The Art of Rebuilding

Yesterday, I turned 31. 

I woke up before anybody else did that morning to get gas and go to the grocery store, since there were pretty slim pickings at the house. I wanted to have fruit and veggies in the house on my birthday.

I ended up run/waddling into the restroom at Safeway, since I had apparently left the house “too soon.” Oops!

I was very disappointed to not find a “birthday award” in my Starbucks account. I was looking forward to a free drink, as I had scored one last year on my birthday. Anyone know what the deal is these days or am I missing something?

When I came back home, the baby was already awake. As soon as she saw me, she started making those little sounds of desperation that babies do when they’re hungry and know food is near.

My husband and I had bagels and cream cheese for breakfast together. Then he left for work.

I spent the morning with my 10-year-old cooking and cleaning in preparation for the Noonday Luncheon I had planned for that day. I thought it would be nice way to celebrate – invite others to support jewelry artisans around the world in developing countries. No one came, due to sickness and schedules and other reasons they remained silent about. Well, except for the Noonday ambassador and my mom. It was a small little party. Lots of jewelry to try on! My 10-year-old enjoyed that.

Our pressing financial needs are ever before me, so I was still working from my phone all day, though, in retrospect, I could have been working “smarter.” There’s still so much to learn.

My baby joined us all at the dinner table in her highchair and ate banana for the first time.

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My dad spent hours making me the richest, 3-layer chocolate cake known to man, with buttercream filling and a layer of FUDGE for the frosting! We were all barely able to finish our one piece.

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My husband and daughter found a creative way to put “31” on the cake, so I was able to blow out a birthday candle.

After all the eating, we played Scrabble. It’s one of my favorite word games.

The point of this whole thing is to paint a picture. An incomplete picture. A picture of a life that is being rebuilt.

When I was in Taiwan, there were times I felt I had reached the peak of my existence. I didn’t need more friends. I didn’t need more adventures or stamps in my passport. I felt so alive and full. I had purpose. I had a community. Life was SO GOOD.

But if I am to let the past be a school that teaches me how to move forward, I would have to say that’s it when you reach the peak of anything, it’s only a matter of time until you have to descend. And this all for the purpose of scaling the next peak. 

I’m a sucker for analogies, so here you go:

There are mountain climbers who like to bag peaks in a matter of days. One such trek involved Mount St. Helen, Mount Adams, and Mount Hood – two climbers went up all three peaks over Memorial Day weekend last year. (Read their story here.)

Accomplishing that doesn’t mean they were just hanging out on mountain tops all weekend, hopping from peak to peak. They had to get to the top. Then they had to climb down to get to the top again.

I’ve realized, after 3 decades of life on Planet Earth, this is what life is like. Taiwan was the peak of just one mountain. And when I think about it, there were other smaller mountains I had already scaled before then:

  • Winning a Father’s Day essay contest
  • Winning the 5th grade spelling bee
  • Getting to perform a speech in front of 3 different audiences before I was even 14
  • Taking 3rd place in a speech contest
  • Employing myself as a piano teacher when I was only in high school
  • The colorful, exciting, and successful college years

Unexpectedly returning from Taiwan and not getting back on the plane almost three years ago, I found myself at the base of a brand new mountain.

And it took me a while to start climbing. Honestly, I really just wanted to turn around and climb the same mountain again. I missed what it felt like at the top.

But the reality is, the weather on a mountain, even the land and the snow conditions, is always changing. Even I did climb back up to the top, it wouldn’t have been the same. 

So here I am. Not even close to the halfway point of scaling another one of life’s mountains. This time, my husband and two daughters are climbing with me. 

And I always thought I would only need to build one life for myself.

 

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why i don’t want your $$$

My husband and I have been feeling pretty out of control lately. He said this out loud to me the other day. It’s a big deal. 

It’s a big deal when you don’t feel like there’s enough for you and your family. It’s a big deal when you don’t even get a cent of your paycheck in your own wallet for that occasional coffee or beer. It’s a big deal when you feel a sense of relief when one of your kids is out of town because there are no groceries in the house, and the thought of not being able to adequately feed her is awful.

We’re not homeless. We’re not helpless. We have beds to sleep in and clothes to wear, and SO MUCH for which to be grateful.

We’re simply weighed down by our not so stellar financial histories and a slough of debt.

It’s a big deal when all the bills still can’t be paid and you have debt staring you in the face.

We’re doing what we can. My husband drives for Lyft. I’ve started my own business with It Works, probably one of the most risk-free ways to go into business for yourself. We’ve tried selling stuff, only to discover that what we have really isn’t worth waiting for someone to pay a garage sale price for when our primary goal is simply to minimize our possessions.

This summer is a big deal for us. This summer, we make or break the bank by how hard we work, by how consistent we are, by our own diligence and discipline. After this summer, my husband’s job changes to a new and exciting position with a commission-based pay structure.

It’s a big deal for us, with a 10-year-old and infant at home, trying to make ends meet.

I never thought I would be here, in this place of financial panic and insecurity as a wife and mom. As a single female, it was terrible enough to be huddled in my apartment broke, trying to figure out how I was gonna get to work the next day so I could have money again. But it’s even worse now that I’m responsible for other people.

Instead of constantly hitting rewind and critiquing all the moves that got us here, however, we accept that we are here. We’ve come this far. No matter how much debt there is left to pay or how bad our financial choices of the past were, we’re still here.

