Thoughts on Turning 21 (x2)

It’s November, which means it’s the best month to have a birthday. Any other November babies out there agree? 🙂

I’ll admit I hated turning 40. Thirty didn’t seem so bad (I was also too busy and hormonal being pregnant with my first munchkin at the time to care), but 40 just sounded old. (No offense to anyone over 40!). Now, 2 years later though, 40 doesn’t seem so bad. To be honest, 50 doesn’t seem as scary as it used to be either. The thing is, I’ve finally gotten okay with aging. Not so much with the white hair, wrinkles, and memory loss(!), but other than that, I don’t mind adding another candle to the birthday cake. Because the reality is, aging is a blessing and a privilege. To be able to experience one more year of life is HUGE. It means I get to spend time with the people I love and I get to do a lot of amazing things that I love. It doesn’t mean that each day is perfect or even “new” (’cause dishes, cooking, and laundry get old real quick, let me tell ya!), but over the course of days, weeks, and months, I get better. Better at trying, better at loving, and better at living. My physical body may be sagging and lagging, but my heart feels lighter and stronger and fuller. I’m reminded of these verses:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Yup. Age is just a number. Peace, joy, and love are timeless. In Jesus, we have the hope of eternal life. There’s so much to look forward to that outweighs all the human stuff that bogs us down today.

I hope you’ll celebrate each moment you have and each breath you are given. I know I will be as I blow out all 42 candles on my birthday cake (haha, just kidding; I think that might be a fire hazard!).

Here’s a video I’ve been grooving to (does using the word groove show my age? LOL), Kurt Hugo Schneider’s Evolution of Boy Band’s Mashup. It’s fun to see how many songs you know, which may or may not have something to do with your age. 😉

How do you feel about growing older?

Life Lessons from a Wannabe Strawberry Plant

Remember my post a few weeks back (you can read it HERE) about how munchkin #2 waited 72 (I repeat, 72!) days for her strawberry plant to sprout? Here’s part 2 of this epic saga. Saga is the correct term because it means “a long story of heroic achievement”.

So thanks to a green-thumbed friend of mine who saw a photo of C’s plant on my Instagram, we learned the strawberry plant was in fact not a strawberry plant, but more likely a dandelion. When I broke the news to C, her whole body slumped as she wailed, “I’ve been growing a WEED?!”

Poor C. My disappointment was only a smidgeon of the shock and despair she was feeling. In that moment she wanted to give up. She was ready to hand over her bright green shoot of long, spiky leaves and have me take care of it. And quite honestly, I didn’t blame her.

I took a deep breath and racked my brain, trying hard to come up with something redeemable about the situation. I rubbed her back and said, “Sometimes things don’t work out the way we expect them to. You didn’t grow a strawberry plant, but you did grow something! You did a great job watering and taking care of it every day for so long. Now you know what it takes to grow a plant.”

Her answer? “I’m growing a weed!”

Yup. Such is life, my dear. 😛

I wish things were different. I wish one strawberry seed had made it so C could have something to show for her hard work and patience (because to an 8 year old, 72 days is like an eternity!). But in the midst of all our disappointment, I appreciated the life lesson this wannabe strawberry plant reminded me of: Things doesn’t always turn out the way we expect, but that doesn’t mean these experiences were for naught. The disappointments we face, the unexpected detours and U-turns we make, the epic failures we go through—they are what make us strong and resilient and persistent. Nope, they’re not fun or pleasant, but they build something precious and desirable: they build character. And the hard times are what make success and victory sweet.

This experience taught C so much, and I can see how her perspective has changed. Just this past weekend we decided to start a small garden in the backyard. C jumped at the idea and we all went to the store to buy seeds to plant. While C was browsing, she turned to the back of the seed packets to look for the number of days it would take before the vegetable could be harvested. Several times she remarked, “52 days? 66 days? That’s so fast!” I had to keep myself from laughing at her reaction. This was the same girl who had moaned and groaned for 72 days while she waited for her strawberry/dandelion plant to grow. But now? She’s become a pro at waiting. 🙂

So, I want to say thank you to the random dandelion seed who flew into our house and found the perfect place to land. You may be a weed, but you’re a wonderful weed. Thanks for the life lessons you taught my munchkin. But whatever you do, please don’t spread your seeds into our backyard. 😉

Here’s a picture of C’s weed. Next to it is some lettuce she’s growing, too (which is super easy to do; go here for instructions)!

