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The woman and her garden

10 May

My first (and maybe only) short story…not sure why I’m writing it but felt that I needed to get it off my chest. It’s not really a happy story so please feel free to skip.

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There once was a woman who had become ill with cancer. She knew that she was sick and needed surgery but kept putting it off because she feared that she would not survive the life-risking treatment that was necessary. So for a long time, she continued to live with pains from the disease rather than to have the cancer cells removed from her completely.

Now the one thing most important to this woman was a garden she tended. From bare soil she and her husband planted everything together, eventually making it a beautiful garden that flourished. The woman enjoyed her garden so much that she feared neglecting it should her recovery become slow and long.

Finally, her family convinced her to undergo surgery because she was no longer able to care for her beloved garden the way she wished. So she bravely went under the knife hoping that once free of cancer she would someday be able to take better care of the garden.

Fortunately, the surgery was successful but it left the woman very weak. She was alive but just barely. When she was released to recover at home, the woman was ecstatic. Even though it took twice as much time t and effort to tend to her garden, she was once again able to take care of it!

Her family was concerned about her taking care of this garden on her own; they try to help her whenever they could but tending the garden gave the woman so much joy that she didn’t mind. So slowly but steadily she made her way and walked to the garden every day.

Now, this woman originally had a husband. At first, he too, was quite concerned about her illness. Together they tried everything they could to help ward off the disease. But in the end the cancer cells spread to most of her body and the husband grew weary and felt too worn down to continue to care for her. So with the understanding of the family, he parted from his wife and entrusted her care to her family. The family was sad to see him go and wished that he would come alongside her recovery but they knew that he had his own life to live and that the uncertainty of her recovery was too much for him to handle. Since she was no longer that healthy woman he had married they could not expect him to carry her for the rest of his life even though on their wedding day the couple had vowed to stick together in “sickness and in health.”

While the woman and her husband had separated, they shared a genuine love for the garden they had built. So they agreed to share in the responsibility of tending to it. So at different times, they would each tend to it and the garden continued to flourish despite the dramatic changes that had happened in the couple’s life.

Although this garden was private, the roads that led to it were not. So it was somewhat dangerous for the woman to make her regular visits using the public road since she was slow and not very alert. But because it gave her great joy and hope to go to the garden, her family quietly supported her regular visits but at the same time they warned the neighbors about this woman’s condition hoping that they would take extra care when driving down the road.

In spite of this, one day, tragedy happened. While the woman was making her way to the garden, a neighbor drove down the road and hit her head-on. The driver wasn’t driving very fast, maybe even a few miles below the speed limit but the woman was too slow to get out of the way. The driver could see the woman on the road and thought that the woman could see her too so surely the woman could have gotten out of the way. But the woman didn’t see the driver and couldn’t move out of the way fast enough so she was hit by the neighbor’s car.

The neighbor was sorry to have hit the woman. The woman’s family knew that since the road was public, the neighbor had done no wrong in using the road that day. But there were other roads to get out of the neighborhood and only one path to the garden. So they had hoped that the neighbors would sympathize and show extra consideration to the woman, at least until she fully recovered.

After the accident, the neighbor offered to take care of the garden for the woman. But the woman refused. The neighbor couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t accept the help because she too thought the garden beautiful and wanted to help take care of it. But the only thing the woman kept thinking about was how much she wanted to tend to the garden herself; a task that she didn’t want to entrust to just anyone.

Later, the family of the woman found out that the neighbor who had hit the woman with her car had already been helping to care for the garden – except she was doing it with the woman’s ex-husband, and only when it was his turn to tend to the garden. “He needed extra help,” she said. “So I was being neighborly in giving him a hand.” When asked why she didn’t visit the garden while the woman was there tending to it, she replied, “Oh, but I am good friends with the husband. She has her family to help and he’s all alone.”

So the woman lay in the hospital, with only a photo of the garden to remind her of its beauty. She is working very hard to recover quickly so she can get back to tending to it again. Some days she’s very sad about how slow she is progressing. And she fears that even when she is finally discharged from the hospital, she won’t be able to tend to it in the same way she used to before the accident. But her family assured her that she will grow stronger each day and that her loving care is what makes the garden flourish.

