Monday, September 29, 2014
Each time the fair comes to town, we find ourselves flocking there to join the crowds. I think it's overpriced and insanely unhealthy, but I concede to going because it holds sentimental value. Alex took me there for one of our first group dates, which I thought was so funny and awkward at the time because we'd hung out before so often for so many years as just friends. We've been back every year ever since: while we were dating, after we got engaged, during our first year as a married couple, the following (last) year while I was 9 months pregnant (and feeling miserable), and now this year for Serene's first time at the fair. The fair has become an unintentional tradition of sorts. We went with some friends two weeks ago and had a jolly grand time in the mild, breezy evening air, especially because Serene found the fair an absolute doozy. She was so excited and overstimulated by all the funfair that Alex and I are looking forward to future annual trips!
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Fall has officially arrived, and although we continue to bake in 90 degree weather here in Southern California, we're making the best of it by patronizing the local beaches while we still can. During our stint in San Diego last week, we trekked down to the shore for a spell. The sun's rays were generous and the crashing waves aggressive, which elicited shrill screams of delight from most of us who got soaked in salty sea spray, except for Serene Joy, who, as the rhythmic waves drew ever nearer, grew all the more apprehensive. Though usually a squirmy, curious ball of smiley energy, she is more reserved and seeks safety only in her mama's arms at the beach. I don't mind the extra snuggling one bit, for time is ticking faster than I prefer - she turns one next week!
Monday, September 22, 2014
We spent a few days in San Diego last week with some dear friends, and as I looked through my camera this past weekend, I realized I didn't snap many pictures during our time there, which I suppose indicates that I attempted to savor each moment! Trading 106 degree LA weather for 80 degree SD weather made for a rejuvenating and merry little getaway, where we spent most of the time relaxing indoors and at the pool. Alex was in serious nostalgia mode the whole time because he resided blocks away from where we were staying during his undergrad years. He took every opportunity to show us where he lived, where he used to study, and where he'd surf. We even indulged his intense pining for this wings joint because he ate there so often back then. I don't eat wings often, so eating them reminded me of how I craved them and other meaty, unhealthy foods when I was pregnant with Serene (It was so weird, but Alex loved it). Serene also had a grand time, especially because she had four other little gal friends to play with. I daresay this was one of her favorite vacations; she ate, napped, and slept like she was right at home! So incredibly blessed by our dear friends' love and hospitality, and the sacrificial example they are to Alex and me. They even watched Serene for a couple of hours so that Alex and I could sneak in a date at the movies. It felt so strange but freeing to be out and about after 8pm by ourselves. It was good for my mama bear inclinations to entrust the baby to others for a bit. Is it odd that I'm still anxious to have the baby out of my sight for a couple of hours even though she is nearly one?
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Ever since Serene came into the world, God has been teaching me many a difficult lesson on unity. As in unity between Alex and me. When we were pregnant, Alex and I wholeheartedly touted that when Serene (and any subsequent kiddos) arrive, we would put God first, then one another as husband and wife before our kids. We piggybacked on the widespread notion that kids feel most loved, secure, and content when their parents prioritize one another before prioritizing them. It was a complete no-brainer for us. Thus said we who were still childless and therefore pitifully naïve.
Then Serene arrived, transforming our world in the absolute best and most humbling way possible. There is such deep heart-awakening joy in parenting (which I mention often in this space), but there is also great conviction of pride and selfishness (which I share not enough). We quickly realized people advised prioritizing the spouse before the kiddo(s) for a reason: such a feat is far easier said than done in the day-to-day hullaballoo of new parenthood. Serene's complete dependence on us during the newborn days daily revealed to us our self-centeredness, our lack of sensitivity towards and love for one another, and our ultimate ineptitude at supplying her every need. We were sleep-deprived, anxiety-ridden, brand-new parents who attempted with all our might not only to acclimate to a newly born human creature, but also to regard one another as new teammates on a united front in this life-changing season. Add my postpartum hormones and recovery, my exceedingly painful skin infection, and sprained wrist into the mix of sinful tendencies during those first few months, and there was more chaos and finger-pointing than there was peace and unity. We bickered at one another and I unleashed my temper on Alex like crazy. I felt like he wasn't doing things right (i.e. is it so hard to apply diaper rash cream correctly?!). He felt like I wasn't patient with him. I felt unloved; he felt disrespected. Serene's first month of life was the most challenging time in our marriage. All we knew was that we wanted the best for her, and rather than recalling we are a team and putting one another's interests first, we turned against one another out of selfishness amid conflict.
