Offering Everything Back to Him

She asked me to tilt my head forward, combed my wet hair straight through to the ends, and then looking at me while we both faced the mirror she said through her smile, eyes twinkling,

“It’s long enough to donate, you know.” 

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Wow. It would be like coming full circle!”

She threw her head back laughing, and with her warm, Alabama accent she declared,

“That’s exactly what I was thinking! Full circle.”

Last Wednesday, the official release date of “Warrior In Pink,” I had an appointment with Jesslyn to get my hair cut. The same Jesslyn who has always, always cut my hair. The same Jesslyn who knew I was pregnant before I knew because she could tell the texture of my hair had changed. The same Jesslyn who gifted me with the sassy magazine haircut when I was diagnosed with cancer and knew I would go bald. The same Jesslyn who came over to our house to shave my head when the harsh chemo meds began taking over my body and my hair began to fall out. The same Jesslyn who styled my crazy “muffs” when curly chemo hair grew back.

Fighting back tears I replayed in my mind those milestone moments with Jesslyn.

Full circle.

And how wonderful. How absolutely appropriate to donate my hair back to someone who would be walking the now familiar road of cancer treatment.

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And symbolically the donation of my hair reflects the place the book holds in my heart. I’m seeking to offer everything back to Him.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things…

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Cancer has altered my hair from stick straight to wavy curls. And cancer has altered my heart. The One who remains unchanging through each and every twist and turn is the One who has sustained, provided, led, and loved with perfect faithfulness.

To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:36

We are blessed to be a blessing.

He is worthy of our all, our everything.

Willful, Will-less, or Willing

Sometimes when I speak I find myself sharing things I didn’t plan on sharing. Weird audio-visual mishaps take place, derailing my train of thought, and I’m left scrambling on the inside. But sometimes those unplanned things end up being exactly what someone needed to hear. I’d chalk that up to the Holy Spirit’s work and the prayers of our ministry partners and friends.

Just a week ago I stood in front of a room packed with over 400 college students representing 40 campuses across the country. Our annual West Coast Epic conference took place down in San Diego. I had spent the past two years speaking at the East Coast conference so it had been awhile since I experienced conference west coast style (you know, things like the emcee Olympics event in Sochi, a staff zombie flash mob, students sharing in the form of spoken word, creative art, string quartet, rap, the lip sync contest sing off, etc.). What an incredible weekend filled with incredible students learning about our incredible God.

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Darrin, wearing the conference director hat this year, led the 50 or so staff in a time before the students arrived of personal evaluation and surrender. Symbolically pouring out a vial of water representing our lives poured out to God, he asked the staff to pray and add their “lives” to a glass vase as an offering to God: willing to go, do, say and give whatever God asked. And from this place of surrender the staff welcomed students who arrived from everywhere. Some alone, without knowing a single person, some with their posses and school flag (Arizona! :-) ).

So with this as the backdrop I went up on stage to deliver the first talk. The cordless microphone gave us all sorts of trouble; weird feedback, popping, and the like. My staff friend, Duncan, came up to the stage halfway through the talk and unwound the long cord and handed me a handheld mic. I lost my place in my notes and ended up skipping an entire section of the talk. When I looked at Gilbert, the time-keeper, I realized I still had more time. So I summarized, and went on to share, but not from my notes, about a willful, will-less or willing heart.

Turns out, based on questions and feedback, most people wanted to hear more about what I hadn’t planned on sharing.

I first learned about these three postures of the heart in a class I took at Talbot Seminary. (One day soon I plan to return to resume the Master’s degree I will eventually earn–at the age of 86).

Okay, so here goes:

A willful heart: says “I’m going to do this.” It is characterized by striving and depending on my own strength.

A willful heart may come from a place of wanting to live a life pleasing to God, but this life is spent trying to muster up willpower to charge ahead. Willful hearts can feed into pride and legalism. If convicted of sin the response of a willful heart is “I will do better. I will try harder.” When my heart is willful, I’m trying to live life in my own effort, and trying to be obedient in my own effort. Willful hearts can lead to burn out. Sometimes after all the striving and the inevitable disappointment, it leads to

A will-less heart: “God’s going to do it all. It doesn’t matter what I do.”

Will-less hearts are the “whatevah” (hold up the “w” with thumbs and pointer fingers). It’s a passive place of who cares, “God’s going to do what God’s going to do so what I do is inconsequential.” When my heart is will-less, I stop being engaged, I give up and my thinking is “why try.” I become cynical. When I sin my attitude is “Oh well. At least it’s forgiven.”

The heart is not changed or transformed when we are willful or will-less.

