A Quick Primer on #codeswitching

Dear Readers,

Have you heard about the crazy that went down on the Napa Valley Wine Train over the weekend?

So the wine train is a real thing, and my husband and I were on it about 21 years ago for our anniversary, about a decade too early for my tastebuds to fully appreciate what I could’ve been drinking. It’s literally a train that goes through Napa Valley, and you can eat and drink your way through it. It is a bar on wheels. How loud do you have to be to be too loud on a bar on wheels, especially if you are with a group of your reading besties enjoying a good book discussion?

Well, apparently it’s not about being loud. It’s about WHO is being loud and WHO thinks you are too loud. This is not surprising to some of us, but that doesn’t make it any less humiliating, wrong, and racist.

The CEO has issued an apology, and here is where I brought in my love for manuscript Bible study and intersected it with … my life as a Korean American woman of color who pays attention to what happens to other women of color. I looked at the apology and started marking it up with comments, questions, observations. I’m sorry for the quality of the photo, and you may see that the text didn’t fully print on the right margin – user error. But you can get the gist of it. Public relations folks might call it spin. I call it #codeswitching  – where otherwise neutral words are used to describe a situation where more precise language connected to race, gender, sexuality, etc. could be used.

For example, when a group of women of color are referred to as “those people” as a way of minimizing the negative racial/ethnic implications of the comment without actually pointing out the obvious.

So that apology to the Sistahs on the Reading Edge Book Club? There is a lot of code-switching going on.

  • “…you would be loud, fun-loving and boisterous…”
  • “…a particularly vibrant group…”
  • “…we were acutely insensitive…”

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I haven’t figured out my emotions in response to this situation and to the apology. What I know is that growing up as one of the few Asian Americans in my community I had a different standard of behavior I needed to live up to – for my parents and my Korean American community and for the white community. I had to behave and respect the norm in whichever situation I was in, aka respectability politics. Many times I still believe this is true.

Such was the case for the Sistahs of the Reading Edge.

As you read the apology, what do you read? What are the underlying, unspoken messages that stand out to you? What are the questions you have about my manuscript?

 

Everyday Dismantling #4

What are some practical, everyday ways we can work to dismantle privilege that both are simple, clear things to do and don’t burden PoC (people of color) with the expectation they be our (unpaid) teachers?

It has been one hell of a month – 11 days in Pacific and Eastern Standard Time and what feels like a relentless stream of violence against black people and examples of white supremacy, white privilege, and American racism. (I am using “American racism” because I am freaking tired of people pointing out there is racism in other countries. That’s fine, but like I often hear: WE ARE IN AMERICA!)

So to end this month there are three just two things, dear readers, I would like to suggest as practical, everyday ways to dismantle privilege:

1. Leverage your privilege in a mundane, boring, non-savior sort of way that doesn’t involve asking a PoC for anything. As a Korean-American woman who is in great health with reliable transportation, I have made a small, tiny commitment to donate blood.

What does blood donation have to do with dismantling privilege? What did you think dismantling privilege was going to be? Saving poor people of color and being their saviors?    Nope. Jesus already has that spot in my life, thank you very much. Dismantling privilege in part is taking stock of where privilege lulls us into thinking our money, our platforms, our influence are the best and perhaps only ways of breaking down systems instead of considering how our entire embodied lives can impact the world and people around us. If I can’t do the little things, I have no business trying to do any heavy lifting of social injustice.

I don’t particularly like giving blood, and the finger prick, IMHO, is the worst. But I live in the “safe” suburbs where kids and adults don’t generally get pulled over for a missing license plate or arrested for drug dealing and abuse. But I also live within walking distance from a Level 1 trauma hospital where we regularly hear medical helicopters coming and going. Broken systems in a deeper sense mean we all experience death and brokenness in a way God did not originally intend. People are suffering and dying everyday, spiritually and physically, right in front of our eyes. It’s not just in the news. So as an act of worship I barely inconvenience myself to willingly shed blood for those who need it, because my health allows me to do it freely. That is part of dismantling – acting freely, without strings attached, to help right something that is wrong.

