A few days ago, I was watching a movie with my four children. My husband, Edric, had a meeting that night, so the kids hung out with me in our bedroom. At one point in the movie, my 7 year old son, Edan, said, “I’m scared.” Without being prodded to, my 2 year old daughter’s response was, “Aw, you are scared? Come here, I will take care of you.” And she motioned for him to sit on her lap so she could cradle him. Of course Edan who was much bigger refused and we all started laughing. Tiana had acted like a mini-version of me. This was not something I had taught her. It was something she picked up from observing me.
Like my children watch me, I watched my parents. The principle of modeling is: values are caught not taught. Our actions speak much louder than what we say. There were two particular areas demonstrated by my parents that made an impact on me — their example of being spirit-filled and their intimacy with the Lord.
My siblings and I were blessed to have parents who modeled love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I can talk about each of these but I want to highlight my more favorite observations about their modeling.
Moodiness was not allowed in our home. In fact, my mom told my sisters and I, “There is no such thing as PMS. Moodiness is selfishness. You can choose to be controlled by the Holy Spirit.” My mom could tell us to do this because she herself was a predictably joyful person. We didn’t have to guess, what mood will mom be in today?
She is in her 60’s now and I am sure at some point she went through menopause. However, I honestly don’t know when it happened because she didn’t burden any of us with her hormones!
Even my children have noticed the positive attitude of my parents. One morning, when we were visiting them, my eldest son Elijah spontaneously told my dad (his grandpa), “Angkong, you are always happy. I’ve never seen you get angry. Grandma, too. You are both so positive.”
Feeling a little bit jealous, I took Elijah aside and asked him jokingly, “What about me?” His politically correct reply was, “I can see that you are trying to change and you have improved a lot!” Nice one, son.
My parents’ attitude and perspective towards business-related stress, ministry stress, and people stress also impacted me. They would respond with peace and rested-ness when they encountered problems. Instead of panicking, they would invite us to pray along side them and commit the issue to the Lord. Because their confidence and security were in God, I learned to trust in God’s sovereignty and rest in him when I went through a personal crisis. I believed that God would cause everything to work together for my good as it says in Romans 8:28. But this was a perspective first passed on to me by my parents.
I also valued my parents’ example of receiving criticism and correction with grace. My parents would invite us to correct them anytime. I remember my dad telling me, “Criticism is a blessing. If it is false then praise God, take it as a warning, something to avoid. If it is true then praise God, learn from it. Either way it is a win-win.”
There was one occasion when I corrected my dad about his management style. I said, “I thought you were a bit harsh and unkind when you said what you did.” Instead of defending himself, he humbly said, “Thank you. That’s why I need you guys to hold me accountable…to tell me these kind of things.”
A question they often asked us was, “How can we improve? Is there anything we need to change?” They allowed us to be God’s instruments to help them grow in character and spiritual maturity.
My husband, Edric, and I have done this with our own children. I have had my kids tell me, “Mom, I think you need to say sorry to daddy for your attitude.” And I have appreciated this because they see my life closely. They know the areas I have to improve in. The blessing is, our kids also ask us, “What about us, how can we improve?”
Another area I appreciated in my parents was they didn’t put a premium on material things. For example, my mom had this “special ability.” She would accidentally bump every new car that my dad bought. She baptized each car with some sort of dent. My dad would tease and describe it as an uncanny ability to hit inanimate objects like the curb, fire hydrants, telephone polls and the like. But he never got angry about these things. His first concern was whether my mom was okay.
Very recently, I was blessed to see my dad respond to my mom’s carelessness with grace. She had destroyed a gadget that was pretty costly. It was a medical instrument that my dad used daily. When my mom chose to break the news to him he was seated on his lazy boy reading a book. I happened to be visiting them that afternoon so I saw the scenario unfold like a scene from a movie. My mom came up to my dad’s side and said, “Hon, I have a question. The chord of this machine isn’t working anymore. I think I must have bent it too far while I was carrying my stuff. Do you think I should have it fixed here by an electrician or send it back to the U.S. to have the chord replaced?”
