Monday, July 18, 2011

Potty Training...Blog Day #33

Potty training.  We've all gone through it.  And, hopefully, succeeded.  It's a rite of passage, signaling the end of babyhood and the start of childhood.  Although there might be some hiccups, we all join the rest of the underwear-wearing population.  It's a beautiful thing, really.

Okay, maybe not.

The truth is, and what most books won't tell you, is that potty training is called training for a reason. It starts with an introduction class, and then implementation, and finally, mastering.  The duration of each stage is different for every person, er, baby.  But it is hard work on the part of the parent, especially if you start early.

If there's anything you should remember during the couple of years it takes to reach mastery, it is the word, "nonchalant."  Potty training cannot be a big deal unless you are celebrating success.  You need to learn to have your game face on, even if their behavior during the rest of the day is terrible.

You can lead a toddler to the potty, but you can't make him pee.  Or poop.  Like eating, using the facilities is totally under their control. Do not engage in a battle with a toddler.  Just remember, they will get it eventually and will use the toilet by the time they go to kindergarten. As annoying as accidents are, and as many undies get put in the trash because of poop,  do not become emotionally involved. 

So psych yourself up for a long ride.  Your baby (and you) are about to start potty boot camp!

Okay, so I didn't mention this earlier when I labeled the three stages of potty training.  But this pre-potty training period can be crucial, especially to a kid who hates change.  It is also helpful for a strong-willed child to prepare ahead of time for the intense event.  You can use a simple verbal encouragement while changing diapers, "Soon you won't wear diapers.  Soon you are going to wear undies and go pee on the potty."  Word it the way you'd like, of course.

If you've got an older child (3 or over) and you are waiting until they initiate, then "Maybe soon you will want to use the potty so you can wear fun undies."  Again, word it the way you'd like.

A visual helps as well.  I personally love the Bjorn potties and seats, but you can shop around at Babies R Us or Target.  Pick one that is convenient for you, and one you like.  It's going to be your steady companion for a few months.  Have baby sit on it before bath, or when you are on the toilet, or before bed.  Any chance you get. . .it's a great segway.

Along with a potty you'll need your bribes, er, rewards.  In our house, we call these rewards, "potty candy".  I have used candy corn, M&M's, Skittles, chocolate pieces and lollipops.  But so far, my favorite has been the chewy gumdrops (not gum) from Trader Joe's.  Expect a lot of candy eating for a couple of days.

A yummy juice is helpful as well.  And if your child has #2 problems, I heard apricot or papaya juice will soften the load a little, if you know what I mean.

Okay, so it really only takes one day to introduce a child to the potty.  So here, in bullet form, is how you do it:
  • Ditch the diapers.  Under no circumstances do you go back.  It's undies/panties/pull-ups from now on.  The only time I have ever reverted to diapers was when my 5 year old peed at the store and all I had was a diaper in the car.  She wasn't very happy with me that day.
  • The first goal is the sitting part.  So get your bribes ready (preferable something chewy, like Trader Joe's chewy gumdrops) and get them to sit for a bit.  I've been known to cheat and have Henry sitting there for 2 Dora episodes.  But 5-10 minutes should suffice.  You'll have to gauge it based on how much yummy juice he's drinking. 
  • Don't forget, nonchalant except during success. We like "Happy pee/poop on the potty to you" sung to the tune of "Happy Birthday".  Accidents will happen. Think of it as a lifestyle change. You're in an adjustment period.  Keep your poker face on, and practice saying, "whoops, maybe next time you'll pee in the potty."
  • Have a timer going to help you keep track.  I start with 20 minutes from the time they get up.  
  • The potty chair is now your friend.  You will take it everywhere.  It will be used before you get out of the car, and when you get back to the car.  It will be taken to Grandma's house. It will be in your kitchen while you are fixing meals.  It will go with you to the pool, older siblings' sports practices, doctor appointments, camping. . .you get the idea
  • I teach my boys to pee sitting down.  So get used to saying, "Make sure your penis is pointing down." When they have control over holding it, then Daddy steps in and they have potty parties.  Gross, I know.  But male bonding often is.  Oh, and speaking of those boy parts, yes they will play with it.  I try to discourage it without making a big deal, only because I find it irritating to be sitting there next to the potty waiting and he's just playing around.  
  • If you find you are pooping out (haha), take a break and use those trust pull-ups.  The first day is often the hardest.  Just remember that the goal is the introduction.
  • Repeat the first day until there is more independence.  You'll notice that they will start resisting the sitting down.  Be flexible.  After a few days, you'll be able to tell when they have to go because they actually sit for a minute.   When they start holding it and using the potty when told (not asked) then you've successfully potty trained.  Woohoo!
  • Hopefully during the process, you'll graduate from candies/treats to high fives and the privilege of flushing the toilet. 
  • What to do when you need to go places? Putting undies on them is risky, but one worth taking.  If in doubt, use a pull-up.  Bring your trusty potty/toilet seat.  It's a pain, but get used to it.  You'll have potty issues until they are 6.  Not to be a Debbie-downer, just keepin' it real.  
  • This stage varies in length, depending on the child and what life is like for the family.  Just stay persistent, and non-emotional.  Expect accidents, prepare to improvise, and work with kid. No problem, right?

  • You'll notice that as soon as the concept clicks, life becomes so much easier.  Well, maybe not.  New things will arise:  too busy to potty, one painful poop to cause months worth of problems, refusal to wear any kind of undies, older boys who pee in their pants without knowing because they're playing video games, little boys who pee randomly in other people's yards because that's what they do in yours, little girls who just don't care about running around in pee, etc. . .
  • The mastery is complete when you can finally send them to the bathroom at Costco and they actually lock the stall, use the toilet, unlock the stall, wash their hands with soap, and not touch anything.  All independently.  Then, it's on to other parenting issues. 
  Potty training 101.  Complete.  Happy pee-peeing on the potty!

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    It pays to Be a Mom...

    Ok, so it doesn't really pay. Not in the monetary way, anyway.

    But I'm writing this impromptu blog post after a slight involuntary hiatus because I just want a moment to connect in a real cyber way with other frustrated, tired, over-worked and under-appreciated co-workers.

    Because ours is a tough profession.

    Last Wednesday, I woke up with three children in my bed.  I must tell you, I think the bed is crowded already with just my husband.  And the night consisted of taking Zoe back to bed twice and passing out on the floor next to Henry when he was screaming.  When I felt the chill from the open window of the boys' room, I got up and went back to bed.  Henry was screaming again around 6:30, this time next to my pillow. So I pulled him in bed with me, only to realize that I could only scoot over so far because there were not one, but two little girls there.  Three hours of sleep. Lovely.

    I fell asleep during my Beth Moore bible study.  That's a pretty big feat, if you know Beth Moore.  It was all I could do not to lean over onto my friend's shoulder.

    - Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    In the Midst of my Non-Understanding. . . Blog Day #32

    I know that many of my previous blogs have been on the day-to-day nuisances of being a mother.  Little annoying things happen to me constantly, and they provide great inspiration for funny status updates on Facebook.

    But really, my life as a mother is not bad.  In fact, it's great.  I'm good at parenting.  My household, though messy and often in disarray, is a warm and inviting one.  And I have true and loving friendships that not only support me when I'm down, but sharpen me when I need it. 

    Each day I get out of bed is victory.  I hit life headlong and by the strength that comes through prayer, I live to fight another day.  I know this to be true: that I have been given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).  My life is as I always dreamed it could be.

    So then, where is the dilemma?
    What about my life do I not understand?
    What is causing me to feel so conflicted and confused?

    The answers to these questions lie in one important fact: I am not just a physical being.  There is also a spiritual realm in which my life is daily lived.  I am not saying that I'm "spiritual", as in "one with the universe" so that I elevate myself into the position of being my own god. 

    I'm saying that my soul belongs to the Creator-- the one true God.  I have a direct line to Him through Jesus, who was God come down as man.  I live by the Bible and my prayers are to Him.  But I am not just this small minion who is just a small speck in the grand scheme of all creation.  I am a custom made human, loved and cherished by Him who created me.  He pays such careful attention to me that He knows every hair on my head.  He knows every thought, every feeling, every step.  He knows my past, my present and He knows my future.

    Therein comes the rub.

    He knows me so well.  I want to know Him as well and, though infinitely flawed, I seek Him out. As King David was a "man after God's own heart", I want to be a woman "after God's own heart."  I want what God wants.

    In seeking to desire what God desires, reading His word, and really listening to what He has to say, I've found that sometimes I don't want to hear what He has to say to me.  Let me rephrase: I hear what He has to say, but I don't understand why He's told me.

    Remember, I am not a prophetess.  But sometimes in a calm moment of reflection, I will feel the Holy Spirit's prompt for me to walk in a certain direction.  He shows me what I will find at the other end of the new pathway.  Sometimes, there is trial and testing involved in the new journey. 

