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.

A Clamour to be heard…

The Shwedagon Pagoda is the biggest and most precious pagoda in Myanmar. It has 3.08 tons of gold with thousands of gemstones given by rich donors hoping to get a final good long long life when the 5th Buddha comes. The 5th Buddha should have 9 qualities to be considered the One. I wonder who decides these qualifications and who evaluate the person if he is the One.

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27540718_10156033982455797_7987522709109193725_n.jpgThis is the Victory square where people pray to Buddha facing the Pagoda for whatever they wish for to come true. Our guide told us that the Leiscester soccer team’s owner is a devout Thai buddhist. This millionaire prayed in the Victory Square facing the Shwedagon Pagoda before his team was set to play for the championship of the English Premier League. Our guide said: “Coincidentally” the team won the championship. This one word made me think: why coincidence? Is it just by chance?

At the end of the tour, I asked our guide: Did you ever pray at the Victory Square? He smiled sheepishly and shook his head. I said: How come? Do you believe in prayer? Again smiling, he said: I’m a buddhist but I’m not religious. I don’t pray.
More questions to ponder: Who is the object of prayer? Why pray? How to pray? Is prayer about religion?

As I observed these people praying so fervently with their eyes closed and their hands clasped, I can imagine the sincerity in their hearts and the desires for Buddha to answer their prayers. If they were to have their prayers answered, would they consider it a coincidence? Or perhaps charge it to their deep faith and sincere heart? Or their good works: a merit for Buddha to repay their good deeds? Or maybe they truly believe that Buddha hears and answers positively to all their prayers?

I ponder these questions with respect for their religion and their faith. It reminds me once more that prayer is a relationship of the pray- er with the Superior being that he prays to – for the desires of the heart and thoughts in the mind – a clamour to be heard.

My journey with the big C – Part 1

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:17–18

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In 2009, when I was forty-seven, I was diagnosed with Stage O, ductal carcinoma in situ. My journey with cancer is a milestone in my life on the journey with the God of grace. My treatment included a lumpectomy to remove a portion of my left breast, as well as thirty-four sessions of radiation therapy, and cancer maintenance medications that I continued to take (with all their side-effects and possible consequences) for seven years.

When I began going through radiation treatment, God’s Word nourished and sustained me. As I read God’s word each day, I experienced his presence and power strengthening me, and I rejoiced in his amazing grace. My prayer was, Lord, if you think my life has achieved the purpose you planned for me, then I am at peace with that. But if my mission is not yet complete, then show the way that I will continue to live according to your purpose. In the meantime, I want to make my life useful for your glory—to help my neighbors go through their challenges and any people you bring to me.”

All through my journey with cancer, I felt God’s warm embrace around me—a comfort beyond words and an immovable standing stone. As I got to know God more deeply by talking to him, listening to him, and discovering his character through the Bible, I experienced his peace beyond understanding and felt his assurance that I could live each day in joy and gratitude.

Psalm 1 says that blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on his law day and night. And the promise is that he will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he will prosper.

Bearing fruit in season does not mean that my life will always be smooth and rosy, but that I can persevere and stand firm in God’s promises that all things—the good and the bad—will work for my good, because he loves me and is calling me according to his purpose.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your word and promise that in all things—even in suffering—you are calling me for your purpose. Help me to delight in your word and meditate on it so that I will bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit, growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Amen.


 

Abiding in the Shadows

 

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What is a shadow? A shadow is a dark area or shape formed by an object when it blocks the light. When light is shining on one side of an object, it casts a shadow on the other side.

As I look back over my journey through the darkness, I am grateful to my Good Shepherd for leading me through the shadows of life, for comforting me in my sorrow, for healing my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wounds, for teaching me lessons that I would not have learned in the bright light of the sun.

After my mom passed away, my father told me, “Din mama ya gaw.” (Your mother is very capable.) “Ee yah kut lat.” (She was very hardworking.) Each day, he grew more sad and more quiet. As he grew more frail, each visit was a test of my courage and perseverance. Every day I visited with a heavy heart. When he would say, “Amen,” at the end of prayer, I felt comforted. It grieved me to see him grieving and getting weaker.

For two months before he died, Papa had dialysis twice a week. Each time I passed through the corridor of the kidney institute, I was reminded that life goes on in the hallway leading to the dialysis center. Many sick people sat on the bench, sitting or sleeping in their wheelchairs. I wondered if some of them were waiting for a dialysis slot to open, because they could not afford to pay for the procedure on their own. I was reminded of life’s insecurities and the many blessings I have that should not be taken for granted.

During dialysis, they hooked my father’s frail body up to a machine, sucked the blood out of him, and then pumped it back into his body, a procedure that took four to five hours. My heart ached to see Papa so tired and weak. I felt comforted when I could watch him sleep soundly.

During this time, I experienced the pain of love and realized that when we love someone else, we are willing to bear their pain and step into their shoes. At one point, my father was so sick, he was pooping through his mouth. Standing by his bedside, watching helplessly as the nurse gave him something to vomit into and then wiped brownish stuff from his mouth, broke my heart over and over again.

