Split Second Decisions

Last week I posted a vaguebook request on my author Facebook page:

My Dear Readers,
I’d love your prayers. I am speaking two more times at chapel… I had something that happened at the first chapel that has shaken me up a bit….

There wasn’t enough time to elaborate but as a Christian brought up to believe prayer and the covering of prayer by your community is important I asked for prayer. I couldn’t type more. I couldn’t think about it too much because I wanted to cry, vomit, and scream.

Last week I was speaking on a Christian campus at the morning chapel services. I was preaching/speaking/talking using Mark 5: 21-33 as my text. I love this passage about Jairus and his 12-year-old daughter and the bleeding woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.  I have part of the passage tattooed on my right forearm as a reminder of what Jesus does for this woman.

I used the words menstruation and menstrual blood because that why the woman was bleeding. As a woman who was taught to be ashamed of her body and the things it did in order to one day bring forth life just like Mary did for Jesus, I believe it’s important to be beautifully explicit. I joked that it was probably the first time a chapel speaker talked about periods. I didn’t get much of a laugh. Whatever, I thought I was funny.

But the call to prayer was because as I was wrapping up I talked about a few things that are broken in this country, things that break my heart and make me desperate for Jesus. I mentioned the mass shooting that had just occurred in Aurora, IL and the arrest of an 11-year-old boy in FL who had refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance.

That’s a lie!

That’s when things got tense.

I believe my wording was along the lines of: “An 11-year-old was arrested for refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance. I don’t know what you thought about Colin Kaepernick, but an 11-year-old being arrested breaks my heart.”

And then a male voice from the audience yelled back: “That’s a lie. He made terrorist threats!”

I have never felt so unsafe as I did in that moment.

In a split second I had to:

  • decide if I would respond to the man. I did not. I paused, caught myself and went on.
  • decide if I felt safe enough to stay on stage or trust the school would remove me from stage if someone else felt like I was in danger. I stayed but learned someone had moved quickly to get to me just in case.

Two more times

And then I went back up and did that same talk two more times. But I did it differently because after the first time I was asked about the Florida boy’s arrest. I was asked how I was feeling and if I was ok, but the conversation quickly shifted to the news story and one response was to point out that technically the boy was not arrested for refusing to stand for the pledge. No, technically no one can be arrested for that because it isn’t illegal to sit during the pledge. But the point was indirectly made clear that the particular example was now in question.

I just wrote a book about raising your voice and speaking up about the things we are most passionate about, and I am writing this as an example of when I chose to back off. I decided that for the next two talks I would not use the example of the 11-year-old being arrested, in part because his refusal to stand for the pledge angered the substitute teacher. I decided that I could not count on the school supporting me, a paid outside speaker, if and when concerned students, parents of students, and alumni emailed the school.

I decided that even though the man yelling at me was lying (the boy in Florida did not make terrorist threats) I didn’t want or need to put myself in that situation.

But it got me thinking

I’m not sure what I said the next two times I got up to preach/speak/talk. I did not feel great or even good about what I said and how I said it. I was unnerved, shaken, and scared. I did not know where the voice was coming from or if that young man was going to approach the stage. It didn’t matter which school it was, which state I was in, what the laws are. I didn’t know.

As a woman of color who talks publicly about things that are considered political (Jesus should get under everyone’s law and order skin because he didn’t care the woman broke the law by being in public while she was bleeding and unclean), I am not new to controversy. For all of the public speaking events I have done I have never once asked about crisis protocol, but this experience got me thinking about what I need to be asking event planners in the future.

It also got me thinking about imposter syndrome because in that moment of fear was also the fear that I had failed and couldn’t do the whole speaking in public thing even though that was exactly what I was doing. I told a friend of mine later that I felt like a failure, that as a WOC I can’t just be good enough or average. I have to be better than my best because so few of us get invited to preach/speak/talk that I feel like if I mess up event planners will be less likely to invite me again AND less likely to take a chance inviting another WOC they do not know or are less familiar with than, say, a white man or woman who has more platform than I. Does that sound absurd? This is what imposter syndrome operating in white supremacy sounds like. It tells me and other WOC that we have to actually be better than the average white woman or man to have a chance because we don’t get the same chances to build platform and audience.

It also made me angry. I have been asking for the past 10 years for an additional plane ticket to public speaking events so that I do not have to travel alone. I would’ve loved having a friend or my husband with me to pray with and cry with after this was all over. There were good people on campus with whom I could talk with, but no one I could just be completely honest and vulnerable with. I held it together like a professional Christian and waited until my husband greeted me at the curb and then I cried.

For all the conservative values around women and ministry and marriage, etc. you’d think I would’ve gotten at least one additional plane ticket in 10 years but maybe it’s because I’m a woman or a WOC with a smaller platform and less pull? Whatever. I’m still mad.

Welcome to the Christian Industrial Complex.

What’s next

The man was removed from the auditorium. I was told that it was swift, and I didn’t hear or see a commotion. I’m grateful. Rumor has it he was told that he should know better than to use the words “terrorist threats” these days in an auditorium, but the young man most likely would never be considered a terrorist, maybe a lone wolf at worst.

I’m grateful I’m safe and that he was removed without incident. I’m grateful he didn’t have a gun. I’m angry that I have to worry about this. I’m angry that I felt like my choice of words were in question and would not be supported. I’m angry that people may think this happened because of the specific campus or state. Nope. It’s all broken, it’s heart breaking, and it makes me desperate for Jesus.

This all came on the heels of my leaving InterVarsity Christian Fellowship after 21 years of ministry. This chapel talk that shook me to the core was on the Monday after my last day with an organization that helped shape my leadership and confidence. The devil is a liar but a sneaky one at that.

I’m not sure what’s next. I do know there aren’t any chapel talks or public events until May. There is time to cry some more, rest some more, pray some more.

My Dear Readers, thank you for praying, for the messages, for the texts. Thank you to the students who reached out via IG. No, that man doesn’t represent the whole of your community but he does represent a part of your community. His community patted him on the back and will use it as an example. What will you do with that knowledge? How will you love and correct siblings like that? And for that matter, that man isn’t just on a college campus. He’s in our churches and communities. My Dear Readers, how will be love and correct them when some of us are put in risky situations? How will thoughts and prayers cover us?

