A Week Before Christmas

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Just so you know, the table has looked like this since Thanksgiving. It’s dusty.

I am not stressed.

This is not a superwoman post. I cannot find the surface of my dining room table. There are several laundry baskets in the laundry room and kitchen. The lovely Christmas cards all of you overachievers have sent (just kidding, I love the photos, by the way!!!) are sitting in piles on my desk and on the kitchen table. There is laundry air-drying in the family room. No, I haven’t finished shopping for Christmas. No, I haven’t started baking for the Thursday cookie exchange or the Friday night poms and moms party. No, I haven’t finished my Christmas cards because I haven’t started them. They may morph into New Year’s cards…or Valentine’s Day cards.

I don’t care.

Don’t get me wrong. I will go grocery shopping today. Or tomorrow. Definitely by tomorrow afternoon. The laundry will get done, folded, and placed on the floor of the appropriate owners by some combination of the many hands in this family. I don’t know about the cards, though.

I just can’t do the frantic Christmas dance anymore. Not this year. It’s just too much. So, let me invite you, my dear readers, to join me in a deep breath and a prayer.

Dear Jesus,

Your mother didn’t have a bunch of women throw her a Pinterest perfect baby shower before you were born. She didn’t register for the perfect gifts, wash your layette in baby detergent, and select perfect birth announcements. 

Despite the horror of finding out she was going to be your baby mama, she praised and proclaimed God’s faithfulness. And she waited.

Help me, in the horror of what I have made this holy season out to be, praise and proclaim God’s faithfulness in my life. Help me to wait. Help me to be present. Help me to breathe, just like I did when I gave birth in the sterile comfort of the birthing suites. Help me savor the Good News of your birth.

Amen.

#givingtuesday, anonymous & my kids

#givingtuesdayMy entire paycheck depends on the generosity of others. This has been the case for the more than 15 years I have worked with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Each month for 15+ years, individual donors have given financially to allow me to do my job. I know. It sounds crazy on multiple levels, right?

  1. Other people are giving money they have earned so that I can do a job that I love.
  2. In order for those people to know what I am doing and what the financial needs are, I have to invite/ask them to learn about what I do and consider giving financially.
  3. In order for me to be able to invite/ask others I am constantly digging deep into my heart and personal issues about money, self-worth, dependence on others, etc.
  4. If donations don’t come in, I don’t get paid my full salary.
  5. This model flies in the face of  the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” model of American opportunity because no matter what, I cannot make people give.
  6. AND I’m not the only one who lives this way!

So on this #givingtuesday I am giving thanks to the many, many individuals who have given not just on a Tuesday but for years and years to allow me to share the Good News of Jesus with students at Northwestern University, to train and lead the InterVarsity staff team at NU reaching so many corners of the campus, and to develop and help lead training that integrates cross-cultural skills and competencies into leadership development, evangelism and discipleship for campus staff and student leaders to more effectively reach a diverse student population in Illinois and Indiana!

One of the most encouraging gifts has been from “anonymous” every month for about a year. I have no idea who anonymous is, though selfishly I would like to know so I can thank anonymous. After 15+ years of living into #givingeveryday I am still learning the gift of giving is a gift for the giver and the receiver. Yes, there are times when I give out of guilt, and I am sure that some folks I’ve approached about giving financially to my work with InterVarsity wrestle with guilt. But that really isn’t what it is about.

My kids can be reluctant givers, but something about this time of the year brings out the very best in them. They give, much like anonymous I suppose, because they want to. They don’t have a lot of money. They are kids after all. Yet for the past few years, my youngest, Elias, money isn’t an issue. He spends generously and can’t wait for the family to open the gifts he has carefully selected for each person. He looks like he might burst with anticipation, hoping the gift will bring the recipient as much joy as it has given him to pick it out. Corban is a little older, a little more patient, but he is just as excited having asked me and Peter rather stealthily to take him out shopping without the siblings or without one of us around. Bethany is older, but just as thoughtful. The other day she asked me to take a look at the gift she had selected for Dad. She wanted to share the joy almost a month in advance with anyone who could keep a secret.

That is what is incredible about giving. The gift can be physically large or small. It can be financially costly or not. When givers like anonymous or my kids give it’s truly from the heart in a way that doesn’t allow for guilt. It only creates more space for joy and generosity.

So on this #givingtuesday take a moment to consider the various ways in which you can give joyfully.

And if you need some ideas, here are some of my personal favorites that make me giddy and excited.

International Justice Mission – an incredible human rights agency that rescues victims of slavery (yes, slavery still happens), sexual exploitation and other forms violent oppression. I learned of this organization through a family that has supported me through InterVarsity. See, giving is contagious.

