Receiving my in-laws from the Lord

Receiving my in-laws from God

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” – Ruth 1:16-17

Andrew is the only son born to his parents in midlife. His parents were born and raised in China. His only sibling is a sister, thirteen years older than him. In the traditional Chinese culture, a son is important to carry on the family name. A daughter given away in marriage belongs to another family. 传子传媳不传女. One bequeaths family trade secrets to the son and the daughter-in-law but not the daughter. It is important to know the background as you read this chapter of my story.

The Bible teaches “That is why a man leaves his father and mother …” (Gen. 2:24). “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother…” (Matt. 19:5, Mk. 10:7, Eph. 5:31). As I read these verses again, I searched for the reason a man leave his father and mother? Is it about leaving them physically? Is it not against the Chinese culture God has put me in? How come Andrew and I live with them?

Since the day I decided to marry Andrew, I believe that Andrew being the only son has the sole duty and responsibility to take care of his parents. It means his parents live with him wherever he goes. And I being his wife, accept this reality – no choice.

In 30 years of marriage, I went through many tests being a wife, a mother and a daughter-in-law. I failed miserably many times if it were not for God’s grace and mercy, I don’t know what would become of our marriage amidst these challenges.

Perhaps in my mother-in-law’s mind, my most important failure was not giving her a grandson. Whereas Hannah endured the ridicule of Penninah not having children of her own, I often had to ignore ‘expectations’ (uttered or not, subtle or not) to ‘produce’ a son. I gave birth to Michelle, my youngest when I was already forty years old. Even when Mimi was already in grade school, my mother-in-law would still tell her in my hearing: “Jio sioti-ah.” (Bring along a younger brother). This is a very Chinese (Fookienese) phrase: to invite a younger brother – as if calling out for a younger brother – will make the dream come true! It made me sad (and mad) when I hear her praising another lady for having many children even though she also had caesarian sections. It was as if bearing children (many) were the ‘valued’ skill of a daughter-in-law.

When I first got married, my mother-in-law complained to my godmother how I could not cook because I could not even hold the cooking utensils properly. My father-in-law once said to me: “Cooking is the most important task (for a lady of the house).” Before I got married, except for cooking classes in high school, I had never cooked a meal in my life. For many years, I was grateful that my mother-in-law cooked our meals and dinner was ready when I came home from work with Andrew. As the years passed, I learned many dishes from her. While many people believe cooking de-stress them, for me cooking is stressful. Through the years, I learned to appreciate the task of cooking with joy for my family. I learned this from my mother-in-law. It was never too late in the night for her to cook for Andrew. Today, Andrew and I often have our family bonding with the children – cooking hotpot right in our bedroom.

Having in-laws living with us has its ups and downs. Even as there were unavoidable conflicts and differences in opinions, I should always remember how my in-laws helped me take care of my children especially Hannah, my eldest. When she was young, we did not even have a helper at home. I went to work with Andrew in the office. I was quite assured that Hannah was in good hands all through the day. I can recall when Hannah was just a few weeks old, my father-in-law went around the house, singing and rocking her to sleep then gently putting her in the crib. I cannot forget that even in his late 80’s, he picked up Mimi from school. I doubt if there were any other child who had a grandpa bringing them home from school. How blessed Mimi was!

When my mother-in-law was ninety-four, she had vascular dementia. Each day as I saw her eating three meals a day, taking snacks in between, I thanked God for giving her appetite and ability to eat by herself. When she napped on the sofa, or the couch in her bedroom, I thanked God for the privilege of taking care of her in her old age. It is easier said than done. There were difficult times when she was moody and violent. Anger and violent behaviors would come anytime without provocation. We had to seek medical help. God is good. He led us to a psychiatrist who prescribed a medication that helped resolve this symptom of vascular dementia.

It was during these challenging episodes that I relate most to what Jesus said: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Indeed, for the words she said to me and the things she did to me when she was sick, I had to look beyond the past, past the hurts and wounds, external and internal. I learned to forgive but not forget. I should not forget how God forgave me. I should remember the good things she did for our family. I must not forget how she took care of me and my children. In her own way, she loves me. She loves my children very much even though they are not ‘sons.’