2. Care for the PoC around you. Now, this doesn’t mean going up to PoC you don’t know and giving them a hug and asking to get to know their story, and I say this because this was suggested at a conference I attended where the last thing I needed was another random white person asking to get to know me. I am assuming, dear readers, you have friends who are not white. Send your friends an actual note of encouragement or a text. Check in with them when the poo poo hits the fan. Tell them how their engagement and unofficial role as unpaid teachers of social justice has made an impact in your life. Treat them to coffee. Send them a care package or a gift certificate (I am not even kidding you on this!) and encourage the PoC, especially those who are deeply engaged in the work of dismantling privilege, to care for themselves. We are TIRED.

Honestly, I don’t know how some of my black friends walk out the front door anymore. Does the car have both license plates? Do I have my polite voice? Will I make eye contact but not too much eye contact? Will my friendliness be perceived as disrespect? Can I reach for my license and registration or do I need to point to my purse or wallet first? Again, to point out the obvious (maybe it isn’t that obvious since many of you don’t actually KNOW me), I am a Korean-American woman. I don’t think being pulled over by a police officer is a threat to my life. But life in America as a non-white person can be exhausting, a series of microaggressions – daily reminders of my otherness – that I choose to ignore or engage. Some examples of the “easier” ones:

  • The random stranger who greets me with a phrase in her/his choice of Asian language, usually a man saying “konichiwa” or “ni hao” because clearly all Asians speak all Asian languages and not English.
  • The “where are you from” line of questioning that is rarely satisfied by my answer: Chicago.
  • “Where did you learn your English? You speak it so well.” 
  • Conversations about “minorities” or “black people” but then being put at ease by being told, “but you’re not like that”.
  • Reading Yelp reviews about nail salons and the rudeness of employees speaking another language in front of customers (‘cuz you know the nail techs are always talking about you, lady) or the language barriers mono-language Americans face when ordering at their favorite authentic Asian restaurant.

We can only ignore things and let them roll off our backs for so long before we begin to pick up the message that we don’t fit the standard of American. This happens not just on the street but in our churches and places of worship, our schools, our favorite coffee shops. Turn on the tv or open up a magazine. Go to the movies. Look at the speaker line-up for conferences or at the attendees at the next conference or meeting you are at. Look at the list of recommended books. Glance at the patrons in your favorite restaurant. I usually make a scene when my family and I aren’t the only ones. Why do I pay attention? Well, because white people don’t have to. And because you don’t have to, your energy doesn’t go into managing all of the possibilities of every encounter, every post you put up on Facebook, etc. You aren’t tired the same way we are tired so care for your friends of color.

Racism is Uncomfortable, Dangerous, Evil

These are uncomfortable times.

Racism, whether it is named or whispered or danced around like the elephant in the room, makes it uncomfortable mainly for white, majority culture people. It also makes some of my kin – highly assimilated, low-identity Asian Americans who do not care to rock the boat at all because a boat that doesn’t rock suits their American dream – uncomfortable. Racism forces the hand of people who want to live in a colorblind world while enjoying the benefits of a racist society. It looks you in the eye and asks, “Are you a racist?”

I am tired of making people feel comfortable.

I didn’t go to my majority white, majority culture church on Sunday because I didn’t want to sit and wonder if the Charleston massacre would be mentioned. I didn’t want to sit silently if the evil of racism wasn’t addressed. I couldn’t bear making other people comfortable by sitting through a service when in my heart I wanted to walk out (that’s how I felt after each of the non-indictment announcements). I didn’t find the nearest AME church to attend in a show of solidarity because I couldn’t bear seeing white people making themselves comfortable by showing up at a black church. These are not comfortable times.

Dear readers, please stay. Sit in the discomfort, even if it is not familiar to you. Sit and don’t wait for someone of color to make you feel comfortable. We are tired.

And read the following piece. It’s worth the time to invest in a little truth.

Dispatch from Charleston: The Cost of White Comfort

“I have reached across the aisle. I have broken bread. I fully believe we all need healing in these moments, and that night, the symbolism was clear: a white person and a black person holding hands in the face of horrific racial violence, singing songs of freedom. What could be more comforting?

But thanks to something I experienced the previous night in Charleston, I couldn’t shake a paralyzing feeling: When black people and white people clasped hands in the arena that night, the comfort wouldn’t be evenly distributed. The healing wouldn’t flow both ways.”

When My Heart & Body Bleed

11403502_10155810085305651_2271394680427765294_nMy dear black sisters, I am mourning with you. I am angry with you. I am angry for you. My heart and my body? Bleeding with you.

Last night my husband once again urged me to get some rest. News of the massacre in Charleston was just gaining traction, and the news junkie in me runs deep. Peter knows it. He married me knowing this was part of my DNA but that was before wi-fi, Twitter and iPhones.