Rather than a willful or will-less heart, God asks for

A willing heart: “God I am desiring to grow. I will do whatever it is, but on my own I can’t.”

The willing heart recognizes our inability to live the Christian life on our own and expresses our dependence on God’s power. The key to the willing heart is really the issue of being yielded. It’s not about signing up and being a missionary in a foreign land and eating bugs. It’s the willingness to go if God asks. It’s the willingness to stay even if you want to go. It’s about a life surrendered, laid open. This is the key to the Christian life. This is how God’s Spirit is unleashed to empower believers to live the Christian life.

Our lives, a poured out offering to the Lord

God, I am willing to go where You want me to go, do what You want me to do, say what You want me to say, give what You want me to give.

The last morning of the conference students were invited to sign a card and symbolically pour out their lives to God.

Willing hearts.

One hundred and eighty-three students expressed willing hearts.

This new generation of leaders, through the power of the Holy Sprit, will change the world.

Do you have additional thoughts to add to this conversation?

Everyone Needs A Prisca

Everyone needs a Prisca.

Someone who takes the time to truly listen and understand the struggles of the heart.

Someone who models an authentic life of faith and grace and prayer.

Someone who has survived the current life stage you are seeking to navigate.

Everyone needs a Prisca.

Someone who believes wholeheartedly in the goodness of God and lives for eternal things unseen.

Someone who reminds us the ministry is unending, but the window interacting with our own children is small. And taking time to be good to ourselves is crucial.

Someone who applauds steps of faith and prays diligently. And then prays some more.

Everyone needs a Prisca.

Someone who is humble, a learner, compassionate, and incredibly, incredibly wise.

Someone who doesn’t fix problems, but knows how to hold emotions.

Someone to model after because they so reflect the heart of God.

Everyone needs a Prisca.

Someone who is mature, who speaks words of hope, who knows how to laugh at herself.

Someone who helps restore perspective.

Someone who loves well.

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Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7) 

I have six names written in the margin of my Bible next to this verse. Prisca is one of them. I’ve been blessed to know her for twenty years. She is one of my heroes of the faith.

Who do you have written on the margin of your Bible?

Who has your name written in theirs?

Loved By God

Sometimes I’m slow on the uptake. Still working my way through “The One Year Chronological Bible.” Two days ago I read about Daniel in Daniel chapters 10 and 11. The angel addressed Daniel as “greatly loved of God.” He explains the moment Daniel began praying, which was three weeks prior to this appearance, his request was heard in heaven. Some kind of fierce spiritual battle took place which required Michael, one of the archangels, to aid the angel in order for him to deliver the message to Daniel. He later tells Daniel,

“Dont be afraid, for you are deeply loved by God. Be at peace, take heart and be strong!” (Daniel 10:19)

I know in my head God loves me. I sing about it, in the privacy of my car, throughout the day. But something about the description of being

greatly loved

and

deeply loved

by God

has stopped me in my tracks.

Not just loved. But loved greatly. And deeply.

I’ve been turning these truths over and over in my mind.

I forget He loves me and begin to fret. I forget He loves me and I start taking responsibility for things I was never tasked with. I forget He loves me and I scramble for control. I forget He loves me and live as if everything depends on me. I forget He loves me and I forget He is with me.

A strong foundation of love makes all the difference in any relationship. The circumstances can be exactly the same, but the heart attitude is different. Love changes everything.

The kind of intimacy Daniel shared with his God kept him from rebelling or becoming bitter when he was taken from his home and sent away to Babylon as a teenager. His understanding and experience of God’s love, character and provision gave him courage to go against the crowd and abstain from the food eaten by the king and royal court. His obedience and steadfast faith kept him loyal to HIs God. He refused to bow down to worship the Babylonian king and was thrown into the lion’s den.

Daniel, just like you and just like me, experienced trials, bewilderment, heartache, discouragement, disappointment, unanswered prayer, life threatening situations, and all the while he was greatly loved and deeply loved by God.

So often my thinking is limited. Short-sighted. Off.

I think of being protected from experiencing trials, heartache, disappointment as evidence of being deeply and greatly loved. While I’m sure God has protected me from unseen difficulties, I also understand being greatly loved and deeply loved includes the hard times. The times when life gets derailed, when well laid plans are disrupted; the times when I personally fall and fail. I am greatly loved and deeply loved in and through those hard times. The intensity of God’s love is not based on my circumstances or my response. His love is great and deep and unconditional.

God’s love is tender and fierce.

Deeply loved means He knows my circumstances, struggles, and secrets. He gives strength to persevere and walk through the valleys. He is for me. With me. His purposes are higher and include a bigger plan I am often unaware of. His motivation always has and continues to be love. So it is from this foundation of love that I bring my fears, insecurities, failures and concerns to His safe keeping.

