The Joy-Robber

The Joy-Robber

I’ve recently been thankful for the character growth that happens when school events give me an opportunity to help my kids to understand and frame their experiences.

As my daughter’s spring concert approached, she lamented that she wasn’t chosen for a speaking part or for a solo. I responded out loud that not everyone gets to do everything, and I reminded her that one of her friends had practiced hard every week to develop her singing ability.

It was a very short conversation, and we moved on. My daughter’s concert came and went, our whole family watched to support her and her classmates, and she loved it.

A couple of weeks later, my daughter mentioned during our walk home that some of the girls at school were asking their friend, “Why did YOU get to do the solo?” And my daughter said that she was sad that they had that attitude.

First of all, I totally understand that attitude – because I’ve felt it often before in my own self. Envy: it’s ugly, it robs us of joy, and it starts so early in life.

As I walked with my daughter, I tried once again to find some words to help her process this experience. I told her, “I’m so sorry that they are saying that. It probably hurts your friend. But the girls need to understand that…” And I trailed off, trying to find just the right words that were full of truth and grace.

“…that not everyone gets to do everything, but everyone gets to do important things,” my daughter filled in quickly.

I was in shock that an 8-year-old had just spoken words that I hadn’t even thought of, but words that are so true, not only for children but also for us as adults.

How often do we long for an opportunity that we don’t have? Or wish that we had a better yard for our kids to play in? Or constantly check social media, hoping for more re-tweets or likes? Or want a job that more enjoyable, or meaningful, or more financially beneficial?

Those desires are not wrong; often they can motivate us to learn, to take a risk, and to grow. It’s not wrong for a child to want a solo in a concert and to take the steps to make it a reality. It’s not wrong to want a fulfilling job or better experiences or more connection with other people.

The trouble comes when we see others who have those things and then begin the comparison game. Envy turns us against other people. We long for the opportunity that someone else has. We walk past our neighbors’ yards and wish that those yards were ours. We feel downcast and lonely because someone else is getting the amount of re-tweets and likes that we were hoping for. We do our jobs with drudgery because what we really want is the job that our colleague or our acquaintance has. Envy puts walls between us and others, and it steals the joy and delight that we could be experiencing. It’s no wonder that the Bible labels envy and selfish ambition as “demonic” (James 3:13-16).

It’s true – I have desires and plans for new things. I don’t want my life to be stagnant in relationships or in purpose. But I love the freedom that comes from knowing that what I’m doing now is also important. At this very moment, I cannot do everything that other people can do, but I am doing something important. Knowing that truth gives me freedom to cheer other people on and to savor the opportunities that I have right now. And I will refuse to allow envy to rob me of joy. I hope that we can experience that freedom together, and I will be ecstatic if my kids can grasp that early in their lives.

“Not everyone gets to do everything, but everyone gets to do important things.”

 

Why Parents Should Do (Some) Fun Things (Sometimes) Without Their Kids

Why Parents Should Do (Some) Fun Things (Sometimes) Without Their Kids

I went on a whirlwind trip to Japan last weekend. Without my children.

The timing made sense. It was the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, so my husband had some days off of work and could be with our kids while I was away. I have a friend who has lived in Japan for four years, and it just so happened that Pentatonix was doing a concert in her city. I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t want to catch up with a friend and see Pentatonix live before Avi leaves the group?

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But for my kids, it wasn’t that simple. My son has mentioned, without having ever seen the place, that he wants to live in Japan when he grows up. And my daughter enjoys Pentatonix as much as I do. The day before I left, I reminded them that I was leaving, and they both broke down in tears: one because I was exploring Japan without him, and the other because I was seeing Pentatonix without her.

I am not a heartless mom. I felt terrible. But in the end, I’m content with my decision to leave them behind for a few days.

Here’s why it’s important for parents to do some fun things, sometimes, without their children.