As for that neighbor, the family didn’t hear from her again. She never did visit the woman in the hospital or expressed regret for having driven down the road that day. “It was a public road and I was driving the speed limit, so the woman should have been more careful,” she said. Since that accident the neighbor continues to drive down that road regularly, maybe even faster now because she knows the woman is no longer walking on the road.

The joy of Resurrection Sunday

24 Apr

After a busy morning of attending a child’s birthday party at a playhouse, lunch, and spring plant shopping, we finally returned home around 2:30 pm.

And by 3:30 pm all of us were feeling the tiredness of the morning so we decided to nap at the same time, which is very rare for our household.

When N is in bed with us I usually have a hard time settling because he likes to wiggle, talk, and generally move around a lot before falling asleep. But when he finally did, I too settled into a light sleep.

Around 5:30 pm C and N woke up and left the room but I was still half asleep so I decided to nap longer though it seems like my mind started to process some things in the background…

Then around 6 pm all of a sudden I felt a great sense of excitement. “Tomorrow is Easter, resurrection Sunday!”

Having been a Christian for as long as I can remember, I find it incredible that I should have this thought and feeling now, so many years after I committed my life to Christ.

But it’s true. Today, I felt the undeniable sense of joy and anticipation because “Tomorrow Jesus will be risen!” Of course, since Jesus rose a long time ago, tomorrow’s celebration is just symbolic. But there was this new excitement in me that’s unexplainable – as if I was celebrating Easter and the resurrection of Christ for the first time.

Then the words to the song “Because He Lives” ran through my head:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living just because He lives!

For the first time I truly “buried” myself with Jesus on Good Friday. So today, hours before the new dawn, I can look forward to experiencing God’s promise that there will be victory over death and destruction. And realizing what will (and has) come felt as if the unbearable load has been lifted off my shoulder, leaving an amazing sense of lightness of being and freedom.

Of course in the morning my circumstances will all still be the same. The events and relationships that plagued me during the week and in the past year have not changed. Come Sunday morning the clock will not be turned back and what was lost will still be gone. I will not be any wiser to what the future holds and trials will still come my way.

Yet, I have a new “I want to sing at the top of the mountain” kind of joy. I know it sounds trite but truly, “Praise be to God!”

Last night before sleeping I handed over to God, all of my greatest desires and dreams. I know that the old feelings of doubt and anxiety will surface often so I asked for peace and joy that is beyond understanding and today I received His blessed assurance.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living just because He lives!

Burying our best with and for God

23 Apr

I’ve never been a regular blogger but this past year it was particularly hard to publish any thoughts not only because of having a second child, but mainly because there was a sudden “death” in the family.

It happened about two weeks before I gave birth to E, after a wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas with the whole family. Then right before the New Year, our world turned upside down.

Even now, over a year later, we still mourn and grieve. Family celebrations haven’t been the same since and in our happiest moments a quiet, heavy sadness remains.

This week was a particularly hard week to ignore that deep sense of loss.

And this morning, I was so broken that I had to recall the words of this song to keep myself going.

I lift my eyes up to the mountains

Where does my help come from

My help comes from you

Maker of heaven, Creator of the earth

 

Oh how I need you Lord

You are my only hope

You are my only prayer

So I will wait for you

To come and rescue me

Come and give me life

I lift my eyes up to the mountains where does my help come from

(Based on Psalm 121)

As I hum this song to myself in a low, halting quiver, a thought came to me.

So this is the heart of God! Although it’s only partial, I finally have a glimpse into the agony God must have “felt” on Good Friday – in burying Jesus Christ.

As Christians we like to stress the positive – we lavishly celebrate Easter Sunday, toasting the resurrection of Christ, but how many of us take the time to dwell on the pain and suffering of Good Friday? And by “dwell” I mean really wallow in it?

And even when we do, we still sometimes miss the point. When God asks us to die to ourselves, we often focus on giving to Him our brokenness. After being convicted of our vast sins we gratefully put all of our failures on the alter – to be covered in Christ’s salvation and to have our transgressions cleaned.

But that’s just the first, initial death. He asks us to die to ourselves constantly.

And God is not simply asking us to place our worst before Him. He is asking us to hand over our best self – our highest aspirations and achievements. Our biggest hopes and dreams and not just the ones that are already broken.

