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



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.

Gun Shy

I am really gun shy or almost afraid of anything that minimizes power displays and realities.
Having lived most of my life surviving so well as a minority, it is now my turn to truly live and not survive. No longer do I want to minimize my feelings, hurts, dreams and fears away. But instead, I want to feel it all without making excuses for those who may not understand or worse yet, for those who must truncate my emotions in order to avoid what my feelings may infer about them.

In these last few months, I am so aware of the degrees of pain that I have had shuffled under the table for the sake of harmony , and some times for the sake of spirituality. As I continue to listen to other minorities’ stories, I also get absorbed into their dismays which causes me to relive mine. It has been an emotional journey that has caught me by surprise. It is at times so frightening or so charged that I wonder about the power that it has over me.

Is this power good? Is it for revenge? Is it cynism that comes from betrayal? Is it basic distrust? It has made me wonder if I need to relive the various horrors and have Jesus reassure me of his presence and love. From there, I will find wisdom and truth of how to live. (Psalm 51:6)

For now, I am not comfortable with being myself. I am gun shy! For now, I think I need to live and stay in the pain before I move on too quickly which is my past defense mechanism for survival. What I need is to truly live and feel all of this with God and let him speak to my uneasy self.

My compass….

This summer, I was blown away by 2 compliments that came my way. They both came at me in a nice surprising way. And I was very much taken aback by both of them.

As you can surmise, this summer was exciting yet humbling for me. It was a summer in which I felt I had to desperately seek others to help me sort through some deep emotional turmoil. (Read my previous blog about my humbling summer.) So, when one of our students wrote a thank you card to me…I was a bit insulted at first by her remarks. She mentioned the usual things that one says to enccourage a mentor : God used you to help her grow; You were an example of faith, etc. But then, she made this comment: ” I learned grace from you and you modeled this for me and us. You are one of the best at failing well.” At first, I was a bit shocked or disturbed by that comment; it is not something that anyone has ever said to me. Then, it hit me that this was what I wanted and prayed for esp. in light of ministering to Asian Americans who often times do not ever fail or fail well. It dawned on me that she had given me a compliment or encouragement that was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me especially in this context. To me, it should be one of our goals as ministers for the AA community: That our lives would be examples of those who live out grace, and those who can fail well and teach others to do the same.

The second compliment came while I was having breakfast with a staff and her husband who is not in our circle of service but is very supportive of his wife. We had a great time fellowshipping over good food. As he shared his experiences in ministry, he also went on to share with me his outside perspective on our Epic National Staff Conf that took place a few days prior to our breakfast. He described similar things that I would expect from others: our conf. was modelled by vulnerabilty and honesty which he loved; engaging content that was visionary. It was rather encouraging and the usual suspect. However, I dropped my jaw when he said his final statement: Well, the most important thing that I felt from your national leadership in general that was different than other Christian leadership context was this: You all live out and showcased Servant Leadership. When he said this, I was speechless. I felt like he read a page out of our Epic National LD team’s notes and values and just recited back verbatim. It was indeed the kindest compliment that I think that one can ever receive in ministry: to live out servant leadership. For indeed, it is one thing to lead and yet another to be known for servant leadership like Jesus live out. I pondered on his statement for days.

These 2 compliments certainly put things into perspective for me. They blew me away and emphatically guided me back to some of the truest values that I want to live out as a minister in the AA community. I feel that these compliments have given me my compass for ministry with AA’s.

My Tribute to the Kennedys.

Standing on the steps of the Michigan Student Union, my life was first changed. It was there that I first fell in love with the idea of serving community, others and even for our country. That was the year where I began to learn about my own Asian American journey and our AA community. It was there that I became angry at the injustices done to ethnic Americans in these United States of America. The next year as a Sophomore, I founded the Asian American Association and began encouraging our members in self expression and to participate in community service and politics on campus and beyond. It was an exciting time to see how my one little life could effect change for our community. I fell in love with service hook line and sinker! Two years later when I began to grow spiritually, I also got involved in making a difference for God and our Asian American student community. It was phenomenal to see how little seeds of service can grow to touch so many’s lives, including my own. God was at work in our community!

As I have recently reflected over my college career, I truly see how God used men like the Kennedys to change my destiny. As the country and the world mourn for the death of the last of the Kennedy brothers, I too have been very affected by this loss. Though I have never met these Kennedys and I have not always agreed with their rhetoric or politics, I have been greatly influenced by them. I indeed have been shaped by their way of life of public service. And for that, I am very grateful! I feel that they were the ones that tilled the soil of my heart and soul for a life of service for God. So, their legacy will continue in my life every time I choose to serve others, serve our community or God’s community. Today, I weep for the joy of a life well lived and for the hope to do the same in my life according to God’s will.

