When Your Breast (pump) Gets In The Way

Virgin Mary "lactans" , showing Mary breastfeeding Jesus. Painted in 1784. Byzantine

Virgin Mary “lactans” , showing Mary breastfeeding Jesus. Painted in 1784. Byzantine

Just like every other mother in the world, I am a working mother. I just happen to work for a regular paycheck outside of the home. If our family had to pay for the work I do in the house we would be broke-er than we are. Again, just like every other mother in the world.

Unlike most other mothers in the United States I returned to my full-time job with a key to an employee lactation room – a private, locked room with a refrigerator, sink, private toilet, recliner and HOSPITAL GRADE BREAST PUMP. All you needed to do was bring your own tubing and, what I liked to call, your personal pump trumpets.

Thank God for the liberal media.

But again, not everyone has that luxury (which, IMHO, should be a given here in the USA) so I went on the hunt for what is the best breast pump for because I also knew I would be traveling and needing something at home.

Why am I writing about this now? Well, I’m also on a private FB page of working minister mamas in the org I currently work for, and a national staff conference coming up means that working minister mamas with little children are wondering what will travel and being present at a meeting actually look like.

Will there be childcare? How will I hang out with people after the official programming ends? How will I talk with other adults during mealtimes? Will there be high chairs? Will rooms have mini-fridges for storing breastmilk? Does a breast pump count as a personal item? Is it worth it to go? What will I miss if I don’t?

It will look crazy but that is what working minister mamas do, right? We do the crazy. We actually are crazy. We defy stereotypes simply by occupying traditional male space and then we have the audacity to show up with the proof that we are not men. We bring our children – infants, toddlers, preschoolers. I used to even pull my school-age children before grades counted. (That was high school for us.) And then we ask questions like: Will I have time to pump during a break or is just easier to go in and nurse?

So, reading the posts by newer and younger minister mamas made me think about why there aren’t more public spaces for women to do something that ought to be considered natural but isn’t.

Because the patriarchy. Because if men had to breast feed we all know that pumps wouldn’t be so noisy or bulky. Because if men had to breast feed we all know that lactation rooms would be as commonplace as the line for the “ladies room”. Because if men had to breast feed we would see commercials about pumps instead of erectile dysfunction drugs. Because if men had to breast feed there would be more laws protecting lactation rights and enforcement.

Until then, we women Google. We ask our FB communities. We network. We do what we need to do to get the job done.

I’ll never forget sitting in the back of the church sanctuary nursing our infant daughter under a blanket (because back then you couldn’t buy a nursing shawl so you used a blanket) and a few men freaking out in their godly way. Wouldn’t I like to go somewhere else? No, I wouldn’t. Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in the foyer?  No, I wouldn’t. Do you really think you should feed her here? Yes, I do.

I think most of those men are now married and have their own children. I wonder if they wanted their wives to nurse out of sight, like maybe in the bathroom?

And of course, I can’t help but think of the infant Jesus and Mary. We don’t know if she had any help during labor. We don’t know if there was a doula or another woman from the area who came to help her and show her what to do after Jesus had been born. She had no other option but to breastfeed Jesus. Yes, being fully human and fully divine and born of a woman requires that kind of beautiful intimacy.

What are some of your favorite nursing stories? What are some of your questions about nursing? Was breastfeeding natural? Did you breastfeed? What made breastfeeding difficult? Easy? Natural? And, of course, what breast pump would you recommend?

 

Everyday Dismantling #7 – Learn By Making Mistakes

How did you learn how to tie your shoes? To drive? To apply makeup or style your hair? To write your name in cursive? To read? To swim? To ride a bike?

Unless you are some freak of nature and succeeded in learning those life-skills in one single attempt, it took time. It took failure. In some cases, it took a combination of courage and humiliation. For example, I finally stopped perming my hair, and through the gentle coaching of a teacher/director I learned to give up dreams of acting and stick to public speaking as “me”.

So many of my dear readers have responded to my most recent post about a racist encounter in a public space with questions:

What should a bystander have done? What would have been the right response? What  were you hoping someone would do? What should I do when I see something like this happen?

But before I answer the question(s), I’ll do what I did before and throw it back to you, my dear readers.

Why are you asking these questions? Why do you want to know the “right” way to respond when witnessing a racist situation? What is the worst thing that could happen if you had actually been there and done something, anything?

