Posted in Character, Faith

Grandma Chin and the Secret of Her Strength

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Rose Lee Chin is my hero. When I think of someone who epitomizes strength and unwavering commitment to family, her example rises to the top. A woman less than five feet tall, she made up for her stature in fierce determination.

My grandmother on my father’s side, Grandma Chin emigrated from China to Canada as a teenager in order to wed a man she had never met. They built a life together, had 14 children, and owned a restaurant as the only Chinese family in a small Caucasian town. You can imagine some of the hardships and challenges they faced. It is said that Grandfather Chin enjoyed gambling. Grandma Chin was known for disrupting card games played in the restaurant basement and sending all the men home.

When my father (the youngest) was eight years old, Grandfather Chin died of a stroke. I don’t know many of the details, but Grandma Chin held the family together. Every child was raised and launched successfully into adulthood. Family was central in their lives.

I remember as a young girl, shortly after my parents’ divorce. Grandma Chin asked with sorrow, “Why did your mother leave your father?”

I repeated the explanation I had heard many times before. “Because she didn’t love him anymore.”

Grandma Chin shook her head vigorously and shot back, “What does love have to do with it? It’s family.” Seeing my confusion, she continued with conviction. “I didn’t know your grandfather loved me until the end of his life.”

I knew that Grandfather Chin was unable to speak after his stroke, so I asked timidly, “How did he tell you?”

She fell silent as if she were revisiting that special moment, and then tenderly whispered. “I could see it…I could see it in his eyes.”

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“What does love have to do with it?” Grandma Chin’s words had a profound impact on me. Her words provided the knowledge that there was something more than love, so erratic and easily lost. Her words planted the foundation of commitment deep within me. Her life demonstrated the power of commitment to keep a family together. This commitment was greater than the feelings of love. It sustained her through 30 years of marriage.

Later, when I became a Christ follower, I came to understand that true love—the God kind of love—is expressed as commitment.

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:7, NLT).

Lovey-dovey feelings come and go. Parental tenderness felt for one’s children wears thin sometimes. Every relationship that matters will go through desert experiences. During those seasons, it is commitment that carries us through.

I also came to understand that being obedient to God’s call must go beyond feelings. It is commitment that gives the will to be faithful on the job. It is commitment that continues to strive toward reaching a goal even when it gets difficult. It is commitment that serves and cares for others when they do not deserve it.

I am not suggesting that we live like a bunch of non-feeling robots. I am also not condoning that people stay in abusive relationships. Nevertheless, when we commit our lives to the Lord, we no longer live only for ourselves. We must not base our choices on emotions or our own personal happiness.

Commitment helps us stay the course when it gets tough. Commitment helps us persevere for the good of others. Commitment helps us practice sacrifice to glorify God.

And when we no longer have strength to carry on, the Holy Spirit empowers us to do what we cannot do on our own.

“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).

I am so grateful that Grandma Chin shared the secret of her strength with me forty years ago. Today her words still inspire me to demonstrate God’s love through commitment. What about you?

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I confess that it’s easy to pay attention to my feelings. There are times I want to give up. Empower me to keep loving and serving others when it is difficult. Strengthen me to commit to the relationships in my life, and to persevere with the tasks you have set before me. Help me live a life of true love and commitment. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Communication Skills, Faith

A Lesson on Marriage and Oysters

Image result for oysters and pearls

This October marks my 30th wedding anniversary. I love my husband dearly, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s a miracle we’re still together. We have defied the odds, breaking many likely-to-divorce statistics. Thirty years since we said our original vows (we renewed our vows five years ago), we are lovers and friends, committed to making our relationship work.

In preparation for our 30th celebration, I wondered what gift was appropriate for the occasion. The gift for the 25th anniversary is silver; the 50th anniversary’s gift is gold. But what about the 30th? I found the answer quickly on Google—it’s our pearl anniversary.

Pearls are beautiful and evoke fond memories for me.