Turning 21, Again

I am taking a trip of a lifetime next month. My daughter called me up and asked me if I would meet her in Paris and could we tack on Iceland.

“YES!” I screamed with no hesitation. “Oh, wait. Hold on. Let me talk with Dad (my husband, her dad, not my dad).”

I’ve never been to Europe. My miles and money went to Paris a few years ago for Bethany’s study abroad, and I have all sorts of ridiculous fantasies about traveling abroad and a clean bathroom and a perfect paper planner. Her question, while it could’ve waited for a few days, felt pressing, urgent, and important. I didn’t ask my husband. I told him. I told him our young adult daughter asked me, her mother, to meet her in the City of Lights, and I told him I wanted to go.

So we said yes.

But getting to yes also meant making some other decisions about how this almost empty nest stage of life would be, what needed to stay and what needed to be let go. Before deciding on this trip to Paris was one other decision to be made that had been hanging around like the last dumpling at an Asian gathering. I didn’t want to touch it. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Asian American/Canadian Lounge at Urbana18. Y’all know exactly what I am talking about.)

Before saying yes to Paris, I knew it was time to say yes to a different invitation into uncharted waters. I said yes to leaving InterVarsity. My last day will be February 15.

Milestones are a chance to shift

This month my staff career with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA turned 21 years old, barely legal and ready for new things. I sent out the following words in an email to a few colleagues after I had given official notice:

There has been a cost that I no longer want to carry, do not feel called to bear, or have the influence to change – a funding system that was designed for white men in a completely different cultural context, the human sexuality rollout that left our LGBTQ staff vulnerable and inconsistently asked for belief and behavior, and an affirmation of women in leadership that falls short of calling the Church to do the same. 

As I’ve wrestled with those concerns I’ve also sensed that it’s simply time to leave and explore options to write and lead in another context. I do not have another job lined up except for the two yoga classes I teach on Thursdays. I am asking God what the invitation is for this next stage of leadership and life with the privilege of stepping away from IVCF without a plan.

I tell people I am a product of InterVarsity’s training and development – my deep love for scripture and manuscript Bible study, a commitment to mentoring and discipling, integrating my values into action. IVCF has been one of the few spaces in the Church that provided a Korean American married mother an opportunity to learn and be mentored by the likes of Jeanette Yep, Lisa Espinelli Chin, and Paul Tokunaga. I can only hope I will have left staff with a fraction of their wisdom.

I don’t know

That’s still my answer to the question, “So, what’s next?” I do not have a job lined up. I have not talked with an agent or a head hunter. I’m looking for a new spiritual director, preferably a WOC. I’m looking at the first three months as a sabbatical and, in some ways, a detox and untangling of my identity from an organization I’ve been a part of as a student, volunteer, and then employee for almost half of my life. I don’t know what’s next in terms of employment, but that’s OK.

For having worked most of my adult life in ministry I am finding that question funny because in it is an implicit request for certainty, and as a person of faith the older I get the less certain I am and the less certainty I require. My children are young adults. They have taught me that humility, failure, and uncertainty are essential and critical in parenting. My husband and I have been married for almost 26 years, and that friendship and relationship has taught me the same. We screw up on the daily, and more often than not I am not sure how we will fare the “till death do us part” part of our vows.

I don’t know what my next job will be. I know that uncertainty is a privilege and one I do not enter into or carry lightly, but I am carrying it.

Yes, I’m scared

No, I’m not totally OK with all of this uncertainty. Why do you think I am still searching for the perfect paper planner system (right now I’m loving my very basic bullet journal)?? I am a planner. I like making lists and checking off to-do items. I love setting goals. I love the friendships and community I have had the honor of being a part of on staff, and I will miss seeing colleagues who have become friends. I’m scared of losing friends and losing a sense of identity. I sat on making this decision for a LOOOOOOOOONG time, in part, because of the uncertainty and the privilege to say, “I’m quitting” without a plan to replace that income. It feels incredibly selfish, and as the daughter of immigrants all you know and are told is about the unselfish sacrifices our elders made/make for us to live better lives.

And just to drive the point home even my parents were worried about my non-plan even though for the past 21 years they haven’t been convinced that working in ministry where you are required to raise your own salary is a real job that one could really quit. How do you quit a job that isn’t a real job? See? It’s weird.

But I quit, with some financial planning because I’m not that selfish or stupid, and I’m scared. I’m scared my dreams are too old or faded. I’m scared I’ve become risk-averse and practical. I’m scared my imagination is too limited. So why did I quit? Because I’m scared of being stuck because of my fear.

My Dear Readers, are you stuck? Are you scared of staying stuck? If you could “do” anything or make a career change what would you do? If you’ve taken that scary leap of faith, what advice do you have for us newbies who are free falling?

25 Things I’ve Learned During 25 Years of Marriage

My Dear Readers,

I know you have been waiting a year for my new list. I toyed with the idea of simply adding #25 to last year’s list of 24 things I’ve learned during 24 years of marriage, but I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t look at last year’s list. I’m just sitting here across the desk from my groom (Bahahahahahaha! No, I don’t ever call him that. He was my groom 25 years ago. Today he is my husband, spouse, +1. We put a ring on it so no more bride and groom unless we are referring to the Church and Jesus or we are around white Christians.)

Peter and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage with a day off. We might even go buy some towels because we still have towels from our wedding shower. They are thinner, unlike the two of us, but just like us they have absorbed so much in the past 25 years. We also took a cooking class together on Sunday where he learned to separate a yolk from the egg white and practice/learn knife skills. I learned you don’t always have to stir the pot because sometimes too much stirring ends up steaming the food instead of browning it. That is definitely something I need to do some more thinking about…

We met in November 1992. We got engaged on December 26, 1992 with about 100 friends and family exchanging gifts in the Korean tradition. We then got married in front of a gathering 10x that size. From the time we met to the time we were married was just over six months. I’ve learned so much.

