Will You Be a Witness?

img_4294Tonight is the big night at the Republican National Convention. The Donald, the candidate so many thought wouldn’t make it through the primaries, will accept the party of Lincoln’s nomination. Sit on that one for a minute, especially if you are a Republican or grew up in Republican family.

I’m not going to pretend here. I’m not a fan. In fact, after watching Gov. Chris Christie whip the crowd into cheers of “Lock her up!” I realized that was as close to a modern-day lynch mob as I wanted to get. I truly expected an effigy of Hillary Clinton to appear somewhere in the middle of the arena floor.

But I want to encourage all of you to consider watching tonight. And watch next week. Watch it on C-SPAN or streamed without commentary if you are able to. Watch and listen. Open your eyes and your heart, and don’t let it all crush your soul. Find what gives you hope and cling to that because politics is not the answer. But ignoring what is happening in politics in our country also is not the answer.

Evangelicals, particularly the white ones, are getting a bad rap this election cycle, and I can’t say it’s undeserved. The rise of Trump’s candidacy is being connected to white evangelicals and everywhere on my social media feeds are white evangelicals crying out, “Not this white evangelical!”

But that doesn’t excuse you from paying attention and washing your hands any more than reminding me your grandparents didn’t own slaves or live next to any Japanese families who were interned excuses you from understanding and examining how history impacts currently realities. As Christians we cannot read scripture and say the history recorded in scripture and around the same time the Bible was written have no impact on our lives. How can we be so ignorant as to believe the genocide of Native Americans, slavery, internment, unjust immigration laws of the past have no impact on how our churches, communities, schools, and laws currently function? (I’ll have to write more on all of that later.)

Be a witness. Many of my friends and I have described this week to a train wreck that we can’t seem to take our eyes off of. We know it’s crazy. We know it’s scary. We know that maybe we should avert our eyes or take cover from a possible explosion.

I’d like to think that it isn’t self-hatred that draws us back or a cynicism too deep to unravel in a blog post. I’d like to think that I am watching because there is a responsibility to be informed.  I’ve been watching because I have friends and neighbors who are seeing something very different this week, seeing it through and processing it through a different lens and I want to be a witness from a different angle. It will be the same next week. I realize there are all sorts of privileges that are connected to being able to cease work and connect to a television to watch, but if you’re reading this blog you’re already there in that space of privilege. My dear readers, please use it.

Use your privilege to educate yourself. Read reports from different news sources. Watch tonight and again next week. Ask questions of friends who believe different things but also want the same things. Don’t rely on witty tweets (though mine are pretty funny) and memes. Watch. Watch and read. We need to be witnesses.

One More Sleep

One more sleep until #flymysweet comes home again. Our oldest child, the only one with her own hashtag, has been away for the month for a study abroad program. We’ve tried to support and develop the woman God has created her to be and become, and that has meant letting her go to do and be in spaces we couldn’t imagine.

I’m still getting used to that rhythm of joy and hope mixed with a touch of loss and sadness each time she leaves and returns home, knowing that one day she will have her own place to call home. There were three and then there were two. And then three again. Next year we will go from three to one.

One more sleep until we watch her unpack the familiar items (I have missed that skirt and scarf of mine) and listen to her explain the new items. She texted she is both ready to come home and wishing she had more time. I told her that was the sign of a good trip and a good home.

Home used to be with my parents and sister and the silence and noise that comes with an immigrant family, two languages, and two cultures clashing into a third. Home used to be there and now I am trying to remember when it became here.

One more sleep until the younger brothers can ignore the presence of their older sister, the one they asked about and wondered how she was faring in a country where she did not speak the language in a program where everyone was a stranger.

I’ve been thinking about the trip I took to South Korea during a college summer break. My parents and I thought it was sort of a going back “home” to the motherland where I could speak the language with an American accent but looked just like everyone else. We thought it would give me a stronger connection to my Korean-ness, and it did but not until the experience integrated with my heart, soul, and mind. We thought it would bring us closer as a family, giving me a glimpse into my parents’ home. It gave me a stronger sense of what it could have been. I’m hoping this trip has given our daughter a sense of what could be.

