Life is Like Waiting for Water to Boil

The kids and I stopped by a friend’s house last week, and she marveled at how tall they had gotten. I replied in an uncertain voice, “Oh yeah? I guess so.”

Considering we hadn’t seen each other for over six months, I figured she was probably right. Definitely right, however, was more like it. E’s pants which I had recently hemmed now looked unseasonably short as they skimmed his ankle bones. And C just mentioned that a shirt she had worn a few months ago no longer covered her tummy well. Even with this evidence of growth though, I had a hard time recognizing it.

I wondered why, and realized it’s because my perspective is so limited.

I see the munchkins day in and day out – that’s 365 days out of 365 days! And as any parent knows, every one of those days can feel long (though the years are short!). Trying to capture the kids’ daily growth is like waiting for water to boil. You stare and stare at the pot on the stove, even lifting the lid every ten seconds to look inside, but it still feels like it’s taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r for anything to happen. It’s hard to notice the tiny bubbles forming on the side of the pot as the water heats up. It’s also easy to discount the role of those bubbles because they appear so insignificant. But it’s that slow and easy simmering action that eventually produces bigger and bigger bubbles, ones so powerful that they “cannot be disturbed or disrupted by stirring or by dropping ingredients into the water” (thank you, www.wisegeek.org!).

That’s what it’s like for me waiting for my kids to “boil” (aka. mature). I witness their daily sibling wars, hangry meltdowns and homework struggles. I make them the same cheese quesadillas for lunch and the same pasta or fried rice dish for dinner. It’s like I’m running in a hamster wheel trying to keep up with them, and I see the same view of them every day. But the view is a lot bigger from outside the “cage”, and even bigger over the course of time.

Thinking about the kids’ growth shed some light for me when a good friend asked me the other day, “Do you feel like you accomplished what you wanted to this year?”

My immediate reaction was to answer, “No, not at all!” If I could have, I would have wanted to write more and publish more books. And, of course, to sell more. It’s easy for me to list all the “mores” that I wish I had accomplished this year. But when I proceeded to tell this to my friend, she shook her head and exclaimed, “You did a lot!”

Hmm?! Her words made me step back for a moment. Maybe, similar to the situation with the kids, my being too close to the action makes it hard to recognize and remember the progress.

With today being the last day of 2015, it’s natural to want to reflect on the past year. What did you accomplish? What did you wish you had accomplished? Are you closer to, or farther from, doing or getting or becoming _____?

What about regrets? I’ve been seeing a lot of posts and memes about forgetting the past and starting over. I’m sure these were written to encourage and motivate us to do better and more in the new year, but reading them just leaves a bitter taste of disappointment in my mouth.

What if when we reflect on 2015, we reevaluate the year through a wider and deeper lens? How about celebrating the baby steps of faith you took to do something out of your comfort zone (even if you were pushed out of it)? Or being thankful for the challenges you faced, and even those you failed at miserably, because you learned more about yourself through them?

And how about looking at the past year through someone else’s lens? Like that of a gracious and kind friend who doesn’t hold the same set of high expectations that you hold for yourself. Or that of a spouse who witnesses all your ups and downs, and still has faith in you. Or a parent who supports you in doing what you love and encourages you to keep going.

The great thing about a new year is the fresh start it offers. But let’s not forget or dismiss the days and years that brought us to today. All the life lessons God so patiently taught us in order to help us grow up. Those are the small bubbles simmering in us that will someday soon produce a rolling boil.

Image courtesy of khunaspix/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of khunaspix/freedigitalphotos.net

And if there’s more that we want for this new year, let’s make that “more” count. Let’s strive for more faith, more hope and more love. 🙂

Cheers to a wonderful 2015! Thank YOU for walking along with me in this strange and amazing journey called life. 😉 I look forward to more blogging fun in 2016.

Take a listen to this cool song by Pentatonix, appropriately called, “New Year’s Day”.

What did you learn in 2015? What do you want more of in 2016?