Alive and kicking, for better or for worse.

And we plan on keeping it that way.

So I’m not interested in any of your money. This might sound like an odd statement to make, but I need to make it.

I need to to make it, because too many times I simply wish I had what “they” have. Their house. Their salaries. Their living situation. I just want their life to translate over into mine.

Someday, I tell myself. Someday their life will be mine.

What. A. Load. Of. Crap.

Nobody’s life is JUST theirs. Nobody’s money is JUST made. Nobody’s salary or living situation simply MATERIALIZES.

Everyone has a story – I’ve heard a lot of them, and now it’s time to live mine. Because my husband and I – we’re alive and kicking!

So I’m not interested in any of your money! Unless you’re buying something from me or paying for a service I provided, I don’t even want to know how much money you make.

I need to stay in my own lane here, block out all the distractions, and work toward financial independence for me and my own family.

Because financial independence is a big deal. And so is not having it.

But here’s the thing: it’s a big deal to accomplish financial independence. Once your there, though, money is not the point. It’s who you become on the way that counts. 

So, again, not to sound like I’m beating a dead horse or anything, but I’M NOT INTERESTED IN ANY OF YOUR MONEY. I’m interested in becoming the person capable of earning and managing the finances that my family needs. 

So here I go.

 

easy money

This is a true story.

Have you ever been scammed? I mean, like completely fell for something that wasn’t real and then found yourself robbed at the end of the day.

I almost did. It was months ago. I was trying to sell my hair. I found out that my hair was really valuable, that it could actually earn a pretty penny for my family. So I did some research, found some free online sites, and put up an ad for my hair.

The responses I got were encouraging. People wanted to buy my hair! I’ll have to admit that the communication style I was getting felt a little strange, but I plowed through. We needed the money! One guy made me an offer but wanted the hair that was STILL on my head in addition to what I was already selling. I had to turn him down.

Then there was the transaction that got as far as me holding a check for almost $2,000 in my hands. My family thought I was crazy. Why had I even given out a mailing address to someone who was only communicating to me via text? Why did this guy even have my number in the first place?

We needed the money.

I’ll admit I was torn. The whole thing felt weird, a little too good to be true even. All I had to do was cash the check, right? And that money would be mine.

Maybe it was my lack of adulting experience stateside. I had barely been back in the States for 2 years. I didn’t know how things worked. Maybe it was because I wanted to believe the best about people.

But I know what it really was: we needed the money.

I felt desperate. Desperate enough to be fooled by a check who’s credentials didn’t even match the identify of the guy who had contacted me, that was written by a company that didn’t even have a physical address, that came in a package that didn’t even bear the same address as the check.

I was desperate, not stupid. So of course after the whole scenario was broken down and dissected by my family, I handed the check over to the bank as fraudulent. Even as I explained the situation to the bankers, I could see in their faces that I had been scammed.

Flash forward to a week ago. I get a phone call from a man who tells me I’ve been selected to be the recipient of a $10,200 personal grant from the government, an amount of money I’ll never have to pay back or pay taxes on. Would I like the money, which was being held in the federal reserve for me, to be transferred to a bank account, card, or have in my hand as cash at the nearest Western Union store?

After some very brief post-phone call research, I discovered I wasn’t special even to receive such a phone call from the government. These phone calls were only made…by scammers.

I’ll admit, though, that I almost gave him my bank information. I thought about marching over to the nearest Western Union and following all the instructions he gave me over the phone. I mean, I went through with the phone call, inquired as to the authenticity of it, and just went with it. I didn’t hang up on the guy.

$10,200 (as arbitrary as the “200” part is) would change my family’s life.

Again, we needed the money.

I was desperate enough to stay on the phone, write down the instructions, and get butterflies in my stomach at the prospect of simply being given such a large amount of money. But I wasn’t stupid enough to follow through with my desperate yet momentary belief.

Scammers every where have a profound and emotional stronghold on those of us who need money. Who hang on paycheck to paycheck. Who try to hide the fact that we’re checking our bank accounts on our phones while waiting in line at the grocery store.

Scammers play on our desperation.

I’m done being desperate. I’m done being in constant need of more and decreasing the food budget so we can pay the month’s bills.

I’m not saying that money solves all of life’s problems and brings happiness. I am saying that there is a problem when a stay-at-home-mom like me, who has plenty of work experience, has even lived abroad, can speak two languages, and is a very gifted and passionate teacher, feels like her family is barely making ends meet WHEN WE LIVE IN ONE OF THE WEALTHIEST COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD. And my husband, who works the full time job, still drives for LYFT late at night not for EXTRA income, but to supplement our income. Because we’re not making enough.

No wonder scammers hit my soft spot! We need the money!

Unfortunately, that check I held in my hand months ago was fake. Had I cashed it, I would have been robbed, not to mention being suspected by the bank for just possessing the check in the first place. Unfortunately, the $10,200 that man on the phone offered me doesn’t exist.

THE MONEY WAS FAKE.

Why? Why should fake money even be a temptation when there is so much REAL MONEY to be had out there in the world? Why is fake money so easy to jump at, but making real money sounds scary – and possibly even difficult?

I consider cashing a fraudulent check, but I chicken out at the prospect of talking to people about making REAL MONEY.

