Inner Weeding

Mental and emotional weight that just wouldn’t go away prompted me to make an appointment with my church Healing Prayer Ministry. Perhaps God would speak to me through the prayers.  Perhaps I would receive some clarity, direction, a revelation that would help me.  I felt a faint ray of hope rise up inside me but did not want to expect too much. I was tired of disappointment.

I filled out an online questionnaire,  emailed it back, and waited for an appointment. Months passed and no response. A few more months passed, and I reached out to follow up. Good thing I did, because my  request had somehow fallen through the cracks.

I had been asked on the form why I wanted healing prayer. I wrote something amorphous along the lines of “I can’t become or  let myself become the person I want to be.”   I didn’t write (or was too embarrassed  to write) that my problem was I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my career and hated myself for it.

The long-awaited appointment finally came. I met three women in the church lobby who took me to our prayer appointment room.  They said an opening prayer and asked me a few questions.  I spilled out some incoherent explanations of my incessant striving and disappointment with not finding a career path despite decades of schooling and trying new things, how although I had a  wonderful husband and I loved being a mom to little ones,  I was lost and unwell. It sounded so simple and yet so difficult to explain. The more I spoke the more uncertain I was of what was wrong with myself.

Instead of asking me more questions about my present dilemma, the lead person started to ask me about my childhood. And if  I needed to forgive my parents.  I had already  working through such issues some time ago,  so I had become unaccustomed to visiting those places discomfort.  “What would you have said to your mom if you could have spoken up in the past? ” she asked. I started to explain that she was doing her best. The problem was me.  I didn’t have anything to say.  She suggested I start with “Mom, I wish.”

“Mom, I wish you ” I can’t remember what I said, just that the words were cloaked and flat. ” Mom, I wish you didn’t. I wish you…liked me?” After several minutes of labored trying, the three women prayed for me and the leader told me that we would be ending the session since I was having difficulty connecting with my emotions. The ladies  told me they’d set up a follow up appointment and we prayed to close our time.

It was then that I  realized our prayers were not for answers. They were for healing.








I was nearing 40, had a caring husband, a precocious little boy, and a healthy, rotund  baby girl. I  lived in a new house in a cookie-cutter neighborhood and had plenty of happy mommy things — a nurturing local preschool, playdates at parks, plenty of  friends. But the world around me  darkened as I pondered my career prospects.

My thought process went something along the lines of this:  If only I had a well-paying job  we would not have to host international students in our home and we could afford childcare or someone to help me with chores. If only I had made better decisions in the past I would not be dealing with this. If I only I hadn’t gone into teaching and then quit and then marketing and then quit, and then started the wrong business and then quit,  I’d be somewhere by now. If only I could figure out what I want to with my life, at least I could move in the right direction. Why can’t I figure it out? And why had I been so unsuccessful at doing so? What can I do anyway at this age? It’s too late to go back to school and who would hire me?  But it is great I can stay home with the kids. I should be cherishing the time but I am wasting it worrying. What should I do? How did I get here? How will I ever get out of this mess? Why am I this way? Nothing I do ever helps. Why can’t I just enjoy this season of my life?

I was physically exhausted from having young children and mentally drained from those thoughts in my mind.  Sweet, nurturing mommy on the outside, darkened self in the head. Friends listened, sermons gave insight, and books advised, but the inner dissonance became so unbearable that I sought professional solace. Unfortunately,  the therapist I  decided to spill my guts out to turned out to be brash and insensitive, so that was the end of that.

Looking back, those early years of motherhood were somewhat of a mixed bag:  a good amount of loving moments with little ones juxtaposed alongside a dull undercurrent of self-loathing, confusion, and discontent.  I wish I could have fully enjoyed my time at home with my children, been more present with them, but then again, no one chooses to be depressed.

Questions for Discussion: What do you think about therapy and counseling?Have you seen a counselor before? If so,  what was your experience?






Split-Brain Mommy

Moses was born on a sweltering day in June. Like all  new moms, I was overjoyed and could not believe the treasure I held in my arms. 

The first couple months was a torrent of blissful cuddles, timed nursings,  visits to lactation nurses, logging ounces drank, documenting diaper matter, lugging a car seat around, and counting hours of sleep. As a stay-at-home mom, taking care of baby was 24/7, and the most pressing decision each day  was what to do while my baby was napping. Should I eat, take a shower, close my eyes,  or go to the bathroom? Which one did I need to do most? 

As Moses grew bigger and his naps grew longer,  our schedule was less rushed we had new routines. A walk in the park in the stroller. Tummy time. Teething toys. Trying out solid food. Finally, more down time for me.  But then the split-brain thoughts started coming in:

While driving back from the grocery store with Moses happily kicking his feet in the back seat: “He looks so content.  What kind of job could I do that is part-time? ”

While waiting for Moses to wake up from his nap in the car: “This is great, I can spend so much time with my son. I can’t wait to read to him. But I should go back to work.”

