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.

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.

A Guest Post by Leroy Barber: My Dad to Me

Father’s Day is winding down here in the Central Time Zone, but I’m grateful today also falls on the summer solstice. It is the longest day of the year so lots of sun & vitamin D.

From here on out the darkness comes just a little sooner…Kind of like this past week.

Dear Readers, I’m grateful to turn over this little space of the blogosphere to a mentor and friend, Leroy Barber. He has a great story of how two black men, one Latino, and one white man found me wandering the woods near Appalachia.

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I don’t know what Father’s Day is like for you but for me it’s been a place of hurt when I reflect on my dad. It also has become a place of joy as my children encourage and honor me. I am learning to balance the two places and learn. I am the kid who on Father’s Day bought cards for my mom. I am now the guy whose wife and kids lavish me with love.

I have documented well my lack of relationship and anger with my dad, but today as I reflect the anger has subsided, only a twinge here and there remains, which clear the thoughts. The power of forgiveness washes over me, fills my heart, and flows from my eyes as I thank God for relieving me. Thoughts in this space are precious and cleansing.

My dad did two things I can clearly remember. He taught me to work; he would force me up Saturday mornings and daily during the summer to go with him on his construction jobs. Up at 6am to load the truck while he ate breakfast. These mornings helped me acquire a work habit by the age 11 that I would not have had if it were not for him. The other thing that’s clear to me today is kinda weird, but my dad was a tough guy. He had a rule: if someone hits, you hit them back. He meant this. Anytime I found myself in a fight and dad was there watching, I had to defend myself. This made me a pretty dirty fighter, picking up things to hit people so I could end the fight as soon as possible. Two lessons – work and fight – are clear in my head. Dad drove those deep into my consciousness, and both over time have served well.

My present life calls for crazy hours, long weeks, and little time off. I work, and I work hard. I have to work at being balanced in life so that work doesn’t own me but is used to bring honor to my family and to God.

My current life calls for me to fight with and for people who may be vulnerable for one reason or another. I fight for justice, and I fight hard. I have to constantly check motives in this space to make sure I am not reacting to people because they “hit” me. The streets can ruse up fast in me sometimes and picking up the preverbal stick is a temptation to avoid.

So for kids like me, whose dads disappoint, there is hope that one day small lessons, even the ones that are quite dysfunctional, can be turned into something beautiful in your life. My dad left when I was 11 or 12 years old,  and I am now 50, still recovering. Have grace for yourself and others in the process. I am the first to admit it’s not easy, quite confusing and may take a long time to process.

But the road towards healing, starts with forgiveness.

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Leroy1Leroy Barber has dedicated more than 25 years to eradicating poverty, confronting homelessness, restoring local neighborhoods, healing racism, and living what Dr. King called “the beloved community.”
In 1989, burdened by the plight of Philadelphia’s homeless population, he and his wife Donna founded Restoration Ministries, a non-profit created to serve homeless families and children living on the streets. Licensed and ordained at Mt Zion Baptist Church, he served as the youth director with Donna, and as the associate minister of evangelism.
In 2007 Leroy became president of Mission Year and led the organization until 2013. He also served as co-executive director of FCS Urban Ministries from 2009 to 2013.
Leroy is currently the Global Executive Director of Word Made Flesh, an international, incarnational mission among the most vulnerable of the world’s poor. He serves on the boards of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), The Simple Way and EEN, the Evangelical Environmental Network. He is the author of New Neighbor: An Invitation to Join Beloved Community, Everyday Missions: How Ordinary People Can Change the World, (IVP) and Red, Yellow, Brown, Black and White (Jericho).
Leroy has been married to Donna for the past 30 years and together they have five children – Jessica, Joshua, Joel, Asha and Jonathan.