Here’s an oldie but goodie, Wilson Phillips’ song “Hold On”, that talks about holding on through the hard times.

How have disappointments and failures shaped you?

The Art of Waiting

When I walked into the kitchen this morning, I was met with some enthusiastic shouts of, “Sprout! Sprout! Sprout!” I turned to C with a curious look and repeated, “Sprout?” It took me a few seconds, but then I realized what she was referring to … her strawberry plant had FINALLY sprouted!!!

Here’s the sprout in all its glory!

Now, in case you don’t appreciate the magnitude of this news, let me tell you what it took for this little sprout to grow. According to the directions that came with the plant, it takes anywhere from 2 to 3 months for it to sprout. That equates to 60 to 90 days of watering, “sunning” and … waiting. That last part was definitely the hardest part of this journey for C. Every single morning she would wake up, go downstairs and check her plant. Then she’d record what day it was on her chalkboard. Day 1 turned into Day 15, then Day 33, then Day 58. When she reached Day 60, she exclaimed, “It’s been 2 months! Why isn’t it growing?” And I started to see the glimmer of hope in her brown eyes flicker. I continued to encourage and remind her that the instructions said 2 to 3 months (all the while, half-hoping and half-doubting that we’d see any results).

All hope was lost about two weeks ago when C was tossing a ball around the house and accidentally knocked the whole pot over! She called me for help—her voice low and flat—and showed me the damage. Most of the soil remained in a clump on the floor, but some of it had been scattered into pieces and had to be vacuumed up (RIP strawberry seeds!). I tried to keep my tone hopeful as I swept up the pieces and put them back into the pot. “Let’s wait and see!”

And wait we did. It got to the point where C decided to invest in a new succulent plant and transferred her ownership of the strawberry plant to hubby this week. She did still care about it though because she’d whisper to me, “Bob (short for Baba) didn’t water the plant today!” 😉 But all her hard work during the previous days and weeks and months had been worth something because after 72 days, it sprouted. 🙂

AT LAST!!

I told her, “Yay! I’m so proud of you! You persevered!” Her eyes lit up as she took the pot in her hands and gazed at the little green shoot. It was a defining moment in her life, folks. 🙂 And I mean that in a serious way.

Waiting has always been hard for C. She’s just wired differently from my other munckin (who shall not be mentioned on my blog anymore at his request, hehe), and it’s part of her nature to want results NOW. (Hmm, I wonder who she got that from—not me, cough cough!). So when she had first decided to grow this plant, I was very hesitant. All these thoughts ran through my mind: What if it never grows? What if she gives up after a few weeks? What if she’s terribly disappointed? Okay, so I was hesitant and doubtful. But as a parent, I’ve learned that you need to let kids experience struggle because it’s during the hard times that they learn the most. They learn about how the world works (you can’t always have immediate gratification) and they learn about how they themselves work and how they can change and adapt and grow to be more well-rounded people.

For C, she needed (and still needs) to learn the art of waiting. To be honest, we can all benefit from this lesson. Nobody likes to wait. Whether it’s waiting in line at the store, or waiting for your child to outgrow his tantrums, or waiting for the next job promotion, or waiting to find your spouse … there’s a whole lot of waiting going on in life. To master the art of waiting, however, requires 2 parts: hoping and doing. To hope without doing anything, well, you might as well forget seeing any results. C could have hoped all she wanted that her plant would grow, but without watering it daily, it would never have had a chance. And to do without hoping would be a pointless effort as well because it’s the hoping that inspires you to keep going; as in C’s case, her hope in the plant’s growth kept her watering it every single day. So, Hoping + Doing = The Art of Waiting

I admit this world gets me down a lot (especially when I read the news), but I also have hope that something better will come, that this life is not the end. I think this hope must have been what Jesus’s followers were feeling and hanging onto thousands of years ago when all seemed lost on that dark day when He hung on the cross. They really had the ultimate test of waiting it out as they held on to the hope that something would happen, that change would come in three days. And boy, they were not disappointed! When they heard and saw that Jesus had come back to life, that He had defeated death, that must have been an amazing morning. A hopeful morning. An it-doesn’t-get-better-than-this morning. 🙂

I hope you and yours have that kind of a morning this Easter as we reflect and celebrate the significance of Jesus’s death and resurrection in our lives. And may we also come to believe that good things—growth, change and results—do come to those who wait. 😉 Have a Good Friday and Happy Easter!

