Wednesday, November 22, 2017

…they skipped over Thanksgiving!



(A short chapter from my book, From the Mouths of Babes.)


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~ Chapter 31 ~
... they skipped over Thanksgiving!
One August day, my children and I were at the store and we couldn’t believe our eyes. Christmas decorations were glittering from plastic trees. Fake snowmen flashed their toothy grins at us, beckoning us to take them home. Toys, toys, and more toys lined the aisles. I shook my head in disbelief, then made a wide detour around the Christmas displays. After shopping for a bit, we ended up on the other side of the store, where the racks showcased Halloween costumes. Of course, my children noticed right away, and Arianna commented, “They have Halloween and Christmas, but they skipped over Thanksgiving!”

“You’re right,” I said. Thanksgiving is small beans when compared to the two biggest money-making holidays of the year. The holiday itself, Thanksgiving with an uppercase ‘T’, is sometimes overshadowed by football and feasting, while thanksgiving with a lowercase ‘t’ is often forgotten as we get caught up in Black Friday and early Christmas shopping. Yes, gifts and food are good things, but we celebrate only because God gave us reasons to celebrate. When I think about our health, our home, and Jesus– the mystery of God coming to live with us in the most rustic and unimpressive way possible– I can’t help but be truly thankful!
“Thank you God for the beach... the food... my friends... my birthday... our car... our house... Baby Jesus...”

I listen to my children pray. Their gratefulness for all things great and small makes everyday a day of thanksgiving. Even if we had no turkey, no presents, or no Christmas tree, we would still have much to celebrate!

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To purchase a copy of From the Mouths of Babes, visit Amazon.com! And come back soon for more information about my new children's book!



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Thankful Heart

Sometimes, I feel that there is much to complain about.

My kitchen cabinets are literally falling apart. I lose things because the back of my drawers have fallen off.

There is some kind of pipe issue going on that causes small floods in the garage.

My children still haven't figured out how to get themselves moving in the morning. And they still complain about school every other day (at least).

My backyard is a mess...

My husband is busy...

My schedule is demanding...

I don't have time to sleep, shower, or sit for even 10 minutes of quiet…

You see how easy it is to get on the mental train of 'woe is me'?

Whenever I get on this train, I find that the words of Colossians 3:15-20 (one of my favorite passages) helps me jump onto a different train…

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and humans and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Then I know that there is much to be thankful for.

We live in a wonderful, comfortable house in a safe  neighborhood. This house has become our home over the past eight years. Two of my children have been born in my bedroom!

My children are with me almost all day, and they are with their siblings almost all day. The ratio of time spent fighting and complaining and time spent playing, helping, learning, and laughing is actually quite low. They are healthy, happy, and growing up faster than I would like!

My husband has a 15-20 minute commute. He doesn't go away on business trips. He is almost always home for dinner, and often home for breakfast too. He loves supporting his family, and is busy serving our church body and the community to the best of his ability. Sometimes this means taking an evening Bible class. Sometimes it means meeting with a young man or a dad for coffee at 7am. He loves people. But he doesn't forget to make time for me. Yesterday, he asked me, out of the blue, "Rita, how can I love you better?" I really don't deserve him.

As for me, I have the privilege to do exactly what I've always wanted to do: being a mom, homeschooling, taking care of the home, mentoring women. I have opportunities to use my gifts. I am not hindered by health issues. My life may not be perfect, but even if it was, I could still find something to complain about, if I tried hard enough. Ungratefulness often comes from pride, vanity, selfishness, and a sense of entitlement. Contentment, on the other hand, is rooted in a humble and thankful heart. So even if you are having a difficult time giving thanks right now, remember that one's level of gratefulness is not based on one's circumstances.

Let's make a practice of giving thanks to the One who gave us all things and living in such a way that all can see our thankful hearts. As our day of Thanksgiving approaches, read and meditate upon these verses. May the "word of Christ dwell in you richly!"

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. ~Psalm 118:24

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. ~Psalm 136:1

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge this name. ~Hebrews 13:15

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High. ~Psalm 7:17

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ~I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! ~I Chronicles 16:8

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Introducing… Dorcas!