#FreshOffTheBoat? I Liked It

Some quick, unedited thoughts in reaction to tonight’s premiere (FINALLY) of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat because I want to know your thoughts. I’ll go first. (THERE ARE SOME SORT OF SPOILERS…)

  • I liked it. I thought it was funny. I like the kind of funny where I laugh out loud, and I laughed out loud. And my sons who are 15 and 13 sat down with me to watch both episodes and laughed, related, and repeated lines.
  • Constance Wu’s portrayal of the mother Jessica Huang was lovely. She loves her children and her husband, but she isn’t going to take things lying down. She doesn’t mince words, but she isn’t one-dimensional. Hmmmm.
  • There were as many “jabs” at white culture/people as there were stereotypes of Asian/Taiwanese American culture. White people food, white people bowing, white suburban SAHMs talking loudly, fast, and over anyone else alongside the grandmother who doesn’t speak English, stinky Asian food, and Chinese Learning Centers (CLC, which of course my sons thought meant College of Lake County). I grew up calling white people and their food “Americans” and “American food,” which to some degree still holds true in American culture.
  • There were so many moments that sent me back to childhood. The stinky food thing. My sons started reminding each other about “the time you brought insert-some Asian food-here” to school and what reactions they received. My parents sometimes still talk about how their clothes smell after being at Korean bbq restaurant. The CLC thing never happened, but the push to excel meant my parents MADE Korean language worksheets and photocopied academic workbooks (I couldn’t write inside of them because they would re-use the book for my younger sister or make new copies of sheets when I didn’t complete them correctly) for us to do OVER THE SUMMER.
  • Yes, some of those things that rang true border on stereotypes, which is probably why I read many, many comments about how the show was good but not perfect…
  • But WHY DOES THIS SHOW HAVE TO BE PERFECT??? Why are so many of us Asian Americans adding that caveat? How many shows are perfect? I get it. This is the first show in 20 years featuring a family that looks remotely like mine so there is a lot of pressure. The pressure is real in terms of the network, etc. but it isn’t real in that the “Asian American community” does not, should not carry the burden of perfectly representing our story because there is no one story. I understand the burden in so many ways, but again I want to be held accountable and hold others accountable. How might we be perpetuating the stereotype of the model minority by expecting, even daresay hoping, this show, this ONE SHOW, would perfectly represent a multicultural community? It can’t.
  • I’m grateful the show took on double standards and the word “chink.” I was caught a little off guard when it happened because you never get used to that, and why should we. But when the parents defended Eddie and asked why the other boy, who was black, and his parents were not in the principal’s office for using a racial epithet I said, “YES!” Now, I don’t know how many Taiwanese parents would’ve done that, but as a parent and as an adult who still hears “chink” thrown at me or my family I appreciated the call out. For the record, I didn’t punch back because I wasn’t going to start something I couldn’t finish. I swore back in Korean.
  • It mattered to my sons. I was surprised that they wanted to sit with me to watch it live because who does that anymore. But there they were laughing and following along. They both agreed it will go into the DVR queue and when asked why they liked it both of them said they liked seeing Asians on tv. “The Asians. They are like us.” Yes, they are.

OK. Unfiltered, quick, off-the-cuff thoughts to jump into the conversation. I’d love to hear from all of you, Asian and non-Asian American!!

  • Did you watch it? Why or why not?
  • If you watched it, what did you think?
  • What did you like the most? What made you cringe? Why?
  • What were the things you resonated with? What didn’t you understand or get?
  • Whatever else you want to add. 🙂

 

 

Don’t call me Fresh Off the Boat

If you haven’t already heard, a new family is hitting the airwaves tomorrow (Wednesday 8:30|7:30c on ABC), and I am excited, nervous, curious, and afraid. It’s not every decade you get to see an Asian American family featured in an episode of a television show, let alone an ENTIRE television series, but that’s what we’re going to get with “Fresh Off the Boat.”

Did I mention I am excited and afraid?

The show is based on Chef Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same title, and you can read all about the show here. It is the story of an immigrant family experiencing culture shock as they chase after the American dream. I haven’t gotten a sneak peek; I’ve seen what the general public has seen.