One more sleep until we are back together under one roof the way it has been but will probably not be for much longer.

We are helping launch her as much as she is helping launch us.

Thoughts on “The Making of Asian America” & What I Didn’t Learn in School

It’s still May, the month of my people, and I am late to the game with my thoughts after reading Erika Lee’s The Making of Asian America.

If you are Asian American you should read the book. It covers generations of Asian, American history that will teach you what our school textbooks didn’t and what our family stories couldn’t due to gaps in language, culture, information, and access.

If you aren’t Asian American you should read the book. It covers generations of American history that will teach you what our school textbooks didn’t, mainly that Asian Americans have been a part of U.S. history since the 1500s.

For example things I didn’t learn in school:

  1. During the Japanese internment the government enacted a loyalty review program where draft-age males were asked if they would be willing to serve in combat duty with the US armed forces and if they would be willing to “swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America.” (p. 238) Our government incarcerated them and then asks them to prove their loyalty by using them in combat. (Oh, and why weren’t Germans rounded up and incarcerated?)
  2. U.S. Census data confirms Asian Americans are overrepresented on both ends of the educational and socioeconomic spectrum of privilege AND poverty. (p. 376)
  3. Did you learn about the Black Panthers in school? How about I Wor Kuen, the largest revolutionary organization aligned with the Black Panther movement.
  4. African Americans weren’t the only ones who were prohibited from giving testimony in cases involving a white person. Chinese immigrants and Native Americans also could not be believed. (p. 92)
  5. South Asians who had been naturalized citizens were also denaturalized in the 1920s. (p. 172)

I recall learning a little bit about the Korean Conflict, the Japanese Internment, and the Vietnam War. I don’t know about you but those were the units that made me a bit uncomfortable as one of the few if not only Asian American in the classroom when these were being discussed because when you’re one of a few if not the only one in the classroom people look at you like you were the reason America went to war when really America’s best interests were to go to war which included everyone in that room. And it was as if those history units gave the racist classmates permission to say ugly, unAmerican things to me.

The book made me stop to think about what I knew and thought I knew about my family’s immigration story and how that has impacted my understanding of who I am, uniquely and powerfully created in God’s image. It made me consider how I have too often been quick to judge my parents’ generation for a litany of wrongs without fully understanding the context of their journeys both here in the U.S. and “home” in the motherland. It made me think about how their stories and they themselves too are created in God’s image. Lee’s book reminded me that I ought to be quick to listen and slow to speak, especially when it comes to understanding how my parents’ and earlier generations’ stories are also part of God’s story.

The book was also published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the very piece of legislation that made it possible for me and my family to immigrate to the U.S. in 1971. History I had not learned in school is what made it possible for me to read this book and write this blog in English while still connecting to my Korean roots knowing what it means to be an alien, a stranger in a foreign land even when I am “home.”

Towards the end of the book there were two quotes that comfort and challenge me as one who sits in the tension of privilege as a college-educated upper middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender, married, and documented & naturalized citizen and racism and sexism I experience as a Korean American woman in Christian/evangelical circles.

“Historian Franklin Odo argues that the model minority label ‘encourages Asian Americans to endure contemporary forms of racism without complaint and to provide brave and loyal service above and beyond that required of other Americans.’…

Musician Vijay Iyer goes further: privileged and unquestioning Asian Americans have become ‘complicit’ in their acceptance of ongoing American inequality.” The Making of Asian America, Erika Lee p. 380.

For my dear Asian American readers, what are your stories of enduring, swallowing, dismissing, forgetting racism and how has that impacted the way you engage with contemporary justice movements? Do you see yourself as complicit in the ongoing American inequality? What are the ways in which you question inequality?

For my dear non-Asian American readers, what behaviors and beliefs might you need to reconsider as you learn about Asian American history and the ways in which the United States’ past greatness was built on racism? How might you also be complicit in the the ongoing American inequality? What are the ways in which you question inequality?

And for my readers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds who share the intersection of Christian faith, how does Jesus challenge our understanding of persecution, persecuting, and systemic injustice?