While cooking dinner and watching him cruise around the living room:  “So glad I did not miss his first steps. I really should do the exercises in What Color is your Parachute * and set up some informational interviews.”

While giving Moses a bath and watching him teethe on his bath toys: “He has the cutest smile and just loves taking a bath. I need to find a job. But I don’t want to go back to teaching. How are we going to afford preschool? ”

While watching him put together a puzzle: “My staying home with Moses is best for the family.  What about working at a non-profit? ”

While patting Moses down to sleep at night:  “I need to go back to school and get a well-paying job for once. What should I do? ”

These relentless back and forth thoughts pushed me to action.  By the time Moses was nine-months old,  I  hired a babysitter  two days a week and enrolled in Legal Writing and Research at the local community college.  I was considering law school.



It look me about a year to realize that law school was not a panacea for my  needing to do something professional and respectable with my life in addition to being a mom. I completed a Civil Litigation class at another community college and started interviewing for legal assistant positions I found on Craigslist.  My plan was to find a part-time entry-level job in the legal field to get experience before applying to law school. Unfortunately, the consensus  was that (with two Stanford degrees) I was overeducated.  Finally, an attorney friend of mine gave me a job answering phones and filing papers for his boutique law firm. You don’t want to be a lawyer, he told me. After a few months listening to arguing through closed doors, I came to the same conclusion. I wanted a well-paying job, but I did not want to be a lawyer.


Teaching for a Baby

My decision to go back into elementary school teaching was a mathematical one. In 2005 it cost about $20,000 for one set of IVF treatments. It cost the same to adopt a baby from China. Either way, if we wanted a baby, we needed twenty grand. Problem was, we didn’t have $20,000. So I began looking for a job.  It was late spring. Steve and I were walking through a residential neighborhood in Mountain View one evening when I noticed a private elementary school on what looked like a nondescript former public school campus. The sign said Yew Chung International School. I had left teaching many years ago but the Chinese name immediately piqued my interest. As luck would have it, I looked online and discovered the school was hiring. I applied, interviewed, and was offered a job teaching second and third grade, all within a couple of weeks.

According to my fertility doctor, a number on my lab tests indicated that it would be unlikely for me to get pregnant. She urged me to start IVF immediately.  So Steve and I visited the best clinics in the Silicon Valley. Each center presented us with a sheet of paper with the percentage likelihood of getting pregnant broken down by age of parent and other indices. I was 33. We also visited several local adoption agencies. One agency told us that the chances of our being able to adopt from China were pretty high.  After months of researching, Steve and I decided that if I didn’t get pregnant by the end of the year, we would adopt. We concluded that if we were going to spend $20,000 we wanted a baby for sure, not the potential of getting pregnant through IVF.

We decided to try one last thing before starting the adoption process—Chinese herbs. Steve’s aunt told us about a Chinese herbalist in Los Angeles that had helped many women conceive. So we drove down from the Bay Area to visit this doctor. He took my pulse and looked at my tongue, told me that I had endometriosis, and stated matter-of-factly :  “You will get pregnant if you eat my herbs.” He scribbled some notes in my file and directed me to the nurse for the herbs. Hopeful, I looked at Steve with a “is this for real” expression and he seemed to be in agreement. The nurse (must’ve been his wife) told me the cost for three months would be $1500 and that they only took cash.

We left the office and withdrew  $500 from three separate bank ATMs within walking distance of the office. I watched with amazement as each of our pockets grew fuller and heavier with bills.  We returned to the office and the nurse ushered us into the dim corridor where she carefully counted each $20 bill on the counter. She nodded her head at the right amount, stuffed little ziploc bags of pills (thank God they were pills!) into a brown paper lunch bag and sent us on our way.

After eating a couple days’ worth of pills, I discharged an ashy, black substance. Within a  month, just a few weeks into my my teaching job, I discovered I was pregnant. We were going to have a baby!

Author’s Reflections:  

Why did I go back into teaching, when I had decided to leave the career previously? At this point in my life, I didn’t really care if the job was the best fit for me. I just needed a job, and needed one fast.  Teaching at Yew Chung turned out to be a positive and memorable experience. In my previous position I had 30+ students and very little parental support. At Yew Chung I had just 12 students and plentiful support.  A dad who was an technology executive made copies for me each Monday. A mom with a PhD in science helped to teach math to small groups, and another mom helped with my computer rotations. Parents checked in with me regularly and made sure homework was turned in. My students had a Chinese teacher for about 1.5 hours a day so I also had extra time to plan and prepare.  Although the work was still exhausting, I did not struggle the way I had my first two years of teaching. Classroom management was no longer a main concern and I was able to focus on designing lessons, teaching, and building relationships. I could individualize instruction, build a warm and nurturing environment, and got to know my students well. My Chinese-American heritage  helped me connect culturally with the kids (many who were bi-cultural) and serve as a bridge between Chinese culture and American staff and parents. Looking back, this year of teaching at Yew Chung was quite special. I enjoyed my students’ “children-ness” and shared with them the joy of the expecting a baby. It was a wonderful, often magical context to be a teacher and soon-to-be mom.

