Transforming Treasure

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

The worst part for me of not having a career while raising two young children was wishing I had a job so we had more money.  If I were working, we could afford childcare. I wouldn’t have such a strict budget, we could go out to eat more often and I wouldn’t have to cook all the time. I could enroll my children in a Montessori preschool and perhaps even private school. My kids could take whatever lessons they wanted. We could save for college.

When my kids were about four and seven, I joined a Moms’ ministry small group class called Fully Alive. In this class we together explored what it meant to live a life “fully alive.” One of the first themes we discussed was the word treasure. To treasure something was to fill one’s heart with the beauty and value of something. We talked about what we treasured and that even loss could be transformed into treasure.

To get to know each other in the group, we each shared a photo of our family. While looking at my photo and thinking about how I was going to introduce my husband and kids, my thoughts went back to wishing I had a career and the benefits of having more money. My son who never asked for anything wanted to learn to play golf. What else would he ask for in the future that I could not afford? My turn was next and I shared some adjectives to describe my husband and kids. And then suddenly, in the brief pause it took to gather my thoughts, a revelation hit me. Tears welled in my eyes as I blurted out, “My kids have everything.”

My kids had loving parents, a warm and nurturing home, family that adored them. I had friendships, a spiritual heritage, a wonderful family, a home in a nice neighborhood, more than enough. I had been treasuring an elusive career and the money it would provide when I was already rich in treasures that money couldn’t buy.


Questions for Discussion: What do you treasure? What are your treasures? What would you like them to be?


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?






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.


Anticlimactic Repeat

Senior year came and I had to face again the  question of my future.

I considered pursuing a graduate degree in English.  When one of my professors bluntly expressed that writing a recommendation letter for me would reflect poorly on his reputation and then continued to wax poetic about another student  who he had written a letter for who was brilliant,  I quickly dropped that idea.  He even pulled out the letter and began reading it aloud to me since he knew I was acquainted with that particular student. I was more relieved than annoyed. I knew the rigor of academic literary discourse was not for me.

Some of my English major friends were applying to law school and others had landed consulting jobs.  I couldn’t see myself doing either those things. I  went back to the career center and conducted several informational interviews  but could find no clear direction.

The only idea I had was to return to Taiwan to teach English and study Chinese. As I was thinking over this possibility,  my Chinese professor encouraged me to apply for a Taiwan Ministry of Education scholarship to study Chinese in Taiwan.  Ten students would be selected to receive a full year’s tuition plus a generous stipend.  I applied, and to my surprise, within a month of applying, I received word that I had been chosen.   I could not believe my good fortune and was relieved that I had a plan for at least the next year.

About the same time (graduation was approaching)  I received a message on my answering machine congratulating me for winning the English Department Poetry Prize for Best Poem by an Undergraduate. Oddly, my response was disappointment. I was convinced that few people must have entered the competition, they had no other choice than to choose me.

The year ended in a blur of activities where I found myself to be disconnected from my peers. My writing life which I had found solace in was not particularly conducive to bonding with friends.  I had good friends and apartment mates,  but had not found part of any particular tribe.   When it came time to celebrate, the night before graduation, my friends had their family events and group activities, and I found myself alone. It was an uneasy surprise, a rude awakening.   As I left campus after graduation and shut the door of the minivan which would take me home, sadness washed over me.  I felt the same emptiness and angst that I had weeks after graduating from high school. I had no career plans.  I was not proud of myself.  I had nothing to celebrate.

Author’s Reflections:  Sometimes I read about high school students who seem to have everything going for them but commit suicide.  (See note below.) They were honor students, accomplished in sports or music, had the world ahead of them, yet they had lost hope. Maybe they felt disconnected or alone. Or thought they weren’t good enough.  I would never take my life, but I could relate to those feelings.  I went into college determined to find a career but ended still without direction. I thought I was a failure.

If I could speak to my young twenty-year-old self I’d say, you’re doing great. You haven’t figured it all out but you’ve graduated from Stanford!  You’re a scholarship winner and a poetry prize winner. You don’t have to figure everything out. You have your whole life to discover your life’s purpose.  There are many ways to define success and career is just one of them. You are sensitive and creative. You are spiritual and caring. You are hard-working and intelligent.  I am proud of you.

Questions for Discussion: How do you define success? How broad is your definition?
Has your definition changed?

Click here for an Atlantic Monthly (December 2015) article on teen suicides:  Silicon Valley Suicides: Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?