One summer vacation when I was a young girl, my family and I went to a tourist attraction featuring Japanese pearl divers. It was thrilling to watch as the diver dove into the water,  selected a special oyster from the bed, and brought it back to the surface. My heart pounded as they presented my prize and opened it to reveal my treasure containing not one, not two, but three precious pearls.

I learned that pearls are created by an irritation such as a grain of sand or piece of food that enters the shell of an oyster. In an attempt to protect itself from the irritation, the oyster secretes a substance, layer upon layer until the pearl is formed. The irritation is transformed into a valuable treasure.

As I reflect on my marriage, the pearl is meaningful to me. It symbolizes an important lesson I have learned about making my marriage work.

Irritations abound in marriage. Like the oyster, we try to protect ourselves from the irritations. We can react in many ways.

Nag
Become defensive
Argue
Become critical
Justify
Blame
Resist
Withdraw

Or we can apply grace. Layer upon layer of grace transforms our irritations into treasures.

As a Biblical term, “grace” is God’s unmerited favor. Our Lord pours out His kindness on us that we do not deserve and can never earn. Because of God’s grace, we receive the blessing of a relationship with our heavenly Father and the promise of heaven. He offers it freely.

As Christ-followers in marriage, we extend grace when we choose to emulate God’s character and extend undeserved kindness to our spouse. We bless them, not because they have earned our favor, but because we are aware of God’s great love for them. Like Jesus we offer grace freely.

In 1913, Webster’s Dictionary defined grace as “the exercise of love, kindness, mercy, favor; disposition to benefit or serve another; favor bestowed or privilege conferred.”

The more modern WordNet version gives the definition as “a disposition to kindness and compassion; benign good will.”

Both definitions can be aptly applied. Grace has my partner’s best interests in mind, even when I’ve been inconvenienced. Grace seeks to benefit and serve, responding with compassion and goodwill.

It is all too easy to allow irritations and hurts to fester into uglier issues. Hearts are infected by unforgiveness and resentment. Instead of grace, we live by the law of “eye for an eye; tooth for a tooth.” We strive to be heard and understood, and demand our own rights.

There is no simple way to take two people with different personalities, backgrounds, and interests, and merge them as one. Toes get stepped on; expectations are unmet. Grace is a necessary ingredient to counteract our own selfishness and pride.

In my marriage, grace empowers us to laugh at issues that once seemed like major mountains. We flow together rather than put on our brakes of resistance. We offer understanding when the other one is having a bad day rather than rushing in to correct or fix. Through grace, we glimpse in ourselves the love Christ has for His Church.

I am excited to continue to grow in grace. I look forward to gleaning more pearls from the irritations in marriage and life.

How is grace expressed in your marriage? In what areas do you need to allow for more grace?

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:31-33, NLT).

We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19, NIV).

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me to appreciate and value the spouse you have given me. I acknowledge that I often take him/her for granted and react poorly to the irritations common in marriage. I desire to be gracious. As you have extended grace to me, may I extend grace to my partner. I trust you to transform our irritations into precious pearls. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Important Note: This post refers to irritations and differences in opinion. It does not include abusive behavior. If you are in a relationship that is abusive, please find a safe place and reach out to others for help.

Posted in Character, Vision & Goal Setting

Keep Your Call in Focus

 

A lovely young woman sat in my office, her face aglow as she described God’s call to her to minister to women. She had returned from the mission field and the Lord had shown her through a series of miraculous events what she was supposed to do. We talked about specific ways she could fulfill this call blazing in her heart, and we made arrangements for her to serve.

Several weeks later the same woman was back in my office, this time with tears in her eyes. She was burdened with sorrow, as she poured out her confusion. God had clearly spoken to her and had given her direction, but now she was filled with doubt. Things in life didn’t look the way she thought they should and she wondered if she was really making a difference.

What happened to morph such excitement and resolve into discouragement and doubt?

God’s call to a ministry or position can indeed be exhilarating. It is so exciting to hear from the Lord, to be given a mandate and vision, and to have it confirmed through His Word, circumstances, and trusted advisers.