  1. Sometimes you have to go to bed angry because you have to go to bed and go to work the next day.
  2. Commitment is a lot harder when neither of you are changing in the same way at the same time.
  3. It’s easy to criticize the parents-in-law when neither of you are a parent-in-law.
  4. You learn a lot about yourself and about your spouse when you take on DIY home improvements.
  5. Our taste buds change as we get older, and for us that has meant he has always liked beer and I now like red wine, bourbon and whiskey.
  6. Our sex drives change as we get older. I’m premenopausal and have barely any sex drive. He is not premenopausal.
  7. Despite changing sex drives, the most difficult thing about having sex is working around the schedule of teenage children. They stay up so late!
  8. Your spouse doesn’t have to be your best friend. If your spouse is your best friend, lucky you. I mean that. But that won’t make or break your marriage.
  9. Try to find things you enjoy together and bless the differences. I just don’t see the point in paying to run, but I make awesome signs and ring a mad cowbell. I also don’t see why you need multiple bowling balls but he also doesn’t share my desire to  overcome my fear of being upside down and learning to handstand. Mutual respect.
  10. Even after 25 years we can’t read each other’s minds. Instead, we try to practice over- communication: I dramatically unplug the little fragrance things in his car vents because they give me a headache.
  11. Work on your own shit. Seriously. Marriage won’t fix you, and you can’t fix someone else.
  12. Sometimes I actually can read his mind. It freaks him out every time, and I revel in it.
  13. Be playful. A friend gifted me a life-size Rose Tico cut out and I put her by the kitchen light switch in hopes it would scare the bejesus out of Peter. It did. For several days. This morning I came down and he moved Rose, but it did not scare me. I’m moving her tonight. He is going to pee in his pants!
  14. Maintain your friendships. My best friend from college and I used to joke that we would outlive our husbands and move into a retirement community together like a Korean American Golden Girls. We are serious. I love Peter but it is special to have friends I’ve known longer than Peter and I have been married.
  15. Maintain good couple friendships. We are truly blessed to have neighborhood friends  where the husbands genuinely like each other and no longer need the wives to set up  daddy playdates. We also learned that none of our husbands went to prom and all of the women did so there’s that.
  16. If you’re the praying type pray for each other. I grew up in a culture that encouraged singles to pray for their future spouses with little instruction on how prayer would change, let alone last 25 years. Yes, there can be things you are praying about for 25 years and celebrating answers to prayers of 25 years!
  17. If you have children and are hoping things will get easier in marriage as the children get older or, in our case, start leaving the nest. The problems you don’t address in your marriage don’t leave with your children. They stay. Across the table at breakfast or dinner when it’s just the two of you.
  18. Have each other’s back and dreams. He wanted to run a half marathon, and then a couple more, and then a marathon, and now maybe back to a 10k. YES! Run! Stay healthy because I selfishly don’t want to be a widow. Me? I want to write and speak at events across the country AND go prepare for my midlife crisis by wanting to get certified as a yoga teacher. He says, YES! buys me coconut water so I stay hydrated during training at a hot yoga studio, rubs my feet after I get home from the airport with puffy feet.
  19. There is no perfect marriage. Even the bible is lacking in perfect examples. So don’t beat yourself over the head if you don’t cook meals together. We have done just fine with divide and conquer. I cook. He cleans. I wash. He folds and irons. He puts away the towels, I rearrange them the right way.
  20. Buy a king-size bed as soon as you can afford to or have space for.
  21. If your spouse tells you that you snore, you snore. Get checked for sleep apnea because snoring can be a strain on your marriage and on your heart.
  22. Just like with anything, learn to ask for help – help from each other or for your marriage.
  23. Look into each other’s eyes and tell each other, “I love you.” Emojis and texts are cute. Handwritten notes are lovely, even with horrible handwriting (his). Eye contact is severely underrated.
  24. Learn to apologize.
  25. Love is a verb. (It’s also a four-letter word in the very best way.)

 

Happy anniversary to us. Peter, I love you. Here’s to the next 25.

--------------- This is us on our 24th anniversary, celebrating Corban's senior night for gymnastics.

————————————— This is us on our 24th anniversary, celebrating Corban’s senior night for gymnastics.

 

 

 

 

When Hashtags Intersect on #InternationalWomensDay

It’s #InternationalWomensDay – perfect timing to crawl out of my current winter depression/anxiety cycle and work out my fingers to celebrate my sisters!

A few weeks ago a group of my Asian American friends and I posted a photo of ourselves with a nameless white man to start a slow awareness campaign of the power of women doing gospel work. It was a tongue-in-cheek take at another conference featuring one black man in a sea of white men, and personally it was a moment to consider how much boat-rocking I was actually willing to do knowing that a photo like ours would raise questions about exclusivity because instead of all white men we were sharing a photo of all  Korean American women.

On the surface it can look like two sides of the same coin but actually it’s not that at all. We don’t exist on the same coin. White men (and women) still hold much of the power in the Christian Industrial Complex so comparing our motley crew to a promotional photo for a well-attended, well-funded, organizationally-backed and branded conference isn’t the same as our photo. I will mention, however, it sure was fun figuring out if we were going to do this and how we would pull it off because what are the chances that all of us would actually ever share the same space as presenters, speakers, and leaders?

The follow-up? Removing the anonymous white man (stock photo) to present this:

From L to R, back row: Helen Lee, Erina Kim-Eubanks, Erna Hackett, Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Gail Song Bantum and front row: Sarah Shin, yours truly, Irene Cho, Angie Hong, and Jenny Yang. We are writers, authors, pastors, theologians, artists, worship leaders, ordained and not, activists, and incredible. We all love Jesus and do incredible work and ministry together for the gospel and because of the gospel. And we also recognize that while we don’t carry the same influence and power as some of our white sisters and brothers, we do have influence and the ability to elevate and cheer on one another.

My list of women to celebrate on this #InternationalWomensDay is long but for now I want to celebrate this short list of #WomenForTheGospel #WFTG #W4TG because we share both “han” and “jung” both of which I will have to explain later.

Who are you celebrating and elevating today????

