I am writing this as a part of a challenge on this blog. You are about to read 34 things about my first years before having children. These are things I would want to share with my children.
#1 of 34
I was my mother’s easiest birth. She had a lot of difficulty with both of my brothers (one before me, the other after), but my birth was pretty smooth. I was also her smallest baby. I’m sure that made a difference. I was a little over seven pounds at birth.
#2 of 34
I’ve wondered if my being born in the middle of the night affected my night owlishness. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a night owl. I think I actually have a bit of insomnia. Being home schooled for most of my education (all but kindergarten, fourth, and seventh grades) supported my late-night tendencies. I remember many a night when the entire household had gone to sleep, I could be found sitting on my floor, a dramatic Bible story playing in my tape cassette player, and I was either painting or drawing. This was between the ages of 9 and 13.
#3 of 34
I was on television singing with my brother nearly every Saturday morning during this time. My Dad wrote and produced a children’s television show that was a live 90 minute program at a local tv studio. We did puppets, skits, and music. I got really familiar with looking at the right camera based on the lights on top. Interestingly enough, the studio was Trinity Broadcasting Network which later went cable, then satellite, and became world wide famous.
During this time my Dad also was helping start a church. This time in my life provided the ONLY year I ever attended public school. It was fourth grade, and I was such a social butterfly that I didn’t learn very much. When I took the placement test for fifth grade the next year, I only showed that I was halfway through the fourth grade, so that year we just ramped up my schedule, and I home schooled half of fourth grade and all of fifth in one year. I home schooled for sixth grade, then attended a private Christian school for seventh.
Then we moved.
#4 of 34
I began writing music at 7. At the time, I called it “making up songs,” and they were mostly Christian worship songs. I didn’t play any instruments although we had a piano and an organ. I tried to get my Mom to teach me piano since she studied to be a concert pianist, but she knew it was an optional hat for her. She already wore the “Mom” and “Teacher” hats as well as trying to help me remember to do my chores (so easily forgotten for me), so hounding me to practice was not a task she wanted to take on. Now I see the wisdom in her decision. I think I’m more like my Dad than my Mom when it comes to piano, in that I’d really rather play by ear anyway. I like to experiment and see what I come up with.
#5 of 34
My children know this already, but I was three when we hit the road full-time. My Dad was called to be an evangelist, and he took to it with zeal. He’s very enigmatic and quite eloquent as well. My Mom told my Dad that if he was called to travel, so was she. He didn’t think she could do well in that lifestyle, and I know her temperament preferred a more stable life, but her stubborn love would not let him go alone. She married the man, not the house. So they collected up their two babies and set out.
We had a station wagon and a top-carrier. I’m not sure when we got the little trailer we pulled behind, but it wasn’t the live-in-it-kind, it was the carries-your-stuff-in-it kind. There were no seat belt laws yet, so I remember many happy hours on highways in the back of that station wagon with blankets spread out beneath us, playing stories with my older brother. Often we took turns being the poor beaten rescued orphan and the rescuer. We named the car “Jessica,” and pretended that it could drive itself and do whatever we asked.
For our times of ministry in churches and homes and schools,we usually had a host home we stayed in, but we also spent lots and lots of nights in motels. My Mom kept a cooler in the car with some fruit and supplies for things like baloney sandwiches. I liked growing up that close with my family. I didn’t know it was a very unusual way to live life.
My parents arranged with a local church school near our home to put my brother and I on their books as students, and just let us take the material on the road with us. We were settled down for each of us to attend kindergarten, but after that, we were traveling too much to attend a school. We always kept a rental home, so we had somewhere to go between tours. My Mom and Dad both wrote music for us to learn and sing. My brother and I would sing duets, and then when the four of us sang, we could do three parts. I learned to sing harmony by ear at about 7. I could just hear the other parts in my head and sing them.
#6 of 34
I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, but we lived across the line in Kansas. I’m pretty sure we lived in Overland Park for my first seven years of life. I think my parents rented from my Mom’s folks when I was born. That would have been the house on Russel Road. Then we lived in a house on Lawndale, and then my favorite house, the condo with the blue door. First off, I liked that front door. My brother and I shared a room (if memory serves), and the upstairs bathroom had smiley faces painted on the walls. All over the walls. The walls were white, and the smiley faces were in black. There was one frowney face I amused myself by locating every time I was in the bathroom, and he was behind the door.