Christmas: Bringing Dignity and Joy to People

This past Saturday I had the great privilege of witnessing some makeovers of the heart and mind. After debating whether I was willing to wake up early (I am so not a morning person! :P), I signed up to help with our church’s first ever Christmas pop-up shop. In a nutshell, the church set up a store at a local middle school with toys marked down by 80-90% so that parents who weren’t able to afford to buy their kids presents could do so.

In previous years, our church had asked these families for their wish lists, then bought and delivered the gifts to them. But in doing so, we had inadvertently taken away the parents’ dignity and joy in being able to provide for their children. So this year, as in the words of our fearless leader Christine S., we took something good and made it better.

And boy, was it better! Take a look for yourself. 🙂

Here's one half of the store!

Here’s one part of the store!

At one end of the large room were tables full of legos, princess-y stuff, superhero stuff, clothes, arts and crafts, and the latest fad, kendamas. At the other end was the cashier, followed by several tables with rolls and rolls of wrapping paper and ribbons. Once the parents had purchased their toys, they were able to wrap them up and take them home. Oh, and I forgot to mention they were able to shop in peace because their kids were in another room being fed and entertained. 😉

The best part of the event was seeing the looks on the faces of the parents after they were done shopping. One mom’s beaming smile said it all. She walked out with her arms full of wrapped presents and her head held high. I can still see her in my mind, and the image touches me so much. It was one bit of confirmation that the shop had offered these parents dignity and joy.

A quote on a friend’s Facebook page affirms this:

“When you are referring to serving a community, the words To vs. With, coupled with action, make a huge difference in the impact. ‘To’ creates a lack of the ability for ownership, although intentions may be accepted and received by the community initially. ‘With’ joins forces with community, and impact happens in both the interaction and reaction.” (Kristen B.)

Sure, it might be easier and more convenient to engage the parents from a distance – go out and buy the toys, wrap them and drop them off at their homes – instead of taking the time and effort to set up a store and offering childcare on a Saturday, but coming alongside people and interacting with them is where the magic happens.

The word “with” is what Christmas is all about. God coming to earth and taking the form of a human, a baby no less, in order to engage with mankind. No other belief system has a deity who humbled and inconvenienced himself – out of Love – to make himself more accessible to people. To bring dignity and joy to us through His life, death and resurrection. But Jesus did. That’s why His name is Emmanuel – God with us. And what a beautiful name it is.

On this Christmas Eve, I pray you may experience the wonder of Christmas and remember that, truly, God is with us.

Enjoy this beautiful song, “God with Us”, by All Sons & Daughters and have a Merry Christmas! 🙂

How have you experienced God’s presence in your life?

Getting Christmas Off My Mind (and Into My Heart)

It’s 8 days till Christmas, and I’ve officially gotten into the holiday spirit! In other words, I finally started shopping for gifts and making lists and checking them twice (or thrice – isn’t that a funny word?). I tend to be an organized person and can usually find whatever thing hubby or C misplaced (E’s anal like me, haha), but I don’t normally make to-do lists. Which is why it was very odd for me to actually write one this week. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I turned 40 last month, and the ‘ole brain cells aren’t workin’ as well these days. Or maybe it’s just the result of having too many things to do and too many places to go in such a short amount of time.

Anyone else feel like a chicken about to lose its head? 😛

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Image courtesy of bandrat/freedigitalphotos.net

I was at Target earlier when I heard Christmas music playing overhead, and I had to remind myself, Yes, this is the most wonderful time of the year! But with the way I was rushing around and stressing about all the things I still needed to buy and all the places I still needed to go, I was so not feeling the wonder.

Maybe you’re having a hard time, too.

It might not be the busyness of the season that’s locked up your Christmas spirit; it could be a struggle with finances or loneliness. Maybe it’s a battle with sickness or a broken relationship. It could be the loss of someone you love. Whatever the situation may be, it’s time to remember the Hope of this season. The Hope given to this dark world when God chose to limit Himself to become one of us in order to show us His limitless love.