My dad looked up from the book he was reading. There was not a single strained vein on his temple or neck to indicate stress or irritation. Considering that it was an $800 dollar machine, I thought, this unfortunate incident might have elicited some sort of negative response from his part. But he was quiet and calm. Instead of making a big deal out of it, he patiently discussed the possibilities with her, and it was decided that mom would send it back to the U.S. to have it fixed. I don’t know if my parents even realized that I was paying attention to their dialogue, but I remembered that incident and archived it in my brain for future reference.
Hold the things of this world lightly. That’s what I learned from incidences such as these. Do not make money and possessions more important than pleasing God, than people, than principles that we ought to live by.
One notable principle my parents lived by was integrity. When my parents were undercharged for a bill, they would inconvenience themselves to pay the balance. I know this wasn’t always easy for my dad who is a businessman. Any amount saved was good for business. But, neither he nor my mom compromised when it came to small things like paying a bill accurately. And I remembered this when I got older and found myself in similar predicaments: Do not love money.
Beyond all these examples, the greatest modeling they provided in our home was their intimacy with the Lord. This was the secret to their spirit-filled testimonies. I knew with absolute certainty that my parents loved God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. And that’s why they loved us, too.
They loved us unconditionally. My siblings and I made many mistakes growing up, but my parents always affirmed that we were loved and accepted. We didn’t have to earn their love. They pursued us relationally and often communicated and demonstrated to us that we were their priority, that we were special to them.
Almost every night my dad would ask me, “Who loves you?” just to remind me that he did. And he would follow up with, “Do you know that you are special to me?” (I know he did the same with my siblings.) He was a very intentional father, not sacrificing time with us for business or ministry. So my siblings and I knew that we were loved. We were very secure in the love of my mom and dad.
This morning’s message by Pastor Edmund Chan included a story about a Brazilian girl who left her home for the excitement and worldliness of Rio de Janeiro. Her mother went looking for her and posted photos everywhere. However, it wasn’t until years later that her daughter, bruised and battered by the realities of a painful world, found one of the pictures her mother randomly attached to the mirror of a shady hotel restroom. It was her mother’s photo. The young woman pulled it off the wall and on the back it read, “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. I love you. Please come home.”
As a child, I too needed and longed for the unconditional love of my parents. And because it was given, I greater understood the grace of God. Since my parents could embrace an imperfect me, it was easy to believe that God could love me, too.
I remember telling my dad one time, “My friends said our family is not normal,” referring to the fact that I had a loving family who seemed to have it all together. And my dad was quick to reply, “Joy, this is normal. Families should be Christ-centered and spirit-filled. That has always been God’s design.” The common hurt and pain we see in families is abnormal, it is not God’s plan.
This statement really struck me. I was beginning to believe this idea that good families were some sort of aberration. However, the reality was and is that parents who make Jesus Christ the center of their home will experience the blessings and joy of God’s design for their family, and their children will want to pass on this legacy.
Because my parents’ testimony at home made Jesus Christ attractive to me, I desired to have the same personal relationship with him. I desired to tell others about Jesus and minister to them like they did.
My parents didn’t model perfection, they modeled authenticity. The grace of God was manifest in their weaknesses, shortcomings and inadequacies. He was the source of their abilities and successes. When I got older, I prayed for a man who embodied the same love for God so we could have a marriage and family that was centered on Christ, too. And God helped me find one. Or should I say, God allowed me to be found by this kind of man. But all glory goes to God and not to my parents or to us. He alone is the reason my siblings and I and our spouses are committed followers of Jesus and teaching our children to do the same! He makes parents the “super” models they need to be!
Can we say to our children, Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ? (1 Corinthians 11:1 NASB)
I shared part of this during the recently concluded Global Discipleship Congress. One of the workshops was given by my dad, entitled “Discipleship Begins at Home.” He invited my siblings and I to share about our family experience. There were five points to his talk. Parents need to be intentional about modeling, building relationships through open communication and time, teaching and training, and imparting a godly vision to their children. I was assigned to share about the importance of modeling.