 

 

Mental Health, AAPI Awareness Month, and Being All of Me

My college kid is home resuming a vampire’s sleep schedule for another week-ish and then off to her study abroad program in Paris. My high schooler is getting ready for his junior prom, which really translates into using my credit card and acting like I don’t understand the significance of this social event. He also has finals wrapped around Memorial Day weekend, which makes me want to swear. My middle schooler has checked out of school because he is “graduating” from 8th grade, and we made the mistake of telling him that 8th grade didn’t really count as a way to help him cope with all the talk about high school expectations.

I am so done.

But May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and May 10 was AAPI Mental Health Awareness Day. May is also host to Mother’s Day, which for some of you is Instagram worthy and for the rest of us requires deep breathing. May is my month. All of me. #intersectionality

I live in the Midwest so May being  the month of my people is cruel. May should be the peak of spring, but here it’s frost advisories, overcast days upon overcast days, rain that carried over from April, and a few days of glorious spring and “sprummer” – days that start like spring but then heat up to the 80s causing all tulips to bloom and wilt within a 24-hour period. I don’t know why May was selected for AAPI Heritage Month, but I’m not actually going to share any tidbits about AAPIs because we have Google.

Today is about being all of me. All of you. And how that can be simultaneously empowering and exhausting because when you are integrated and whole, you also have a sense of when things aren’t working, aren’t in sync, aren’t “right.” Right?

Today I was supposed to be somewhere else training great people to do important things that I am passionate about. But I’m not there. I’m here in my home office, in my pajamas because they are comfy and I don’t have to leave the house quite yet. I’m here because all of me – the Jesus-loving recovering Korean American child of immigrants perfectionist who swears and drinks a lot more than she ever did in her “younger” years, working mother of three who doesn’t have it all but has a lot, writer, speaker, coffee drinker – was given the permission to opt out.

So I did. I felt like a failure because the model minority myth is a tough one to remove. I felt like a failure because my own inability to manage my anxiety was getting in the way. I felt like a failure because aspiring Christian speaker writer types do not decline/back out of speaking invitations. I felt like a failure.

And then I didn’t. I woke up today looking forward to seeing updates from friends doing their thing and grateful I could do mine, unshowered in my pjs. And I want to let some of you, dear readers, know it’s OK. You can opt out of good opportunities. You can even opt out of great opportunities. Yes, some of them truly are once in a lifetime, while others may come around again.

Be you.

Be.

Before the Book Launch: (The First) Announcement

Don’t let this fool you. This photo was taken on the day I wrote this post.

Dear Readers,

I have an announcement. No, I am not pregnant.

I signed a contract. To write. A book. All by myself but not truly alone because we know writing is both a solitary and simultaneously communal act, with the prayers, support, and stories of my family and all of you!!!

This has been a 10-year journey – 10 years since “More Than Serving Tea” was published and the awkward beginnings of blogging. It also has been a decades-long journey as a former journalist who has journals dating back to 2nd grade. (“Dear Diary, I had a hot dog for lunch. It was a good day.”)

The book is about finding your voice and stewarding your influence well in a world that competes for our attention and energy. It’s about speaking up and speaking out honestly, truthfully, boldly. It’s not about building a platform. It’s about God’s invitation to all of us to discover how we are uniquely created in God’s image – imago Dei – and to live into that fully, which for me today has meant two video conference calls dressed professionally from waist up while sitting cross-legged in yoga pants and Minion socks with a sick teenager a room away texting me about nausea and the need for club soda.

Thank you for reading, for cheering me on, for commenting, and for sharing my words, my Dear Readers. I hope you will stick around for this part of the ride!!

What Are You Worth?

No one likes to talk about money.

I mean we/I like to talk about it in the abstract. We can talk about it in terms of statistics (Women’s Equal Pay Day) or generalities (tax brackets) but there is a degree of taboo in talking about the nitty gritty. Because of what I do (work for a religious non-profit where I raise my entire salary through donations) many of my donors know about how much I could make and some ask how much I actually make.

Raising your own salary does a number on your soul. Some of it is messy in a “I know this is holy work” way and some of it is just plain gross. When people decline to give or stop giving to my support, I’m not supposed to take it personally but sometimes I do. I’m supposed to trust that it’s all in God’s hands. Some days I believe that. Some days I don’t because the bills are in my hands. There are also other layers because of gender and culture. If you grew up in the Church, think of the missionary families you or your church has supported. My husband is not the one called to vocational ministry; I am. Now, who supports the family? See? Layers.