I went to bed heartbroken, angry, and numb.

I woke up bleeding.

I am almost 45 years old, and I haven’t menstruated in years. I can’t actually remember the last time I had a period because I am on birth control to avoid getting pregnant and to manage my endometriosis, which ironically made it difficult to have a second child. I grew up like many women – a bit ashamed of what our bodies did. The bleeding woman was an outcast for her entire life. Menstruating women were unclean in biblical times. Our bodies were our shame. But finally, as a grown up woman, I love my female body. Admittedly I don’t miss having my period, but I am not ashamed of what my female body can and is capable of doing. When I think about Jesus talking about his body broken for us & blood shed for us, I think about my sisters whose bodies are broken and sometimes bleed monthly because of our bodies’ ability to bring forth life. Men can’t do that. They can bleed when injured, but never to bring forth life. Lord knows I do not understand it all but I do know that as a Korean American woman I am created in God’s image.

And though for almost a decade this body created in God’s image has not bled, today it is doing just that.

I’m sure my doctor might have a different explanation, but this afternoon after a second dose of pain killers and some time in prayer, mourning, and silence,  I came to this understanding. My body is doing what my soul is doing. We are bleeding. This latest act of violence, this homegrown terrorism rooted in white supremacy and our country’s sin of racism that started not with slavery but with the theft of a land that didn’t belong to “Americans” is making me bleed. Nine beautiful black people, six women and three men, created in God’s image, who gathered to worship and invited not an angel but a racist and killer in their midst, bled and died. He walked in unafraid because white people in this country aren’t the ones in danger in the streets, in the pools, in the churches. No one questioned his presence, and then he opened fire telling victims he was there to kill black people.

We should all be sick to our stomachs and bleeding.

This is not some weird “I am black in my soul” thing like some other woman we have given way too much time to. I don’t feel black. I feel very Korean American. I have felt the privilege of not being black. I also have felt the threat of not being white, of always being just outside of being fully American, fully human. I didn’t grow up in a historic black church but a historic Korean immigrant church where our loudest moments were in prayer meetings at the wee hours of the morning. This isn’t me being black. This is me knowing that the model minority myth is my people’s lie to survive as well as deny the racist reality in this country. This is me knowing when one part of the body hurts, grieves, screams out for justice my body does hurt if I allow myself to feel it, know it. This is me watching the news, reading Twitter, managing a kind of physical pain that has often sent me to the hospital, wondering what must be going on in the bodies of my black sisters who are experiencing the pain of the Charleston massacre in a different way.

My mother and grandmother taught me my body, my mind, and my heart are connected in ways American culture and Western medicine do not understand. Many Eastern cultures teach that our bodies can manifest emotional pain and trauma and so the value of swallowing our suffering for the sake of harmony and peace can also damage our bodies. My mother and grandmother made sure I ate beautifully-formed fruits when I was pregnant with my three children so that I would see and experience beauty during my pregnancy for my sake and for the souls of my children. When I would cry out of frustration and anger about one thing or another during pregnancy or while nursing my babies, my mother would tell me my anger and heartache would make my milk “bad” and hurt my baby’s digestion and temperament. Mom would say the taste of her food depended on how she was feeling or what she was thinking while she was preparing the meal.

My mother and my grandmother were right. They were right to teach me to know and name what is going on in my heart and soul and how the world around me was impacting me and my children. They were right to teach me to not numb the pain or the anger or the sorrow but to know how it will impact myself and others.

So for the first time in a long time I am bleeding because my body, mind, and heart have caught up with one another and know something I have tried to ignore for too long – in a country built on white supremacy no one is safe.

Invisibility. Once Again.

11393618_10152914895818372_3855429072813440040_oI wanted to really like Pitch Perfect 2, and I didn’t want to start analyzing the casting of the musical “Once.” But I have eyeballs and vision/astigmatism correcting contact lenses, and my hearing is pretty awesome when it comes to racist and sexist subtext.

I have a vested interest in the arts – music, movies, visual art, dance, literature, etc. My daughter is a dancer. My husband not so secretly hopes to write a screenplay.  My sons aspire to be professional gamers, which in my book requires some ability to design visually pleasing platforms that do not objectify women or bring more unnecessary violence into the world.