He bravely consented to go through peg insertion and dialysis just so it would not be hard for Marian and me to make decisions. He taught me that courage was not the absence of fear, but a willingness to bear the pain and face the fear, and even invite others into our fear.

When Papa fell at home, trying to go to the toilet on his own because the helper was out, he lay on the floor until the helper came back. The next day, when I visited him, his whole body shook with fear as we coaxed him to go to the toilet. When I learned that he had fallen the day before, I prayed with him, and he said “Amen,” then calmly said he was no longer afraid. I recall similar fear many years ago when I accompanied him home from the hospital after his prostate surgery. His hand was shaking in mine as we climbed five floors of stairs to reach home.

As I watched my father suffer, I reflected on the pain that God must have felt when he watched his Son suffer on the cross. In Fookienese,爱(love) and痛(pain) sound alike. The greater the love, the greater the hurt. To love means that we bear one another’s pain and suffering. It was torture to see my parents suffer while they were sick and dying. Jesus not only bore physical pain, but also the pain of having his father turn his face from him. In His agony, Jesus cried out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

During my season of darkness, I felt like I was encased in a dark cocoon. Like the humble caterpillar, I had to squeeze and wrestle my way out of the cocoon so that I could emerge into new life. So often I wished that God would free me from a difficult or sad situation, or change a difficult person to make my life easier. Instead, I was changed when I dwell (linger) in the shelter of the Most High. God showed me that it was possible to rest in this dark time by trusting him to be my light. As I stopped struggling against the darkness, I realized that I was resting in the shadow of his wings.

I write about memories of this dark time, because I do not want to waste the trials and lessons of my life. My hope is that by sharing these stories, others will be comforted and will praise God.

Thank you, Lord, for being a light to guide me through the darkness. Help me abide in your shadow. In the shadow of your wings, I will praise you, O Lord. Amen.

 

New Year Inventory

New year counting and numbering,,,,

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It’s new year’s day! Inventory time.. How does God love me? Let me count the ways.

But first some guiding principles and elements in inventory taking:

Who are the characters? Giver: The infinite God; Recipient: A Finite me

What are being counted? The concrete and the abstract.

How to count? While I can count the concrete, I can only ‘number’ the abstract. Counting is adding the numbers of all things together. Numbering is putting significance to each of the items counted.

Counting blessings in time….

Time: chronos and kairos. Chronos time is about particular dates and numbers of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. Kairos refers to significant events caught in time.

Today, I exist for certain number of years, months and days. I thank God that on my first day, my mom survived a life-threatening delivery. I want to remember with my finite limited memory bank all the time in between that day and today – the day when I was punished by my kinder teacher, the first test when I got a failing grade, when I cried over my writing assignment, when I graduated from high school, when I quarreled and reconciled with my friends or sister, the day I agreed to be Andrew’s girlfriend, the day I married him, the day i miscarried Gabriel. I remember clearly how Hannah, Abigail and Mimi came to be. I treasure the day after my mom had her kidney transplant, the day after I had my lumpectomy and even the day I found out I had cancer.

Many things and people in life are worth counting and numbering. But oftentimes, it is the immeasurable and the uncountable that is most precious. How do I measure the amount of air in each breath that I take? Every time I look up the clear evening sky, can I count the stars reminding me of the Creator?

I also learned that ‘less’ is often more. I recall Andrew and I lying on the bed (a little bigger than the one Hannah and Abigail each sleeping in right now) in our cozy little bedroom, Andrew said a king size bed is not as good as a small one. In the cold of winter, how do I measure the warmth, comfort and peace in our hearts as we hug each other close?

The memories of the past year: While counting the wakes I went to is not a pleasant task to do, treasuring the moments of hugs, warm clasps of hands, comforting embrace on the shoulders between the grieving and the comforter, remembering the sympathetic smiles and words of comfort or even the silent moments when just the presence of a listening ear and an understanding companionship… are these not blessings to ‘number’?

Yes, I can count my clothes, the dishes on the table, the cash in the bank, the cars in the garage… but at any one time, I cannot wear all of the clothes in the closet nor can I eat all the food in the ref, or do i need to spend all the cash in the bank or ride in all the cars to go to the place i need or want to be. I only need enough cloth to keep me warm and covered. I only need some food to be full. I only need a space enough to lay my head and body to sleep. Even when I do not have a car, I have two feet to walk.

I realize that more than counting, I need to put a ‘number’ to each of the blessing that an infinite Creator bestows on His finite creature like me. The past year, how many times did God forgive me of my temper, impatience, complaints, my pride, my laziness, my indulgence, my vanity, my selfishness? How do I measure God’s mercy? How do I treasure God’s grace? How do I number the love of family, the companionship of friends, the encouragement of teachers and mentors? I ponder (think carefully), I remember, and I share with others of God’s wondrous blessings, of His great love, grace and mercy.

Counting and numbering: not just on new year’s day but in each moment of each day in the days to come for as long as I live – with each breath that I take, let me ponder and count, let me remember and number, let me measure and treasure.