As much as I enjoyed my students and working at Yew Chung, I knew that it would be my last year of classroom teaching. There was something else for me out there in terms of career, although I did not know what it was. Even amidst the joys of soon having a baby, the still unresolved unsettledness surrounding my  career saddened me. My last day of teaching before going on maternity leave was another gray Bay Area rainy day. It had rained every day the entire month of March that year and going into April the days were still drizzling. During my last afternoon recess duty that last day of teaching, the sun finally starting peeking through. The bell had just rung and my students had dashed off to wait in line for me in front of the classroom door.  In a brief rare moment of quiet aloneness, I looked up into sky and noticed a double rainbow. Two rainbows had formed a perfect circle above me. It was a promise of a new beginning.


Almost Perfect

A couple years after  leaving corporate high-tech marketing,  I began a business teaching Mandarin to young children though music, dance, stories, and play. In many ways it was the perfect job.  It involved everything I loved– children, the arts, literacy,  second-language acquisition, and Chinese language and culture. I travelled to Taiwan to painstakingly pick out just the right Chinese instruments, folk dance accessories, music, books, and posters for my students.  I designed fun-filled lessons using stuffed animals, balloons, scarves, ribbon sticks, drums, triangles, all manner of percussion instruments, fans, balls, books, puzzles, puppets, and gym mats.  My clients were adorable toddlers and pre-schoolers.  If there were any discipline problems,  parents stepped right in. I was the director and set my own hours. My ideas and the possibilities were endless. I was being paid for being creative!

The concept for this business came from my Stanford friend Sabrina’s sister Julie.  Julie had designed a program called Music Around the World,  a bilingual Mommy and Me music curriculum for children ages 1-4.  When she asked me if I wanted to teach one of  her Mandarin music classes, I  had been taking a break from work and following my dream of taking painting, ballet, modern dance, and Chinese dance classes.  My husband Steve was happy to support my exploring the arts since I had always seemed unsatisfied in my jobs.   I felt that I should at least make a little money part-time,  so I agreed. To my surprise,  I was very good at teaching music to young children. The classes involved singing songs, teaching rhythm and intonation, and creative movement. I began supplementing the curriculum with my own books, songs, and other materials and choreographing dances; and imagined branching off on my own and designing a music and dance-based Chinese as a Second Language program that was uniquely mine. Around  2004,  I founded Little Bamboo Chinese Language, Music, and Dance.

Whereas Julie’s Music Around the World classes were located in the South Bay, (Cupertino, Palo Alto, Mountain View  etc.)  I started my classes across the Bay in Fremont and in Milpitas, further from the center of Silicon Valley where housing was cheaper and where lived. I didn’t want to compete with Julie and I also wanted to teach closer to home.

Sign ups for my  first classes were impressive. Classes were packed.   But there was a big difference between the students who signed up for my Little Bamboo classes and those in my previous classes: My students were almost all Chinese.  When I taught for Julie, my students were predominantly  non-Asian, mostly Caucasian, adopted from China, or mixed Chinese and Caucasian.  Now almost all of my students had Chinese parents who spoke Chinese at home. (I had recently moved to Milpitas from San Jose and was aware that there  were more Asians in our neighborhood, but I did not think native Chinese speakers would sign up for my class. ) I was an excellent Chinese teacher for students and parents learning Chinese as a second language, but my curriculum was not geared toward heritage Chinese speakers!  I became overly self-conscious that I was  not a native speaker. I  began preparing a script for my lessons so as to manage grammatical mistakes and was embarrassed by my American accent. My lessons that used to be free-flowing, creative and full of imagination became rigid, repetitive, and controlled Although my Chinese was probably fine for the young children, I did not have the fluency to explain and instruct a group of native Chinese parents.  And since my clients were Chinese, I felt that I should provide a 100% immersion environment and rarely spoke English.  Uncomfortable, robotic, and overly self-aware, I lost my hallmark joy and charisma, the qualities that  made me a good teacher.

After each class as I packed up bin and after bin of carefully selected instruments, toys, flashcards and puppets, I felt phonier and phonier. I had all the best materials and a research-based curriculum, but I was not qualified  to teach my own class.  My perfect business was not working out.

