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

 

 

 

#Ferguson is More Than a Hashtag

I’ve been silent in this space because I do not yet have the words. The death of Michael Brown is still rattling in my heart in part because he was days away from college. My daughter is days away from college. She does not face the same daily threats to her humanity as young black men. We all live in a broken world. I get tired knowing it often seems more broken for some than others. And honestly, I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around dropping off my baby in a dorm and not seeing her at home until Christmas…and knowing Michael Brown’s mother and I shared some basic hopes and dreams for our babies.

But some of my colleagues have found the words, and I wanted to use this space for others I minister with through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship who have found the words that are still forming and fighting in my heart. I’m watching the news, following Twitter, and staying as informed as I can. I am trying to stay open, teachable, hopeful. Please come read with me, share with me words you are reading and struggling with. This isn’t about a hashtag.

“’When does something become true?’ When a black person says it, or when I white person says it or sees it?”

“Within 7 minutes of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I could go on facebook, google, twitter, cnn.com, and have all kinds of information available at my finger tips. Police statements and interviews releasing the name of the person responsible, what he was wearing, what weapon he fired, how many bullets were released. That was within 7 minutes. Within 7 days (10,080 minutes) of the death of Michael Brown, the only information available is the name of the police officer who fired the shot (and mind you, this was not released until 5 or 6 days later) and irrelevant video footage from an entirely separate incident involving stolen cigars and a frightened store clerk. This is a problem because information is power. And while the American public might not be entitled to full or even partial disclosure, I have to believe that the mother who lost her son deserves to have access to the information that will give her a picture of the final 20 minutes of her son’s life.”

Three Ways To Engage with Ferguson

“So to my non-black Christian brothers and sisters – maybe the point of honest confession and repentance is where we need to start. What’s the point of pretending to be better than we are. We are far more broken, yet far more loved by the God of Justice, than we know.”

“I got a text today from a White friend looking to understand more about the anger expressed as a result of the killing ofMichael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. After getting into a pretty lengthy text response, I decided to reply via Facebook messenger so I could type the rest on my laptop. Halfway through that, I decided to share my response to him on my blog.”

As a white man, this begins with accepting one statement: “This is not right.”

“So, here are my thoughts for my Asian American Christian community. There is so much that needs to be addressed to correct for the sinful and broken ways in which we have essentially adopted a broken White evangelical view of race and justice. But these are a few starting points.”

“Confession: I am terrified of all conversations surrounding race and culture.”

“Prayer seems not enough. The problems are too big. In this tension, we become discouraged and wind up neither praying nor acting. Maybe we’ll “like” a Facebook post or retweet a compelling tweet. But without prayer or action, these well-intentioned yet vapid shows of support are meaningless.”

 

What posts have moved you? Challenged you? Made you angry? Made you cry? Made you reconsider your opinion or your actions?

Three Weeks and Counting

I have been fighting a bout of insomnia by avoiding reflection. It rarely works, which is why last night I just sat there in silence with God to figure it out.

It’s deadlines.

I missed an end-of-July deadline for a devotional series (Romal, it’s getting done. I SWEAR!) I barely made the deadline for another blog (apologies to my family since we technically were on vacation). I had a moment of panic as the posting schedule for another site went up. Did I forget that deadline, too? No, I did not. I just completely forgot what I wrote about. I’m fairly certain I missed the deadline for my annual ministry plan.

I don’t work better under pressure. I just work. Knowing there is a set “end” puts the idea of a goal into focus, but sitting in that 2 a.m. silence it was deeper than those deadlines I heard God trying to get through my fearful heart. Summer ends soon, and so with some denial and regret I looked at the calendar on our fridge.

Two weeks from today my sons return to school as a high school sophomore and a seventh grader, both having adding inches to their height and a summer of video games to their enrichment. I hear my older son’s voice, and I don’t recognize it. I catch their reflections in a mirror, and I have to look harder to see their baby faces. But they will still wake up in their beds and leave those beds every morning unmade. They are still home.

Three weeks from today we will drop off my daughter at her freshman dorm and then drive away holding back tears and snot. I am going to guess that four weeks from today I will have met that missed July deadline, turned in a ministry plan, washed my daughter’s sheets, and closed the door to her room.

It’s so true. The days are long but the years are short. All those times I wanted to tell older women to stop telling me to appreciate the school years? I’M SORRY! YOU WERE RIGHT! I WAS WRONG! I DIDN’T KNOW! I WAS SO TIRED AND CRANKY! I can still physically recall the exhaustion, anxiety, stress, and numbness of those infant-baby-toddler-preschool, breastfeeding, diaper changing, sleep training, nap dropping, potty training years. The ridiculous stress, anxiety, and #firstworldprivilegedparentingprobs of standardized tests, class placement, team sports, friendship drama, GPAs, and socialization remain as we add on a new frontier of young adulthood and college student parenting. The conversations about drinking, drugs, sex, faith, relationships, and overall decision-making shift into a new space for our daughter and for us as parents, for me as her mother. The physicality of parenting – the late-night feedings, the diapers, the baths – shifted dramatically as they became more independent, and I regained healthier sleep habits until she started driving and then driving without the restrictions of a newly licensed driver because I was waiting up for her to come home.

Three weeks. Three weeks and then we will be the ones driving away to go home.