That condo was the place that had a basement. Why are basements scary when you’re little? We had to go through the basement to get to the little fenced in patio (again, if memory serves). I liked to go on the patio because we had a sand box. And yes, I ate some sand. I liked it, except it was a little too crunchy. But it smelled like something one would eat. Like play dough.
It was at the condo that I got my first “Big Wheel.” Actually, mine was not the “Big Wheel” because I was so tiny. I’ve always been on the runty side, weighing in at 25 pounds at 7 years old. The “Big Wheel” was a little large for me, but they made a smaller blue version, and that’s what my parents gave me. My brother got the real version, and we had the time of our lives riding those things up and down the sidewalk in the summers.
#7 of 34
I remember being sad when we moved from that condo. I lost a stuffed animal in the move that I really loved. It was a lamb I had named Ace after the lamb that was on the front cover of my schoolwork books called “Paces.” Ace was actually an acronym for the study course. It stood for “Accelerated Christian Education,” and I found it to be very black and white and boring. We didn’t know yet that some students are visual learners, and others are audio. My brother thrived with this curriculum, but I had the hardest time staying focused and on task.
#8 of 34
We moved from Kansas City to southern California when I was 8. We lived in the Sixpence Inn for 6 weeks looking for a home to live in. My baby brother had been born in Virginia when we were on tour, and he was still an infant when we pulled up roots and headed west. My Dad paid for two rooms during those six weeks, and, as I recall, my parents and my baby brother were in an outside room (facing the parking lot), and my older brother and I had a room on the inner side facing the courtyard. They had a machine that dispensed coffee, hot chocolate, and chicken noodle soup. I thought that was just the coolest machine ever.
The room my brother and I shared had two twin beds. I remember pretending we were teeny tiny tigers, and we would jump the “huge chasm” between the beds (because if you’re tiny, that little isle becomes a huge obstacle!). I don’t have lots of detailed memories of that time, except that I unwisely asked my Dad for an allowance (probably due to that cool hot chocolate dispensing machine outside my door), and, in his high stress, my Dad exclaimed that he was already shelling out $11.00 per night for my room. I had no idea housing me and my brother was so expensive! I think it was many years before I ventured into the “allowance” question again. I had everything I needed, and life was good.
#8 of 34
We found a house to rent in Tustin, California. It was a four bedroom, which was perfect because then my Dad had an office in the house. He filled his office with his desk, his 8 track recorders, his books, and cassettes. I always liked my Dad’s office.
#9 of 34
You should hear my Dad tell the story of the miraculous events surrounding our move, including having to have the Ryder truck returned by a certain hour on a certain day, and that day was a Sunday. Since Dad was helping found a church, we were at church Sunday morning, and they made an announcement that we might need some help getting moved in that afternoon. So many people showed up to help, that my Mom was reduced to just giving directions to where stuff should go. Bed frames were assembled and mattresses put in place. The washer and dryer got hooked up. People brought food along with helping hands. It was pretty amazing. The Ryder truck got back on time.
#10 of 34
This house was one of my favorites as well. It had an apricot tree in the back yard, a nectarine tree, and, out front, roses and a loquat tree. There were two public pools for the neighborhood, and I really loved that. Mom took us all the time in the summer, and my older brother and I had fun learning tricks on the diving board. We tried being on the swim team, I even got a second place award for a race, but so many races were on Sundays, and we could not miss church. It was fun to be on a team briefly anyway.
#11 of 34
We lived here for about four years. We were 10 minutes from Disneyland. I got to go once or twice, perhaps even three times. That was way back in the day when you bought the tickets that were labeled “A,B.C,D,” and “E.” Each one was a different color. The “A’s” were the longest, filling the book. The “B’s” were a little shorter, and so on and so on until you came to the smallest and most valuable “E’s” The “A” let you do things like play the carnival games, while the “E” was your ticket to the best rides! I always saved my “E’s,” hoarding them like they were gold. I think I even came home with an extra “E” ticket once. What I really wanted from Disneyland was the rock candy on a string. I was a big candy-holic, and somehow I got it into my head that Disneyland was the place to get the best rock candy. I loved having a sweet piece of Disney to take home with me after a full day of excitement!