So let me return to my question – for what reason does a man leave his father and his mother? The reason is found in Genesis 2:23 – “The man said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”” A man leaves his parents to be one with his wife – the woman taken out of him. What does it mean to leave his father and his mother? Let me say what it does not mean. Leaving his father and his mother does not mean living away from them. It does not mean that he leaves them to take care of themselves. It does not even mean leaving them with his sister to take care of them. It means that leaving his parents, Andrew becomes united with me. He becomes one flesh with me. I become one flesh with him. Together, we take care of his parents.

I am not better than Ruth. I could not say to my mother-in-law the things Ruth said to Naomi. Unlike Ruth, people would not say to my mother-in-law that I am better to her than seven sons (Ruth 4:15). She would not believe it. I would not either. I am not Ruth. I am more blessed than Ruth. I have a husband who loves me. I have a husband who loves his parents. I have a husband who loves my children. I have a husband who loves my parents. Andrew loves me. For this reason, he leaves his father and his mother and is united to me and we become one flesh. For this reason, I receive my in-laws with thanksgiving and praise for my God of grace and mercy.

Thank you, Lord for giving Andrew a father and a mother who loved him very much. Thank you for your gift of in-laws in my life. I praise you for their lives and the many lessons I learned as a daughter-in-law. Amen.

When Silence is Gold

When Silence is Gold…

What do you say when people wrongly accuse you? How do you respond? How do you feel? I want to defend myself: let them know I they are wrong. I am not. I feel hurt. I want justice. I have to say something. Yet many times, I know God is teaching me to be like Jesus. How did Jesus respond when he was wrongly accused at the trial that sentenced him to crucifixion?

Mark 14:55-65
The high priest asked Jesus 2 questions. (v.60)
Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?
How come Jesus did not answer these two questions.

Because Jesus didn’t answer, the high priest asked a 3rd question. Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed one? (v.62)

Jesus answered “Yes.” To which he added, you will see me sitting at the right hand of the mighty one and coming on the clouds of heaven.

Jesus did not answer the first two questions because there was no need to give answers. Why? He knew they misunderstood what he said about destroying the temple and building it up again in 3 days. He knew their testimonies were in disagreement with each other. He knew they were wrong and he was right where he was supposed to be. Silence is as good an answer.

Jesus answered the 3rd question that He is the Messiah because He is. He is the Son of the Blessed one. He knows He is the Son of God. A simple ‘I am’ to a simple truth – truth so profound that it was deemed a blasphemy by the high priest.

So each time I feel like speaking out to defend myself, I learn discernment to be silent like Jesus. God in his own time vindicates me. This is a difficult lesson to learn – yet God is patient. The sooner I learn the lesson, the sooner I have peace within me and peace with the person I want to defend myself to.

Jesus stood his ground. He was silent in the face of wrong accusations because he knew where he was supposed to be. He knew who He is. There is no need to defend himself.

The Blessings of Friendship

Once upon a time, I experienced the blessing of inter-generational friendship. I was
reminded how elderly people have social needs – perhaps more so than the rest of
us. It made me happy to see a 86 year old chat with, sing to/with, pray for/with,
listen to, hold hands with a 90 year old. I praise God for my friend who is kind
enough to bring his mother to visit my mother-in-law. I am grateful for my friend
who offered this kind act of loving a neighbour.