Inevitably, though, excitement wears off, and the call that was so fresh may become stale. As you encounter difficulties, challenges, or even the mundane, it is easy to wonder if God has suddenly changed His mind.

Reverend Nicky Gumbel, the developer of the Alpha Course, wisely teaches that God doesn’t call us out of things. Rather He calls us into things. When life gets hard and doubts arise, rarely is that evidence of God calling you elsewhere. So how can you be faithful and move forward?

It is important to remember that walking out our call is filled with ordinary moments. Even the miraculous ministry of Jesus Christ had times of fatigue and hunger, when He had to deal with feuding disciples or disgruntled people, when His ministry was largely misunderstood. In the midst of “non-miraculous” situations, Jesus Christ kept His mission in focus.

What has God called you to do? What has he placed on your heart as a mission? How can you keep it in focus?

I highly recommend that you write it down and describe how it unfolded. Keep it where you can access it easily. When things get hard or you become weary of the ordinary, read it for clarity and inspiration.

Take time to revisit your call, renew your commitment, and ask the Lord for wisdom and strength to accomplish what He’s asked of you.

Posted in Communication Skills, Servant Leadership

Personal Commitments as a Servant Leader

Substitute teachers have a tough job. For each assignment they step into a new environment, often with an incomplete set of instructions. They do not know the rules or routines. Most students take advantage of the situation, expecting that no real teaching will be done and no learning will occur. They test the limits. Will the substitute teacher be in control or will the students be in control?

Occasionally I work as a substitute teacher. Before every assignment I pray…for two reasons. First, I need God’s intervention and wisdom to manage a classroom. Second, I need God’s presence actively involved in my life so I can set my attitude for success.

As a servant leader, a positive approach is paramount to being in control.

Recently I received some notable comments from students.

One young man thought he should prepare me in advance. “Sorry, Miss. Your day is going to be miserable because of us.”

My response: “Nobody can make me have a bad day. That’s entirely up to me. And I choose to have a good day.”

The student nodded in agreement and gave me two thumbs up. At the end of the day he checked in with me. “Are you still having a good day?”

“Of course, I am. I choose to have a good day,” I said smiling warmly.

Another student decided to warn me of my plight. “We’re a BAD class.”

My response: “Oh, I don’t believe that. There might be some students who make poor choices, but I think you’re a GOOD class.”

The student looked at me with surprise and found her seat.

As a servant leader, I’ve made several commitments that I engage in every role—as a pastor, consultant, coach, speaker, substitute teacher, or anything else. These commitments embody my positive approach. They are behaviors that establish an environment of trust. By following them, I can be in control wherever I am and thrive in any setting.

  1. I do not raise my voice at anyone. I address people on an individual basis. Corrections in behavior or performance are made one-on-one in firm but quiet tones away from the hearing of the group.
  2. I point out the positive. I focus on what people are doing well and verbally praise them for it. Expressing appreciation motivates others to make good choices and creates confidence to try harder.
  3. I am always polite. I say “please” when making requests and follow up with “thank you.” This is another way of expressing appreciation and showing respect to others. Being rude is never warranted, regardless of the situation.
  4. I ask questions. I seek input with a desire to understand and discover. Valuing others’ insights builds relationships and establishes their buy-in to solutions.
  5. I do not ask someone to do something I am not willing to do myself. I do not assign others “the dirty work” simply to avoid unwanted tasks or because it is “beneath me.” I lead by example and strive to be authentic.
  6. I laugh at my own mistakes and admit when I am wrong. Being in charge doesn’t mean I wear the facade of perfection. As others see how I respond when I make a mistake, correct it, and move on, they feel safer when they make a mistake and a learning culture is established.
  7. I am quick to forgive. I keep short accounts and will not allow the past negative behavior of others to color my current dealings with them. God’s mercies are new every morning toward me. The least I can do is extend His mercies to others.

