Sunday, April 19, 2015

What Does It Mean to Act "Like A Christian"?

The following video received a lot of attention when it aired during the Super Bowl a few months ago. It's a fantastic video that turned my lifelong paradigm of girls upside down in just three short minutes, by asking a deceptively simple question: what does it mean to act "like a girl"? 

Video produced by Procter & Gamble

As I watched this video, I quickly became aware that I've been socially conditioned to view the comparison "like a girl" as an insult. I then became indignant as I contemplated the negative message that this entire line of thinking conveys about me, my daughters, my sisters, and every other female in this world. But my indignation soon passed and was replaced by a tangible sense of empowerment, as well as deep joy in being proudly, unashamedly female!

My daughters reacted in a similar way. They cheered loudly for the little girls in the video, then begged to watch it again. After viewing it two more times, they sprinted away shouting, "Look Mom, we're running like girls!" My teenage daughter immediately e-mailed the video to several friends, as well as a boy who had made disparaging remarks about girls' abilities to her earlier that week. 
I'm still astounded that a three minute video had such an immediate and profound effect on all of us, and this got me thinking... what if somebody produced a similar video that asked:

What does it mean to act like a Christian?

I suspect it would be fairly easy to find Christians and non-Christians who would answer this question by stating what our society believes about us: "Acting like a Christian involves hypocritically judging and excluding others, being an unloving and miserable killjoy, and acting smugly self-righteous." I've met Christians who act this way, and I'm pretty sure most of you have as well. But does this mean that all Christians as a whole should allow this particular set of negative behaviors to define how all of us really act? 

Taking a cue from the "like a girl" video, I think we shouldn't, and here's why: because there are so many Christians who don't act in these negative ways! I'm talking about good, kindhearted, and non-judgmental people who quietly share God's love with others on a daily basis in their workplaces, neighborhoods, homes, and churches—people we'll never hear about in the news, because they're not looking for attention.

My mentor Mary is a good example of this. I met her thirteen years ago, when I was a young mother raising two nonverbal autistic toddlers and a newborn baby. For an entire year, Mary spent every Friday afternoon talking with me, listening to me vent my anxieties about childrearing, and reassuring me that I wasn't the incompetent parent I thought I was. During our conversations, she also provided wise and often tough counsel, prayed with me, and always, always pointed me toward God. 
Today, Mary continues to provide wise counsel and encouragement, even though we live in two different states. And in all the years we've known each other, I have never felt judged or condemned by her. Instead, she has somehow always made me feel loved. What's more, she has quietly done the same for many other women she has mentored over the years. This, I think, is what it means to act like a Christian! 

Other examples of people acting like a Christian include: my friend Patricia, who is one of the most hospitable encouragers you could ever care to meet; my husband's cousin Rick, who started up a prison ministry that shares God's love with prisoners who believe nobody cares about them; my friend Susan, who helps people heal up emotionally through her counseling practice; my friends John and Donna, who generously share their resources with those in need; and the many Christians around the world who quietly and humbly provide physical care for orphans, rescue sex trafficking victims, provide free medical care to the sick, dig wells, run schools, deliver meals, comfort those who grieve, open their homes to those in need, and offer hope to those in despair without being hypocritical, legalistic, and judgmental jerks.

Yep, I believe it's definitely time we redefine what it means to act like a Christian! If you know someone who acts like a Christian in the positive sense, please share a bit about this person in the comments below, as encouragement for all who read this posting after you!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tired of Being Stereotyped?

Photo Courtesy of Harrison France Photography


Like everyone else in this world, I get stereotyped fairly frequently. The stereotypes that affect me most often are:

  • Woman: overly emotional, irrational, bad driver.

  • Christian: narrow minded, judgmental, hypocrite, no fun.

  • Homeschooling mom: intelligent,nerdy, socially inept, religious nutcase, weird kids, fond of blue denim jumpers.
  • Asian: intelligent, nerdy, socially inept, computer whiz, piano/violin virtuoso, martial arts expert, hard worker, poor leader, passive doormat, bad driver, and the latest addition to this lovely list....     Tiger parent.

A few thoughts on these stereotypes:

  • When I first meet new people, I can easily avoid being stereotyped as a Christian or a homeschooler, by hiding the fact that I fall into these categories. But physical stereotypes are an entirely different deal. I can't hide my gender or ethnicity, so when I meet new people, those are two ways I'm likely to be stereotyped. 

  • I used to burn hundreds of calories trying to prove that I was an unstereotypical Christian, homeschooling mom, woman, and American of Asian descent. But by doing so, I unwittingly allowed the stereotypes to dictate my choices and my behavior

  • For this reason, I've decided that it's much easier to just be who I am, regardless of whether it's stereotypical or not. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean the stereotypes go away! But it does ensure that I'm no longer a slave to them, and instead am being true to who God created me to be.