As I think about this gift of friendship that man as social beings need, crave for:
1) Friendship is like wine – the longer it is, the more precious it becomes.
2) Friendship transcends time and space. My close childhood friends remain my
close adult friends and we pick up where we left off even if we are thousand of miles
across each other; even if we see each other once or twice every few years.
3) Friendship transcends generations. I am happy when I see my children are friends with kids of my friends, or when my father had my friend’s dad visit him. Do you know we have friendship of 3 generations in our family?! Our parents were friends, we are friends and our children are friends. And no, it is not necessarily between two big families… which brings me to the next point…
4) Friendship is not about quantity but quality. A few true friends who stick like a
brother/sister are definitely better than a crowd of acquaintances.
5) Friendship is about authenticity and not about perfection. I can bare myself to my
friend – my inner thoughts and weaknesses – the good side and the bad side – knowing that I will not be judged and will be accepted.
On the other hand, in my imperfection, I can count on my friend to tell me the truth
which brings me to the next point.
6) Friendship is also about critical acceptance. Yes I am accepted for my weaknesses but I am also told the truth for me to improve myself; to do better and be better. A friend is not afraid to criticise me because she knows I will accept her words just as she accepts me.

And what added blessing we have as children of God because we know ‘What a
friend we have in Jesus!’ – all our sins and griefs to bear…

A Promise of Hope and a Future

Life walk with Marlene


This passage is a fave among Christians. It is a statement of comfort and assurance that God has the best intentions for us; that He will never do anything that will harm us; that we can hope in Him and that there is a bright future ahead of us.

Yet it is not about Him being a genie to us; that we could ask anything we want, anytime we want and anyhow we like it to be. It is not just about being optimistic and having a positive outlook in all of life. Why is that? Because life is not a bed of roses… Even a Christian’s life. Do you know that the background of this passage was that God wanted the Israelites to go into exile? This promise of good will and best intentions was uttered in the midst of hard times. God told Israel to go and serve…

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Growing in Patience

As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. –James 5:10–11

Time is a valuable element in our lives. In our fast-paced world, we want everything instant and fast! Instant coffee, instant noodles, fast lane, express counter, express delivery. We also want efficiency. We want everything to work out smoothly, according to our plans. We plan based on what we know. Plans guide us so we know what’s next. We want assurance and security. We dislike uncertainty, because it makes us feel unstable.

So it is difficult to wait patiently in the midst of suffering. The Chinese character for patience (忍) is a compound word with knife (刀) on top of heart (心). When we are patient, we endure a painful stab in our hearts. Yet we bear up to the pain, and our hearts keeps pumping in spite of the wound.

But waiting is easier if I know how long I will have to wait. I appreciate the digital displays on stop lights that tell me how long I have to wait. I constantly call my drivers: “San ka na?” (Where are you?) So often they answer, “Malapit na!” (Near already.) But malapit is relative—what’s “near” for my driver may not be “near” for me. And when time is of the essence, a five-minute malapit is not the same as a five-second malapit.

After I had a bad fall and fractured my right ankle, a friend wisely encouraged me to be patient with my healing. I knew that patience was a virtue, one fruit of the Holy Spirit. But I wanted to get better faster. I wanted to know when I would walk again. I kept asking my doctors how soon I could get back to normal walking, when I could put weight on my right leg. When? When? When?

It took me four months of physical therapy before I could walk normally. Seven months after the surgery, I still felt tightness in my right ankle whenever I walked down the stairs.

During this season, God began teaching me to embrace pain with joy. Job is the character in the Bible who is most associated with suffering. Yet he was able to say:

Then I would still have this consolation, my joy in unrelenting pain that I had not denied the words of the Holy One (Job 6:10).

Job’s comfort and encouragement, his joy in suffering, was that he did not deny God, but remained loyal to God throughout his trials.

No one would volunteer to take a difficult test from God. I certainly didn’t volunteer for cancer, and I would never volunteer to break my ankle!

Yet from hard splint to air cast, from swelling to healing, from sitting to standing, from hopping to shuffling, from strength to strength (Psa 84:7), God holds my hands and brings me through each difficult time, inviting me to experience his peace that passes understanding.

And because of my fall, I learned how to use a wheelchair, navigate the stairs with crutches, and practice patience—an experience that has made me more compassionate with those who cannot walk.

Before I had my ankle surgery, a friend told me that her doctor brother said, “We do not have to tolerate pain unnecessarily.” With all of our medical advances, we certainly do not need to bear unwanted pain. Yet there is another kind of pain that no painkiller can fix—the pain of a broken mind, heart, spirit, soul.