And I am hopeful but I am holding my breath.

Eddie’s family looks like mine in the way all East Asians can get lumped together under the umbrella of Asian Americans. We look alike without actually looking alike. The family featured on the show has roots in Taiwan, which actually is an entirely different country than the one my family and I immigrated from (South Korea, which is different than North Korea). But for all intents and purposes, Eddie and his family are my family.

Why? BECAUSE WE ARE NEVER ON TELEVISION. Yes, Lucy Liu has a role. Yes, John Cho had a leading role in a romantic comedy that was canceled (Selfie, if you didn’t know). Yes, we Asian Americans can also claim Steven Yeun in The Walking Dead. Yes, there are other Asian American actors currently on network television but I would have to Google them in order to name them. If you are white, Anglo, or can pass as either you have just about everyone else. Seriously.

Even growing up in the church, God, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were all depicted as white. Think Sistine Chapel. Think felt story boards. I hear Burl Ives’ voice in the Bible story audio cassettes my parents bought me and my sister. The only time God wasn’t white was when He was Black, thanks to Bill Cosby.

No one sounded or looked like me because the underlying message I got was that no one wanted to sound like or look like me. It wasn’t all that underlying. I may be 44 years old, but the teasing, bullying, and physical harassment were memories formed well into my 20s. Classmates making fun of my name, my eyes, and my nose, and laughing at what they thought I might be eating or the way they thought my family might speak. Boys in the form of grown men driving pick up trucks slowing down screaming racial slurs at me as I walked the neighborhood, driving back around just in case I didn’t understand the first time.

“Go back to where you came from, Chink! Gook! This is America! Learn to speak English. Did you hear me? Love me long time.”

I don’t know how Eddie’s story pans out in the series, but I found solace, courage, and healing in a group of Asian American Christians as an undergrad. This thoughtful group of college students from all over the country understood me in a way other friends had not. They understood my faith in Jesus and the complicated experiences of growing up as an immigrant or as the child of immigrants. Our collective pain and our collective joys became our inside jokes. We had lived through common experiences that set us apart from the white students (and the black students), and we shared words in our mother tongues, food from our mother’s kitchens, and lecture notes and study guides when we could. We knew what it was like to be the foreigner, the stranger. We understood the enormous pressure to succeed because of the great cost our parents had paid. We understood no one wanted to be like us (unless they thought we all set the curve in the classes); that was going to be up to us. We had to learn to love ourselves as God had created us. Imago Dei. In His image.

So those jokes, those were the jokes we made about ourselves for ourselves. FOB or “fresh off the boat” was a label we applied to ourselves even after so many others had been forced upon us.

Those were our jokes, our jokes to tell ourselves in the safety and loyalty of one another.

I’m hopeful non-Asian American America will finally learn to laugh with us and stop laughing at us, but I’m still holding my breath.

Vitamin L Diary: Motherhood & #flymysweet

Tonight is the night before she leaves for college, and the dining room is filled with laughter and chatter. There are only two other young women in her incredible circle of friends who are still “in town” waiting, and tonight is a night for friendship.

I sat there with them for awhile, laughing at a Facebook post, our lack of sewing skills in comparison to Bethany, and cried a little bit. It has been such an honor to be allowed to be a part of that sacred space of friendship, and it was time to honor it even more by stepping away. It’s time.

Depression haunted me in my childhood, but I remember distinctly coming home from the hospital with this tiny peanut of a newborn who came with no instructions. I was in pain from an emergency postpartum surgery, unable to do just about anything without incredible pain and feeling quite unlike myself. Five months later with friends in from out of town I recall telling them that I didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like myself. I wasn’t sure if I could feel anything really.

I didn’t look sad in the photos. I didn’t walk around with an animated cloud hovering around my head. I just kept moving.

