Grief & Gratitude

Sometimes the expression of an emotion has to catch up to the spiritual disruption. Grief is a very strange, powerful, exhausting emotion, and it didn’t really hit me until I opened my mouth and said the words on the phone.

“Someone very important to me died this morning. He has been my pastor since I was 15,” I said, requesting to be excused from a retreat I was to have attended addressing the connection between body and soul.

How appropriate that in finally saying the words I burst out in tears over the home-going of Rev. Robert D. Goette, good and faithful servant, pastor, husband, father, son, brother, uncle, spiritual father, lover of peanut butter, Bears fan married to a Packers fan, church planter, evangelist, leader, and friend.

Someone said Robert may now find himself bored because there is no one in heaven to share the Good News of Jesus with, but he is healed from the ALS that took him physically away from his family and friends bit by bit over the past 5 1/2 years. He lived longer than doctors initially expected, but that’s Robert.

Robert was a missionary kid to parents called to South Korea. By the time I met him (I was in high school) he was gathering groups of Asian American kids in the Chicago suburbs – mostly but not exclusively Korean Americans – for Bible study and fellowship. He and sometimes a few volunteers would pick up these kids to meet in the basement of a family’s home and meet Jesus in the form of a tall, lanky, blonde, soft-spoken white dude. Yes, Jesus was white in those years but strangely Korean because of his missionary kid experience. Robert had a unique perspective on and personal connection with the spiritual formation of Korean American children and youth – children of Korean immigrants caught somewhere between being the first and second generation in the U.S. also known as the 1.5 generation.

Me.

Robert understood that a generation of kids were growing up in the abundance of America with parents who had just experienced the aftermath of a war – the Korean War – and the political and social turmoil that followed. Robert knew that the language and cultural gaps  would widen, that Western churches were ill-equipped to welcome us (they were happy to rent their spaces so long as we didn’t smell them up too much with our food, which really was superior to donuts and coffee IMHO), and that Korean churches would lose us because of the very gaps caused by chasing the American Dream.

Korean pastors thought he was stealing sheep even though most of us sheep weren’t thrilled to sit in the pews listening to pastors preaching in Korean, couldn’t (or didn’t want to or were never invited to) go to the white church youth groups, or weren’t going to church at all. And I have no idea what his white pastor-peers were thinking as he slowly built the foundation of a church with a bunch of junior high and high school kids.

Surely some people thought he was crazy because junior high and high school kids are not the group church planters are going after. That is not the demographic strategic, trained church planters necessarily go after when dreaming of a strong core. Kids are flaky and unreliable. We don’t have an income let alone our own modes of transportation. We bring and create drama (we were K-drama before it was a thing). We are immature in ways our non-Korean peers were not because we also did not have parents who understood America.

Yup. Robert was crazy.

I’m so grateful Robert was crazy. His investment in my spiritual formation and the formation of a generation of Korean American kids is immense. He understood that my experience as a Korean American child of immigrants was going to mean life and a journey with God would have different turns and curves and bumps and that I would need a place with peers who spoke and understood my heart language – not Korean, necessarily, but a way of understanding and connecting and expressing what our non-Korean American peers could not understand, would never experience, but at some point would benefit from our articulation and expression of it. Robert knew the Kingdom of God needed my generation before most of us cared, and his faithfulness in investing, discipling, mentoring, pastoring, and evangelizing…well, even though it had been a long time since Robert could speak on his own I knew he was still Robert. Even when he ceased to be the senior pastor at Grace Baptist and then Grace Community Church. Even when Peter and I left the church. Even as we stopped seeing Robert and Julie, his wife, on any basis. Even as ALS took away more than Robert’s balance. Robert was still Robert. He was still a missionary, a church planter and trainer of planters, a husband to Julie and father to Jennifer, Emily, and Robbie.

And because Robert was faithful I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Before I knew what ethnic-specific ministry was, Robert and those who believe in Robert did it. They invested in a bunch of kids who grew up to become doctors, lawyers, pastors, investment bankers, traders, and designers. He followed us to Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Chicago – Circle Campus; bible studies on those campuses eventually became Asian American Christian Fellowship chapters connected to JEMS – Japanese Evangelical Missions Society and then later affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. Yes, the very organization I work with. See?

There is so much to be thankful for, so much to remember.

Grief is a very strange and powerful emotion. I’m looking forward to being on the other side of it someday.

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Robert was one of three pastors we had presiding at our wedding. He also was the only one who spoke in English, the only one Peter could understand, and the only one who knew me. Robert didn’t mind being one of three. He understood the Korean family/church politics involved in planning the wedding of two firstborns and the son of founding elders of a church. Peter and I have been married 22 years, and we still remember the gist of what Robert said to us about respecting and cherishing each other.

40 Days & Nights. Mostly Nights: A Lenten Journey

I am going to give up my nights, my night owl habits, and what I have often referred to as the most productive hours of my day.

Motherhood did not reset my internal clock to the rhythms of infancy, toddlerhood, preschool, etc.  because those seasons never had a set rhythm unless controlled chaos is considered a rhythm. I have never enjoyed the quiet before or during sunrise. I usually only see a sunrise if I was up all night. I love staying up past 1 a.m. when everyone else is asleep. I love the second wind and feeling of productivity when no one else is in my way.

Which is why I am giving up my night owl habits. I need to let go. Everyone needs a certain amount of sleep, and I certainly don’t get enough of it. It’s no one’s fault but my own. I stay up late to get more done, to write one last paragraph, read one more page, clean up one more spot in the house, respond to one more email, check off one more thing off my never-ending list of things to get done, many of which can and should wait.