He loves you and he loves me greatly.

Deeply.

And like the angel shared with Daniel, knowing God loves us deeply helps us to be at peace, take heart and be strong.

I am seeking to mull and mediate and respond to what it means to be greatly loved by God.

What does it mean to you for God to love you deeply?

Julia drew this picture of me speaking at the Epic East Coast conference a couple years ago. Her words ring true.

Julia drew this picture of me speaking at the Epic East Coast conference a couple years ago. Her words ring true.

First of the Lasts

I heard sounds upstairs at 5:45am this morning. Creaking floorboards, the shower door sliding open and closed. It was still dark outside. First day of school and my 11-year-old was wide awake and got up to get ready. The 16-year-old woke up shortly after his younger sister. It has been months since the last time he was up before the sun. Lunches packed followed by the first day of school picture by the front door. A flashback to when they both were too small to look out of the peek hole. I watched from my window as the high schooler drove off down the hill to begin his junior year.

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While buckling my seatbelt when it was finally time to take Julia, I looked over and asked,

“What are you thinking?”

She smiled and said, “Top of the totem pole.”

Sixth grade is the top of the totem pole. Julia has been on the grounds of this elementary school for 11 years. She’s watched two older brothers move year after year from classroom to classroom from her stroller. She waved to her older brothers during playground time when she attended the preschool which also met at the elementary school. She finally was old enough to have her own desk in first grade when I was diagnosed with cancer. We finished cancer treatment during her second grade and brought leftover cake to share with her classmates after our big celebration. Third grade and we explored Anaheim together when it was time to research for her Orange County city report. Fourth grade and she became an upper grader with two older brothers in high school. Fifth grade her oldest brother went off to college all the way across the country. Now in sixth grade, at the top of the totem pole, she is ready to launch.

And today was the first of the lasts.

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When Julia finishes off this school year, it will be the end of an era for our family at this elementary school. Fifteen years of homework folders, assemblies, field trips, class parties and parent teacher conferences. And just like getting attached to a physical house, the rooms in this school are filled with memories and significant moments. But now when we arrive at each event, it will be another last. Our last science camp, last biography report, last back to school night, last, last, last. Lasts seem so final.

When we arrived early at our normal drop off spot, she walked off down the stairs ahead of me. Confident, excited. Probably a good three to four inches taller from last year at this time. She fixed her own hair, with extra twists and a ponytail to the side. She noticed the new girl waiting by the door and smiled and introduced herself and then began introducing the new girl to each of her friends as they showed up.

I pulled out my phone to take pictures. She asked to see them, looked up and said,

“It’s going to be a great year.”

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Truly Terrific Banana Bread Recipe

Oh, it’s madness around here. Our oldest heads back for his second year of college on Friday. Darrin has been and continues to be in ministry meetings to prep for the coming school year. Our middle son is registering today for his junior year of high school. The crazy junior year. Our youngest is trying hard to convince me why hosting a sleep over with multiple girls with the goal of staying up all night is a good idea before school starts. My brother and sister-in-law are dropping of their two oldest off for college, so they, along with their youngest, will be staying with us tomorrow (yipppeeeee!!!). But this also means we need to unearth the flat surfaces around our home and tidy up a bit. a lot.

So my brain isn’t all here.

But this morning I baked banana bread for Darrin’s team. The smell wafting through the house is heavenly. The recipe is from my mentor in college, Shelley, and it is one of the few recipes I have memorized. As I’ve shared it with friends over the years, they all agree it’s a winner. Moist. Consistently tasty. A reason to smile when your bananas go brown. So here I am sharing it with you without needing to check a recipe card:

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Shelley’s Banana Bread

4 or 5 over ripe bananas

2 eggs

3 T milk (I use rice milk because of Julia’s allergies)

1 T vinegar

1/2 C veg. oil

mush bananas, add the above ingredients and mix.

I don’t like washing multiple bowls so I add the dry ingredients on top and then mix it with a spoon before I blend it into the wet ingredients.

2 C flour (baking secret: stir flour w/ a spoon and spoon into measuring cup. This makes the bread fluffier)

1 1/2 C sugar

1 t baking soda

1 t salt

stir dry ingredients together on top and then blend everything together

add poppy seeds (about 2 T)

1 t vanilla

spray 2 baking pans with Pam and divide the batter evenly (see photo above)

bake at 350 for 40 minutes and check w/ wooden tooth pick.

Enjoy!!

Thank you, Shelley, for sharing this recipe, and for sharing your life and wisdom. Forever grateful to God for you!!