Heifer International – as Korean Americans, my children also enjoy receiving additional financial gifts for New Year’s Day. We asked them to consider tithing – giving 10% or more – of their New Year’s bounty to charity, and several years ago they decided this was the charity of choice because who doesn’t love giving a water buffalo or a pig?!

Locally, I’ve been involved with Youth and Family Counseling here in Lake County, Illinois. The not-for-profit social service agency works to provide affordable mental health services. Let’s be honest. Mental health services is a trickier “need” to raise support for, but as one who is under treatment for depression because I have medical insurance I don’t and can’t take access to mental health services for granted.

And finally, there is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. If you know someone who works for InterVarsity, consider giving to her/his staff account. If you were involved with an IVCF chapter, consider giving to the staff who are currently serving your alma mater, even if you don’t know the person. And if you are still looking for a personal connection, you know me.

 

 

 

 

Giving Voice to the Korean Jesus

Last week I had the privilege and straight up crazy “am I really getting to do this kind of thing” of sitting on a panel with authors Rachel Held Evans, Rebekah Lyons, and Shauna Niequist during the Q Focus: Women & Calling event in NYC.

You can watch the Q Cast panel here. I haven’t watched myself yet. I’m not ready. But what I remember is making a passing mention of another set of Christian controversies that evolved over social media. I was talking about a certain megachurch pastor’s unpastoral response to concerns raised over a questionable Facebook post, the culturally insensitive video shown at a church planting conference, and the Open Letter to the Evangelical Church from a coalition of Christian Asian Americans.

It was about 30-seconds after my comment I realized that the audience may have had absolutely no idea what I was talking about because I, as an Asian American woman, am a different, new voice with a perspective and set of experiences just outside of what many in the room and over the internet may be familiar with. I have no set data points to prove any of this. It’s all based on observations of who was in the room, who knew each other in the room, etc. And this is not a play for accolades and affirmation. I know that I was an unknown voice for the majority of attendees. They had to read my bio and maybe google me to find out a little more.

Opportunities to be the different voice at a large conference, the imperfect woman who learned about Jesus through church lunches of marrow-rich soups, kimchi, and barley tea and hymns and the Lord’s Prayer sung and spoken in Korean and English, do not often come. It’s difficult enough for White women to be invited, which is why the issue of gender representation at Christian conferences is a tricky one personally. Q Women & Calling was unusual for me in that of the 11 women, 3 were women of color. (That seemed unusual to me. Correct me and let me know of other conferences that have that kind of representation.) When Shauna Niequist so beautifully and powerfully spoke about her mother’s legacy and journey, I was profoundly moved as Shauna talked about her mother, Lynne Hybels, finding her self.

I was also reminded of why different voices matter, even when and especially when it comes to encouraging people to trust Jesus, because finding our selves in a country, a community, or a church that looks, sounds, tastes, smells, and feels so different, and dare I say foreign, is a different journey. Ambition doesn’t mean selfishness. It often means survival.

And it was a moment of affirmation and reminder. To me, Jesus may have been blue-eyed and blonde in the painting, but He was Korean Jesus who didn’t mind the smell of kimchi and barley tea because He knew it wasn’t a way of hiding. Those were the things I tried so desperately to hide during the week. No, it was a way of nourishing our bodies and souls for a week of engaging in a world that didn’t always have time, a desire, or a need to get to know us and our different stories.

So here’s to celebrating the different voices and experiences we carry with a different edge. The first clip is from the remake “21 Jump Street” – watch only if you don’t mind swearing. The second is the incredible performance of friend and colleague Andy Kim on The Moth GrandSLAM: Taco Bell, Saving Souls and the Korean Jesus.

No Candy for You If You Come Dressed Like This

Ignore the fact that Christmas displays are popping up all over the place. Keep your eyes on the prize, my dear readers.

Candy. Free candy.

Halloween is not my favorite holiday, not because of its pagan roots and dark images but because it wreaks havoc with the kids’ schedules when it falls on a weeknight conflicting with homework, extracurriculars and dinner. And because it brings out a kind of crazy and lack of wisdom in adults, that does tend to trickle down.

The candy is free so long as you make an attempt at dressing up, but that is where the crazy comes out to play. God help the kid who shows up at my door dressed up in a sombrero, or as a “pimp” or “thug”, or a geisha, or in an “Indian” headdress. It is not respectful (why do you get to choose what is respectful to my culture without asking me?). I’m not accusing the parents or the child of racism or of being a racist. I won’t actually refuse to give you candy. I won’t yell at you or the kid. I am simply asking people to reconsider their choice of Halloween costumes, whether it’s for themselves or for a loved one.

