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

hands-620

“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.

 

Read Between the Polls, What Will We Remember?

Dear Readers,

Where were you 14 years ago?

I was 37 weeks pregnant with my youngest child. I had dropped off my oldest at kindergarten and returned home with the toddler. I can’t remember if my father called me before or after I had already turned on the television only to catch video of the second plane crashing into the north tower. I remember standing there on the cold white ceramic tile in the kitchen wondering if we were going to go to war, wondering if I should go pick up my daughter, wondering if friends in New York City were alive.

Within hours I would hear the deafening silence of the skies – not a single plane in the sky – and the eerie stillness as businesses and offices closed early.

My father called again.

“KyoungAh, you didn’t apply for citizenship yet did you. You should get your citizenship,” he said. “You don’t know what will happen now.”

————————————————————————————————————————-

Friends and strangers, pundits and the average Joan need to stop saying the polls don’t matter. Polls matter. If they didn’t matter, even this early in the election cycle, no one would conduct polls, report on polls, try to interpret polls, try to predict the future based on polls. We need to stop pretending that a certain candidate’s bluster is just for show and his growing popularity is a sideshow.

It’s not. I think we want to dismiss it because it’s easier to avoid the truth rather than dealing with reality.

Racism and sexism, and a particularly insidious variety of both, is what is popular and resonating with the average American voter of a particular political party’s persuasion. We can keep trying to ignore it, pretend that what he says is just “him” and not a reflection of what real people are actually thinking. His numbers have grown despite the fact that his foreign policy amounts to nothing more than “I will be so good at the military, your head will spin.”

Read between the polls. I don’t believe his supporters are stupid. I believe they hold racist and sexist beliefs and values, and as a Korean American woman I am not surprised at his growing popularity because we have a history of pretending our racism and sexism isn’t really racism and sexism.

Sometimes we call it patriotism.

————————————————————————————————————————-

Today is the 14th anniversary of 9/11. It was pouring rain earlier this morning, and now through the billowing clouds the sun is shining through. My social media streams are full of #NeverForget along with somber, thoughtful accounts of where people were when they heard the news. There are images of the two towers, the new tower, and flags.

It’s important to remember. As a Christian, a person of faith and religion, it is important to remember, to know not just history for facts but for themes, story arc, tradition, and lessons learned. Sometimes the facts point to something bigger, usually a pattern of how God is present and His faithfulness is beyond what we see or saw in the moment.

We cannot be people who forget but today I am wondering what do we remember from the aftermath of 9/11 and what do we need to remember. Have we remembered some of the details and forgotten (perhaps conveniently) others? Have we forgotten how in our fear and anger protecting America and Americans and “our way of life” also meant turning our backs and sometimes turning against some of our fellow Americans even here in America? Have we remembered only being attacked, and forgotten attacking a country we would later find had nothing to do with 9/11?

I had forgotten about my father’s request I apply for citizenship in the weeks following 9/11 when planes returned to the skies and shopping malls reopened so that we could show those terrorists they hadn’t won by shopping. I had forgotten because as a Korean American woman with fair skin and flawless English-speaking skills (I’m still learning to speak American, though) I rarely get pulled aside by the TSA. I had forgotten because my husband also is a lighter-skinned Korean American with flawless English-speaking skills, and we attended (and still do) a Christian church.

But I think my father called me, specifically to talk to me about becoming an American citizen, because he remembered something I did not, saw something in between the political posturing and patriotism. He saw how America was defining itself again. We might never be a “real” American but papers can’t hurt.

————————————————————————————————————————-

As we remind one another, particularly on this day, to #NeverForget I want to encourage us, my dear readers, to remember. History has a way of repeating itself.

 

These Things I Know For Certain. Maybe.

I knew I would cry.

This year dropping off the oldest at school for her second year took on a different level of planning, and in the end it was a mom and daughter road trip to Long Island.

I knew the drive would require a new level of stamina and patience. Fourteen hours and 850+ miles is a lot even for the two of us. I knew we would laugh and sing and eat and need some time to decompress from being with each other non-stop. I knew we would both need our alone time. I knew the last two nights we would be sharing a bed.

I knew it would be difficult to say goodbye, despite knowing in my heart of hearts she is exactly where she needs to be doing what she is meant to do learning things she must learn away from the safety net (bubble?) of her home and family. I knew we would do some last-minute shopping so I could leave knowing she would not starve to death. I knew I would want to do whatever she wanted to do just so that we could have a little more time together.

I thought I knew. But I didn’t.

I knew I would be exhausted from the drive and sleep soundly, but I was so attuned to her presence I found myself listening to her breathe and move. In the dark of the night she was a little girl again, taking a nap in her four-poster bed after a full day of kindergarten. I didn’t know she would sound the same. I didn’t know that the sound of her breathing would still keep me awake, just like it did when we she was an infant and we were paranoid first-time parents.

I knew moving her into her dorm without the help of my husband would be physically exhausting because even after all of these years dorm furniture remains ugly, heavy, and unwieldy. I didn’t know she would ask for my opinion so often and that she would take my advice to maximize the view. Her room has a sunny window with a great view of Manhattan (if you squint and it is unusually clear); she’ll wake up to that view every morning assuming she opens her eyes. That? I don’t know.

I knew that last day was going to be quiet. We had spent the previous three days in each other’s company, sharing every amazing meal, sharing a room and then a bed, sharing toiletries and coffee. We had spent the summer together learning to be together as mother and young adult daughter. We had not come close to doing all the things, eating all the foods, finishing all the projects we had planned, but we knew we had all summer. I didn’t know the summers get shorter every year mirroring the shortened summer days. I didn’t know that I could be simultaneously excited my sons – in high school and middle school – had finally started school and be utterly annoyed that college classes started two days before the Labor Day weekend when we all could’ve traveled together and said one big goodbye.

I knew saying goodbye is part of the deal, even if it is only until Thanksgiving, but I didn’t know how fast 19 years would go by. I knew I would cry because love, excitement, hope, anticipation, and sadness always do that to me, but I didn’t know she would cry, too.

I don’t know what the year holds for her, but I know she is where she needs to be.

#flymysweet

Grief & Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

Me.

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

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

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

Yup. Robert was crazy.

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

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

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

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

IMG_1684

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

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 10 |