#12 of 34
This was also the era when I had a best friend. She ended up being my only close childhood friend. Her name was Amy, and she had two sisters instead of two brothers. She lived in a near-by neighborhood, and we could ride bikes to each other’s houses. We spent every Friday night either at my house or hers, and I liked hers better. She was so feminine, and I was such a tom boy. I idolized Amy, and thought the world of her. We had two or three fights, and I would just be in a panic as I peddled my bike to her house, hoping to make amends before I lost my one and only friend. I would tell her she was pretty, hoping she would return the compliment, but she was just always embarrassed. I knew I wasn’t pretty, and I knew I was a runt, and I was so glad she seemed to see some value in a friendship with me. Her family had a tradition of going out to dinner on Friday nights, and I thought that was just lovely. They went to our church, so we enjoyed that connection as well.
#13 of 34
When I went to the Christian School (Colonial Bible Church School, or, CBC) for 7th grade, Amy attended for 6th grade at the same school. It was a small school with a campus for K through 12 using classrooms that flanked a shared courtyard. My parents later told me that they worried I would “cheat” and do badly on the placement test so I could be in 6th with Aim instead of being in 7th where my accurate academic level placed me. That thought never actually occurred to me, since what we studied didn’t provide us with “hang time,” but we shared a playground and had the same recess schedule, so I separated myself from all the other “cool” 7th and 8th graders by hanging out exclusively with a 6th grader. I was pretty ignorant of the social rules, not having spent many years actually in a classroom. Amy and I had birthdays only a month apart. We were the same age, she was a super cool person, we were friends before that school year anyway, so why wouldn’t I spend my recess and lunch time with her?
#14 of 34
While I enjoyed school (and had a mini crush on my teacher, “Mr. Brent,” accidentally calling him “Dad” once,) I missed the easier pace of home school, and I really didn’t like the early mornings. The only thing that made it better was the carpool. Three families living near each other had a cumulative total of 8 students attending CBC. Each family hosted for a week at a time, getting the children to and from school. We had been given a Gremlin (I don’t know what happened to the station wagon, come to think of it), and it was all we had. Since the seat belt laws didn’t exist yet, we just crammed in, putting the two kindergarten students in the back hatch with all our lunches. Once my Dad let little kindergarten Josh (my baby brother) sit on his lap on the way to school as he drove us all. For fun, he let Josh have the wheel a couple of times. Josh enjoyed hearing our happy but frightened shrieks as he would veer slightly off the road and then back on.
#15 of 34
While at CBC school in 7th grade, I made it as a cheerleader, and my Mom sewed the skirts for all the cheerleaders in the troupe. I loved being a cheerleader, and practiced the cheers and the moves all the time. I kept my cheerleader skirt, and was surprised when it fit my 2 year old toddler as a dress-up outfit years later. That’s when it began to dawn on me how very much smaller I was for my own age, and especially since I was a grade ahead of my fellow cheerleaders. I still have that skirt somewhere. . . .
#16 of 34
I lived in 7 different houses in 4 different cities in two different states during my 19 years in my parents’ home. We traveled for many of those years, maybe half? Or more? Our next move came in 1981 I think. I’m pretty sure I was 12. (My parents are reading this, no doubt, and will set it all straight if it’s really that important.) I remember making a silly cake with Amy for my 12th birthday with the count-down of the days left until I would officially be a teenager written on the top with icing. We were so giggly! That’s the last birthday I remember sharing with her, so I’m pretty sure we moved that summer.
#17 of 34
I had competed to be a cheerleader for my 8th grade year at CBC at the end of the 7th grade year, and won! I had to pass up the opportunity though since we moved about 5 or 6 hours away north to a tiny town outside Fresno California, by the name of Coalinga. You’ve probably never heard of it. It had a population of about 7000. It used to be “Coaling Station A”, and just eventually became known as “Coalinga”. My Dad had accepted an invitation to pastor a small church there, “Bible Believers Church”. Again, we experienced a miracle move when we found a house to rent within hours of setting up house an hour and a half out of town in the vacation home of dear friends. It was an old house with a purple fig tree in the back. I’d never had figs before. I loved not only the flavor of the figs, but the color too. Also, the tree grows into something like an umbrella that reaches the ground, and it was fun to “go inside”. I’ve always liked trees.