The taking a piece or part of a minority group’s culture by the majority culture is known as cultural appropriation. Some examples would be Chief Illiniwek – the University of Illinois’ former mascot and dress-up/theme parties. There are plenty more out there. Chinese character tattoos on the arms of people who think it “looks cool”.  Just Google “Deadly Viper controversy”. There are plenty of folks who don’t think it’s that big of a deal. That’s fine. I think it’s a big deal.

And while we are at it, dear female readers. Please encourage our sisters, young at older, to avoid Halloween costumes that focus on our sexuality. No holiday is an excuse for grown women to wear bloomers with thigh highs or for young girls and young women to mistake dressing sassy=sexy. If you have to ask if something crosses the line, it probably already did. And male readers, keep your shirts on and pants pulled up. You know what I’m talking about.

It’s a big deal because we are all made it God’s image, and God sees inherent value in both our sameness and our uniqueness. God knows each one of us (Psalm 139). And even in John’s revelation he writes of seeing unity and diversity (Rev. 7). So it’s a big deal when we create a caricature of another culture for our benefit, entertainment, amusement and abuse.

So please, don’t come to my door dressed up to honor my Asian, Latino, Black, First Nations friends. I’d rather you put on a Cubs hat and come as an insufferable optimist.

 

 

On Easter Many Women Were There

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:5-10 NIV)

I am still 300 miles from home. It’s strange not being in church, at church, in the building on Easter Sunday. Spring break collided with Holy Week and desires to create gilded family road trip memories. Oh, and figuring out how to motivate our high school junior in her college search by combining campus visits with a trip to the beach means I am typing this in the car. Somewhere in Indiana.

But this morning the story of Jesus’ resurrection won’t let me go. Many women had been there at the cross, even when many of the 12 men with names had fled. The women came to care for Jesus’ needs. Even in the ugliest death, under dangerous circumstances they chose to be at Christ’s feet to serve.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were compelled to do what needed to be done. They went to the tomb to look, and instead they were greeted by a violent earthquake. The guards became like dead men, but despite their fear the women stayed.

They went looking for Jesus. Jesus in the tomb? Jesus the risen Lord? Fear and hope.

And then twice the two women, Mary and Mary, are told by the angel and then Jesus: Do not be afraid. Go and tell the disciples, the men with names who will write scripture down, tell the the Good News! Share. Testify. Tell. With Christ’s blessing. Preach the incredible news the Jesus is not dead in the tomb but risen!

And then what do these newly appointed and annointed women/missionaries/preachers/evangelists/disciples do?
When they see Jesus they approach him, clasp his feet and worship.

And then they go.

Few of my sisters will be the ones ‘officially’ preaching this Easter Sunday. Bound by rules, culture, expectations, and fear. I am reminded this Easter Sunday to not be afraid. There is a holy and blessed place for me and my sisters, unnamed and often invisible. Jesus, risen from the dead, chose to first reveal the absolute reality of his resurrection to my sisters.

Do not be afraid.

Our Christmas Stories

It’s December 3, and it’s 61 degrees in the northern burbs of Chicago. I have the urge to empty the compost bin and start planting carrot seeds and dreaming about tomatoes. But it’s December. Surely the ground will eventually freeze, and everything that triggers my seasonal allergies will die. Right?

It doesn’t “feel” like Christmas. I grew up in Chicagoland, which means it should be cold. Freezing cold. I should be able to use my walk-in freezer – my garage. I should be able to see my breath in the air, and I should be wearing my winter coat, mittens, hat and scarf. I feel like I’m in SoCal, my fake Uggs daring my feet to combine spring and winter into one.

Instead, we spent last night summoning all of our Christmas anticipation and decorated our Christmas tree. Through the years, Peter and I have tried to build in some traditions into our Christmas as part of our family’s story – the things, the smells, the tastes that will last beyond the five of us decorating a tree. Our ornaments have become one of my favorite parts.

The fake tree was fully decorated when Peter and I bought it from Menards. I didn’t come with a box but it came loaded with lights, glass globe ornaments and other sparkly, shiny things. As the years have passed, some faster than others, fewer glass globes make their way onto the tree, replaced by preschool creations, school photos placed into frames, ornaments based on family members’ favorite things, and now two mini trees with ornaments collected from places we have visited as a family.

We will hear and probably say over and over how commercialized this sacred season has become, and it’s true. When Christmas music and decorations of red and green get up in Halloween’s orange and black, and Black Friday takes over Thanksgiving night, it’s enough to do….what?