    I'm tempted to worry.  I'm tempted to hide behind whatever closet I can find: busy-ness, spending, daydreaming,  human approval.  I'm tempted to question God, "Why did I need this information? Is this really coming from you? Where are you?"

    And I do not understand.  For someone like me, this is disconcerting, at best.  Life is suddenly uncertain, frightening.

    I'm left without answers.  Not abandoned, mind you, just unanswered.  And then I realize that I must relinquish my right to question anymore, which is bordering in on being defiant.  There is such conflict within me, even though my physical life is intact. 


    It's the only Word I hear.  Despite my big fat urge to shout, "Why?!", I must remember that God knows what He is doing.  No matter what, God uses all for good, for He is good.  I can set aside all my worries, my fear, my anxieties.  I can forfeit my misgivings, confusion, and need for control.  I can put away any possible Plan B's.  Non-understanding is a perfectly acceptable state of being for someone who loves the Lord.

    And besides, it's not my job to understand.

    It's my job to simply Trust.

    Monday, June 6, 2011

    Lessons Learned in Mothering...Blog Day #31

    Not everything in my life has a spiritual correlation, but I've been noticing that there have been plenty of parallels between my life and my walk with God.

    Two things, in fact, have been all consuming and time stealing. I hope you're able to learn from them as I have, or at least be encouraged...

    Here's the first one:
    Yesterday, it was clean up day. I was super motivated and decided to wash all items of clothing and the kids' bedding. Ethan was super motivated to clean his room because he wanted to play wii, plus his room wasn't too bad in the first place. Zoe was motivated to clean the office because kindergartners help out, and she was in kindergarten now.

    The two older girls, on the other hand, weren't as motivated. Their room was full of garbage, lost things, heaps of blankets and piles of clothes. I could see that it was overwhelming, so I gave them smaller tasks to start with. The first, at around 9 am, was to pick up the pile of Zoe clothes and put them in the living room for me to sort. In fact, they were to put all of Zoe's clothes in the living room.

    The music was turned on, the giggles were abundant, as were the spankings for not listening and obeying.

    They finally did it. After an hour and one half.

    The rest of the day was just the same. I went in there every 20 minutes to check on them. To no avail, of course. By 6 pm, all they had to eat was whatever they stole from the kitchen when I wasn't looking. If they didn't finish by the time Daddy got home, they would not have pizza and they would go straight to bed.

    Lucky for them, Daddy was delayed an hour. They vacuumed and made the beds just before he got home.

    They cleaned their room in record time: 10 hours. Too bad there's a laundry basket full of junk they stuffed in it. And there's still bits of garbage everywhere. But at least you could tell the floor from the beds.

    I wonder if I'm like the girls sometimes. God tells me to clean up a mess I've made, gives me clear and simple directions, but I completely disregard Him even through negative consequences. How many times have I had to
    partake in Humble Pie instead of the Sweet Fruit that comes from obeying?

    I know that I have done as the girls did: cleaned just enough to look clean, but just stuffed everything in the closet. I have dressed nice, put lots of makeup on, but inside was filthy from being self-obsessed and materialistic. I have, early in my career, racked up a credit card bill while claiming not to have enough money to tithe.

    Yesterday, watching the girls clean, er, not clean, I was irritated and annoyed. I was irritated, annoyed, and convicted. I do the same thing to God...I dawdle, cry when I'm being disciplined, but laugh and party when He "isn't looking".

    Yet, He has grace and mercy for me, even in my worst moments. The Almighty God over all things has patience for me. His love for me is greater than any sin I commit against Him.

    I stand in awe of the magnitude of His gift, my salvation.

    If my flawed and imperfect love for my children is still intact after a day like yesterday, God's love for me is unfathomable. It makes the images of Christ on the cross that much more powerful.


    The second time-stealing and all-consuming part of my life didn't happen in one long day. In fact, it's still ongoing.

    Potty training. (cue scary music)

    What does potty training have to do with anything spiritual?

    It's not that I'm learning how to not poop in my pants, spiritually. I don't even think you can use that as a working metaphor.

    But, I can draw a parallel between the process of potty training, and the process of maturing in Christ.

    I am starting early in the potty training of my youngest child, who is only 23 months old.  Because of his young age, the process of teaching him how to use the potty is pretty extensive.  It starts with teaching the boy how to sit on the potty, and to start using the terms:  "pee pee on the potty", "poop on the potty", "undies", "potty candy". The sitting takes some getting used to, and needs a little bit of luck to actually have him sitting when he pees.  Eventually after a week or so, he'll figure out that he can control these bodily functions.  And then we'll be able to venture out longer and farther without my purse being full of shorts and undies. 

    It's actually quite a long and arduous process.  It takes a lot of work, persistence and perseverance.  Not to mention patience and diligence, on my part.  Since Hank is my 5th round at potty training, I already know the end result and have had 3 of my kids potty trained before 2.  But it still  takes so much work.  It's been 6 days and I'm exhausted from the effort.  I know that my efforts will reap great rewards, but I still have to muster enough strength to make those efforts.

    So here's the spiritual lesson here:  in order to spiritually mature and grow closer in intimacy with our God, we need to go through the same vigorous and consuming training.  Not to use any kind of spiritual potty, mind you, but the same kind of long waiting and sometimes tediousness.

    We need to learn just to have Him be in our lives; to understand the insurmountable significance that He has in our lives.  When I became a believer, I had to change my entire thinking and living.  Not only does He exist, but He is directly involved in everything He created. 

    And like Hank's current lack of understanding of just what he's supposed to do, I didn't exactly know what was happening to me.  But God was patient, persistent in His pursuit of me, teaching me His word, helping me understand the growing up I needed to do.  And then, through a series of similar falls, and repeated mistakes and failures, it finally clicked.  To truly have a relationship with God, I needed to trust Him and do what He says, knowing that He has everything under control. 

    Just as Hank will take a few weeks to understand the concept of staying clean and dry, it took me years to realize how I needed to Trust and Obey in order to Love God. 

    I don't know if this blog is very clear.  I do know that every time I feel dragged down by the kids' disobedience, I think of my own disobedience to God.  And every time I am stuck sitting by a little toddler for long periods of time, I think of God's infinite patience for me when I am just not getting it. 

    Thank you Lord for your loving-kindness towards me. . .

    Tuesday, May 31, 2011

    A Work Memo: From One Professional Mom to Another. . .Blog Day #30

    "The hours were long, but the days went fast."

    This October will mark my 10th anniversary as a professional mother. 

    Here's where I started:  3 years into my Christian walk, married 1 year and 2 months, just shy of 23 years old.

    When little Lela was born, I had a whole heart full of expectations and ideas of how I was going to parent.  But reality hit when nursing was beyond difficult, recovery was arduous, and I had this little blob that needed to come with me everywhere I went.  Taking care of an infant was much harder than it looked in all the books I read. 

    My "rookie" years were tough.  I was fully immersed in parenthood with little professional preparation.  After only 20 months on the job, I potty trained Lela (also harder in real life than in books) in preparation for the 2nd kid--  a baby boy who never stopped moving in the womb. 

    He was a shocker from the beginning, with his blonde hair and blue eyes.  He cried a lot.  Not the colicky cry, or Lela's "I'm settling down" crying before naps, which would have been more tolerable, but a whiny, unhappy-with-anything crying.  Plus the 6 month old could crawl all over me like a ferret.  And did so often.

    Then I found out I was pregnant with Charlotte.  I remember thinking, "I already have a baby, what am I going to do with another?"

    So there I was, with three babies 3 years old and under.  Hubbie was working like a dog but not making very much.  We lived in a dumpy townhouse in downtown Davis with an inaccessible decomposing rat in our attic.  We were on the WIC and CHOC programs and still barely keeping the power on. 

    Spiritually, I was in a desperate place.  My faith was firm, but my preggo or nursing mind couldn't seem to think straight.  Every time I had a quiet-time to do my Bible studies, I would fall asleep.  The stress of daily-life was taking a toll on me, Hubbie and our marriage.  When I prayed, I had no words-- just a silent cry for help. 

    As a Bible-following Christ-believing Christian, you hear talk of "everlasting joy" and a "peace that surpasses all understanding."  Back then, they were just words to me.  I was too pre-occupied with life itself to have a good handle on what those expressions could mean for me.  It was hard for me to look beyond finances and a baby who had to eat cheese squares because we couldn't afford baby food.  I was up to my neck in poopy diapers and potty training and toddler tantrums.  Where is the joy in all that? How was I to find any peace at all?

    Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  --Romans 5:3-5 (NIV)

    In days of morning sickness and guilt over letting little toddlers watch hours of tv while I rested, I was in a bit of a spiritual lethargy.  Joy was allusive.  Peace was foreign.  But I had the truth of the gospel and His love for me, though I didn't feel it.  Romans 5 became my comfort.  I was falling short of all I thought I should be doing as a good Christian, but I could persevere. So I did.  I just survived.