What have you gone through to help you master the art of waiting?

When Adulting Is Hard

Hubby and I had a brief moment to chat this morning. Usually our conversations are light and breezy—and mostly about the kids—but today it was a bit heavier and profound. I think the older we get, the more of these latter talks pop up from time to time because, as I’m sure you know, adulting is hard.

What is adulting anyway? It’s not even a real word (I don’t think) since that red line keeps showing up under it as I type. But it’s a real condition or stage, however you want to call it. And with each passing year, it seems like this thing called adulting gets harder and harder to manage. Life becomes more complicated and responsibilities add up, and you face things you were never prepared for.

Adulting includes the big stuff like watching a dear friend struggle for her last breaths in a hospital bed; not knowing how to help a family member fight mental illness; attending four funerals in a year; and losing a baby to miscarriage.

Adulting also includes the everyday stuff of taking care of your family even though you are bone-tired; figuring out how to support friends going through crises; working hard to pay the bills; and juggling the care of your young children as well as your aging parents.

Adulting is a lot of things, but the one thing it isn’t is easy. This morning when I was sharing my frustrations with hubby, he said just what I needed to hear: The most important thing in life is honoring God. Through whatever we go through—the ups and downs—we can’t lose sight of the reason why we’re running this long and windy race. And even though we may not understand why things happen the way they do or how to make sense of disappointment or pain, the one thing we can hold onto is the fact that we’re not alone. God is with us through it all.

I was reminded of a song by Rich Mullins, “Hold Me Jesus”. I had the chance to see him in concert in college, and hearing him sing live was such a moving experience. You could tell from his lyrics that his relationship with God was honest, raw and sincere. He hadn’t figured everything out yet about life, but it was okay. He just wanted Jesus to hold him through it all.

Well, sometimes my life
Just don’t make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small

CHORUS:
So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It’s so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart

Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight You for something
I don’t really want
Than to take what You give that I need
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees

And this Salvation Army band
Is playing this hymn
And Your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin

I hope that whatever you’re going through right now, you’ll keep your head up and your heart open. Even when adulting gets hard—and it often does—God’s grace is big and deep and full enough to see us through. Let’s remember to hold onto Jesus as He holds onto us.

What’s the hardest part of adulting for you?

The Benefits of Crying

When the munchkins were younger, there was a lot of crying in our house. Actually, there was a lot of crying outside the house and in the car, too. Let’s just say that if we had collected all those tears they shed (as well as the ones I shed during their tantrums and meltdowns!), we could’ve helped out our drought-stricken state of California. 😉 Thankfully, we’ve had a lot of rain in the past weeks to fill up those reservoirs and the kids are able to process their emotions a little more calmly these days.

I personally have a hard time staying calm when E or C gets upset, but hubby has the patience of a saint. Not only will he look at their red, open-mouthed faces with adoration, he’ll also tell them, “It’s okay, just cry!”

Just cry?! (Does that include me, too? LOL!)

But if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years as a parent, it’s that one, kids cry a lot, and two, crying can be helpful.

Having been raised by my strict, no-funny-business grandma, however, I learned not to cry. I learned it was safer to stuff my emotions inside rather than show them. Which is why I struggle so much when the kids need to cry. And I use the word need because sometimes we just need to cry.

If you Google “benefits of crying”, you’ll find countless articles (here’s one) touting the physical and emotional benefits of tears. Crying releases toxins, helps you deal with stress, and makes you more mindful of your emotions and experiences. Moreover, shedding tears in front of people you feel safe with helps build your connection with them. So it’s a good thing to cry by yourself and with others! Crazy idea, huh?

