Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, Daughter!

My daughter turned twelve today. In the early morning quiet I thought back over my years with her. The tears my mother and I shed when we first saw the empty crib in that hotel room in China just hours before Arielle was mine. Tears because I really, truly, would have a daughter at long last. Indescribable joy when the thin baby with the huge dark eyes was placed in my arms.

Her hair grew thick and black and her big eyes didn't miss a thing. Even as a baby she carried with her the wisdom of the ages, serious and thoughtful. My little girl spoke in sentences just past her first birthday and could read all the letters of the alphabet before she turned two. She's always loved books and as a toddler would quietly take each one from her shelf and page through it, her little face so intent on learning and understanding. Then she would stack the books neatly beside her as she finished them. They were her treasures.

I think of my little ballerina in her many tutus and later my girl with her black hair braided with red ribbons performing at Chinese New Year. She learned to play piano and entertained us at home with joyful abandon but never enjoyed the recitals. She couldn't bear the thought of making a mistake. Once, as I watched her playing a lively tune, a word of scripture clearly came to my mind, "She's the apple of my eye." God's. And mine.

Her mind is her strength, but with caution and persistent effort she learned to swim and ride a bike. She's never been interested in sports but loves our vegetable garden and has diligently worked beside me year after year, planting, hoeing, harvesting. She has learned to sew and has begun to cook. Oh, there is so much more I want to teach her!

She loves the ocean. Our last trip to the shore I watched her edge further and further from us. Her thoughts were her own as she plunged into the swirling water, alone, but under our watchful eyes. What are your dreams, precious daughter?

The years fly faster and faster and soon she'll soar away too. Wait, please wait! I'm not ready for her to go! She is becoming a beautiful young woman, poised, confident, and never losing her sweet and gentle nature or the ancient wisdom in her eyes. Happy Birthday, Arielle! We love you!


For weeks Fred has been looking forward to Black Friday, maybe even more than Thanksgiving. After several years of repetitive behavior, people tend to call something a tradition. So we continue our tradition this year.

We're not like those fanatics who go out in the middle of the night to camp out around the Walmart waiting for the doors to open. No, we leave the house around 7am and head to the mall, search the already packed parking lot for a spot, and then join the throngs of shoppers. Usually we don't do much buying. We just soak up the festive atmosphere, eating chocolate samples from the speciality shops and drinking Starbucks coffee. Maybe get a glimpse of the REAL Santa. Yes, we have the real deal at our mall.

Today we left a little later because we were bringing Dominic and his fiancee with us. They came to visit from D.C. and we talked them into joining us on our "day-after-T-day tradition". This year the coffee line was too long and the peppermint bark quota had already been distributed at Williams-Sonoma. Penneys had no more of the free snow globes they advertised and Fred and Arielle couldn't go off to shop together because I was pushing Fred in a wheelchair! That was quite an adventure. Wheelchairs are even harder than strollers to maneuver in store aisles and trying to get Fred up a ramp was near impossible if not for Dominic coming to the rescue. But wheelchairs are great for holding things. My purse went on Fred's lap and shopping bags were linked over the handles. Friends, don't you miss strollers for that reason alone? I wish I had my old stroller just to use as a shopping cart.

Our big bargain of the day--a Land's End coat for Liana that was 50% off! The most enjoyable part of the morning--a late breakfast at a diner with Dominic and Stacia. After our busy morning we got to relax and talk before they headed back to the big city.

Black Friday evening will hopefully become a tradition too. Fred made a fire in the woodstove, the girls roasted marshmallows, and I wrote my blog notes on paper so I could be downstairs with my family. On Thanksgiving around the table our kids had said what they were thankful for this past year. Over and over we kept hearing from each of them, big ones and little ones, "Family." My heart if full of gratitude tonight.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Indian Sam

I remember well the autumn I turned 12. I was in 7th grade and my school was on double sessions. I left the house after lunch and came home on the bus in the dark. My family lived in suburban St. Louis and we appeared to be an ordinary family, making snowmen in the yard in the winter, riding our bikes around the neighborhood in the summer, battling the bully on our street year-round. But we were not ordinary.

My own daughter Arielle is now exactly the same age I was that eventful evening, November 20th, long ago. I wonder how she would have reacted to my circumstances. If I remember right, it was also a Friday night, like it is now. My favorite show, Gomer Pyle, was about to start and I missed it because my new brother was coming into the world, right in my parents' bedroom.

My mother was against hospital births. Actually she is still pretty much against the medical profession in general. She gave birth to five children at home. But this brother, born when I was 12, was the most memorable for me. I remember the mysterious noises coming from the bedroom and my dad having me run get things for him. It was both scary and exciting. I was worried about my mother but knew something incredible was happening. I was privileged to see my newborn brother immediately after he was born. My mom and dad nicknamed him Indian Sam because his little face was so red. (We didn't worry about political correctness back then.)

For homework that weekend I had to write a report for English class. I wrote about what was foremost in my mind, of course! I told about how I had assisted with the birth and everything about Indian Sam, the baby I already adored. I read my report aloud in class. The teacher's reaction was stunned silence. My classmates didn't stir or say a word either. I knew then that it was a weird thing that I had witnessed and maybe my family wasn't like other families.