Here is how I hear the Kennedy’s way of thinking in my heart both now and in college:
” Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” President John F. Kennedy said on the steps of the Univ. of Michigan student union.
“Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.” Robert Kennedy
“Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills. Yet many of the world’s great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation; a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth; a young woman reclaimed the territory of France; and it was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and the 32 year-old Thomas Jefferson who [pro]claimed that “all men are created equal.”Ted Kennedy’s eulogy at Robert Kennedy’s funeral.
” To whom much is given, much is required” From the Gospel of Luke.

As a Sophomore, I heard the cry to make a difference and that my small life can make a difference for the community. I saw the lack of something and I wanted to alter that sad reality even if no one would join me. As a senior in college, being active in a conservative Christian club was good for my spirituality; but at times offensive for my cultural awareness as an AA. There were times when I would sit at these meetings and wonder if I fit or if I could stand the prejudices of these well meaning Christians. There were times that I wanted to quit. But I think the call of God and the sentiments of these men and others reverberated in my soul to stay. To stay only as a means of changing things for the better for others and for the future. So stay I did. And I am glad for after 26 years I am still serving with that same organization seeking change for the better for God’s community.

I am glad that God made me see that even one life will make a difference and that my life can be a part of changing an organization for good. This is what I carry from these Kennedys that I have never met. It is a sad day in my heart for a piece of my history feels like it is dying. But again I hear these men’s voice booming also in my heart:

“The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on.” Ted Kennedy at the DNC 2008. So, I wake up in a new day and I carry the torch to make a difference in this world for God and for the community. I carry on and pass that on as it has been passed on to me by men I have never met.

The Moment of Truth

It was a summer mixed with joys and pains and struggles. We were at the end of it and were playing a game to recollect and celebrate our summer together as a missional team in San Fran. One of our female students and female staff had designed a fun game using trivia about our project. It ranged from things like: How many birthdays did we celebrate this summer? Into more serious questions about who is who on our project. It was definitely an insider’s game of trivia. Very clever game indeed to celebrate with. They did a great job with it.

So, the question came up: “Who was the Assistant Project Director?”

At first, the students were contemplating…and were not sure and discussing this briefly for a short minute or so. I sat there almost sweating. I was telling myself: “THIS IS IT”. What will these students say? or even staff? Will they say: It was Margaret. She is the woman and she was the Assistant Project Director or Associate Proj. Dir. I was squirming in my seat and praying for the best and even bracing myself for fear of disappointment.

You see, in some Christian and/or Asian American settings, women can only be associates or assistants, and not leaders in their own rights. We in Epic have made it clear that our Proj Directors were both co leaders together and not fixed by gender. That is our value. However, values are only as good as how people really perceive it to be. In that moment, I remember saying to God: “Well, this is the moment of truth. Did we or did we not really teach them and showcase to them that men and women both lead out of their own strengths and that one is not lesser than the other.” I was praying and hoping that they would get the correct answer.

This was also very impactful for me as I knew of our women’s stories of past pains in sometimes being a woman and/or woman leader. So, if these women who designed the game said the wrong answer, it would have been very sad for me to realize that we had failed in living out our values in front of them or that they did not catch these.

So, the contestants and the 2 teams were baffled and they even suggested some funny names like one of the staff guys. But in the end, the students said:” No one was the assistant project director.” And the answer was: “No one!”

I breathed a huge sigh of relief. And it was only after a day or so that I realised that this moment of truth helped me see that God had indeed worked on our project. The men and women there were living out our values of empowering men and women to lead. I was so grateful for that. It could have looked very different! But God really allowed us to live that out the blessed alliance of men and women leading together for God’s glory.

I was so blessed to be a part of that.

leadership development for asian americans

This summer afforded me a great privilege of living with AA students and staff. I was so grateful for that. It brought to mind for me how challenging spiritual transformation is within our AA community. I was very aware of how difficult it really is to assist others in their spiritual growth esp. in light of our AA realities. Given all of our AA cultural challenges, growing in Christ really looks so different than other settings. As a result of my summer with our staff and students, I became even more grateful for our staff on the field on campuses who labor day in and day out for God to use them to influence young men and women for Christ. I was very humble in this process.

One of the things that I became convinced of was that we in Christian service must figure out how we can make plain and simple the reality of living in a community of grace. I saw the power of a graceful community and its power to change us. But I also saw how this kind of environment does not come easily and must be a product of much prayer and intentionality.

I was blessed to see this kind of power and community. In light of our AA communities penchant to stay in darkness or shame, it was such a healing balm for us to experience sharing about the hidden pains and hurts and sins of our past. It was powerful to see the healing power of confession, forgiveness and grace given to each other in community.

However, I also saw that there are so many distractions and temptations that keep us pursuing true biblical transformational community……