    God provided everything I needed to keep my head above water.  My friends were there praying, supporting, role modeling.  Family was nearby to provide much needed breaks and help.  We had what we needed to eat, have electricity and put gas in our cars.  I maintained perspective, sticking to the truth of "This too will pass."

    And then during an annual retreat with some fellow moms, my good friend introduced me to this piece of Scripture:

    He tends his flock like a shepherd:
       He gathers the lambs in his arms
    and carries them close to his heart;
       he gently leads those that have young.
    --Isaiah 40:11 (NIV)

    Meditating upon these verses, I reached a turning point in my career.  God doesn't just have grace for all of our sins, He has grace for us in all of our circumstances.  He knows every minute detail of our daily grind.  Of course he would allow for more or less grace, depending on what is going on.  Because He is a compassionate God.

    So those days when I would fall into a deep sleep during quiet, praying times-- He knew what I needed and probably induced that.  The days I thought the kids wouldn't stop crying and I was washing purposely painted excrement off the walls, He sustained me and the day would end quickly.  The times I was at my worst and losing a grip on my faith, He would gently tip my chin up, put His hands on my shoulders and keep me walking forward. 

    His love never failed.  I persevered through those early years.  I held on to God's gentle hand.  And He led me to quiet waters. 

    Well, as quiet as 5 kids can get. . .

    I'm not half-way through my career yet.  And I don't know what the next 10 years is going to look like.  There are, for certain, more trials to come.

    But I can say this:  that through perseverance, through standing firm in Truth and not feelings, I have discovered the allusive joy and foreign peace. 

    I persevered.  Because I persevered, I gained character.  Because I gained character, I was given hope.  And this hope doesn't disappoint because of His love, given to us by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is a constant when we stand firm in faith.

    And it must be mentioned that the world is not about me.  I am not the center of the universe.  There is a bigger picture, a picture larger than the universe.  The "Kingdom Business", as Paster Glen Snyder puts it, is not about making me feel great.  It's not about making my life easier.  At least, not until it's my turn to enter the gates of Heaven. 

    The "Kingdom Business" is about restoring  man to God.  And He's already taken the pivotal step:  coming down as man, dying on the cross to take our punishment for sin, then rising from the dead as no other god can do.  Now the Big Boss wants us to take this love He gave us and love Him back.  In loving Him back, He wants us to love all His peoples.

    Included in these peoples are the little peoples.  The ones entrusted into our care.  The ones who push our buttons, embarrass us in the grocery store, bite their Sunday school teachers, wake us up in the middle of the night because they fear "can't-see-ems", play with our faces when we let them snuggle with us early in the mornings, cry during family pictures, poop their pants in Costco, treat Wal-Mart like a park, make you change into pajamas because they've garfed all over your clean outfits, and leave floaties in your much anticipated glass of juice.

    God never said it would be easy.  He just told us to do it.  Love them.  Joyfully and Have Peace.

    But how?

    I am glad to say that in this current second, my trials are not tribulations.  My trials are more like irritations (thanks for the distinction, Beth Moore).  But it's not to say that my irritations are not wearisome. I am actually in a constant state of weariness.  Not just physically from my new-found exercise hobby.  But bone-weariness and grouchiness to boot.

    Yet, I have found out how to have Joy and Peace through it all.  I have found out how to have Joy and Peace through unhappiness and discomfort.

    It's perseverance-- sticking to the truth, and not relying on feelings.  Keep on keeping on.  Get through the day.  Then start over in the morning.

    It's perspective-- lowering expectations and remembering that life isn't about "me". Stick to the Kingdom Business.

    It's honesty and humility-- seeking help where help is needed. 

    It's having character-- loving people, loving the children, loving the Hubbie, and doing what is right and true.

    It's having hope--  God is good, no matter how we feel.  "It will all be okay." is a cliche for a reason. Use it until it becomes an over-used cliche.  And then use it again.  Because God is good. 

    So breathe in the Holy Spirit, breathe out all else-- self-doubt, burn-out, stress, worry, negativity, ungratefulness, selfishness, bitterness. . .

    You were chosen for one of the most noblest tasks. . .employed by the perfect Almighty Big Boss. . .Your work has not gone unnoticed. . .And there is reward waiting for you at the end. . . .Keep working, fellow mothers. . .When God is for us, who can be against us?

    Saturday, May 28, 2011

    Family Council. . .Blog Day #29

    I have written before about this new stage in life I'm entering:  the big kids phase.  Everything in my life is looking differently than it did even just 3 years ago.  Bedtime routines are easier, with only 2 kids needing to be tucked in.  I only have to buckle one child into his car seat.  The big kids can read, so they can pick out TV shows for themselves and for the littles.  Everyone but Henry can swim, so I can truly relax at the pool.

    And Family Council has been incorporated into our routine.  Johnny and I have stressed its importance and the kids look forward to it every month. 

    It's simple, really.  Now that we aren't outnumbered by toddlers, even the four year old participates.  Henry does not, but he enjoys the pizza and dessert.

    So it looks a little like this:

    First, we have a little notebook to keep the minutes in.  During the month, I write little notes in it and keep a time-card.  I fine them anywhere from $0.25 to $0.75 for dawdling, talking back, not listening and obeying at chore time.  I add $1.00 to $3.00 for extra chores and in Lela's case, helping with Henry.  Johnny and I will plan ahead on what needs to be talked about, or if any family events are coming up.

    On the day of family council, which is usually within the first week of every month, we inform the kids as to when we will be meeting.  It's a pizza night, and one kid will get to prepare and serve the snack.  Before we sit down, we all stand behind our assigned seats and look to the book to see who gets to pick a new seat first.  The kids usually remember, but we keep a record anyway. 

    We go in order of age, with the exception of Henry, who always has to sit next to me.  In June, it is Daddy's turn to pick his seat first.  We stay in our assigned seats until next family council. 

    We take prayer requests, and then open up in prayer.  It is great to pray as a family.

    We eat pizza.  While we are eating, we change seating assignments for the car, which is also by age.  The three oldest take monthly turns sitting in shotgun (don't worry, the airbag turns off).  We talk about the month's assigned chores for mornings, afternoons, and evenings. 

    We discuss problems and brainstorm solutions.  The most common problems:  cleaning up after oneself, flushing toilets and hanging up towels, and turning off the lights and shutting the doors when you leave a room. 

    We give compliments and show our appreciation for each other.  Johnny and I try to spotlight on specific times when the kids did exceptionally well.  In May, it was how much the kids listened and obeyed on Easter day when I was playing the piano at church and while I was at home cooking our big meal.

    We talk about upcoming events.  If we are planning on a hike, we discuss rules.  If we are planning to go camping, we menu plan and make a list of activities we'd like to participate in.  If there is a family vacation, we talk about expectations and  money (ex.  going to Disneyland but we will not buy souvenirs or ask to buy souvenirs). 

    By this time, Henry is usually ready to get out of his seat and the kids are getting restless.  So the child who prepared the snack will serve the snack as dessert.  Usually, it's brownies.  In May, Johnny decided to give them hot chocolate with one gigantic marshmallow in each cup.  I wouldn't recommend this.  The marshmallows, which were bigger than Zoe's hand, were a bit of a distraction. 

    As soon as snack is over, allowance is paid.  In our family, allowance is more like "family fun."  In order to participate in "family fun", you have to participate in "family work".  So while the kids do have quite a bit of chores, they also get to have money of their own.  Our pay-scale is this:  $10 at 10 years old, $5 at 5 years old, and $3 for under 5.  It's not much, but all we can afford.  They each get paid, one at a time in dollar bills, the base pay and then whatever extras they earned.  After receiving all of their "paycheck", they pay any fines owed.  They take the moneys and put them in their designated envelopes:  savings, tithing, and spending. 

    We quickly clear the table, and move to the school room where I play the piano and we sing together as a family.  That is new, as of last month.  

    And the meeting is adjourned.  If the meeting is held on a weekend evening, then it's movie night.  If not, then those who put their pajamas on in a timely fashion get to watch a little TV before bed..

    In writing, it doesn't seem as exciting as it is in real life.  But the benefits of training the kids to spend one night exclusively with us and each other is priceless.  Through this monthly meeting we get the chance to pray as a whole, to openly discuss what the needs are, to learn to express appreciation in the spoken word, and to cultivate the togetherness that needs to be there if we are to be a tight-knit family. 

    It seemed so impossible when I had three toddlers and I felt like I was in the bathroom all day being the toilet monitor and butt-wiper. 

    But as my little babies grow older, we can function a little differently.  As each child grows in maturity, we use their independence to our advantage.  We incorporate them into a monthly family business meeting and connect with them by allowing them to contribute to the decisions we make. 

