Friday, May 31, 2013

things I've learned from [teaching] a 5 year old

  • Stick to your guns. Make decisions carefully, but once decided, commit to that decision.
  • That being said, listen for what is trying to be said. A 5-year old is a person, too. Perhaps not the most articulate or rational, but there are ideas and thoughts there, and they should be affirmed.
  • Don't be afraid to say you're sorry, you were wrong.
  • Model the character you desire to instill. Character trumps book smarts.
  • Sometimes bad attitudes and uncooperative behavior comes from a deep-rooted fear of failure.
  • But in those times, the external assurance of another imparted through praise and encouragement is the best motivator and the best cultivator self-confidence.
  • Learn by doing.
  • Sometimes homemade play-dough is a little too messy for more refined tastes.
  • When in doubt, make cookies.
  • Spelling by "sounding out" is doubly hard when the only other English that is used to being heard is pronounced with a foreign accent.
  • In an educational culture of serious book-study, imagination and hands-on can be an unequaled mollification.

Friday, May 10, 2013

What I miss about America

Today I woke up and it felt different. I wasn't sure what it was, but there was a happiness of being alive, of making plans, of having work and rest. I chalked it up to being Friday.

But then I looked out the window and something made me catch my breath for a nanosecond. The sky.

It was blue.

You don't even understand. I have not seen the blue sky in what seems like over a year. In spite of living in the sunny south, the sky is almost always shrouded in a thick gauze of smog. Just the other day I realized how I had almost forgotten what a blue sky looks like until I saw this picture in my newsfeed, an instagram from an acquaintance (in the US of A).

"This must be what it's like when the sky smiles," was the caption. Something within my heart was stirred.

To me, this instagram captures a sense of the hidden yearning that resides in my heart as a pilgrim in a foreign land. Before I moved I considered myself pretty transient to my surroundings; dependent on my culture-crossing upbringing, a knack for adapting, and thirst for adventure. But I've come to realize in time that there are things inbred into me that I never would have recognized before. An indelible mark impressed upon me -- that where I grew up has become a part of me that I cannot deny.

And as much as I would (or would not) be loathe to admit it.... I do miss America.

I miss crystal blue, sapphire skies
I miss purple twilight when the sun just goes down and the lightning bugs come out
I miss sitting on the deck with the big backyard in the cool evening breeze
I miss chic shopping centers
I miss wide, smooth roads, free of scooters
I miss the cherry blossoms blooming in the spring
I miss barbecues
I miss ethnic food
I miss seeing the stars
I miss open landscapes
I miss big houses
I miss seeing farmland and livestock grazing
I miss long summer days when the sun sets at 9
I miss thunderstorms
I really, really miss stepping outside and breathing in clean, fresh air, air that is not laden with exhaust or sewer smells.

But on the rare day that the skies do reveal itself, and the air disperses itself to a purity so clear that the distant city skyline can be seen, a palpable sense of grace is bestowed. An awakening that yes, there is a joy to simply being alive.

And indeed the sky smiled on us today.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I have a nephew.
My cousin gave birth to Obi in the winter last year, and I was able to visit him and his mother in the postpartum ward, peering at his little pink face, all wrapped in a towel, through the glass that partitioned the sleeping babies from visitors.

I've had the pleasure of visiting Obi a few times since his birth. He has completely stolen my heart with his giggles, snuggles, and smiles. And I know I'm not the only one. Obi has grown to a handsome, fun-loving, joy-filled, dashing little boy. All things loveable and loving, he is quick to give out smiles and hugs, charming all who meet him with his symmetric dimples and perfect little teeth. He lives a flourishing life with loving parents, a skilled nanny, doting grandparents, and adoring aunts and uncles. In Chinese we call his name 亮亮, which expresses the shining, bright light which has pierced all of our hearts when he came into the world.

Obi has albinism.

When the quavers of the initial shock rippled its way throughout our extended family, we all reached out as best we could to hold up our loved ones through the process when things in your family don't go as you've planned. Then the storm passed and gave way to the clear, sunny skies of Obi's smiles and giggles, and I thought all was well, as could be well. Everyone loved Obi, and his dedicated parents were committed to do whatever would be best for him.

But it doesn't stop there. This past weekend I went to visit my grandma and on more than one occasion the mention of Obi would bring about this reaction: "好可惜" -- what a pity, with a sigh or a slight shake of the head. The first time I heard it, I could only give a sympathetic smile while I inwardly rebelled. Then I heard it again and again, and the more I heard it, the more unhappy I became.

