God Used Adoption to Save… All of Us

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A God moment between brothers. Photo by Ann Wang

 

Original publication in Inheritance Magazine, May 2017

https://www.inheritancemag.com/stories/god-used-adoption-to-save-all-of-us

WHAT HAVE I DONE? I quietly asked myself this countless times the first year with our adopted child. Bonding was a challenge.

When he desperately reached out to a strange man in the airport and I felt repeatedly rejected in this manner, I wondered, “What have I done?”

While grocery store shoppers threw me dirty looks as our adopted child screeched like fingernails on a chalkboard, because that’s how he got what he wanted at the orphanage, I thought, “What have I done?”

Of course, we had decided to adopt after prayer and thoughtful consideration. We knew this was the right choice for us. But our first year was certainly not easy. And being Luke’s primary caregiver all day, it felt like the burden fell wholly on me.

I felt like a bad mom to my 6-year-old biological son because so much of my attention was on my newly adopted 1-year-old. My inability to return to the relative peace we once knew left me constantly tired with a sense of hopelessness. And I’m an optimist.

We knew adoption might be challenging. But no amount of warning equaled the reality that slapped me in the face. Yet, admitting my struggles felt like defeat, so I unwittingly suffered in silence as I asked God if we had misread His intentions for us.

No amount of warning equaled the reality that slapped me in the face.

The only thing moving me forward was the reminder of how God brought us to our adopted son. Our story was my beacon of truth: Adopting Luke was absolutely what we were called to do.

Even before we held Luke in our arms, he saved us.

God Used Adoption to Save ... All of Us

During the pre-adoption process, we discovered that I had a potentially life-threatening illness that would have gone undetected because the test that would have revealed the disease isn’t routinely done until about age 60, which would have been too late. Our adopted-one-to-be saved my life, although at the time we had no idea if we would still be able to adopt.

As we worked through all the decisions regarding my sickness and whether or not to move forward with the adoption, fear crept in. All the what-ifs began piling up. We asked questions like: Would we or our extended family love and support our adopted child as much as his biological brother and cousins? What physical and emotional “baggage” do adopted children come with? These questions and more are still asked of me today by prospective adoptive parents.

Would we or our extended family love and support our adopted child as much as his biological brother and cousins?

Whether adopted or biological, children are unpredictable. And so are those who love them. Some biological siblings don’t get along; some friendships are stronger than blood. Perfectly healthy children get serious illnesses; sick kids become stronger than some typical children. And as our family struggles, we take it a day at a time, tackling each challenge as it comes.

Allowing God into our fears helped us to see that it wasn’t simply about our comfort or our ideas about making a family. It was about living out God’s truths, loving beyond ourselves, and extending reconciliation in a practical way. For us, that meant adoption.

Our journey started off hopeful but quickly took several unexpected dips. We received hurtful backlash from extended family members who did not agree with adoption. We even thought about our willingness to end relationships with those who could not accept our adopted child into the family. We prayed all the more, asking God to give us wisdom about how to respond lovingly.

Various reasons to not adopt were thrown at us. “They’ll leave you to go to their [biological] family.” Or, “I heard of an adopted child who killed their parents.” It took God’s peace to know we were doing the right thing. Thankfully, immediately after we brought our child home, the naysayers became quite fond of our new addition and extended to him the rightful attention given to any new member of the family. We could not have predicted this reaction.

Finally, my required medical exam revealed an autoimmune disease that would not only postpone the adoption process, but threatened to demolish our desire to adopt altogether. Only healthy adults were allowed to adopt, understandably, for the sake of the child. I became frustrated; if this was our calling, why was it so hard?

If this was our calling, why was it so hard?

After seven months of testing and trying varying prescriptions that would not only prolong my life but save it, we were given the OK to proceed with adoption. I was expected to live long enough to watch my children enter adulthood.

During our pause from adoption papers and social workers, not only were we worried about my health, but we wrestled with two conflicting decisions. Did God call us to adopt just so I could catch and stop this disease in its tracks, but not follow through with the adoption? Or were we still supposed to adopt a child and bring him or her into this unknown future with a mom whose health could start going downhill anytime, if the medication stopped working? These questions kept us on our knees in prayer, asking for the next right steps.

 Did God call us to adopt just so I could catch and stop this disease in its tracks, but not follow through with the adoption?

My husband started to shy away from the idea of adoption. He was trying to help us be at peace with being a family of three. To me, this felt like the loss of our dream family of four. Still, as the possibility of “just three” tearfully sank in, I learned to be content, appreciating anew the child we already had.