    Each month, we have a reminder that we are a family unit, and that we all belong to each other. 

    Family Council, I love it. . .

    How to Be a Successful Parent Without Trying. . .Blog Day #28

    What is your version of a good parent?

    What do you measure your success with?  Behavior? Clean children? Kids who don't squeeze the bread in the grocery store?

    One day I had sent all the kids to the car to go to swim practice.  Lela was in charge of buckling Henry in and giving him his blanket.  Ten minutes later I heard some commotion outside and found that they were all running around the street like wild animals.  Two of them were barefoot, and one had not gotten his Speedo on.  They had also let the dog out so she was barking and running around chasing pigeons.  Henry was on the sidewalk, pointing to a sister across the street, and wanting to go get her.

    "Get in the car!" I yelled, but to no avail.  Finally, I screamed, "I am going to count to 10 and you need to get in the car!"

    I started counting, slowly so they had time to run from where they were and seat themselves in the car.  Which they did.  I buckled Henry in and found out that no one had their swim bags, Ethan couldn't find his Speedo and Charlotte didn't know where her shoes were.  Lela was making obnoxious noises (she would say she was singing) and Zoe had peed her panties.  And I had forgotten my keys in the house.

    It's days like this that make me feel like a failure.  Did I do something wrong to make life so crazy? Maybe if I were a better mom I wouldn't have days like this. . .

    My good friend, Megan, and I agreed that it would be nice to have a do-over. "God, can we start over? With a new set of kids, now that we know what to do?"

    There are other things that make me feel like a failure. . . .the endless mound of laundry on my couch, the clutter on my kitchen hutch, the dirty laundry spilling out into the hallway from the laundry room, the child who pitches a fit every time I tell her she can't color when it's reading time, the toddler whose hair is slicked back with oatmeal as hair gel, the Comet spilled all around the toilet instead of inside the toilet... I could probably go on for days. . .

    It's the daily grind, the mundane chores, the amount of responsibilities I have but can't get to that cause me to feel like I fall way short of the Good Mother award.

    But most of the time, the reality of it all is that I try too hard.

    I have this picture in my mind of a calm, gentle, loving and nurturing mother whose children love her soo much they obey compulsively.  If they do make mistakes, she wisely and quietly corrects them and they immediately say, "Yes, Mother."  Everyone is dressed nicely, hair combed and fixed, matching socks, matching shoes,  bathed on a daily basis with soap.  Beds are made with fitted sheet, flat sheet tucked in, bedspread, comforter, decorative pillows and regular pillows and matching valences to boot.  Oh, and did I mention that all the bedding is sewn by said mother? And the beds are never stripped for impromptu fort building right before they have to leave for an appointment. 

    This is not real.  I am quite the opposite.  I yell, threaten, throw bundled urine-filled diapers to catch a kid's attention, hide in the bathroom while kids are jumping on couches and dog is eating abandoned bowls of cereal on the table, ignore the giant loads of clean laundry that needs to be folded, and make the toddler wear two different socks because I don't feel like finding some matching ones for her.

    Yet if you met my kids, you would know that they are very happy.  They enjoy each other's company, rarely says anything mean-spirited about any one, notices if someone is a believer of Jesus or not,  and act like kids who are secure in their parents' love for them.  Their dad works long hours and is often gone or sleeping, but they show no bitterness and treat him like he's around all the time.  They have compassion for the poor, empathy for kids who are hurt, and the ability to share in other people's joy.  They are all independent, able to help with cleaning the house, trustworthy outside, and looks out for the little ones.

    And I truly believe that it's not about my effort, though I'd like to think so.

    I am far from being that ideal mom who does everything with a smile.

    Yet, I can say that my first 10 years as a parent have been successful.  I believe I've got a pretty solid foundation for the next 16 years of parenting.

    So how do you be a successful parent without trying?

    By trying, I mean by doing everything.  Cleaning, sweeping, laundering, cooking, gardening, driving, teaching, volunteering, sewing, spending, signing up for soccer, coaching, team parenting.  While these things are great and we must be a good steward of all things given us, parenting is not about the house.

    It's about the home. . .So here's a few ways to be successful at parenting without trying:

    • Allow your kids to develop their own personality while still obeying your rules.
    • Teach your kids to be able play independently, or with siblings.  You are not a playmate/friend. That comes later.
    • You are at least 20 years older than them.  Don't let them crawl under your skin.
    • Teach them good manners. . .When you say, "Use your polite manners." They should know which phrase to use under the circumstances. Ex) "Thank you for inviting us over.", or "Yes, please." or "Will you please pass the french fries?"
    • While you want cooperation,  teach them that you love them and it's your job to have them listen and obey.  Expecting respect for you and your spouse saves a lot of grief and drama. Which means that you have to be respectable. Ouch.
    •  Open ended questions, for a toddler, are overwhelming.  Narrow it down for them, and then if they can't decide, then the next two choices should be, "Do you want to pick, or do you want me to?"
    • Remember that it's not your job to necessarily understand them, but to love them.
    • Remember that it is not your job to accomplish everything on your to-do list.  An immaculate house probably means the kids were outside messing up your yard.  An immaculate yard either means you have money for a garden guy or the kids were busy messing up your immaculate house while you did your yard.
    • Treat mothering as you would any profession. Get up, get dressed, put your makeup on, and treat it like you would any career choice.  The only difference is, the pay check comes in eternal rewards and you can't change careers.
    • Teach the kids that the world does not revolve around them.  Entitled children can be just as bad as poor behaving children.  We none of us "deserve" anything.  It's because of Jesus that we have what we have.
    • And remember when you are scrubbing the toilets, finding "science experiments" under the beds, changing poopy diapers, dealing with tantrums, dealing with sassy mouths,  resigning yourself to a constant state of tired-ness, that the world does not revolve around you.
    If you need a pity party, have one.  Just for a few moments until you catch your breath.  If you feel overwhelmed, go out alone for a few hours with a friend or three.  If you feel like you are doing all the work, take a weekend off and only leave important instructions (location of diapers and wipes and refrigerator).

    So the secret of my success: I've learned, and am learning, to lower my own expectations of myself.  I have learned, and am still learning, that I need to stop trying so hard to be "perfect."  Cleaning only until comfortable, cooking a few convenience foods, putting the kids in front of the tv when I'm having a tough day. . .My parenting isn't perfect.  My kids are not perfect.  Despite all our combined shortcomings, they are all learning to love Jesus, to love people, to love each other.  They are solid on their feet, come to me for help, feel secure in their trust in me and aren't afraid to laugh and play even when I'm in my worst temper. 

    God fills in the blanks, you are just there to nurture, to guide with a gentle but firm hand, to teach them how to view things with God's eyes. Leave the gourmet organic cooking, crafty and artsy activities, quiet and sitting still kids for the fictional books.
    Stop trying so hard.

      Tuesday, May 24, 2011

      The Taming of the Chinese Chick: An Addendum. . .Blog Day #27

      Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

      Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2Corinthians 5:17-21

      Dwelling upon the past with regret and bitterness is never a good thing.  But neither is completely ignoring it, as if it never happened.  It is important that we look at the psychology behind our life experiences, for they make us who we are.  We none of us are excluded from having to carry baggage.  And though our individual luggage sets may differ in size and color, often we can find others who have packed similar, if not the same, items inside. 

      Looking into the past is never easy, especially when your past is fraught with bad memories and  regretful decisions.  In reflecting upon mine, I realized that in sharing through such a public forum, I needed to choose my words carefully as to not portray anyone in a bad light. There were also certain details that needed picking through.  Knowing that my audience would be diverse, coming from different time periods and aspects of my life, I included only that which was pertinent to my overall theme: reconciliation.

      For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  --Romans 3:23

      We all have a story to tell.  And if you have found salvation through Jesus, completely restoring your relationship with God, you have a past that likely contradicts your present.  We all have deficiencies, sinful cravings, skeletons in the closet, etc. . .A true Bible reading, Bible following Christian acknowledges this fact, and then strives to not be controlled by said deficiencies, cravings, skeletons, etc.  Walking the Walk and Talking the Talk becomes the theme for our faith and love. 

      But a turning point must be made.  A decision to follow, or not to follow, has to be made. 

      I chose to follow Jesus. To risk being called religious, prudish, goody-two-shoes, Jesus-freak, ignorant, Bible thumping, narrow-minded. . . the list goes on and on. . .

      In writing my story, I realize that my life was and is not about me.  I am not the only one involved in my own story.  Everywhere I was, I had people around me that were affected by my presence.  Some of these people don't speak to me anymore, as my bad decisions affected them negatively.  Some of these people are still great friends, ones who I have spent an entire lifetime knowing. 