I think many of us have a complicated relationship with money and how it isn’t supposed to be everything but we know it’s something. As Christians we are taught that we can’t have two masters, but personally the interpretation and application of that gets even messier when we remember America’s sinful relationship with slavery, mastery, and money – the Church included. As the child of immigrants, money was a means to stability and safety in a way I could not fully understand as a child. I can still sense that tenuous relationship between faith and security when my parents express their disappointment in how little my job currently pays. I have to actively remind myself they aren’t disappointed with me. They are disappointed in a system that doesn’t pay me what they think I am worth.

Which has gotten me thinking about my side-gig. I am a writer and speaker, and I often get paid for those opportunities because they are also jobs. It is work to write and/or speak/guest preach/present/teach/train. More often than not, I get paid very little or am asked to do it for free.

Corporate trainers, corporate editors, pastors, teachers all get paid. It’s fairly easy with a few keystrokes to find out the salary range in the school district my children attend. I can ask friends what their churches pay their pastors. My friends who are in the hiring loop in the business sector openly share starting salary ranges.

It’s a little more awkward in the Christian speakers circuit. Yes, there is a circuit -many circuits that overlap, run parallel, etc. And it’s a business, which is weird because it is also ministry and vocation and calling and all sorts of spiritual terms that make it that much more difficult to talk about MONEY.

So, I am going to do something awkward. I’m going to talk about money. My money. (This is where I am getting ready to duck and to read/hear comments about how I should be grateful, how that is too much, how nice it would be to make that kind of money, etc. Deep breath.)

I have already heard all of those things. I am tired of being asked to do what I do for free because it’s ministry, because I am a woman and not the one supporting my family, because it’s for a good cause, or because it’s a great opportunity to increase my platform. I have been told that my going rate is too high, that I should take what is offered, that organizers were surprised I would ask for money, that I am not well-known enough to have a rate, etc.

My going rate for a day is $1500 plus travel, lodging, meals. I fly coach. I will drink instant coffee. I don’t have to check in luggage. I won’t, however, guarantee I will be wearing something with a waistband, a collar, or pockets (male sound people often don’t know what to do with me).

I have never received my going rate. And in conversations with many other WOC who do what I do, we often are grossly underpaid.

YES, I KNOW THAT MANY PEOPLE ARE GROSSLY UNDERPAID. That is not my point. I am talking about Christian POC and specifically WOC who are being asked to lead, preach, speak, train, etc. and are being asked to work, to do what our white Christian counterparts can’t do, but not being paid for it and being told to be grateful.

I have been in vocational ministry for almost 20 years. I oversaw ministry involving 300+ students at a Big Ten university. My writing credits include a book, two devotionals, a contribution to a monograph, and five years of bylines as a newspaper reporter. As a 1.5 generation Korean American immigrant now in the sandwich generation who paid her and her husband’s student loans off so that we could now take on parent loans for our oldest child my lived experience may actually more “universal” than many white speakers.

Now, I set my initial going rate several years ago at $1,000/day at the advice of a mentor – an older, very learned, seminary professor, theologian, international speaker-type. He recommended no less because it isn’t just about the talk I’m being asked to give. He reminded me that it is my lived experience, expertise, time away from my day job and family, and preparation that needs to be considered. He told me, “Kathy, you are worth at least that per day.” He told me I might not get paid that much but that I needed to decide how much my time was worth. He also was honest and told me that as a woman of color I couldn’t be “good” like most white speakers, particularly male speakers. He told me that I had to be better than good because that is the unjust reality.

I knew the part about being better than good. That message was engrained in me by my grandmother and parents. The message was always “KyoungAh, you have to be better/smarter than Americans (translation: white people) because that is the only way they will see you almost as equal.

But the dollar amount? $1,000 a day? For doing something that I actually love doing? Something I’ve been told that I am fairly good (maybe better than good) at doing?

I was speechless.

