Thursday, December 06, 2012

Good News or Bad News?

Instagram by Lisa Calderon

60 days after my last period and the day after I’d taken a home pregnancy test that gave me the blue plus sign, I called my OB/Gyn’s office.  “I think I’m pregnant.”

The receptionist paused, and in a careful voice asked, “Is that good news or bad news?”
“Good news!”  I said.
“Great!”  I could hear the relief in her voice.  “Then we’ll set you up for an appointment and start taking care of your baby.”
Over the years, her words have stayed with me.  “Is it good news or bad news?”  If it were bad news, the conversation would have veered in an entirely different direction, and I’m pretty sure my “baby” would have been called a fetus, or maybe not referred to at all.
2000+ years ago when the angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her she would conceive and give birth to the Son of the Most High, Mary also seemed to struggle with whether his words were good news or bad news.
Gabriel assumes he’s bringing great news to Mary—what could be better news than hearing that God dwells with her and thinks she’s so amazing that He wants her to bear His son, a son who will rule over a kingdom that will never end?  Mary’s people have been waiting over 400 years for God to show up, to speak again, and now she gets a personal message from God?!?   Good news indeed!
Yet Mary’s response seems mixed—she responds with fear, with questioning, and greatly troubled feelings.  This child may bring good news—even great news for her people and her world—but in the short run, there may not be much good news for her personally.  Her fiancĂ© Joseph’s going to have a hard time believing God got her pregnant and the stigma of being an unwed mother could last the rest of her life.
Sure enough, Joseph doesn’t respond well.  He wakes up to find the woman he was planning to marry is pregnant, instantly making him the laughing stock of small town Nazareth.  The Bible says, “Joseph was a man who always did what was right, but he did not want to disgrace Mary publicly; so he made plans to break the engagement privately. (Good News Translation)”
For Joseph, doing what was right meant leaving Mary but not calling for the Old Testament consequence for fornication—stoning.
Then God gives Joseph his own angelic visitor, who tells Joseph to reject fear, to marry Mary, and to trust in a higher purpose, for the son she carries will save his people from their sins.
Both Mary and Joseph respond with acceptance and obedience to the angelic messages promising goodness and suffering.   Good news, blessing, God’s favor and promise all mixed up with fear, suffering and confusion at the same time.
I too often experience God coming into my life with those mixed emotions.  Because when God shows up in my life, He messes things up—my neat plans and dreams, my status, my sense of self.
The birth of Ling-Ling, that child for whom I said her birth would be “good news,” was a case in point.  I knew I wanted kids—wanted them more than a great career and outside acclaim despite my addictions to significance and achievement.
When she was born, my love for her swept me away.  But that lioness mother love didn’t mitigate what felt like suffering:  not sleeping more than 90 minutes for 8 straight months; saying no, and no, and no again to awesome professional opportunities for the next 16 years; the identity crisis that crashed onto me as my addictions weren’t fed, an identity crisis that reappeared with child #2, and then again with child #3.
My sufferings are small compared to Mary and Joseph running for their lives, hearing about the Slaughter of the Innocents they escaped, and living in Egypt as refugees.  So far my sufferings are small compared to those suffered by Mary, who would eventually see the child that she carried for 9 months, birthed, raised and eventually followed, be whipped, humiliated, tortured and die.  My sufferings are small, but they’re sufferings nevertheless, hardship in the midst of an overflow of blessings.
The tidings of an angel:  good news and suffering; hope for the future and pain in the present.  But always with an amazing promise, the promise Gabriel gave Mary—the promise of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.  “God is with you and has greatly blessed you!”
Published first in the Advent blog, daily writings from Greater Boston Vineyard writers during Advent.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Dealing with Disappointment