After about a month of further prayer, listening to wise counsel, and through our reading of Scripture, we equally sensed God’s pleasure with adoption and a resounding “yes” for us to move forward.

In the process of adopting Luke, my U.S. citizenship was made official (another scary bump that was fixed on our road to adoption), our extended family grew to embrace more than blood, and my “silent” disease was found, which gave me the gift of “time” to not only appreciate the son we already had, but eagerly look forward to the one to come.

God Used Adoption to Save ... All of Us

It wasn’t long after we restarted the process that we were faced with yet another decision about our family. There was an adorable boy waiting to be adopted, aging in the system due to an undesirable family medical history. Even though the child was a typical child, it was possible that his condition might change in the future. Caring for a special needs child was a task beyond my ability. Prayer was again necessary to clear our minds of our wants and fears, and to focus on what was to be our future.

God brought clarity on the last night to make a decision. My husband and I decided to discuss our thoughts after we took time on our own to fast, pray, and read Scripture for confirmation of our next steps. We were relieved to come to the same solid conclusion. Adoption was a good choice for us.

Just like this little boy’s medical future, my own medical condition moving forward was a mystery. We didn’t know what was ahead, but we felt assured that God had our backs. And with His Holy Spirit’s help, we would take this journey one situation at a time, embraced by grace and other undeserved bonuses along the way. In unexpected ways, God answered our cries.

We didn’t know what was ahead, but we felt assured that God had our backs.

Our story takes place between the hopes for a happy home and the struggles that got us there. The initial process was a glimpse into and a preparation for what would lie ahead. Yes, even good things are hard. They take twists and turns away from and around our best plans. This taught us to rely on God and hold loosely to what we believe is the better way. We are being refined and healed continually by this process.

Nearly 10 years after bringing Luke home, he was baptized because, in his words, “I want this and I’m ready.”

He’s the source of a lot of joy and a lot of challenges — just like any child — biological or adopted. And his adoption is a reminder of God’s mercy, like catching a potential deadly disease early. It’s also a reminder of countless biblical truths, especially our adoption into the family of God.

Surprises still lie ahead. We expect them and are confident we will get help as they come. But for us, adoption has molded us, healed us, and is continually making us whole each and every day.

A Good Friend

four people walking while holding each others arms
Photo by rawpixel.com

Originally published on DailyDevos.org  (for teens) Oct. 20, 2016

Philippians 1:3-6 (NIV)
     I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of
you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel
from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who
began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day
of Christ Jesus.

Reflect:
     Who are your friends? Do they always want things from you? Do they get
you into trouble? Or do they help you and encourage you? Do your
friends make you a better version of you? Or do they tear you down and
bring out the worst in you?
      In the book of Philippians, Paul is really thankful to God for his
friends; and he lets them know it! Even though he’s under house
arrest (basically, he’s in jail), he writes this letter to his
friends with joy. Paul’s friends prayed for him, encouraged him and
even sent someone from their community to be with him during tough
times. Paul’s friends were his partners (from a distance) as he
traveled around and shared God’s truth. They loved Paul and Paul
loved them.
      With any good friendship, the give and take of help and words of
encouragement are mutual. So being a good friend back to the
Philippians, Paul shares encouraging news: The God that they serve
together has started something powerful in them. And over time, God
will continue to work out good in them until the end of their lives
when they reunite with Jesus.
      This message is an encouragement, not only to the Philippians, but
for for us who believe in the same God! We are works in progress,
being molded by the one who created us and knows us best. And when we
allow God’s truths to sink in, we have great hope that our best
friend, Jesus, has our back.

Respond:
     Find good friends like the ones mentioned above and surround yourself
with them. Are you being a good friend? Brainstorm ways you can be a
good friend by helping, encouraging and pointing people to Jesus’
truths. Then do it.

A Stroll Through Historic Olvera Street

 

Originally published in The Quarterly, Spring 2016 issue

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GRAPE VINES above the original Wine Street, now known as Olvera Street, a vibrant outdoor Mexican marketplace where pedestrians can shop for authentic goods, eat delicious food and discover the origins of Los Angeles.

In the heart of historic Los Angeles, across from Union Station, lies a charming burst of colors, culture and cuisine. Olvera Street is one of the oldest streets in LA, a shoppers delight and a snapshot into history.

This living museum is home to some of the oldest buildings in the city and home to literally the mother of all local ditches, Zanja Madre. The “mother ditch” was LA’s first water system that gave life to the growing pueblo (town) from 1781-1904. And it ran right through what is now “Olvera Street.”