So, which stereotypes affect you the most? And here's a deeper question for any readers who, like me, HATE being stereotyped: should we perhaps try to avoid stereotyping others? For an answer to this question, as well as more on the topic of stereotyping, please check out a stereotyping article I recently wrote for the Gospel Coalition blog. You can access it by clicking on the link below:

Saturday, January 26, 2013

How Are You Using Your Words?

My friend Cathy is a runner. Last year she was competing in a race, and as usual, spectators were standing along the race course, erupting in cheers and applause as their friends and loved ones ran by. Some spectators held signs in their hands, and one in particular caught Cathy's eye. It read:

 Image of man with blank sign
  courtesy of stockimages/

Cathy said the guy with the sign had planted himself in a very helpful spot: "He was in the second half of the race, which is the harder part. There's a lot more to go, you're just sort of dying, and you can hear people panting and groaning."

The encouraging message made Cathy laugh, and she says it also put a spring back in her step. It had a positive effect on the other runners as well. According to Cathy, "The guy with the sign was smiling, he was enthusiastic and the runners noticed it. We were smiling and murmuring about his sign among ourselves, and it was very contagious, this feeling of humor and fun." 

I loved hearing about this! It's a great reminder that encouraging words have immense power, to lift our spirits and put a spring in our step.  And the best thing about encouraging words? 

They're free! They cost us absolutely nothing, except for a few moments of our time.  

But what happens when we withhold them? I saw the results firsthand at a retreat many years ago, during an activity called "Circles of Blessing". We were sitting in small groups with people we knew, and we were instructed to choose one person in our group. Then, one at at time, everyone else in the group was to verbally affirm that person in some way. When we were finished, we were directed to choose a second person in the group and repeat this process, and so on, until every person in the group had been verbally affirmed and encouraged.

Within my group, the first two people we focused on reacted very positively, with big smiles. Then we came to the third person. She was a sweet and kind woman who had dedicated her life to serving others selflessly, so it was very easy for us to affirm all of the great things we saw in her.  

But her reaction took me by surprise. As we spoke our words of affirmation, her eyes grew watery, her chin began quivering, and then she suddenly burst out crying. Through her tears, she explained that she didn't know how to handle receiving so much affirmation, because nobody had ever said nice things about her, to her. My heart broke for this woman, who was nearing retirement age. Because how many people had she been around, throughout the course of her life? And we were the first to speak words of affirmation directly to her?

Since then, I've made a conscious decision to be an encourager. When I see good things in other people, I proactively let them know I see these things. Because who knows if they've ever heard positive feedback in that particular area of their lives? Or at all? And beyond that, who knows what destructive words may have been carelessly hurled at them just that morning? Or earlier that week, month, or year? Or throughout their entire life? 

I want my words to make a difference in this world! I want my words to build up, not tear down!  

I want to be like the guy holding the sign in Cathy's race, encouraging exhausted runners in the grueling marathon of life to keep going, to "run with perseverance the race marked out for them." (Hebrews 12:1) 

Because this marathon of life that we're all running just isn't easy, not for any of us. Sooner or later, we all encounter steep mountains, dark valleys, or scorching deserts that we must slog our way up, down, or through. And during those seasons of slogging, of wearisome plodding as we battle fear, sadness, disappointment, discouragement, and whatever else is going on in our heads, it helps to encounter friends and random strangers who take a few moments to offer the gift of encouraging words. 

I've been the recipient of many such words over the past year. They've generally arrived at just the right moment, when I'm feeling discouraged and overwhelmed by the difficulty of the race that God has marked out for me. And I can attest firsthand that these words, and the prayers behind them, have been nothing less than uplifting, life giving, and strengthening to my heart and soul.

So... if you happen to be going through hard times right now, if the race God has marked out for you has you slogging through a scorching desert, and your head is spinning, and you're dying for some water, and you don't know when or if this crazy desert is going to end, and you're worried that maybe you took a wrong turn somewhere, and you don't think you have the strength to keep going, and you're thinking about falling into a sobbing heap on the ground and giving up because it's all so overwhelming... here's the race sign I'm holding up for YOU: 

Run, friend, run!
Keep going! 
You can do it!