I’m certain my oldest’s journey towards college is making this mommy a bit sentimental, but it was a sight to see when each child (including me and Peter) unpacked each ornament and shared a sentence or two about their fondest memories and helped piece together our Christmas story.

For me, the tradition I most remember is going to church Christmas Eve where the Korean Santa came to give each kid a gift based on Sunday School class. We would head home late in the night, my parents transferring us from the car to our rooms. And then we would wake up to presents that the Korean Santa would leave under our tree. I remember the just-my-size African American Barbie. The Barbie Dream House and furniture. The flannel sheets.

Our kids don’t remember seeing a Korean Santa, but they did. Instead, I hope they will remember the bits and pieces of memory each ornament carries, because, as I tell them every year, when they move out and have a place of their own and a tree of their own my housewarming gift will be “their” ornaments wrapped with the love and expectation only a savior can bring to cover their trees and lives (“…while my tree stands all naked and lonely,” I tell them each year).

What traditions have you continued from your childhood or built new into your family?

Rice Pudding and Other Cross-cultural Adventures as an Outsider

I eat a lot of rice – white, brown, sweet, wild, steamed, fried, with Spam, and with kimchee. It’s “just” rice, rice cakes, rice noodles, rice crackers, rice porridge. When I buy rice it is not in a box. It is in a 20# bag, which I empty into my rice dispenser. The rice cooker (mine plays a song) takes up precious countertop, right next to the toaster oven and the coffee grinder. I have spoons for serving rice.

But until Sunday I had never had rice pudding, and I didn’t know you could eat it with lingonberries. The occasion was my church’s 35th anniversary. My family has been there for at least 5 of those years. The festive, celebratory mood was obvious, and knowing that my church has been such a key place for so many throughout the years continues to give me hope that I too will feel a deeper sense of belonging in the years to come.

But I get impatient, and I get cranky. And I wonder if it’s OK that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week for Christians because on Sunday I really felt like the best I could do was eat and leave. I had to ask what “that dish” was, which I learned was rice pudding. I recognized the salmon and the ham & rolls. Thanks to my mom’s days at Motorola I recognized versions of broccoli salad and jello salad. And thanks to Ikea my boys and I recognized the meatballs and lingonberry as well as the blue and yellow. I felt like a guest at my own church.

I’ve been told by others that I am not alone, and that it takes time. But when you are in the moment(s), time is not what I want to give.

It was a homecoming for many, but it was another cross-cultural adventure for me. I felt so outside inside of my own church, and I am still wrestling with how I as a regular attender can engage well when on most Sundays my family and I stand out.  Our traditions are not part of the present or the past, and we are still trying to find our way to places to impact the present and future. I don’t want to get rid of the rice pudding or meatballs, but I really do think potstickers and seaweed would go well with the salmon.

Because it is in the breaking of bread (or breaking out the rice in its many versions) and in the act of fellowship amongst sisters and brothers in faith we should find that the differences matter because there is space to delight in the variety, creativity and abundance that is from God. Look around. God doesn’t paint all the leaves one shade yellow. Our differences don’t define us; our Creator does.

But that’s easy to say when no one is there to point out the differences and say “we celebrate God’s goodness this way, with this food, with these people”. At the last church we were a part of, we wrestled with the same issue. The church was started specifically for second-generation Korean American youth who were growing up in immigrant, Korean-speaking churches. (And if that doesn’t make any sense to you, please ask for a longer explanation because I would welcome that.) The youth grew up, got married to Koreans and non-Koreans. We had children. We celebrated milestones with kimbap, Korean-style wings, jjap-chae, and dduk. And we assumed everyone would know what it all was and would enjoy it because that is how we all celebrate. And we were wrong.

And so I take a deep breath and discover that rice pudding is OK (better with the lingonberries) though I prefer rice cakes or the meatballs. Because the idea of creating an inviting and welcoming space isn’t limited to Sundays and a church.

Saying “I Do” 6941 Days & Counting

Today my husband & I mark 19 years of marriage or 6941 days of choosing to say, “I do.”
Over the years whenever I have the ear of an excited bride- or groom-to-be I tell them to invest as much time into preparing for the marriage as they do for the wedding because with each day of marriage I have been reminded of how much grace, patience, faith, hope and love is required to make a marriage flourish.
And I don’t see any registries, wedding themes, or event planners offering those things. In fact, the very ‘things’ Peter and I stressed over, registered for, planned for or paid for captured, at most, a static snapshot of a day.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for our wedding photos (though I don’t know if I can say the same for our wedding video) and for the gifts the 1,000 guests at our big, fat Korean American wedding gave.
But as Peter and I get ready to celebrate our wedding anniversary, I can’t overlook the more difficult days when I had to learn over and over again that the wedding was over but the marriage would require daily recommitments.
It was easy to throw a party at the beginning.
So here’s to saying, “I’m sorry” and knowing what I am sorry for. To asking for forgiveness and extending it generously. To saying, “I love you” when it was a choice. To recognizing when we needed help and getting it. To learning about bowling, movies, dentures, coffee makers, memoirs, composting and jewelry even when it wasn’t our thing. To encouraging each other to chase a dream or two. To learning some lessons faster than others and being grateful we haven’t yet given up learning the more difficult ones.
Today I again say, “I do.”

