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. ūüôā

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. ūüėČ

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 Рgo out and buy the toys, wrap them and drop them off at their homes Рinstead 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! ūüôā

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? ūüėõ

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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. ūüôā

How do you get into the Christmas spirit?

My New Release: The More the Merrier!

Happy Tuesday¬†and welcome to my book release party!¬†Sorry for not sending out invitations in advance, but it was hard to round up any snails on such short notice. ūüėČ I was hoping to do this in two parts (cover reveal and then book release), but it all came together at once this week. So without further ado …

Cue the fireworks!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

I’m thrilled to share my first short story with you, a sweet romance titled¬†The More the Merrier! Here’s the book cover (designed by the amazing Deborah Bradseth of Tugboat Designs)!

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Now, people¬†say never judge a book by its cover, but I think¬†there’s a lot of information you can gather from this one. Fuzzy white sweaters? Red sparkly font? Asian faces? Hmm… If you guessed¬†this is a story about an Asian couple at Christmastime, you’re right. ūüôā

Here’s the gist of the book (aka. back cover blurb):

Fed up with a string of bad blind dates, health blogger Alyssa Wu just wants to drown her sorrows in ice cream. But there’s one more evening she must endure Рa fake date with her best friend Barry Chang. They must convince her family they are in love, an act which may (or may not) be easy to pull off, thanks to the magic of some mistletoe.

This 10,000 word short story is perfect for your lunch break, workout or while you wait in line on Black Friday. Read it today to get in the Christmas spirit any time of the year!

This story was so much fun to write, especially given the fact that I had to think about wintery things in the middle of an August heat wave. That’s where Alyssa’s love of ice cream came in. ūüėȬ†The male character’s name comes from two people whom I adore; one fictional and one real. Barry is of course for Barry Allen of The Flash, someone who is sweet, genuine and courageous. Chang is my dear maternal grandfather’s surname. This book is dedicated in loving memory to him, a man so rich in love and compassion.

After I wrote my last book, True To You, with a Chinese main character and her family, I decided to tackle writing about my culture again in this book. I find a lot of humor in stereotypes and boy, are there a lot of funny things that Chinese parents do. LOL. ūüôā

I hope you enjoy¬†The More the Merrier! You can read an excerpt on my blog under the “Seasons of Love Series” tab¬†(click here). And yup, this is book #1 in a new series. There will be three more short stories coming next year for the seasons of spring, summer and fall (along with book #3 in my “Taking Chances Series“)!

You can purchase¬†The More the Merrier at Amazon.com: Kindle format. It’s available for $0.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited.

And take a listen to the song featured in the book, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You”. It’ll get you in the Christmas spirit for sure!

 

 

 

Disappointment & Hope at Christmastime

The family and I ventured out of sunny and warm California this week to come to the midwest. When our¬†plane touched down, C looked out the window and exclaimed, “There’s no snow!!”

Oops. ūüôĀ

The trip we had been planning for months so we could¬†visit our relatives and play with snow was not turning out the way we had expected. Both E and C were (and still are) very disappointed in the sunny and warm (according to the natives here) 40 degree F weather and lack of white, fluffy stuff. Even I’m disappointed, especially since I found a great¬†deal on snow pants (thank you Target!) and managed to squeeze four pairs of them (along with gifts and all of our other clothing)¬†into the¬†luggages.

Although our bubbles have been bursted by this non-white Christmas, I know our disappointment is minor compared to the unexpected circumstances of the very first Christmas. Can you imagine being pregnant and having to travel miles and miles only to reach your destination and discover there was no place for you to stay? And what about having to give birth to your first child and having nowhere to place him but in a feeding trough for animals?

Talk about disappointments.

You’ve gotta hand it to Mary and Joseph for persevering through the obstacles and setbacks they faced. I can only imagine how surprised and frustrated and exhausted they must have felt¬†as newlyweds and soon-to-be new parents. But through it all, something kept them going. I think that something was hope.

Hope that¬†what the angel Gabriel told them would come true. Hope that the baby in Mary’s womb was the long-awaited Savior of the world.

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix/freedigitalphotos.net

It was that hope that inspired Mary to sing this song (from Luke 1:47-55):

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. 

From now on all generations will call me blessed¬†for the Mighty One has done great things for me‚ÄĒholy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 

He has helped his servant Israel,¬†remembering to be merciful¬†to Abraham and his descendants forever,¬†just as he promised our ancestors.‚ÄĚ

Yes, in this world we will face many disappointments of all shapes and sizes and throughout each season of life, even at Christmastime. But we also, like Mary, have so many reasons to persevere and to hope.

Hope that each new morning¬†brings with it new opportunities. Hope that¬†we can¬†make each day more meaningful than the last. Hope in¬†the love of family and friends to sustain us.¬†Most of all, hope in God’s promise¬†to give¬†everlasting hope to each one of us through Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection.

That certainly makes up for a snowless day any day. ūüôā

So here’s wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas! Take a listen to this beautifully sung song, “Mary, Did You Know?” by Pentatonix.

What are you hopeful about on this Christmas day?

Monday Mentionables: Chicken Wings, Holiday Shopping & Christmas Songs

Oh my, I think this post qualifies as an “Almost-Tuesday-Monday Mentionables”. Haha. I am realizing that blogging while my munchkins are home on Christmas break is going to be challenging (cue the broken record of whiny voices asking, “Mo-om, what can I do?”). So in the spirit of trying not to be perfect, as well as, making my best effort to be present with my kids, I’m giving myself a “blogging pass” for the rest of the year. I hope to recharge and come back with a bang in 2014, so stay tuned. ūüôā

In the meantime, here are today’s mentionables…

1. Sweet & Spicy Rubbed Wings. Thanks to hubby, I have fallen in love with chicken wings from Wing Stop. But since I am also frugal (aka. cheap!), I decided it would be more cost efficient to make them myself. I found this recipe online and it was pretty easy to follow. I did make some changes though: I left out the spicy ingredients and the coffee for the kids’ sake… and the paprika for my wallet’s sake ($8 for a small bottle!)… and the cinnamon for hubby’s sake (he dislikes it). So, I guess I just made sweet rubbed wings. ūüėČ But everyone liked it! Let me know if you try the recipe as is and how it tastes.¬†

Sorry for the poor lighting – gotta change out the lightbulbs over the dining table!

2. Holiday Shopping. In light of all the retail therapy that is being done this week, let’s not forget the poor men who get dragged to the malls by their wife/girlfriend/sister/daughter. Check out this link for photos of miserable men and the dark side of holiday shopping. ūüôā

3. Christmas Songs. Just wanted to share four of my favorite Christmas songs.

#1: Little Saint Nick by the Beach Boys

#2: All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey (performed here with Jimmy Fallon & The Roots)
 
#3: Underneath the Tree by Kelly Clarkson
 
#4: O Holy Night (sung here by Jackie Evancho)
Here’s wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!¬†