So I can’t seem to not pay attention to the names, credits and faces on stage or screen. Call me sensitive. Or, I dare you to accuse me of playing the race card. I’m wearing yoga pants. I have no pockets for a race card.

But I have eyeballs and vision/astigmatism correcting contact lenses. Why did they ruin Pitch Perfect 2 with those horrible racist jokes that I think were supposed to help put the “international” context of the movie into the humor but failed. Why did it fail? Because this is not a post-racial America. Yes, I know Germans were stereotyped with accents, black clothing, and blonde hair. I don’t have the energy to explain fully why those still support a white dominant culture that affirms all things “white” (aka white supremacy, but that may feel too harsh or scary), but those clothes, except for the man-skirts, were “cool” while the blonde hair and accents do not separate them from being white or accepted in America.

However, Latino or Asian accents, fake or real, mean you’re stupid. They mean you need to learn proper English. They mean you don’t belong here, that you must be the landscapers or the nail techs, are you are the nanny or do you love me long time, where are you from, no where are you really from, I mean where were you born, or maybe your parents or grandparents, that’s amazing because you almost speak perfect English, you are not what I thought you were, saw you as.

We code switch. We assimilate. We change our names, our faces, our accents. We melt.

When I am visible in those ways I want to be invisible. It’s not a super power as in a hero. It’s wanting to disappear for self-preservation.

But then last week my husband and I saw the musical “Once,”  and I scribbled notes in my Playbill in the dark as I watched an all-white cast…again.

  • Why were people of color invisible?
  • Are there no people of color in Ireland?
  • Or were there no qualified actors of color who could fake an accent and/or play the piano, guitar, Cajón, mandolin, and/or sing?
  • No one on stage actually spoke Gaelic or Czech. The entire play is in English with native English speakers, some with what sounded like faux accents. (Well, I don’t actually know but the accents faded in and out very unlike my grandmother’s and my parents’ accents.)
  • Why is Billy saying “hi-ya!” and karate chopping, saying “comprende” and fist bumping while referring to CSI?
  • Why is “American” culture being integrated into the show if the all-white cast is supposed to be Irish and Czech and Ireland?

Why were people of color invisible?

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”  Psalm 139:15, 16a

I don’t want to be invisible. I don’t want who I am to disappear into a stereotype or into generalities. I want to be seen as fully human, embodied.

Thank God I am seen.

Playing the Critic: A Review/Reflection on Keys of the Kingdom

photo credit: "T"eresa

photo credit: “T”eresa

What happens when the pastor of a evangelical megachurch in Iowa commissions a mural from a lesbian artist from New York City?

Well? What do you think will happen? Is it a doomed binary between conservatism and liberalism? Is the scenario too contrived and limited to stereotypes? Does religion win? Or fail? Or both? Or does it sound like a bad joke?

Sometimes those are the questions that make for an unexpected date night for me and the husband so despite a blizzard warning set to go in effect around the second act we headed out to see Keys of the Kingdom (now playing at Stage Left Theatre in association with Theater Wit, Chicago, through February 15). If you’re local, you want to support the arts, you like proposing different endings or changes to plays/movies/books, and you have a little cash and time to spare this is one of those shows you might want to catch.

It’s not The Book of Mormon kind of laugh out loud irreverence (actually I am going on hearsay because we have not yet seen that musical) but I appreciated that playwright Penny Penniston thought enough of evangelicals and lesbians to create characters instead of caricatures. Ed, the evangelical megachurch pastor came across utterly sincere if not a little weird in his conviction and faith while being open to the possibility that God would ask him to do something that seemed outside of the rules of conservative behavior. Christians can be weird because some of the stuff we say and say we believe in and do in the name of beliefs can come across as weird. Irene was an artist who also happened to be a married lesbian. Her sexual identity and marriage are important to her personhood but are part of an integrated whole just like I am not “just” Asian American or a woman.

The evangelical v. the lesbian is what I would call low-lying fruit for misunderstandings, politicizing, and proselytizing; thankfully that was not what this play was about. I walked away appreciating that there were things Ed and Irene could not fully explain but believed in deeply enough that they were open to new possibilities, relationships, and risks. If only we could reproduce that in real life a thousand-fold. Imagine what could happen.

The story also touched on how even good intentions can fail miserably, and my mind automatically went to the missteps taken by fellow evangelicals and allies who echo Irene’s line and say, “I was trying to help.”

The response (and sometimes my response)? “That’s what a child says when they make a mess of things.”