Some Women Were Watching

“Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.” Mark 15:40, 41 TNIV

I know many women who have experienced the death of a child. We have grieved the loss of babies lost to miscarriages and in infancy. Children lost to physical death. Teenagers and adult children dead before their mothers. Mothers who cared deeply for their children and their needs. Who held their breath and watched as they could only hope that the darkness of death would pass over.

My son was not crucified. I am not Mary. I am a woman, a wife, a mother to a son. I know “my place” is not always to preach and teach but to “share” and “give testimony”. I imagine Jesus on the cross, the crowds, the centurion, and then the women.

I remember my then four-year-old son’s body lying near lifeless on the adult-sized hospital gurney. Those hours took me to despair and hours of darkness. Tubes, machines, drugs, doctors, and nothing helped so they sunk him closer to death. And I sat there. I watched until they forced me to leave. I touched him when others poked and prodded and walked away. I spoke to him, sang to him, prayed for him while others talked about him and walked away.

I know it was a miracle. I was there. I was watching.

On this dark Good Friday I remember what Jesus did and who he is. I read the scripture knowing what happens and how the disciples run away and hide just when I want to hear their voices loud and clear. And then I see them and hear them. Some women were watching.

 

Lenten Laundry

I did not give up laundry for Lent. I have given up my gas dryer.

The dryer  (or from here on out, the D) stopped drying on January 29, well in advance of Lent and this intentional season of reflection and sacrifice.

The first two days without the D were a flurry of online searches for reviews and deals. Steam drying? Buy a new washer and D or just the D and wait for the washer to fail later? If we buy a washer should we buy front-loading or top-loading? If we are going to replace the D or both shouldn’t we remove the wallpaper and 40-year-old vinyl flooring? Wait, what is steam washing? What would Jesus do? Never mind. Jesus didn’t have two boys with stinky clothes, a daughter with even stinkier leotards and costumes, and a husband tracking in God knows what germs on scrubs. We were this close to ordering a new washer and dryer and….

Then one week without the D became two, and then my husband and I sat down to reflect.

With the D removed for scrap and the equally sudden loss of not one but two cars (both becoming scrap), we found ourselves with an unplanned opportunity to decide what we could do without and for what purpose. What would it look like, be like, feel like to simply do without what we had simply accepted as necessities of life if only for a short period of time? Instead of 12-months no interest, how about a few more weeks of saving, planning, and doing without so that we could simply purchase later what we thought we couldn’t do without charging right now?

Initially it meant getting used to crunchy towels, socks and underwear. The midwest winter, as mild as it has been, still means dry air that sucks up moisture. For us that has meant all of our clothes are a bit stiff (I’m not a fan of liquid fabric softener) and crunchy, but more than anything it has meant slowing down and being more aware.

No one can expect to have something washed, dried and folded on demand. Some loads take longer to air dry. Jeans can take up to two days. Some days there isn’t enough room to hang that favorite shirt or pair of pants. It’s also made us aware of how many articles of clothing we each have and what it really takes to keep it all clean because it is literally in front of us hanging on the rack in the middle of the family room or on the kitchen island or on the ironing board in my room. Oh, or on the lamp in the office or off the fan in my daughter’s room.

It’s a small sacrifice, but it continues to remind me of what I have assumed as convenient and/or necessary. I crave an ordered, aesthetically pleasing space. I don’t care what your space looks like, but I want mine neat and tidy. But laundry drying all over doesn’t lend itself to neat and tidy. It means my laundry, albeit clean laundry, is out for everyone to see.

Which is exactly why this continues to be a small but good discipline for me.

My laundry is out here for everyone to see, and my friends who knew of the demise of our D ask us about the replacement. I find myself explaining again why we’ve chosen to do without a little convenience – because it is reminding me Christ doesn’t call me to convenience but to Him. Sometimes getting rid of the convenience gives us space to do just that.

I can’t imagine many of you have given up your D, but what are you doing this Lenten season? Did you give us something in order to spend more time reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice? Has the sacrifice turned you more to Christ?