Gratefully, it has been five years since I sought treatment – a combination of counseling and an antidepressant. I continue to shake off cultural stereotypes and stigma associated with depression, anxiety, and medication. There are some who do not understand how a faithful, evangelical Christian could depend on medication to fight off something that perhaps more prayer and faithfulness could overcome. There are some in my own family who do not approve of my sharing publicly that I am on (whisper) medication. Depression and anxiety do not define me, but the reality is that my mental health is part of me. It is a part of any human being – a God-ordained intersection between soul, mind, and body. We share the earth with other living things, but there is no other living thing quite like us humans.

And I realized again today, as I sat with my son at a medical appointment, that depression and anxiety are a part of my life as mother and a part of my children’s lives. We were asked about family medical history. “Is there anyone in the family with depression or anxiety? Is there anyone in the family who has committed suicide?” Yes, there is heart disease and high blood pressure as well as depression and suicide. Even as my children grow up and mature, their family history follows them and is a part of their story as well.

So as we come to this part of my story as a mother of a college freshman soul, mind, and body intersect. The tears are right there, clinging to my eyes ready to roll out at a moment’s notice. My heart is pounding in anticipation of the incredible things she will see and do in college. I can imagine her rehearsing, choreographing, learning to connect her soul, mind, and body, and I smile like a madwoman. And I know we will drive home with one less body in the car with her smile and spirit lingering. My soul is appropriately, gloriously conflicted, and my mind and body start to take over with tears, smiles, and fear.

How will my brain translate all that is going on in my soul? Will the depression and anxiety come to visit as I enter into a quieter season or will the 10 milligrams keep doing their thing? Will I have the courage to set aside fear and seek out help, ask for the company of friends or a walk with my husband?

Worse yet, will my daughter lose the genetic crapshoot and experience a new dark night of the soul? Will the transitions overwhelm her in an unexpected way? Have I given her the tools, the words, the freedom to know the signs and ask for help? Have I done all that I can do before she goes?

There is no way to know, but there is a way to cope and live. Dear Readers and friends, please hope with me. Pray with me. Pray for daughters and sons launching off into new experiences and their parents who all know there is little we can do to protect them forever. Pray that the lies of stereotypes and stigma don’t keep them from getting help. Pray for friends and mentors who aren’t afraid to offer and get them help. And I pray history and story will ground my daughter and hope and faith will shape her future.

#flymysweet

 

 

 

Camping and Crossing Cultures

I’m heading out Thursday to speak and learn at The Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC.

I’m not sure what I’m getting into.

I’ve been told by past attendees that I am in for a great experience – community, learning, sharing, faith, and so much more. I have no reason to not believe them, but let’s be honest. When I first heard about “the Goose” two years ago, I imagined a bunch of white faith-y, hipster-ish, slightly granola folks camping and enjoying it. For those of you who know me, you see where I’m headed with this. For those of you who are still getting to know me, I’ve been known to take my mani/pedi supplies with me to the Upper Peninsula when traveling there for student leadership training, and I once drove to Madison for staff training with my paraffin wax bath to treat some friends to a little pampering.  I was a Girl Scout up until junior high school, and I did go camping as recently as 1995. I sent my kids “camping” as in bible camp. And for some unknown reason we have a camping mess kit, which also in on my packing list for the Goose.

So is a headlamp (shout out goes to Sabrina who introduced me to the headlamp and has been known to be my twin).

Now, I do want to clear the air here. I am a suburbanite with a conscience. I make my own granola and pancake mix because it tastes better. I love resale shops, garage sales, and my church rummage sale. I repainted furniture and frames before there was Pinterest. I have a veggie/herb garden, and I don’t plant annuals. We have three rain barrels and two compost bins cooking up earthy perfection. We recycle like nobody’s business with more recycling than actual garbage that we cut back our garbage pick-ups. My parents taught me about reuse/recycle/repurpose before it was a thing. She used cloth diapers before there were pick-up services and before she owned her own washer and dryer. My dad could store just about anything in a Hills Bros. coffee can so he did. We used every page of every spiral notebook, and showers were taken military style. My mother gardened or foraged in the forest preserves because we couldn’t find certain vegetables and herbs in the “American” grocery stores and those were the days before HMart. And they still find paper towels extremely wasteful.