Keep On Praying

We lived at the base of the mountain named Pine Brook Hills. The name, Pine Brook Hills, might suggest grass-covered mounds, but hairpin turns and steep inclines required the use of snow tires and sometimes chains during the winter months. These were, without question, mountains. The houses were sprinkled far apart and the driveways were long and the views, breath-taking. From one of those houses surrounded by pine trees too many to count, a mom and one of her daughters faithfully prayed. The prayers drifted up to heaven like smoke from their chimney. The daughter, my sister’s classmate, prayed that God would bring my sister and me to Himself.

The prayers went up. And life went on. And years went by.

Much later on God would answer those mountain prayers. Our family would move from the house at the base of the mountain in Boulder, Colorado clear across the ocean to Hong Kong. And there in Hong Kong my sister and I would fully commit our lives to God.

When I returned to Boulder to attend the University of Colorado, I spent the next five years teaching Sunday school at First Presbyterian Church where Jill Wedlake, the mom who prayed for us, was the director of the children’s program. Our lives would continue to criss cross. Then they moved to Italy when I moved to Berkeley.

And years went by.

Last month, in Grand Junction, Colorado, we had a sweet reunion with the Wedlake family. I was able to introduce Jill and her husband, Jerry, to Michael and Julia. We stayed overnight at their house. Sydney, the daughter who prayed, came over for dinner with her two kids. And sitting over chips and salsa at the kitchen counter, I thanked them both for praying all those years back.

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And as we drove away from their home the next morning my heart was renewed to not give up. To keep on praying. And to pray with my own daughter for God to draw her friends to Himself. This side of heaven we may not see exactly how He answers the prayers we pray. But each of us had someone who prayed for us. And each of us has people God has placed in our lives for us to pray for as well.

God hears prayer and He answers.

Don’t give up. Keep on praying.

Casting Off Fear

Most mornings my eyes open and my mind floods with random to-do list items, varying levels of concern over relationships, home, finances, the future. Included now in those first morning thoughts is Book #2. The last few months I have been marinating on content for my next book proposal and with it comes a new level of fear. Writing about cancer usually garners the sympathy of pretty much everyone. A certain safety zone exists because the topic of cancer includes the universal struggles of physical pain, suffering, and possible death. Writing about cancer trumps the polarizing topics of faith, gender, ethnicity, political affiliation, etc. I’ve noticed most comment sections on blog posts about cancer avoid the internet nastiness often found online. I like the safety zone. I like to be liked. But God seems to confirm and reconfirm at least an attempt at Book #2.

This morning, while sipping coffee and processing with God about my fears of not being smart enough, experienced enough, and just about everything enough, I read in my Bible reading plan timely words:

“for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and take care of you. I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Jeremiah 1:7)

Don’t be afraid of the people.

As God calls you and me to various tasks, our part is to be willing and to go wherever, say whatever and cast off the fear of people’s disapproval. He is with us and will take care of us.

If He is sending us, He will be with us. Of this we can be sure.

Where is God sending you? What fears do you need to cast off?

Psalm 84:5-7 Strength In The Lord

We just returned from a much needed vacation. We were able to stay at a friend’s house in Manhattan Beach and spent each day enjoying and exploring the white sand beach. Here’s a post I wrote for Asian American Women on Leadership. I’ve been invited to join as a regular contributor for their website. Hope these words bring you encouragement and perspective.

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My husband, Darrin, and I have a mixed marriage. He is half Japanese, a quarter Portuguese and a quarter Native Hawaiian. He grew up in an Asian majority city and state Hilo, Hawaii. I’m Chinese and I grew up in a majority Caucasian city and state, Boulder, Colorado. But our mixed marriage runs deeper than our ethnic make up. He has a Droid. I have an iPhone. He uses a Dell laptop. I use a MacBook. Darrin discovers back roads and rarely takes the same route anywhere. I drive the same way every time to the grocery store and post office He likes options. I like decisions. He reads the NIV Bible. I’m a die hard, loyal NASB version reader. But every so often I wander from the familiar and mix things up a bit in my Bible reading plan. This year I’ve been reading through the One Year Chronological Bible in the New Living Translation. Over the weekend I came across a favorite Psalm, but read it with fresh eyes.