But to truly appreciate the richness of the area, one must step back in time and understand its origins. My guide, Carl McCraven appreciates that “this place is open and preserved. And with a tour, people can appreciate it as I do.” This free tour through the historic site sets the stage. 

Peace-loving Tongva (also referred to as Gabrielino) natives inhabited Yangna settlement for centuries, perhaps even “thousands of years,” according to some estimates. In 1781, the Tongva welcomed los pobladores, new settlers recruited by Felipe de Neve, the first Spanish governor of California. Then, the area was known as Alta California, the northernmost Spanish territory.

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QUEEN OF THE ANGELS was a part of the original name given by los pobladores, the new settlers

Los pobladores, the founders of Los Angeles, were made up of 11 families (44 men, women and children) from Native American, African and European descent. They traveled more than 1,000 miles on foot from Sinaloa and Sonora Mexico, incentivized by de Neve to make settlements of their own. They called their beautiful new home “El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles” or the town of the Queen of Angels.

The current site of “El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument” commemorates the origins of Los Angeles, of which Olvera Street is a part. Migrants from around the world also begin calling the pueblo their home (Italians in 1823, the French in 1827 and the Chinese in 1850.)

The museums at the monument honor the cultures represented in these early years. Though they may be overlooked by the casual visitor, they are not to be missed. These include Avila Adobe, the oldest house in the city, built in 1818, The Pelanconi House, the oldest brick building, built by Italians in 1855 and the Sepulveda House, built in 1887.

Additional points of interest include the Italian Hall, David Siqueiros’ controversial mural, America Tropical, and the Chinese American Museum (just outside Olvera Street).

In 1877, the street known as Calle de las Vignas or Wine Street was officially changed to Olvera Street in honor of the first judge of Los Angeles County, Agustin Olvera. Unfortunately, by the early 1900s, Olvera street was becoming a slum.

But in 1926 a concerned philanthropist, Christine Sterling, recognized the historic value of the area and was determined to renovate and reinvigorate the pueblo.

Michelle Garcia-Ortiz, a representative of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument says, “Christine Sterling came up with the idea for Olvera Street after she had successfully completed a campaign to restore The Avila Adobe House. She wanted the surrounding area to be a welcoming place that payed tribute to Mexican American culture and traditions.” And with friends like Harry Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Olvera Street was transformed.

Even the Chief of Police donated the labor of prison inmates. In a journal entry in 1929, Sterling wrote, “One of the prisoners is a good carpenter, another electrician. Each night I pray they will arrest a bricklayer and a plumber.”

Sterling, “the mother of Olvera Street” brought together various craftspeople, restauranteurs and business-minded folk to open shops. And on April 20, 1930, Easter Sunday, Olvera Street opened as a Mexican marketplace.

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MIKE MARISCAL, owner of Myrosa Enterprises and president of the Olvera Street Merchants Association Foundation, is a forth generation shop owner and direct descendant of the original shop keeper.

Many of the merchants today are direct descendants of the original shop owners. Mike Mariscal, fourth-generation owner of “Myrosa Enterprises” is one of them. His shop and others on Olvera Street are proud to showcase local artists among other more traditional goods.

Roving musicians, balladeers and painters add color to the street while inspiring visitors and being inspired by the diversity within. One such artist is the late Leo Politi who created the nearby mural “Blessing of Animals.” He also wrote and illustrated more than 20 children’s books, a Caldecott winner and two honors among them, including “Pedro: The Angel of Olvera Street.” Postcards of his illustrations are sold at Myrosa and neighboring venues.

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BLESSING OF ANIMALS, a Leo Politi mural, graces a side of his beloved Olvera Street

Mariscal, also President of the Olvera Street Merchants Association Foundation, says, “I’m here not only to make a living, but to teach the public about the history, culture and traditions of Olvera Street.”

One of the privileges of the association is to host a variety of traditional events, all free. Some of the events include (as described by material from El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument and the Olvera Street Merchants Association Foundation):

Lantern Festival Chinese American Museum (March 5)

Activities include: workshops, crafts, artisans, entertainment and cultural exhibits.

Blessing of the Animals (Saturday, March 26, 12-5 PM) “This centuries-old tradition of blessing the animals, for all the benefits they provide mankind, is celebrated with a procession on Olvera Street led by the Archbishop of Los Angeles. All pets welcome.”

Olvera Street 86th Anniversary Celebration (Saturday, April 23) A smaller event with free refreshments and entertainment.