Reflections:  When I realized Little Bamboo was not working out,  I was pretty disappointed. I had poured my heart into my program and had no idea what to do next.  It was strike three. I was 0-3 in my finding a job that I was right not me.  Luckily, I  found a Chinese friend to teach my  classes for me and my business was sustained for about a year before I closed shop.  I did teach the class  a few times at Karis Academy  near my home in Irvine (my clients were about half Chinese). But being older and already a mom myself, I was no longer self-conscious and just focussed on creating fun experiences for the kids.  (I stopped teaching the that  time  because teaching toddlers is so exhausting! )A few  years ago I self- published my curriculum under the name Sing With Me in Mandarin so all is not lost. You can find it on Amazon (my daughter and son sang the songs for the CD and did the artwork.)  I hope parents and teachers  can find it helpful.   Here is the link : Sing With Me in Mandarin.

Teaching music and Mandarin to young children  had suddenly immersed me in a strange world of toddlers, cute babies, tired moms, strollers and diaper bags. Ironically, it became a world that I personally could not access.  Perhaps it was best that things did not pan out because I was soon to begin a season of infertility.

Questions For Discussion:  Have you ever started a business, big or small? How did it work out? When in your life has failure become a gift in disguise?


Good While It Lasted

In July of 2001 I joined a fiber-optics startup company as a sales and marketing assistant.  I reported  to the Vice President of Sales and Marketing which meant his job was to direct the company’s sales and marketing efforts, and, since we were a department of two, my job was to do all the work on the ground.  I found vendors to design our website, logo, flyers, and banners. I wrote website content, press releases, advertising copy, and data sheets.  I managed our first trade show and cold-called anyone who could remotely be a  potential customer.   It was satisfying to see our marketing programs come into fruition, and was convinced we had great technology, but unfortunately,  we weren’t getting any customers.

Shortly after our first product launch,  employees were told that all salaries were to be cut by 70%. ” Excuse me, did you say our salaries will be cut by 17%?” I asked  unbelieving.  “It’s 70%,” our president repeated.  Later that afternoon we were informed that since a 70% decrease would mean many of us, including myself, would be making less than minimum wage, we would be given the minimum wage salary instead.

Things went downhill from there. Meetings were hushed behind closed doors and politics was rampant.  I learned very quickly I was on the losing team.  “This ship is sinking,” my manager told me. ” He was right. Within a few months,  everyone in our office (except a few top executives) had been laid off.

Author’s Reflections
Leaving the teaching profession was strike one for me. After this job, I was sure I didn’t want a career in sales and marketing, so that was strike two. Although I enjoyed creating glossy materials and overseeing marketing projects from beginning to end,  I needed something meaningful, an ideal,  to motivate me. I was in the “real world” of business and discovered I did not fit in.  This meant I would have to start all over again in my search for career.
I did not want a strike three.

Questions  for Reflection or Discussion
Have you ever found yourself  in the wrong job? Have you ever quit a job to start something new, only to find that your new career path was not a good fit either? Do you have a  story about starting over?




Time Out For a Love Story

While I was struggling with career direction in my mid to late twenties,  another important decision emerged. Who should I marry? How do I find him?  How do I know if he’s right one?  Clarity in this area always seemed elusive.  How do people solve this mystery, my friends and I pondered. My  path from single to married– like my search for career– was not a simple one.

First, some background

It was an early Easter morning. I decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood near my grandma’s house in Garden Grove. I lived many of my growing years near that home and had long moved away, but I was feeling nostalgic. It was a cool morning with the sun just beginning to peek in. I basked in its surprising warmth and was in good spirits. So I began to talk to God. How will I know who to marry, I asked Him. I had a few possibilities in mind, but was not really expecting an answer. I knew these things were not so simple.

The answer came quickly : “You will know because he will put Me first and that’s the only way you will feel secure.”

I knew it was God speaking to me because the words were too wise to come from me and I did not have such self-knowledge. I felt the peace that only comes from being in the presence of God. I don’t experience it often, but when it happens, I know what it is. I lingered in that walk and cherished those words in my heart.

How Steve and I Met

Fast forward a year or so. I was in my mid-twenties. I had my first real job and had just moved into my own place.  (For career context see my blog titled First Year of Teaching.) My friend Andrew Lee was in town from the Bay Area and  invited me to dinner one Friday night with a group of mutual friends. We were going to meet at his friend Steve’s apartment at UC Irvine.

When I first met Steve, he was wearing short sport shorts, a  t-shirt, and flip flops; and seemed quite nerdy. Andrew said Steve was an MBA student from Taiwan. I was surprised he was not more dressed up because we were going out to dinner at a nice restaurant.  As we we were walking to the restaurant, Steve asked me if I went to church.  (As we spoke I realized he was actually quite American. He didn’t have an accent, had spent his childhood in the U.S. and had attended college at UCSD.) I told him I was going to visit an Asian-American church called Newsong for the first time.  Steve said he was attending Newsong and he’d look for me on Sunday.  Andrew was planning on going too.

