That day when I was back from LA in November, I met a stylish lady at Detroit airport. We chatted and connected. Her name is Vaiva and she is the co-founder of Zensations Magazine based in California. Later she asked me to write about my life and she would love to feature it on her magazine. Now the story is featured on the newest issue and you can download for free here to read. You also can read below just for your convenience. 😉
Dream it. Plan it and make it happen
Hello, my name is Grace Liang. Let’s make my life long story short, first. I am a 43-year-old woman who was born and raised in China. I struggled with poverty and family abuse for many years. I moved to America for love in 2007. I married the most amazing man who give me two stepkids and two granddaughters. After 10 years of being happily married, I lost my husband to cancer in early 2017. Don’t cry for me, his life is living on with mine. I am living my life to the fullest every day as much as I can. I believe in the quote “Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future.” I am currently a full-time life style blogger based in Troy, Michigan and my blog is called Color and Grace.
Ok, below is the super long version of my life. It is a journey of awakening and self-empowering.
I grew up in northeast China. My hometown is about midway between the borders with the then USSR and North Korea. That means I got the terrible combination of Russian winters and DPRK fashion! This part of China is peppered with blue collar factory cities and rural villages. I lived in both as a child.
My late husband grew up in a typical upper middle class American family – nice house with a pool, stay at home mom, 4 kids, 2 dogs, family vacations and a color TV. Pretty fortunate… My childhood was filled with hunger, tears and frost bite! We barely held onto a small house with a straw roof and dirt floor. No running water or indoor toilet. I never had a toy, a TV or a bike. I had never seen a private car until I was 11 years old when we moved to a small city. I loved sitting on the side of the road just watching cars driving by. It was all very fascinating!
Most Asian cultures have traditionally valued sons above daughters and my family was no different. I was never coddled as a young girl and often was mistaken for a boy as I would wear my hair short and dress in my older brother’s hand-me-down clothes. So, it’s not surprising that no one thought of me as a beauty, including myself! It really wasn’t until I became an adult and moved (ran?) away to live in the much more modern and glamorous city of Shanghai that I even began to see myself as anything other than plain looking, at best.
It took my whole life to find who I am and now finally I am fully empowering myself. Below is a poem my dear late husband wrote for me based on my life story.
“I was born in China, child number two.
My brother was first, more popular too.
The culture has said that boys are the choice.
Girls like me don’t get a big voice.
Because girls are below and boys are above,
I really don’t feel I got my mom’s love.
When I was young, I was poorer than poor
Straw was our roof and dirt for our floor.
The kitchen was special, it held our one pot.
But we had little food more often than not.
Money was tight so we couldn’t buy rice.
My brother and I stole soybeans from mice.
My mom and my dad worked every day.
No time for weekends. No time for play.
Farming and factories, iron and steel.
That was the way we paid for our meal.
Never heard of vacation. Hard work’s all we knew.
That’s what I learned. I still think it’s true.
I played with my friends, but that was hard too.
We moved house so often, every neighbor was new.
Another new month, another new house.
Another new school. But same worn blouse.
Times were quite hard, when I was a kid.
I’ll never forget of the way that we lived.
We didn’t know birthdays or parties like here.
Our one celebration was Chinese New Year.
The only sure time I knew there’d be food.
Some small lucky money. And new clothing too.
The rest of the year was day after day.
Of too much to do for too little pay.
I hated the mud. I hated the dirt.
I hated the way that my feelings would hurt.
When I think of my childhood, I remember my fears.
And the terrible words that came to my ears.
“You’re ugly, you’re stupid, shut up you can’t sing.
Don’t waste time pretending you’ll be anything.”
So I knew sometime later, in several more years.
I’d leave this behind. This place of my tears.
It started with high school, I lived in a dorm.
And being away from home was my norm.
But the tears didn’t stop, I often was sad.
And to make matters worse I now lost my dad.
But I got through high school, university too.
I now was a teacher with a job to do.
But I still didn’t feel my life was my own.
I had to go further. I had to leave home.
I had a big dream, Shanghai was its name.
So I packed my one bag and got on a train.
I showed up alone, no place to stay.
No one to talk to and no way to pay.
It was far from easy but I first found a bed.
And then got a job to get myself fed.
I was determined to be a success.
At least not to fail, so no time to rest.
I wouldn’t go home until I could prove,
My decision was good, I’d been right to move.