 

 

No Justice, No Peace of the Gospel Conference

 

My tweets and Facebook post brought down the Peace of the Gospel conference and this is the story. It’s not a new story, but it comes with some specific questions for all of us whether or not you are religious.

The Timeline 

I don’t actually have the time to sit at my computer and call out every Christian conference with a line-up of all white platform speakers. There are variations on the theme – all Black male speakers, all Asian American male speakers, all white female speakers, etc., but most often it is the sheer lack of ethnic and racial diversity on stage and in the planning.

So when yet another such conference was brought to my attention by a white male friend, let’s call him Brad, who actually had not noticed the all-white keynote speaker list, I was humbled by his reaction. Brad apologized for not noticing and asked what he could do. We both agreed that contacting the organizer(s) of the conference as well as any of the speakers would be a good start. Brad did his thing, and so did I.

That was in mid-May when I invited my Facebook and Twitter community to contact the organizers of The Peace of the Gospel Conference for this blatant oversight, regardless of the specificity of mimetic theory. Peace of the gospel that doesn’t include people of color, especially indigenous voices, isn’t gospel peace. I am often asked, particularly by white allies, “What can we do to fight against racism and white supremacy in Christian spaces?” so I invited folks to contact the organizer(s) through the conference website and have their concerns registered.

It was unclear to me at the time who the organizers were. There were no names on the contact form so I filled out the contact form, heard back from their web person and then heard from Michael Hardin. He asked if I wanted to speak by phone and suggested a time. I responded asking for other options since the timeframe he initially offered up didn’t work for my schedule. I never heard back from him. I write this because this is not my first rodeo in raising my voice and trying to speak truth to power – Deadly Viper, Rick Warren, etc.

Every time I am asked why I didn’t handle things privately (try calling up Rick Warren privately), which assumes we are all on an equal, level playing field. Newsflash. The playing field was not created with equality and equity in mind. The playing field, even if we pray at it or read the Bible at it, was created with certain power dynamics in mind. A publicly advertised Christian conference does not allow for or require Matthew 18:15-17 treatment. However, when asked for a phone call I tried and never heard back. I have the receipts.

A diversity statement was issued. I tried to offer any help I was told in so many words that things were being handled. Cool.

And then I found out in September the conference was cancelled.

Why Now

So, I am not always known for my patience but I am growing in that area. Please take note that it is now the end of October. I found out about the cancellation in September because Brad contacted me about a disturbing email he had received about the cancellation. I am named in the email, blamed for assassinating the conference. I sat on this because I had never been singled out in that way and later realized that the email had been sent to conference registrants. I have no idea how many people received that email. All I know is that I didn’t feel safe. My posts about things like this often are public. My husband worries about that but supports me and agrees that this is part of what I am supposed to do, my “calling” in Christian-ese.

So I focused on editing and rewriting my book, Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up.  Yes, it was time to do as I say.

I hesitated to include the email because Asian American Christian women aren’t supposed to be confrontational, etc. and being abrasive or accused of assassinating anyone or anything doesn’t feel good. However, I decided to include it because the words and context matter.

PeaceConference email

Take Note

  1. The Blame Game – Perpetuating racism and more specifically white supremacy is apparently never any one’s fault except for the people who dare to call it out. In the email there are two of us mentioned by name (I was Ms. Nasty on Twitter, not FB, but right now I am Pres. Virgin Islands because I think I’m funny). WE ARE BOTH WOMEN OF COLOR and we were blamed for the demise of a conference and personal ruin because we had the audacity to ask the question, “WHY in 2017 is a Christian conference only featuring white speakers?”
  2. Diversity Statements – Corporate America was the blueprint for the Church’s diversity statements because too many of us Christians wrongly believed the gospel is separate from social justice and diversity. Apparently Genesis, Acts, I Corinthians and Revelation to name a few books of the Bible don’t actually speak to God’s intention behind diversity in nation, tribe, people and language. In that vein, issuing a diversity statement means about as much as a New Year’s resolution. You can put one out there but let’s see where you are at in a few weeks.
  3. Power and Money – My husband and I have some money socked away for retirement, but I predict we will die before we pay off the loans we have taken on to help our kids pay for college. Never mind the embarrassing amount of credit card debt we carry. So it is worth noting that Hardin’s email includes financial details, details that are not my problem but remind us that even in the Christian conference world there is money to be made and lost. It truly is the Christian Industrial Complex and the sooner we are wiser to it all the sooner we can be more critical about the systems out there and our own personal finances. Hardin also writes about his faithfulness to a call to sacrifice but appears to be displeased with his current financial situation. I can relate to the tension of living faithfully and wanting a vacation, and I am not always faithful or excited about raising my salary through individual donors. But that isn’t the point. The point is that we can’t claim to be faithful to Jesus’ call, cry poor when you say you chose that life, and then blame two women of color without ever examining your own privilege and power.

Take Action

Justice and peace are not achieved by tweeting and posting but both can be activated from whatever space we inhabit. I hesitated to write anything about this because it is exhausting – spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally. Raising your voice is also dangerous. One of the more discouraging things is I find myself wondering who can I really trust? I don’t know if there were others who received this email and are connected to me virtually or IRL. All I know is that only Brad contacted me and for that I’m grateful. This isn’t a personal fight. This goes much deeper to embodied faith and theology, integrity, and witness in public and private spaces and how what we do and say in different spaces do or don’t align.

So what does this have to do with you, my Dear Readers?