That Sunday I met up with Steve and Andrew at Newsong, and the three of us went out to lunch afterwards at Rubio’s.  In line waiting to order, Steve asked  for my phone number. I remember him wearing a blue polo shirt, jeans and a fanny pack with the technology company Adaptec on it.  How quirky, I thought, that he wears a fanny pack. For an introverted, nerdy guy he seemed quite forward.  I was not thinking of dating him, but I gave him my number because he was quite nice and a friend of Andrew.   (He later told me, to my surprise, that I was the only girl whose phone number he ever asked for. )

A couple days later,  Steve left a message on my answering machine. He invited me to small group for young adults that was  just starting up in Irvine. I had another message from one of the church pastors inviting me to the same group. I was curious about the small group and the church, so I went.

During small group, Steve would sometimes sit up tall and show off his very good posture. We sat in a circle on the floor, so his  straight posture was particularly pronounced.  It always made me laugh, but I  never thought I’d date this funny guy. I did notice he was very kind.

Steve called me often. He’d invite me to small group activities or relay small group related information.  I assumed he was the social coordinator for our small group and remember thinking it was very nice that he always included me. Somehow he’d stretch out his calls into conversations. I can’t remember what we talked about but I remember he had a very calm, soothing voice.  The phone calls became more frequent and eventually, somehow, we started hanging out.

I was open to getting to know Steve better.  We would have dinner or we would go on an outing; it was very casual. I felt very comfortable around Steve.  Our parents were both Taiwanese and we shared many of the same values. The items he had in his apartment –the Ritz Tours tote bags, the plastic containers of pork floss, the imitation leather house slippers–were very familiar. He had all the cultural accoutrements of a Chinese immigrant family. I felt oddly at home.

A Rough Start

About spring/summer we started to officially date. Somewhat. He was serious about me and but I was not as sure.  I liked him, but I had reservations. The issue for me was communication. I wanted to have long talks about spiritual matters and deep conversation with him but he was not wired that way. Steve lived in the physical world of information and I in an abstract world of feelings and ideas. When I asked him how his day was, he recounted the schedule of  what he did from morning to night.  I wanted to know how he was, not exactly what happened in precise chronological order that day. I couldn’t tell what was going on in his inner life nor could I feel that he connected with what was going on in mine. But at the same time he was kind, attentive and growing more cute.  I knew he was a good man.

To complicate matters, Steve had just graduated from business school and had accepted a position in Utah with Iomega Corporation, which meant our relationship would become long-distance and communication would become more difficult.

We wrote letters and spoke on the phone (this was before email)  but the disconnection persisted.  Then his position was moved to Switzerland, which meant we were in opposite time zones. I would speak to him after work or late at night. He sounded tired when we spoke.  I was teaching fourth grade (See blog post Can I Have My Job Back?) and was exhausted. My career wasn’t working out and I felt the same way about the relationship.  But each time I’d express that sentiment, Steve’s comforting voice would somehow talk me out of it.

Fast forward about a year. It was summer, 1999. Steve told me Iomega was laying off employees,  that he chose the layoff package, and that he was moving back to Orange County to work on our relationship. I told him I had decided to go to graduate school at Stanford and was moving to the Bay Area.  I had already found a room in a lovely home with two roommates near campus. Steve said he’d move to Palo Alto with me, stay with Andrew, our mutual friend, and look for job. We would finally be together.

Cold War

Except that I wasn’t sure things that’s what I wanted. By the time we had both moved to Palo Alto, Steve was sure he wanted to marry me and was serious about our relationship, but I had reservations. I had just finished an exhausting second year of teaching and my career was not working out. I went to graduate school to start over.  I needed to rethink our relationship too. Even though we communicated through phone, mail and sometimes email, I still felt disconnected and wasn’t sure I wanted to proceed. Because it was not fair for him to be in this type of relationship, I told him I wanted to break up. This time I couldn’t be convinced. I just didn’t feel good about it. Steve agreed with me and decided we wouldn’t talk to each other for six months. Maybe time would make things more clear.  We lived just ten minutes apart.

So while I was in graduate school trying to figure out my thesis topic, what I wanted to research, whether to pursue a Ph.D in Education, which internships to pursue, and what type of work I wanted to do when I graduated, I was also trying to decide whether or not Steve was someone I might want to marry. At the end of six months I would either tell Steve yes, I am serious, I want to see if our relationship will lead to marriage or we would go our separate ways. Steve, of course, could decide to date someone else if he wanted to.

I prayed and prayed and heard no answer.

Then one evening I went to  a singles’ service at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship, the church I was attending in Menlo Park. The pastor wanted to encourage single people who he acknowledged were sometimes marginalized in a multi-generational church.  At the end of the service, he invited  anyone who had anything heavy on his or her heart to walk up to the front of the sanctuary for prayer. My six-month deadline was approaching and I was desperate for direction, so I stepped forward.  I can’t remember what was prayed over me, who prayed over me, or what exactly happened, but I remember my prayer to God. I said something along the lines of God, I cannot figure this out but I surrender this relationship to you. Whether I stay with Steve or lose him, I trust you.