So I’m not completely outside of some creation care practices and homesteading because that actually comes natural to me from a different vantage point. It wasn’t a choice of luxury/stewardship but of survival. But there is something I don’t exactly know how to describe that makes the idea of being out in a more rural part of the country uncomfortable for me. Deeply unsettling and uncomfortable.

My parents wanted me and my sister to see and experience as much of America as we could on a budget so we drove. “We” meaning mostly my father, hopped up on caffeine (instant coffee made in the car with water we carried in jugs and thermoses). One summer we drove from Chicago all the way to Vancouver, Canada and back. Everyone in the car made it back alive. Through the years we saw Pikes Peak, Mt. Rushmore, Old Faithful, the Grand Tetons, the Smoky Mountains, Acadia National Park, Wall Drug and Disney World. They exposed me to more of America than all my history classes combined. And they were right when they drilled into my head that one day I would look back and appreciate those trips because I do, which is why we road trip with our three kids as well. We, too, are creating gilded memories, my dear readers, one mile at a time.

But another thing I remember, which is probably why the Goose is making me feel a bit uneasy, is that along every stop our family would get stared at. Not looked at. Not a glance. Not a friendly “oh, you’re a tourist let me help you” look. People of all ages would stare at us like we were monkeys at their circus. It didn’t matter where – in restaurants, gas stations, national parks, the motel pool, or the local grocery store. It happened much less on our trips to Niagara Falls (Canadian side) and New York City, but outside of those two trips I remember the looks we got.

My sister recalls the two of us roaming the aisles of a grocery store on one of our family road trips when I caught someone staring at us. Apparently, I looked over and said “Why don’t you take a picture. It lasts longer.” I do not recall this specific incident, but it sounds like something I would do. And while I know in my heart the Goose isn’t going to be a repeat of that, there is also a part of me that isn’t exactly sure or convinced it won’t happen.

So why did I agree to go? Because some of us need to keep building those bridges and crossing cultures even if it means packing a mess kit, your own linens, staying at a hostel, reconsidering footwear, and bringing a headlamp. Sometimes living out the Gospel and truly living into my identity as a Christian means being the object of a stranger’s stare, being asked “No, where do you really come from?” or simply going to a campground. I am also going because I want to challenge the many sisters and brothers of all shades who find that environment and culture home to consider what bridges they ought to consider building or cultures they ought to cross and what “traditions” are actually uninviting, unwelcoming to those of us who are too often reminded we don’t belong unless we conform or assimilate. I am going to see how open-hearted I can be and how open-hearted others are as well.

I’m just not sure what I’m getting into.

 

The Vitamin L Diary: It’s Not Hidden. It’s Ignored, Excused, Shameful, and Silenced. No More.

No more.

Jiwon Lee. Kevin Lee. Andrew Sun.

The 52-year-old Korean vice-principal of Danwon High School hung himself after more than 200 students remained missing after the tragic April ferry disaster.

University of Illinois student Hye Min Choi, 19, remains missing after his luggage arrived at its destination but he did not.

A Huffington Post article by Andrew Lam starts out declaring mental health issues and suicide in the Asian American community is a hidden tragedy.

It is not. It is out in the open. It’s on television, in the newspapers, in the stats. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Asian American women ages 15-24. Did you read that and let it sink in?

SUICIDE is the SECOND-LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH AMONG ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN AGES 15-24.

Why and how is this hidden? When I look at my own life I cannot ignore the impact of mental illness and suicide among Asians and Asian Americans.