Many years ago, I was a lonely ten-year-old whose family had just moved from New York to California. I soon met my first friend, a joyful, spunky, enthusiastic girl named Dorcas. She was a year younger than me and we had much in common– Chinese parents who were devoted Christians, a home in the suburbs, weekends spent at piano lessons and church gatherings.

A few years passed, and as life changes came our way, it seemed that Dorcas and I no longer had as much in common. Sadly, Dorcas's father passed away from liver failure when she was only 14-years-old. Dorcas went on to attend Stanford University, then married her college sweetheart, who was an engineer/entrepreneur and the cofounder and CEO of d.light, the maker of solar-powered, rechargeable, LED lanterns (check them out at www.dlight.com). Now Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, she and her husband lived internationally before settling back in California to raise their two children.

Somewhere along the way, Dorcas and I reconnected on Facebook, and that was when I discovered that Dorcas was an amazing writer! With a humble, honest, beautiful, clear voice, Dorcas shared on her blog about her faith, her life as wife and mom, and her time being a Chinese-American living in China. As I read about her unique and sometimes challenging life experiences, I found myself laughing, sighing, and sympathizing with her, and our lives once again shared a commonality– one that went beyond our young, junior high, suburban lives. Now, with her talent for writing about culture, Christian faith, and the world of small-business start-ups, she is a regular contributor for Inc.com, Christianity Today, The Well, and Asian American Women on Leadership. 


Then, almost a year ago, Dorcas made an exciting announcement! A publisher was interested in her book proposal, and she had signed a contract to write a book on start-ups and family life! And all while expecting her second child! Knowing that she was one busy mama, I hesitated to ask her for an interview, but I also knew that she had such wisdom and insights to share. So I contacted her, and she kindly found the time to answer a few questions for me. Read on (and find out where you can pick up a copy of her book!)


1) Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I have also had the privilege of living in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Kenya. My husband, Ned, and I are college sweethearts who have been married for more than twelve years. We have two adorable boys who have the wonderfully unusual combination of being part Chinese, part Turkish, and part Jewish.

For the first decade of my professional career, I worked in the nonprofit sector, supporting a number of different programs and policies to empower underserved communities. But I always loved writing and found excuses to write in my jobs, whether it was writing reports, proposals, or newsletters. When my first son was born five years ago, it seemed like as good a time as any to try pursuing writing full-time. It’s been a wild, unpredictable ride, and I have loved it.

2) What passions drive you in your writing?
I firmly believe that powerful stories can transform us on a very deep level. I am especially passionate about telling true stories that delve into the messiness of human existence—the awful, the beautiful, and the profound. It is from these stories that I think we can learn the most about who we are, what connects us as fellow human beings, and how God is redeeming each of us day by day.

3) What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned as a wife?
Being a wife has taught me the importance of prioritizing my husband’s flourishing, even when it has been costly for me. Ned has a vocational calling that is extremely demanding, and the entire family has had to sacrifice significantly to support him. 

It has been far too easy for me to grow resentful of these sacrifices without acknowledging that Ned’s flourishing is directly linked to my own. As he has grown in his leadership through his business, he has become a more mature and supportive husband and father. He sees what I have given up for him and is that much more willing to sacrifice for me. Ned has been the greatest supporter of my writing career, even though it’s probably one of the least stable careers I could pursue.

4) What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned as a mother?
In a single word: grace. Grace for myself, as I see all my flaws and imperfections emerging through the daily toil of managing sleep deprivation, tantrums, and adorable little people who have a mind of their own. I have learned far more about my limitations than my abilities after becoming a mom, which has pushed me to be more humble and to be more willing to ask for help. 

Grace for my sons, of course, who are trying to find their own way and establish their own identities in this world. Grace for my husband, who is a fantastic dad, even though his time with the family is limited. 

And grace for all the other moms out there, who are juggling kids and housework and vocation and community service and more. None of us are doing it perfectly, but we’re all trying our best, and we deserve to be acknowledged for our efforts.