But boy, does it feel good to turn on the waterworks once in a while, especially if you tend to be more of an uptight and anxious person (if you are, welcome! you’re in good company here). 😉 The thing with crying though is that if you don’t allow yourself to do it regularly, you can get out of practice. And no amount of sheer willpower can force the tears to fall (unless maybe you’re an actor). What do you do then? Watch a sad movie or TV show or read a sad story or listen to a sad song. I stumbled upon this solution recently when I started watching NBC’s This Is Us. If you haven’t heard of this show, you need to check it out. I guarantee you will shed a few (or more) tears each and every episode. Just make sure you don’t watch it right before you have to pick up the kiddos from school—I learned this lesson the hard way! 😉 This show is now my regular “therapy session” where I tell myself, “It’s okay, just cry!”

Because it is so okay to cry. Crying is good for our body, mind and soul. So give it a go sometime soon. And take comfort in the fact that your tears do not go unnoticed. As it says in Psalm 56:8,

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.

This song gets me every time. Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Heaven is the Face” is a song about the passing of his daughter, but it also speaks of our hope in God to one day be with Him in a place where we’ll no longer have a need to cry.

What were you taught about crying? What do you believe about it now?

When NOT to Let It All Hang Out

Grr. I struggle to write this post because although I know I’m not a perfect person, I don’t like to think about it too much. 😉 Anyhow, this blog is all about change and the process of change, so there’s no hiding the fact that I am a work in progress. A messy, dragging my feet, don’t wanna change work in progress.

First of all, a shout-out to my dear hubby who called me out on my messiness and didn’t let me stay in my rut. The other day he commented in a disapproving but calm way that “you’re not the person I married”. Ooh, I bet you’re wondering if he spent the night in the doghouse after that remark(!), but alas, no, we no longer have a dog (RIP Sparkle), therefore we have no doghouse, so no worries there. 😛 My response to his comment? Well, I had two: one in my head which shall remain safely tucked away there because if you ain’t got nothin’ good to say, it’s better to not say anything at all, and the second was something like, “I’m not the same person! I feel like a servant!” Eeks. Long story short, I’d been feeling way overworked and way under-appreciated and was letting it (ie. my anger, frustration, resentment) alllll hang out.

You know how when you first start dating, you make sure you’re dressed your best and you’re on your best behavior so you don’t scare your date off? And then once you’re engaged or married, you start feeling oh-so comfortable and doing all the stuff you never would’ve done before in front of your significant other (ahem, passing gas!) and essentially, you just “let it all hang out”? Well, yep, that’s what I’d been doing. Not the passing gas part exactly (that’s old news, haha), but giving stinky faces and a bad attitude and using my indoor voice with the kids (the kind you use only at home because you would never speak that way to strangers!). It was not a pretty sight. That’s why hubby said what he said.

And he was right. I’m not the same person he married. That old me (well, actually the much younger me) wasn’t a mother of two kids who’s trying to juggle multiple roles as a wife, mom, and a writer. That me was able to sleep in, do what I wanted most of the time, and not have to deal with meltdowns, sibling rivalry, picky eating habits, and 5+ loads of laundry a week*. So yeah, a lot’s changed in 15 years. And so have I.

And because I’m older and a tad wiser now that I’ve been on this life journey for 40 years, I was able to swallow my pride and think about hubby’s statement. I let it simmer in my head and heart for a while and consider the effect my actions and words have been having on the kids. How my yucky attitude has been affecting my mood. And how it makes NO sense for me to yell, “Don’t yell!” at the kids and expect them to do the opposite of what I was doing. Grr. You get the idea.

So I had to really make a conscious decision to NOT let it all hang out. I had to stop giving myself permission to treat my kids and hubby so poorly (because in my head I was telling myself it was okay to do so). And I had to remind myself to reel my emotions in and change my perspective.

Quite honestly, there’s a lot of things I have to do on a daily basis that I don’t want to do (*see the examples above!). But I’m choosing to do them because I love my family. And loving people means dealing with the messy, not-so-fun stuff sometimes. It requires looking beyond myself and caring for the needs of others. It means putting on my big girl pants and being a grown-up and doing grown-up things.

