Thursday, April 08, 2010


For the past few months our washing machine that we bought 6 years ago when we bought our house, began making loud clattering sounds during the spin cycle. And despite the racket coming out of the machine, half the time, the clothes still came out sopping wet. In past weeks, the noise got so bad that it woke our kids when I washed clothes after bedtime, and one night I thought an intruder had entered our house. When it completely stopped spinning full loads, it was time to Google. And quickly I saw a bleak future for our Frigidaire front loading machine. Frigidaires, it turns out, are the pills of all front loaders despite what the nice Sears salesperson said to me six years ago when I forgot my Consumer Reports printout at home.

I told Scott that I thought we needed a new washer. He said he thought I was angling for a new washer because I’m jealous that both my sisters have these gigantic capacity front loaders with all the bells and whistles. He’s right.

Everyone in my nuclear family agrees that I lack the spiritual gift of appliance shopping. That somehow between wanting to save money and Consumer Reports recommendations, I end up purchasing lemons rather than the top-of-the-line products my siblings purchase. And then we all regret it. Refrigerators, dishwashers, washers, dryers—all failures in my purchasing prowess.

So I followed Scott's recommendation to see whether it was a quick and cheap fix and called the washer repair guy. He came over, stuck his hand in the machine, tugged at the drum that wobbled back and forth and said, “That’s it, you need a new machine.” As Google had already informed me, he said the cost of the fix was at minimum $900. Plus the $69.95 I was going to pay for his 2 minute assessment in confirming Google. Like I said, we’re not gifted in appliances here.

But the repair guy made me feel even more paranoid about my ability to purchase a new appliance when he said that he sees 100 Frigidaires for every 5-6 Whirlpools, but that all front-load washers have at most a 5-10 year life-span, and that top loaders have a 10-15 year life. He basically said we’re at the mercy of companies that make self-destructing machines--just plan on it.

So of course, I had to get back on the computer and do research. Among other things I found out that Cash for Clunkers for appliances begins April 22nd and I can get a $150 rebate if I can get a reservation that day on-line. And companies may be offering great rebates at the same time as incentives.

I decided to see whether we can make it to April 22nd. I firmly instructed all three kids they had to wear each pair of pants at least 2-3 times. One child (who shall remain nameless) pointed out that I had ordered this same child to wash pants each wearing because said pants reeked. I said I assumed this child had finally learned how to properly wipe after pooping so that there was no reason for pants to smell after one wearing. Another child, who’s known to throw every sweater and fleece in the hamper after just minutes of wear, was threatened within an inch of said childish life if I found a single piece of outerwear in hamper. By the end of the week, the piles in each hamper were admirably small—still fitting within the baskets instead of toppling over.

But when I told the kids I was taking the laundry to the Laundromat down the street, independently, both girls said, “What? But then people will think we’re poor!”

I worried when we moved to Winchester that my kids would become entitled spoiled brats. Now I don’t have to fear anymore, because they indeed have become entitled spoiled brats.

“We’re not poor, so what does it matter what people think of us?” I asked one daughter.

“It’s embarrassing! What if my friends see us? What if they see my underwear out there in public?”

Given how none of my three kids seems to have minded friends seeing their underwear strewn around our family room when they’ve refused to fold clothes, or strewn around their bedrooms when they haven’t bothered with the hamper, I don’t see the big deal with the Laundromat, except of course, that then they look poor as well as slobby.

I drove the laundry to the Laundromat, defended the sixth washing machine I had filled from a woman who wanted to wash just one towel—felt like a jerk, but please, if I let her take that washer, it would have added a whole cycle to the time I had to wash clothes.

Over $30 dollars in quarters later ($18 for 6 washer loads, umpteen for 4 minutes of drying time each quarter, plus the 4 I lost to the defective dryer), I realized that despite how using a Laundromat might make us look poor, it was really for rich folks. At that rate, in one year I could literally buy us a $1560 new washing machine. At that rate, by the time April 22nd comes around I might have spent darn close to the $150 rebate I’m hoping to receive since our 6 loads didn’t include washing sheets, or the load I ended up taking home to dry, and relied on our kids faithfully wearing only 2 pairs of pants a week.