Cinco de Mayo (Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1, 11 AM – 9 PM and May 5)

Fiesta de las Flores (June)

Dia de los Muertos (October/November)

Virgen de Guadalupe (December)

Las Posadas (December)

Los Tres Reyes or Epiphany of the Three Kings (January)

Fiesta de la Candelaria (February)

Mardi Gras Children’s Workshop (February)

For a full schedule of events in and around Olvera Street or for free docent tours, call (213) 628-1274. Pick up a scavenger hunt sheet for children at the visitors’ center. Adults can also learn from this colorful brochure encouraging the curious to, “look, find, listen, read and ask.” And in doing so, we are all the richer.

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THE ORIGINAL CANDLE SHOP from the opening of Olvera Street in 1930 can still be visited today.

Leo Politi’s “Moy Moy” Celebrated

 

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Lion Dancers lead crowd to library.

Originally published 1.21.15 in “A Stone’s Throw” Column in the South Pasadena Review

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Mary Yan Joe or “Moy Moy” remembers Leo Politi.

Last Thursday, dancing lions roamed the streets of South Pasadena, winding through the farmer’s market, blinking lit-up eyes, flapping wiggly ears and ushering a crowd into the community room of the public library.

As the lively percussion band and lion dancers nestled down, the actual “Moy Moy” herself (“little sister” in a Cantonese dialect) settled-in to read Leo Politi’s picture book about a Chinese New Year celebration in L.A.’s Chinatown in the 1960s.

Politi, a children’s book author/illustrator and muralist, weaves a story of Moy Moy and her three big brothers (Harry, George and Frank) as they celebrate around their family’s shop.  

Moy Moy longs for a beautiful doll, but will she get it? She will first have to overcome her fear of the lions that come to life as they roar to a stand, grow angry and happy, eat dangling fruit and donated money and even sleep and wake to the beat of drums.

As Moy Moy read, children absorbed the beloved story. Adults joined in from the chairs behind and under the backdrop of dozens of Politi’s art on display.

After a complete reading of the story, Moy Moy or Mary Yan Joe, a resident of South Pasadena and the main character of the book, shared briefly about its history and author. She then showed her own collection of Politi originals, given to her family by the author himself.

As an artist who celebrated friendship and cultural diversity, Politi created some 20 books for children, a Caldecott winner and two honors among them (one of the highest achievements for a children’s picture book.)

Joe recalled a memory of Politi and her childhood, “I just remember him coming and bringing his little dog that I was terrified of; he would try to get me to warm up to the dog. I was told that was how he captured that in the story, where I was afraid of the lion.”

Politi loved interacting with and creating art about children. This was evident even as the youngest son, Frank Yan, would climb on Politi’s back as he tried to paint. Yan remembered, “I was the rascal…  I would just pester him.” A photo of young Yan climbing on a working Politi’s back was included in the exhibit.

Original dolls (like the one Moy Moy covets in the story) from Politi’s toy collection were also on display, juxtaposed to the illustrations that depicted them.

Politi had a special fondness for South Pasadena, painting his first library wall mural there. And South Pasadena loves Politi. Not only is a mural of children reading treasured in the children’s room of the library, but February 28 is proclaimed as the city’s official “Leo Politi Day.”

After the reading of “Moy Moy,” the evening’s line up was far from over.

Politi’s daughter, Suzanne Politi Bischof was on hand to represent the family and answer questions. Alan Cook, puppeteer, presented a fun and fascinating show of shadows illuminated like a makeshift television (sometimes called shadow play or shadow puppetry.) A detailed original sketch by Politi of Cook’s show in the past was also shared with the audience. Children created their own art at a craft table. And Ann Stalcup, who wrote “Leo Politi: Artist of the Angels” shared her book and more insight into Politi’s life.

The evening was a unique and fitting way to kick-off 2016 in South Pasadena and the Chinese New Year ahead (February 8).

Though the exhibit is no longer in the community room, you can still experience some of Politi’s books and his mural by visiting the South Pasadena Library.

Gong Hey Fat Choy! – Cantonese for “congratulations and be prosperous” in the New Year.

Thursday’s event was made possible by The Politi family, Lisa Boyd/Moms for Community, The City of South Pasadena, The South Pasadena Public Library, The Friends of the South Pasadena Library and many supportive volunteers.

CERT Classes Empower People to Prepare for Emergencies

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Putting out blaze – Community members learn how to extinguish a fire properly and efficiently.

 

Part 1 of 2: Published 9.24.15, South Pasadena Review

When disaster strikes, it’s too late to prepare. And in California, an earthquake, a fire, a windstorm or even your car breaking down on the way to Vegas in 100-degree heat can turn into an emergency situation very quickly. We know this, and yet many, including myself, continue to put off preparing.

