Monday, March 13, 2017

$55 in 9 and a half month

     It's a big day here in our home. Bigger than a book award day. Bigger than birthdays or anniversaries. It's a day our 6-year-old accomplished something neither myself nor CJ have done. It's the day Elisha finally got her long-waited Emma's House Lego set with her hard-earned money. Elisha has been saving money for it for nine and a half months (aka Lego fund). Can you believe it? Nine and a half months of waiting....for a six-year-old.
     Last June, for her birthday, my brother bought Elisha a Lego set. Inside the box was a small pamphlet that showed other Lego sets, and that's where Elisha first fell in love with Emma's House. It was obvious that she could not take her mind off of it, and Elisha told us how much she wanted to have it.
     We are not rich, but we are not poor, either. We don't have debt and we save significant portion of our income. What I'm trying to say is that we could easily afford to buy that Emma's House, and actually we did think about getting it for her as a Christmas present. However, CJ and I agreed we do not want her to become a child with a sense of entitlement and decided we will have Elisha work to save money for it. At that time, we had no idea that this experience will teach so much valuable lessons not only for Elisha but also for CJ and myself.
     About half way into this journey, one evening, CJ and Elisha were reading a newsletter from a missions agency we support. Then, Elisha suddenly broke into tears saying God told her to give $21 from her Lego fund to the agency so that they can purchase a water filter for a family in India. Right there and then, she gave CJ $21 out of her fund, but I had to wonder why she was crying so hard. When I asked her that night on the bed, Elisha said she cried because she wanted to obey God but she did not want to give her Lego money away. What God was trying to teach Elisha and how Elisha was responding to His just melted my heart. As I'm writing this now, I feel like my heart is being filled with thousands of pink butterflies again.
     Also, this journey certainly instilled a good work ethic in her. Elisha worked hard to earn the money: helping with laundry, sweeping garage and patio, pulling out weeds from the yard, helping with sorting/organizing clothes, cleaning up/organizing wherever messy, watering plants, etc. She has learned to look for work that needs to be done around the house, and she has grown to prefer tidiness/cleanness over messiness.
     The other day, I noticed someone organized shoes so neatly on our shoe rack. It turned out Elisha was that beautiful person. I had to compliment her for tidying up the messy shoe rack, even though I never asked her to do so. She has made a habit of always asking if there is anything she can help with. She would say, 'Mama, I will be reading in my room. If you need any help, just whistle, and I will come right over.' How sweet!
     Delayed gratification. According to Wikipedia, it is 'the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward'. So many times, Elisha would ask us if she can see Emma's House on our laptop. She would ask CJ to print out a detailed picture of Emma's House. She memorized what's inside that tiny house...all the details...she dreamed about it...she wanted to build a house like that on top of a hill for me with Lego pieces! Looking at the picture, she studied the house so meticulously and found out there is no staircase leading up to the second floor of the house. What an oversight!
     It was not easy for me to see her having to wait so long, though. I often wondered if I am asking too much for a six-year-old. CJ and I would talk how we ourselves never had to save/earn money for a toy and we would feel so disqualified to demand such a high standard for Elisha. Neither of us said it out loud, but I know we both so wanted to forget the whole thing of 'teaching a lesson or two' and just order Emma's House right there and then.
     Doesn't God often do the same thing for us, making us wait for a long time? When He makes me wait for so long, I would balk for a while but I know there is something He wants me to learn and grow. I would kick and scream demanding an 'immediate' answer, but I know that's the very reason God puts me on hold. Patience. Faith. Trust...I often wonder if I will ever be able to perfect these qualities while here on earth, but then I am reminded that what God wants is to see me 'grow', not necessarily 'perfect' it. More patience. More faith. More trust.
     My 6-year-old never threw tamper tantrum demanding immediate purchase of the Emma's House. She waited and waited while learning priceless lessons, while growing in her character, while growing closer to God. I admire this girl. I admire her patience which allows God's hands to chisel and mold her character. I admire the intimacy she has with her heavenly Father. God, you are doing a great job raising your daughter Elisha! Neither I nor CJ can claim any credit for this girl's beautiful, tender heart.

Everyday is a miracle


Friday, March 10, 2017

Practice Makes Perfect

     Mercy worked for us as a mother's helper for 7 months last year. When I hired her, I knew she played violin, and once she got used to twin's routine, I asked her to teach Elisha violin during twin's nap time. Mercy herself was not a professional, advanced violinist. She was a 13-year-old home-schooled girl who used to take violin lessons at the public school she used to attend. She was barely intermediate level in violin. However, she gladly jumped into the quest of helping  Elisha become interested in playing violin.
     Initially, what made it work was that Elisha really enjoyed 'playing' with Mercy and that good rapport flew into 'playing with violin' part. Elisha did not fall in love with the violin from the beginning, though. She hated the 'squeaky' sound. She was frustrated she does not know how to play like the 'violinist'. However, once she was able to play the 'hot cross buns' all by herself, Elisha found playing violin more interesting. Elisha kept asking Mercy new piece of 'real' music almost every week, while CJ and I tried to start a routine for Elisha to practice on her own 15 minutes a day. When Mercy ran out of simple music pieces, I gave Elisha some from the hymn book.
     Due to the demand of her school work, Mercy left us at the end of the last December, but Elisha has kept on practicing almost everyday. In addition to the daily practice routine, what really has helped Elisha improve her violin sound is her innate competitiveness with herself. She is eager to produce 'beautiful' sound. If a note does not sound 'right', she gets frustrated. Many times, she would put down her violin and announce she would quit. However, the routine we had started kept us going despite all that falls and slips. After each song, she would ask me if that was good, if that was best for the day, if that was better than yesterday, if that was best ever. When she picks up her violin, I make sure I pay attention to her so that I can provide critique when asked for it.
     This week, I am so pleased to find that her violin sounds so beautiful. Elisha and I were even able to play 'Jesus Loves Me' duet - Elisha on violin, I on piano! Yet the best thing happened was when she said, 'I love playing violin now'! I could see that she is really gaining confidence and enjoying the fact that her violin finally sounds 'real'.
     This whole thing about violin was a kind of experiment for me. I wanted to see if she can learn to play violin WITHOUT a professional instructor. I wanted to see if 'practice can really make perfect'. In his 2008 book "Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell wrote that "ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness." I do not think Elisha has put in ten thousand hours playing violin yet, but I can say with confidence that, from what we have witnessed, daily practice and grit has done much more than a skillful teacher could do.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The more you go, the more you spend

     With the arrival of twins, we started grocery-shopping every other week instead of every week. It meant more planning, but it also meant less hassle and less wasting of food, which helped us save about $100 a month in food cost.
     Once we became settled into this new grocery shopping pattern, there has been almost no last-minute grocery store trip and no just-because kind of impulsive food purchase. By the end of the two-week, you can see our refrigerator becoming quite empty, and it feels great to know that we put everything to the table.
     However, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, every-other-week grocery shopping presents a challenge. I figured we can use frozen fruits and vegetables during the second week and it has been working great. Kids actually love frozen fruits more than fresh fruits! Also, since it's almost impossible to find an organic milk that does not expire until my next grocery shopping, CJ usually makes a trip to HEB in the middle of the two-week period for another gallon of milk.
     I make and pack CJ's breakfast, lunch and snack to take to his office, so there isn't really any spending on food while he is at work. Also, Elisha and I do not like eating out, so we rarely gets to eat at restaurants. All in all, we are spending a little less than $500 a month for food (without counting in twin's formula cost), but, more than the saving, I really like the simpleness and peace this every-other-week grocery shopping has brought to our family.