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Friday, April 8, 2016

Blessings in the Midst of Struggles

A grandmother was talking to me about her granddaughter whom we shall call Sophia. Sophia  who is now 16 grew up quite privileged. Her father was very well-off and happily spoiled his daughter.  Sophia has an older half-sister named Maria. Maria and Sophia have the same mom but have different dads. Maria vividly recounted Christmas in their household when Sophia was much younger. Sophia would be showered with dozens of expensive gifts, she would sit on the floor opening one present looking at it for 10 seconds then literally throwing the present to the side to move on to opening the next present.  Maria said that there was no gratitude in Sophia’s heart because it was nothing special to her anymore….she could get those toys or books or clothes any time she wanted anyway.  At least that was the truth until around 4 years ago.   Sophia’s life took a dramatic turn. 

Her father went bankrupt and their finances plunged and unfortunately Sophia struggled to adjust. Her grandmother said that they had viand that was meant to be shared but that Sophia decided she didn’t want to eat rice and just ate all the viand herself leaving none for her companion.
It was a minor thing. It however spoke volumes about her mindset and point-of-view. I do not blame Sophia at all. How can we expect her to know how to share when she hasn’t  ever been asked to all her life. Money was no object in the past and so she never had to consider someone else when eating.   Sophia grew up sheltered and now ever having to think about the cost of food or consider how consuming something at home could impact another person’s meal.

I couldn’t help but compare the same situation with my daughter Andrea.  You see, my daughter was around 4 when we experienced our lowest point financially.  Andrea was blissfully unaware that we were struggling but she knew about limited resources because we explained it to her. For example, there would be times when the 4 of us (my husband, my daughter, our helper and myself) would share 1 can of SPAM for dinner. The SPAM would be split into 12 slices and each of us would have 3 slices each. I distinctly remember one time when Andrea asked if she could have more. I explained to her that she could get one but that would mean another person would have less.  She decided not to take one. From that point on, every single time we would eat SPAM (please don’t judge, we don’t eat it often but it is a guilty treat we do enjoy every once in a while) my daughter took it upon herself to dutifully divide the SPAM in order to make sure everyone had enough.

Fast forward 5 years later. We were doing a bit better financially (we could actually afford to open more than one can of SPAM for a meal hahaha) but the lesson of those difficult times still remains in our hearts and our daughter’s hearts. I remember just last month when we were eating chicken.  There were 3 people eating and 6 pieces of chicken, my daughter has eaten her two pieces and I wasn’t going to eat mine so I asked her if she would want to eat another piece. She looked at me and said “But mom then you won’t have enough” and I told her I am fine because I preferred to eat more of the veggies than the chicken. She thanked me profusely and got her next piece.

I shared this story to my husband with tears welling up to my eyes. When we were struggling 5 years ago,  our mindset was just survival and relying on Jesus we never thought of life lessons. Now in hindsight those times brought us so many blessings in terms of character development and life lessons.  One blessing is the lesson we were able to impart to our daughter of caring for others and not only considering herself. I know for a fact that despite my good intentions and my training in parenting I would never have thought of teaching this lesson to my daughter. I had to teach her that lesson because we were in the midst of lack. Had we been experiencing abundance then, I wouldn’t have needed to teach her! 

So I ask parents to find blessings in your struggles. Use your struggles as an opportunity to teach your kids life lessons particularly about resilience and faith and empathy. 

(P.S. I just want to make sure to point out to make sure that we share the lessons to our kids without burdening them with our problems. There is a difference.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Beautiful Irony of Giving - A Late Christmas Post

My daughter loves Christmas.  My husband and I try our best to keep the focus on Jesus’ birth but I’d be the first to admit that I have not been as consistent as I should have been. As a mom I get so excited when I see all the cute toys and things that my daughter loves and the delight I know she will get when she receives these things. 

Months before Christmas 2014 I was already excitedly conversing with my daughter about the presents she hopes to receive. She was excited and I was excited to see her excited! We love spending hours in toy stores and we would make imaginary lists of things she’d like to receive. She ended up getting quite a bunch of toys that year and it seemed like what we did was harmless, until…

“Mom, I didn’t receive as many presents I liked this year”

I felt like a pail of cold water was poured on my head. I stared at her in disbelief. This is my daughter who thanked her aunt profusely upon receiving a plastic bag but now she’s complaining that she didn’t get as many presents THAT SHE LIKED? I was aghast. I am ashamed to say that I didn’t respond as well as I should have. I snapped at her. I alluded to her being ungrateful. She apologized and that conversation was soon forgotten by my daughter, but not by me.

I knew why my response was anger…anger is a topical emotion, there’s always something underneath it that’s more real. You know what was under my anger? Shame. Shame because I knew I did that to her. I knew that I made her focus on the material things that year. I vowed to change that in 2015.

When Christmas season started I did not ever talk to her about gifts she’d want to receive for Christmas that year. Not once.  There was a time when we went to a toy store to get a present for someone else and she said that she’ll be asking for a certain Barbie she saw for Christmas. I told her “You can do that but there’s no guarantee that you’ll receive it. You know how you can be sure to get it? Save for it or work for it yourself.”  

We stopped talking about what she’d want to receive instead we talked to her about the joy of giving. We talked about the happiness we saw in the faces of our relatives when they tried the cookies we gave them last year. This got Andrea excited (she really helped in making those cookies). So this year I asked her what she thinks we should give out. She chose our Oreo Cheesecake Cups. I told her I need her help in making them. She excitedly agreed. From the packaging, the creation, the purchasing of ingredients…she was part of it all. Come Christmas she was so excited to give out her treats to people!  The people appreciated the treats and expressed their gratitude to Andrea. She was beaming! She enjoyed it so much that she wanted to start planning next year’s Christmas treats!

She still ended up receiving gifts she liked from relatives and she was filled with Joy.   Because she didn’t have expectations every single present was a blessing and she was overflowing with gratitude. When we got home from the clan’s Christmas party she was so happy and tired. She was ready to go to bed but my husband and I stopped her. We said “Wait, you haven’t opened your present from us”. It was hilarious because her face was so shocked. She really didn’t think we had a present for her. Our conversation went like this:

Liv: Hon don’t sleep yet you haven’t opened our present for you!
Andrea: Huh? You have a present for me?
Liv: YEAH!
Andrea: (smiling excitedly)
Liv: You really didn’t know we had a present for you?
Andrea: No!
Liv: And you’re still so happy?
Andrea: Yes! I already have so many things I love!

(She received half the number of presents she received last year)

This really touched my heart. I saw firsthand the effect of materialism on our kids. When we make them focus on things and feeding their desires, they end up dissatisfied, discontented and unhappy. But when we shift their attention to serving and giving others they are filled with joy and a feeling of abundance. This is the beautiful irony of giving.