      But I only have one person in mind: my mother.  As my story revolved around reconciliation and how my restored relationship with God calmed my soul and set me on the right path, I had to start at the beginning to paint a picture of the psychology behind my wildness.  The environment in which you are raised has an important impact on what kind of person you become. 

      I realize that my story involved my mother's story.  She actually read my blog and commented on Facebook.  She wants to tell her own story, not have others read it through me. 

      So I am writing this addendum to just say this:

      My mother has, in my opinion, a fascinating story of reconciliation.  I don't exactly know it all, but I can tell you that the woman in my story is a completely different woman now.  Just as my life was spiraling out of control until I let God take the wheel, I think her life was flailing in the dark until Jesus shone a light for her to follow. 

      The light is what has restored our relationship, mine and hers.  There's plenty of room for improvement, but I would say that I am now very blessed to have her around.  She came to my aide after the births of my 5 babies, staying in uncomfortable apartments and cooking and cleaning so much that I would fight panic when it was time for her to go home.  We have, as of late, been sharing common interests in Pride and Prejudice type movies, Bible-teaching books and various Christian fiction.  We sit for hours at the kitchen table talking and discussing.  And she has, more than once, said to "Pray about it."

      Reconciliation.  I had to share unpleasant details about my childhood, making the mention of a mother unavoidable. But based on the Scripture I posted at the beginning of this entry, we can say that the woman in my story is no longer in existence.  My "happily ever after" involves a woman who has reconciled with God and has a restored relationship with Him who takes care of us both. 

      Praise be to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. . .--Ephesians 1:3

      Monday, May 23, 2011

      The Taming of the Chinese Chick: Part 3. . .Blog Day #26

      The small little college group at Grace Valley Community Church in Modesto, CA was the first adult Christian group I had ever been exposed to.  It was also the first time I participated in a group that split the girls from boys, er, women from men. . .It was actually pretty scary for me, as most of my friends were male.

      I didn't do a whole lot of talking, not because I was shy, but mostly because I didn't know if I believed everything they believed in.  It had been my experience that Christians were pretenders. . .They thought themselves perfect by following all of God's rules, and never seemed to have a hard time with anything.  They never did anything fun and I could never be "good" all the time anyway.  I thought it was impossible to be happy all the time, like the Christians claimed you would be after believing in Jesus. 

      "Hogwash."  Except, back then I used a different term.

      But there was something different coming from these girls.  From all of the group, really.  Those small break away sessions with the females only spurred great conversations and deep sharing.  There was a vulnerability I had never experienced.  They shared struggles, illnesses, praises, blessings.  I was taught, for the first time, that though you believed in Jesus, life would still be hard, but that He would be faithful through it all. 

      What? They didn't subscribe to the Believe-in-Jesus-and-life-will-be-easy way of life.  That caught my attention.

      I was already motivated by the weekly meetings to avoid circumstances where I would be making poor decisions.  I tried a few more times after that 4th of July party to dabble in the dual life, but couldn't put my heart into it.  I didn't love the feeling of shame and healthy conviction, which can't be drowned out by partying.

      And I was spending a lot of time with my long time friend and his family.  His mother was warm and inviting, and his father respectful and knowledgeable.  They had laughter in their home and spent many hours together.  I was blessed to share in meals where they talked and shared devotions.  They had me participate in a Bible study on the book of John and even had me take part in the readings. 

      While we weren't in the house, my friend showed me some of the pranks he learned in college (like taping an empty oil can on top of the car and driving around, which surprisingly freaks people out). It was fun.  Without alcohol, I might add. 

      No doubt, they were praying for me.  No doubt, the group was praying for me.  I went to church, and the songs started to sound less cheesy and more meaningful.  I was starting to understand the sermons.  I was learning to find the verses on my own.

      I was sitting in my friends' living room and participating in their family Bible study (although I now suspect it was more for my benefit than theirs).  I don't even know if I was able to find the book of John on my own, but I kept up.  I was, after all, a university student.  I read with them and answered the questions with them.  Without realizing, I had learned the entire purpose of Jesus.  He wasn't there to tell me what a bad person I was.  Well, not in those exact words, anyway. 

      I learned that the Bible and all that is in it is Truth.  I learned that the world is full of sin, condemned to death because every person is tainted by desires of things not God.  I learned that God created the world but man fell and ruined the intimate relationship they had with God. I learned that God loved His people anyway and continued a plan to restore that relationship.  I learned that Jesus was God, come in human form to live as a human.  I learned that He came this way because the people were full of sin, undeserving of heaven and deserving of death because of sin. 

      But He loved us soo much that He took our punishment and died a horrific and humiliating death so that a bridge would be built between man and God.  I learned that He did as no god ever had and rose from the dead, just as He promised in all the thousands of years of history recorded in the Bible. 

      I learned that people who believed this were promised eternal life.  That people who believed this accepted God's love, which cannot be torn away from them.  I learned that life would be hard, but that if I believed in all of these things and loved and obeyed Him, I would have peace.  I learned that God knew me personally, loved me even before I was born, had always been with me even through my worst, and wanted my heart and soul to be His forever.

      All this in just a few short weeks.  Remember, I was only home for the summer.  And, I have to admit, I rarely take things nice and easy.  So when this appeared on my sheet:

            If you are a child of God you have personally received Jesus into your heart as Lord and Savior.  You believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, was buried, and rose again from the grave, and is alive now and in your heart as King.  If you are sure of your salvation check here (  ).

      I remember that my friend and both his parents were looking at me.  I don't know if I said anything. But I put a check there.  The next question:

           Are you now a child of God, having received Jesus?

      I remember saying, timidly, "Yes."  Someone said, "Really?"

      Before I knew it, they had hands on me and we were praying.  In Christian-ese, we call it, "The Prayer."  I admitted to my sinfulness, in believing that God was THE Creator, that He came down as man, died on the cross, was buried, rose again.  I acknowledged that by believing in this, I would love and obey Him with my life, and I would live in Heaven with Him someday. 

      My soul sighed a breath of relief.  My mind said, "What? What just happened?"

      The rest of that summer was possibly the best summer of my life.  I started seeing the members of the college group outside of meetings.  I looked forward to church, learned from the sermons, and felt the depth of the songs. 

      But I still felt uncertain.  I was a Christian now?  It seemed a bit crazy.

      But then again, everything I do has to be a little radical.  That's just the way I roll.

      August came, and my friend was going back to his school within a few weeks.  I would be going back to my school soon after.  What was going to happen? I could no longer be the party girl.  In fact, all of my habits and lifestyle choices were going to be different. And I would have to make new friends and go to a new church. 

      My mind was still trying to get on the same page as my soul. The tasks that lay ahead seemed so daunting.

      Then, an announcement at church was made about a river baptism.  At the end of August.  Perfect.  I needed a visual representation that would become a reminder of what I committed to.  So, I think it was the Stanislaus River, I was baptized in front of my new spiritual family.  It was a sunny and glorious day to die to oneself and arise a new creation.  I count August 1997 as my spiritual birth month. I was 18 years old.

      Shortly after the celebration, my friend left for college.  In fact, he left to spend the semester in Israel. 

      I left for college soon after.  And returned to Davis.  And was greeted by, "So, I heard you found religion."

      It was a long road.  A long intense road, as is fitting for someone who does things "all or nothing."

      I had began a relationship with a God who wanted me.

      And He provided, as promised.  Though most of my old friends abandoned me, I met new ones.  My roommate thought I was a hypocrite, but I moved in with Christian girls who loved me as I was and helped me on my spiritual journey.  Through a friend from the college group back home, I found a college group on-campus and the church that supported it. (Who knew there were so many Christians in Davis?)

      Though I was going "full speed ahead," sometimes going way too fast over speed bumps and almost running red lights, I was no longer flailing through life.  I had found an unexplainable peace and joy.  It was infinitely better than the drug-induced, numbing and temporary fun I had clung onto before the summer began. 

      Someone was, and is, caring for me.  I always thought He was way too big to ever care, and way too oppressive that He cramped my style.  But He was, and is, my shepherd:  knowing me by name, protecting me from wolves, and leading me to water and shelter. 

      Now, if I am--
      Wayward? I am found and brought back.
      Stuck in the mud? I am rescued and brought back to safety.
      Caught in a storm? I am carried to shelter.

      I started my adult life broken into pieces, thinking I had to glue myself together.  I was taught that I was the maker of my own destiny.  I relinquished that control.  I gave up such an impossible task.

      Now, as a wife and mother, with joy inexpressible, I can tell you that I am a product of obedience to God.  Though not perfect, God works through me as my heart seeks after Him.   I am who I am because I want what He wants.  I am not oppressed, chafing under rules and guidelines.  I am not a Bible-thumping, judgment yelling, high-collared-jumper-wearing, commune-living woman who pretends to be perfect.