No more excuses. The City of South Pasadena offers free Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training classes for anyone over 18-years of age.

This past Saturday, the third CERT Basic Training took place at Oneonta Congregational Church. But do not be fooled by “basic” in the title. This 12-hour class, split into three Saturdays, is the first step in a string of courses to help educate members of the community to respond to various emergencies.

Some of the topics covered in the “Basic” training are: fire safety, light search and rescue, basic first aid, disaster medical operations, terrorism, disaster psychology, and CERT Team organization. This last Saturday, one of the hands-on lessons was in how to use a fire extinguisher in a safe and effective way. We were encouraged to put out a fire while remembering PASS: Pull (the safety tab), Aim (extinguisher at the base of the fire), Squeeze (the lever with a strong grip) and Sweep (in a slow side to side motion).

Sign up for future free CERT trainings by going to the city of South Pasadena website: southpasadenaca.gov, under the “Residents” tab, then select “Disaster Preparedness.” Amateur Radio Training (to learn about emergency communications) will be on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 7-9 PM. And the next CERT Basic Training will begin Saturday, February 20, 2016.

Part 2 of 2: Published 10.1.15

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CPR Training – Administering CPR is not for the faint of heart. South Pasadena firemen Matt Robertson and Captain Kris Saxon oversee trainees.

CERT Trains Community to Help Others in an Emergency

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) “basic” training course does not water down the truths of a disaster. Images of charred skin, misaligned bones, and distressed and dying individuals were part of the class this past Saturday. But all of this was done to train individuals to help not only themselves and family members in an emergency, but to aid the community during a disaster.

Some material that was covered include: the psychological impact of a disaster, a step-by-step triage protocol, ABCs (airway, breathing, bleeding, circulation), creating makeshift splints and tourniquets, and CPR.

Hands-on training was given for an up-to-date method of “Hands-only” or “sidewalk” CPR. Though official certification for CPR was not given, trainees learned the basics while discovering how physically tiring it is to properly administer CPR for even just one minute.

According to CERT instructor and South Pasadena Fireman, Matt Robertson, the goal of CERT is to “Do the most good for the most people.” Trainees were encouraged to start where they’re standing and assess a situation while perhaps administering 30 seconds of care before moving on during triage.

When discussing the psychology of victims during a disaster, CERT instructor and South Pasadena Fire Department Captain, Kris Saxon said, “All it takes is a little bit of compassion.” CERT instructor and South Pasadena Fireman, Adam Levins added, “Let families grieve. Hold their hands.” He then went on to explain what to say and, maybe more importantly, what not to say.

With Los Angeles, one of the largest cities in the US, only 6 miles away, we should have an added urgency about “being ready.” And taking a CERT class can help, not only your family, but your community in a disaster as well as other emergencies.

Sign up for free CERT classes at southpasadenaca.gov, under the “Residents” Disaster Preparedness tab.

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Trainees and South Pasadena Fire Fighters – Members of the community gather at Oneonta Congregational Church for the third basic CERT training offered in South Pasadena.

In Memory of Sang Gil Suk 8/7/39 – 9/7/14

Farewell to My Daddy: A Rock Star! A Writer. A Role Model.

Daddy Suk's younger days
Daddy Suk’s younger days

The Rock Star

In College I told a friend about my dad’s “Rock Show.”

My friend replied, “What? You’re dad’s in a band? He’s so cool!”

“No, not a rock show with rock music, but a show with stones, viewing stones.” Apparently, that was still cool; so we went and enjoyed a more mellow kind of show, one with peace and God’s beauty at the center.

These stones (or Soo Suk) filled our home, lined our walls, stairs and bathroom. Even our last name “Suk” means “stone” in Korean. God gave my dad a fitting name. And in turn, my dad gave my eldest son, his middle name – Ian “Stone” Wang. Even my email is stonemama@gmail.

And like a rock, my dad was strong, carved by God and one of a kind. His passion was to discover stones that told a story… of war and peace, a story of strength and vulnerability, and sometimes a simple story of a dancer…which brings me to his love for words.

The Writer

My daddy, the writer, the poet, not only admired beauty in nature, but he deeply appreciated the simplicity and profound nature of words.

He has probably penned over a hundred poems. And though they seem simplistic at first, they are pregnant with meaning. That’s really hard to do! The collection of poems could easily be made into a book, but he didn’t care about the result as much as the process of creating.

And that creative literary spirit was passed down to me. Nature and words spoke to his soul. It was his way of connecting with God, like it is for me. I now realize that the things he valued, I learned to value from him.