In our world, the hold of each culture's ideals is strong. We wish for health, security, success. But things happen outside our control because we are finite beings, and those who do not measure up to those ideals are either marginalized, pitied, or a blend of both. And yes, when we see such an energetic, happy, handsome baby as Obi and think about the struggles he may face in the future, of course we have feelings of pity for him. But Obi cannot be defined by his difficulties, just as we are not.

The words "可惜" are used when milk is spilled, or when a bunch of green vegetables is left to wither away for more than a week in the chiller compartment of the fridge, or when a useful piece of dishware is broken. They are used when a good coupon expires, or when a congenial couple breaks up. It's a pity. What a pity.

To me, in these words, there is a sense of waste. The milk, the veggies, the dish, the savings, the chemistry -- something good is gone. There is something shameful in it; the full potential that was left unreached. But if we use these words on a yet ungrown child, the words cast a barrier in front of him -- they assume he can never reach his full effectiveness. That he will never experience life fully. In a sense, he will never be fully human.

I want to refute these words and the ideas behind them. Obi is not one to be pitied. There is nothing shameful about his condition. He is a precious, precious being, and God willing, he will grow and mature and reach his full potential -- not the predetermined ideals set by society, but develop into the person that he alone can be and do the things that he alone can do as an individual. Who is to say he will not or cannot be a great person?

 To me, he already is.

I write this as much for myself as for all out there who encounter special needs in their lives. As much as I am for advocacy, intervention, and integration, there can only be so much that parents, educators, and specialists can do. Without love and acceptance from family, friends, and community, it will only be so much harder, in spite of the technology, the therapy, the research. We cannot turn a blind eye just because they are different from us. This is why I am so glad that our school has chosen to partner with ministries such as Taiwan Sunshine and the special needs school in Ren Wu district, connecting our students with other students who may not look, act, or communicate the same way that they do, but reaching out to discover the same joys and graces that God bestows upon us in this world.

So let it not be a pity. Let them be empowered.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

taking back JOY

The day I walked into our first home together I knew there would be a lot of work to do. Exhausted from two days of traveling, my shoulders slumped even more when I saw the piles of dust, the splintering wood, the cracking tiles. But we were newly married, and with that newly married glow in my mind I pictured the pioneer girl who, with her grit and pluck, managed to make a home out of a wilderness. So I rolled up my metaphorical sleeves and set to work.

But the days went by and we settled, as the dust that settles, no matter how it was wiped away. The buckets under the leaky sinks amassed dirty water. The old pipes smelled--we covered the drains and turned our heads away, just as we squinted away the bad paint job on the walls, blinked at the eroding grout, blind-eyed the splintering doors. Just two years, at most. And then we could move on.

But try as I might, no amount of wiping, bucket-emptying, head-turning, or eye-squinting made all those things go away. Slowly, imperceptibly, a corrosiveness seeped into my being. An attitude of the temporary. To endure, stick through, put up with this present existence until Happy Ever After. A subconscious resignation to a gnawing discontent.

Oh discontent. How you have been the downfall of humanity! In the silent void, the restlessness takes on a cancerous unhappiness.

I read a blog post of another lady who discovered, from the mouth of her little son, a perceptible loss of joy in her heart after a monumental relocation of her family -- the transition had been hard on her; what she didn't realize is that it wasn't just an internal struggle. Her quiet, inward distress was affecting her children. What got to me was that aside from the message coming from the voice of a 9 year old son, I felt it was exactly what I was going through as well. Someone alongside me asking me with tears in their wide-open, wondering eyes where my joy went.

I asked myself. I am tired, discouraged, worn down by mundane toil; a solitary, isolated path on an endless mountain-pile of to-dos. My present is a schedule book and an eternal list. In this world, friends are far and heartfelt communication rare.
And this is how a heart is worn, tattered to thanklessness.

So now I challenge myself.
Remember who I am: loved and cherished by an Almighty God.

Be present -- not in the book or the list, but in the grains of sweetness that give life its special meaning.

Be open -- not to critical thoughts or internal judgments, but to receive the daily graces of a Good Father.

Be near -- not to the world and its mindless bustle, but to my God: my Savior, Redeemer, Healer, Provider, Friend.

Be thankful -- not just for work to earn daily bread, but for every little thing He sends to remind me of His goodness, His grace, His favor.

Today, it is...
...the spring rain. God knows to send refreshing to cool a parched and thirsty soul.
...the graciousness of others, who yield themselves in order to smooth the way for me.
...the ability to, at a moment's notice, send a heartfelt message to someone oceans away.

Will you, also, be challenged with me? What are you thankful for today?