And then I started asking around and realized I am worth that. Good grief. I am worth more than that, but again a good Christian Korean American with a uterus and breasts does not talk about worth in connection to money. The message, direct and indirect, is that I should be grateful for whatever comes my way like the birds of the air. The message is that I should be grateful to speak from my unique lived experience as a Korean American woman in ministry to speak/preach/train/teach/share from that unique lens because other speakers cannot because they speak from a universal lens.

I and many, if not most, of my sisters of color who do this work are now being told by the Church our stories and perspectives are needed because they are sorely and obviously lacking but we aren’t worth the same money.

Maybe if I hired an agent my agent could do the dirty/awkward work of negotiating speakers fees. Yes, many of your beloved Christian speakers have agents and there are agencies that represent many beloved Christian speakers. Most of those speakers are white men and women. #NotAllAreWhiteChristians but many of them are, and, yes, that is changing. And, yes, I have thought about hiring an agent (so if any of you agents are out there, feel free to contact me though I have also been doing some homework).

But that isn’t the magic wand to drive change. Change will only happen when several things start happening in different spheres at the same time with enough frequency to start forcing, encouraging, inviting change particularly as the Church and Christian conferences wake up to the racial, ethnic, gender, and cultural diversity that exists in the world is rarely reflected on the big and smaller stages, platforms, podiums, and pulpits of our Christian world.

So let me offer a few questions for conference planners, folks who invite guest speakers to preach in their churches or at the church events, etc. to consider as they invite people like me, especially as they are looking to diversify the line-up:

1. What do you pay and offer to your “big name” speakers and consider what it means to pay fairly and justly? Do you negotiate honoraria the same with all of your speakers and worship leaders?
2. Consider what is the person’s expertise and experience worth because that is also what you are investing in and paying for. Many times I get asked to speak on the difficult topics of race and faith. There is a cost to being that person. If you don’t understand that, ask other POC, particularly women of color who speak, preach, lead worship and ask them.
3. If you are inviting someone to be a guest preacher: your church’s preaching teacher’s salary/# of weeks she/he preaches = a good starting point for a guest preacher.
4. Many conferences put a lot of good time, energy, and money into pulling off a “professional” event. Are you paying your professionals accordingly? If you are inviting them to be on the main stage, aren’t they all main stage speakers? Do you think of them as equally important but not pay them equally? Why not?
5. If you lack the skills to fix a leak in your home or building, would you ask a plumber to fix your bathroom for free and tell her/him to be grateful for the opportunity and chance to build her/his reputation? Then why are you asking an entire worship team to do something you can’t do for free?

And for my dear readers who are worship leaders, writers, or speakers, what other questions or suggestions do you have for those who hire, invite, and plan these conferences?

Before the Book Launch Comes a Million Waves of Doubt

  This is a rushed blog post because I don’t want it to run tomorrow. You know. April Fool’s. Or is it Fools’? Whatever. I don’t want to publish something tomorrow because publishing and getting a book published is no joke.

There are many avenues to self-publishing available and viable to those who choose that route. I am actually a co-author of a devotional that was self-published, and you are more than welcome to let me know if you are interested in buying a copy God’s Graffiti Devotional from me.

But the other book I co-authored with four other amazing women just entered its 8th printing. More Than Serving Tea is not going to be a NY Times best seller, though IMHO has more wisdom in it that some of the self-help stuff that makes that list, but as I posted a photo celebrating the fact that the book is still in print I was engaged in a short FB conversation with a friend about the lack of writers of color in the recent InterVarsity Press catalogue – the same publishing house that took a risk on and supported More Than Serving Tea.

The road to getting a book published is longer for some than others, and it is connected to privilege as much as it is connected to actual writing talent. It drives me berserkoid when Christian authors say things like, “God opened the door” because it’s weird how many more doors are opened for white authors. Just sayin’. I’m pretty sure God isn’t sitting in heaven waiting for more authors of color to pray, “Lord, open those publishing doors for me.” I am not saying that all white authors have those connections. #notallwhiteauthors I am saying that Christian publishers are still set up within the cultural norms that were established for and by white authors and readers and for their success and reading pleasure.

This post isn’t about all that needs to happen to dismantle that mess. I can’t do that in one post just like we can’t dismantle white supremacy in one post.

