Learning to Exhale…A Lesson in Healthy Living

This was one of the tools used to help me learn to breathe better.

Recently I have been dealing with medical issues for the very first time in my life. Prior to October, I had NEVER had any surgery or anesthesia. So, to say that having my first surgery a few weeks ago was a monumental event in my life may be an understatement. But through it all, I have learned lots about myself in this journey.

The thing that will stay with me for a long time is the lesson to learn to breathe properly.

I had just come out of the surgery room and was regaining consciousness after being under the anesthesia. Things were going so well. I thought I could leave in a few minutes.  I was so ready to join my family out of that recovery room in order to get on with my healing and life. But the nurses refused to let me leave due to the fact that they found that my oxygen level was lower than what felt healthy or safe to them.

Befuddled, I asked the nurse why this was happening. She explained that sometimes after surgery or anesthesia, patients have to relearn how to breathe again. This was sort of funny to me as I had always thought that I was not a good breather as that was my excuse for not liking running, or swimming. However to be told that from the nurse was sort of incredulous as I had NOT even felt any pain or any unhealthiness in my breathing even as I laid on that surgery bed.  I really could not tell that I did not have enough oxygen in my lungs. I was so unaware!

The nurse went on to tell me what was wrong with my breathing. She told me that I was taking short breathes, but NOT exhaling it out well. When she told me this, I was shocked. I had no idea that I was doing this. She went on to explain that for some people, we can breathe in an unhealthy manner without even consciously being aware of this. It was like I was just taking or inhaling air without properly exhaling it out. I did not even know it was not safe for me. (That is the culprit of my being in that room for over 2 hours.)

The nurse’s prescription for me was get me to intentionally take deep breathes and exhale purposefully. (You can see the spirometer that I used to help me breathe better.) She told me that I needed to just relearn to breathe in this way and teach myself how to breathe properly and especially to learn to exhale out.

There I was, learning to breathe properly to be healthy.

As I was doing the intentional breathing exercises, the Lord reminded me that this was a metaphor of how I usually live out my life. Many things happen in my life (from many changes at work, or loss of loved ones or the reality of living with a new medical normal, etc) and I just take it all in (inhaling it all in) with my survival tendencies. In fact, it is so ingrained in me that I don’t even realize that it is unhealthy and if left unchecked could harm my vital organs. I go on in life, not knowing how to exhale or not being intentional to get it OUT of me. I just get stuck in inhaling mode, but never exhale or processing it out so that I can breathe in a manner that is better for my body.

Like many survivors, I just tend to absorb life’s horrifying events and hold my breathe and hope that I can just toughen up to match these crises. But in reality, what can be learned from the body is that we were meant to both inhale and exhale. To be healthy, I cannot just hold my breathe and hope the hardships will go away or just hope that everything will be fine if I just work on it by myself. What is disheartening about how I was breathing is that I was so used to breathing in an unhealthy way that it had become subconscious to me that I was holding my breathe. I have gotten so used to living in an unhealthy way, that I was not able to see that it was harming my breathing or life.

So, I had to learn to breathe again. With my life, I am grateful that I have learned that because of my survivor-holding onto my breathe tendencies, that for the rest of my life, I will need to be INTENTIONAL about doing exercises to learn to EXHALE out. After doing the breathe in, breath out exercises, I was able to go home after 2 hours of sorting through this. I too can become healthy through learning to exhale.

This is analogous to how I should live my life and how I ought to process my emotions or grief outward.  I know that I can tend to just survive and that I need friends or spaces like my church grief group where we come for the sole purpose of sharing or feeling our grief and pains with each other.  With intentional space or places to process or exhale life’s most traumatic losses or pains, we are able to exhale outside of ourselves, and find God and each other there. (It is still painful when we share it outside of ourselves, but somehow in doing that, we find that we are NOT alone, but that we can cry and care for one another even as God shows up there in our community of tears.)

I am grateful that I am learning to exhale with God and with others. It is teaching me a new way to do life. But I have to keep on being intentional to find friends and places to safely exhale out life’s many challenges in gracious and safe spaces.  Or else, it will be as if I go on living my life holding on to my breathe! That is very unhealthy and not the way God meant for me to live. I want to breathe or live healthier.

What about you? How do you process life’s curve-balls along your way? What has helped you? Have you set aside intentional efforts to learn to exhale outward? Who are your friends or community that can teach you to learn to exhale? 

Building Confident Leaders Through Feedback

There she was an old veteran in HR for years and yet she could not recite to me what her contribution was to our team or to our ministry. I was most sad as I had learned through the few weeks prior that this woman leader had indeed done much to serve and lead our region.