I know this is what I am supposed to do. I am so excited for her and proud of her. I know in my heart this is what it looks like to trust God, and that is what I’ll be counting on when we drive away and head straight for some restaurant in Manhattan for food, tears, a toast, and a prayer. I know that this is gift for her and for us, a continuation of the privilege of being a parent. I know she will miss us even if she doesn’t call, text or Snapchat within the first 24-72 hours of our departure. I know she will have moments of buyers’ remorse, and I will wish we had demanded she go to school closer. I know this isn’t the privilege of most young 18-year-old women and 43-year-old moms. I know that letting her go has been the point of all of this.

But where in the world did all that freaking time go?

Three weeks. I just never thought it would come so soon.

#flymysweet

 

Of Skin Whiteners & Spam

These are two of my favorite things.

These are two of my favorite things.

I just bought several cans of low-sodium Spam, and last week I used a paper facial mask for skin brightening/whitening.

Yes. I eat gelatinous meat by-products and I want to be white. Not really. Not at all.

I don’t want to be white, though there was a time when I did. I’m just vain and human. I am heading into my mid-40s, getting ready to launch my firstborn, wondering where all that time I thought I had went, and wondering when all those freckles and sun spots appeared. When the melancholy settles into that sweet spot next to gratitude and hope, I like to sit down for some self-care – some nail polish and a facial mask – or with some comfort food – a bowl of rice, a piece of fried Spam, and some kimchee. Sometimes I will indulge in both in the same night.

The funny thing is that both skin whitening and Spam have similar complex roots in human nature, culture, and politics.

Vanity isn’t unique to Korea (my motherland), despite what we could infer from stories about a Korean golfer playing for Japan because she didn’t fit the beauty standards of her homeland or beauty ads asking women “Do you want to be white?”. I just think it’s easier for us Americans to look outside when it’s convenient. It’s called deflection. It’s easier to point out extreme examples in other countries and cultures than it is to look at our own culture’s jacked up standards of beauty and femininity because, face it, looking in the mirror metaphorically can be as frightening as it is to do it the morning after a rice and Spam bender.

Skin whitening exist here in America, but it is more often promoted as skin brightening – eliminating the freckles, sun spots, sun damage, and imperfections that actually come with being alive and aging. The whitening language is connected to class as well as race. I remember being told during my visits to Korea to carry an umbrella or parasol to keep the sun from damaging my skin; darker, tanned skin was associated with the lower-class farmers or outdoor shop owners. I suspect the stigma of darker skin only increased as Western culture influenced Korea. Oh the irony to be Korean & American where just 50 years ago the U.S. government passed and signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in the decades since then tanning beds, tanning lotions, and straight up “tanning” is part of looking healthy (by the way shades of orange does not equal tan nor does  it look healthy. It looks orange.). Think about it. We needed laws to protect and give full rights to women and people of color while white people want to be “tan”. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

American culture, in some ways, creates a level of dissonance as it could be construed as a collection of cultural appropriation with a dose of good old-fashioned creativity and varying degrees of separation and offense to the originating cultures. What isn’t American about celebrating our country’s birthday with fireworks?  Fusion kimchee taco trucks? Churches hosting Harvest Day celebrations? Communion wafers or chunks of white bread with grape juice?

It isn’t always clear to me what is the “right way” and how that is different than the “Christian way” or the “American way” of doing, being, eating, etc. In my experience, Spam was American (which meant “white” in my home) food tweaked to fit our family’s Korean sensibilities, served with rice and kimchee, rolled into kimbap, or thrown into kimchee stew. For goodness sakes you can buy it at chain grocery stores in the canned food aisle near canned stew and those little sausages NOT the “ethnic” food aisle! It slowly dawned on me in adulthood that Spam was American but not necessarily eaten by white Americans.

Spam arrived in my motherland through the Korean War and the U.S. military. Pre-cooked in a compact container, Spam was a fairly economical source of protein during wartime scarcity. My father has regaled us with stories about Spam, Hershey’s chocolate bars, and other wartime black market items. He probably thinks it’s funny his daughter still eats Spam but has gotten snotty about her chocolate. The kids can have s’mores with Hershey’s while I whip out the good stuff for mine. But my kids have had Spam musubi, and there is no shame. The blue can that releases its contents with a “splat” is iconic American though many of my white American friends have never had it because it wan’t necessarily good enough for home consumption but good enough to import elsewhere. Fine. I’ll take it. I am told that the Spam now produced in Korea uses higher quality ingredients and tastes differently but is just as prized as it once was. Tradition and nostalgia tied with grief, loss, scarcity, and displacement is a powerful force.

So how can I, as an Asian American woman wanting to dismantle and deconstruct the racial ties that try to define me use a skin whitening product? Because sometimes, I live into my privilege of not examining everything I touch, wear, eat, use, etc. to see whether or not the producers of everything around me were paid a fair wage, did not harm animals, did not contribute to an unjust war I did not agree with based on my religious beliefs. Sometimes I like a good bargain and the facial masks were buy four-get two free so I grabbed one of each kind. Sometimes I don’t want to fight every fight because there are so many things to be against and not enough time to be for something. Sometimes I just want to take care of myself with a facial mask and some comfort food and it not be a political or racial statement but rather a way of loving my family because a relaxed, centered, well-fed mommy and wife makes for a happy life.

Sometimes it’s more complicated and complex.