#18 of 34
While we lived in that little old house at 414 Madison Street in Coalinga, California, some big things happened. Coalinga was hit with a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on May 2, 1983. I was 14. It lasted 48 seconds, which does not sound long until you experience it. My brother and I were in the front room when it started. We were studying for the class we were taking that evening called “Evangelism Explosion” (which I now find rather ironic). It began as a deep rumbling, then the house began to vibrate. It’s such a strange experience, the brain has difficulty figuring out what’s really going on because it’s just not right. Houses don’t move. By about the 7th second, we could hear glass shattering in the kitchen as our cupboards and fridge doors opened and the contents began crashing onto the floor.
We were both on our feet by now, and the “flight” instinct kicked in. I reached the front door before my brother did, but I could not grasp the handle at first because it kept jumping up and down! I had to spread my legs wide just to remain standing and not crash into the walls. I could hear my Mom now, crying out over the rumble as she hurried to follow us outside the door. She’d been napping in her bedroom when it hit. I finally got the door open and rushed into the front yard where I witnessed our neighbor’s chimney come crashing into their yard, and the car parked on the street bounce up onto the sidewalk. The only way I can describe the ground moving beneath my feet was that it resembled oatmeal when it’s ready but still on the stove. You know how the bubbles have to work their way through the thick oatmeal and they lift the whole surface before breaking out? That’s how the ground felt to me.
My Mom had not made it outside unscathed. Our television was situated on a low table that backed up to our front windows near the front door. The TV bounced so violently on its perch, that it fell backwards into the window, pushing that low table into the path my Mom followed to the door. We’re pretty sure it splintered the bone in her shin, based on the swelling and bruising that pooled down into her ankle in the following weeks. She was the only member of our family who was injured in the quake.
Dad was downtown in the old building that housed our church. Downtown was destroyed. All the brick buildings lost their outer walls, revealing the three stories’ interiors, making the shells left behind resemble dollhouses in disarray. Our church building was on a side block to downtown and, miraculously, suffered only cosmetic cracks in the cinderblocks. Dad came home shortly after the quake to check on things at home. Phones were down, power was out, water was out, it was surreal.
When I ventured back into the house, I found a disaster in the kitchen; the toilet in the bathroom had spilt water on the floor, and the contoured rug around it was pinned between the toilet and the linoleum due to the movement; my bed, dresser, and shelves were not where I left them, they’d all slid across the wooden floor to nearly pin the door closed. I just want to impress upon you the enormity of this quake. Our house was not destroyed, but much of what was inside was.
The epicenter was 11 miles away from our town.
#19 of 34
I know, this is a little intense, but it’s my story. Our little city had aftershocks for a year. Aftershocks are basically smaller earthquakes. I never knew before that that aftershocks could last that long. We got really good at guessing where each one landed on the Richter scale. Several of the aftershocks were big enough to shut down the grocery stores again since the shelves got dumped onto the floors. Again. I wrote in my journal at the time that many of the aftershocks came between 3am and 6am, so we all started setting out clothing and a flashlight beside the door of our bedroom so we could snatch it up as we vacated the house. Who knew if it would fall off the foundation this time? Most of the houses in Coalinga were built on raised foundations. Many of them “fell off” in the first quake, leaving the porches higher than the front doors.
#20 of 34
Not long after this, we moved to a duplex on South Coalinga Street. Coalinga had only one or two stop lights, and one could ride a bike from one side of it to the other in about 20 minutes. Between the two houses we lived in while we were there was a park. Keck Park, as I recall. For some reason, they had poured very smooth concrete for a sports area, and had installed big park lights along the edges. It was not the size of a football field, but it was bigger than a tennis court. It became the perfect outdoor skating rink. My brothers and I enjoyed going there and skating for hours upon hours in the average afternoon. One could also bring a “boom box” which was a portable cassette player with speakers, and plug it into the light poles in order to have music to skate to. We played games like “Crack the Whip” where one was the leader (my older brother was best at this), and the rest of us (my younger brother and I) would hold hands and let my big brother pull us along. He would come to a turn, and turn quite sharply, using the stoppers at the front of his skates, causing the one at the end to be propelled at an almost alarming rate along the arc. We always had fun with that, and took turns being the one at the end of the “Whip”.