  1. It teaches children the benefits of delayed gratification. I’m confident that my son will someday see Japan with his own eyes. I assume that my daughter will begin to enjoy other bands and probably see some in concert. Now is not the right time for them to do those things. But while they wait for the right time, they can develop patience, and they will actually enjoy those gifts more because they’ve waited.
  2. It gives children a sense that there are benefits to being adults. A good friend visited me a couple months ago, and she mentioned that when she was a child, she wanted to grow up. There were aspects of being an adult that she was excited about. In contrast, it seems that nowadays there are plenty of children and young adults who would rather skip adulthood. Sure, there are parts of adulthood that aren’t easy, but to be honest, there are also parts of childhood that are difficult. Being an adult does come with different responsibilities, but also with different benefits. And because I’m working on raising adults, I want my kids to see my husband and me enjoying adulthood, both our work and our play, so that they can look forward to the privileges that come with growing up.
  3. It refreshes the parent. I spent the weekend with constant people and sightseeing, which tends to be tiring for me. But surprisingly, by the end of the trip, I was full of energy and ready to get back to my work at home, probably due to extra sleep, meaningful conversations, and a change of environment. My heart was overjoyed when I returned home and could give my husband and each of my kids big hugs, and I had determination the next morning to do some hardcore house cleaning.
  4. It reminds children how much they appreciate their parent’s presence. My children did not suffer in any way while I was gone; actually, they thrived on extra special time with their daddy, and they discovered that he cooks really tasty spaghetti with fresh veggies. However, when I arrived home, those kids couldn’t wait to shout “welcome home”, nearly knocked me over in the doorway, and began to run around showing me all of their new tricks. My short absence gave them a renewed enthusiasm to spend time with me.

And so, I hope that you do (some) fun things (sometimes) without your kids…

In addition to doing (lots) of fun things (often) with your kids.

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10-year Anniversary… With Children?!

10-year Anniversary… With Children?!

Where I’m from, a 10-year anniversary is a big deal. We celebrate every decade of marriage, but especially years 10, 25, and 50.

As my husband and I approached our 10-year anniversary, I said to myself, “This is so sad. This is seriously how we will spend our anniversary together this time?” You see, we had booked tickets to Disneyland, and we would be staying at the Toy Story Hotel on the night of our anniversary. With our three children. How romantic.

I’m sure that some of you would dream of going to Disney for your anniversary, but I thought of all the places to which I’d love to travel… without children. New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, really anywhere. I thought back to Costa Rica, where we adventured and saw Arenal during our honeymoon, and to New York City, where we experienced “The Phantom of the Opera” for our 5th anniversary.

But now we live an ocean away from our parents, and our kids needed to be with us. So I resigned myself to the fact that we just wouldn’t be able to get away on a short trip alone together this time. We were stuck with the kids.

I moped internally, tossing around the sense that going to a theme park with children did not constitute an appropriate 10th anniversary celebration. I could almost hear Jim Gaffigan laughing at how exhausted we parents would be.

I compared what we did in Costa Rica on our honeymoon versus what we would do at Disneyland on our 10th anniversary. And strangely, the more I compared the two, the more my mindset and attitude began to transform.

Costa Rica perfectly suited us as newlyweds. We could go somewhere international, experience a bit of another culture, spend a lot of time lounging around together, eat beans and rice and paella, drive through the countryside, and hike through the rainforest. We needed that. We needed the time to get to know each other and to enjoy each other.

Now here we are, ten years later, not with only the two of us, but with three kids as well. Being ten years into marriage with children in tow shows a change in our relationship. Our children are a reminder of how far we’ve come as a couple. These kids are the tangible demonstration of the love that my husband and I have for each other. When we are gone someday, our children and their children will be part of our legacy.

Disney perfectly suited us as a couple with young children. Our theme park adventure was indicative of the stage of life that our family is in, and honestly, that stage of life is exactly where I want to be ten years into marriage.

While I’m still a big fan of husbands and wives getting away together for a date or a short trip, I hope that all of us who are parents can gain the perspective that our children are not nuisances preventing us from what we could be doing, but that they are gifts borne out of the intimacy and strength of our marriages. That’s the best anniversary gift.

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The two of us enjoying Costa Rica for our honeymoon.
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The five of us enjoying Disneyland for our 10th anniversary.

By the way, we ALL loved Disney and… we got fireworks for our anniversary!

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Happy anniversary, Josh! Thank you for 10 years of adventure together. I’m looking forward to many more!

The Sophomore Slump

The Sophomore Slump

The sophomore slump.

 

I came up with that term after working for several years with university students. Most of the students I interacted with had a fantastic freshman year, full of intense growth and exciting experiences. Although they began their sophomore year with anticipation, most became discontent, disillusioned, and critical. Of course, there were always exceptions, but the trend was so great and so terrible that it deserved a name.