One of dad's hundred+ stones
One of dad’s hundred+ stones

The Role Model

My daddy was my role model:

He loved fun. He loved God’s creation. He loved animals. He loved people. He loved life. He loved Jesus.

He loved well.

Sometimes he took fun to an extreme. Once he was playing a game called “Bloody Knuckles” where one person punches his fist against another’s fist until someone gives up. (Kids, don’t try this at home!) My dad played this silly game with a co-worker half his age and ended up breaking his hand, literally fracturing it. Okay, this is not good role model behavior, but what I did get from it (besides, don’t play “bloody knuckles” with someone bigger and stronger”) was that even when you’re 50 (or 70 or 90), you can still enjoy playing silly games! (Only remember, safety first!)

He had no desire to accumulate wealth or power, but rather, he valued experience and beauty far more. He spent his money on trips and on people, instead of on stuff. (He’s been to Death Valley nearly 30 times and took people on tours at least half the time.)

But even more than the rocks I painfully stubbed my toes against, or more than the poems that are sadly lost in translation because my Korean is lacking, or more than the silly guy who would joke with perfect strangers, I remember my daddy as the one who taught me to enjoy life, to not take things too seriously, and to be giving. He would say, “you learn by doing, so let’s go…” camping, hiking or into some new adventure.

As a grandfather, my dad found a way to slip money and gifts into every meeting with my kids. And we saw him a couple times every week! At one point, my youngest exclaimed, “Harabugee is RICH!”

Yes, indeed, he was rich. We didn’t live in a grand home, but we were rich!

Socrates said, “He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.” My daddy’s genuine appreciation for the simple and small things in life made him wealthier than kings.

When I think of my dad, I think of the classic children’s book, “The Giving Tree” By Shel Silverstein. This tree gave it’s leaves, apples, branches even it’s whole trunk to the one she loved. And in the end, though my dad didn’t say much, he kept giving, just like this tree. Let me read the ending to this story…

“I don’t need very much now,” said the boy,

“just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired.”

“Well,” said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could,

“well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.”

And the boy did. And the tree was happy…

And my dad was happy.

My daddy was my tree, my rock… a steady support. When he looked at me, his eyes sparkled with pride. I knew he was proud of me and that has made me stronger, too. His support has made me who I am today.

Thank you, daddy, for teaching me how to live well. I miss you. But I am excited you are in the best place ever – with all the people you haven’t seen in so long, a place of immense beauty and an eternal story to tell.

You are gone from here, but your legacy lives on in me, in your grandchildren and in all the people who were fortunate enough to meet you.

I love you. Though it hurts to not have you here anymore, I know I will see you again!

Daddy and me
Daddy and me

A Gorgeous Story Set in a Beautiful Era

ImageFor a good summer read that whisks you to Paris (circa 1888) try Belle Epoque, Elizabeth Ross’ lovely debut novel for young adults and more mature audiences alike.

Belle Epoque or the “beautiful era” from about 1870 to 1914 (just before WWI) was a time when art and abundance flourished in France. The Eiffel Tower had broken ground in 1887 amidst controversy between artists and engineers, lending a backdrop for the protagonist’s adventures to unfold.

Even each chapter divide has a subtle and pleasant artistic screen catapulting the mind into French borders.

A well-written and intriguing story amidst our era of unrefined, even crass books for youth (which have their place but seem overwhelming at times) comes Belle Epoque, a refreshing and engaging tale about Maude Pichon, a “beauty foil.”

Maude unwittingly becomes a plain adornment, a repoussoir who is hired to make her wealthy clients appear more beautiful in contrast. But the independent Isabelle, the countess’ daughter, is unaware of her mother’s schemes to use Maude during a season of courting.

As the deception deepens, Maude is torn between the part she is supposed to play, the person she is becoming for her livelihood and the person she is believed to be.

In an age much like our own, where outward appearances may become grossly overvalued, our hero is deemed unworthy and ugly while her transformation is anything but. Maude’s story resonates with those of us who may have ever felt like an outsider or a jewel that sometimes lacks luster.

One of my favorite lines that sums up the heart of the story (warning: possible spoiler alert ahead) is spoken by a love interest —

“You are lovelier than any person I have met in this City of Light.You are truth and honesty and imagination and, yes, beauty. And a rich woman, dripping in jewels and silks with painted lips and curled locks, is but a foil for your purity and strength of character. She is the repoussoir, to your loveliness.”

Where physical beauty fades, a more profound beauty is revealed in Belle Epoque, helping to illuminate that which is valuable in our own lives.