Easy money is not real money. It does not make you a better person, or teach you how to budget, or challenge you to be financially independent, or empower you to help others. Easy money is fake and is usually always too good to be true anyway.

REAL MONEY, for some reason, always sounds too good to be true. And we always doubt it, like there’s some catch that will just cost us more in the end. What we seem to forget is that REAL MONEY TAKES WORK.

Real money is the stuff you earn through innovation, creativity, late-night work sessions, sweat, tears, and time. And when you make it, it changes everything and drives you to make more. And you are worth every cent you earned.

You can show up at a job and get paid. That’s real money, too. But being paid by the hour or the month is not the same thing as being paid according to how hard you work.

As a teacher with big dreams for my future, this was a challenging reality. No matter how good of a teacher I am, how many students love me, how many students succeed and improve and excel under me, I will always be paid the same.

And the thing is, I never taught for the money. I want to help people, but somehow I need to help myself financially as well.

So when a scammer calls with easy money, I answer. That’s a scary place to be.

A company that offers a $1000, $5000, $7500, $10000, $15000, $25000, $50000 bonus for the first time in its history – is that a scam? Or is that real money waiting to be made?

It’s real. I know it’s real because I’ve talked to the women who went after this money, worked hard day in and day out for it, and retired their husbands with it.

THAT SOUNDS INSANE. But it’s real, not easy. And it’s a possibility for ANYONE AND EVERYONE who will go after it. And put in the work.

I don’t know if I’ll retire my husband one day, but I do plan on working hard enough so that my husband doesn’t need to call me about buying a coffee. So that I don’t feel guilty for wanting to sit at a coffee shop and journal for an afternoon. So that a little thing like my google storage payment of $2.99 doesn’t get declined. So that there’s more than $50 sitting in our bank accounts at all times.

Again, I’m not saying that money is everything. I’m saying that too many of us are desperate and need money to the point of being scammed. It’s not right. We live in America, the land of opportunity.

I have found this opportunity through It Works, a company that is offering real money to anyone willing to work for it. People who are completely broke grab on to this opportunity, and they’re no longer broke. Someone went after this opportunity in a homeless shelter and completely changed their life.

People literally become millionaires with this company – and it’s not because they’ve managed to climb to the top of some pyramid where all the cash is. It’s because they’re getting paid according to their work ethic.

It’s because they’re putting in the work. They are helping people. They’re coaching and supporting others to get on board and earn real money for themselves.

You can’t fly solo and be successful with It Works. You have to build yourself up so that you can build others up, because this kind of success starts on the inside. It starts with how you feel about yourself.

Those who dream big and believe their dreams are possible get there. A single mom of 5 buys her dream after 4 years of hard work. And she’s not finished.

Now I’ll be completely honest. I’ve been with this company for almost a year, and I have nothing to show for it because I didn’t do the work. I’ve been stuck in that desperate mode, where fraudulent checks and fake grants are tempting.

I’ve finally come around to see what this can be be for my family. This isn’t a fraudulent check or a nonexistent personal grant from the government. This is real money.

And I’ve been watching real lives of real people that I have real conversations with being changed.

It’s my turn. This is my month. And I want anyone who feels like they can’t afford this venture to join me. Work with me. Because this isn’t a scam; it’s real, and it will change your life.

Money doesn’t wait around for you to make it in this business. You either make it or you don’t.

I’m gonna make it.

 

Running Solo: a gift & a lifestyle

No time to read? Then listen! Click here to listen to the audio version of this post. 

I’ve been thinking that the time we have to be single is really the time we have to get good at being alone. But how good at being alone do we really want to be? Isn’t there a danger that you’ll get so good at being single, so set in your ways, that you’ll miss out on the chance to be with somebody great?

The thing about being single is, you should cherish it. Because in a week, or a lifetime, of being alone, you may only get one moment. One moment, when you’re not tied up in a relationship with anyone. A parent, a pet, a sibling, a friend. One moment, when you stand on your own. Really, truly single. And then… it’s gone. ”

-How to Be Single (2016)

When the movie How to Be Single came out, I took myself out on a date. It was Valentine’s Day.

“One for How to Be Single, please,” I said at the movie ticket counter.

By the time the narrator was speaking the words I quoted above, I was in tears. As a “chronically single” female at that point in my life, I was feeling every word. It was so true!

I also felt the words of Paul:

 “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: it is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do…

“Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgement as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.”

-I Corinthians 7:8, 25-28

Without getting too theologically deep but also to avoid taking Scripture out of context, Paul was basically addressing certain lifestyles that were being practiced among some of the Corinthian church members and SEX. Sex was everywhere, just as it is now. Sex has always been there, from the very beginning of time!

Movies like How to Be Single and shows like Sex and the City (I’ve seen every episode of every season, btw) just prove that sex is everywhere and, in many cases, sex is everything. This doesn’t make it easy to be single, and it makes it even more difficult to be celibate.

Because unlike some of the characters of the movie, I was chronically single and celibate. No past boyfriend or relationship. Had I experienced pain and heartbreak? Oh, yes – one does not need to be in a romantic relationship for that. (Can I hear an “Amen!” from anyone else who was experienced unrequited love or affection?)

A celibate life from the ties of a romantic relationship: that’s what Paul is saying would be better for everyone living for God, but he knows that it’s also not possible for everyone. And it’s definitely not a requirement for following God, either!