Suddenly, I felt the peace of God. I did not hear an answer either way whether or not I get back together with Steve, but I didn’t hold it tightly either way.  I wasn’t afraid of making a wrong decision. God was going to work it out.

A short time later, I had a revelation. I realized I had never given Steve a fair chance from the beginning.  I had always been critical of him in some way.
So with this knowledge I gave Steve my answer. I wanted to give the relationship a fresh start and not be so critical.  I wanted to start dating again.  Steve’s answer was the same.


It was spring and Steve and I were officially back together. I enjoyed having a boyfriend and without having a cloud of  uncertainly hanging over me.  The birds were chirping, the flowers blooming. Was this how it felt to be in love?

Unfortunately, this easy, blissful time didn’t last very long before we had our big first fight. Kind of. I don’t remember the details, but I  became mad and frustrated at Steve about something, expressed it, and Steve had no response. He just sat there and didn’t say anything. This made me even more angry.  I understand now he was scared and paralyzed and not used to resolving conflicts, but for me then it meant we could not have a difficult conversation.  He would just shut down. It was very frustrating.  We had worked so hard to get to this place in our relationship,  things were rapidly falling apart, and for the first time Steve seemed to doubt whether or not he could make the relationship work. He looked so sad, I felt sorry for him and couldn’t be mad at him anymore.

Having invested so much time in our relationship and not wanting to let it die so quickly, we both decided to ask for help. I reached out the the pastor who did pre-marital counseling at my church and we set up an appointment. 

Pre-Pre-Marital Counseling?

Steve and I both believe in a courtship model of dating. It sounds old-fashioned, but it simply means that we only wanted to date with the prospect of marriage in mind. This is why there was so much stress in the early stages of our relationship. We explained to Pastor Wayne,  who was in charge of marriage counseling, our long convoluted story and asked him if he could help us figure out if our relationship had a chance or if it he thought it was bound for serious difficulty.  He agreed to what I suppose was pre-pre-marital marriage counseling.

First we met separately. I told Pastor Wayne all my misgivings about marrying Steve, especially about our communication problems. He said difficulty communicating was definitely a red flag. I knew it, I thought, the pastor agrees with me. I am not sure what he and Steve talked about.

Next we all met together. Steve and I drove separately and met at the church. It took both of us about an hour in Bay Area traffic. Steve brought me a Subway sandwich for dinner and one for my friend Nancy, who also happened to be at church. When Pastor Wayne saw Steve with the sandwiches he told me: “Can’t you see, Tina, how much he loves you?”  That was a big eye opener for me. Taking care of me was how he showed his love for me, not so much with words. From that point on, I think Pastor Wayne was on Steve’s side. He explained that I am looking for a perfect finished product but what I should be looking for in a mate is good marble and Steve was good marble.

We met with Pastor Wayne about once a month or so for about a year. We went through a pre-marital counseling book and  made a lot of progress. We found that most of our values were similar and that we had similar goals. The most practical training we received was how to communicate during arguments.  In the past, I would win every argument because as soon as a conflict arose, Steve would disengage. Pastor Wayne taught us to communicate through writing when we had a disagreement.  This leveled the playing field, caused me to be more civil and quickly revealed the misunderstandings.  It worked!

We graduated from counseling with Pastor Wayne’s blessing. I remembered what God spoke to me– you will know because he will put me first and that’s the only way you will feel secure. Steve was a godly man and put God first but I still did not know for sure.

How I Finally Figured It Out

Steve and I have almost been married 20 years, so it’s obvious how this story ends. But how did I finally “know?”

Winter of 2000 Steve and I attended a week-long Christian conference in Chicago located on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  I imagined a week of Steve and I attending workshops and seminars together and maybe doing some dreaming about how we would serve in ministry together. Boy, was I wrong.

As soon as  we arrived the huge sports arena,  we were briskly sorted like cattle into men’s and women’s living quarters. I waved goodbye to Steve and soon lost sight of him in the sea of heads. I didn’t know when I would see him again.

I checked into the dorms. My roommate was a nice lady from Florida. I noticed she was wearing a dress under her coat,  nylons, and leather flats.  I considered my own thick jacket, socks, and hiking boots, and in a moment of impulsive charity,  gave her my sweater hat.

I wish I had not done that.  My roommate never complained of cold and told me she was fine with the weather, while I was incessantly  cold and  miserable.  I didn’t know to buy waterproof boots, that winter jackets need to be form-fitting (mine was too big), the warming properties of wool vs. cotton, and how important a hat was to keep warm. Outside, my fingers and toes felt frozen.