On that Good Friday, our God buried His Beloved Christ, at the height of His greatest hour. Just as the world was beginning to experience His awesome power, God allowed Christ to be nailed to the cross and die for us, with the full knowledge that we will repeatedly betray that sacrifice.

I realized today that that’s the crux of my suffering – I want to hang on to my deepest desires and memories when God is offering me a complete overhaul.

On this (and each) Good Friday, He is asking me, “My child, are you willing to give up your best of everything? Are you willing to bury your most cherished relationships, talents, achievements, hopes and dreams?”

Because that’s what “dying to self” means – not withholding anything from the complete renewal (think “replacement”) and transformation of me, especially the “best” parts of me. When God asks me to confess my sins and give up my worst self, I am glad to obey because who wouldn’t want a better life? But when He asks for my best, to be replaced by His best – I am reluctant because deep down, I like my life the way it is. But tonight I hear Him say, “Jenny, hand it over to me. ALL of it, even the things you don’t want to have replaced.”

To be honest, this is a sobering realization.

But our God understands the pain it involves; He has already experienced this kind of loss Himself. On Good Friday He buried the best part of Himself. For you and for me.

The good news is that on resurrection Sunday, Christ DOES overcome and a brand new me WILL emerge from death with Him. Not only that, this is not a process that I am to go through only once a year on Easter weekend, it needs to be an ongoing sacrifice.

So tonight, on Good Friday, I will draft a list of my most cherished everything. I will reflect on this list and pray to hand them over to God. He has asked for all of me – which includes not only the worst but more importantly, the best parts of me and my future as well. And going forth, I need to do this daily until dying to myself simply becomes a natural state of being.

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Thank you Lord for answering my call for help today. Please accept this reflection and dedication as my act of worship tonight. In Jesus’ redeeming name I pray.

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Waiting for a good year…

9 Jun

Our second son, E was born in January of this year so obviously there are some very good reasons to like this year but to be honest, C and I can’t wait until 2010 is over.

We started the year with some devastating news about the failing marriage of one of our dearest couple friends. After 10+ years of marriage, they’ve decided to split. We don’t know if (but lately the question seems to be “when”) they will formalize the separation or actually get back together. Sometimes there seems hope for reconciliation and other times, it feels like watching a beautiful home crumble into a rock pile.  It’s hard not knowing what will happen to our friends and sometimes I wish I could fast forward the time to 1 – 2 years from now. Our friends have been together far longer than many others I know. Their love and marriage was what made me want to be part of a couplehood. Back when I was single and C wasn’t anywhere in sight, I spent a lot of my weekends at their home, crashing their “date nights.” I was there when 2 of their kids were born and my friend was my biggest help during the first two years of motherhood. So watching this separation is like watching a loved one fight a losing battle with cancer.

Of course, there’s no time machine for going forward or backward in time so we can’t do anything but wait, which is probably the hardest thing to do in a painful situation.

Tonight I bottled a second batch of umeshu, plum wine. This is a popular DIY project in Japan every spring when green plums appear on trees. The ingredients are simple – just 3 things – fruit, rock sugar, and alcohol. Separately the 3 ingredients aren’t very good. The fruits are hard and sour, the sugar is too sweet, and the alcohol…well, let’s just say, it puts hair on your chest.

But you mix everything together, leave it in an undisturbed corner, and in about a year’s time, the mixture will turn into this fragrant, nectar-like wine. If you can wait a few more years, the result will be even better.

The first time I had some homemade umeshu was back during when I was studying in Japan. Before the end of my program, one of the Japanese teachers invited us to her home and she served us a batch she made herself. I can’t remember how old that batch was but I’m guessing at least 2 – 3 years. So when she made it, she probably didn’t know who she would eventually share the wine with…

I’m not sure what is going to happen to our friends but I’m praying hard.  I am hoping that a good year will come eventually. And when it does, I’ve got a nice bottle of homemade umeshu to toast with.

Just popping my head up to say ‘hello’

4 Apr

I don’t have many readers so I’m not sure who notices that I haven’t updated in a few months but a few friends who do have said that they’re curious about what I’ve been up to so I thought I’d post a quick update.