The years came and went but finally I knew.
Now I could visit, and this time I flew.
I went back to Shanghai, and made some new friends.
You might be thinking the story now ends.
But over in China the sun also rises.
On days filled with hope and sometimes surprises.
I’d sort of accepted it might stay just me.
When I went out to eat with two friends, just us three.
We sat at a table and ordered some food.
Then three men sat beside us, I thought it was rude.
One thing quite different about the big city.
It’s the first place I heard I might just be pretty.
It seemed that one of these men thought so too.
But he was American so what could I do?
It started quite slowly. But before we knew.
I thought I’d stay one. But now we were two.
I’d never left China, for even a day.
Now home’s in America and that’s where I’ll stay.
So many things have changed in my life.
I learned how to drive, and learned how to wife.
I’m still learning English, more all the time.
Now I speak it in dreams so I think I’ll be fine.
I guess those hard times I went through when young.
Have made me the woman that I have become.
You can’t have your now without the before.
You won’t see what’s rich without knowing poor.
I’ve come so far from that place that I hate.
I still can’t believe life could be so great!”
Yes, I finally started to feel life is great after many years of struggling. By marrying my best friend/soul mate, I started to enjoy a normal and steady new life. In early 2016, my late husband was diagnosed cancer. My world was shaking again. I have written many posts in the “Living With Cancer” series and below is one of them.
How am I holding up?
“There are a lot of people who said they can’t believe what I am going through in my life now based on how I look, speak, and act. Yes, I am trying very, very hard to make it as normal as I can.
So how am I holding up in the darkest time of my life? I only focus on my purpose. At this moment of my life, my purpose is giving my husband the best care I can. Making sure he is comfortable, warm, clean, and protect his dignity.
I had been the most spoiled woman on earth. Before my husband was sick, I have never filled my own gas tank. He had given me the best care a man can give a women in the last decade, so I am very grateful that I have the chance to take care of him.
He is the person who let me experience unconditional love, not even my parents gave me. He always says he is the luckiest man because he has a wife like me. But the last few years, I kept telling him, I am the luckiest woman to marry him. He gave me a family which I never had. I am loved, cared for and respected.
I am still trying to put makeup on, to dress comfortably. Because I don’t want him to feel I am giving up on myself, or on us. It is not the end of the world yet, because we are still together, holding hands and smiling at each other.”
We were handling this life crash with humor and a lot of positive attitude. But after a year of battling with this very rare type of cancer, I lost my man in early 2017. My blog became the outlet for me to clear my mind, rediscover myself and recover. I have started the “Life After Loss” series. Below is one of those posts.
What Death Has Taught Me
When I was young, I never thought about death because it just seemed so far, far away. Then my Dad passed away when I was in my last year of high school. This year my husband passed away. These deaths of my loved ones were like a wake up call, and have certainly changed and shaped my life in many different ways, but today I want to talk about my own near death experience.
No, I am not dying, at least not to my knowledge, but I almost died one month ago.
The day after I came back from Paris, it was about 90 degrees and my pool was all fixed up and looking amazing. The solo trip had given me so much confidence and I felt that there was nothing I could not handle. So, I went swimming by myself. I don’t really know how to swim. I know the basic strokes, but I had to put my head under the water, holding my breath to swim. As you can imagine, at some point I need to stand up and poke my head out of the water to breathe.
My late husband bought me a few diving toys to help me practice so I threw them into the shallow end of the pool, just like we used to do. The water was a little chilly, but felt pretty good. I did a little bit of a warm up and then swam from the shallow end to the deep end (it is about 8 or 9 feet deep in the deep end). I can open my eyes when swimming no problem, so I grabbed the edge of the deep end to stop myself and then poked my head out to breathe.
I was a little bit out of breathe, but I was feeling quite good. After a short break, I swam back to the shallow end. By that time, all the diving toys were slowly moving to the deep end, and I knew there was no way I could dive that deep to get them out. So, I dove to the middle section of the pool to rescue them before they went too far. I picked up one and then tried to pick up the second one. I suddenly lost my balance and felt as I was pulled into the deeper end.
I am only 5 feet tall, so I was completely under the water. I saw a beautiful blue sky and the air bubbles from my mouth through a few feet of water above me. I needed to land somewhere so I could position myself to start the strokes. So I stopped panicking, struggling, and moving and just stayed still. My toes felt the bottom of the pool, but it was not enough to kick myself up and poke my head out of the water. My legs and arms were moving very fast, but I was going no where. “This is not a joke, not a dream, I may die today in my own backyard.” This thought so vividly went through to my mind.