This post is about full disclosure, authenticity, honesty, vulnerability so that you, my truly dear readers and folks joining me on this ride, get the whole story, which is more than a lovely IG post celebrating the 8th printing of a book that came out 10 years ago. In the publishing world that isn’t even a drop in the bucket. But I contributed to that drop and it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

So I’m writing this post to share with you a secret I have been keeping because this will help people who are dreaming to keep dreaming, others to start dreaming, and maybe others to support us dreamers.

I have a book proposal.

It’s public now. Usually authors don’t share that part. We share the reprint notices. We post photos of our contracts. We invite you to be a part of the launch team. I’m here to invite you into one of the scariest parts: rejection. I just sent the FOURTH version of my proposal to my editor today, the same day I got the 8th printing notice. I won’t lie. I’m hoping that was a good omen. But I won’t lie. I didn’t think I’d be on my fourth version of a proposal when I started the first version in OCTOBER. At this rate, my daughter will graduate from college before I publish another book. Before the launch is a million waves of doubt. Do I have enough for an entire book? Will I get a contract? Will anyone read the book? Will anyone actually LIKE the book?

One of the reasons this female author of color hasn’t been published again is because I am afraid. Rejection is part of the process, and I don’t know anyone who enjoys repeated rejection. Writing and all other art requires a degree of confidence, ambition, humility, and a sense of humor. It requires more things, but those were the first things that come up for me. As a soon-to-be graduating college student applying for reporting jobs, I kept my rejection letters on the apartment refrigerator numbered and complete with corrections in red ink. That was my sense of humor. But I kept applying and that is where confidence, ambition, and humility come together. You keep trying even though it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. You keep writing because you did get some good feedback. You write because that is what you know to do.

So I’m sharing the secret of my yet-to-be-accepted book proposal to invite more of you into this journey, so that more of us can silence the fear of rejection a little bit, just enough to sit down and write and put together a proposal that has to be revised. I’m letting you know that I’m trying because I think it’s in my DNA, the way God created me, and I’m not going to wait as if the immaculate conception could take book contract form. It’s not glamorous. It’s rather tedious. It’s not waiting for inspiration to hit. It’s sitting at a blank screen day after day after day.

I’m letting you know because some of you need to know you are not alone. Tomorrow is another day in front of a blank screen, and we will love most minutes of it.

The Stories We Embody

I knew what I was going to wear before I knew all what I would actually say from the stage. I knew I was going to wear the green dress.

A few weeks ago I asked you, my dear readers, via my FB page to pray and send good, healing thoughts as I lay in bed with a fever and a stomach bug the night before/morning of a speaking engagement. I had thought about posting an update but there was so much swirling in my heart and head. I wanted to breathe a bit, sit down, and then write about that gig.

The speaking opportunity was a first for me – to speak in front of 250-ish colleagues of mine at our triennial Asian American Ministries staff conference. I’ve been with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for almost 20 years, many of those were part-time on paper years as my husband and I made choices about childcare and careers. My career trajectory has been a slow and steady one, though based on recent years on social media it might look like I’ve “suddenly appeared” to receive invitations to speak and write. Well, I was here long before the internet. Seriously. I was a newspaper reporter before I was a blogger so writing has always been a part of who I am and what I do, long before blogging, FB, and Twitter. I am THAT old. Which is why this chance to speak in front of my colleagues was special. It was a first.

My talk was on extending our influence as Asian American women and men, beyond the student leaders we develop, beyond the campuses or spaces we work within. And as I spent time preparing and praying for that talk I kept coming back to what my presence would communicate as much as, and in conjunction with, my words. What would my physical body communicate and how does that connect with what my words would be?

If you are a woman of color, you may already have a sense of where I was going with this. There are so few positive images of us in the world, even fewer in certain spaces within the evangelical world I sit within. We are often the token, the one or two people of color featured alongside a slate of white speakers. One or two of us is usually enough, which can make it feel like a competition. I’m just being real. It can get hard to cheer one another on when it feels like there are so few opportunities for people of color, fewer for women of color.