5) What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned as a daughter of the King?
Like many kids of Asian immigrant parents, I’ve struggled for years with striving, achievement, people-pleasing, and perfectionism. Over the past decade or so, God has been slowly unraveling the false idea that I am only as good or valuable as what I can accomplish. He has been teaching me that my worth is in my identity as his beloved—just as the worth of every other individual is as his beloved as well. 

While this is a lesson that I am still very much in the middle of learning, in recent years I have felt far greater freedom to take risks, to try new things, and to be (somewhat) okay with failing. My life is so much richer when I am less burdened by the need to prove myself or earn others’ approval. I can instead lean into the unpredictable adventure that God has me and my family on.

6)  What is the best way for readers to get a hold of your book?
As of November 7, my first book, entitled Start, Love, Repeat: How to Stay in Love with Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Start-up World (Hachette Center Street), will be available wherever books are sold! You can get the hardcover version, e-book, or audio book through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers. Hopefully you’ll also be able to find it in your local bookstore.

As you can imagine, this book was inspired by my real-life experience. My hope is that this will be a helpful, practical guidebook for couples that are struggling to balance marriage and family with growing a business. And it’ll also tell you a lot more about the life lessons I’ve learned as the wife of an entrepreneur.

To read an excerpt from Dorcas's book, or to read Dorcas's other published works, visit her website, www.chengtozun.com. And thank you so much, Dorcas, for taking the time to answer my questions! Congratulations on your new publishing venture!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Family Vacation

Earlier this month, our family spent a week at South Lake Tahoe. Trips like this are rare for us, partly because of expense, and partly because it's exhausting traveling with seven children, two of which are toddlers. But our friends blessed us with an opportunity to visit the beautiful Tahoe area with them, and our adventurous side said, "Yes! Let's do it!"

I was eagerly anticipating this trip. After a busy summer, the start of school, and my husband's accident, I was ready to kick back and relax a little.

But soon after settling into our hotel room, I found myself being stricter than even at home!

"Be careful! We don't want to break anything!"
"Shh! Settle down! Everyone in the hotel can hear us!"
"Please help clean up! What will 'housekeeping' think?!"

By day 4, my husband and I were exhausted from bad sleep and bad attitudes. We had a impromptu meeting in bed that night, to discuss how we want days 5-8 to go.

The first thing that needed to change: our expectations.

I wanted the children to be absolutely enthusiastic and energetic about our plans, while behaving like guests in the White House. My husband wished that this could be a real vacation, meaning "no kids, no schedule, no demands." We were short-tempered and annoyed because in our minds, we expected this vacation to go differently! And our expectations weren't realistic!

The second thing that needed to change: our attitudes.

The children were happy sitting in the hot tub and watching television all day. My husband and I wanted to see more sights. Whenever the kids grumbled about going somewhere, we parents interpreted their comments as ingratitude, and we ended up grumbling ourselves.

It was time for grace.

Our after-hours meeting ended with this conclusion: we are imperfect parents. Even when we were in a beautiful setting, with the best intentions of spending quality time with our family, we failed as parents. Only our Father in Heaven is the perfect parent, and He was the one we needed to rely on for grace and love, and the ability to share that grace and love with our children.

Days 5-8 turned out to be the most restful and enjoyable days of our trip. We rented a double surrey from the local bike shop and piled all nine of us in it. We did an easy hike along the shores of Fallen Leaf Lake, where we caught (and released) crayfish and admired the golden yellow leaves of the autumnal aspen trees. We spent time in the hot tub. We focused more on the "being" together, rather than the "doing" together. My husband and I still had bad sleep, but our days were full of joy and contentment, as we rested in the loving grace of our Heavenly Father.

When Friday arrived, our kids didn't want to leave, and I don't blame them. I too was loving my time with my family, living a life with fewer distractions (and a few more luxuries). And though we weren't able to take home the hot tub, the housekeeping, or the lake, we did return home with something more important, a renewed sense of grace, gratefulness, and family.

I would say then that our family vacation was a success!