      I love because He first loved me.  I put my heart and words into action, hoping to be a good representation of Him who created the world.  I give my life to Him daily, worshiping Him and letting Him guide my ways.  I cling to His grace, which He gives freely, whenever I slip and wallow in selfishness. 

      And if you ever feel loved by me, it's because of His Spirit that wants you too.

      All this to say, this Asian chick has been tamed.  This Asian chick is a true Christian

      Thank you God, for your loving-kindness towards me.

      Sunday, May 22, 2011

      The Taming of the Chinese Chick: Part 2. . .Blog Day #25

      UCDavis always starts their school year late.  So I was chomping at the bit when the end of September came and it was time for me to move into the dorms.  I was beyond excited to be on my own, to have my own place.  I loved who I was rooming with, and met some of the other people on my floor.  We rode our bikes and explored the campus and tested out the dining commons together.  College looked promising.

      Then classes actually started.  I was in shock.  I had no study skills for my full load of classes, attended fraternity parties, rarely slept at decent hours for a decent amount of time.  But I was having the time of my life.  I was finally free from the chains and oppression of adult supervision. I did what I wanted, when I wanted.  I exchanged the old boyfriend for a new one. I spent my Thursdays through Sundays partying and hanging out.  Occasionally I studied, but not really.

      In one quarter, I decided that maybe pre-med wasn't for me.  And biology wasn't up my alley.  Now that my long-term career plans were up in the air, I was feeling a little bad that school wasn't going too well.  The classes were hard, and I didn't put in the effort to really study and focus.  Being a student wasn't what it used to be. . .

      But, I was having fun. . .The new boyfriend was wonderful, the parties were fun, and my new friends were fun.  I felt I had no need of anything more.

      With winter came a feud with the roommate, who was giving me the silent treatment.  My grades were barely hanging in there, and emotionally I was a little wild.  But, I was happy.  I was doing what I wanted, when I wanted.  And besides, when life was tough, you could just go out and laugh and drink and party it off.  I was having fun.

      When spring was just around the corner, my life started spinning out of control.  I was in deep with the drinking, feeling more sick than free-spirited.  I was struggling to "get right" with my studies.  The boyfriend and I were not getting along. 

      And then, on that precipice, I finally did slip.  I suffered my first real heart break.  You know, the kind where your chest feels like some giant hands are squeezing it and you can practically taste the sorrow in your soul.  The boyfriend and I broke up, mostly due to my rash words and arrogance in thinking that if I apologized he would forgive me.  I lost control and for the first time in awhile, I was rejected.

      I tried to regain my balance.  I needed to have fun again.  And what did I have left? Well, I was a lot of fun to party with.  There were other boys that were interested in me.  But mostly I was a lot of fun to party with.  The alcohol seemed to temporarily calm my aching heart.  People seemed to notice me and admire me when I could take multiple shots and swear like a sailor. 

      But the pain would come again, not only from the hangover but from the heartache.  I felt like I had fallen off a cliff, but ignored the danger and refused to call for help.  I tucked away the pain and saved it for the nights, when I would weep silently in the dark.  If I felt anything else at all, it was stress.  I drowned out the stress on the weekends with dates and parties.  The precious freedom I had acquired just months before was now exhausting.  Being a "normal" college kid was merely a facade to cover up a lost and hurting soul.  But I was determined to have fun.

      My suite-mate, Pak (like 6-pack, she says), was a Christian.  The poor girl.  I'm pretty sure she stayed at her friends' houses most of the time because of me.  Near the end of the school year I happen to be talking with her about something (I don't remember exactly what) but she asked me, "What about Jesus? Do you know who He is?"

      "Oh, I went to church when I was little, so I know who He is.  I believe there's a God.  But I don't really need Him.  I'm having a lot of fun. . .I don't think I want to change anything."

      The poor girl.  Telling people about Jesus and all He has to offer is no easy thing. She was probably sweating from the effort.  She was probably feeling defeated by my response.  But the seed was planted.  God began working in my life, even if I didn't want Him.

      So I indulged myself in more fun.   Especially after finals.  By day my friends and I would pack our rooms.  By night we would fully immerse ourselves in letting loose and laughing and drinking whatever we could get our hands on.  I especially did, because I was moving home for the summer. 

      Move out day came, we all packed our cars, and I drove home with a monster headache and dry mouth from the short night before.  I had to be careful not to drive too fast and get pulled over.  I wasn't sure my system was below the legal limit.  Plus my face was pale, my hair a bit frizzy, and I might have smelled like the rum that was my friend the night before. 

      I left home broken, hoping to fix myself and soak in my freedom.  I moved back home in worse condition, struggling to maintain that euphoria I had only 9 months earlier.

      I went out with some old friends, one of them including the old boyfriend.  I went to a couple parties, and attempted to fit in. 

      I remember one particular coffee date with a friend I grew up with.  I don't remember exactly where we were, but I remember the conversation.  It was mostly one-sided (I'm sure you can guess which side). I remember the expression on his face.  I talked on and on about an anthropology class and about how similar we are to chimpanzees and blah blah blah evolved from gorillas and blah blah blah we share DNA with other primates and maybe we evolved over time after being created. . None of this makes any sense?  That's because I didn't know what I was talking about and just spat back information that was fed to me. 

      And he just looked at me with a patient expression.  I believe his wife would know the look, "You are totally wrong but I'm going to just listen to you anyway."

      I guess I need to back track just a bit, and tell you that he also had just returned from college.  Oh, and back track even more, his family had taken me to church many times in high school but I never kept it up.

      Anyway, the night ended with, "There's a new college group at my church and I was thinking about going.  But I don't know anyone and I don't want to go by myself. Do you want to go?"

      "Um, okay."  It was a chance for me to meet new people and help a friend.  Sure, why not?

      So I went.  Introductions were made.  Then suddenly my friend disappeared and I was in a room with a bunch of girls and they were going to pray out loud. (Actually I don't think my friend had completely abandoned me like that, but I sure did feel like it.)  Thankfully, one of the girls reassured me that if I didn't feel comfortable praying, I didn't have to.  And then the meeting was over.  I left with no one asking me any questions or passing any judgements.  In fact, everyone had been nice to me.

      So I went the next week.  The meetings were fun.  I didn't say very much, but I really enjoyed listening to them.  Little did I know that God was applying healing ointment to my soul.  God was piecing together my broken soul without my noticing.  I was still living that other life, drinking and smoking and such, but I looked forward to seeing my friend and going to those meetings.

      The dual-life was short lived.  I couldn't keep it up.  4th of July came and I visited my roommate in Vallejo.  We went to a party where I had been taking shots after drinking beer (not a recommended mix). At the end of the night,  I was in the bathroom wishing I could throw up.  I was looking in the mirror at my green sallow face, barely able to focus because of the spinning, and thinking, "There has got to be something better than this."

      And there was.  I just had to find it. 

      Continued in Part 3, Blog Day #26

      Friday, May 20, 2011

      The Taming of the Chinese Chick: Part 1. . .Blog Day #24

      Today's blogpost will explain a lot.

      I've decided to let you in on the backstory.  In two parts.

      I am going to tell you about me. (unfortunately, my favorite subject.)

      In Christian-ese, it's called a "testimony".  A long run-down on what has made me the person I am today.

      I wish it was more exciting, like in the fun Christian historical novels I read.  I'd love to say that it was full of excitement, danger, romance, and happily-ever-afters where I am the heroine.  But, that kind of story rarely happens in real life.  Certainly, it didn't happen to me.

      But I sure searched for it. . .And in all the wrong places.

      I've mentioned in a previous blogpost that my childhood was spent in loneliness and a strong desire to live a "normal" life.  In a way, it was normal.  I was living in the Central Valley under the roof of immigrant parents who worked day in and day out on a dusty unforgiving farm.  But instead of being Mexicans, who usually have a huge sense of community and culture to share with each other, or those well-established families with lots of cute animals and fancy tractors and beautiful orchards, we were some of the only Chinese people in town and the only family with houses full of chickens.  Thousands of chickens.  Laying thousands of eggs.  Every single day. 

      Every so often, my parents would meet with other Chinese people from other towns who also had chickens.  Thousands of chickens.  Laying thousands of eggs.  Every single day.  My sister and I called these little association parties "chicken meetings."  I remember there being quite a few of them.  My mother disagrees.  But that's what I remember.

      Not a terribly exciting early life.  Non-the-less, these were my humble beginnings.

      Quite miserable for everyone.

      My mom grew up in Taiwan.  Her father died of cancer when she was a young teen and left my grandmother to take care of 7 children, of which my mom was the monkey in the middle.  My grandparents were an arranged marriage.  From what I gathered, my grandmother was beyond unhappy.  I've heard stories of a suicide attempt and a son who died in toddler-hood.  But it's hard for anyone to talk about so I'm not privy on all the facts.  I can conclude:  it was miserable. 