So many people get married. And many others don’t. And there’s a myriad of reasons for both cases.

But the both the movie and even the words of Paul imply that being single is a gift. “I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that” (I Corinthians 7:7).

I was single until Sunday, April 17, 2016 (the same year that movie came out!) when I went on my FIRST DATE EVER with my husband, then a single dad. It changed everything, my future, my life plans, even my goals. It’s true what Paul says about the troubles you will face if you marry; anyone who is married can testify to this!

Before that moment, I believe I did get good at being alone. Being good at being alone doesn’t mean the loneliness and longing goes away, either. You just get good at it. At filling your Friday nights with friends and community and your free time with new adventures and meaningful experiences. You get good at dealing with nasty pests, like mice and cockroaches, and watching a movie all by yourself because you want to – not because there’s nobody else to watch it with you.

I took full advantage of not being tied down. I left the country after graduating from college. I traveled and explored cities and did things other people would tell me later were dangerous to do alone. But I did them anyway, because I could, because I was free. I was overseas for three years before I came for my first visit!

I made so many friends. Had so many adventures. Experienced so many life changes. I learned how to depend on other people and still maintain my independence. And I learned the hard way that even good friends are not everything. I still needed God, and forgetting about that always threw off my single equilibrium. 

Staying celibate was not easy. I faced several situations where I could have changed that easily, but I didn’t. Because it’s not just marriage that brings trouble. Sex brings trouble as well; and I’m not talking about forgetting to use contraception. 

The single life is a lot like training for a marathon and then maintaining the fitness level it takes to complete such a race.

One mile can feel extremely difficult at first, but every week your mileage increases; and soon 10 miles feels like a walk in the park and 5 miles becomes your morning jog. The whole time, you’re building up your stamina, speeding up your metabolism, and strengthening your body. Even when it hurts and your muscles are sore, you’re still getting stronger and faster just by sticking to it.

And then, on race day, you know you’re ready. You might be nervous, but you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that YOU CAN DO THIS.

Once you start running, the craziness really begins. Muscle cramps, heat exhaustion, emotional sabotage, hills, the last 6 miles – all of these begin to threaten all you have worked for. But you keep running, because you can; you know you can. You even start yelling at other people to keep going. You become a cheerleader for others on the same course, because no one is running this race alone.

Then, THE FINISH LINE. You feel so awesome and so strong, and the most insane thing pops into your head: you want to do it again! You have no regrets about all the hard work and the early mornings and disciplined eating because of what you’ve become: an independent, caring, and strong person. 

I have no regrets about choosing a single and celibate life. It made me the person I was when I met my running partner, and God decided that it was no longer good for me to run solo. Being single was amazing, and to be perfectly honest, I still miss it some days when I admire the lives of my single friends from afar.

For those of you found a running partner, grab their hand and never let go. Don’t look back unless it is to be grateful for where you are now. Hold on to them even when you feel like you could run faster on your own. Hold on to them ESPECIALLY when you begin to regret having a running partner in the first place. They need you now, and you them; you two will finish this race together.

For those of you who are still running solo, keep running. If you feel like doing something new, just do it. If you feel like Netflix on a Friday night all by yourself, just do it. If you feel like going to 5 different events in one night, do it! Get good at taking care of yourself, for that’s a more challenging task than people give it credit.

You don’t know when your time of running solo will be over, nor do you have any control over that. (When I met my husband, I ate the words I had said to a friend only weeks earlier: “I won’t meet anyone.”)

So.

JUST. KEEP. RUNNING

the trap of self-pity, the pressure of catching up, & the danger of making excuses

No time to read? Then listen! Click here to listen to the audio version of this post. 

Yes, that title is a…. what is that word they use these days…. doozy? Wow, I just looked that word up in the dictionary, and I actually spelled it right! I believe this is the first time I’ve seen that word in print! Anyway….

So, yes, my title is a doozy. But I was SLAMMED with a doozy of a personal epiphany yesterday, so “doozy” is officially the word of the hour (for this blog post anyway).

I. the trap of self-pity

I spent the better part of 3 years of my life trapped in depression; so, without trying to compete with anyone, I can say that I understand self-pity and the downward spiral of self-sabotage that it can start. Self-pity generates an emotional blind spot, allowing you to only notice your own pain, anger, suffering, difficulty, bad day – it doesn’t matter how minute or significant the issue. This blind spot in turn disables our own ability to reach out to others. All that to say, self-pity is BAD. 

My self-pity these days has been triggered by things I never thought would be triggers for me: people who own houses, people with kids close in age, people who have space in their homes, people who are gallivanting around the globe and climbing mountains. A pattern has emerged. My self-pity is all about other people.

It’s ironic and sad, because I’m not even focusing on myself at all, only coveting after the lives of other people; and as a result, I’m going nowhere. 

II. the pressure of catching up

In my first “Happy Thursday Live” face book broadcast, I briefly mentioned how much pressure there is in catching up. Let me expound here: catching up on dishes, laundry, reading plans, time lost doing other random things. I’ve even tried catching up in my journal before, and it takes forever! 

Somehow, I feel like my life is incomplete if I don’t catch up, and this gets me ALL MESSED UP! And here’s another thing: I’m actually pretty bad at catching because I procrastinate too much! I keep telling myself I’m gonna do it, but I make the killer mistake of waiting until I have a chunk of – I don’t know – a million hours to work on stuff. And of course that never happens. And so I never catch up.

AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

III. the danger of making excuses

I just went live on facebook Thursday and went public with some struggles I’ve been having. As I was thinking about things today, it hit me that all those “struggles” were just excuses! It’s almost embarrassing now, but let me just list out these “struggles” I was sharing:

  • phone games (specifically Clash Royale)
  • feeling tired
  • not knowing where to start

Well, earlier tonight, after I put my baby to bed, I literally spent half an hour playing Clash. I decided I was sick of it. What was I doing? Of all the things I could be doing – sleep being one of them – what was I doing!!!??? So I deleted it off my phone.

There are so many ways to healthily combat feeling tired all the time – and sitting on the couch watching Netflix is NOT one of them! Unfortunately, watching Netflix just doesn’t get the dishes or the laundry done.

Let’s be honest: I know exactly where to start. I just don’t… want to… feel like it… whatever! I just don’t do it!

Excuses are dangerous because they pretty much harm all of your life goals and cause you to do nothing. 

So, now what? I’ve pretty much gone public with these things that have been haunting me ever since my life drastically changed the first time when I got married and went from single to stepmom and then drastically changed again when I went from stepmom to birth mom.

So now, I stop making excuses, having pity parties, and trying to catch up. Now, I just need to go for it. 

Because last time I just went for it…

I got a scholarship to go to a college in another state. I lived in Taiwan and became fluent in Chinese. I joined a champion dragon boat team. I ran two marathons. I married my husband and became a mom. 

There’s no more argument here. I just need to go for it. 

To Live Each Day Powerfully

I want to do more than I’m doing right now. I’ve always felt this way about life. When I was younger, I was always doing the extra stuff, joining speech contests, taking piano lessons, starting clubs, planning recitals, volunteering at church. By the time my senior year of high school hit, I had already applied for 8 colleges.

I don’t think I’m being restless or discontent. I really do believe it’s a God-instilled desire to accomplish things. However, I have been guilty of doing too much and burning out.

So I’ve decided to apply this concept of “power hour” (a time-management technique I’ve been learning to use with the business I’ve just started building) to multiple areas of my life, because I need some structure right now that allows me to power through the important stuff and feel productive.

And by multiple areas of life, I’m talking about prayer, fitness, personal time, business, and, yes, even housework.

I pulled from a few sources, the biggest one being the file my pastor posted a few weeks ago called “The Hour That Changes the World,” and here’s what I wrote out for myself while my baby took a morning nap:

You’re welcome for the clip of my baby sleeping! 😉

And of course, especially in family life, these hours are bound to be interrupted. But then there will also be the days when I do get to have a complete 60-minute episode of productivity and peace. This at least allows me to hone in a little more on the priorities, and to grab hold of at least one hour of my day.

Because let’s be honest, those hours fly by. There are 24 hours in a day, and if I can make just one of those (or even four of those!) a power hour, that’s a win.

Let’s live each day powerfully.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

 

And my baby was born…

I am 12 weeks out from the most…

…painful?

…profound?

…physical?

…powerful?

experience of my life: the birth of my daughter Clarissa Rose.

Don’t get me wrong – it was beautiful. It was also unbelievable. I am still struggling to get my mind around two things:

one, that baby came out of me

and

two, this infant is a potential 30-year-old adult, like the one sitting here writing this blog for all of you to read. 

So here’s a breakdown of what you’re about to read: it’s going to be a tastefully detailed account of Clarissa’s BIRTH DAY. For some of you, you’ll be nodding in agreement, feeling my pain, and completely understanding what I am talking about. For others, it might be an informative and possibly educational anecdote of what giving birth is like. And it will inevitably be too much information for a handful of people.

BUT FIRST! Here’s some of what EVERYBODY reading this wants: baby pictures! Here’s just a PEAK at how gloriously adorable my little one turned out to be and how much she has already changed in the last 12 weeks:

Braxton Hicks is the name. No, that’s not a name of a person; that’s what you call “practice” contractions when the uterus tightens in preparation for “b-day” when it will move a living creature down the birth canal and out into the world. I was pretty well-versed as to the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and the real thing, thanks to the internet, my own research, and my midwife. So when I woke up the morning of January 4th (eight days before baby’s due date) at 4:53 with a distinct pain in my lower back, I had a feeling it wasn’t Braxton Hicks.

I still remember the moment like it was yesterday, the moment my relatively fast labor began: I opened my eyes, turned to look at the clock, took note of the time, rolled back over to sleep, and woke up exactly ten minutes later to the exact same pain. The contractions didn’t stop until Clarissa Rose was born that night at 10:11, 7 pounds and 19 inches long.

I recorded every single contraction until about 4pm. I don’t even know why I was still doing it; it was painfully obvious to all that I was in labor. But I’m getting ahead of myself and skipping all the delightful details!

After about an hour or so of contractions that were averaging 8 minutes apart, I alerted my husband. The entire morning I was recording contractions like my life depended on it. I happened to have an appointment scheduled with my midwife later that morning, so I decided to ride it out until then. It was my first birth, after all, and heaven forbid I jump to conclusions.