So I kept thinking about what it meant to be the one asked to speak on extending our influence, and I kept thinking about my parents and the expectations, hopes, and dreams of success and stability they had/have for their now adult daughters. I thought about how it’s easy for me to slam their hopes for stability and The American Dream as a defense mechanism for adopting the privileges while condemning their motives. I thought about how it is easy for me and my generation to talk about the impact of white supremacy and the empire and assimilation to distance ourselves from the privilege we live in and embody.

And I thought of my mother’s green dress. She had the dress made from fabric she received as a wedding gift. She had different pieces made in anticipation of moving to America, party clothes for the life of milk and honey promised in America. The green dress and matching jacket sat in a silver trunk in my mom’s closet for years untouched. I never saw her wear it, and there are no photos of her wearing the party dress. America, it turns out, isn’t a party.

I took the green dress and have worn it over the years to the parties my parents’ sacrifices and “selling out” to the American Dream afforded me. I’ve worn it to friends’ weddings and to my swearing-in as a citizen of the United States.

I knew I was going to wear the green dress before I knew all of the words I would speak that night. I knew the story of the dress and my wearing the dress would do what words alone could not. Extending my influence never started with me. It started with the dreams and hopes my parents and ancestors carried and passed on, imperfectly but with love, to me. I knew wearing the dress meant expressing my femininity in a way that was completely authentic to who I am as an immigrant Korean woman. I knew wearing the dress would allow me to embody past generations, an opportunity to allow my mother’s story to extend beyond my memories. I knew wearing the dress gave me an opportunity to remind the men in the audience even invitations to speak are still designed for men because where in the world does a woman wearing a dress hide the mic pack?

Words are important, sisters, but so are the ways we embody those words.

thanks to Greg Hsu for the photo

The Vitamin L Diary: My Happy Light Isn’t Enough

In October I shared with you, my dear readers, how I had not been feeling quite up to the task of life, having trouble sleeping (night sweats, which means waking up drenched despite the fact that the house is 60-degrees because we should all be SLEEPING), and wondering if this was what being in my mid-40s was going to be or if this was the depression trying to get some more of me. I had a good chat with my PCP (primary care physician) who took a blood draw before upping any meds. Lo and behold, I was anemic. THAT WAS IT! No more giving blood for a few months and iron supplements, which mess with your bowels so there was all that, but I was relieved and hopeful that I wasn’t crazier.

But the anemia is being managed and the iron is back up so I can donate blood. I’m still not feeling quite up to the task of life. I exercise. I drink lots of water and one (fine, maybe two) cups of coffee. But lately it has been HARD to get out of bed or to stay out of bed. Thanks to my cellphone I can answer lots of email in bed, but that, in addition to the inexplicable weightiness in my soul and mind, has been messing with my sleep. Migraines. Forgetfulness. Anxiety over big and little things.

Those of you who have bouts of depression or are clinically depressed know what this “feels” like. It’s not always a sadness or a dark cloud. Sometimes it’s a numbness or an irritability. Sometimes it’s all of it.

My happy light isn’t helping. Yoga isn’t helping. Praying isn’t helping. Sleeping isn’t helping. The wine I drank during a weeknight isn’t helping. Journaling isn’t helping.

And then this inexplicable sadness that makes you want to stay in bed, cry for no reason or for all the reasons, the sadness you wouldn’t want anyone you love to have to carry, hit my own child. So of course I know the truth and the lies about genetics and blame. Nature and nurture. Freedom and stigma. I know it. I live it. Please let this cup pass from my children, God. Please. I would take a double dose if it meant we could make it skip all the generations.

We are not defeated. We are tired. I am tired. I am clinging tightly to Psalm 139, and I’m headed back into therapy. I am tired, but I refuse to let this define me, stigmatize me. Even if it means being tired. I am grateful for a network of friends and, even better, friends who are colleagues, with whom I have been honest with.

So I’m writing this to encourage and remind any of my dear readers who are feeling an inexplicable sadness that you are not alone.

YOU
ARE
NOT
ALONE

Don’t be afraid. Reach out. Tell someone. Anyone. Call your doctor. Your pastor. Your friend. Your neighbor. You are not alone.

The Vitamin L Diary: Words We Are Afraid To Speak

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“Sweetness, the only thing that has power over you is what you can’t say, even to yourself.”