      My mom grew up, finished school and got a job teaching.  Then she moved to the States.  From tropical Taiwan to freezing Alaska.  Do I need to explain?

      And then she moved to California after a not-so-much-fun time in the Arctic and met my dad.

      My dad was born in Vietnam during the time the Communists were taking over China.  My grandmother had relocated to escape all the turmoil.  That's my understanding, anyway.  (His family doesn't talk much, either).  But I do know that my grandfather had two families: my dad with his 1 sister and 4 younger brothers and then another wife and children.  I don't know all the details, but you can imagine that my dad had a poor role model.  Combined with the political unrest and difficult family circumstances, you could say, "Miserable."

      At any rate, my dad was raised in Canton surrounded by Red Guards.  He swam across the channel between Canton and Hong Kong as a young man to escape the Communists and came to the US as a refugee.  He lived in Arizona with some friends, then came to California where he worked for my mom's oldest sister.  So he met my mom.

      They married in 1978.  I was born later that year.  Two years later, they bought and moved to the chicken farm in the little town of Ceres.  My one and only sister was born shortly after.

      Thus began the miserable years.  Not because my sister was born, but because of the hardness of their backgrounds and the harshness of egg farming.  There were no warm exchanges, no affirming words, no play-dates, no reassuring smiles for little girls.  Just survival.  And practicing piano.  Because every good Asian chick knows how to play the piano.

      My dad checked out, my mom did the best she could.  But, all in all, miserable.

      Now move the focus onto a free-spirited, determined and stubborn little girl.  That was me.  In every way, I didn't fit the mold in any aspect of my life.  Within my family, my aunts would give me a hard time because my hair was brown and not black.  I had a tan from swimming and working outside in the heat and my aunts would say I looked like a Mexican.  And they weren't complementing me.  I was not necessarily rebellious yet, but in much of Chinese culture, outspokenness = rebellious.

      At school I was the only Chinese girl.  I didn't have a large English vocabulary since my first language was Mandarin until the age of 5.  I had shoes that were too big and clothes from Kmart (oh the torture!) and I didn't participate in any extra activities besides band and piano.  But I was blessed to have wonderful, solid friends who I celebrated birthdays with and who kept me out of trouble during recess.

      That is, until the 6th grade.  The school district changed their busing boundaries.  So I had to switch schools, despite my begging and pleading for my mom to sign the transfer form and drive me to school.

      Free-spirited + Strong-willed + No warm father figure + Wanting a "normal" family + bitter at switching schools + soft-spoken teacher teaching 6th graders for the 1st time + tween girl making wrong friend choices + a mother trying to maintain control of said tween girl but not understanding the culture
      = Miserable.

      My mom was miserable.  My dad was miserable.  I was miserable.  I didn't even know what was going on with my younger sister because I was soo caught up in how unfair life was. I lashed out.  Mostly on that poor teacher.  I concentrated all my energy on becoming my own person, making my own decisions, hanging out with whoever I wanted.  I flirted with boys and made my "crushes" lists and got A's on all my schoolwork so my teacher could never ding me too badly for chewing gum on purpose...

      I'm cringing just to think of the beginnings of my down fall.  And cringing more to have to move on to Jr. High and High School.

      Forget absent dad.  I just compensated by seeking out boy attention.  And my mom had some health issues that made her moods a little crazy.  So I pushed back and became even more determined to have what I wanted and be my own person. I refused to let my free spirit be tied down.

      In the midst of this terrible transition into teen-hood,  I decided I was done going to church with some neighbors.  I was only going there for the cute boys anyway. "Jesus doesn't apply to my life, anyway."

      And as if junior high and high school aren't tumultuous enough, I had my eyes set out on college, high school electives and doing whatever would make me happy.  Most of my wants were innocent, even beneficial.  But my mom, being of another culture, protested and said no to almost everything.

      Jazz Band after school? "No."  I did it anyway.
      Swim team? "No. We have a swimming pool in the backyard."  I did it anyway.  Even paid out of my own money to get the physical at the doctor.  I may or may not have forged my dad's signature on the release forms.
      Need glasses? "No. You're faking." Um, made the appointment myself.  I may have even paid for it.
      Movies? "No, we have a TV.  Be home at 9." Well, the movie started at 7:30.  I went anyway and got home when I got home.
      Yearbook? "No. Why do you need that?" I ordered yearbooks with my own money after not having one freshmen year and feeling like a dufus.
      Car? "No, we can't afford it." I begged and begged my dad until he bought me one.  Yes, he bought my first choice. . .My mom was soooo mad.
      Prom? "What's that? No."  Uh, I went anyway, sophomore year, at the invitation from my senior boyfriend.
      Dating? "No.  Focus on school."  I don't even want to go there.  Let's just say my girls are not going to be like I was.  And my sons will not date girls like the teen-aged me.
      Class ring? "No. You pay for it."  I did.
      Graduation robes? "No."  Just kidding.  Those were bought for me.

      Strong-willed teen vs. Angry and at-rope's-end mom = Bad news.  Miserable.

      I want to say, delicately, that while I was mouthy and rude and disrespectful at home, the boundaries were attempted to be set by physical means and emotional insults.  Most of the time, these were issued simultaneously and right when I walked in the door or woke up on a free Saturday morning.  The more that was lashed onto me, the more I clung to my pursuit of happiness. I ran to all the wrong places, sought to fill my worth bucket in all the wrong faucets, thought myself stronger and more capable than I was and rarely sought help through the right channels.

      Now put in an older boyfriend, in college.  And boys just starting to actually notice me.  And me thinking I was all growed up.

      I had a shoulder problem and hives all over my back the entire spring season of my senior year.  I denied that I was stressed and was determined to stand on my own two feet without anyone's help.  Colleges were applied for, financial aid secured, and finally, a college picked out.  I would follow that older boy to UCDavis.  And I couldn't get out of town fast enough.

      At 17 years of age, I moved into the dorms and started my shaky college career at UCDavis as a biology major.  I had high hopes.  New life, new friends, new school.  I had big plans.  I was going to live my life to the fullest, have fun, do school, graduate, go to medical school and be a pediatrician.

      Little did I know, I was at the peak of my downfall.  I had placed myself on a slippery precipice.  And I wouldn't be able to save myself when I lost my balance.

      I thought I was flying a free spirit, following my own dreams and whims.  But really, I was flailing and out of control.

      To be continued in Blog Day #25.

      Wednesday, May 18, 2011

      Kids? To Have, or Not? How Many?--Part 2. . .Blog Day #23

      So I am pro-kids. Have them, if you can.  If you can't, but want to, what better home for a needy unwanted child than one with a couple who passionately wants to raise up a new generation with love and safety.  Don't think about it.  Just take that leap of faith.  Children are blessings.  That is something the Bible will definitely support.

      Now on to the issue of family size.

      How many kids should you have?

      Again, with today's convenient access to contraceptives and birth control, we have many ways to determine how many kids and when.

      Again, I emphasize that just because we can choose, doesn't necessarily mean we should.  God is a good God.  He can and will take care of anything we need:

            Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?  And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.
           But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!
           Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?  For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.--Matthew 6:26-34 (NASB)

      Okay, so I'm not totally advocating having as many babies as you can.  Having 12 kids, while doable, is not everyone's calling.  It wasn't mine.  But, then again, why not?  Like I said before, if that is what God wants me to do, and I am willing to do what He wants, then He is sure to provide us with what we need to get the job done.

      But then again, 12 kids.  Or more?  It makes me shudder just to think about it. 
      Let's just keep it simple. "Should we have another?" Take it one kid at a time.

      Before I tell you my answer to the question. . .let's dispel three myths.

      Myth #1: Our house is not big enough for more.
      I have heard this said about people who have 2 children, thinking that they need one bedroom for each child.  If some rich person were to bequeth to me a 7 bedroom house, you won't see me refusing the incredible blessing. But having lived in a 3rd story 1100 square foot apartment with four small children, I will tell you that small spaces are doable.  Not always fun, but doable.  Children can share.  In fact, it is better for them to share.  And how advantagous for their future marriages.  All this to say, that what you have is probably sufficient.  If it provides adequate shelter, heat for the cold and air for the hot, electricity and running water. . .plus somewhere soft to sleep, then that is great.  It's more than what most of the world has.  Then add on a loving, warm, attentive, safe and Godly atmosphere and it becomes homeA big house, though helpful,  is not a requirement for having more children.  Nor should it be.