In the myriad of misunderstandings, good intentions with bad results, and disagreements we agree will never be bridged but by a work of God, there is grace. I was thankful it made an appearance in this play. I’m hoping to make more room for it in my heart, my words, and my actions.

The play was a wee bit long for my taste, and you could hear noise through the walls (two other plays were running at the same time in this multi-stage theater. I would’ve changed the ending, shortened the play, and allowed for some time for the audience and the actors to interact because I kept wondering if Peter and I were the only evangelical Christians in the audience. What was everyone else thinking? 

#FreshOffTheBoat? I Liked It

Some quick, unedited thoughts in reaction to tonight’s premiere (FINALLY) of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat because I want to know your thoughts. I’ll go first. (THERE ARE SOME SORT OF SPOILERS…)

  • I liked it. I thought it was funny. I like the kind of funny where I laugh out loud, and I laughed out loud. And my sons who are 15 and 13 sat down with me to watch both episodes and laughed, related, and repeated lines.
  • Constance Wu’s portrayal of the mother Jessica Huang was lovely. She loves her children and her husband, but she isn’t going to take things lying down. She doesn’t mince words, but she isn’t one-dimensional. Hmmmm.
  • There were as many “jabs” at white culture/people as there were stereotypes of Asian/Taiwanese American culture. White people food, white people bowing, white suburban SAHMs talking loudly, fast, and over anyone else alongside the grandmother who doesn’t speak English, stinky Asian food, and Chinese Learning Centers (CLC, which of course my sons thought meant College of Lake County). I grew up calling white people and their food “Americans” and “American food,” which to some degree still holds true in American culture.
  • There were so many moments that sent me back to childhood. The stinky food thing. My sons started reminding each other about “the time you brought insert-some Asian food-here” to school and what reactions they received. My parents sometimes still talk about how their clothes smell after being at Korean bbq restaurant. The CLC thing never happened, but the push to excel meant my parents MADE Korean language worksheets and photocopied academic workbooks (I couldn’t write inside of them because they would re-use the book for my younger sister or make new copies of sheets when I didn’t complete them correctly) for us to do OVER THE SUMMER.
  • Yes, some of those things that rang true border on stereotypes, which is probably why I read many, many comments about how the show was good but not perfect…
  • But WHY DOES THIS SHOW HAVE TO BE PERFECT??? Why are so many of us Asian Americans adding that caveat? How many shows are perfect? I get it. This is the first show in 20 years featuring a family that looks remotely like mine so there is a lot of pressure. The pressure is real in terms of the network, etc. but it isn’t real in that the “Asian American community” does not, should not carry the burden of perfectly representing our story because there is no one story. I understand the burden in so many ways, but again I want to be held accountable and hold others accountable. How might we be perpetuating the stereotype of the model minority by expecting, even daresay hoping, this show, this ONE SHOW, would perfectly represent a multicultural community? It can’t.
  • I’m grateful the show took on double standards and the word “chink.” I was caught a little off guard when it happened because you never get used to that, and why should we. But when the parents defended Eddie and asked why the other boy, who was black, and his parents were not in the principal’s office for using a racial epithet I said, “YES!” Now, I don’t know how many Taiwanese parents would’ve done that, but as a parent and as an adult who still hears “chink” thrown at me or my family I appreciated the call out. For the record, I didn’t punch back because I wasn’t going to start something I couldn’t finish. I swore back in Korean.
  • It mattered to my sons. I was surprised that they wanted to sit with me to watch it live because who does that anymore. But there they were laughing and following along. They both agreed it will go into the DVR queue and when asked why they liked it both of them said they liked seeing Asians on tv. “The Asians. They are like us.” Yes, they are.

OK. Unfiltered, quick, off-the-cuff thoughts to jump into the conversation. I’d love to hear from all of you, Asian and non-Asian American!!

  • Did you watch it? Why or why not?
  • If you watched it, what did you think?
  • What did you like the most? What made you cringe? Why?
  • What were the things you resonated with? What didn’t you understand or get?
  • Whatever else you want to add. 🙂

 

 

Don’t call me Fresh Off the Boat

If you haven’t already heard, a new family is hitting the airwaves tomorrow (Wednesday 8:30|7:30c on ABC), and I am excited, nervous, curious, and afraid. It’s not every decade you get to see an Asian American family featured in an episode of a television show, let alone an ENTIRE television series, but that’s what we’re going to get with “Fresh Off the Boat.”

