Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Working on unity

serene at 11 months in fullerton
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

The dumpling lesson

dumpling party
dumpling party
dumpling party
dumpling party
dumpling party
dumpling party
dumpling party
dumpling party
dumpling party
dumpling party
dumpling party
dumpling party
dumpling party
dumpling party
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.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Letters to Serene: 11 months

serene joy at 11 months
My dear Serene Joy,

You have been in our lives for 11 months now, and these 11 months have been the fastest and most transformative I've ever encountered. Every day in this past month, I marveled at how time has passed so quickly, how you learn and develop daily, and how you are practically no longer a baby, but nearly a toddler. I must confess: I am reminiscing a lot more these days about how teeny and fully dependent on us you used to be. In exactly one month, you will turn one whole year old. Time is ticking way too speedily! So here is my attempt to slow it down and remember. To remember all the sweetness, silliness, cleverness, and jolliness that makes up you this past month.

Ever since you gained more mobility, you've become more independent by the month. This month was no different. You mastered the art of pulling up, and are determined to stand your ground anywhere with somewhere for you to hold onto. Speed crawling remains your favorite mode of transportation, which you now spice up with tons of pulling up. Sometimes you'll even cruise a couple of steps. Not sure you'll walk before you turn one, as you aren't standing unsupported yet, but we'll see. You utilize dining room chairs as walkers, and you're adept at climbing stairs, us, pillows, everything. You'd rather mosey about than be confined to your crib, the pack n' play, your highchair, or your carseat.  After all, there is much of the world with which to get acquainted. You're fascinated by objects residing within containers. You have a grand time pulling things out of my purse, the craft drawers, your daddy's laptop bag, and scattering them all about. You like touching (destroying, as your daddy affectionately calls it) things in general and moving them about. Especially in the company of others. You're social in the most winsome way. You get so giddy when you play with other babies or kiddos. You giggle, squeal, and bounce up and down in excitement. You make a fun playmate.

As long as your parents are nearby. Your favorite word is still "mama." You call for me often, and there is no place you'd rather be than in my arms or on my lap as you play. Your new favorite words this month are "ba" for ball, and "wawa," which you utter often in your endless stream of high-pitched squeals and babble. We also like to think you say "may-mem" for Amen after we pray for a meal. It is most endearing to hear you chatter to yourself after you wake up from a nap. You smack your lips to deliver a kiss whenever we ask or whenever we kiss you first. You've been on a waving spree since the previous month. You wave when we ask you to say hi. You pump your arms and hands in the air and clap cheerfully when music comes on. You tilt your head to touch your right shoulder and babble at us, pointing to get your point across. You think the game of peekaboo is the most hilarious pastime. Your favorite song this month is "You Are My Serene," sung to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine." You adore bubbles. Bubbles are your new favorite phenomenon, particularly during bathtime.

Food prevails as another favorite. This month, you sampled for the first time hummus and pita, Spanish rice, string cheese, saltine cracker, turkey meatball, salmon, catfish, cauliflower, lemon garlic chicken breast, bell pepper, brown rice cake, udon, green onion pancake, and porridge. The following remain steadfast favorites for your palate: avocado on whole wheat toast, Rainier cherries, corn on the cob, watermelon cubes, string cheese, sautéed zucchini squash, and roasted seaweed. You eat ferociously like your daddy, and you don't allow your lack of teeth to hinder your culinary adventures. You also think slurping water out of my cup is most thrilling.

You still love to nurse. We've cut down your sessions to 3-4 times a day: when you wake up for an early morning feed at 6am before you go back to sleep, before your morning nap around 11am, sometimes (but not always) before your afternoon nap around 3pm, and before you go to sleep at night between 7:30-8pm. Though I'm pleased you're nursing less, I've also become nostalgic. I hug you a little closer every time you nurse, because I know weaning days are approaching.