My mother probably influenced me to have my firstborn son at home, attended by a midwife--a MAN--and his trainees, who sat around and smoked cigarettes in the bedroom where I was laboring. It was a horrible experience and the rest of my boys were born in the hospital. (Those births weren't much better, but at least the air wasn't toxic.) After nursing school I worked in maternity in a hospital in Oklahoma City hoping to make other women's births a little more pleasant. I experienced many miracles there, for every child born into this world is a miracle.

Indian Sam was a very special brother. My other two brothers were playmates, lots of fun most of the time, but this one was my baby. I claimed him as my own. My mother gave me a lot of responsibility in caring for him and I thoroughly enjoyed him. Even today, we have a close relationship. So, Happy Birthday, Little Brother!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


"The Lord takes pleasure in His people." Psalm 149:4. I know, hard to believe. This word comes after an exhortation to praise, rejoice, and sing. If God desires our praise, I will give it.

I was cooking dinner and Liana came into the kitchen and looked out into the backyard. "Mom, look at the sky!" I turned the light off so we could see better. Our window faces the setting sun and the sky was painted with glorious streaks of color. Liana ran for the camera, and we went outside on the deck to enjoy the view. No photo could capture this moment.

I'm so glad my children haven't become cynical, taking for granted the special gifts of the earth. They are both vigilant, scanning the outdoors for wonders--a deer that strays from its family to explore our yard, the groundhog quadruplets born in the spring, the little birds that find our feeder. Even a caterpillar or ladybug or praying mantis will excite them.

As we each look at our little piece of the earth, are we struck by the beauty of it? In the morning I watch the soaring birds departing from their roost in the bamboo grove. The sun rises like a glowing red ball and illuminates the shocking yellow trees, their leaves now falling gently and covering our lawn. Fred has been unable to do his usual autumn leaves clean-up, and they are piled high in the corners where the wind blows them. I enjoy listening to the rustling as they are scattered about. "God has displayed His splendor." Psalm 8:1.

Does God really delight in us that way, like we find joy in His creation? Does He smile at our human-ness, faults and all? Is He like a mother who tenderly gazes at her children, adoring them, even if five minutes ago they were being most disagreeable?

"God makes the dawn and the sunset shout for joy." Psalm 65:8. "In His right hand there are pleasures forever." Psalm 16:11. Don't miss them, and don't forget that your Creator also takes pleasure in you.

Monday, November 16, 2009


I had the best grandmother in the world. I think I've said that before. We lived in Tucson and she lived in San Diego, so visiting her was infrequent, but what an exciting time for me when we went to her house. She adored me, simple as that.

I was thinking of her yesterday. Arielle and I went to my daughter-in-law's house to pick her up, along with my granddaughter Lana. We pulled in the driveway, and Lana dressed in pink hearts bounced out to the car, her long hair gold in the afternoon sun. I adore that child. I hope she knows it. Girls' Day Out! We had an afternoon of shopping planned.

Chrissy and I are both on very limited budgets, so we were very discriminating about what we put in our cart. Lana, being a typical 6-year-old with no cares about money, wanted a stuffed animal. Over and over she implored her mother to get her one. I too loved stuffed animals when I was a child. Unlike my daughters whose rooms are filled with them, I had just four animals over the course of my childhood. Each one was so very special. My grandmother bought one of them.

On a visit to California, my sister and I were in a store with my grandmother. Maybe we were clamoring for a gift, I don't know. But I remember my grandmother saying we could get something. I was old enough to realize she did not mean a big something, just a little treat or toy. A huge display of plush teddy bears caught my eye. Could we have one of those? I can still see my grandmother's face. She hesitated, wanting to say no, it was too much. But she said yes! My sister chose a brown and tan bear. Mine was pink and white.

Lana never asked me for anything. I could tell Chrissy wanted to get her something, but she needed to buy clothing instead. So I knelt down and told Lana about my grandmother and my bear. And then I told her that her own grandma would get her the animal she desired. She must have already had one in mind. She ran to the display and immediately chose a gray kitty.

Lana didn't need another stuffed animal. Maybe she shouldn't have been allowed a toy, since she kept asking after her mother said no. But isn't that a grandmother's role? To give when it isn't deserved? To indulge a child, to be the pushover? Parents so often have to be the "no" person. I want to be able to say "yes" to my grandchildren.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Great Healer

Fred went to the doctor yesterday for a new x-ray to see how his leg is mending and to determine if surgery will be necessary to repair the damage. Great news! The doctor said he is amazed at how Fred is healing so rapidly. No surgery is needed. In fact, he can begin partial weight-bearing on the injured leg. Maybe even driving again soon.

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psalm 139:14. God gave our bodies the incredible means to heal. Broken bones repair themselves. Even the enormous swelling in Fred's foot and ankle had purpose--to splint the fractured bones until new bone was formed. We are very grateful for this healing.