—Hyacinth to Phaedra in The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

Every six months I am supposed to see my doctor to make sure I’m doing OK, that nothing in my medical history has changed, and to give voice to things that I am afraid to think about and talk about out loud. She asks me about my mood, my sleep, my level of activity. I tell her I am doing great, that I am fine, that nothing in my medical history has changed. “Can I get my flu shot while I’m here?” I ask.

And then she asks again how I’m doing with the Vitamin L – my daily dose of Lexapro. It has been six years.  Six year since I was able to release the words, the pain, the confusion, and the power of fear by saying out loud what I couldn’t imagine saying even to myself.

“I think I am depressed.”

So on this particularly dreary October afternoon my doctor waits for me to answer honestly, to say to myself and to her what I’ve been afraid to even think about.

“I’m afraid the depression is getting worse.”

I’ve been so tired. Tired like I could sleep the afternoon away tired. Tired like maybe the back and neck spasms I was having for weeks tired. Tired like maybe my high pain tolerance is catching up to me tired (and by high pain tolerance I’m talking waiting to go to the hospital until I was about 8 cm dilated with Child #1 and #3 because I thought it would get worse). Tired like that migraine knocked me out tired but not just that day tired. Tired like I might not get out of bed tired.

The weird thing about depression is that most days I am not wandering around my house looking like there is a cloud hanging over me or hunched over as if the weight of a heavy robe has engulfed me. Depression doesn’t always look like those pharmaceutical commercials that always involved drawings and the color blue. I work out 3-5 days/wk. I get together with friends. I read books for two book clubs. I try to spend quality time with my sons but I really suck at video games. My husband and I have sex if and when we aren’t falling asleep the minute we hit the bed, which isn’t often but also none of your business how often. I smile. I laugh. I make myself laugh. I write. I laugh at what I write. That doesn’t look like depression. But, yes, I am feeling exceptionally tired these days despite, or maybe because of, the fact that I have a child in college contemplating her career in the arts, a child in his junior year of high school who is just starting to understand why we’ve been so parental about grades, and a child finishing middle school who doesn’t need to worry because it’s middle school. Yes, there are unexplained aches and pains that won’t go away and maybe that’s just because I turned 45. Yes, I may spend my days wearing varying combinations of my yoga pants and three sweatshirts because I work from home and I actually do go to yoga class, but that isn’t the depression. None of that is the depression.

Unless it is.

And that is what I am often afraid to think about, afraid to say. Which is probably why that appointment every six months is a good idea instead of an endless supply of Vitamin L with no check-in, no one waiting for me to be honest or at least give me a chance to be honest.

Every six months I have to remind myself that the truth will set me free only if I am willing to walk in the truth. Even if people judge, even if my sisters and brothers in faith judge or don’t know what to do with my truth, Jesus doesn’t judge. He says to me, “Daughter, your faith and trust and courage and Vitamin L have set you free. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

So earlier this week I went to see my doctor, got my flu shot, told her I was fine, and then once again broke the power depression has over me and told her the truth.

The truth is that very few people around me understand this Vitamin L thing and the depression and the anxiety. I don’t want people tiptoeing around me. I want people to ask me how I am doing but not in that weird “How ARE you doing?” sort of way, but I also know that the stigma is complex, deep, and ingrained. Depressed people aren’t supposed to be normal, right? How could I possibly go to power yoga, write, and bake cookies if I am depressed, right? Depression is a mental illness, and people with mental illnesses do horrible things like gun down innocent people (well, actually it’s usually younger white men who go on shooting sprees and are then casually labeled “mentally ill” so I’m off the hook). People with a mental illness are crazy, right? How can a Christian be depressed and take medication for it, right?

I told my doctor what I was afraid to say to myself.

“I’m tired, and maybe it’s that I’m 45 and the cumulative exhaustion of life is catching up to me but maybe it’s not. Maybe the depression is getting worse?”

Maybe. Maybe not. But every day I take my Vitamin L, every six months I see my doctor; each time I have the chance to say words I’m afraid to say but know in my heart are true.

My faith has healed me. I go in peace. I am freed from my suffering.

 

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