Sometime in the very near future, half our country’s going to feel disappointment.  You may fall in that camp, or maybe me. Because my husband and I are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, someone in our marriage is going to be disappointed. How can we deal with our disappointment in a way that helps our kids (and ourselves) learn resilience?
Some weeks ago, 2 out of 3 kids faced major disappointments. Weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued.  One got the worst part he’s ever had in the fall play, one didn’t reach her goal to make varsity on a cross-country run.
They were sad, sadness made worse because their friends succeeded where they didn’t, which made them jealous.  So then they felt guilty as well—that they couldn’t be as happy and encouraging to their friends as they should because they felt so deeply disappointed.
Watching them suffer, I felt almost as bad as both of them.  Over the past weeks there have been various responses by family members as well as my sad kids, responses that may be tempting at the end of this election cycle as well:
  1. Blame someone or something:  The director’s unfair, the shoes didn’t fit, the media is biased, the other side’s lies prevailed.
  2. Blame the victim:  If only you’d worked harder, if only you practiced more, if only you kept your room clean, you’d be the sort of kid who’d be able to achieve your dreams.
  3. Stop caring:  If I just decide I don’t care then I don’t have to hurt anymore
  4. Just quit:  If I can’t achieve my goals, I don’t even want to try anymore
  5. Work harder and try again:  show the director or your teammates how good you can be.
Any of these responses might be appropriate with various disappointing circumstances—sometimes we should blame someone else or ourselves, sometimes it’s worth it to quit or stop caring.  Most of the time, it’s worth it to work harder and try again.
But perhaps the best thing to do, at least initially, is to mourn.  To just be sad.  To say, as a friend used to in hard circumstances, “Darn.”
After 9/11, my pastor encouraged our congregation to respond to the tragedy by “grieving cleanly.”  Since then, I’ve thought about that a lot, as I tend to deal with disappointment by blaming everyone and everything.  Grieving cleanly means mourning and feeling the pain without inflicting more pain on others.
The promise when we grieve cleanly, as Jesus said, is that those who mourn will be comforted.  When we mourn with God, we remember that God, not our loss–or Obama’s or Romney’s–defines our hope and future.
So tonight or tomorrow or in the days to come, I’m going to try to grieve cleanly or walk with those who do.   How about you?
What healthy ways have you dealt with disappointment?
How have you helped your kids?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Making "Special" Time

Back when Kai-Kai was born, my pediatrician told me I needed to have “special time” with 2 year old Ling-Ling—time set aside just for her even if it was only 10 minutes a day.  “Then when you can’t give her attention, you can remind her that you will have special time later in the day.”

Well I didn’t do it.  And it wasn’t like Ling wanted any time with me—she coped with a new sibling by ignoring me for an entire month—wouldn’t look me in the eye, wouldn’t let me hug her, wouldn’t let me do anything for her at all.  “No!  Grandma or Daddy!” she’d insist, head down, averting her gaze.

After she started talking with me again, I was so overwhelmed with 2 kids that I didn’t even try to make special time.  I never could figure out how to stagger their schedules enough for time alone with a kid—especially when I was doggedly attempting to keep their nap schedules synchronized so I could work my job during each afternoon nap. 

My pediatrician’s words haunted me for years to come.

All that changed 6 years ago when I realized the girls were old enough to be left and I could take advantage of the “babysitting” Ren’s tae kwon do classes provided.  From then on, once a week, each kid got 50 minutes of “special time.”

99% of the time, I buy them a treat.  Occasionally, a kid wants to do “Dance Dance Revolution” or be taken to Staples—but even then, they still want a treat.

Whole Foods has been a favorite haunt because the gelato’s delicious, cheap, and there’s nothing better than free snacks scattered around the store.  We scavenge our way through fruits, then cheese, then sidle to the meat case to see if there’s sausage, then around to seafood (where there’s always smoked salmon dip with crackers these days), then to dessert, and finally back to gelato where we sample at least 2 flavors before ordering.

Then I buy gelato for the kid but not myself because soon into our “special time” routine I learned that my waistline can’t take 3 extra desserts a week.

Most of the time the kids just want the treat.  They look forward to special time and ask for special time because they want something sweet and delicious.  Most of the time the conversation’s pretty superficial, and they’re ready to head out as soon as the treat’s consumed.  But every now and then we have a deep conversation, one where I’m able to hear my kid really share.  Even rarer, sometimes a kid actually wants some of my input.

Yesterday, Kai called me on her way home from cross-country announcing that she had very little homework and was available for special time.  “I don’t know if I can,” I said, “I have to walk 2 miles to the auto shop and pick up Dad’s car before 5:30.  You could walk with me and then we could get a treat after.” 

To my surprise, she agreed.  So we walked and chatted and when I asked, “How’s cross-country going?” a stream of conversation started that lasted for the next 25 minutes. 

I think I like “walking” special time better than “treat” special time—there’s not much to do other than talk when you walk.  Plus I get more steps on my Fitbit.

 And feel less guilty when we have cannoli at the end.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What Top 5 Attributes Do You Want to Pass On?