I normally drive Ella to school in the mornings, but we decided it would be safer and wiser if Kevin took her instead. Just the night before it had dawned on me that Ella needed to pack a bag as well (Kevin and I had nothing packed yet) so I voice this realization to her as I’m timing contractions. She promptly packed a bag and then asked if she should bring it to school. I literally didn’t have an answer for her (which is rare). She decided that she should. Smart girl!

Before going to see my midwife, I tried to take a nap, which was constantly being interrupted by contractions. So I took a hot shower, which really helped. Driving to my midwife’s office, which is only right down the road, was less than enjoyable; but I wasn’t about to make that walk  when my contractions were now an average of 6 minutes apart.

It was 10:30am when my midwife checked and announced I was 3 cm dilated. It was happening. Go home and pack your bags, she said. Try to get some nutrition and rest. Let it be known that I did try all three of those things, but all attempts on my part were futile.

As I left my midwife’s office, I called Kevin and told him I was basically in labor. There was a chance the contractions could stop, but my body was telling me they weren’t. At the time, my phone was unprotected because the case I had was beginning to break down. As I was getting in the car, I dropped it. The screen shattered. Happy birthday.

Needless to say, I put the beginning-to-break-down case back on the phone so I could still use it without the risk of getting microscopic pieces of glasses in my fingers and face. 

Back at home, I make some phone calls. Hi! I’m in labor! I’m literally bouncing on my exercise ball now. When the afternoon hit, the contractions were an average of 4 minutes apart, and the pain was getting INTENSE. I took a hot bath. Kevin came home and basically started doing everything because it was all I could do to keep breathing and bouncing.

I tried getting some nutrition and ended up puking all the carrots and hummus I was hoping to consume. I didn’t make it to the toilet, either. (In retrospect, the fact that I threw up was indicative of how far along in labor I was.) I immediately googled a remedy for nausea during contractions and started popping ginger chews.

During my contractions while Kevin was running around packing bags and grabbing food and cleaning out the car (we really weren’t prepared for Clarissa to come early), I was frantically looking up and writing down scripture references for women in labor. My plan was to be reading these at the birth center. What I didn’t realize then was that I was already in the stage of labor when I should have been reading them.

I had tested positive for GBS (Group B Strep – you can google it if you’re curious), so I needed to have antibiotics before I went into labor to protect my baby from possibly contracting an infection. Kevin and I went to the midwife’s office for it to be administered; my midwife felt it would be a good idea to get it out of the way before laboring at the birth center.

By this point, walking was a joke because every 3 steps was contraction. It was 3:30ish when my midwife checked and declared I was already at 8 cm. I did the math later and calculated that I had dilated about a centimeter an hour since 10:30 that morning. I was already in active labor. And we weren’t at the birth center yet.

After a bag of penicillin was emptied into my bloodstream, I tell everyone I need to pee. The contractions are STRONG at this point, and my water had yet to break. As I’m sitting on the toilet, a very intense contraction comes on, immediately followed by a warm plop. A plop literally fell out of me. That’s what it felt like.

“I think my water just broke!” I announce through the closed bathroom door, “And I’m about to puke!” My midwife throws open the door with the garbage can too late. At this point, all dignity was lost. My water had broke, so there was no turning back now. Not that it was ever an option. Just saying.

For exactly two minutes, there was brief and futile discussion about whether we would make it to the birth center or not. Our apartment was too small. The office was an office, not a clinic.

The walk back to the car was miserable. The car ride to Kirkland was not fun either. Kevin said traffic was horrible, but I don’t remember any of it. I just remember getting there and saying, “I want to get in the tub.”

We reached the birth center around 5:15. I started pushing pretty much as soon as we arrived. The majority of my labor was in the water. I experienced intense lower back pain every contraction, and being buoyant was the only way to rest between contractions. I drank water and almond milk during labor.

The proverbial “they” always say that it’s at the very end, possibly moments before the baby was born, when the women doesn’t feel like she can do it anymore. It’s true.

I asked for pain medication and cried, “I can’t do this!” multiple times. I wanted to curl up in the fetal position and just cry but I physically couldn’t even do that! Every fiber in my body was screaming, and I was spent.

When Clarissa started crowning, Kevin referenced the two marathons I had run. This impressed my birth team, and they all started drawing motivation from that, but I recall saying something to the effect, “This is like running a marathon after you’ve already run 4 of them!” I even refused to reach down and touch the top of my baby’s head when my midwife offered. I just wanted her out of me!

I remember being there, in the tub, gripping my husband’s arm. For almost five hours I had been so intensely focused on enduring the intensity of each contraction, on funneling all my energy to push. My baby was strong. She had been showing no signs of fetal distress. She was coming out in a posterior position, however, which was why she and I were having to work so much harder to make this birth happen.

Kevin started to tell me he could see her. He could see our baby. She was almost here. He could almost see her eyebrows! Everyone was chiming in with their encouragement. It was like the noise of spectators you start to hear as you near the finish line of a race.

I pushed. Good! Good, Victoria! Almost there!

I pushed again. Yes, yes, that’s it, you’re so close!

I pushed, and screamed (or something) as I felt this indescribable pain, immediately followed by the feeling of a newborn baby on my stomach. Still attached to me.

Kevin helped clamp and cut the cord. He took our newborn baby, and I was helped out of the tub and seated onto a birthing stool. My placenta pretty much fell out of me. (There are now only a couple of capsules of my dehydrated placenta powder, as well as a keepsake cord, left of my placenta, which was discoid in shape, deep purple in color, and just over 1 lb in weight. That’s right, I ate my placenta; but that’s a whole other blog post for later!)