First, as you all probably can guess, things are busier now that Noah is 17-months old (time jets!). He’s now down to 1 nap a day and sometimes they are short, giving me just enough time to eat lunch.

In addition to joining 2 playgroups, 1 recreational class, and MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), we also make regular visits with the grandparents and Noah’s cousins. I’m a homebody and would love to stay in most of the time but our boy is in the “exploring” stage of his development so we spend at least half of the day “joyriding” around town (Noah recently [finally] switched to a convertible car seat and loves long drives) running various errands.

But more importantly, I guess I haven’t been blogging because I haven’t been wanting to “distill” and reflect as often.

One reason for this is because I’m finally reading some new parenting books, beyond titles such as “Toddler 411” and “What to Expect The First Year.” Now that I’m a little more confident with handling Noah’s day-to-day physical needs, I’m starting to think about how to nurture his other developmental needs and how to define our parenting “perspective.”

I know that some of you probably have already thought through these issues BEFORE having children but Charlie and I aren’t the kind of parents who can grapple with these issues hypothetically.  Even though being sleep deprived and busy isn’t the best time to dive into this kind of reflection, I find that the book discussions have stronger resonance because we are deep in the trenches.

I’m still going through all of the books (I tend to start and read 3 – 4 books concurrently) but some of the titles that are giving me food for thought are: Parenting Inc, MotherStyles, The Hurried Child, I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids, and a few other Chinese titles (I’ll update these later if anyone is interested). Hopefully I will come out of this reading hibernation with a better sense of my identity (and philosophy) as a parent and a stay-at-home-mom.

The other reason that I’ve been “off line” until now is because of some “sadness” (for lack of a better word) that happened last year. I’ve debated for a long time on whether to blog about this (and actually wrote 2 draft posts) but in the end, I’ve decided to just mention them and move on…

So…the biggest sadness is that my old pastor, the one who married Charlie and I, ended his marriage after having an affair.

Then after that, our friend passed away from heart failure, after her failed marriage.

A few weeks later, a childhood friend’s baby son died in the NICU after a premature birth.

Then the college-aged daughter of a church member died in her sleep despite being in apparent good health.

I don’t know why these things happened. To be honest, I don’t have the kind of close relationship with these people to have the “right” to suffer and feel any pain….but still, there was this dull, mild depression that sat in the back of my mind. The feeling is like being a witness to a multi-car accident with many casualties…and not being able to shake the memory of seeing the tragedy.

Like I said, these things didn’t happen to my close family or friends. And our lives really weren’t impacted in any way except when I sat down to reflect on life.

But I don’t have any answers. And only God knows what He has planned for us. So I’m going to blog about them here and move on. I do, however, take comfort in the hope that someday we will all see each other in heaven again (God willing), even my old pastor, whom we (my girlfriends and I) now refer to as “Darth Vader”.

I’m sorry if this post puts a damper on your week but I promise to be back with more uplifting (or at least less heavy) updates. I just needed some place to “dump” all this and I figured, the black hole of cyberspace is a good place to bury everything.

In any case, until next time..may everyone enjoy the fresh spring and cheery weather.

An ordinary kind of love…

23 May

Breakfast

Today after a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs (with green onions), Taiwanese sausage, and steamed buns, I left the house for a few hours to run some errands. When I came back, I noticed that the Le Cruset pot that was sitting in the sink had been washed and is now sitting on the side to dry.

Normally these things don’t stand out to me but they did today because Charlie did them despite being very sick with a bad cold. In fact, he was so sick that he’s been mostly in bed for the past two days.

Just a few weeks ago though I wasn’t as appreciative of these acts of “love.”

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On Mother’s Day I woke up with great anticipation – this was my first official Mother’s Day and I was excited to see what surprises Charlie had planned for the day.

“What do you want for breakfast?”

“Oh, whatever you feel like.”

“Okay, how about ham and cheese on toasted bread?”

“Sure.”

“You want coffee?’

“Only if it’s decaf.”

So, breakfast was the usual. Nothing special.

Then we went off to Sunday worship service at church, followed by a Mothers Only lunch with the other ladies at a nearby restaurant. Charlie watched Noah like he always did when I’m out with friends.