Encouraging words have immense power!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks, Laura Ingalls Wilder Style

Photo courtesy of dvd-ppt-slideshow free website


A few days ago, I read a thought provoking Thanksgiving article that was written almost one hundred years ago, and I thought I'd share some excerpts from it here. The article is entitled "Thanksgiving Time", and it was published in the Missouri Ruralist newspaper on November 20, 1916. The author was Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote a regular column for the Missouri Ruralist from 1911 through 1924. (For other writers reading this post: looks like even Laura Ingalls Wilder had to do some platform building! Her first book wasn't published until 1932.)

 Laura Ingalls Wilder
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia) 

Wilder began the article by recalling an incident that happened when her family lived on the South Dakota frontier. While her father was out hunting wild geese for Thanksgiving dinner, Laura and her sister Mary got into an argument:

...we quarreled, sister Mary and I, she insisting that there should be sage in the dressing and I declaring there should not be sage in the dressing, until father returned—without the goose! I remember saying in a meek voice to sister Mary, "I wish I had let you have the sage," and to this day when I think of it I feel again just how thankful I would have been for roast goose and dressing with sage seasoning—with or without any seasoning—I could even have gotten along without the dressing. Just plain goose roasted would have been plenty good enough. 

This little happening has helped me to be properly thankful even though at times the seasoning of my blessings has not been just as I would have chosen...

...We are so inclined to take for granted the blessings we possess and to look for something peculiar, some special good luck for which to be thankful...We are nearly all afflicted with mental farsightedness and so easily overlook the thing which is so obvious and near. There are our hands and feet, who ever thinks of giving thanks for them, until indeed they, or the use of them, are lost. We usually accept them as a matter of course, without a thought, but a year of being crippled has taught me the value of my feet and two perfectly good feet are now among my dearest possessions.

Why! There is greater occasion for thankfulness just in the unimpaired possession of one of the five senses than there would be if some one left us a fortune. Indeed how could the value of one be reckoned? When we have all five in good working condition we surely need not make a search for anything else in order to feel that we should give thanks to Whom thanks are due.

I once remarked upon how happy and cheerful a new acquaintance seemed always to be and the young man to whom I spoke replied, "Oh, he's just glad that he is alive." Upon inquiry, I learned that several years before this man had been seriously ill, that there had been no hope of his living, but to everyone's surprise he had made a complete recovery and since then he had always been remarkably happy and cheerful.

So if for nothing else, let's "just be glad that we are alive" and be doubly thankful if... we have a good appetite and the means to gratify it.

+   +   +   +   +   +   +

I must confess that I've been feeling rather cranky about Thanksgiving, because the "seasoning of my blessings has not been just as I would have chosen" this past year.
But the no-nonsense advice Wilder offered in this article was a good reminder to rethink the cranky attitude and instead spend the long weekend thanking God for the many blessings I generally take for granted. This includes blessings that many impoverished people in other areas of the world would be thrilled to have:
  • Life itself
  • My husband, children, extended family, and good friends  
  • Our church
  • My ability to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and speak
  • Healthy hands, feet, and limbs
  • Good doctors and modern medicine 
  • Citizenship in this country
  • The right to vote
  • A roof over my head
  • Central air and heat 
  • Reliable cars and paved roads 
  • Food in the refrigerator
  • 24 hour grocery store around the corner
  • Electricity and clean running water
  • Hot showers and indoor toilets
  • Warm bed and blankets
  • Carpeted floors
  • Warm winter clothes and boots
  • Libraries and bookstores
  • My laptop computer and cell phone
  • My children laughing

Best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving weekend!


Friday, August 17, 2012

Catch me on Moody Radio Today!

I recently had the pleasure of being a guest on Moody Radio's nationally syndicated Midday Connection show. The show was taped in front of a live audience at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and is being aired today on WMBI 90.1 FM in Chicago, as well as Moody affiliate stations nationwide.

I'm in the last segment of the show, which was formatted as a panel discussion. We discussed various aspects of social isolation and identity, but there's only so much a person can share in a ten minute segment! 

After the show, several people in the audience came up and asked whether I could provide them with further information regarding what I shared. So, for anyone who caught the show and is interested in hearing more, you can CLICK HERE to access a series of magazine articles I wrote a few years ago, that fully elaborate on what I shared. Happy reading!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Envy: From Double Curse to Double Blessing

Photo used with permission from
"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster, 
which doth mock the meat it feeds on." 
—From Othello, by William Shakespeare

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with envy. Over the years, I’ve envied others’ looks, possessions, talent, relationships, families, parenting success, career success, ministry success, and lives in general. You name it, and there’s a good chance I’ve envied it at some point in my life. As it turns out, I have a lot of company in this—the Bible is teeming with tales of envy that result in destructive outcomes, including:

  • Murder (Cain and Abel, Pharisees and Jesus)
  • Attempted murder (Saul and David)
  • Selling a sibling into slavery (Joseph’s brothers and Joseph)
  • Bitter rivalry (Rachel and Leah)