Clarissa was having trouble breathing. Respiratory distress. They were able to give her oxygen and resuscitate her. I prayed the entire time for out loud as I sat there in the bed. I was somehow not worried and at perfect peace. My baby girl was here now.

We were there at the birth center for 4 hours after the birth, going through all the routine things. I was operating on adrenaline at that point. I couldn’t stop talking. I had something to say about everything, not to mention I WAS SORE ALL OVER. Nobody told me that my WHOLE BODY would hurt, not just the parts you expect to hurt. Or that it feels like YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO MOVE AGAIN FOR MONTHS.

I tore pretty bad. While I was getting sown up, I was literally demanding as much pain medication as possible and would vocalize any pain I felt during the stitching. Peeing was my ticket home, so I felt pretty accomplished when I finally went.

I had no idea my butt could be so sore. It was likely due to Clarissa’s posterior position. Let’s just say I sat on ice for a while.

When we were finally strapping our little newborn baby into the car seat, it was almost 2 in the morning. We drove back home to a whole new life. A life full of more life, more care and responsibility, more love. I sat in the backseat next to my baby, watching her, talking to her, letting her squeeze my finger with her tiny hand.

(Call me crazy, but when Clarissa started outgrowing her clothes, it made me want another baby – just for a few seconds.)

I still can’t believe she came out of me. 

 

Prayer & Parenting

Prayer. Keeping up a consistent prayer life has always been a struggle. I’ve always found myself attempting different things – prayer journals, iPhone note prayers, prayer meetings, prayer requests written in a notebook. The Apostle Paul, in I Thessalonians 5:17, calls us to “pray without ceasing,” as if it’s supposed to be natural, like breathing.

Like breathing. 

Then there’s parenting, a struggle to say the least, but at the same time a natural instinct that has always existed in nature. Nurturing and protecting your own almost seems like a moral obligation and common sense, yet this is not what we always see, either, in both humans and animals.

Prayer and parenting – the former being something that sustains the life of a Christian and the latter an instinct that seemingly accompanies reproductive ability. 

What’s my point?

I have a family now, which has only been the case for the last 14 months. I have a husband and a 9-year-old daughter, who are on my mind daily and constantly creep into my thoughts when I’m grocery shopping or cooking food or cleaning the house or plotting out the next few weeks on the calendar. And with this new life, I am finding myself increasingly challenged to pray. To put it more directly, I find myself gasping for air – often. 

My lack of oxygen correlates conveniently with my need to pray – pray for my husband, pray for my daughter, pray for strength and wisdom and patience to care for them and, most importantly – point them to Jesus.

During the first half of this last year, I largely depended on knowledge and experience to deal with my daughter. When methodologies failed, I tweaked, revised, and changed them and tried again. I created order through structure, routine, and schedules. It was madness.

Then, like an unexpected whoosh of unpleasantly cold water dumped over my head, conviction took hold, and I realized I was doing too much. Too much everything – thinking, planning, strategizing, organizing, worrying. I simply needed to pray.

Commitment to prayer changes your life. It alters attitudes, perspectives and priorities. It brings you and those around you closer to Jesus. 

But I didn’t need to just to pray more by myself, proverbially kneeling by my bed before tucking in for the night. I needed to pray with my family, actively, intentionally, and consistently. I needed to pray with and for my daughter more than lecture her about the endless things parents feel like they need to lecture their children about. I needed to pray for and with my husband more than air out my complaints and frustrations to him.

I needed to stop cutting off the oxygen supply to my family and PRAY, not because the life of my family depends on it but because my own life as a Christian depends on it. 

So this is what I’ve started to do, and the pitfalls of self-righteousness are everywhere. It sounds simple enough to merely advise my daughter to say a prayer every time she has a problem and then walk away and continue loading the dishwasher. But am I saying a prayer every time I have a problem? I could check it off my list every time I prayed for my husband’s devotional life, but am I being faithful in studying the Word every day?

In closing, I am going to share with you all just a snapshot of what I’ve begun to experience as a parent.

Wednesdays are our home school day, since my daughter’s school is a home school extension academy that only has classes four days a week. Suffice it to say that I deal with a child who’s emotions and attention span are akin to a roller coaster or a bipolar mood storm. Things today were off to a rough start, so I decided that we were going to start with prayer before going over the plan for the day.

My daughter began to pray, adhering to my request. I bowed my head with her. She began thanking God for all the things that he’s given us, for her little sister, for her family, for dying for us – and that’s where her words became tears.

(I saw myself right then. Just another soul struggling to accept God’s love, a struggle I was personally familiar with. Another soul coming up against the difficulties we all face.)

I prayed for her silently. After a few minutes, she finished her prayer. We looked at each other, tears in both of our eyes. She came over to me and we hugged. When she finally pulled away, I sent her to clean out her nose and then got out the white board with the day’s agenda.

That was how our day began. No lectures or inspirational quotes or motivational speeches about being positive and confident in ourselves. Just prayer. And whatever happened in my girl’s heart that altered her mood was beyond any parenting trick I could ever invent.

