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….

Highest Praise For Nurses

This past Saturday I had the honor of sharing my cancer story at the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing for the California State Long Beach Induction Ceremony.

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When I was first invited by Melissa, my dear friend and gifted nurse and  Professor of Nursing at CSULB, I didn’t have to think twice. My respect and appreciation for nurses is off the charts after my cancer battle. I jump at any opportunity to thank and encourage nurses. Turns out this week is Nurses Appreciation Week. So I wanted to dedicate this post to all the magnificent  nurses who are making a difference in the lives of countless individuals and families.

I ended my talk with an excerpt from my book, Warrior In Pink, and wanted to share it here as well.  Dedicated with deep respect and gratitude to the new inductees to the Nursing Honor Society as well as my personal nurse hero friends: Nicole, Melissa, Sherri, Bessie, Meghan, Mandy, Terry, Jacqui, Aunty Hilda, Cora, Tien, and many, many others…

Throughout my cancer treatment, the nurses impressed me most. I appreciated my doctors, but the nurses were the heart and hands of my healing journey. They answered my questions, returned my calls, offered suggestions, and walked closely beside me. They helped me know what to expect, what to look out for; they were the accessible ones, the personal lifeline when treatment felt confusing or uncertain. They possessed not only the extraordinary intellect to understand the complex human body, and they balanced their vast knowledge with compassion and the ability to move toward people and into their pain. (Warrior In Pink, page 68)

 

Hug the neck of a nurse and tell them “thank you” today! And feel free to share this post with other nurse heroes you know…

Halfway Around the World

The jet lag and cold medicine worked together in tandem. At different points during our four hour bus ride out of the city I would find myself suspended between a dream state and the reality of being halfway around the world. And there, in the half awake, half asleep state with my eyes closed, I would hear women speaking different languages, or speaking English with different accents. Now back on this side of the world, I find myself wondering: Did we really travel halfway around the world? Was it all a dream?

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I stop during the times when it feels like Central Asia was a lifetime ago and close my eyes. My heart returns halfway around the world and I picture the faces and hear again their voices. Beautiful women, women of character, courage and depth. Their different accents represented different countries: Brazil, Finland, countries in the Middle East, New Zealand, South Africa, Norway, Australia, Trinidad, Canada, Central Asia, England, Russia, and from all across the United States. Fifty-two women. Six infants. Different sending agencies, different life stages, teachers, business women, expats in the oil industry. The group was mostly composed of women who had lived and worked in a different land, for different lengths of time. They were at different places in their spiritual journeys, carrying various life experiences, some carrying deep pain and disappointment.

I was tasked to teach from the Bible and share my life and journey with them. I taught from one of my favorite passages of Scripture: John 15. The theme was Abiding in the Vine: Revive, Renew, Remain. I taught about all the things closest to my heart.

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Leila, wondrously gifted in asking questions and listening, met with women during the afternoons for spiritual direction and led times of guided prayer during personal reflection time. Her years and experience studying Spiritual Formation at Talbot Seminary blessed the women with both space and skill in navigating the deeper places of the heart.

Before we left this side of the world, we invited a group of prayer warriors to pray and fast for us. We sent them our schedule. Their prayers and the prayers of so many made all the difference on the other side of the world. My cough kept me up most nights. I coughed through meals, conversations, everywhere, all the time…EXCEPT for when I spoke. Several women commented their surprise about the talks being cough free. It was as if an angel covered my throat and kept the cough at bay.

Unlike here, on this time conscious side of the world, where conferences are broken down to the minute, and speakers have time keepers, I never once looked at my watch when I got up to speak. This gave room and space for me to go off on rabbit trails, elaborate on stories, and not feel rushed to squeeze everything in. It was pure joy to speak at this retreat. I was reminded so clearly, with a room full of women from countries around the world, that God is not an American. And I was also reminded that the truths from the Bible transcend language, time and culture. I felt honored and humbled to have time with these heroes of the faith. And in my heart I sensed God giving a nod of confirmation in this international setting to continue to teach in different capacities with different audiences and contribute to Kingdom building through speaking and teaching.

943241_514625625240758_3823783_nOur accommodations were top notch. Turns out, because it was off season, the five star hotel was cheaper than staying in the city at a Ramada Inn. Both our husbands thought we would be at some kind of campsite using outhouses. Leila and I were giddy with happiness as we sunk into our comfortable beds and looked out at the view of snow capped mountains outside our balcony. Meals were prepared by the hotel. I tasted flavors I had never known.

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The initial invitation to come and speak at this retreat came from Jenni a year ago last May. Darrin and I met Jenni almost 20 years ago when she was a student. Now she is an incredible mom of four girls, speaking the language, driving like the nationals and skillfully dodging potholes and cars that don’t really use lanes. She has lived through winters with frozen pipes and no hot water and has come to love this country she lives in. Jenni took Leila and me around the city for several hours after our bus returned and before our flight took off. Time with Jenni, seeing her world, watching her warm up soup in her kitchen, overhearing her conversations with her kids and husband, seeing how God has worked in her life and the woman of character, depth, maturity and excellence and beauty she has become was my personal highlight. A close second was traveling and ministering with Leila.

IMG_1777Thank you to all who prayed for us. Thank you especially to Darrin who not only took care of me and the kids the entire week before the trip while we were all sick (seriously, it looked like a MASH unit downstairs with me passed out on the bed and each kid on each couch), but then he came down with the same virus the week I was gone and still held down the fort.

IMG_1891This trip, and the many wonderful people I met, the country and all the sights and sounds will be treasured in my heart all the rest of my days. I’m thankful for the blessing of photos, souvenirs, and the ability to close my eyes to return again and again to a beautiful land halfway around the world.

Official Book Cover for “Warrior In Pink!”

I’m experiencing one of those “shout it from the mountain top” moments. This morning my editor at Discovery House Publishers send me the long awaited book cover for “Warrior In Pink.”

In her words,

We fell in love with this cover immediately. It’s elegant and feminine but not overly so. We kept the pink to a minimum. The cherry blossoms speak to your Asian-American heritage, as well as the themes of fragility, strength, legacy, renewal, and beauty. The light bento box** serves as a focal point. It cradles one of the blossoms, making that blossom set apart and special (a metaphor that can be applied to each reader). Finally, the dark wood background makes for strong contrasts and gives the book presence and visual weight.

I am beyond thrilled. Having a book cover I would be excited about was such an important piece of this book writing process.

**I was just made aware the box is actually a masu box, used in Japan long ago to measure rice. Now used in modern times for drinking sake (cheers!). The Japanese word masu translates to “growth.” I love the layers of meaning…

warriorinpinkPlease help spread the word. This book thing is really, truly happening…. :)