However, she was very insecure about what she brought to leadership. And this was not due to the fact that she was younger and not sure of her own giftings. I discovered that it was mainly because in Feedback with Colourful Comments Symbolher 7 years of service, she had never been given any real feedback about what she did well in or where she needed growth professionally. This was my least favorite part of leadership development…seeing where leaders lack confidence when they in reality have such unique contributions to God’s teams.

Another reason why I was discouraged was that she was a dear friend of mine. My chagrin also grew in those weeks as I had just become my good friend’s supervisor or boss. Here I was caring for her not only as a close friend but also as her spiritual leader.

As I talked with her, I felt led by God to share with her my heart for our first year together as supervisor and friends. I told her of my commitment to giving her consistent & practical feedback throughout the year and not just merely her quarterly or yearly reviews.  I told her that my prayer was that at the end of our year together that she would have confidence in what she brought to our team and our work.

Honestly, the first two months were challenging as we had to deal with the awkwardness of being both friend and supervisor. As her supervisor, I had to be about setting accountability for her growth professionally. Because this was new to her, any input about her work felt a bit threatening to her.  As a friend, this put our friendship into a different space for her. At one point, she had to stop spending time with me a bit because I was giving so much hard, but truthful feedback that she needed to regroup into other friendships to process what I was helping her to see. So, for a short season, we did not see each other regularly as close friends.

But we endured that year and stayed connected in our friendship. I stay connected to giving her not only hard feedback, but also made a commitment to affirm her as much as I could. I was consistent and I was ruthless to make sure she knew exactly what she excelled in and where she needed growth. We also both chose to stay communicating through the hardships. As a result, we actually became closer friends after that year! (Praise God for that!)

To God’s glory, we grew together. I grew as both her friend and supervisor. She grew in her ability to see her strengths and weaknesses. My highlight at the end of the year was when I asked again what she brought to our team. Without a beat, she was able to spell out 7 things that she did well in and a few things that she needed to grow in. As she answered my question of what her greatest contribution was to our ministry, we both smiled.

We both talked about our challenging year. She shared how she was originally very insecure and afraid of feedback because she never really had anyone give that to her. But after a while, she became more comfortable with the fact that she was consistently being told what she did well in as well as how she could grow in an environment of grace and truth. Over time, she grew to accept her own unique voice and leadership. She grew to embrace herself, both the good, the bad and the in between. She learned to walk in grace and freedom of who she was created to be.

That year, she had grown in her confidence as a leader.

As we build up Asian American leaders and their confidence, we must be committed to consistent and practical feedback. But this feedback, the growth and the strengths all must be done in relationships of love, trust and respect even through challenges. We must stay connected in all of our feedback, and not be detached from our hearts with each other.

Her story inspires me to continue to develop confident leaders through feedback! Her story encourages me to continue to seek feedback from others as I grow in my own character and leadership development.

What about you? Are you secure in who you are created by God to be? If not, where can you gain consistent and practical feedback about your character and professional growth? Who can you invite to help you receive honest feedback? 

If you are seeking to develop more confident leaders, what are some skills you need to hone in to help give consistent and helpful feedback? How are you providing safe and trusting relationships where grace and truth can be spoken of together? 

Feel free to contact me and share via @CCCEpicMargaret



Following our Hero and learning to become a hero for others…(Thanks for praying for our Epic Movement Student Conferences!)

One of two Epic student Confs. (this is from Philly)

One of two Epic student Confs. (this is from Philly)

One of my heroes in life is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His life has profoundly impacted me. Because of him, I think of service, integrity and courage in a different way. Since his influence is so positive, he has definitely help shape my values and commitments to godly causes.

So, it was an honor for our Epic Movement nationwide to serve and lead Asian American college students to think about what it means to follow our Hero, Jesus and to become a hero for God’s kingdom; all during the MLK weekend. For students to learn what it means to be all that God wants them to be and be truly themselves and using their God given gifts to serve God and people. We also got to serve the various communities even on that Sunday. I think that honors Dr. King having us serve the community as it reflects his values. We went from passing out boxes of love for those in need. We survey people about their lives and communities. In fact, we saw Asian American students able to initiate so many spiritual conversations that Sunday We were able to see 13 people receive Christ into their lives on that day. These students and their faith also made heroic efforts to trust God and serve others. (We were so proud of these students faith and their hearts!)

We had 2 conferences in San Fran and Philly. It was so fun to have it simultaneously. That is the power of what God is doing in Epic. We were able to see the diversity of His works and yet, the work of his Holy Spirit yet so similar. We were able to be involved in also seeing God deepen their relationships with Him. God moved many of them to give their allegiance to Him.