#21 of 34
That earthquake really challenged my faith. I cannot describe the fear to you. It’s so alarming to have your bed bounce you out of it. If you’re ever in a mall, on a second floor, outside the stores, just stand still and hold the rail overlooking the first floor. Feel that? That vibration that is the flexibility built into the structure to handle the use and movement the customers create is just like those early tremblings of an aftershock. For years it thrust my heart into my throat to feel that movement. It made me question my faith in God to keep me safe. I could not go anywhere on this earth that was safe from such a threat as an earthquake. I landed on the conclusion that the best I could do was trust that He would guide me and keep me safe as long as I followed His direction for my life. It all came down to faith in His goodness in a broken world where bad things happen, even to good people. He is still there as a support and hope. It was miraculous that not one life was lost in our little town. Downright miraculous.
#22 of 34
My Dad really has a heart for the whole world. Our church had a heart for our little town. When Dad wanted to travel to Africa on a mission trip, the church board was not happy with it. They wanted a more down home kinda guy, but my Dad is more of a world vision kinda guy. Dad funded his own mission trip to Africa, but the board was not pleased, and they went around to different families from our church, spinning different tales, getting signatures on a petition asking Dad to step down from the pastorate to allow someone with a heart for Coalinga to step in.
At least, that’s the way I remember it. I could be wrong. But it seems that was the heart of the thing. The end result was that Dad opted to give them what they wanted (he didn’t want to trip anyone up, he was just trying to serve the Lord). So we left Coalinga. I was 16, and in braces when we left. I got my driver’s licence while we were on the road, returning to a familiar way of life in ministry as an evangelistic family.
#23 of 34
At this time, my older brother and I had developed some fun skills. Scott, my older brother, had been the “Children’s Pastor” at my Dad’s church. He took so well to the post, that he wrote an entire curricula on children’s ministry. Also, he and I had been writing (for over a year) a puppet skit to kick off each Sunday morning. Every Saturday we would type out a skit on an old typewriter based on a principle from scripture. Our puppets were “Chris Chen” played as an oriental guy by Scott, “Prissy Patty,” a struggling believer played by me, and “Bully Billy,” played by my Dad. We introduced a new character after a few months, “Bully Billy’s Baby Brother Brad” played by our little brother, Josh. The skits were simple and short, maybe 5 or 7 minutes, and they comprised of simple life issues that needed resolution, usually about Prissy Patty. Chris Chen would help her solve her issues with scripture. We usually built a story around a helpful verse.
#24 of 34
We moved from Coalinga to Oakhurst, California, which is not far from Yosemite National Park. Oakhurst was in the mountains, and it was really beautiful. We lived in a neighborhood along some wild mountain property I loved to explore. A short walk from the house there was a creek. It never seemed to be terribly deep, and I enjoyed walking in it in my tennis shoes. There was a donkey on the property who was white. I named him Clarence, and would tell him all my troubles. He was very docile and would let me pet him. He didn’t smell very good though.
#25 of 34
My Dad gave me my first 35mm camera, and taught me how to use it. We even set up a temporary dark room where we developed our own black and whites, just for fun. I took to photography like a duck to water. I took pictures of my brothers, my surroundings, my stuffed animals, our tours, new friends, you name it, I shot it. I started making collages of my favorite pics of my favorite people. I guess that was early scrapbooking, eh?
#26 of 34
My first mission overseas happened when I was 17. I had difficulty adjusting to the heat and bugs in the Philippines. We took an air conditioned bus ride 7 hours north of Manila. When we stepped off that cool bus into the steaming heat of the area, I almost panicked. My Mom had sewn matching khaki skirts for us, and the guys wore khaki pants, and we all had matching green polo shirts. I thought I just might melt.