Clearly, nothing good comes from envy! Even so, I never really felt a need to examine envy in my life. I didn’t consider it a huge problem, since it never prompted me to murder anyone, sell a sibling into slavery, or give a maidservant to my husband, in the hopes that their children would help me one up my sister. Instead, I managed envy in quieter, more hidden ways, including:

  • Feeling crummy about myself.
  • Avoiding people and situations that triggered envy.
  • Criticizing and wishing ill upon people I envied.
  • Feeling competitive with people I envied.
  • Looking for negative personal traits or life circumstances in people I envied, to make myself feel better (as in: “Well, she may be pulled together in this area of her life, but that area of her life is really messed up.”).
  • Feeling guilty for engaging in all of the above, and thus being a terrible Christian.

Although these actions seemed a lot less evil than the biblical examples listed above, they were destructive nonetheless. In fact, envy was a double curse in my life, and here’s why:

It was a curse to those I envied.
One definition of the word “curse” is “to wish or invoke evil, calamity, injury, or destruction upon.” This means that whenever I criticized or wished ill upon those I envied, I was silently and unwittingly cursing them. And biblically, curses are the opposite of blessings.

It was a curse to me.
By succumbing to my envy, I allowed the enemy to use me like a puppet. I became a human conduit through which he channeled his desire to curse and destroy. Envy also gave the enemy many opportunities to curse me, by sowing anger, discontent, and bitterness in my life. This was destructive to my heart, my mind, my walk with God, and my relationships with others.

Several years ago, I read an excellent book called Envy: The Enemy Within, by Bob Sorge. It opened my eyes to envy and its presence in the Bible, and it also helped me identify the source of my envy: comparison and coveting. Every incident of envy began when I compared some aspect of my life against someone else’s life, and I came up wanting. I ended up coveting what the other person had, and this made me feel crummy about myself, as well as annoyed at God for shortchanging me.

Once I noticed this pattern, I tried to squelch the constant comparing going on in my head, while trying to be more content with my life. This helped, but it didn’t solve the problem, because certain situations and people continued to trigger envy in knee jerk ways that took me by surprise at times.

Then one day, God showed me a way to decisively transform envy from a double curse into a double blessing. It’s a surprisingly simple strategy: every time I feel envious of someone, I pray for God to bless that person’s life, especially in the specific area where I’m feeling envy. Here’s the outcome of this strategy:
• It blesses those I envy.
These people are no longer unwitting recipients of my curses. Instead, they receive unsolicited prayers for God’s blessings to overflow in their lives. As a result, they’re being built up, rather than torn down, as a result of my envy.

• It blesses me.
I get a real kick out of the fact that I’m no longer a puppet being manipulated by the enemy. Instead, I’m totally screwing up his plan to hurt others through me! I’m also becoming a better friend than I used to be, because I have a greater ability to truly rejoice with my friends, when good things happen to them. I believe this is what God wants from me—I’m doing unto my friends as I hope they will do unto me, when good things happen in my life.

These days, I still experience envy, but it doesn’t harass me as much as it used to, and it quickly evaporates when I start praying. My new strategy is also overflowing into other areas of my life. For example, when I feel burning anger and unforgiveness toward people who have deeply wronged me, I’ve started praying for God’s salvation and blessings in their lives, and I’ve been amazed by how much less I’m tormented by anger and unforgiveness.

I do the same thing when people make me angry in petty ways, which is especially helpful when I’m driving. Instead of screaming curses and speeding tickets down upon drivers who cut me off, I now shout, “God, I pray for great blessings for that jerk who just cut me off!” Obviously, my attitude still needs some adjusting, but hopefully you get the point.

The bottom line: envy stinks, but being used by the enemy to tear others down stinks even more. So if you struggle with envy, I encourage you to face it head on, and pray down blessings upon unsuspecting people in your life!

What kinds of situations trigger envy in your life?


Picture courtesy of J.L. Watkins

Thursday, April 12, 2012

When Life Spins Out of Control

In 2007, my husband John and his parents traveled to China, to bring our adopted daughter home. May 14th was "Gotcha Day"—the day when John finally met our eighteen month old daughter Anna, and she officially became a member of our family. I had a beautiful picture of Gotcha Day painted in my head. It involved rainbows, sunshine, a deliriously happy child, and angels singing the Hallelujiah Chorus. Alas, John's description of Gotcha Day didn't match my lofty expectations. Here's how he described it:

"Eleven sets of adoptive parents were marched into a conference room. Our children were handed over to us simultaneously, and then all hell broke loose. Many of the kids started freaking out, because we were complete strangers to them. The sound of children crying was deafening! When Anna was placed in my arms (picture at left), she began twisting and flipping around like a fish out of water, shrieking as she desperately lunged for a woman who ended up being her foster mother. Then she wet herself, threw up, and began crying hysterically. For the next several days, she cried quite a bit,
and she kept running to the hotel door,
screaming for her foster mother: 'Ma-mai! Ma-mai!' (picture at right). Every time we went out in public, you could see her eyes scanning up and down the street, because she was searching for her foster mother. It was very sad. I don't think I'll ever forget it." 