That’s what I’m going to focus on in the next 8 days. Presents, good food and gatherings are nice and fun. But even after the gifts are unwrapped, the meals are digested and the company is gone, we have the Hope of Jesus to hold on to. And ultimately, it’s this Hope that makes life worth living and celebrating.

Take a listen to the new winner of the Voice, Jordan Smith’s rendition of “Mary, Did You Know” – it’s sure to get Christmas off your mind and into your heart. 🙂

How do you get into the Christmas spirit?

4 Ways to Console Yourself After Being Dumped (By a Reader)

I ventured out with my sis and 4 girlfriends to my first concert in over a decade. We braved 3 hours of (round trip) traffic and 5 hours on our feet to see Pentatonix live. (Note to self: Even when the tickets have seat numbers, if it says General Admission Standing, it means NO SEATS!) But boy, was it worth it! 🙂

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The only downside was that their part of the concert was way too short because there were three other artists who performed before them. I didn’t mind seeing the other artists since I had heard their songs before and liked most of them. But several of my girlfriends hadn’t, along with many of the other attendees. As soon as the first act came on stage, I heard the gal behind me ask her friend, “Do you know who he is?”

Aw, poor guy. I felt so bad for him, although I probably shouldn’t have considering he’s currently #1 on the charts in the U.K. and, as he gleefully pointed out, ahead of Ed Sheeran (who signed him onto his record label). But here in the U.S., he’s a newbie and still opening for other people. (BTW, his name is Jamie Lawson and you should check out his song, “Wasn’t Expecting That”.)

As a newbie author, I totally understand what it’s like to be in that guy’s shoes, to be unknown. I’m the gal behind the computer screen who desperately wants to get my books into the hands of readers. I love what I do and hope others do, too. But it’s a big humongous ocean we authors are swimming in, and it’s hard to get noticed. The chances of someone discovering your book among the hundreds of thousands on Amazon.com is about as easy as finding the car rental keys your hubby may have dropped in the Pacific while on vacation (#truestory). But with prayer and patience and perseverance, you can witness the miracle of a sale (and find those keys!). 🙂

I am always so thankful when someone buys my books. I’m even more thankful when they leave a nice detailed review. Of course positive reviews are preferred, but I also welcome ones with constructive criticism. What I dread however is the 2 star rating with no explanation of why. Especially when the reviewer just created an account on Goodreads last month and the only book she has listed there is mine. It kinda makes me wonder if she got an account just to diss my book! (How’s that for thinking the world revolves around me, haha!) It’s not my first 2 star rating, but it’s the first one for what I believe is my best work so far. With no explanation of why. 🙁

So, here I am in the aftermath of being dumped by a reader, and learning four ways to console myself. 😉

1. Commiserate and cry. Misery loves company, right? Especially the company of other down and out writers. After getting the review, I immediately went to my Facebook writers group to share my frustrations, and was so encouraged by their comments. I heard from one gal who had the exact same situation (though with a 1 star rating) happen to her. How awesome is that? Not that we were in the same boat, but the fact that I knew I wasn’t alone.

2. Compare (in a good way). One of the group members told me whenever she gets a negative review she’ll go read the negative reviews of her favorite authors. Huh … now why didn’t I think of that?! I admit I got kind of excited that a bestselling, successful author could have something in common with lil ‘ole me. And amazingly enough, one of my favorite authors (Francine Rivers) who has the most poetically beautiful writing style has gotten some 1 and 2 star reviews.

3. Count my blessings. I took a walk around the neighborhood and listened to some soothing instrumental music. Once I got out of my head, I was able to calm down and count my blessings instead. And there are a lot of them, thank God. 🙂 Like the 5 star review I just got yesterday for the same book!