Tonight Kai came home with a homework assignment and said I had to help.  “I’ve been through 9thgrade, I don’t do my kids homework,” said I, the loving, supportive, full of energy Mom of the year.
“Mom!  You need to help me—it’s an assignment.”
“Where?” Suspicious.  “Let me see the assignment.”
“Mom!  I’m so hurt!  You don’t believe me??  Nobody else’s parents don’t believe them!  This is supposed to be a learning experience between us.”
She showed me the assignment.  She was right.  Oops.
So here’s the assignment:
Create a list about the 5 attributes you’d want for your kids and grandkids—compare and contrast.
So I took 5 minutes to write my top thoughts–both easier and harder than I initially thought.
Here’s my list:
1.     Vibrant authentic relationship with God/Jesus
2.     Healthy, life-giving relationships—family, spouse, friendships, community
3.     Meaningful work that adds value to the world and can sustain them
4.     Healthy life patterns of moderation, exercise (mind, body, spirit, emotion), rest, work& fun
5.    A joyful sense of gratitude at the abundance they’re given that leads to generosity, hospitality, fruitful stewardship and a sense of responsibility for those who aren’t as blessed.
Here’s Kai’s:
1.     Love of reading-believing a good book can be better than television
2.     Really bonding relationships with friends—loving them, being supportive
3.     Compassion towards everything and everyone—being empathetic
4.     Being able to have perspective on life—seeing the good and being able to deal with the bad
5.    The ability to be humble and modest
“Wow!  Yours are so deep compared to mine,” said Kai when I read mine aloud.
“Well I’ve had years to think about it,” I said.  Pretty much the sum total of my parenting years in fact.
She laughed. “I knew you’d have the God piece. My friends all think you’re super religious and super cheap.”  Apparently, one friend thinks it’s funny that I took them out for lunch because my Groupon was expiring that day.  I like to think that’s frugal and generous at the same time.
Her list made me smile—I guess Scott and I preach about reading, friendship, perspective and compassion more regularly than grandiose visions of the good life—but it’s good to see that she’s absorbed something!  I’ll take “believing a good book is better than television” any day!
What top 5 attributes would you like to see in your kids and grandkids? 
What legacy would you like to pass down?
You may also be interested in reading:
This was first published on What She Said

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Can You Take the Heat?

Before they married, Mama told Baba she wanted to raise her children as Christians.  He agreed, neglecting to tell her until after their wedding that he was actually an apostate.  Throughout my childhood, Baba’s apostasy brought out the energy in him.
Baba and Ren
Baba and my son at Tuanapalooza 2012–a Disney cruise celebrating Baba’s 80th birthday
“I,” he would proclaim, pointer finger in the air, chuckling with glee, deep dimples carving grooves into his round cheeks, “am an APOSTATE!  Ha ha!”
I never understood why he thought this was so funny, or what an apostate actually was.  Yet that this word merited not only the raised finger, but chortles and a devilish glint behind his tortoiseshell glasses, didn’t bode well for his eternal life in heaven.
When I found out that apostates purposefully leave their faith, presumably because they’ve lost all faith, I was even more horrified.  For while there may be some grace for those who backslide, for those who purposefully turn their backs on Jesus–chuckling no less–surely only damnation and the fires of hell await?
Then, when I was in 8th grade Baba came back to Jesus.  And I began to learn his faith history, a great story I don’t have space to give justice.  In sum, as the first Chinese to win an Open Scholarship to Oxford, Baba dreamt of becoming the first Chinese Oxford don (professor).  All this internal pressure led to a near nervous breakdown during his finals at Oxford.   A lady campus minister who loved internationals prayed with him and introduced him to Jesus.
4 years later, when his mother died of pancreatic cancer, he rejected the same Jesus who had saved his mental health.  Although the doctors saw no hope, Baba spent all night in the hospital chapel beseeching God for his mother’s life.  She made a turn for the better.  And then she died.
It felt like God didn’t just stab him with a knife, but twisted and turned it with glee.  He didn’t stop believing God existed.  He just didn’t want to follow a God who allowed such pain.  So he became an apostate for over 20 years.
Tomorrow, I direct a graduate student retreat with 201 attendees where we’ll study the story of Daniel and his friends with the theme “Can You Take the Heat?”  Sunday we’ll focus on Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego who are thrown in the fiery furnace for refusing to bow and worship the idol King Nebuchadnezzer creates out of gold.
Baba says if he had read or understood the faith of these 3 friends, he would never have become an apostate.  Like Baba, these men were international students living in exile.  Like Baba, they’d been extraordinarily successful.  But when faced with a crisis, they said:
King Nebuchadnezzar. . . if we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it. . . But even if he does not. . . we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. Daniel 3: 16-18
In the same exuberant way he used to wave his forefinger and proclaim his apostasy, Baba now proclaims, “That’s what I didn’t understand!  Their God is ABLE to deliver them, but EVEN IF HE DOES NOT!!!!  They still will not bow.”
God sometimes says yes and sometimes says no.  But no matter what He says, the good news is God shows up in the furnace–the fourth figure in the fire.  In the story, the 3 friends can “take the heat” because God shows up to bear it with them.
55 years ago, Baba’s fragile faith couldn’t handle God saying no.  It’s hard for me too.   But 55 years ago, in the furnace of grief, Jesus stood with Baba in the pain even if he couldn’t see Him.  And 35 years ago, Jesus welcomed Baba back–raised forefinger and all.
This was first published on What She Said