I continued struggling under the water. Somehow I turned my head and I saw 3 small stairs on the wall. I suddenly remembered them there for the diving board that used to be on the pool, but it was still quite far from me. I used all my strength to paddle and finally after a while I reached the lowest step. When I finally poked my head out of the water, I realized how good it felt to be able to breath again.
After a hot shower, I felt better. When I was drying myself, I patted my belly and said “I almost lost you today. I need to take care of you better from now on.” That was the true awakening moment for me. Of course, along the way of losing loved ones I already knew what I should do, but I was so focused on the finish line that I failed to find the joy in the journey. Since that next day, I have been cooking myself healthy meals everyday. I make sure to eat 3 meals a day and don’t stay up late. I even started my gym journey to get more healthy. I also spent more time with family and friends. I even discovered that I REALY love people. Lol. I love talking to others, even strangers and listening to their stories.
So, what has death taught me? I think I finally understand how to live in the present and simply enjoy what I have at this moment in my life – a sunny day, my beautiful gardens, a beautiful song, good food, good company and a good time. You may ask, what about your fashion dreams? I do enjoy my blogging, but I am not going to kill my health anymore like I always do to chase after it, because life showed me, every breath could be my last one.”
The grieving process is a winding road with a lot of ups and downs. But I always can find a way to bounce back and keep pushing through. I think my man and our marriage had taught me one simply thing about life, and it is to just live! As long as I still have the gift of life, I will make it the best out of it. You can see the ups and downs in the post below from a few months ago.
Dream Big and Believe In It
“It has been more than 9 months since my husband passed away. I had a super long week, so last Friday I cooked myself a nice dinner and decided to give myself a break by not turning on my computer. Instead, I watched a Chinese movie. It was just a typical chick flick and was based on a couple who met, but, for whatever reasons, couldn’t be together in 3 life times. I have read some articles about reincarnation before and that evening I just kept thinking of my man. Was he already starting his next life? Will he try to find me? This life is still too long for me and I really wanted to follow him to wherever he is. I was crying non-stop for about an hour that evening.
I felt comfort when I thought about ending my life and going to the next life with my man together. It felt good and safe to know that I know he will be there for me. Later I suddenly realized I slipped into that black hole again and I knew I needed to stop thinking like that right away. That black hole of deep sorrow was taking over and controlling me. It made me bitter and didn’t care about anything. I needed to look away and look further in the future, to see my hopes and dreams again.
No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid. My life has totally proved this idea. If I didn’t have some big and wild dreams when I was young, I could have been an unattractive middle-aged women who already totally gave up on looking good or feeling good because life is tough. I’d probably have a minimum wage job, and be living with an abusive husband with no skills or ability to live on my own. I have seen many of my childhood friends in China who are living like this right now. It just makes me feel so thankful for all the risks that I have taken and all the wild dreams that I have pursued.
If your dreams don’t scare you, then they’re not big enough. So, let’s all take a few days to just dream big. In the next 10 years, where is the dream place that you would love to live? What would your dream house would look like? What is your dream job or business? What type of people you will surround yourself with? Dream big and see those dreams as clearly and vividly as you can. Write them out in great detail!
The only thing holding you back from a better and happier life is yourself. We can be our own worst enemies in so many ways, especially when we don’t believe wholeheartedly in ourselves. We need to not just dream big, but believe it in too! Hold tight to those dreams, knowing that we can and will do anything in our power to make them a reality. We need to have wild visions of our life that we know we are destined to live, even if we are not living it today, in this very moment. In 3 years, you will start to see it if you work for it. Remember, your current life is the result of your decisions that you made 3 years ago. So dream big and make the right decisions.
I believe it with all my heart that when I move out of a bad place in my life, I will be a better and stronger person. I have been tested, tutored and beat up, but I am still able to look darkness in the eye and tell it, “I will win!” Yes, life can seemingly suck at times. It can put you in a bubble of negative energy if you let it. You must break through the negativity, and work towards building something new so that you can find the positive energy and understand that all those tough situations are temporary.”
I am still struggling with my life quite often, but I do believe I just need to dream it, plan it, and then make it happen.
Photo credit: Grace Liang
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