      Myth #2:  We can't afford more.
      Ok, so there are times when this is valid.  Husbands need to be responsible, and do what needs to be done to provide for their families.  If you don't have a job, and aren't looking for one, how will you provide for these small humans who cannot fend for themselves?  I understand these concerns. But, speaking from experience, what would your children be lacking?
      • Clothes?  Hand-me-downs are great.  And when they are older, they prefer to wear the same outfits over and over anyway. . .
      • Toys?  Wow, don't even get me started on toys.  Most of them don't get played with. I can't even tell you how many Polly Pocket shoes I've vacuumed, doll hair I've cleaned up, and Lego's I've thrown away.  My kids end up playing "pretend" most of the time. And forts can be made with their blankets and pillows.  And usually, when one sibling is obsessing over something, the others will too. Thomas the Train is fun at all ages!
      • Extra activites?  I have to be careful here, or I'll have to eat my own words. . .but they don't need to know how to do everything. (ouch).  Lately I have picked just a few things that are important to us. And we scrounge to pay for them. And some we have scholarships.  But, honestly, we could do away with everything and still be okay. Just don't tell my husband I said that.
      • Food? Ok, I admit that my refrigerator is often empty at the end of the month.  But, home cooking is yummy. And I feed the 5 kids on $150 a week.  In a culture that is obsessed with having your fill and more, we think we have to serve these giant portions and that any twinge of hunger is a bad thing.  Well, actually, I've found that it's ok for them to be a little hungry sometimes.  They are healthy children and can wait an hour for dinner (most of the time.). I cook a healthy meal with real ingredients, they are hungry and so it's tasty, and since it is healthy no one needs to eat as much as if you ate at MacDonald's. And you won't have to worry about eating out.  Because who in their right mind takes 3 or more children to a restaurant on a weekly basis?
      So while it's important to provide for your family, check to see if it's abundance, security or cushion you are talking about.  If your current children have a room to themselves with so many toys that you could start your own toy library, then maybe another child won't actually be such a stretch. 

      Myth #3: I don't think I can handle more.
      I won't lie, parenting is hard.  But it is hard no matter what.   If you have one, he/she constantly demands your attention and sometimes has trouble interacting with peers.  If you have two, you'll feel divided in half while you try and juggle both children's needs. If you have three, you have more children than hands and you have to come up with a system to handle and control the chaos. If you have four. . .well, it's the same as three. Just noisier.  If you have five or more. change focus and your household becomes a team of contributors that you have to train, manage and oversee.  All family sizes difficult in their own way.  You don't think you can handle it? No one does. Yet, with prayer and God's strength, we do sufficiently.

      So should you have another? I can't answer that for you. I can tell you that the more you think about it, the  more impossible it will seem.  So stop thinking it over.  If there is even one iota of willingness in your heart, I say to go for it.  Because when you are 50 and your child-bearing/rearing days are through, you'll never regret having the one more.  But you may regret not having one more.

      Everyone's situation is different.  Every pregnancy is different, even for the same woman.  Every person has a different relationship with God. What He tells you is between you and Him.  Trust Him.  Obey Him.  He will never fail you.  Be open to what He wants. . .the outcome will be more wonderful than you can imagine. . .Just be sure that the issue of family size doesn't come from the world's list of requirements.  Having children can have eternal consequences. . .especially in your own walk with God. . .So let Him guide you. . .

      Christmas 2010. .Don't ask me what's going on with Zoe. But there always has to be one kid who doesn't cooperate.

      "Look Mommy!  I'm a knife!"

      Camping with Daddy. Yes, without me. Totally do-able. . .

      You do the best you can with the best you have. . .It all turns out fine in the end.

      Kids? To Have, or Not, and How Many?--Part 1. . .Blog Day #22

      "Did you always plan to have a big family?"     Nope.
      "What made you decide to have a big family?"     I didn't.
      "How many kids were you planning to have?"     One.
      "I don't know how you do it."     Me neither.

      Honestly, having 5 children was not on my bucket list.  There are days when I have no idea what I'm doing, or whether or not the kids will make it passed their tenth birthday.  There are days when they are unsupervised outside, playing hide-n-go seek in other people's front porches, and leaving traces of wrappers, chalk, socks, shoes, and toys all over the neighborhood.  I've been admonished in more than one store to keep my kids in check.  And I have, more than once, yelled at the kids to get out of the refrigerators at Costco.

      I know this doesn't make big families sound very fun. . .But they really are.  Despite the constant chaos and the never-ending workload, I wouldn't trade my life for anyone's.  It is an honor for God to believe that my husband and I are suited for such a task: to raise five human beings to know Him, to make decisions based on what they've learned, and to love people the way God does.  Not an easy task, granted, but a noble one.

      That said, I want you to set aside any preconceived notions of big families (especially Jon&Kate+8).  Family size needs to be thought of from the beginning.

      And by the beginning, I mean your marriage.  Yes, marriage.  I know there's a trend for unconventional means of parenting (single by choice, gay couples, unmarried but living together, etc.) and those I can talk about in a different blog if you wish.  But I'm going to assume you are married, or about to be.

      As soon as you walk down that aisle and speak your vows in front of witnesses, you have become a family.  You are no longer two separate people, but two pieces of one unit striving to move together in one direction.  In-laws, relatives, friends, parents all become secondary to your spouse.  Every morning is a choice to love the other, even with morning breath and bedhead.

      And this choice to love creates an atmosphere of intimacy. . .Emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy.  God created us for this.  It is why, even at an early age, we desire to be loved and wanted.  But this level of "giving yourself away" is reserved for marriage.  That is why, when you have a good marriage it is so rewarding.  And when you "fail" at marriage, it is so heartbreaking.

      Marriage is the most important relationship to work on and cultivate.  Nothing, aside from a relationship with Jesus, comes before your spouse.  This is including the discussion of children, or even the children themselves.  Disagreements happen, and common ground can seem hard to negotiate.  All I can say is, soften your own heart and ask God what He wants.  Look beyond your own desires and love your spouse, no matter what.  Don't take things into your own hands, but wait for God to lead the way.  With that in mind, let's look at the issue of having kids.

      "I want another, but my wife/husband says no more."
      "We are definitely not having any at all. . I'd be a terrible parent."
      "I'd love to have a big family but we just can't afford it."
      "I'd have another, but my husband never helps and I don't think I can handle it."
      "Kids are expensive. I'd like to be more prepared."
      "I see how crazy the kids are down the street, and I don't think I can do that." (whoops, sorry)

      I've heard statements from all over the gambit.    Some are valid: "It is dangerous for me to have any more."  Some are not: "I like being able to do whatever I want whenever I want."  In the Bible, there is not an explicit command: "Thou shalt have two children, one girl and one boy."  Some people claim that having children is something commanded of us as a married couple.  Others believe, especially with the new forms of contraception and birth control, that we can choose whether or not to have kids and how many.

      I come a little in-between.

      Yes, we can choose.  But we can also choose to eat a box of chocolate bars.  We can choose to go 90 on the freeway and get a ticket or crash.  Or go 45 on the freeway and get a  ticket or cause someone to crash.  Life is all about choices.  Even to sit on the couch and do nothing is a choice.  So what matters is not whether or not we get to choose, it is what we choose.

      Here's where I recommend that you let go of your unalienable rights to choose. Some people get so caught up in the right to choose, that they forget that it's making a right choice that is relevant to this conversation.  And just to spite, they choose wrong in order to prove that they can.  I believe this to be an atrocity.  We are talking about little human lives here, not whether or not to obey Mom and Dad's rules.

      And I'm not just talking about abortion.  I'm talking about the ability to choose to have even one child.  From a Christian perspective, I think that putting your foot down and refusing to have children, for whatever reason, is walking on thin ice.  Who are we to dictate to God what we are and are not going to do?  Who are we to think that we know better than He, Maker of the Universe?  I might be stepping on toes here.  All I'm asking you to do is check your heart.  Is there arrogance there?  If you were to have a conversation with a couple who are physically barren, would you seem like a petulant kid in your refusal?

      I do not, at all, want to minimize the fact that children are a huge responsibility and there is a chance that we, based on our own childhood experiences, might warp a young one's mind.  There is a mountain of commitment involved, and extreme humility required to be successful.  And despite all our efforts, the children will turn out the way they will turn out.  But God is to be trusted.  The children will also turn out to be who they are supposed to be despite all our shortcomings.

      So no kids at all by choice? I'm not sure I would agree it is a good choice. It is yours to make, and you might feel very justified in the decision, but I urge you to look at the reasons.  If you claim to trust in God, to believe in the teachings of the Bible, then I would look passed the finances and workload and look to the blessings.  For leaving a light in this world also involves leaving a legacy of God-loving children, who in turn shine bright lights to those they come into contact with.  And the blessings are more than you can even imagine.

      To Be Continued on Blog Day #23

      Little One Day Old Hank. . .
      So big! (Christmas 2010)

      Charlotte and Zoe. . .Parenting is not just about the workload and inconvenience. . .It's about living life to the fullest.
      And it's not about being a perfect person with the perfect circumstances. Children are blessings. Not just for you, but for the world.