4. Cut loose! Lastly, I just gotta remember that there will always be people who like and dislike my work, and that’s life. So whenever I cross paths with the latter, I’m gonna face it, accept it and move on. As T-Swift says, “The haters gonna hate, hate, hate; Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake; Shake it off!”

And that’s the song we’ll end with today. 🙂

How do you console yourself after a rejection?

Lessons on Letting My Kids Face Challenges

When I met C outside school a few weeks ago, I noticed she wasn’t her usual peppy self. She dragged her feet along the sidewalk like she was trudging through mud, and plopped down on the concrete bench next to me with the weight of the world on her small shoulders. I tried to ask what was wrong, but she only answered me with a pout. It wasn’t until half an hour after we got home that she handed me a note detailing her woes:

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In case you aren’t familiar with first-gradernese, it reads: “I want to change schools before Thursday or skip Friday please. The jacket, it is bad because K said me and L are twins. Thanks, Mei (little sister).”

We proceeded to have a very long (according to E who was patiently waiting for me to help with homework) discussion about the two issues she wrote about. First, she didn’t want to go to school Friday because her class was having a Thanksgiving/Heritage Day potluck, and her teacher said the kids would need to introduce their dishes using the language of their cultural heritage. Keep in mind, C’s first language was Mandarin and she was speaking 11 word sentences by the time she was 18 months old. And I was only planning on making fried rice, which is only 2 words long. But, it’s been a while (sigh!) since either one of the munchkins have spoken Mandarin fluently, so she was pretty anxious about speaking it in front of her teacher, her classmates and their parents.

Now, the second issue involved a new fuzzy purple jacket I bought for her … which happened to be the same fuzzy purple jacket as another girl, L, in her class. As a result, one of her friends, K, started teasing her that she and L were twins, and refused to sit with C at lunch.

Aiya, right?

I thanked C for telling me what was on her mind, and we started troubleshooting the problems one by one. The first one was fairly simple; we practiced saying the words …

Chao Fan (aka. Fried Rice)

Chao Fan (aka. Fried Rice)

throughout the week until she was comfortable with them. It turned out, she didn’t even need to say the dish in Chinese, but it was a good mini lesson anyway. 😉

The latter issue, however, was much more troublesome and worrisome (or rather, trouble-most and worri-most because honestly, it troubled and worried me a lot!). When C told me about K (and also T) not wanting to sit with her, my heart fell. I could only think about the times I was bullied or felt left out as a kid. I absolutely did NOT want C to go through that. My initial reaction (and also hubby’s when I told him about this) was to say, “We’ll get you a new jacket!” Getting a new non-fuzzy non-purple jacket was sure to solve the problem, right? Actually, not right. It might make things better temporarily, but rescuing C from this conflict wouldn’t help her in the long run … especially when she faced another situation like this again.

Sigh. Double SIGH. (This was one of those times I wished some over-protective parent out there would invent a kid-sized bubble cause I’d be the first one to buy it.)

Even though I desperately wanted to take the easy way out to protect my little girl, I took a deep breath and put on my big girl pants. I told C to sit with her other friends for now, and that K would likely stop teasing her after a while. I tried going the logical route and said, “She’s being silly. Doesn’t she know you all wear the same clothes (uniforms) already?” She replied with an even more logical answer, “Yeah, how can we be twins? We don’t even look the same.” (No kidding, L is blonde!)

LOL. You go, girl! 🙂

This was when I knew she would be okay. Fuzzy purple jacket aside, C is learning how to think for herself and to stand strong in the face of  challenges. It’s definitely not pleasant for me to watch her experience these growing pains, but I’m thankful I can walk alongside her and help her through them. ‘Cause that’s what my job as her mom is about. I can’t put her in a bubble or prevent her from getting scraped and bruised. But I can be there to sit with her, tend to her wounds, and nudge her back into the world … loved and lifted up and stronger than before.

I love the passion in this song by Demi Lovato, “Skyscraper”. It’s all about rising above our circumstances and standing strong in the face of challenges.

Who or what has helped you stand strong in the face of challenges?