Psalm 84:5-7

Psalm 84:5-7 (New Living Translation)

 

“Happy are those who are strong in the LORD, who set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs, where pools of blessing collect after the rains! They will continue to grow stronger, and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.” (Psalm 84:5-7)

 

Here’s a little nugget from what stood out to me from these verses in this version:

 

Happy are those who are strong in the LORD

  • am I seeking to be strong in ministry?
  • or strong in the living the Christian life?
  • or strong in a particular role of spouse, parent, leader, friend?
  • strong in the LORD speaks to me of knowing God intimately and trusting Him over and over…Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD (Jeremiah 17:7 NASB)

 

(Happy are those) Who set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem

  • where have a set my mind? my thought life?
  • have I forgotten this world is not my home?
  • minds set on pilgrimage speaks to me of eternal perspective, of living for things unseen, of not getting entangled in jealousy, envy or comparison to other’s be it their relationships, stuff, status or ministry…Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8 NASB)

 

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping

  • not “if” but “when” means everyone, sooner or later, will go through valley times
  • the valley times can’t be hurried. they are walked, one foot in front of the other.
  • I’m reminded of how the slower pace of walking allows me to take in sights and sounds I would otherwise miss if I were taking life in rushing about

(to read the rest of the post please click here:

Letter to Epic Student Missionaries

Our Epic (Asian-American ministry of Cru) international summer mission teams are currently taking part in project briefing. The teams are receiving input, participating in team building activities and preparing for six weeks of: Loving the Lord, Loving their team, Learning a New World and Launching Movements. Here’s a letter I’ve written to them about some Scripture I read this morning.

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Dear Summer Mission Project Participants,

Each of you has a different story of how God led you to apply and how you ended up here on the Vanguard campus preparing to embark on an international summer mission project with Epic. I have to be honest. I’d give a kidney to jump on an airplane and join you and your team.

God has used these past several months to prepare your hearts for the task ahead. And just like how it felt to prepare to attend college–all the books/blogs you read, the stories you heard, even the campus visit you might have taken–all those things could not and did not capture the experience of actually being a college student and attending classes, living in the dorms, etc. Our staff have drawn from their past missions experiences to come up with helpful content, but actually arriving in country and walking the streets, breathing the air, smelling the smells–that’s when the change begins. The next six weeks will grow you and transform you as you experience life and dependence on the Lord with your team.

I’ve been reading through the “One Year Chronological Bible” this year. Currently camped out in the time of the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings. I was reading this morning and wanted to share a few thoughts as it seemed to pertain to God, missions, perspective and stuff I would share with you over a cup of coffee if time allowed.

  • 2 Kings 6:8-23 Elisha in the city of Dothan surrounded by a great army ready to take him out. His servant sees the troops, horses and chariots everywhere and freaks out, “Ah, my lord, what will we do now?” Elisha responds, “Don’t be afraid. For there are more on our side than on theirs.” And Elisha prays for God to open the eyes of his servant to see what was really going on…The LORD opens his eyes and he sees the hillside was filled with horses and chariots of fire….

Remember: you are not alone. God has got your back. People back home are praying for you. There are spiritual forces at work all around you that our human eyes cannot see. You and your team plus God is greater than any earthly opposition.

  • 2 Kings 7:3-11 Four lepers are starving because of a great famine that has taken over the land. They decide to go and surrender to their enemy, the Aramean army, because they figure they have nothing to lose. Turns out the army abandoned their camp and the lepers have a heyday going from tent to tent eating and plundering. They realize they can’t keep this good fortune to themselves. They return to the city and God provides for all the people from an unlikely source.

Remember: you and I are poor lepers who have found the True Bread and Living Water. We cannot keep the One who is the true treasure to ourselves. He has the Words of Eternal Life. Sharing our lives, sharing our stories, sharing the Gospel is one humble beggar who has discovered unlimited resources pointing another humble beggar where to find Food. Keep an attitude of humility and point people to Jesus, not the Christian life or a moral ethical code, but to Him who is Life.

  • 2 Kings 8:1-6 Earlier in 2 Kings (2 Kings 4:8-37) Elisha becomes friends w/ a woman from Shunem. He performs a miracle and brings her boy back to life. In this chapter Elisha instructs them to leave to the land of the Philistines because of the famine. They are gone seven years. She returns back to Israel, hoping to get her house and land back. The king had been talking to his servant about Elisha and the woman and her son appear at that exact moment to confirm the story of the son. Not only is her land restored, the king also compensates her for the value of the crops that had been harvested during her absence.

Remember: there are no accidents. God has determined the exact places we should live (Acts 17:26). As you engage in conversations, know that God has been orchestrating events before you arrive on the scene. Also remember: you can never out give God. He is able to provide from unexpected places in unexpected ways. Seek Him first.

I’m so excited for all God will do in you and through you. I will be joining so many who are praying for you and look forward to seeing you back on this side of the ocean.

Proud of you, excited for you, expectant with you,

viv

feel free to add additional comments about missions or encouragement for the epic summer teams….