Appreciating Artistic Easter Eggs

Originally published in The Quarterly magazine, Spring 2013

Artistic Eggs

Every morning, ordinary chicken eggs are cracked into frying pans. The content satisfies hunger and nourishes the body; and often, nothing more is thought of it… that is, until another egg dish is created or Easter rolls around. In the spring, the commonplace breakfast item demands attention in another way. What does this delicate white ovoid symbolize? And why do people yearn to decorate it?

Through the ages, the egg has become a universal symbol of new life, fresh beginnings and miracles. People began decorating and exchanging them as unique gifts and as a remembrance of hope. Artistic eggs help celebrate special occasions in nearly every corner of the globe. Whether they are a solid color or have intricate designs, the ornate egg is more than an attractive addition on a shelf or in a basket; the meaning associated helps us have a more egg-straordinary appreciation for its beauty.

Dating back nearly 4000 BC, decorated ceramic eggs were excavated within the Ukraine giving way to today’s well-known Ukrainian pysanka (also Croatian pisanica, Polish pisanka, and Romanian Ciocanesti egg.)

The beautiful pysanka is an elaborately dyed Easter egg using the batik process of applying beeswax and the consecutive dying of darker colors to display the previous light color under the wax that is later wiped away.

The Chinese were known to decorate eggs around 900 BC. They were used in temple worship and as decorative items while symbolizing fertility and rebirth.

Ancient Persians exchanged gifts of colored eggs during the spring equinox, the start of their new year.

One of the most extravagant egg decorations was by Russian jeweler, Peter Carl Fabergé. He and the subsequent House of Fabergé made opulent eggs of gold, precious metals and stones, and surprise treasures nestled within each other for Tsar Alexander III to give to his wife for Easter in 1885.

The more modern Japanese Washi eggs is made from art on Washi paper from the bark of 3 different Japanese trees that is glued onto the egg and believed to bring good luck, prosperity and health, while representing fertility and love.

In the Christian tradition, the Easter egg represents a new, eternal life. It is often dyed red to symbolize Jesus’ blood from his death on the cross. The shape of the egg is also compared to the stone that was rolled away from his grave. And blowing the contents out of the egg by placing a hole at each end symbolizes the empty tomb and hence Jesus’ resurrection.

In the spirit of all things new, create your own artistic Easter eggs by decorating them with vibrant spring colors.

Like people, each egg is wholly unique even before an artist adorns it with their designs or a drop of dye stains the surface. So as you gaze upon the egg, consider the rich heritage surrounding it and make it your own.

Go online and purchase different types of eggs: goose, duck, turkey or even emu, rhea or ostrich eggs, the later 3 having thicker shells to make longer-lasting treasures like boxes and mosaics. Embellish the eggs with your creativity. Scramble-up new egg dishes, using any of the eggs above. And have fun sharing your creation with friends and family.

Egg-related Easter happenings around the San Gabriel Valley:

To decorate clay eggs (or bunnies and cross boxes) visit Color Me Mine in Pasadena (626) 298-6765.

South Pasadena’s Egg-stravaganza will be held on Saturday, March 30, from 12-2 PM at Garfield Park. There will be a visit by Mr. and Mrs. Easter Bunny, egg hunts divided by age groups, mini carnival rides, arts and crafts, and more ($5 for children.) For more information call (626) 403-7380.

Arcadia’s Spring Egg-stravaganza will be on March 30, starting at 11 AM at Arcadia County Park. There will be an egg hunt and an appearance by the Easter Bunny. On Friday night, March 29 is The Great Egg Race, a flashlight egg hunt for teens. For more information call (626) 574-5113.

In San Gabriel, on March 30, beginning at 7 AM, there will be a breakfast at Smith Park (a small charge for children and adults). Pancake races begin at 9 AM (bring your own spatula!) And an egg hunt will begin at 10 AM. For more information call (626) 308-2875.

Kidspace in Pasadena hosts an egg hunt after Easter on Sunday, April 7. For the price of admission call (626) 449-9144.

Enjoy eggs at various sites for Easter brunch: Firefly Bistro in South Pasadena, The Huntington Library in San Marino, and in Pasadena – La Grande Orange Café, The Raymond, Parkway Grill, Mi Piace, and Maison Akira.

Honest Strangers: You Have Got to be Kidding Me?

Recently I lost 2 pairs of dirty socks, a sweater, a young adult novel, my Bible study sheet and… my new MacBookAir with writings and edits not yet downloaded to my external hard drive. The entirety of my backpack was left nearly two hours away from my home in a parking garage at the Riverside Marriott.