Thanks for praying for me and our students for that weekend.

Your efforts help all of us to continue to share about the Hero of our lives, Jesus Christ to our communities. We long to see God raise up the next generation of heroes of faith for our communities of faith.

My own voice….(I found an old post from last year)

Recently at a conference where I had to do a presentation on the state of our ministry, I found myself learning about me and how I deal with stress. Since I had not planned on doing this presentation earlier, I wanted my director’s notes on this presentation and what he wanted represented.
It turned out pretty frustrating when I discovered that all of his notes to me were just a plain old power point presentation.

I was flustered. I was also very tired since I was already very busy at the conference.
However, I did have some excitement as I love giving the direction or the vision of our ministry.
During those 24 hours, I found myself face to face with the real me.

My first encounter with myself again was to realised that when I am stressed, I turn into a more time conscious person. I also had a strong incident with my teammates because I felt they were not aware of the time. I sort of snapped at them. They were gracious. I did apologize once I heard my own voice of emotions or reactions. I heard my own voice of reactions or my heart.

I also found out that I am different from others who cannot embrace doing things like doing a power point. Although I do not prefer that style of communication as it feels so corporate and not as friendly, I can do use it if I had to. I learned that I definitely prefer a different style. I again found that I have been richly blessed with a different set of experiences as a woman leader than most. I have had to make many more of these types of presentation and I was not overwhelmed by it as much as others who were on my team.

Secondly, I discovered that when I was stressed and tired that I am not as calm. I saw this in myself in how I led the first part of our meeting. I was just nervous or stressed or tired.
I could feel it. I so long to be that calming leader. And yet, I see that I may never be that.
I was a bit down on myself when another older woman leader from another ministry commented on how the second day of my presentation, that I was really in my stride (which I felt as well.).
She noted that I was very much myself (which I always pray for.) and was able to engage all of us since I was so open about myself. She appreciated that.

Upon reflection, I was grateful for her comments. Because in some ways, I love the idea of being a calm presence, yet, I am not sure if I will ever be that given my personality. Perhaps the non anxious presence of leaders that help move a nation or a company or ministry to great works will never be my prototype. I am not sure? I do know that I can provide a presence that looks inward to being ourselves and being open to trust God for what he has for us. I think I can communicate the heart of the matter with a heart to connect with others. I think more than anything else, my desire to be myself can be my best gift to those that I lead and serve.
So, I think I may never be that calming non anxious leader. But I can be me.

Thanks Matty for my moment of Christmas!

It had been a tiring but good day on Dec. 30. Sitting there on the bench, while my visiting nephew and niece were engaging at the fun train set display at the Discovery museum, I was just kind of out of it.

Earlier that day, I had been reflecting over my Christmas break thus far. I was reminded of how this break was good in terms of having family fly in to visit and having some time in Las Vegas. My brother and his family surprised my parents by flying into Las Vegas where we also met up with another family friend. It was a great surprise and all were shocked. We ate and we checked out the various hotels and the new city center. Parents enjoyed being able to play slots as well. It was very hectic and full of people. Then, after Christmas day, we all drove home to my house. So, my home was wall to wall people; but very cozy. My nephew and niece are the cutest ever. (I am biased.) Thus, my week had been very eventful and fast paced.
But again, this kind of Christmas break was more common place for my childhood as I did not grow up in a Christian home. Sad to say, I do not have many memories of celebrating the true meaning of Christmas.

So, there I was just sitting and resting when I spotted Matty. Matty was this little boy of 7 or 8 years who sat in a wheel chair near where I was sitting. It seemed that Matty probably has Cerebral Palsy and was not able to function as well in terms of moving around. In my short time of watching him and his Father, I never heard him say a word or move very much. But his eyes were on his family. As I became absorbed in his story for that moment, I began to feel really sad for him; almost pitying him. There he was sitting there, while all of the other children were running around trying to capture all of the fun and mischief. There he was not able to communicate to his family, while my nephew and niece and other children were chatting and gabbing away with their family and other kids. As I was feeling sad for Matty, I began to cry. Matty was so helpless and so fragile and vulnerable. He could do nothing by himself. His Father made sure that Matty was shuttled to and about to various displays and fun stations as he would seek to get Matty to receive the full fun experience.

It was at that moment that God confirmed in my heart that I did not need to feel sorry for Matty. But that I needed to look around to his family, esp. Matty’s Father. I was brought to mind by God how even though Matty could do nothing for his Dad, that this Dad was still pouring out patience and love to him. In that moment, I did not see helplessness per se, but I saw love flowing out. I saw the love of a Father for his son who would do everything within his power to make this a great afternoon for Matty. I also saw the trust and love that Matty had for his family, how much his family also needed Matty’s love and presence. He was a viable part of the family.