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I saw this meme on Facebook this week and I was like, ouch, okay, yeah, I get the message! I think a lot of times I forget I’m the adult or I wish I didn’t have to be one. But well, I am, and because I want to give my kids the best possible lessons on “adulting”, I’m going to keep on learning how to be the best adult that I can be.  I used to think it wasn’t fair that childhood’s so short in comparison to adulthood, but now that I think about it, it makes sense. Adults need way more time to mature and grow up. 😉 I know I’m still working on it. How about you? 🙂

Check out Maati Baani’s amazing cover of Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World”, performed by a bunch of cool kids!

Confessions of a Non-Chef (+ Some of My Go-To Recipes)

My dear mother-in-law had knee replacement surgery back in August, so I had been cooking dinner twice a week for her and my father-in-law (she’s now recovering quite well, thank God, and able to cook for herself). At first I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal to make a little extra food, except that a little extra food turned out to be a lot more food that required a lot of planning and cooking. You see, hubby’s family loves and enjoys eating, while mine basically eats to survive. 😉 Whenever we eat with my in-laws, we can expect to sit at the table for up to two hours, eating and chatting the day away. Eating with my parents on the other hand is more like a fast food experience; you get your food, you eat it, and you go. So, knowing how much my in-laws enjoy food, I had to up my game and really put some effort into cooking.

Grrr.

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/freedigitalphotos.net

If you can’t tell by now, I dislike cooking. Why? Maybe because it involves coming up with a meal that you know (not just hope) will taste good, buying the ingredients that are needed to make the dishes, and lastly, but most tiringly, cooking it. Which is why when hubby came home from work the other day and saw me standing in front of the stove with one spatula in hand, an oven mitt on the other, with a stream of sweat running down both sides of my face and asked me, “You don’t enjoy cooking, do you?”, I put on my best You’re kidding me, right?! face. I thought he would’ve realized this little fact when I made instant noodles for our first dinner together as newlyweds. 😉

So, no, unfortunately, I don’t enjoy cooking. Which makes feeding my family on a regular basis (why, oh why, do they need to eat three meals every single day?!) a difficult task. Throw in one very particular munchkin who always asks me, “What’s for dinner?” and then makes his best Aw, man face when he hears my answer, and you’ve got one frustrated, fed-up non-chef. But thank God for my other munchkin who will eat practically anything I serve her as long as there’s rice and meat in it. 🙂

But thanks to my recent stint as a chef for my in-laws and some serious soul-searching (haha), I’ve had some breakthroughs with cooking. Here are some things I’ve learned that I hope will help you if you’re a non-chef like me or you live with one.

  1. See cooking as a privilege. Okay, maybe privilege is taking it a bit far, but I have come to realize that there’s a lot of responsibility involved with feeding a family. I have the power to shape my kids’ eating habits, demonstrate healthy attitudes toward food, and provide the fuel they need to survive. I get to introduce them to different foods, flavors, and styles of cooking. What I feed them today is essentially paving the way for how they will eat and what they will eat for the rest of their lives. How amazing is that? And cooking in a first world country is seriously a luxury. There’s so much fresh, good food to choose from at the supermarket. Reminding myself of these things helps me not to take cooking for granted.
  2. Find ways to enjoy the process. Let me tell you a secret—I love looking at recipes more than I like cooking. 😉 At with the internet these days, recipes are everywhere. You can search for recipes with specific ingredients or cooking methods or styles (ie. gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, whatever-free) and find a gazillion choices to choose from. And the best part are the before and after pictures. I especially love when there’s a series of photos from the “ingredients picture” to the “mixing picture” and all the way to the beautiful “posed food picture”. (Cooking videos are pretty cool, too, except you need to realize that there’s no fast-forward button in real life and a dish may take more than 30 seconds to make.) 😛 So, to make cooking fun, I take time to look for recipes that I know I’ll enjoy following (aka. easy, simple and fast). Having the right recipe makes for a more enjoyable cooking process.
  3. Make it easy for yourself. I used to wonder why stores sell already-washed and pre-cut veggies or fruit. And why there are sooo many online businesses popping up that deliver meals or ingredients for a meal to your door. It’s because there are other people out there who also don’t enjoy cooking or don’t have the time/energy for it. (Whew, it’s not just me!) I am so, so thankful for anything that makes cooking easier. If you ever see my grocery cart at Trader Joe’s, you’ll find a lot of frozen veggies and some pre-washed ones. If you find me at Safeway or Costco, you can bet I’ll have a rotisserie chicken with me. Finding these “shortcuts” can literally chop the cooking time in half and allow me more time, energy, and sanity to help the kids with homework, work on book stuff, or keep the laundry basket empty for ten minutes.