Servant leaders see their influence as a means to benefit others, to help others grow personally and develop servant leadership traits. What commitments have you made that empower you to be a stronger leader?

Posted in Vision & Goal Setting

The Power of the Plan

The Timekeeper has unleashed a sinister plot, speeding up time at an increasing rate. In league with Tick Tock, they will bring about the end of the world. The Organization of Super Spies comes to the rescue and stops the villains before it’s too late.

This weekend I watched “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World.” I’m not sure who selected this silly, cheesy movie on Netflix, but it had a winsome message: Don’t waste time on meaningless pursuits. Time is a gift to be cherished with the ones you love.

The older I get, it certainly seems that time is speeding up. Now that my kids are grown and I have the great joy of being a grandma, it is much easier for me to realize when “The Big Lie” rears its ugly head. “The Big Lie” says something like this: I’ll keep this frantic pace for just a little awhile. One day (hopefully soon) it will slow down and I’ll focus on the important areas of my life. I have all the time in the world.

The truth is…life isn’t going to slow down tomorrow or next week or next month without making an intentional plan to do so. Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (NIV). We don’t have all the time in the world. In order to fulfill what God has intended for us, we must manage well the time we’ve been given.

Life is too short to live without a plan.

I highly recommend creating a Life Plan. A Life Plan goes beyond setting goals. It approaches life from a holistic perspective, because every decision you make either adds or subtracts value to every part of your existence. You identify what is most important to you in life and then make steps toward investing in those areas.

There are many excellent online resources to assist in life planning. A life or leadership coach can walk you through the process, helping you discover your ideal future and preferred way to get there. Develop your own structure and style. Regardless of the systems and methods, making a plan is absolutely vital to intentional living.

Powerful Life Plans include the following steps:

Envision your ideal future. What do you want your life to look like in 20 years? What kind of legacy do you want to leave? What do you want people to say about you when you’re gone.

Identify the most important areas of your life. There are many areas that could demand your attention: Spiritual life, marriage, family, career, education, health, recreation, finances, ministry/service, social stewardship, personal development, pace of life, etc. However, you must narrow your focus. Select no more than eight categories and then prioritize them.

Identify supporting goals. For each life category, what preliminary goals will move you toward your ideal future? What objectives are you committed to accomplishing in partnership with the Lord? What action steps will lead you to these goals?

Schedule your priorities. If it’s important to you, put it on your calendar. Make sure all your action steps are included. My devotional time and observing a regular Sabbath are top priorities to me. Therefore, these actions are scheduled first.

Revisit your Life Plan often. Look at it regularly to remind yourself of your priorities and evaluate your progress. It is a living document and should be revised as necessary, based on God-given wisdom and foresight.

We don’t have all the time in the world. But by living intentional, proactive, Spirit-led lives, we can make the most of the time we have.

Posted in Vision & Goal Setting

Six Questions to Ask About Your Goals

Welcome to March! The third month of 2014 has officially begun. Remember those goals you set at the beginning of the year? How is it going? With two months behind you, this is a great time to pause and reflect on your progress. Gain more clarity and momentum for achieving your goals by answering some important questions.

Are my goals written?
If your answer is “no,” write them down. Whenever I go to the grocery store, even for a couple items, I need a shopping list. I admit, sometimes I lose it before I get there. Whenever this happens, I get distracted by all the bargains. I wander down the aisles, trying to remember what I came for. I end up wasting money, because I buy things I don’t need (after all, it was all on sale), or I waste time because I have to go back for the things I forgot. In a similar way, without written goals it is easy to get distracted. It may even cost you time and money before you get back on track.

Writing down your goals does a number of things.

  • It helps you remember them.
  • It reinforces your commitment to them.
  • It makes you accountable.
  • It gives you focus.

How often should I revisit my goals?
Having a written plan is important, but the power lies in keeping the plan continually before you. Some people begin each day by reviewing their goals. Others review their goals once a week. Decide the frequency that works best for you.