There was unsatisfying respite from the cold in the dorm because although our dorm room was heated,  our window had a hole in it and a constant current of frigid air blew in from outside. I made the difficult decision of stuffing the hole  with one of my t-shirts (a precious layer and we couldn’t do laundry) but there were still remnants of cold air. The bathroom windows were always open so I had to make another difficult decision each night. Should I attempt taking a shower knowing  the water would sometimes be hot (this would feel good)  and sometimes cold (the water temperature often fluctuated) and the windows were open in the bathroom; or should I just skip the shower all together?

Shuttles took us from dorms to several campus stops but because I am genetically-directionally-challenged, I kept getting lost. I wandered around campus freezing cold, walking seemingly in circles, constantly asking for directions, and not being able to find my workshop locations. I remember slipping on ice, landing on my backpack and not being able to get up until someone lifted me up only to start wandering again. Anyone who knows me, knows that I hate being cold.

I thought I would be spending the conference with Steve, but because we lived in separate dorms,  our meals were in our dorms, and we had no phones, it was difficult to coordinate meeting up.  Steve and I had walkie talkies with a limited range and I’d press the button now and then and speak into the emptiness, Steve, Steve are you there?

During this time I managed to see Steve once at a day at our evening session. Our shuttles would take us directly to the arena where everyone gathered together so at least that time I wouldn’t get lost. I was so happy to see him.

I soon caught a cold which turned into a high fever and flu and spent the last few days of the conference in my dorm room shivering in my bed, counting backwards on my fingers 4, 3, 2, 1 until the conference was over and we could finally go home.

On the way home, Steve bought Chinese takeout for my roommates and I. See how he’s taking care of me again? That night after Steve went home, I finally “knew”.  If I was so miserable all week without Steve, how could I live my entire life without him? As long as I were with Steve, everything would be okay.  So that’s how I decided to marry him.


The Bible verse Steve and I chose for our wedding was I John 4:19: “We love because He [God] first loved us.”

It describes God’s love for us and our response to his love; and also and my love story with Steve.  Steve’s love had always been constant. It took me many years to discover how faithful and enduring it was. Each year I still discover more of more how much Steve loves me and I love him more.  A friend asked me recently, what is your secret to being happily married? For me, it’s that principle above. Steve keeps loving me and I keep realizing how much he loves me and then I love him more.

Author’s Reflections:

I took time out from writing about career to show another area of my life where I struggled with direction.  While my career journey would continue to twist and I’d continue to encounter failure and disappointment, I did find clarity and peace about who I would marry.  My marriage has had many trials and troubles which I could document in another blog, but unlike the area of career, the marriage part of my was  life settled within a few years and I am thankful for that.


Why Do I Feel Like I’m in High School?

If you look at the picture, that’s me in the middle, but Asian and a little younger. The co-workers, cubicles, haircut, simple black sweater and coffee mug are on the mark.   I had transitioned out of education to work in what I thought would be a nice office job. I would to sit at a desk, answer emails, design marketing material about technology and its uses in education, and have meetings with adults. No more lesson plans and disciplining children. What I didn’t expect was a different type of disorderly behavior…

As soon as I was hired on, my co-workers hated me. They spread rumors, whispered and laughed behind my back. One man (they were all in their late twenties to early thirties) taunted me constantly for working so hard.  Then he’d share stories, many disgusting, about how great he was.  When he discovered I was Christian, he’d tell me repeatedly that he was the devil. He was trying to scare me.  My co-workers even  convinced our director that I should trade cubicles with the printer because my cubicle was bigger and the printer needed more space and was presumably more valuable.  (It was a $10,000 printer.)  A couple of months ago in graduate school,  I had been engaged in intellectual and ideals-driven conversations about standards-based reform and educational policy for language minority students. Now my deepest questions were how to how to deal with a bully and navigate office politics.

I eventually figured out why they hated me. One of the men in our group was a contractor. He had been wanting employee status for quite some time and had been denied it over and gain. Meanwhile, right out of school, single with little corporate experience, I was hired with employee status and full benefits.  (My husband has been contracting for two years hoping to be hired as a regular employee so I can understand how he felt.)  They hated that I was from Stanford, seemingly privileged,  and so overly industrious and eager. They loathed our director and organized against her.  I soon realized that the environment had been toxic for quite some time.

Eventually, this dysfunctional group tried to pull me into their cabal.  Each Friday at lunch, they’d  ask me what I wanted from Fry’s Electronics.  Each week I said I didn’t need anything. The co-worker who called himself the devil started telling me that there was  money in our budget to “try out” technology and  that I could get anything I wanted. Unbelieving, I asked for a keyboard to use with my Palm Pilot (a smart phone precursor) and less than an hour later I received it on my desk. I had no idea who was signing off on these purchases.

When they needed me to cover for them, these coworkers became very friendly and nice. I became their backup for arriving late to appointments with customers or partners. I held down the fort and filled in when needed. I became useful and used.