I won’t reveal who actually failed to load this particular item, but it wasn’t me. While unpacking the car at home and discovering it was lost, I wish I could say that I stayed calm toward the guilty party, but then I would be lying.

In fact, I lost it. Anger bubbled out of me and spewed onto everything within 50 feet. It seemed that the only words I knew and repeated at a high decibel were: “You have got to be kidding me? YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!…” I paced and pondered, “should I throw something or simply sit and cry?”

My husband tried to remind me of my own words to my boys during happier times, “Don’t you always say, ‘people are more important than things?’” But all I could think was, “No you didn’t! Get out of my way or I will hurt you.” Yes, I conveyed this in one glaring glance. (FYI husbands: this would not be the most ideal time to remind your wife about such things. After I cooled down, way after, I finally acted on what I believed at my core and apologized; but that’s another story.)

At that moment, I stormed away. I prepared myself for the most likely outcome: my backpack and all its riches was a goner. I did not have faith in my fellow man to return such a treasure.

So when the lady at the front desk of the hotel said these glorious words to my husband over the phone (since I was too angry to have a calm conversation with anyone), “Someone returned your bag,” I could hardly believe my ears.

“Really? Really! Really!?…” Again, few words (one to be exact) repeated in my head. After describing the items and making absolute sure that this was my bag, I breathed a sigh of relief, but I was still upset. It could have been lost forever, but I got lucky. Now we have to drive 4 hours there and back to get it.

Thankfully, I was reminded of a friend who attends UC Riverside and she brought back my good-as-gone backpack a week later (thank you Candy!)

But another person I have to thank is the honest stranger who brought my bag to the hotel’s lost and found (and thank the staff at the Marriott, too). At any dishonest juncture, my belongings could have been no more. But my bag was fortunate to have met some honest people. They do exist! Are you one of them?

I am far from perfect. You know this just from my description of my response above. God is still working on me. But my husband’s reminder was correct, though poorly timed: people are more important than things.

And if I chose to believe and act on this truth sooner, I could have saved myself from a regretful tantrum.

Thankfully, the honest stranger believed this. They cared more about doing what was right (perhaps thinking about the person behind the loss), than they cared about gaining the item: that’s honesty, that’s honor, that’s what “good” looks like.

Most of us can’t do this on our own. We need a moral compass, a person of integrity in our lives who we are accountable to, or better yet, an all-powerful and good God to follow.

Actually, I don’t think the return was “luck” at all. Someone simply chose to do what was right and I benefited from it.

Think about it: if we all stopped justifying what’s downright wrong, and for instance, returned what wasn’t ours, maybe we’d get back more than just our lost stuff. If we chose truth over lies, silence over gossip, people over possessions, maybe we could even get back a bit of our humanity.

Thank you honest stranger, not only for returning my things but for helping me rediscover that which was lost: hope in people to choose good.

Picture Book Review: Ferdinand is Still Fiercely Good

Some spoilers ahead.

One of my top 10 favorite picture books of all time is celebrating its 75th birthday! The Story of Ferdinand was written by Munro Leaf, beautifully and comically illustrated by Robert Lawson.

There is something endearing and timeless about this well-told story with a universally common theme. I know this, not because it was first published in 1936 and is still a best-seller, beloved by countless generations, but because kids (and adults) don’t tire of it. I know I want to read it over and again; and when I haven’t read it in a while, I itch for it and have to get my Ferdinand fix.

So if you happen to be one of a handful of people who have yet to read this delightful tale, here is the lowdown… Ferdinand is a bull who is different from his peers. The repeating phrase, “But not Ferdinand,” shows just how unique he is: he doesn’t run, jump or butt heads like all the others. He is wired differently, to enjoy other things. So when an untimely sting causes Ferdinand to act atypically, he is tagged as “Ferdinand the Fierce.” He is carried off to the bull fights, feared by all the bull fighters. But Ferdinand stays happily true to who he is. Others become frustrated in their desire for a good fight… but not Ferdinand.

And if you know this story and haven’t read it in a while, perhaps it’s time to pick it up again, share it with your kids, whether they’re 18 months or 18-years-old. See new ways to apply age-old truths. Find in Ferdinand: the environmentalist, nature-lover, peacemaker, a reflective soul, a big scary guy with a kind heart, one who appreciates the simple things in life, and an individual, secure in who he is. (And when you find more, please share.)

If nothing else, pick up the book at your local library to simply enjoy a good old-fashion story.

Happy reading to you! And happy birthday to my old friend, Ferdinand!

Later publications by Scholastic