Psalm 34:18 declares that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 51:17 says that “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

We live in a broken world, where we cannot fix things or run away from pain and grief. Yet Christians have assurance that our pain and sufferings are not in vain. For God works out all things—good and bad—for our good, for those he calls for his purpose.

Because of my cancer, I have become more compassionate towards others who are suffering. Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.

As Henri Nouwen wisely observed: “The dance of life finds its beginnings in grief. . . Here a completely new way of living is revealed. It is the way in which pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain.”

When friends come to me for comfort and help, God helps me comfort them with the comfort that I received from him. As Paul writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5).

Paul prayed three times for God to take away his thorn (2 Corinthians 12:7–8). God told him, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8). God wanted Paul to rely on his power and not to exalt himself.

My pain allowed me to experience fully God’s grace and mercy. I will always remember how God warmly embraced me when I was going through cancer treatment—how he walked me through the deep dark valley of depression, even when my emotional and mental being denied his presence. We embrace pain by remembering pain and how it was overcome. The pain we experienced yesterday can become a steppingstone to joy today.

But until I learn the lessons of patience, God will continue to send difficult people, and put me in places that test my patience. Until I learn the lessons of love, there will always be unlovable, unreasonable, and rude people to test my patience.

The thorns in our life could be God’s means of teaching us something. God wants us to depend on him, to hone our characters and make us more like Jesus.

And so I choose to embrace pain. The world is filled with evil—those who cause violence, calamity, and death. All nature is filled with natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, droughts, famines, and floods. Children of God are not exempt from these troubles. But they stand out from the world, because they choose to rejoice amidst the sadness. They have faith in the One who holds the world in his hands. They have hope that one day, Jesus Christ will return to conquer evil and death. They look forward with gladness and hope to spend eternity with their eternal God, forever free from the stronghold of death!

Lord, have mercy and thank you for being patient with me while I learn patience. May I learn to learn it neither too quickly, nor too slowly, but in your beautiful time. Amen.

Mourning To Comfort

Never would/could I imagine that I would be crying in front of a crowd trying feebly to express my words of sympathy to grieving friends and families in my community of faith.

Before Covid happened, when I attended wakes, I would or might sit with friends, listen to their stories, pat them on the shoulders, hold their hands, hug them or just simply be with them in silence.

While it is sad to condole with bereaved families when hand-holding and hugging no longer possible, (how to give a tissue across zoom??) i realized the most I can give to show my love are my tears. The Bible teaches to rejoice with those who rejoice, to mourn with those who mourn. For me, mourning has gone up another level in the pandemic. And so, here are some lessons and discoveries I am learning in such a time as this:

1) Grief is a long journey to be experienced in community. It is more than just the few weeks/months/years of the dying on his sick bed. It is neither the time when his suffering finally ended nor the period between the hospital and the cemetery. It is again more than the few weeks/months/years after the cemetery.

2) In recent memorial services, I was more comforted by the stories of faith, courage, resilience, hope and persistence of the bereaved than I could ever hope to comfort them with my feeble and stereotyped words of condolences.

3) When I see the suffering of the sick and the burden/sadness of their families, I wondered if it’s ok to ask God to end their suffering by taking them away or do a miracle. I realized that God is doing the in-between so the living can learn from the dying. Each time, i listened to eulogies, to reminiscences, I discovered gems of truth on how followers of Jesus shine bright thru the valley of the shadow of death.

Ultimately, I discovered a bit of the ways of our paradoxical God: the God who allows the dying to teach the living how to die. He enables the bereaved to comfort others in their grief. God empowers His children to see life and death thru his eyes of love. Death is a reality of life. Abundant and eternal life on earth as it is in heaven is possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is my faith and my hope. God knows what He’s doing all the time. God loves me. He cares for me. He provides for me. He stays with me thru each deep dark pit and walks me thru each dark valley. One day, all suffering will end.

Psalm 23:6
Surely His goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Job 23:10
For he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.