It’s in these moments that I remember I do not have the power to give my children what they truly need. God does

re-cap

I like closure just as much as I like boundaries. I also enjoy order and organization and experience minor bouts of frustration and anxiety when my expectations aren’t met.  I hate not finishing anything, but it’s been a few weeks – months now? – since I’ve picked up Yell Less, Love More or How to Deal with Your Strong-Willed Child; and quite frankly, I haven’t felt like I needed to. So I’m not going to finish the parenting books I’ve started reading. WHAAAT!?!

You see, life never happens the way we expect it to. It took me 30 years to learn that, which, when you think about, makes sense. And the unexpected, non-sequential path of my life has me laying aside unfinished parenting books and picking up another topic with which to feed my mind: pregnancy.

PREGNANCY!!!!!

Before I go on, however, I must rewind and quickly catch you up on how non-sequential my life has been. (Now, if you have been reading my blog or have followed me on Facebook, you might already know that I spent six years of my life in Taiwan after college.)

It all began the summer of 2015. I was home for a visit from Taiwan. I was scheduled to fly back to my lovely overseas life in August and start down the path of pursuing my Master’s degree. I never flew back to Taiwan. I’m still here, in fact.

After that drastic change of plans, I sought out therapy, which many do these days in the midst of crisis or life trauma. I started job-hunting, which made me immediately miss the easy work situation in Taiwan for native English speakers. And I re-learned how to live under the same roof as my parents. (It had been ten years.)

I was pathetically dependent on my parents for finances at the very beginning, which I hated, but I kept track of every penny I borrowed and paid it all back by the end of the winter of 2017.

Meanwhile, I had graduated from my therapy sessions and was ready to step out on my own. I was in American now, not Taiwan. Things were different. Coping with homesickness and culture shock and lack of closure with my family in Taiwan made things difficult; but in true fashion, it wasn’t long before I had filled up my time.

I had landed a job as a teacher, which kept me immensely busy throughout the week. I enrolled in a mountaineering class, so I could learn to climb the mountains of beautiful Washington State and meet other people who loved the mountains, too. I pulled back from church involvement. (Again, in true fashion, I had jumped in head first to help out and fill holes; but I was in a unique time of life – after a life of chronic ministry involvement – where I realized I actually didn’t HAVE to do anything. It was freeing!) And, of course, I was running a race once a month with other running friends and training for a full marathon.

You could say I hit the ground running  (literally and metaphorically) once I committed to the idea of living in America.

But that’s just it. Living in America remained an idea until some rather permanent things began happening. 

At the very beginning of April, I got on TINDER. (For those of you who may not know what this is, there’s google. For the rest of you, I had my reasons!) I’ve always been a loyal tinder-hater due to the bad wrap society gives it as well as the horror stories I hear from people using it. Well, I was on spring break when April started, so I actually had time to flip through and read the articles my iPhone likes to suggest on a daily basis. One of them happened to be about Tinder success stories. It was a positive spin on this dating app that I’d been hating on for pretty legitimate reasons. Come on, it’s basically a hook-up app!

Well, Tinder is free, and I like that, and I had already done my free trial on match.com and was not interested in paying a dime – let alone a dollar – to meet a guy. I was interested in meeting people but didn’t believe in subscriptions. So I started swiping right if liked the guy and swiping left if I didn’t. All you see are pictures the person made available and whatever blurb he decided to write about himself. These blurb bios were anything from “Call me ;)” to paragraphs about interests, personalities and work lives. “Matches” occurred when two people mutually swiped right on the other’s profile. I made sure the age-range and distance radius in my settings were appropriate. If something did happen, I wanted the guy to be relatively close in distance and age.

Being on Tinder was kind of a joke, and after a day or two of swiping and exchanging pointless words with my matches, I deleted it. The positive part of the whole arrangement was that no one will get my phone number without my permission and I can delete someone forever if I want to. Or delete the app altogether.

Don’t ask me why, but I decided to give it another chance a mere day later.
“Hi, Victoria! I saw ultimate frisbee and couldn’t help but swipe right!”

I had decided to mention personal interests in my own blurb, so anyone passing by on the Tinder train would know I liked running, hiking, and playing ultimate frisbee. Apparently, it worked, because those words began a conversation that has yet to end. And I don’t ever intend on terminating the life-long conversation I have begun with this man, who became my husband on September 10, 2016. 

Only a year earlier,  I had been faced with the proverbial “road not taken” and, “sorry I could not travel both,” made a rather difficult and life-altering decision. The life-altering part of that decision had just begun. 

As you can imagine, my time was no longer filled with mountain-climbing and running and late nights of lesson planning and grading. I was marriedNot only was I married, i was also a brand new step mom to my husband’s (then) 8-year-old daughter. Single life had ended; family life had begun.

Halloween 2017 is almost upon us. I will be 29 weeks pregnant this Friday. It’s been 2 years, 2 months, and 4 days since I was supposed to board an airplane back to Taiwan and start on the path of pursuing my master’s degree.  A lot has changed.

I’m not in Taiwan anymore, and it’s actually rather painful to admit I don’t know when I will be again. I’m living in little 2-bedroom apartment in the town of Snohomish, Washington, with my husband and step-daughter, expecting a baby girl to join us in January of 2018. 

So much for closure and boundaries. 

There you have it: why I’m laying aside the unfinished parenting books in exchange for pregnancy ones. The adventures never stop, but it’s like what Robert Frost wrote:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

 

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