Did I mention I am excited and afraid?

The show is based on Chef Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same title, and you can read all about the show here. It is the story of an immigrant family experiencing culture shock as they chase after the American dream. I haven’t gotten a sneak peek; I’ve seen what the general public has seen.

And I am hopeful but I am holding my breath.

Eddie’s family looks like mine in the way all East Asians can get lumped together under the umbrella of Asian Americans. We look alike without actually looking alike. The family featured on the show has roots in Taiwan, which actually is an entirely different country than the one my family and I immigrated from (South Korea, which is different than North Korea). But for all intents and purposes, Eddie and his family are my family.

Why? BECAUSE WE ARE NEVER ON TELEVISION. Yes, Lucy Liu has a role. Yes, John Cho had a leading role in a romantic comedy that was canceled (Selfie, if you didn’t know). Yes, we Asian Americans can also claim Steven Yeun in The Walking Dead. Yes, there are other Asian American actors currently on network television but I would have to Google them in order to name them. If you are white, Anglo, or can pass as either you have just about everyone else. Seriously.

Even growing up in the church, God, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were all depicted as white. Think Sistine Chapel. Think felt story boards. I hear Burl Ives’ voice in the Bible story audio cassettes my parents bought me and my sister. The only time God wasn’t white was when He was Black, thanks to Bill Cosby.

No one sounded or looked like me because the underlying message I got was that no one wanted to sound like or look like me. It wasn’t all that underlying. I may be 44 years old, but the teasing, bullying, and physical harassment were memories formed well into my 20s. Classmates making fun of my name, my eyes, and my nose, and laughing at what they thought I might be eating or the way they thought my family might speak. Boys in the form of grown men driving pick up trucks slowing down screaming racial slurs at me as I walked the neighborhood, driving back around just in case I didn’t understand the first time.

“Go back to where you came from, Chink! Gook! This is America! Learn to speak English. Did you hear me? Love me long time.”

I don’t know how Eddie’s story pans out in the series, but I found solace, courage, and healing in a group of Asian American Christians as an undergrad. This thoughtful group of college students from all over the country understood me in a way other friends had not. They understood my faith in Jesus and the complicated experiences of growing up as an immigrant or as the child of immigrants. Our collective pain and our collective joys became our inside jokes. We had lived through common experiences that set us apart from the white students (and the black students), and we shared words in our mother tongues, food from our mother’s kitchens, and lecture notes and study guides when we could. We knew what it was like to be the foreigner, the stranger. We understood the enormous pressure to succeed because of the great cost our parents had paid. We understood no one wanted to be like us (unless they thought we all set the curve in the classes); that was going to be up to us. We had to learn to love ourselves as God had created us. Imago Dei. In His image.

So those jokes, those were the jokes we made about ourselves for ourselves. FOB or “fresh off the boat” was a label we applied to ourselves even after so many others had been forced upon us.

Those were our jokes, our jokes to tell ourselves in the safety and loyalty of one another.

I’m hopeful non-Asian American America will finally learn to laugh with us and stop laughing at us, but I’m still holding my breath.

Forgiveness Six Feet Under

Nine years ago today, on New Year’s Day, my mother-in-law died.

I think it was my father-in-law, in a moment of morbid and loving levity, joked that she had waited until the morning of the New Year so we would never forget the day she died. We would start out every year thinking of her.

He was right.

She had been under hospice care for more than a week at a hospital two minutes away from our home. The rare kidney cancer, held at bay through surgery for several months, had spread. Chemo and radiation were not an option because those treatments would do nothing. Months on a trial drug seemed to stall things for a bit, but my mother-in-law was convinced she would be cured of the cancer though tests continued to prove otherwise. She bought mangosteen juice. She tweaked her diet. She prayed, and she sought the prayers of others. She would not die yet.

We know this because months after her death my father-in-law and I were able to read through some of her final thoughts written in various composition notebooks. We could tell by her handwriting when she was having good days and when she was having bad days.

We could also tell that while she held onto hope of health and life, she had her share of regrets, a few fears of the future, and held onto a bitter and broken relationship.

Our bitter and broken relationship.

My mother-in-law was a strong, opinionated, driven woman. She could move mountains if necessary and she was fiercely loyal to her family. She was creative, funny, and  some of her friends warned me when Peter and I got engaged that my future mother-in-law was feared and fierce. At a family function she asked me if my parents were going to allow me to marry her son.