Romans 8:39
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.

The Dual lens of faith

Still true today as it was then… perhaps even more so..

Life walk with Marlene

Do u know faith takes practice? By myself, i cannot ‘not’ worry. But God is faithful. He helps me to grow my faith.

When I first got diagnosis for suspicious cancer cells, my doctor was quite positive about it. He encouraged me saying “Everything’s going to be fine. Nothing to worry about.” I appreciate his positive attitude. When results came in, his words taught me a lesson. I can’t remember exactly what he said. I discovered that while it is good to look forward with hope, it is practical to accept with faith. Faith that is more than who I am but more of who God is. Faith that is by His grace and mercy.

My youngest was just turning 7. As I sat with them around the dinner table, I was greatly comforted to see her achis passing her food and taking care of her. God let me witnessed…

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If Jesus had FB…

Life walk with Marlene

If Jesus had FB, what would it be like?

1) FB would need to provide a ‘dislike’ button for Jesus’ account.

2) The number of dislikes probably outnumbers the likes.

3) Fickle-minded followers: The likers of his current post became dislikers in his next post. The crowd that welcomed him on the donkey with palm leaves and garments on his path probably same people shouting ‘Crucify him!’ few days later.

4) Who like his posts? Prostitutes, lepers, the lame, the blind, the poor, the sick, the tax collectors, the women, the children, non-Jews… in short, the marginalized and/or outcasts of the Jewish society.

5) Who dislike his posts? Pharisees, Sadducees, the experts and teachers of the Law (the elite, educated and esteemed) and whoever felt threatened by His popularity… and those who hated His rebuke of them for their hypocrisy.

6) He also had invisible or silent likers. Nicodemus went…

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Praying in Dark Times

Praying in the deep dark pit of life…
What do you do when you are in trouble? When you know you disobeyed and are being punished for your disobedience? Jonah prayed. How long? 3 days and 3 nights. What did he say?

v. 1 inside the fish: a peculiar place to be! No one has ever survived being in the belly of a big fish, much less pray inside it.
v. 2 in the deepest darkest night of death, the most dreadful dreary places in life, call to the Lord. Help, Lord! Just two words. Jonah heard God’s answer. Jonah knew God listened.

Jonah’s Prayer
1:17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Chapter 2
1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.
2 He said:
“In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.
3 You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.
4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’

Discipline is painful. Being banished from God’s sight is not a good place to be. It is like God has turned his face away from him. It’s like being told: I do not want to see you again. YET, Jonah chose to look once more at God’s holy temple – the symbol of God’s holy presence. When I fix my eyes and focus on God, knowing that He is present, my perspectives in my circumstances change.

5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.

Jonah’s experiences in the dark depths of the fish’s belly is real. These sentences are poetic but real as well. When the things are bad and frightening, Jonah chose to claim God’s salvation – God is the one to bring him back. At the end of life, Jonah remembered the Lord. He prayed to God – called on His holy presence.

But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.
7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.
8 “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.
9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

Jonah ended his prayer in praise and worship. He proclaimed that his God loves (v. 8) and He saves! (v. 9)

10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
Jonah chose to pray and praise in spite of his dark experience in the belly of the fish. He claimed God’s salvation. And God listened to his prayers. God gave him another chance.

Are you in the midst of God’s discipline? Does it seem that God has banished you from his sight? Are you overwhelmed by waves of darkness and despair? Drowning in a sea of suffering – too much to bear?

Look again toward God’s holy temple. Remember the times He saved you and showed his grace and mercy towards you. The Lord your God brought you up from the pit. When life is draining away, when there is no strength left in you, remember the Lord, your God. Choose to pray and praise God for His love and His salvation.

Circumstances might not change. Yet know that God listens to our cries for help, our prayers of praise and worship.

Prayer changes perspectives. It brings the pray-er back to the presence of God – to the assurance that God is with him no matter what is happening around him.

And today, this is so true most especially in the dark world of the pandemic.. even so, Emmanuel – God with us!