For that moment, I saw myself in Matty’s shoes or wheelchair. I am just like him, helpless in my human condition of weaknesses and sin. And yet, my Heavenly Father saw fit to make sure that he would love me no matter how I inept I was in repaying that love. That He loves me no matter how incapable I am at times of doing anything right for him. Really, that his love is not based on my actions or non actions. It simply is his love to me lived out in grace. And as Matty’s Father’s love also gave Matty dignity and the ability to love his Father back, I also relished in how Jesus gave me so much more in that while I was helpless or a sinner, God gave me dignity by dying on the cross for me in order to demonstrate his love. (Romans 5:8) Like Matty, I have so much worth from God, and thus I so long to love my Heavenly Father and others back. I so want to love him back for how he loves me first and foremost. (I John 4:10)

God also reminded me that he does not pity us in our frailty. But he actually gives us dignity and a new way of loving back with our response to him and others. God at that moment taught me again why Jesus came to be born on Christmas day. It is for people like me and Matty who are vulnerable, helpless or even at times hopeless. He came so that we could have dignity and learn the way of love…from Him and through him to others. My vulnerability is really for the way of love to be demonstrated.

I left the museum with my precious moment of Christmas. So, it was a great Christmas for me!
(Thank You, Matty!)

P.S. Since that time, I have had more thoughts on this. I think I cried because I am not comfortable with Matty or my own vulnerability. If I could have it my way, I rather not be fragile or vulnerable. It is scary and it is out of control as others can have power to help or hurt you. The Lord has been teaching me that vulnerability that seems most fearful can actually be a blessing for when God’s love can flow through supernaturally.

Jan 1: Sitting with a friend of mine who is a survivor of breast cancer, I learn so much about this way of love. My friend lives in fear of her cancer coming back and the potential of early death. She has never felt as vulnerable as she does today. Yet, in those moments of fear and panic, she is learning to lean into God and his love.

It is the way of love and it is the way the Father has carried her this past year. I cried with her, too.
For the way to learning about love is through her vulnerable state. I wish it was a different story. But it is actually the Christmas story in her life. (I love my friend and how like Matty, her vulnerability has taught me to receive love and to love.) It is the Christmas story in my life, too.

Thanks for praying for the Job Seekers club!

It was a privilege to be able to just share with about 18 job seekers near where I live. It was a God thing to be able to serve them on Dec. 17. Thanks for praying for this opportunity. I sense that God used it.
The club itself is geared towards people who are job seeking; not a spiritual club.

I was asked to share about getting through the holidays while dealing with the stresses of job seeking. I gave a few pointers. But I just shared with them how being a job seeker requires mental and spiritual well being. I just encouraged folks to gain a holistic picture of job seeking. My gift to them was that I brought with me a few books that I had recommended….some Christian, some not. I brought out about 15 and folks took most of these, including one Bible.

I was much encouraged that others were encouraged by what I shared. So, thanks for praying.
Continue to pray for these job seekers and job seekers in our nation. Pray that during these hard times, that people will find their true calling from God to be his children and to live out his purposes.

One overall highlight was that when I finished, some of the club members stood up and said that they were Christian, too and that they encouraged resources for networking at a great church nearby our town. It was neat to see their hearts be so open about their faith with the other club members. My personal highlight was having a friend from my church come out and support me and pray for me during that hour.

God is so good. My cup runneth over that we can serve in the midst of this economical depression.

Women’s Brunch Update

harvest women Big group picture 09Thanks for praying for our church’s women’s brunch. The fun thing about this was that it was first time that the team was made up of newer Harvest Church women. It was 1/2 by the women’s ministry team and 1/2 new women who wanted to serve. I had the privilege of coordinating our efforts.

Our highlights were hearing 5 women share their passion or ways that they are using their gifts. We also had a moment where we all sang Silent Night. It was as if we all slowed down and realised what this season is all about. We had prayed for women to feel pampered and loved on as well as feeling encouraged to share their gifts to serve God and others. God answered our prayers.

My first Christmas brunch was last year and I loved it. This year was even more fun to just serve and not speak and hear others share. We were very blessed and we felt the Spirit of God upon us. Originally we were a bit nervous with a count of 16 who rsvp’ed. But as with this time of year, we actually saw about 63 join us. It was such a refreshing time for me.

I also highly enjoyed serving with the other women who were so talented and gifted. I loved their hearts for women and serving others. I loved even their heart for women who don’t know God’s love. I believed God was honored by their faith and love and service.