These are just a few tips I’ve found to make my life as a non-chef doable and enjoyable. And here are some recipes I’ve found that are my go-to meals:

  1. Chicken noodle soup (Ă  la Mamaho): Dump a carton or two of chicken broth, frozen or fresh veggies, and one cut-up rotisserie chicken into a pot and let simmer for an hour or more. Before serving, add some pasta and cook until done.
  2. Asian-style pork chops (à la Martha Stewart): http://www.marthastewart.com/339846/asian-style-pork-chops
  3. Roasted veggies (à la Mamaho): Take some chopped up veggies (ie. zucchini, carrots, potatoes, yams, mushrooms) and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil, add salt and pepper, and bake at 350-400 degrees F for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the thickness and size of the veggies.
  4. Korean beef bowl (à la Damn Delicious): http://damndelicious.net/2013/07/07/korean-beef-bowl/
  5. Salmon fried rice (à la Just One Cookbook): http://www.justonecookbook.com/salmon-fried-rice-recipe/ (I also add chopped pineapples when I make this.)

I’d love to have more recipes to choose from, so my family’s not eating the same meals over and over. 😉 Please share yours with me!

When Taking Care of Others Means Taking Care of Yourself

If you can’t tell from reading the title of this post, I’ve been feeling a little burned out. No, actually, let’s make that an extra crispy, black-as-charcoal kind of burned out. Like these poor pieces of toast.

Image courtesy of flickr.

Image courtesy of flickr.

Between getting the munchkins ready to go back to school and the release of 2 books, it’s been one crazy, busy month! And September’s not even over yet. Aiya. :O I’m not complaining though; I am very, very thankful (especially about school starting again, haha). But I have to admit that I’m tired … and when mama’s tired, she can get a bit grouchy. Okay, make that very grouchy.

I found myself getting impatient and frustrated with the kids more often recently and had to ask myself, Is it them or is it me? Sure, there are plenty of situations when they push all the wrong buttons and squeeze out every last drop of long-suffering juice I have left in me, but lately it’s been more a matter of me already feeling dried up with nothing to give. Especially last week when I was overseeing an all-day Facebook party and discovered that due to some technical glitches I couldn’t leave the computer for more than a few minutes at a time. Which meant I even had to bring my laptop with me when I went to pick up the munchkins from school (don’t try that at home, folks!). When we got home, I was running around like a mad woman trying to cook dinner for ourselves and my in-laws (the tables have turned ’cause my mother-in-law had knee replacement surgery) and check Facebook and help the kids with whatever they needed help with. Whew, I’m tired just remembering that day. 😉 Thankfully, the party went well and everyone was fed and in one piece by the end of the night. 🙂 But boy, was I pooped the next day … and the next and the next. And because I was pooped, I was not feeling my best or being my best. So yes, it was definitely me.

Lesson learned: I need to take care of myself in order to take care of those around me.

A friend commented recently that she realized she needs to drop one of the balls she’s been juggling. When I read that, I was like, Wow, I wish I could do that! But the truth is, I can. And I should. For the sake of my family, but also for my own sake. ‘Cause no matter how amazing a juggler I think I am, my arms need to rest once in a while. And most of all, my heart needs to recharge and refuel so I can be the best juggler wife, mama, sister, daughter and friend that I can be.

Here’s a verse I take comfort in when I’m weary.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

And here’s a beautiful, calming song for you when you’re feeling weary: “All is Well” by Voctave.

How do you know when you’re juggling too many balls?

What Makes Art Good?

I was watching WordGirl with the munchkins and was surprised to find the program had a lot of depth for a pint-sized animated show. In case you’ve never heard of this literary superhero and her monkey-caped sidekick, here’s the 411: WordGirl is the alias of an alien girl named Becky who uses her superpowers to catch bad guys, such as Chuck the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy. Since she came from the planet Lexicon, she has an extensive vocabulary and can define any word you throw her way. Fun show, huh? 🙂 Well, it’s not only fun and educational, it’s quite inspiring, too.