Your sleep schedule is dreamy because of its consistency. Ever since I quit dream feeding you at the very beginning of the month, you sleep at 8pm and wake up between 8:30-9:30am, with a morning nursing session at 6am. We were amazed at how long you typically sleep these days: 12-13 hours, which makes me think dream feeding should have stopped even earlier. You also take two naps during the day: one in the morning around 11am and one in the afternoon around 3pm. Each nap generally lasts 1-2 hours, totaling 3 hours of naps per day.

My Serene Joy Joy, time is not halting, which is all the more reason to cherish every moment with you, reveling in your babyness before you're an official baby no longer. Even still, you'll always be our sweet baby, and I'll be relishing each moment I get to take care of you, with every moment a lesson on how miraculous the gift of a child is. And fervently thanking the Lord that He has graciously chosen us to parent you, to teach you who He is and how so very good He is in Christ.


Love you so,
Mommy

P.S. Serene Joy at 0123456789, and 10 months.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The duck pond

alex and serene at the duck pond
alex and serene at the duck pond
alex and serene at the duck pond
duck pond
alex and serene at the duck pond
freshly picked moccs in radiant orchid
alex and serene at the duck pond
alex and serene at the duck pond
When we were dating, Alex would periodically take me to a park near the seminary he attended at the time. He is pretty fond of duck ponds and thought I would be too. He envisioned us sitting on the grass, perusing books on end while the ducks quack amiably around us. Unfortunately, when ducks that are almost as big as us persistently follow us for food, they don't rank high on my list for favorite creatures. I get a mild case of the heebie jeebies around them. Consequently, jaunts to the duck pond were fewer than Alex had anticipated. Until it occurred to him this week that it is on the way to the grocery store. He insisted we drop by so that Serene (and he) could see the ducks. She had absolutely no qualms about the gargantuan birds. They got up close and personal with them while I stood from afar in safety, snapping pictures. It makes my heart so full to watch them interact. Alex is elated to have nabbed a daddy-daughter date locale for the upcoming years. Until then, I have a feeling we'll be stopping by every so often during our weekly Trader Joe's runs.

P.S. Enter here to win a pair of Freshly Picked moccs like Serene's in the pictures above, except in the size and color of your choice! Giveaway ends tonight at 11:59pm PST.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Celebrating the parents to bee

young baby shower
young baby shower
young baby shower
young baby shower
young baby shower
young baby shower
young baby shower
young baby shower
young baby shower
young baby shower
young baby shower
young baby shower
young baby shower
Two weekends ago, I boarded a jet plane to San Francisco to celebrate the impending arrival of a sweet friend's young'n due the end of November. We threw a shower that was as sweet as can bee for the parents to bee, Matt and Elaine. We aimed to adhere to the honeybee theme as much as possible, with yellow, mint, and gray as the primary color scheme. Elaine is a crafty gal, so we used pom pom garlands from her wedding and her insanely lovely chalkboard signage to spruce up the tables at a local park, along with other odds and ends. I packed minimally - mostly flat decor like honeycomb printed paper that we folded into caramel popcorn cones, honeybee labels for the desserts, which featured bumblegum, honey-dew balls, babycakes, and more. One of the girls baked delectable cookie favors, which we pinned on a clothesline in between trees to contribute to the festivity. It was a beautifully mild NorCal summer afternoon to herald in the bee-ginning of a new chapter for the Youngs, who will be a family of three the next time I see them. Thankful for the privilege to celebrate with them, but I was also glad to fly home to Alex and Serene. We had decided after our road trip up north for the Lum baby shower that if I were to mosey up again in a month and a half for the Young baby shower, I would fly alone since Serene did not fare too well in June. The day of Matt & Elaine's baby shower was the longest I had been apart from the baby. 15 hours is quite a while, especially when the little love is still nursing. I totally could not have truly understood the bond fostered between a mama and her child before I became a mama myself. What a precious gift from God! And what a gift to celebrate motherhood for so many dear friends lately.

P.S. Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a pair of Freshly Picked moccasins for the baby or toddler in your life here before it ends this Wednesday at 11:59pm PST!