 

This summer closed the books on our second year of living overseas as a family. In the late winter, I had encountered my first personal sophomore slump. Just as I had never identified exactly what triggered university students to slip into it, I have yet to completely rationalize why and how my despondency came.

 

I have no doubt that this is a common experience among people living abroad, and whether it comes in their first, second, or tenth years makes little difference. Even some of you who don’t live overseas may have experienced or may be experiencing a deep downturn. For that reason, I’ll write a bit about what the slump looked like for me.

 

Crying. Lots of tears. For three months, from January through March, I cried every single time I went on a date with my husband. Once a week for three months. Can you imagine? My poor husband. We would be at a restaurant when I would break down, and because staring is accepted as normal in this culture, people would start looking. And because it’s rude to blow your nose in this culture, I would dab at my nose with dozens of tissues, while all of the people would stare even more at this strange foreign lady who had tears streaming down her face.

 

In addition to the tears, I became withdrawn, critical, negative, and decidedly lacking in joy. Even things that would become the greatest blessings to me in the spring began for me with no emotion. A friend had asked me about the beginning of something new, “Are you excited about this starting this week?” I shot back a quick reply. “No. I’m not excited about anything. But it will be good.”

 

What I can say for certain about those three months is that I felt as if I were drowning in purposelessness. And comparison wasn’t helping me feel any better. I knew coming in that I would have six months of resting and waiting to see what it was that I was supposed to be doing in this place while my husband was working. But after a year and a half of learning humility and patience, I was done. I found it incredibly stretching and difficult to have such a wide background in public speaking, administration and event planning, advising and supervising, leading and facilitating, and to now be known solely as the mother of three children. I wanted to be happy and thankful for the gift of time to work at home with my kids. While I had always viewed being a wife and mother as one of the highest callings, I couldn’t suppress the sense that there was something additional that I was made for and wanted to do. But I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t want to add more activities to my life just to fill the void.

 

At the same time, I felt alone. We were contemplating a change of schools for the kids along with a potential change of homes, the house we lived in had problems that I needed to somehow address with our landlord by using my broken Mandarin, one child developed itchy eyes due to an unknown allergic reaction, and another child began wrestling with questions of what is real. At the time, all of these things were under my jurisdiction. All together, they overwhelmed me.

 

In the midst of that season, I had thoughts about my life that a person doesn’t dare to speak aloud. All I can say is that I am so thankful that I’ve been trained to reject those lies immediately and to replace them with truth.

 

Having come out on the other side of those months, I’m amazed at the grace I received in the midst of it. I learned some things that seem now like no-brainers, such as the fact that I have a husband who is wise and can help me with some things! A group of extraordinary women from several countries unknowingly influenced our decision to keep our kids in the same school, and that decision was confirmed quickly after we made it. I saw clearly some of the darkness in my own soul that affected my marriage, and I kicked it out. My children have grown in relational and emotional development, and I’ve savored the deep conversations that we’ve shared together.

 

I recently read a Psychology Junkie article from August 2, 2015 entitled How Each Myers-Briggs Type Reacts to Stress (And How to Help). While personality and temperament indictors do not dictate how a person lives, they can be helpful in understanding more about yourself and why you respond in the way you do. For me, this article stated what I experienced but would not have been able to put into words.

 

Here are some of the things, according to the article, that stress my personality type.

 

“Having to focus too much on sensory/concrete details” – check. Think laundry, housecleaning, cooking, and all of the tasks that consume a mother’s time.

 

“An overload of sensory stimulation or noise” – check. Think renovations next door that sound like a jackhammer in your living room from 9am to 6pm, and when going out to get some relief from that, there are always the 24 million people who call this city home.

 

“Interruptions” – check. What can I say? I’m a mom.

 

“Not enough alone time. Too much extraverting” – check. People in my house, people outside of my house, people everywhere.

 

“Lack of appreciation or understanding” – check. It’s getting better actually, but there’s not much affirmation by little ones for all the tiny things you accomplish for them each day.

 

“Unfamiliar environments with overwhelming amounts of details” – check. Moving to a new country will do it.

 

“Not having a clear direction” – check. I’m still waiting…

 

“Not being able to use their intuition or envision the future” – check.

 

“Having to focus too much on the present” – check.

 

Having a basic understanding of these stressors will hopefully enable me to take better care of myself in the future. I can find a place of quiet, I have a plan for alone time thanks to my husband, and I can let housework go sometimes so I can have space to dream.