I really wish there was one “right” answer so that we could teach it in schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, coffee shops, and craft beer stores. I wish there was a line or a phrase that would’ve been perfect. I wish I could tell all of you that if someone had only done this or said that I wouldn’t have walked away shaken, wouldn’t have cried this morning at the sound of my friend Deidra’s voice checking in with me or this afternoon when Deb’s kind note arrived.

But there isn’t.

My dear readers, I can hear the fear of failure behind your question. Not all of you, but some of you. Maybe a lot of you. You are afraid of saying something wrong, afraid that you will come off as the arrogant white person, the white savior.

And you might come off that way because until you practice saying and acting out what you are learning in your heart and mind it may sound scripted, savior-ish, stilted. It may come out wrong or awkward. You may be misunderstood. You may make a mistake.

But you should do something, say something. It may not be met with overflowing gratitude. You may not even be thanked. (Brad walked away and I was trying to hold it together so I didn’t seek him out afterwards. I just wanted to leave. But just in case, Brad, if you are reading this, if you are the youngish white man in the polo shirt, I think it was blue, who stepped in, thank you. Thank you.) You may actually exacerbate and escalate the situation. You may fail.

But do something because your conscience, your soul, your heart and mind told you that in the presence of injustice and hatred and confusion people need to act, not just think, the part of justice and love and peace. You should speak up and speak out when you know something is wrong not because you want to be right or perfectly understood.

This is not my first rodeo with racism. I learned I was a chink and a gook growing up in Roselle, Illinois. I was bullied and harassed. I have been told over and over in so many different ways that I do not belong, and while EVERYONE can sympathize with that, NOT EVERYONE knows the personal pain of being told in so many ways over a lifetime that they do not belong in this country because of their race, ethnicity or religion (actual or perceived). This incident and all the others I’m referring to are not the same as not being picked for the dodgeball team or being in the cool crowd or feeling left out.

I was told to leave this country because Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners. My sons, who witnessed this and have told the story to their friends, will say, “We were told to go back to where we came from.” They took the white man’s comments personally.

There is some irony in all of this. Unless you are Native American/First Nations this here United States of America is actually not “OUR COUNTRY” in the possessive ownership sense. We citizens of the USA who lack Native blood are ALL IMMIGRANTS residing on stolen land. This really isn’t “OUR COUNTRY”, is it? Let’s sit on that for awhile, shall we?

But that’s not what that man meant. He didn’t challenge the white male cashier. He saw me and my sons and assumed his white privilege and did not hesitate to tell me to “Go back to your country.”

None of us can learn a new skill in one attempt. None of us. We all fail. We will make mistakes along the way. Silence is a mistake my family and I cannot afford.

Be willing to make a mistake. To fail. Practice in your head what you might say or do and maybe whisper it out loud right now as you finish reading. And then wait for it. Don’t throw away your shot.

 

 

 

This Is My Country

****No editing here. Getting this written down quickly because I am still angry, shaken, sad. You never get used to everyday racism.

No, I wasn’t wearing this shirt today, but the image fits. And if you don’t know about AngryAsianMan.com now you know.****

The older man walked up to the closed register next to me and looked at the wretched KFC/Pizza Hut menu at the travel oasis/rest stop near Elkhart, IN. He asked about the fried chicken hiding behind the greasy cough-guard. I wondered if he was going to do what I thought it looked like he was going to do, and I wrestled with what I would do if he tried to cut in front of the line. He stands with a curve in his back, pants hemmed too short and hair disheveled. He is older, if not elderly, with white, thinning hair. I can’t take the Korean out of me. We respect our elders. Should I just let him go? I just want to feed my sons terrible fast food, get back on the road and get home.

But he goes on, putting in his order and pulling out some money, and the cashier tells him there is line that he will have to join. The line is now about 8 people deep, not including me and my two teenage sons.

The older man, let’s call him Gerald, looks back at the line, looks at me and asks, “What do you need food for?”

I’m hoping he is joking, though he isn’t cracking a smile, so I respond as kindly as I can with a smile (I have now listened to Hamilton five times on this road trip and I can’t stop thinking “talk less, smile more”), “I need food to eat, just like you do.”

Gerald looks at me and my sons and says, “You don’t need food. Go back to your country and eat the food there.”

By the way, Gerald is white. I am not.

Oh, FFS.

My first instinct is to put myself in between Gerald and my sons who are 17 and 14 and both taller and bigger than I am, but I am their mother and I will always put myself between them and perceived danger.

Remember. There are at least eight people watching this unfold.