Eleven and a half months into this parenting gig, and I praise God we don't fight as much as we did during the newborn era, though we're still figuring out what works best for our baby. Our parenting preferences are vastly different. Alex thrives on intuition and spontaneity. I run on structure and routine. I constantly learn that despite our distinct parenting styles, God is Serene's best and ultimate parent, no matter how hard Alex tries to win her heart, and no matter how I act like a mama bear. God has been bonking me on the head about our blatant disunity, which shows us how desperately we need God's grace and mercy because we cannot accomplish this giant responsibility of stewarding Serene's life well apart from Him. Alex reminds me how God uses our differences to complement one another, for we are far better together than we are apart. If only I could readily rejoice in the heat of conflict when he says that, rather than fume because he's right but I'm too proud to admit it. Thankful for this refining process that shows me so much of my ugliness. What a beautiful truth that we have Christ who does not leave us in our sin. Rather, we have a Lord and Savior who teaches us how to love Him, one another, our child(ren), and others. A God who gives us the Spirit to, by grace, "[be] of the same mind, [have] the same love, [be] in full accord and of one mind" so that our joy may be more full through the gift of children. Praying Serene Joy would one day discern a unity between her parents that stems from the Lord.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
One of my favorite facets about the role Alex and I hold at our apartment complex is throwing several community events per month in order to build relationships with our neighbors and demonstrate our care for them. We had become acquainted with two particular families on separate occasions at our events over the months. We decided a month ago it was high time to have them both over for dinner. We planned to connect the families to one another since they are in similar walks of life, and have both recently immigrated here from China.
Alex and I were looking forward to the evening. We prayed beforehand for the deepening of our relationships with our neighbors, and for the opportunity to share with them some amazingly good news. I was also excited because I have a certain partiality for event planning. I thought dinner with our neighbors was the perfect excuse to host a dumpling party. "Chinese people love dumplings," Alex encouraged when I shared the idea with him. I spent much of the baby's naptimes that week shopping and prepping for the party. We were going to have the opportunity to practice hospitality with our neighbors, and I envisioned serving familiar comfort foods.
They came over that evening to two heaping bowls of homemade filling and mounds of dumpling wrappers on the table. I was feverishly wrapping dumplings while simultaneously pacifying Serene with bits of green onion pancake. "What are you doing?" they asked, amused. "Making dumplings," I replied, my voice faltering. I sounded more unsure of myself than I wanted. They took one look at the store-bought dumpling wrappers and chuckled. Oh, there was so much I, in my blatant Chinese-American-ness, didn't understand about real Chinese culture. I underestimated the legitimacy of our neighbors. Store-bought wrappers are not good, they gently explained. In China, everyone learns to make dumplings from scratch since they are practically babies, and dumpling wrappers are always fashioned by hand. One of our neighbors retreated to his apartment and returned with all the supplies to make dumpling wrappers. And we proceeded to make dumplings from scratch. I learned how to prepare the dough, knead it, roll it, cut it, dust each circle of dough with flour, knead each circle of dough some more into paper-thin wrappers, fill each one with just a tablespoonful of filling, pinch it tight just right, and boil them all to perfect steamy done-ness. I was in constant awe of the effort and delicacy required to craft each teeny meat-filled pocket of dough. The evening buzzed with chatter, laughter, bonding, dumpling-consuming, and most significantly, gospel sharing and discussing! It was a successful soiree; God graciously answered our prayers, and our neighbors heard the gospel.
But I have to confess that in my heart of hearts, I felt dejected. If I were completely honest, I wanted them to notice my dumpling-making prowess. They caught the store-bought wrappers instead. I wanted them to behold the neat pleats in my dumpling-wrapping. They mentioned it was an "interesting" (euphemism for wrong) way to fold dumplings. I hoped they'd comment on the tastiness of the fillings. We didn't even end up using any of the fillings I prepared because one of our neighbors brought his own to use (which was so kind of him!). Perhaps they'd even catch that I brought out pretty scalloped bowls and fancy chopsticks with which to eat. They asked for plain plates instead. I felt so badly that we invited them over for dinner, and they ended up making dinner for us instead. After our neighbors left, I even had to audacity to justify to Alex that they taught us how to make dumplings like the Northern Chinese do. And my family is from Southern China, where dumplings look and taste much different.
But God taught me so much that night. He revealed the ugliness of my heart and humbled me. Alex and I prayed we'd get to know our neighbors better and share the gospel with them, but in the back of my mind, I also hoped we'd impress them with our hosting abilities. How self-centered of me to seek my own glory rather than God's! I had the wrong perception of hospitality in my mind. Biblical hospitality is not about wowing guests with fancy spreads or pretty decor. Christian hospitality is about serving others, loving them, and making them feel welcome with the sacrificial love of Christ, all without expecting a reward. I was selfish and prideful in hoping my hospitality would be noticed and lauded, when I ought to have sought my neighbors' interests. Which were getting to know us and one another, and understanding the gospel - all of which hold eternal significance over pretty plates and homemade dumplings. So thankful God orchestrated the evening as He did, and you can bet that after He snapped me back into my senses, we rejoiced over all that was accomplished. God is so good.