  1. The Blame Game – Please remember this actually isn’t about one person or a personal issue to be dealt with privately. How we chose to live out our personal beliefs in the public say more about us than about whom we claim to follow. If you received this email or know of others who are in this mimetic theory/theology crowd, how will you talk about the inherent racism and misogyny expressed in the fallout of the conference? When you see FB posts or tweets what will you do or say? Will you raise your voice or stay silent? Also, this isn’t a single incident. This will happen again. It probably happened today, and it’s not just conferences. Did you hear an offensive joke and let it go? Did you repeat an offensive joke and tell someone to get a sense of humor? Do you actually know why people are kneeling during the national anthem or boycotting the NFL?
  2. Diversity Statements – Words have meaning. Words are cheap. On a personal level you can say all you want, post all you want to look like an ally but at the end of the day your relationships and actions out there at work, at church,  when you’re angry, when you’re tired and the line isn’t moving fast enough, etc. will tell the truth. It’s the same with churches and organizations. All are welcome just means you opened the door. It doesn’t mean you made the doorway or what people encounter inside actually welcoming. Ask me how I know.
  3. Power and Money – Do you go to conferences? Read books? See movies? Before you plunk down registration fees take a close look at the speakers, and, if you can find out, the planning team, the leaders, etc. Do they represent your personal values? Do they reflect the diversity of the kingdom of God? Does the way you spend money align with your values?

Any other suggestions??? I could use some help here, and I’m still learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Then There Was One: Part Two

I miss him. The bedroom he shared with Elias for the past 13 years is cleaner without him. His bed is made. There is only one set of man-child clothing strewn across every surface of the room. There is less laundry. No one is asking for that nasty frozen popcorn chicken. We went to Trader Joe’s and didn’t need to buy salsa and chips (how long do you think the 12 jars we left him will last?). He took all four pairs of shoes with him. Who will drink the whole milk he used for his protein shakes?

Parenting is perpetually asking yourself if you are doing enough or doing too much. It is trying to live in the moment while planning ahead for every possibility. It is humbling, exhausting, exhilarating. It is an exercise in faith, trusting God is in control while also knowing we are partially responsible. And just when you think you can’t sign any more reading logs or stay up to make sure s/he makes it home by curfew, it’s time to tell them to jump, just like I did when I forced each of my children to take swimming lessons because I didn’t learn how to swim until I was in fourth grade and am an insecure swimmer. The instructors would line them up at the edge of the pool and tell the kids to jump.

Corban, jump. It will be OK.

We were already onto phase two of move-in day, which consists of a trip to Target to pick up everything we weren’t sure he needed but now were certain he would die without. We decided where the area rug would go, and set up the lounge chair that will mess up his spine. Elias had fan assembly duty. Peter was putting together the lamp. Bethany was putting together the photo collage. I was putting away the environmentally-unfriendly but college kid-friendly supply of paper plates and bowls and plastic cups and utensils. Corban’s only job was to get his bearings.

So he stood there, in the middle of the room, holding a bunch of papers that were handed to him when he checked in and got his keys (keys to the room and to the BATHROOM!!! Keys to the BATHROOM????) looking as overwhelmed as we all were. He looked up from the papers and said, “Hey. Thanks for helping me move in.”

You are so very welcome, Corban. Just don’t forget to call or text or Snapchat. #runmyson

I asked him to take a selfie on his first day of classes.

 

 

 

 

Platforms and #RubyWoo Lipstick

I’m not actually a high-maintenance woman (you can ask my husband), but I can look like one. I love doing my nails and applying sheet masks, and I always have on eyeliner. Red lipstick has always been my fav so if you follow me on Twitter you might have caught wind of the #RubyRevoWootion. #RubyWoo is my new favorite red lipstick and it’s less about lipstick and more about connections, platforms, voice, and sisterhood.

And it all started with me trying to not think about my book. My book manuscript is in the hands of my editor. He told me to mentally put it away and not think about all the things I already want to change, add, delete, etc. so I could come back to the editing process with an open heart and fresh eyes.

So I jumped right into dreaming about launching the book, about holding the finished product in my hands, and sending it out to a group of trusted friends and “influencers” who will leverage their “platforms” or circles of influence (which I write about in my book!) and cheer me and my book on by posting Amazon reviews, writing blog posts about my wise and winsome words, and sharing stylized photos on Instagram of my book on their table with the little freebie I give away.

(Insert sound of screeching brakes.)

In the world of Christian publishing I have generally only seen white female authors do what some call the “influencer box” – the box with the book, a lovely note, and a lovely gift packaged with the pretty crinkle-cut scraps of paper that make me want to order french fries in a color to match the cover. It wasn’t until my friend Deidra Riggs, who also is Black, sent out her first book “Every Little Thing” with a beautiful bracelet and matching set of notecards had I been the recipient of an influencer box and learned another nugget about the Christian Industrial Complex and marketing to Christian women (and by Christian women it’s usually geared towards white Christian women).

So I dreamed and vented with friends Deidra, Jo Saxton, and Amena Brown launching off of a Twitter thread about giving up platforms to return to the “work” of discipleship.

Building or obedience? Or both?

I don’t see building up a platform or giving it up as inherently good or bad. I do believe that if God has given you the talent and gifts to teach, preach, speak, and write and you don’t do it you will probably have a conversation with God about what you did with those talents you chose to bury. Personally, I have not set out to build a platform for myself. This space, my “voice” and influence has been 25 years in the making, maybe longer, and it has been a call to discipleship and obedience sometimes at great cost and indescribable blessing. This work of writing and speaking and in the process building a platform is about discerning what God’s invitation is to me, my family, and my community. How will I steward the gifts, talents, connections, and influence I have?

And in talking with my friends we agreed that the journey is very different for women of color. VERY DIFFERENT.

That is probably a blog series or a book alone. Just trust me, My Dear Readers. The journey is different for women of color no matter how many similarities all women have.

Back to the lipstick

So we come back to my soonish-to-be-published book and my hypothetical influencer box. I wanted “the gift” to reflect me and my voice and, though the book isn’t a “woman’s book,” I did not want to shy away from the fact that the power of my voice comes my living into my female voice.

My hypothetical influencer box would include a single-serving bottle of champagne (because launching a book is a celebration, and I love champagne) and a tube of lipstick.

But as My Dear Readers who wear makeup already know, makeup is tricky and lipstick colors get trickier. Women of all skin tones grow up with different messages about wearing makeup – when you can, if you can, what it means, etc.  And how do you find a lip color that looks good on a group of racially, ethnically diverse women? Because if an imaginary donor or book launch fairy godmother was going to help pay for a tube of lipstick for my influencers it better work for my dark-skinned friends as well as my light-skinned friends because I am not color blind. And, I am that friend who would tell you that that color doesn’t look good on you.