Fred has 9 more days of school. He has persevered in his work and will graduate at the top of his class. The girls and I are counting down the times we have to make the mid-day drive to pick him up. They have adapted, and I have overcome my fear of the traffic and the stress it caused me each day. Thanks again to all our friends who have offered to help us. In the big picture of life, these weeks are few and could just be called an inconvenience. Running with footmen, not horses.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Great Leader

Years ago before we had Chinese children, I read Wild Swans by Jung Chang at the recommendation of my son who was reading it in his Asian Studies course at college. It remains one of the most memorable--and horrifying--books I've ever read. It is a memoir about three generations of women in Chang's family and it is also a historical account of China during the 20th century.

After reading Wild Swans, and while waiting for Arielle to come home, I immersed myself in Chinese history. I was stunned by the brutality of the Mao Tse-Tung regime, in part because it was such recent history. Many events happened during my lifetime. In fact, Jung Chang was born the same year I was, so I would relate my life to hers at the same age. I was also stunned by my previous lack of knowledge about China. My history classes in high school and college were quite lacking in content.

Jung Chang has written another book titled Mao: The Unknown Story, co-authored with her husband. When asked why she wrote this book she says, "Mao was responsible for the deaths of well over 70 million Chinese in peacetime, and he was bent on dominating the world. As China is today emerging as an economic and military power, the world can never regard it as a benign force unless Beijing rejects Mao and all his legacies. We hope our book will help push China in this direction by telling the truth about Mao." Of course, the book is banned in China. Mao's portrait still dominates Tiananmen Square in the heart of the capital and he still reigns in the hearts of many Chinese.

So why does any of this concern me and why would I take the time to write about it here? Three reasons: 1) I am reading another memoir right now called Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng. This author was imprisoned for years and her daughter murdered by Mao and his cohorts. The great tragedy of the Cultural Revolution is on my mind right now. 2) I am still amazed by the comment made by the White House Communications Director, Anita Dunn, who said that Mao is one of her "favorite political philosophers." Please, someone explain this! And 3) An article in our big city newspaper last week was very disturbing.

The article was titled, "Vows with a dash of Mao: Looking for wedding outfits, young Chinese are reaching back to the Cultural Revolution." Chinese women are getting married in green military outfits with the red stars on the hats--the uniform of the Red Guard! The article says there is "nostalgia about the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution." And then this quote, "Estimates of the number of people killed, starved to death, driven to suicide, and died in acts related to political persecution run from the tens of thousands to around a million." Compare those statistics to those quoted by Jung Chang. Was it tens of thousands or 70 million? In either case, would Mao be your hero?

Supposedly two or three couples a week come in for their Red Guard portraits. The manager of the studio says, "I think it is fun to pose as a Red Guard. That is a special period that most young people do not know about. It definitely makes you feel different when you are in the green army uniform." The young woman responds, "I think it's very cool."

Young people in China have an excuse for their ignorance, living in a media-censored country. But what about us? Read, learn, and speak out! My children will learn about Mao. They will know the history of their country of origin, sad as it is. They will not be fooled by our political leaders or our newspapers that downplay what happened there. Did you know that public education in our own USA practices its own form of censorship? I will write more on that later. History is being re-written and it is absolutely appalling.

I know my friends and family follow this blog to read family news. You probably want to know how Fred is doing! For now I have to write what is on my heart.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


I'm getting tired. It's only been 10 days since Fred's accident, but I am running on empty. Fred is tired of being in pain, tired of trying to get around on crutches and a very heavy, bulky cast. The girls are getting cranky. We had an hour drive one way to pick Fred up from school yesterday because of traffic. Then we had to turn around and drive home. Today we got up at 5:30 in the morning for Fred to get ready for his classes and do it all over again.

I have been reading a Charles Spurgeon devotional in the morning. It often seems to speak just to me. Here is today's verse: "For my strength is made perfect in weakness." II Corinthians 12:9. Our little family is weak right now. Spurgeon adds, "Are you mourning over your own weakness? Take courage, for there must be a consciousness of weakness before the Lord will give you victory. Your emptiness is but the preparation for your being filled, and your casting down is but the making ready for your lifting up."

The other day I remembered a verse from long ago and had to look it up because I didn't remember where it was: "If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses?" Jeremiah 12:5. I'm reminded this little accident of Fred's is small in light of the problems other people have. If I can't do this, what would I do if something big actually happened? Even so, in my own strength, I can do nothing right. Whether problems are big or small, we all need to go to God and ask for His strength for the task.

Yesterday Liana and I took a short walk around the yard. Even in November, the trees are glowing with a golden light. The mums are blooming and we brought their bright colors into the house to cheer us. Life is good.

We often ask people to pray for those we know who have needs. This is a different kind of prayer request. As you read this post, pray blessings down on our friend Pete. He is at our door every morning at 7am to take Fred to school. It's a very long drive through rush hour traffic. He does not even work in that area, yet he faithfully ministers to our family in our need. What a faithful servant of the Lord he is!
Blessings to all you who have helped in some way. A friend of mine took me out for a cup of tea. She would never know how much that meant to me and how refreshed I was afterwards. Someone else brought us two rotisserie chickens. Hurray, no cooking for 3 whole days! Everyone who has called and offered help, thank you, thank you. May God bless you richly!