#27 of 34
I had a bad attitude during the first weeks we were there. I was resistant to adapting. My Mom loved being in the Philippines, having first traveled there the year before. The roads were dirt. The water came from a hand pump, there was no hot water. The toilet had no seat or running water. One had to bathe using a bucket with a dipper. One bathed in the “C.R.” that stood for “Comfort Room”, which is what we call a bathroom. Some places we stayed had separate places for bathing and relieving one’s self, so inquiring about the bathroom when you didn’t plan to bathe didn’t result in finding what was needed.
This first rough place we stayed, we had to tuck ourselves into bed with mosquito nets over us. Malaria from mosquitoes is nothing to mess around with. There were no screens on windows, and no glass either. Bugs were everywhere. After I woke up covered in bug bites with numb fingers and toes, we discovered that bed bugs were living in the wood of the cot I’d been sleeping in. They got tucked into my mosquito net with me at night!
#28 of 34
I eventually did adapt, and leaned into enjoying the people and the beauty. We went back every year for 3 or 4 years. We also went to Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan. We enjoyed ministering in churches in lots of languages. My parents still travel to the Philippines especially, and are there even now as I type.
#29 of 34
The year I was 17 while we were in the Philippines, I determined to learn to play the guitar. I borrowed every old church guitar everywhere we went, and spent hours upon hours working out the chords. My Mom and Dad could see that I was going to stick with it, so when we went to Hong Kong after our weeks in the Philippines, they took me to a music store to pick a guitar out. It was quite an experience. I didn’t know there were steel string guitars and nylon string guitars until they asked me which one I wanted to buy. Then when I wanted to try one, it had to be tuned. None of the guitars were tuned. Say what? That just didn’t make sense to me. If you want to sell guitars, you gotta tune ’em! Duh!
Turns out, steel strings are louder and the neck is more narrow as they are mostly used for strumming. Nylon strings are more mellow sounding, not as loud, and the neck is wider to make it easier to pick the strings instead of strumming them. I found I liked the softer sound, and landed on the nylon strings. It’s a beautiful guitar that I still have.
#30 of 34
While we were in Taiwan, I learned that they used a wooden stamp called a “chop” with the characters that made up their name as a signature. I had made friends with a fellow named Mark Chang, and he showed me the characters that made up my first name pronounced, “Shen-dee”. I had a chop made, and I bought the red stamping dye so I could use my own “chop” for a signature just for fun. They probably use their full name on thier chops, but I’ve only got my first name on mine. I loosened all my guitar strings and put my stamp on the paper label inside the guitar. I still think that’s cool.
#31 of 34
During the next two years after learning to play the guitar, I wrote music. Lots and lots of music. I loved that I could take my guitar to the creek in Oakhurst and play my heart out, just me and God (and Clarence). I loved to pick the strings and mix minor and major keys together in a song. I wrote mostly worship songs, simple quiet melodies. I also did some collaborative work with my brothers. We did some duets and trios. I could see our voices as different ribbons in my head, and I loved when one ribbon went up and the other went down, and they crossed. It was so pretty both to see and to hear.
#32 of 34
My Dad arranged to have my music recorded. I so did NOT want to do that. My music was precious and sacred. Record it and sell it? People will criticize! Dad loved my stuff. He wanted me to be willing to share it. I resisted. The thing that made me change my mind and submit to his recommendation was the thought of the scriptural principle of fruit on a tree. If you don’t share your “fruit” it drops to the ground and ferments. If you share it, it will be helpful to others. Yes, some my criticize, but most will just enjoy. So we recorded two separate albums, one in 1987, and one in 1988. Now I’m so glad we did that because I can’t even remember how to play some of the songs I wrote.
#33 of 34
I kept a journal from the time I was 16 to the time I was 19. I have all the notebooks in my closet today. I wrote nearly every night, first stating where I was, and what time it was, then just writing about the day and how I felt about it. I lost one journal when I accidentally left it on a bus in the Philippines, but it didn’t have too much in it yet, so I wrote as much as I could from memory to replace the loss. I hate losing things. I had cut pictures and layered them on the front, covering it with clear plastic to protect the front cover. I liked the way it looked so much that I’d taken a picture of it.
#34 of 34
When we were in Singapore I bought a mug that I still have. I also bought myself flowers for my room. I drank Earl Grey tea there, and it still reminds me of Singapore. They speak “Singlish” there as a first language. It’s delightful.
So there you go! 34 random facts (as I remember) about my life before marriage and children.