I love my church and what God is doing. Thanks for praying! (Also, had yummy food!)

What God is doing.

I was much encouraged by my visit to San Diego last weekend. The CEC church is a great church where God is blessing the congregation with some great leadership, be it Mandarin, Cantonese or English speaking.
I loved seeing how the Senior Pastor taught in English. But more so, that the entire church is being influenced greatly by the pastor’s heart. I loved listening to the Cantonese pastor’s wife talk humbly about grace and true guilt and false guilt. I loved seeing a Chinese American church having small groups to discuss the topic of : Life’s Healing Choices. God is at work! After seeing this, I am more excited than ever before about what we are seeking to do in Epic National. We are all seeking to do what is best in shepherding our people and in shepherding some of the Asian American cultural realities. It makes me want to partner more with the various AA churches. I am very humble by how God is choosing to work in our generation. Very FUN!

What it means to have faith….

In chatting with my ministry sponsors and supporters recently, I have been hit with how faith is a very mysterious thing. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and yet, unseen. That is what we know from the Word of God. But really what does that mean? I think faith is very much an intangible and yet, very tangible thing that we must nourish.

In trusting God for my own financial situations and life, I have learned over and over again how we so often trust other things without realizing it. “Afaith” (I made up a word?): faith that is not typical of what it is and yet, seems more neutral. I believe “afaith” creeps into our souls very very easily and without much fight from us.

I have seen how faith must be nurtured, planted and built up like our muscles. I have learned that in order for me to grow in my faith, I must be diligent and diligent in grace and truth to live that kind of faith.
Even when I don’t like something, I must pursue and pursue. This is also very true when we think of the spiritual realm; that those who desire to live godly lives will be persecuted by the Enemy of our souls.

My growth lesson is that I tend to want to give up too soon whenever I find resistance. I almost always want to defer to others to do the calling or job rather than rolling up my sleeves and going after it all with God. I am learning that to practice faith, I must build up my endurance muscle. I had thought I was good at this. I think I have been good enough; but not quite the extent.

The Lord is teaching me that I cannot live my life with good enough. But that he desires for me to be vigilant about preserving and keeping my faith in Him. He wants me to overcome with faith in Him even when many obstacles are found.

This is the work of the Holy Spirit to continue to trust Him for our lives like that. To let Him give us faith while we are persistent to keeping faith in Him.
This is what it means to have faith in Him and with Him. I have many lessons to learn……

A Trend

Anecdotely, I have heard of stories of Asian American women in their late 30’s and early forties who’d up and left their husband for the other side whose grass seemed greener. It has been a bit
unsettling to think about how devout Christians who serve God and his church are seeking divorce and running away from their families. In the last 3 years, I can name 3 of those cases of the wife running off to be with another man while forsaking their families. It grieves me alot to see this trend.
It makes me wonder if these women (who were involved in various campus ministries in the past) were mentored to handle such challenges as their hearts, fears, disappointments and emotions.
I makes me very sad to realize that I could have been a part of what drove them to this.

I don’t fully fault myself; just want to be learning from these incidents. When I look back at how I used to do ministry to AA’s, I do not think it was contextualized to deal with their deeper core issues. I know that I did not only focuse on skils; I recalled talking alot about the heart. But I do not think that my early years at Michigan, Milwaukee or Metamorphosis displayed ministries of the soul. I know this for I was not fully there myself. I could not have taken these women somewhere where I had not been myself.

So, all I can do now is pray for these women and their families. It does however motivate me to continue to minister differently with Epic. I want to help our students and staff be built up in healthy discipleship so that the above trend would happen less and less.

If I could do it all over again, I would..

  • Spend more time looking at their family of origin and deal with their father and mother wounds.
  • I would teach them to truly grow up as an adult emotinally, and spiritually.
  • I would teach them to feel, to live and be comfortable with emotions and feelings.
  • I would teach them to deal with disappointments and losses.
  • I would teach them to find their voice, and to find dignity in their worth.
  • I would live out a healthy community of grace and truth, one where confession is the norm.
  • I would teach them how to fail well without shaming themselves to death.
  • I would teach them to know how deeply loved they are.
  • I would teach them to deal with shame head on! And to deal with their cultural baggage.
  • I would teach them to also value AA cultural values, not just bag on AA values in general.
  • I would teach them to play and rest and enjoy life and not just survive it.
  • I would pray for God to heal them more.
  • I would pray for our ministry to model a community of grace, truth, and love, where failure is not the end of relationships.
  • I would teach them to deal with conflicts in a healthy way.
  • I would love them more!
  • I would pray to Jesus to break the bondages that are there in all of our souls.