And that’s how and why I started tweeting and asking around about MAC cosmetic’s #RubyWoo. I think it was Jo who mentioned the specific color to me around the time I had Googled “is there a universal red lipstick” where the first article was about #RubyWoo.

And then Deidra started this Twitter thread about “Women I’m for:” with an ever-growing list of amazing women with their own circles of friendships and spheres of influence. I’m no marketing genius, but that thread of women have opinions so I asked if anyone had a connection to MAC or wore #RubyWoo. Maybe I am a marketing genius (where is that commission check, MAC?) but now that thread includes about 50 very diverse women trying on red lipstick for the first time, posting a photo of themselves wearing #rubywoo, and feeling like they are a part of something big and new and fun and beautiful because we are part of what I’m calling the #RubyRevoWootion.

So if you want to join the #RubyRevoWootion just put on that bold red lipstick (or put on whatever makes you feel empowered and fierce and speak up. Love one another boldly. Cheer on one another fiercely.

 

24 Things I’ve Learned During 24 Years of Marriage

My husband and I did not court. I don’t even know if that is the way you say it. He didn’t court me? I wasn’t courted? We met in November 1992 through a mutual friend who knew we weren’t interested in dating. We were so disinterested in dating that we went straight for marriage. We got engaged December 26, 1992. We got married April 24, 1993. We had a simple ceremony with three pastors and about 1,000 of our parents’ closest friends. We have been married 24 years.

This past weekend we decided to use our daughter’s final faculty dance concert as an excuse to go away for the weekend. Our collective memory is a bit foggy, but we agreed that it was the first time we have gone away alone on a trip since our first wedding anniversary. We can unpack that later, but here in no particular order is a list of things I’ve been reflecting on as we approached our 24th wedding anniversary.

  1. Sometimes you need to go to bed angry because you can’t solve anything with sleep deprivation.
  2. Don’t get married if you don’t like conflict or if you don’t like working hard at relationships. Get a pet. Seriously.
  3. Loving someone isn’t the same as liking someone. There are many moments when we have had to remember we love each other even though in the moment we don’t like each other.
  4. If you have access to health care, see your primary care physician regularly. I love Peter, and I want “until death do us part” be later rather than sooner.
  5. Marriage isn’t 50/50. It isn’t a contract. It isn’t a cake you split in half. It’s kinda like sharing an ice cream sundae – messy, imprecise, etc. There isn’t time to count the peanuts or sprinkles before the ice cream melts. And you usually only get one cherry, which I would give to Peter because I don’t like maraschino cherries. I don’t actually like ice cream sundaes…
  6. Don’t forget your friends. Women, don’t forget your girlfriends. Really. They will rage and complain with you, but when the crap hits the fan they will help you fight for your marriage. I’m assuming the same goes for you men and your friends, whom you probably don’t refer to as your boyfriends because of socialization.
  7. Marriage counseling is a good thing. It’s even better if you do it before you want to kill each other.
  8. Over communicate. I fall into a rut with all this texting, assuming I told him about something at some point when in actuality I had not said anything. I may have started a text or thought about telling him when we had time in the evening.
  9. I wish Google calendars had existed earlier in our marriage.
  10. Keep doing the things you enjoy doing as a couple. You are married to each other, not your work, not your children, not your garden or your car (neither of which are our issues).
  11. Talk with each other. I know and Peter knows when I’m talking at him as opposed to talking with him. Talking at him serves a purpose – grocery lists, last-minute errands on the way home from some other thing, etc. Talking with him is what keeps us connected to each other.
  12. We change. Neither of us had a taste for alcohol when we first got married. Five years ago I didn’t think I’d ever enjoy beer…or whiskey. Twenty-four years ago I would never have imagined Peter ordering an Old Fashioned.
  13. Sometimes we don’t change because we aren’t given the opportunity. For example, if you don’t like the way the other person folds towels, discuss it early on in the marriage.
  14. Sex gets better only if you have it. Have sex. Women, if you haven’t had an orgasm (and if you don’t know if you have, you haven’t) talk to your spouse. Seriously. What is the point???? (And please don’t comment if you are going to tell me the point is only procreation. I am not having any more babies.)
  15. I am always learning how to communicate better. Yelling often doesn’t help, but sometimes it does.
  16. Give space, time, and money (when possible) to each other’s dreams and God’s gifting. Peter has learned what an all-night writing session does to my meal planning.
  17. Try new things. It took three attempts before I could appreciate the humor of The Holy Grail. It also took several attempts before I agreed to watch Battlestar Galactica. I am so thankful Peter was patient and persistent.
  18. Give space, time, and money (when possible) to each other’s healing. Counseling takes time. Getting to a place where I could say, “I think I’m depressed” took time. Going on meds took support, time, and health insurance. Be gentle with each other.
  19. If you choose and are able to have a family, children will not make you better spouses. Having children make you parents. There is a difference and overlap. Know the difference.
  20. Practice being that old couple you see. You know that couple that walks around the neighborhood holding hands. Practice being that couple.
  21. Even after 24 years, some jokes are still not funny.
  22. Even after 24 years, we can still surprise each other. He says he can’t multitask but last night he folded the laundry and ironed shirts while watching the playoffs.
  23. You actually can start to read each other’s minds but don’t rely on it.
  24. Dream together for each other.
  25. This one is for next year.

Happy anniversary to us, Peter!

What a Holy Week

It’s Holy Week. I am a Christian, an evangelical, no less, and this season is the holiest of seasons. I grew up with Palm Sunday and fasting on Good Friday. It is a week of triumphant entrances, anointing, betrayal, friendship, communion, and mourning.