And then I wake up after I’ve hit the snooze button too many times, feeling exhausted and already behind another day of producing, cleaning, emailing, multitasking purposefulness.

I am not that important.

The house is not that dirty.

Those emails (unless they are from my supervisors or colleagues and correctly have the RN: date on them) are not “DO IT NOW!” urgent.

The book will still be there.

Even as I sit here typing I am thinking and worrying about what isn’t getting done now and wondering how I can get it all done tonight.

No more afternoon coffee. No more burning the midnight oil. Less cranky Kathy, which is far less than what God has invited me to be. No more being too tired to actually be present to what God has for me.

May 40 days simply be.

75 Years a Slave & Why I Watch the Oscars

Lupita Nyong’o danced with Pharrel like the royalty she is. Her genuine joy, surprise, and awe after hearing her name announced as the winner of the Best Supporting Actress award made my heart swell. Her walk up the stairs, spreading the pleats of that incredible dress like a fan was the way to work that dress.

And it was an incredible moment in history.

It was 75 years since Hattie McDaniel, fondly or reluctantly remembered for her role as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind, became the first Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She was barred from attending the movie premiere in 1939 in Atlanta, GA. McDaniel and her escort sat alone at a segregated table apart from the film’s other stars. Yes, she sat at the “coloreds only” table.

So, it didn’t escape notice during the conversation that ensued in our home that despite it being 75 years later, the role was that of a slave. Nyong’o understood the power of her role when she said, “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s.” Her role doesn’t take away from her award or from the power and beauty of her performance (yes, I did watch the movie, and, yes, I recommend it).

Other Black female winners included Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost (1990), Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball (2001), Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls (2006), Mo’Nique for Precious (2009) and Octavia Spencer for The Help (2011).

Hmmmmm.

Yes, these women voluntarily took these roles. Yes, McDaniels, Spencer, and Nyong’o knew they were playing slaves. Yes, Berry and Mo’Nique knew they were playing impoverished women. That leaves a ghost medium and a backup singer.

Seventy-five years between Mammy and Patsey, and the range of prime roles for Black women (never mind other women of color) seem rather, um, limited. What will it take, how long will it take for women of color to gain the experience, the networks, the audience to be offered the roles that so easily go to the likes all the women of non-color who dominate the awards circuit? How long before Asian and Asian American women are even up on the the big screen and littler screen in leading roles that are human beings? Please don’t name the five roles that are out there. Are there even five?

But why bother actually wasting five hours of my life when clearly I see and experience all of life as an Asian American woman and am going to notice these things anyway?

1. Because, despite a raging headache that pounded the back and sides of my brain, I am a sucker for fashion I can’t afford and would never buy even if I could afford some of it. I love the drape of a well-tailored dress or tux. I appreciate the aesthetic of fashion, and though I firmly believe the Fall of Humankind lead to all sorts of ick I am grateful we have moved beyond fig leaves, fur & leather.

2. Because the Oscars bring together the brokenness of this world together with the thing I believe God intended humankind to “do” – the creation of culture.

3. And because I also am an artist, the wife of an artist, and the mother of three artists. In my household five resides several writers, an aspiring screenplay writer/director, a dancer/choreographer, a seamstress/designer/styler, a photographer, a future master Lego builder, a satirist, and a comic book author. We are Christian home that continues to wrestle with what it looks like to be in this world but not of this world. We try to love our neighbors as ourselves by being neighbors who also watch things so we can have easy small talk and be neighbors who know what’s going on this world through a Christian lens, shaped by our Asian American immigrant experiences. We read (meaning two out of the five of us read without it being assigned) books, we get a paper newspaper and several magazines, we watch the news, etc. We shop at the mall, at the resale shops, and at all garage sales possible. We are first-world Christians desperately trying to live and be light by not hiding under a rock or bushel but by finding joy because we have the privilege and the opportunity to do so in incredibly easy but intentional ways.

So we sat together in the family room with the big screen tv and we watched, learned, and taught.

The five of us stayed up enjoying the likes of U2 (has anyone else noticed Bono can’t dance), Pink (I loved that dress!!), Idina Menzel (or Adele Menzeen, according to John Travolta, ugh), and Pharrel perform. (Pharrel, if you or your people are reading this, I have a daughter and two sons who can work it for your next multi-generational dance party.) We engaged them in critique and asked them about their observations. They noticed the plastic surgery and we talked about the world’s view and standard of beauty for men and women. We laughed when we all thought Jared Leto kind of looked like Jesus from the “Son of God” movie. We asked the kids which child would get the family to the Oscars. We cheered when the boys said they wanted to work their creative magic together. We cheered when our daughter mentioned choreographers can win Emmys. We all reacted to the Chevy commercial featuring Asian American children creating a movie by pointing at Peter, husband and dad, who made movies as a kid and still dreams about writing a screenplay. We noticed they cheered and recognized themselves and our family in a CHEVY COMMERCIAL but have never had that opportunity in an American sitcom or movie because obviously writers, casting directors, and producers don’t take race into consideration.

And in watching we continued to push ourselves and our children into the risky business of being in the world but not of the world. In many ways, it felt like an extension of Sunday worship as my heart, mind and soul continued to wrestle with the commandment to love my neighbor as myself when this world keeps telling me I am invisible.

 

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.