“Of course,” I replied in formal Korean.

“Too bad,” she responded.

I was not yet the woman I am now. I was 22 years old and speechless. I was offended and afraid. I was disappointed and angry. And instead of forgiving her I let those words set a tone for our relationship and sink deeply into my heart. We did not like each other, but we both loved her son. I had so much in common with her, but chose the bitter thing. We were stuck.

For better or for worse.

For richer or for poorer. 

In sickness and in health. 

Till death do us part.

I let her words sink too deeply and allowed disappointments and anger to chip at my sometimes fragile relationship with my husband his family. It has been almost nine years since we buried her. There are many things I have said many times are in the past, but when newer friends asked me and Peter to recount our wedding and family traditions I knew that the past was still very present in unhealthy, unhelpful ways.

How does one ask the forgiveness of someone and forgive someone who was buried nine years ago?

The start of a new year always begs for fresh starts and new beginnings. May this be the year of journeying into forgiveness and reconciliation.

 

Vitamin L Diary: Motherhood & #flymysweet

Tonight is the night before she leaves for college, and the dining room is filled with laughter and chatter. There are only two other young women in her incredible circle of friends who are still “in town” waiting, and tonight is a night for friendship.

I sat there with them for awhile, laughing at a Facebook post, our lack of sewing skills in comparison to Bethany, and cried a little bit. It has been such an honor to be allowed to be a part of that sacred space of friendship, and it was time to honor it even more by stepping away. It’s time.

Depression haunted me in my childhood, but I remember distinctly coming home from the hospital with this tiny peanut of a newborn who came with no instructions. I was in pain from an emergency postpartum surgery, unable to do just about anything without incredible pain and feeling quite unlike myself. Five months later with friends in from out of town I recall telling them that I didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like myself. I wasn’t sure if I could feel anything really.

I didn’t look sad in the photos. I didn’t walk around with an animated cloud hovering around my head. I just kept moving.

Gratefully, it has been five years since I sought treatment – a combination of counseling and an antidepressant. I continue to shake off cultural stereotypes and stigma associated with depression, anxiety, and medication. There are some who do not understand how a faithful, evangelical Christian could depend on medication to fight off something that perhaps more prayer and faithfulness could overcome. There are some in my own family who do not approve of my sharing publicly that I am on (whisper) medication. Depression and anxiety do not define me, but the reality is that my mental health is part of me. It is a part of any human being – a God-ordained intersection between soul, mind, and body. We share the earth with other living things, but there is no other living thing quite like us humans.

And I realized again today, as I sat with my son at a medical appointment, that depression and anxiety are a part of my life as mother and a part of my children’s lives. We were asked about family medical history. “Is there anyone in the family with depression or anxiety? Is there anyone in the family who has committed suicide?” Yes, there is heart disease and high blood pressure as well as depression and suicide. Even as my children grow up and mature, their family history follows them and is a part of their story as well.

So as we come to this part of my story as a mother of a college freshman soul, mind, and body intersect. The tears are right there, clinging to my eyes ready to roll out at a moment’s notice. My heart is pounding in anticipation of the incredible things she will see and do in college. I can imagine her rehearsing, choreographing, learning to connect her soul, mind, and body, and I smile like a madwoman. And I know we will drive home with one less body in the car with her smile and spirit lingering. My soul is appropriately, gloriously conflicted, and my mind and body start to take over with tears, smiles, and fear.

How will my brain translate all that is going on in my soul? Will the depression and anxiety come to visit as I enter into a quieter season or will the 10 milligrams keep doing their thing? Will I have the courage to set aside fear and seek out help, ask for the company of friends or a walk with my husband?

Worse yet, will my daughter lose the genetic crapshoot and experience a new dark night of the soul? Will the transitions overwhelm her in an unexpected way? Have I given her the tools, the words, the freedom to know the signs and ask for help? Have I done all that I can do before she goes?

There is no way to know, but there is a way to cope and live. Dear Readers and friends, please hope with me. Pray with me. Pray for daughters and sons launching off into new experiences and their parents who all know there is little we can do to protect them forever. Pray that the lies of stereotypes and stigma don’t keep them from getting help. Pray for friends and mentors who aren’t afraid to offer and get them help. And I pray history and story will ground my daughter and hope and faith will shape her future.

#flymysweet