I feel like I was pushed out of the palm branches a little too soon. Watching the video of law enforcement agents dragging Dr. David Dao off of a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Kentucky rattled me. It was violent. It also was painful to watch the video and see so many white passengers seated with their seatbelts buckled. Sure, folks whipped out their phones so thankfully there are videos from multiple angles, and we all know the importance of visual evidence even when it doesn’t actually result in criminal charges. However, it was deeply unsettling to watch the inaction. It was proof that no matter what we say about injustice or violence, obeying equates survival. I suppose that is why some of the people who welcomed Jesus into the city of Jerusalem would later demand he be killed or be absent days later at the crucifixion.  I have seen posts from people of all races and ethnicities saying that passengers did the right thing Sunday by staying seated and that Dao should have complied. Everyone who did nothing made it out alive, but at what cost?

What is more difficult for me to process right now is the execution and murder of Karen Elaine Smith, 53, and Jonathan Martinez, 8, on Monday at North Park Elementary School, San Bernardino. The news brought me fully into mourning.

Smith was gunned down by her estranged husband who entered the school armed. He walked into the classroom for special needs children after following school protocol (aka following and obeying the rules) and opened fire at Smith. Martinez and another student also were shot because they were standing behind Smith, their teacher.

We may never know why the students were where they were, but I will tell you my mind went straight to protection mode. She was near her students because that is what teachers do – stand near students, and when that man she recognized walked in with a gun she and the kids did what instinct tells them to do – she shields the kids nearest to her and they stay close to her or take cover. That’s the scenario that plays out in my mind because this has happened before. This scenario has happened before.

Again, we may never know exactly what happened in the classroom of 15 children with special needs or how the 500 students and their students will ever recover from the terror. I just know that the parents and families of those children, of every child in that school, and of every employee of that school started Monday believing in some degree of safety and normalcy.

This isn’t a normal week. It’s Holy Week.

I wanted to  I felt like ducking for cover because the primary story Tuesday is about Dr. Dao and as an Asian American who has documented her own travel wins and woes on social media I completely understand why people would assume I care about the story. I care.

But right now, I also care about Karen Elaine Smith and Jonathan Martinez. I’m a woman of color. I’m a mother. I have children who right now are at school in a building that added a new, costly layer of security – front doors are locked, admittance gained via camera and a buzzer into the first vestibule, entry gained into the main building after identification is checked, etc. I have a child on the verge of adulthood in another city. I am also a woman who in college was in an abusive relationship. I am no statistician but I’m going to guess My Dear Readers that you are more likely to know a victim of domestic abuse than a victim of violence on an airplane.

The violence that was recorded on cellphones and shared on social media matters, and quite frankly it is DOMINATING my social media feeds. However, the violence that happened in that classroom and perhaps the violence and abuse that happened behind happy Facebook posts also matters. It matters that the narrative is the murdered walked into a school armed because this country now has a secretary of education who will not go on the record about banning guns from schools (Google “grizzly bears” if you are confused). It matters because they are connected. If the rule “every person for herself” stands as it did on the airplane, then we really aren’t going to do squat about domestic violence if it doesn’t impact us personally. We aren’t going to do squat about gun control until someone we know personally is killed because someone who shouldn’t have had a gun or a stockpile of guns gets caught with said gun(s). We aren’t actually going to do squat except post things and sit in our seats.

We may wave our palm branches on Sunday but we will be absent by Friday. I don’t want to be absent. I want to be like the three brave women who kept watch over Jesus on the cross. I want to be like Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and Salome who witnessed the injustice and then went to work. In the wise words of my friend Donnell Wyche, “I want to be present.” I want to be present.

So what can you do?

  1. Educate yourself. Read about gun control and local ordinances regarding open/concealed carry. Ask your neighbors, friends, parents of the children your kids hang out with whether or not they have guns in their home, if the guns are locked, etc. You might be surprised. Let’s hope not.
  2. Educate yourself. Learn about domestic violence. Learn about the signs, the questions, the support systems in your community, church, etc. Don’t blame the victim.
  3. Decide if this is one of the issues that you care enough about to prioritize in your life. Is this something you want to give your time to? Money to? Expertise to? What are the options? Volunteering? Serve on a board? Raise awareness? Some combination?
  4. Practice a script. What you will say to the children and young people in your life the next time there is a public shooting or act of violence. My children are older (15, 17, and 21) so they are watching the news and sometimes aware of things before we are. We talk about facts. We answer questions. We do not tell them not to worry, but we do walk through what they are worried about and address their fears, concerns, and questions.
  5. Practice a script. Do you know the signs of an abusive relationship? Do you know how to ask a friend about her relationship? Do you have the courage to ask? What kind of help can you offer? What resources would she need to get out and stay out of an abusive relationship and be safe? Maybe that is too far-fetched for you to imagine. I get it. How about if you see someone in public being verbally abused?
    1. Make eye contact with the victim, and, if you can, put yourself physically in between the perpetrator and the victim. Talk with the victim.
    2. Try to make eye contact with others in the area to see if they also will get involved and diffuse the situation.
    3. Don’t engage the perpetrator.
  6. Practice a script. I will be the first to admit that in the case of armed law enforcement showing up like they did on the airplane, I’m not sure what “the best” course of action is because guns, violence against POC, etc. makes for a complicated situation. However, you can still practice.
    1. It’s a good think people knew enough to whip out their cellphones, so let’s start with that. Know your damn phone works so you can, on a moment’s notice, whip out that phone and start recording.
    2. Practice what you would say as you are recording said incident. Booing is fine. Narrating what you see while asking for names of LEA, recording badge numbers (if you’re on a plane you know you are THAT close to people), the time, flight number, location, etc. is better. Is there any way to engage the victim? Ask her/him, “Are you OK? Have you been injured? What is your name?”
    3. Practice what you would do and say. My kickboxing instructor would call this “muscle memory” – repeating actions so that your body remembers the combinations so that they come instinctively. Jab, cross, cross, upper cut, upper cut, knee, roundhouse. My friend Nicole Morgan came up with the following:

This is turning out to be quite a Holy Week. I suppose that is the point. My Dear Readers, let us walk gently with one another this week. I don’t want to rush to Sunday. There are lessons I need to learn along the way. I have the script. We have a script. Let’s be present.

Saunas and Sheet Masks: A Theology of Self-care

We have made it to February, my Dear Readers! February! And for those counting days a little differently, it’s Day 12 of the Resistance (actually, it’s been longer than that but …)! It’s time to revisit (or learn about) self-care.