Then one day this group of coworkers asked me to meet them in one of the rooms. “Come on, Tina. Join us. ” Something secretive and exciting was going on. Still unsure why I was invited to join the party, I found out that they were stealing technology–computers, software, cameras, etc. Layoffs were imminent and all the equipment would soon be useless. Someone drove up to the door leading outside in a van and someone else had turned off the video cameras. I walked out of that room quickly. I could not believe what was happening.

As for my actual work, I created some very shiny marketing material about the use of technology in educational settings and gave input (that no one ever listened to) which questioned the efficacy of their multi-million dollar marketing campaign for schools. The company I worked for wanted to sell its networking hardware to school districts and universities and its marketing program touted the benefits of technology in classrooms in a way that never described exactly how this technology would be applied practically. The videos were gorgeous, but it wasn’t going to work.

Within nine months, the company had begun the process of laying off almost all of its employees, including me. I was relieved.

Author’s Reflections:  My biggest lesson looking back was that I should trust more in my abilities. I thought that because I didn’t have business experience that my co-workers were all better than I was. They were more experienced, but I still had much to offer and my experience and education was specialized and something none of them had. I had reason to be confident and did not need to doubt myself.  I used to send my marketing brochures to the editing department and they’d come back with with grammatical errors and awkward wording. How could that be? I now know that sometimes people are hired for positions they are not qualified for.  I learned quickly that working with good people, not an impressive building to work in,  is key to enjoying a job.





Almost a Millionaire

The year was 1999.  I was back at Stanford earning a master’s degree in Education with a focus on Language, Literacy and Policy.  My life of research and writing about standards-based reform and electronic literacy was worlds apart from my life in the trenches of public school. I was deep in conceptual models but detached from helping kids. It was a strange dichotomy.

I was doing well academically, but I was restless. So I looked for an internship as a possible bridge to a new career. I  landed three internships which I worked concurrently. One was as a research assistant for WestEd, a nonprofit educational research agency. Another internship involved writing content for educational video games at The Learning Company.  The third was a part-time job (where I was paid like an intern) with a rapidly growing startup company writing directions for customer service inquiries using the language of the adopted software program.  My roommate Karen invited me in. The work was dry and I was concerned about finishing my thesis, so I quit. If only I kept that job and quit the other two. The company was PayPal.

It was an exciting time to be living in the Bay Area. I lived just a couple doors down from the first Apple Store. (What a strange concept, who would go there?) Little companies with odd names like Google and Facebook were hiring. New businesses and startups were popping up everyday, and everyone, it seemed, was energized by possibility.

Within a month of graduation my wish to transition out of teaching and into the “real world” came true.  I had two job offers. One was a technical writing position with Verifone (think credit card reader) which involved frequent travel to India.  The other was a marketing position with another large, multi-national corporation which leveraged my background in education. It had new buildings, an impressive lobby, a sit-down restaurant, free gym membership, and did not require travel.  So I chose the latter.





Could I Have My Job Back?

Yes, that really happened.

The day after I had quit my teaching job, I  thought about my lack of savings and the fact that I would have no money in a few months and—asked for my job back.  My principal was gracious to receive me, but told me that unfortunately, another teacher had taken my third grade position. But I could teach fourth grade. This meant, essentially, that I would have to start over again. New curriculum, new lesson plans, and a new grade with 30+ students, as opposed to 20 students in my third grade class.

I accepted her offer but was dejected.

It was another rough year. My classroom management had improved but the discipline problems were worse than the year before. I had one particularly challenging student who was aggressive, mean and “not afraid of the principal”. Her mom did not want to hear about any behavior problems because “that is your job”.  I had another student who refused to follow directions that she did not like. She  declared, “my parents told me I don’t have to listen to you because you’re a bad teacher.” Her parents did not want to speak with me either.  I had volunteered to take several of the “tough case” boys that others did not want because I knew they were good kids. I loved them, but they required much effort.  Each day was a struggle.

No longer able to maintain the long hours and intensity of  “saving the world”  (see my last entry), I started burning out. I had gotten so thin that the school nurse took me aside and asked in a low voice if I were anorexic. I was not, but my health was failing for lack of self-care.  In addition to this, I had to deal with  political backlash from another teacher (the one who took my third grade class) for choosing not to  join the strike for higher pay.

Internally, I was scrambling for my next steps.  I knew I  had to quit, but didn’t know what to do next.  I was so desperate that I flew to Colorado (on my meager teacher salary) and spent a couple of days with a career coach highly recommended by a friend. The coach concluded I had so many strengths that it would be difficult for me to choose a profession.  There was no clear path to take.  He then advised me to conduct informational interviews with people doing jobs that sounded interesting until I found what I wanted to do.  Somewhat hopeful, I began calling friends, friends of friends, alumni contacts, even random people I had come across who had interesting job titles, asking them questions about their jobs. I did this for a few weeks, but it was not helpful. I made no discoveries.

So I went back to what I knew. I was good at academics, so applied for graduate school.