So maybe I should go ahead and buy the washer now, even without the rebate. But that still leaves the question of what to do with my spoiled entitled kids, one of whom said to my challenge, “Well we live in Winchester and no one uses the Laundromat, what do you expect?”

I have to say I can’t wait for our kids to join the proletariat when they go to college and are forced to live a life of public washers powered only by quarters. Think we’ll let them come home to wash clothes? No way.

And then there’s that other question, the one that no one, not even Consumer Reports can answer—what machine, and how will I ever receive the gift of appliance discernment?

Thursday, April 01, 2010


(This short article was written for the April edition of InterVarsity "About Women" staff website, therefore only available to InterVarsity staff!)

Growing in Self Clarity

The first time I directed a conference, even though it went well, I was left with bitterness, exhaustion and loneliness. Despite enjoying a growing ministry, I felt engulfed by demands and 70-80 hour workweeks. Driving home with my boss Bobby, we talked about how I felt driven by my "life parable," the parable of the talents, compelled to use the two talents God had given me and turn them into four.

"I think you need a new life parable," said Bobby. "Maybe the parable of the vineyard where everyone works a different amount but gets paid the same?"

"But I hate that parable - it's so unfair!"

Bobby grinned, "Even more reason that might be a good new life parable!"

In that moment, Bobby helped me question my theology, my motivations and my orientation towards God — an essential moment of self clarity.

Using Pots of Clay

As InterVarsity staff, the primary instrument we bring to campus ministry is our whole self - our ethnic and gender identity, gifts, motivations, sin patterns, and life-stage. We are complex creatures who reflect the glory of God's image as well as the notoriety of the fall. Our hearts are deceitful beyond all things (Jer. 17:9) yet God chooses to use our leaky little pots of clay (2 Cor. 4:7) to pour out the good news of Jesus Christ. The better we know our instrument, the more we continually grow in self-clarity, the more God can use us.

As women, investing in self-clarity can feel self-indulgent. Because we so easily lose ourselves in our roles — mother, wife, sister, daughter, staffworker, supervisor, friend — we can forget that God created us as individuals for Himself. We can forget that Jesus seeks to know us, like the good shepherd looking for his lost lamb,. In the process, He helps us know ourselves as well.

Spiritual Disciplines

Here are some spiritual disciplines to help us grow in self-clarity:

  1. In Examen we ask the Holy Spirit to help us look at our actions and motivations each day with honesty, patience and grace. We look for the work of God, and our response to God's action, responding with thanksgiving, penitence and petition.
  2. In Community, if we are brave enough to risk hard conversations, we can learn how we impact others, both positively and negatively. We often learn our hidden sins from those we have power over more than those with power over us, which is why 360 reviews are so helpful. Honest talks with spouses, friends, students, and colleagues are all ways to get helpful feedback.
  3. Learn everything we can in Conflict. The older we get, the more we have the same conflicts. This is a sure sign that God wants us to work on some sin pattern or brokenness within us!
  4. Personality Tests OK, maybe these aren’t spiritual disciplines, and I admit I'm a personality test junkie. But tools like Myers-Briggs, DISC, Enneagram, Strengthfinders and SIMA have all been incredibly helpful in understanding myself, how I work with others, and how I can grow. They’re a perk in IVCF, so take advantage of them!

What am I still learning almost 20 years since that conversation with Bobby? I am not a workaholic. Neither am I a perfectionist. Instead, I’m a responsibility driven woman with a significance addiction that came in part from the way I was raised by Chinese immigrant parents. I am complex. I am broken. I am juggling a lot with 3 kids and a husband. And all that has implications for those who live with me, work with me and love me. But as I grow in self-clarity, which always leads to humility, the glory of God shines from the cracks of my clay pot.