Setting snark aside, winter in the Midwest is challenging never mind being a woman of color. These are trying, difficult times. I know that some people have wished their Facebook feeds to return to the days of  cat memes and news about everyone else’s perfect families (there was one woman in the neighborhood but she unfriended me). But my feed has never been void of politics, challenging news, religious commentary, and the occasional crock pot recipe. Social media for me was never about escapism, but I think for some people it was and because things are hitting closer to home or politics and policies are finally hitting you in a new way you’re exhausted. For others, like myself, we have been exhausted for a very long time.

But we were not designed and created to stay in a state of perpetual exhaustion and anxiety. God did not spend a metaphorical six days of creating to spend the seventh day fretting. We need to care for ourselves – physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, psychologically not only to fight against oppression and injustice but also to simply be. Our healthy whole selves, I believe, are meant to be a testimony to God’s goodness even in times like these. Especially in times like these. Because more and more of us are waking up to the reality that there are real people and forces who do not want many of us, particularly people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ, Muslims, to live, let alone flourish.

So, Kathy, what do you do to take care of yourself? What do you do for self-care?

I actually do a lot. You cannot work full-time, write on the side, help raise three children and not lose any of them on a road trip, stay married for what is now almost 24 years, love Jesus, and not do some level of self-care and not drop dead or hurt someone. And trust me, when I haven’t loved myself, respected myself I have hurt others. Ask my kids, my husband, my parents, my sister, my friends, my colleagues.

So self-care isn’t about spa treatments and weekend getaways, though those are AMAZING if you can afford them in time and money. Self-care isn’t about avoiding or numbing the pain. If I find myself roaming resale shops and the sale racks for no reason I know that I’m just trying to avoid dealing with myself and my pain. SeIf-care is restorative and preparation. Remember the year of beauty treatments Queen Esther had? I can’t help but wonder if that year also helped her be prepared to lead her people. So, on that note I think of self-care in three categories:

REST

Many of us are walking around sleep-deprived. I’m not talking about parents with infants or young children. I’m talking about all of us. We are also bombarded with information and glowing screens all the time, even the kiddos. Screen time isn’t restful, in fact, my own unscientific study of my friends’ Facebook posts recently have shown an uptick of people feeling more stress and anxiety from social media and wanting to take breaks. We need to rest. Remember, God took Day 7 OFF. Things to do for straight up rest include:

  • GO TO BED BEFORE MIDNIGHT. Lately I have been shooting for seven hours of sleep. (My kids are 21, 17, and 15 so I have other reasons to be up late and worried but sleep-training isn’t one of them.)
  • Take short naps if I need them.
  • Technology is my nemesis. I need to be better at getting off of my phone or computer at least one hour before I go to bed. Anyone want to be my accountability partner?
  • Nagging my spouse for years about his snoring. Turns out he has sleep apnea and now uses a CPAP machine. Very sexy. If your partner isn’t sleeping soundly chances are you aren’t either.
  • Cutting off caffeine at 3 pm but my problem isn’t caffeine. It’s the glass of wine with the evening news, which doesn’t help with sleep.
  • Readers. My eyes are older and turned against me last year and because I love to read, when the words started moving and growing fuzzy I gave in and bought some reading glasses to rest my eyes, which helped my headaches, which helped me sleep.
RESTORE

Once I had a better handle on a sleep pattern and rhythm (just like we try to do with our infants), needing rest wasn’t urgent because it was part of the routine. Feeling refreshed and restored is different than just getting enough sleep. I think of rest as turning off my engine. Restoration is filling my tank.

  • EXERCISE! This will also help the quality of your sleep. My favorites are walking, yoga, and kickboxing. Walking gets me outside into the fresh air. It gets me out of my head (I don’t always have my headphones on) and if I’m alone it’s my time to rant with Jesus. If I’m with friends, they are a stand-in for Jesus. Yoga has helped me connect my body awareness to my breathing. Kickboxing is great cardio, and I like to hit the bag.
  • Saunas and sheet masks are a given. I go to a Korean sauna monthly to sit in dry saunas and hot steam rooms. I go alone because silence is a good. I go with friends because friends who don’t care about seeing each other naked in the steam room are friends worth keeping. Sheet masks and general “spa” like things are about caring for my body as well as connecting with others. After the Women’s March it was sooooo good to be in a room with four other amazing Asian American women talking about the day, lying on our backs, moisturizing our faces, and delighting in each other’s company.
  • My tank needs 10 mg of Lexapro daily. No shame. My brain needs a daily adjustment. If you have healthcare, don’t get me started, GO SEE YOUR DOCTOR and make sure all your levels are where they need to be. I was worried I was falling into a deeper depression last year so I called up my doctor. Turns out I was anemic.
  • Spend time in community. When I am in a funk, the last thing I want to do is go out but it is often the thing I need to get myself out of myself. Invite friends over for dessert. Take lunch to a friend. Talk with other people. Be around other people.
READY (to go)

Like I said, this isn’t about spa treatments. This is about taking care of yourself because it’s not just about you. What is God inviting you to do, to become? I think of President Barack Obama’s chant, “Fired up? Ready to go!” I think of Jesus telling the disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” or the angel telling the women at the tomb, “Come and see…go quickly and tell…”  I love moisturizing my skin, but our beautiful strong bodies are meant to go. How will you be ready? This is where I feed my heart, soul and mind.

  • Read. Do the work of feeding your mind. Read authors of color. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read poetry and young adult novels. Listen to audiobooks and podcasts if you don’t have the time to sit and read. (But remember, we always have time for the things we make time for.)
  • Use both sides of your brain. Look at art, listen to music and then make some art and dance to the music. Resistance takes work but there has to be joy and hope…and laughter. So tap into the joy and hope otherwise what are you fighting for?
  • I’m a Christian so I pray. I miss praying with friends so I’ll need to do that again/more. I pray aloud and silently. I write my prayers. I walk my prayers. I breathe my prayers.

So help me and each other out, my Dear Readers. What self-care practices do you keep or want to try? How can you help others practice self-care?

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