 

The most important thing is that I know Someone who gives hope instead of despair and joy instead of mourning. And that Someone has not abandoned me.

 

I’m quite happy to say good-bye to year two because I’m planning to take into year three the things that I loved: my friends, my good conversations, my stronger marriage, my commitment to raising my children, and my joy.

 

And junior year is always better.

 

So long, sophomore slump.

The Humility of Motherhood

The Humility of Motherhood

Four days after I gave birth to my first baby, I thought, “What did I get myself into?!” I simply wanted to eat when I was hungry, take a shower when I was dirty, and sleep when I was tired. But even that was a luxury in those early days and nights of three-hour feeding cycles. I prayed, “God, I really didn’t want to learn how to become unselfish…”

The second and third babies weren’t such a shock. I knew what to expect, and by then, I knew that I would come out of that phase to see daylight on the other side. I knew that five hours of sleep in a row makes a person feel like a normal human again.

The newborn stage thrust me into the graduate school of servanthood: learning to lay down my rights for the sake of someone else’s success. But now my youngest has just flipped over the three-year-old mark, and we have hit the preschool and elementary school stage.

I would love to say that I’m a rockstar mom, but my children know the truth. Most days we get along alright, but sometimes after interacting with my kids, I walk away with the sense that I totally said or did something wrong toward them.

Today, I took one of my children to the doctor for this child’s eyes have been stinging for over a week. It’s definitely not pinkeye, but it’s something strange that the doctor called “very unusual.” The doctor quickly added to try to stop said child from rubbing the eyes. Right. So at bedtime, I tried to say something that would motivate this one to keep the hands away from the eyes. I said goodnight, went upstairs to get ready for bed, and was immediately convicted that my “motivational” speech was fear-based, untrue, and hurtful.

Sometimes, exiting their bedroom, after tucking the kids into bed, is a miraculous feat. I really didn’t want to go back in for fear that I would never get back out. But I did. I laid down beside my child, and I said, “I’m so sorry for what I told you earlier. It was wrong for me to say that to you.” And I went on to explain the truth of the situation, and then the truth of who that child is and always will be: loved.

And I realized tonight that I’m in a new graduate course, the humility of motherhood. I could pretend in front of my kids that I always get things right, but they would know it’s a sham. So I want to be honest before them. I want to lay down my pride, admit when I’m wrong, and ask for forgiveness. I want to be sensitive and quickly responsive in those moments so that there is little time for bitterness or for walls to be built between us.

Each of us mothers (and fathers) have so much influence and authority over our children. What stops us from coming clean with our kids? Sometimes we are too arrogant because the truth is that we know more about almost everything than our children do. Sometimes we are too fearful that our children will despise us if we admit that we are imperfect. But our small children observe and internalize much more than they can consciously interpret or verbalize. The way that we respond to our own wrongdoings, whether ignoring our faults or dealing with our faults, will be noted and copied.

May each of us be filled with the courage to quickly and frequently humble ourselves in front of our children and ask them to forgive us when we have truly done something wrong. And may that example set the foundation for them to also have the courage to right their wrongs toward others.

One day, after my daughter stormed upstairs and cried about an argument we had, I went up and apologized first. I stated what I had done wrong, and I asked her to forgive me. She reciprocated, and we shared a good bonding experience together. She looked in my eyes and said, “I love it when we say sorry to each other. It feels so much better.” And I agree.

11 Ways That Your Freshman Year of College is Like Being a First-Time Expat

11 Ways That Your Freshman Year of College is Like Being a First-Time Expat

To new expats and to new university students: Welcome!
May you experience all the best while avoiding the “Freshman Fifteen” and “Expat Eleven”.

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After being a university student for four years and then working with InterVarsity for the next eleven years, I still live according to the rhythms of college life. So naturally, I connect experiences as a newbie expat with the experiences of a typical newbie college student.

 

1. You don’t know where anything is except for your room/house/apartment.

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Welcome to your new campus or country! Find an exploration buddy and work outward from your location in concentric circles.

Don’t worry about wandering around with campus map or iPhone in hand. Everyone else who was a newbie did the same thing. Residents might laugh at you and mutter “Freshman!” or “LaoWai!”, but that’s better than getting lost.

The good news: wherever you wander, you can always find your way home.

 

2. You buy expensive food because the store/restaurant/cafeteria is closest to you and that’s the only place you know…

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