Image courtesy of pbskids.org

Image courtesy of pbskids.org

In the episode I watched, WordGirl was trying to catch a villain who stole artwork for an interesting reason. He wanted to stick the paintings and sculptures he lifted into a machine that would smash them into tiny bits and pieces so he could analyze them. The purpose? To determine what makes art good. Wow. That’s a pretty big question if you ask me.

WordGirl’s conclusion? Art is good because of the artist behind it.

I found myself nodding and shouting a silent, “You go, girl!” at the screen when I heard her answer. Why? Because she perfectly summed up something I’ve been trying to figure out for the past two years.

Ever since I started writing fiction, I’ve been reading more fiction, too. And what I’ve discovered with each book I’ve come across is that every author has a voice. Some are funny, even sarcastic, while others are warm and sweet. Then there are those who are more artsy and poetic and others that ooze angst and drama. When you can flip through the first few pages of a story and say, so-and-so wrote this!, then you know that author has found his or her voice.

Because who doesn’t want to be recognized for what they’ve done? But as we know, art is quite a subjective thing. What appeals to one person may not appeal to another—but that’s okay! Because as long as you, the artist, are being true to yourself, your voice will come through. The style and swagger that you inject into every chord, brushstroke or word choice, every pinch of this or that or every step and leap will leave your signature throughout the entire masterpiece. When your art is saturated with bits and pieces of you, it will scream YOU. Okay, maybe scream is not the best word to use (hm, what would WordGirl use?), but you get the idea. Whatever kind of art you desire to make, when you put your whole heart into it—your life experiences, your personality, and your quirks—it will showcase who you are. Your art will be good and unique and inspiring because of who you are.

While some may not appreciate it the way you hoped, there will be plenty more who will welcome the beauty your art brings. And if you can help brighten even one person’s day with your handiwork, then that’s art that’s worth making.

Take a listen to Lee Ann Womack’s song, “I Hope You Dance.” I hope you’ll be brave and share your voice today in whatever art form you can because someone needs to hear it. 🙂

How do you share your voice with others?

Superheroes, Snacks & Surprises

What do superheroes, snacks and surprises have in common? Well, they were all a part of the academic camp that our church put on last week for kids in our local community. Superheroes, because what 5th grader doesn’t love people in capes running and flying around to save the day, and snacks, because growing and learning kids need sustenance—and lots of it. And what better snacks to have than these superhero-themed ones? Any guesses as to what each one represents? 😉 (I’ll leave the answers at the bottom of this post!)

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You might be wondering then, where did the surprises come in? Let me tell you a neat story. 🙂

On the first day, another volunteer and I were walking around the middle school campus searching for ice when a woman called out to us. The first thing I noticed about her were the cool metal frames of her glasses, followed by the eager brown eyes peering out from behind them. She told us she had just dropped her daughter off and was surprised to find out that the camp was put on by a church. And not just any church, but the one she had spotted just the weekend before when she was across the street from the high school where we meet buying boba tea! She said she’s been telling her friends that she wants to go to church, saw our church’s signs that Sunday, and then came across us again on Monday. Her exact words were: “It’s meant to be”.

The other volunteer and I exchanged wide-eyed glances as we proceeded to answer her questions about the service times, childcare and dress code (which she was relieved to find out is “come as you are!”). When we finished chatting with her, we exchanged names, shook hands, and parted with smiles all around. 😀

I shared this story with the person in charge of the academic camp and we were just amazed that God had orchestrated everything to happen at the right time and in the right places. It’s not that it’s surprising to see God do amazing things (come on, He created the universe!), but it was super cool to see that He is working in ways we aren’t aware of yet and that He’s working all things together for His purposes. Even though we may not talk about Jesus during the camp, God is still using it to open doors for people to hear about Him. That’s pretty superhero-ific, if you ask me. 🙂

Speaking of superheroes, take a listen to Charlie Puth’s song, “One Call Away”.

Okie, if you haven’t figured out what the snacks up above are, here are the answers:

  1. Cheese on a pretzel stick = Thor’s hammer
  2. Green-colored vanilla yogurt with Oreo pieces = The Hulk
  3. Sandwiches = Bat cutout for Batman & Star cutout for Captain America

How have you seen God work in superhero-ific ways in your life?