. Yet within her frail thin body, her mind is sharp and clear.

Her prayer touched me, because it reminds me of the important truth about God’s love and the value of Christians loving one another. Jesus said to his disciples: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34–35).

When we share one another’s suffering, we become vulnerable and open with one another. But as we reveal our weaknesses, we also pray for God to manifest his strength through us.

For as it is written in Isaiah 40:28¬–31:

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

Dear Lord, help me to live this day as holy to you. I will not be downcast because the joy of you is my strength. Strengthen me with the joy of your presence in each step I take. Amen.

 

Sharing the Good News

Yesterday at the doc clinic, I noticed there are stacks of books on the side tables near the sofa. One book caught my eye: Conversational Evangelism. I discovered that the doctor put her personal collection of Christian books for her patients to read while waiting.

I told hubby I should have given my book to doc last year. He said: Di kuiy thao si le siuh d eh tseh. (You think about your book all the time.) Last year, when I published my book, I gave each of our family doctors a copy. I missed giving to this one. So I sent our driver home to get 2 copies – 1 for the doc and 1 for her secretary.

Yes, I might seem to be thinking about my book a lot. I see it as a means to share the gospel to people I do not know. The Holy Spirit guides me and opens my eyes to opportunity to do this. On my recent trip to Myanmar, I brought 2 copies of my book along planning to give to 2 traveling companions. I gave 1 to the sister of my college friend who was also my roommate. I thought to give the other copy to the other friend after our trip ends. In the middle of our trip, I got this inspiration: Why don’t I give it to our tour guide instead? He was our first guide – who told us the story about praying in the Golden Pagoda and he said ‘Coincidentally’ the pray-er got his prayer answered. When I asked him does he pray, he said he’s a buddhist but he’s not religious so he does not pray a lot.

We had 4 guides in our trip. Of the 4, i thought to give this one because his English seemed to be the best and he was with us the longest. He started and ended the tour with us. So on the last day, as he was checking us in the airport hotel, I approached him to ask: Do you read English books? He smilingly answered:Yes, I read English books when I teach English to my students. I used the dictionary when there are words I don’t understand. (Yes! I excitedly said to myself.) Then I asked: Would u like to read my book? I wrote a book. He courteously said yes. So I gave the book to him. When he turned it over, he saw my pic and said, it’s you.. (or something like that.) I laughed and said, yes, it’s me. He thought I was joking. 🙂

I said you will know me if you read my book. And learn English too. ;P He told me that he teaches English as a volunteer at the monastery where he learned English as a young man. The skill he has enabled him to get a job as a tour guide – which I’m sure is higher than most workers in the country. I believe as a means of paying back, he volunteered to teach English to the younger generation. For 3 months, the 16 year old youth learned English at the monastery after they graduated from their high school. There are 3 levels – 1,2,3.  I said you can let your students read my book too. It’s level 4. 😀 He said I will put your book in the library of the monastery.

See… amazing! God provided a way for me to export my book to a buddhist country to be placed in a monastery.

The whole point of my story is not about my book. I shared this story because I want to share the important lesson I learned. The Holy Spirit guides us to see the opportunities in front of us each moment of each day. God grants us grace to be sensitive to these small windows of opportunities to share the good news to the people He brings to us. You might not have a book, but you can share a kind word, a warm tap on the shoulder, a handshake, a smile and even your silent presence to people in grief. It’s more than conversational evangelism. It’s lifestyle evangelism. It’s friendship evangelism.

When i started the trip, I felt a bit guilty going to a buddhist country for leisure while my Christian friends went for mission trips. I realised that God can turn all things to work out for his purpose – to those who love him and are called to his purpose. My love for God is not perfect but his purpose for me is perfect and good. I thank God for the opportunity to share my life with the people he brings to me so that they too will know the good news!

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Growing in Gratitude

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Those who go hungry appreciate most the feeling of being full. Those who have been thirsty realize the value of water.

In the aftermath of Yolanda (Haiyan – the super typhoon that hit the Philippines in November, 2013 taking thousands of lives), I remember a high school student, who went days without taking a bath, sharing how he savored each drop of water in his bath after the disaster.

So in my journey with cancer and a broken ankle, I learned to be thankful for my oncologists, surgeon and caregivers, who knew my needs and looked after me over the years. I learned to be grateful that even though my medications caused side effects, my oncologist was able to recommend helpful remedies.

When I remember the love and care I received during these dark times, I am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. Of the people God sent to help lighten my load and brighten the way, I am especially touched by our family helpers.

When I fell and could not walk, my drivers helped to carry me in the wheelchair down and up two flights of stairs each time I need to consult the doctor. I remember each meal prepared, each item of clothing washed and ironed, every plate, spoon, fork, and cup washed, every room of the house cleaned. I recall each bath and ride in the wheelchair.

I think further of the hands and feet that did all those things. And I reflect with thankfulness the hearts and minds that move these hands and feet.

Sufferings are lenses through which we see life and living in a different perspective. These lenses magnify and enhance the trivial and unseen things, things I previously took for granted. Remembering to put on these lenses helps me to open my hands.

Jesus had these lenses on when he saw the poor widow put two small copper coins into the treasury. “Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on’” (Mark 12:43–44). Jesus commended the widow because she gave everything.

Similarly, Paul commended the churches in Macedonia because “in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord” (2 Corinthians 8:2–3).

When I hesitate about giving an extra tip to a porter or a waiter, I think about how insignificant this amount is in my bank balance—and yet how it might help the waiter put food on his family’s table, or how it might enable a street kid who watched my car to buy medicine for his sick mom.

Being generous is a gift from God, who does not withhold any good gift from his children. For he gave us the gift of Jesus, who “was rich, yet for [our] sake. . .became poor, that [we] through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). No matter how much I give, I will never outgive God.

Dear Jesus, thank you for giving yourself to me. Thank you for giving up the glory of heaven to be like us. Thank you for your sacrifice on the cross for my sins. Help me to give generously in joy and gratitude for the goodness you have bestowed in my life. Amen.