Only a small percentage of businesses that invest in the strategic planning process actually accomplish them. By far, the biggest reason is that, once created, the plan simply sits on the shelf. They continue doing business as usual without referring to their well designed plan.

Next, take a look at each of your goals and re-evaluate them with these questions.

Is this a goal I believe God wants me to pursue?
This really is the bottom line. Does the goal honor the Lord? Does the goal align with the teachings in God’s Word? Would this goal be approved by trusted, mature believers? If you answer “no” to any of these questions, you have a goal that is not worth pursuing. If the Lord has indeed put the goal in your heart, He will help you accomplish it.

Is this a goal I am committed to?
It’s important to be honest with yourself. Goals are successfully accomplished through commitment. If you aren’t willing to persevere during challenges, your commitment level is low. In this case, it is better to change your goal to a good idea and focus on something else to which you will commit.

What obstacles am I facing in achieving my goal?
You’re committed to the goal, but you’re still having difficulty. Step back and objectively look at the situation. Identify the obstacles and problems. You may need to enlist support from a coach to ask questions to prompt discovery and learning.

What adjustments do I need to make?
In light of the obstacles, you may need to tweak your plan. You may need to change your time line. You may need to change your approach or take a detour. Ask God for His wisdom. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT).

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
If you can’t fly, then run.
If you can’t run, they walk.
If you can’t walk, them crawl.
But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.

Every choice you make is either bringing you closer to or farther away from achieving your goals. Choose wisely, and keep moving forward.

Posted in Faith, Vision & Goal Setting

The Most Important Step of Effective Goal Setting

I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I am all for making healthy and positive changes, but the statistics support my aversion. With a dismal 8 % success rate,1 I have personally committed to begin a new approach either before the year ends or well after the year has begun.

The biggest reason I avoid the New Year as a start date for change is this: New Year’s resolutions are seldom true resolutions based on the conviction and motivation necessary for success. They are typically good ideas based on what we think should happen. Rarely do they reflect a steadfast resolve to achieve something better, but rather are more like wishful thinking.

Nevertheless, January seems to be the prime time for leaders to set goals and engage in strategic planning. Regardless of the date on the calendar, it is crucial to consider your level of buy-in. Is this another good idea or passing fad, or are you deeply committed to doing what it takes to accomplish it over the long haul?

For the Christ-follower, the most important step of effective goal setting is to identify goals that are God-ideas instead of just good ideas. Make sure that your goals align with God’s direction. Books, seminars, and leadership blogs provide excellent tips and ideas. However, they may not necessarily work for you given your context and culture. They may not represent God’s mind for you and your organization during this particular season.

I realize there are volumes written about how to understand God’s will. Even with myriads of advice, it is still a topic that seems mysterious. After all, can we REALLY know His will? How can we distinguish God-ideas from good ideas? Admittedly, seeking God’s will is a faith venture, and I would never pretend to have the definitive answers. However, there are some simple steps that guide the process. I highly recommend keeping notes of your discoveries for easy reference.

  1. Ask the Lord for wisdom. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (NIV).
  2. Pay attention to inspirational thoughts during prayer. Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. Because we belong to Him, we can recognize His voice (John 10:1-16).
  3. Be open to guidance from the Word of God. God speaks through His Word. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105, NIV).
  4. Enlist input from respected, mature believers. Benefit from the wisdom and insight of others. “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22, NIV).
  5. Pray for clear direction. Ask the Lord to open doors of opportunity and to close doors that are not potential areas of focus (Revelation 3:8).

Spend time pondering Proverbs 3:5-6, as you seek God-ideas for your plans and goals.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take (NLT).

When you trust in the Lord and seek His will, He will show you which path to take. He will reveal His goals to you, those God-ideas that are worth pursuing.

 

1. Dan Diamond, “Just 8 % of People Achieve Their New Year’s Resolutions. Here’s How They Do It,” Forbes.com. January 1, 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2013/01/01/just-8-of-people-achieve-their-new-years-resolutions-heres-how-they-did-it/2/