When I got home Noah had already been fed and put down for his nap. And there was a card waiting for me. It was signed by both Noah and daddy. “Sweet,” I thought but I was looking forward to the “real” surprise.

But it never came. I had homemade breakfast, then time to myself, and a card. All very nice things but where’s my present?

That night I went to bed a little disappointed. And Charlie after learning about my disappointment, became sad too.

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I’d like to say that I woke up all cheery the next morning but I didn’t. It took days of moping before I snapped out of the funk.

What’s the big deal about getting a present and why did it bother me so much that I didn’t get something?

“Was it because your sister got an ipod?” asked Charlie. “But you already got a new one last Christmas so you don’t need another one” he said.

I am not sure why I was so bummed about Mother’s Day and at first I thought that it’s because I was having trouble with my new identity as a stay-at-home-mom and receiving a gift would mean that I was doing a “good job” (kind of like getting a bonus or raise at work.)

But this week, I realized that I felt disappointed that Sunday because I get special treatment every day. Ironically Mother’s Day wasn’t special because every day was already “mother’s day.”

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Every morning I wake up to fresh homemade breakfast. No matter how rushed Charlie is before work, he always makes sure I get my protein and he pulls the espresso shot for my Americano right before I get to the table so that it will be fresh and hot.

About once every other week I meet up with my friends for some R&R and Charlie always takes care of Noah so that I can fully relax.

I hate loading up the dish washer and washing all the heavy pots and pans so every night before bed Charlie makes sure to load up all the dishes and wash by hand the ones that don’t fit.

All this I enjoy regularly whether it’s Mother’s Day or not.

So, so what if I didn’t get a big flashy bling bling for giving birth or that breadmaker on Mother’s Day?! I’m happier that every day is full of small acts of love than having only one day when I receive special treatment.

Charlie, I am sorry for taking these things for granted. Thank you for making each ordinary day extraordinary.

*The photo is one of the breakfasts I regularly enjoy. On Mother’s Day we made it “special” by eating outside.

A life unexamined…

3 Apr

I haven’t been blogging lately for various reasons – some old friends of ours are going through a divorce and the news is preoccupying my thoughts; I’ve been busy on the weekends and am generally recouping on the weekdays…and Noah’s been more active…etc.

But I do miss being able to keep account of our days so hopefully I will establish a blogging routine soon.

Until then here’s an entry from my Noah Diary for this week.

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We finally figured out why Noah has been fussy for the past three days. He came down with a cold yesterday evening and had a runny nose all day. No wonder the poor kid was whiny and needed to be held all yesterday. Considering that this is his first cold and how miserable he must be feeling, Noah is actually being a trooper for not being more needy, unlike someone else in the house *cough cough*

Still, Noah’s cold is taking a toll on me. Because he either whines or howls when put down, I had to carry him most of the time and even using both the Hotsling and Baby Bjorn didn’t help much. By the end of the day I was exhausted and my back ached.

Instead of staying asleep once his nighttime sleep started, Noah woke up once every 30 or 45 minutes and needed a lot of comforting before falling back asleep. Doing this 3 – 4 times quickly took up all of the downtime that Charlie and I usually had to relax and recharge before bed.

On Sunday night when Noah woke hourly from 3 – 7 AM I thought it was because he was over- stimulated from the weekend’s activities (friends’ wedding and banquet on Saturday, large family dinner on Sunday) but when he continued to do this on both Monday and Tuesday night, I knew we were in trouble.

By Wednesday (today) I was pretty worn down and tired. Fortunately, this morning Charlie had the foresight to stay home and telecommute so I got a much needed one-hour nap in the afternoon even though I could hear Noah’s whining and crying halfway through my sleep.

Again, we can’t complain because as difficult as runny and stuffed noses are we didn’t have to deal with any fevers or throwing up. And even though it tiring to have to soothe Noah back to sleep every hour, that’s nothing compared to having to hold him all night.

As for Noah, well, other than having some unsavory slime drip out of his nose all day, he had to watch Baby Mozart 3 times (1.5 times each in the morning and afternoon while I was sleeping). I felt bad about putting the DVD on ‘Repeat Play’ but I guess this is what kids do when they get sick – stay home and watch a lot of TV.