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sex and Superglue: Talking with Kids in a Hook-Up Culture

I was a virgin when I got married at the ripe old age (back then) of 28.  I’ve kissed fewer men than the fingers on one hand.  I didn’t have a “serious” boyfriend until graduate school.  And for all those sexless, boyfriend-less, not being the sought-after-object-of-mens’ desires years, I felt pitiable, like a loser.  Even though Jesus was my boyfriend and I staunchly wanted to be a woman whose self-esteem didn’t rest on how men regarded me, it was hard.
Now my personal history feels even more foolish in light of Hanna Rosin’s Atlanticarticle Boys on the Side about how the practice of hooking up, rather than something to be derided, actually empowers women.  As Rosin writes:
The most patient and thorough research about the hookup culture shows that over the long run, women benefit greatly from living in a world where they can have sexual adventure without commitment or all that much shame, and where they can enter into temporary relation­ships that don’t get in the way of future success.
I’m not going to argue with her assumptions (read Amy Julia Becker) or her use of studies (even though my inner sociologist cringes).  Instead, let’s talk about emotional and spiritual damage, not to mention risk of pregnancy, disease and abuse.
Rosin seems to believe, as does our larger culture, that sex is a purely biological act with no emotional or spiritual overtones, a biological and necessary need.  She justifies that hooking up doesn’t seem to get in the way of intimacy, citing
 one study of college seniors where 75% of students hooked up an average of 7.9 times, but 74% also reported having a relationship in college that lasted at least six months.
Can I say that measuring capacity for intimacy by how long a relationship lasts lacks nuance?
My pastor Dave Schmelzer gives the best analogy I’ve heard for the power of sex—one I use with my kids often—so often they can almost chant it each time the topic of sex comes up.
Imagine that you’re a sheet of cardboard.  Sex is like superglue that glues 2 pieces of cardboard together—very helpful if your hope and goal is to be bonded to one person in marriage for the rest of your life.
Now imagine what happens when you rip 2 super-glued sheets apart.  Chunks of my cardboard are stuck on the other sheet, leaving holes, wrinkles, and tears, while chunks of the other person’s cardboard are now permanently stuck on me.  Then imagine super-gluing your wrinkled sheet of cardboard repeatedly with various other pieces of cardboard.  After 7.9 of those sticks and rips, how’s your cardboard going to look?
I firmly believe that Jesus can and does heal the worst of emotional and spiritual damage–that even if your cardboard has been through 79 sticks and rips, God can heal and make whole what’s been broken.
But I’d rather my kids not have to go through the pain of being ripped apart.    I’d rather them go through as much of life as possible whole.  Even if it means they spend young adulthood feeling like losers.
This was first published on What She Said

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fitbit How I Love Thee!

“You’re going to love this!!” Scott crowed when he got home, “This is going to change your life!”

The flower grows based on how active you’ve been the past 3 hours
And he gave me. . . a pedometer.  A very expensive pedometer that we never in a million years would have bought for ourselves, but took when his workplace offered it for free.
But the Fitbit is not just a pedometer, it’s also an altimeter which logs how many flights of stairs I walk, a calorie counter that shows how many calories I’ve burned, and a cheerleader that flashes little messages when I pick it up after it’s been lying fallow.  Most interesting, at night, when you wear it on your non-dominant hand, it measures how well and how long you sleep.  Plus it syncs online.