Anna was too young to understand that the world she so desperately clung to offered bleak prospects for her future, due to her status as a female orphan. She also had no way of knowing that John had the best of intentions toward her, and was actually taking her away to a far better life—a life filled with love, a huge extended family, political and religious freedom, expanded education and career opportunities, and new status as a beloved daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, and cousin. Instead, from Anna's limited perspective, life had spun out of control in a terrifying way. According to John:

"All she knew was that a huge bearded stranger walked into the room and took her away from everything and everyone she knew. And she wasn't happy about any of it."

Anna after a few days with
John and his parents. 
I'm a lot like my daughter. Many years ago, I gave a stranger (God) permission to enter my life, and he arrived with nothing but the best of intentions toward me. In fact, he had a better life planned for me than I could possibly imagine. But just as Anna threw fits when John steered her toward a new, better life, I tend to behave in the exact same way toward God. Here's why: my version of a better life often doesn't match God's version of a better life

My version of a better life involves staying in my comfort zone, and doing everything I can to make it more comfortable. This includes accumulating possessions that increase my physical comfort, and clinging to familiar people, places, situations, and activities that increase my emotional comfort, even if they're not good for me in the long run. 

God's version of a better life is far different. It involves helping me develop emotional and spiritual wholeness, as well as an understanding of who God created me to be, which points toward what he created me to do with my life. Growing in these ways is beneficial for my well-being and my relationships in the long run, and it also helps me minister to others out of right motivations. However, I'm generally not very motivated to seek deep emotional, spiritual, or vocational growth when I'm comfortable. As a result, God often needs to pull me out of my comfort zone, in order to stimulate this growth.

1996, just before I quit my full-time job
For example, fifteen years ago, God made it very clear that he wanted me to be a stay-at-home mom. It's too long a story to get into, so you'll just have to trust that I knew I was supposed to make this change in my life. But leaving my comfortable job, my affirming co-workers, my job title, and my salary caused a great deal of emotional pain that left me kicking, screaming, and depressed.

However, many years down the road, I discovered that God did have my long-term good in mind. In addition to fostering the development of deep relationships with my children, having no career also prompted me to ask a very hard question: "Who am I, really, without a career?" I was unable to answer this question, because at the time, my entire sense of identity was unhealthily wrapped up in my job title, my salary, my achievements, and what other people said about me. Without these things, I felt worthless, with no redeeming value as a human being. Sad, but true.

Amid the crucible of early parenthood, God put wonderful people and resources into my life. They helped me understand that my value as a human being has nothing to do with my job title, salary, possessions, appearance, achievements, or others' opinions of me. Instead, my value lies solely in my status as a beloved daughter of God. During this time period, I also identified my God-given skills and giftings, and I gained an understanding of what God created me to do with my life. These were wonderful, lifelong gifts that freed me up to simply be who God created me to be, rather than constantly striving to be who everyone else wants me to be. I'm actually amused at the irony in this—the fact that God put me through so much discomfort, to help me learn to be comfortable in my own skin, content with who he created me to be. This is God's version of the better life!

I'm glad I learned this lesson, because let's face it, life is messy and there are so many opportunities to remember and apply it! For example, my family has gone through some incredibly difficult times in the past several years. During the worst of those times, I've lapsed into fits of anger and sadness as I've wistfully recalled my former comfort zone. I've also ranted at God, demanding to know why he can't just get on the planmy master plan—so my life can finally be comfortable and problem free?

In those moments, the pictures from Gotcha Day often pop into my head. And I'm reminded that just as John hugged Anna tightly in China and reassured her that everything would be okay, God does the same for me. 

He reaches down from heaven and reminds me that no matter how hopeless or impossible the short-term picture might look, the long-term picture is different and somehow related to his version of a better life. He reminds me of his faithfulness in the past and provides renewed encouragement that he is for me, not against me, and has my best intentions in mind. Just as he did with Anna.

Family, freedom, and opportunity—
God's better life for Anna!
Anna is in the pink shirt, sitting on John's lap.



Photo courtesy of J.L. Watkins