What would you hope you would have done if you were behind me in the line??? W??hat would you hope others would have done or said as they watched this unfold?

I wrote briefly about this encounter on my Facebook page, and everyone wants to know what I said, but I want to know if you have ever seen anything like this happen to someone else? And if so, what did you do? Did you say anything?

Because that is part of why I am still upset, unnerved, angry, sad, and exhausted. I am not told to “go back” every day in the literal sense, but many Asian Americans, American-born and immigrants, will tell you that we experience this “othering” often, especially here in the Midwest.

Non-Asian Americans of all shades often seem unable to “place” me in discussions on race because I do not fit neatly into the Black/White binary and Asian American history, art, literature, etc. are not always taught in American history even though “we” have been around for centuries here in the United States.

Which brings me back to Gerald and the silent line.

My response was to first step in between my sons and Gerald. My second response was to whip out my phone camera, but I didn’t catch him. What I caught was his face getting closer to mine as I told him, “I have money. This is my country, and there is a line.”

Eventually a younger white man, let’s call him Brad, steps in between me and Gerald and de-escalates the situation.

I am exhausted. In that 90-second exchange I went through the mental gymnastics of wondering what I could do to de-escalate the situation, how I could show the man Christ-like grace, if Gerald was some how mentally challenged, allowing age to be an excuse for his racist comment, wondering if anyone else was going to step in, hoping it didn’t escalate but not ready to stand down and behave whatever behaving means at that point, wondering what my sons were taking away from this experience, hoping they weren’t too embarrassed, embarrassed as we then had to stand there and wait for our food, angry that I felt embarrassed, tired that this was nothing new because it has happened to me since I was a child.

So here is a lesson for all of you, my dear readers, who have never been told to “go back to your country”. Now that you know this really happens here in the United States, how will you prepare yourself to step in? What will you do when something like this happens in front of you?

Remember, there were at least eight other adults in that line who said nothing.

 

One More Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mrs. Turner, I’d Love to Hear Your Voice

Dear Carleen Turner,

I’ve seen a photo of you walking with your son in his court appearance suit. I know you exist. Every child has a mother and a father, and it appears that you are involved in his life. I can only guess that you love your son just as I love my daughter and two sons. I can only guess that your heart is torn, conflicted, confused, angry, sad, afraid. I’m hoping you are like me – that you can love your child and want to scream at them with a ferocity that scares the shit out of them.

But I’d love to hear you, to read your words. Woman to woman. Mother to mother. Mother of a son to mother of a son.

I’ve read several posts by fathers about what they are telling their sons. That’s great.

But you and I are not fathers. We are mothers. We experience life differently as women, and here in what your husband called “20 minutes of action” is where you and I realize, I hope, that as mothers we also are women at risk of being seen as something, not even someone, to be possessed, penetrated, conquered, and disposed of.

What are you thinking? I want to know because I want to believe that as mothers we also share the ability to love our children, question our parenting, and continue to have a positive impact on our kids even when they make mistakes, even when they commit heinous, criminal acts.

I want to hear your voice because honestly I’m scared. You and I live similar lives in lovely communities that tell our children (and now I see that you have a daughter and two sons as well, at least from the photo I am assuming they are your children) they can become successful in whatever they set their eyes towards. Your son was close to that future, but did you know something was off? My sons are younger than yours but they hear the same messages. I want to hear your voice because maybe you have a word of advice? A warning? A regret?

Your silence is understandable. I’d be scared out of my mind and want to go into hiding, but he’s still your son. And honestly, your husband (I presume you are married) said some crazy stuff. Leave it to me to want you, the mother, wife, and woman, to clean up the mess left by two of the men in your life, but isn’t that what we find ourselves doing? Cleaning up the messes? Explaining the messes? Making the shit storm someone else left into a teachable moment?

Am I falling into gendered stereotypes? Yes. No. I don’t want to diminish the severity of what your son did. He sexually assaulted an unconscious woman. You and I are mothers but before we are mothers we are women. I want to hear your voice because you are walking in this space of tension that I am afraid of but shouldn’t be so naive as to think I am immune because of my zip code.

When horrible, criminal acts are committed against non-white people, we are almost required to forgive. Forgiveness by the survivors are commended. I want to hear from you in hopes you can flip the script and ask for forgiveness, to ask for what neither your son or husband can acknowledge is necessary.

Dear Carleen Turner, I’d love to hear you out before I write you off.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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