Scott was right.  The Fitbit has changed my life AND my marriage.  The first day, when Scott learned that I had climbed 5 more flights of stairs than him, he promptly ran up and down our stairs 6 times.
According to Fitbit, I’m supposed to walk 10,000 steps a day, climb 10 flights of stairs, and burn 2,184 calories.  The steps and the calories have been quite the stretch.  In order to hit 10,000 steps each day, I generally have to take an extra 2 mile walk downtown and back.
The 2,184 calorie goal feels astronomically out of reach.  As a middle-aged, small-boned, Asian female, I need about 1400 calories/day to survive.  That’s dieting for most Americans.  An intensive hour-long spinning class burns 400 calories (300 according to Fitbit).  So I’d need to spin for 2 hours every day to hit that calorie goal.  Not happening.
But I have achieved some impressive milestones including:
  • 33,387 steps walking Paris one day (which according to Fitbit was equivalent to 12+ miles and 2400 calories)
  • Climbing 201 flights of stairs the day we hiked Mt. Monadnock
  • Averaging 6.21 hours of sleep in September (talking too much in bed with my sister while in Paris)
Why do I love my Fitbit?  Is it some legalistic workaholic strain in me that wants to obsessively measure my achievement?  Probably.  But I also love it because it gives me a daily read on reality.
Until I read Gretchen Reynolds’ The First 20 Minutes:  Surprising Science Reveals how we can:  Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer, I thought of myself as quite fit because I exercise 5-6 times a week.  But Reynolds writes that sitting is the new sugar—poison to our bodies.  Blood pools in our legs, our metabolism slows down, electrical activity in our leg muscles shut down.  Even those who exercise vigorously 7 hours/week experience deleterious effects on their health if they sit for more than 3 hours straight on a regular basis.
Well that’s me.  Between sitting at my computer, sitting at coffee shops, and sitting through breakfasts, lunches and conference calls, my life is sitting.
The good news, according to Reynolds, is that if we get up and walk for a minute every 20 minutes or so, we can mitigate all the bad effects of sitting.  My Fitbit keeps me accountable and stretches my goals.  I’ve even walked a couple conference calls!
Unfortunately, I sprained my ankle in Paris and have been hobbling ever since, sending my Fitbit scores to the lowest depths of all.  The only good part about spraining my ankle?  Scott can’t boast every day how he’s beaten me by 4,000 steps and 5 flights of stairs.
You may also be interested in reading:
This was first published on What She Said

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Abandoning My Kids for Paris

The Eiffel Tower on 9/9 as I stood under it!

Last week I did one of the most irresponsible things I’ve ever done as a parent.  I flew to Paris for a week—purely for fun—and left 3 children in their first full week of school without a parent at home.
My sister surprised me just a few weeks ago by inviting me to go to Paris—she had a business trip with free hotel, her husband had frequent flier miles, and she wanted to give me a 40th birthday present (7 years late!).  The only wrinkle?  Scott had a full week of business travel already scheduled.
So I said no.  I didn’t see how it was possible.
But then I told my girls, and after saying, “Take us too!” they both said, “Mom, you have to go—we can take care of ourselves.”  Call me crazy, but I actually believed them.  I trust they won’t throw a wild party or break into the liquor cabinet or have sex with random boys while I’m gone.  The only things I didn’t trust were their abilities to refrain from eating junk food and fighting with their brother.

Every single fellow mom I talked to said the same thing my girls did.  “You have to go,” often with an offer to take my kids.
So I decided to take the plunge into complete selfishness and immerse myself in Paris for 7 glorious days without kids.
Because Ling’s swim team carpool picks her up at 4:45 a.m. every morning, it didn’t make sense to send her to someone else’s home.  Helen, who lives across the street, agreed to take my son–I don’t trust him to go to bed on his own—plus this helped eliminate the girls on boy fighting.
Then Tara offered to stay at my house for the first 2 nights—she homeschools, her kids are portable.   I made 2 meatloafs, 1 lasagne, and stocked up on frozen Chinese dumplings so she and Helen could feed all our families, and flew to Paris.
Flowers at Paris Market
Flowers at the Market
It was WONDERFUL!  I walked over 30,000 steps each day exploring museums, sights, cafes and chocolate shops.  I took a bike tour.   I ate dinner at my normal bedtime—steak frites and sole and falafel.  I had a croissant or pastry every morning.  I talked until 2 a.m. with my sister as we lay in bed having a grown-up sleep-over.  I shopped the Parisian marketplace with my cousin who’s lived there over 20 years.
To the annoyance of my family, communicating was hard, so I didn’t talk to my kids for almost the entire week.  I emailed but only one child emailed back with a question about viola lessons and to both MIA parents:
Did either of you take my swimsuits off the drying rack and throw them in some dark corner?  Cuz I can only find one, and it’s the one that’s been sitting in my drawer since last year.
While I was gone, my friends had significant conversations and prayer with my kids—lessons better heard from them than me.  A blessing since apparently the most significant ways for teenage girls to grow in authentic faith is through being mentored by “aunties”—Mom’s friends who AREN’T Mom.
So all in all, it was worth it.  Although I last wrote about being a vacation failure, turns out I’m only a vacationing mom failure.
C’est la vie!
You may also be interested in reading:
 This was first published on What She Said