My cousins. My aunt. Me. A college girlfriend. A friend from my high school youth group. A freshman at Northwestern University during my years on staff with the Asian American InterVarsity chapter. Countless students struggling with depression and anxiety. They were not hidden even as some of them tried desperately tried to hide what they thought was failure, shameful, a burden, a sin.

I have written about my own life with depression and about being on an antidepressant. The decision to “go public” was not an easy one. My husband initially was reluctant about it for the same reasons I was as well. I waited a year, all the while under the care of doctors and taking Lexapro, before writing and speaking publicly about it because I wasn’t sure how my extended family and those connected to them would respond.

Asians and Asian Americans are communal and that value has its good days and its “need Jesus days” and when it comes to mental illness the Church needs to speak Jesus loudly and clearly. The fear is that a diagnosis of mental illness, made worse if it goes public, will not only reflect poorly on the individual but on the entire family. And if the family and the family’s network doesn’t understand the physiology and science behind the illness, fear drives people and their families into hiding.

I am writing this as a Christian who is deeply aware of my cultural lenses and privileges, and I’m willing to beat the drum on this. Asian and Asian American Christians, we need to get out heads out of our butts. We need to talk about mental illness, about our questions and fears. We need to pray and invite doctors into the conversations. We need to ask for help, and we need to get help for ourselves and for the ones we love. We need to stop talking about this in hushed tones and whispers because we live in the now and not yet – in the tension of cultures and brokenness and hope, and we cannot let the Enemy keep telling us lies and letting our brothers and sisters believe the lies.

We have to stop the insidious message that failing to be the perfect fill-in-the-blank means we are worthless, a burden, an embarrassment.

We must stop shoving God to the side and replacing faithfulness with GPAs, test scores, and academic achievement.

We must identify the brokenness in our families, stop the cycle of honoring the American Dream over following Jesus, become parents who fiercely love our children by naming our mistakes and apologizing for them when we are jerks.

We must learn to talk about mental illness like an illness and not a sin. I repeat. Mental illness is not a sin. And neither – mental illness OR sin – should be left hidden in our Christian communities.

We have to face the music. We have sinned by not identifying the broken patterns of parenting and relating to one another that fuel the false narrative that material and academic success=faithfulness and health.

We have to break the model minority stereotype because it isn’t a compliment. It isn’t positive. It doesn’t help our community or make it easier for us to be Americans. A stereotype is a broken image that is used by and against others to demean, degrade, and reduce others.

And I write this with the weight and fear that my depression could be genetic and that the many years I parented while untreated for my depression has already left a mark that will take equal measure of prayer and medical & psychological intervention. I worry and pray that my depression isn’t passed on to my daughter and sons. I do not want this kind of suffering for them, but I also cannot pray away suffering. The Christian life isn’t about running away from suffering, and I am afraid our silence has been exactly that.

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month, and I have almost gotten away with not talking about it because frankly I’m a bit ambivalent about it for reasons I may blog about later. But this year the theme is #IAmBeyond and personally that evokes anger, strength, voice, hope, and action.

#IAmBeyond silence and stigmas

#IAmBeyond the lie that depression is a sin

#IAmBeyond hiding

#IAmBeyond keeping our stories silent to save face

#IAmBeyond the model minority myth

#IAmBeyond believing silence makes it go away

 

 

 

 

Hearing and Speaking “Ching Chong”

I am always a bit stunned and saddened to hear children speak Ching Chong, especially when they do it in the presence of their parents without fear of being corrected or stopped.

The other day as we were trying to enjoy a windy 65-degree day at the beach we could not but overhear three families sitting in front of us discuss the uselessness of spending time to learn a second language. As if on cue, one of the kids started in on the Ching Chong with at least one other child and one adult chiming in. Gotta love those everyday racist experiences.

I cannot tell you how tired I am of having to bite my tongue when really what I want to do is approach the offending parties and explain to them how ignorant, short-sighted, and limiting their attitudes and action actually are. I sat there, staring at my husband while practicing mindful breathing when in reality I wanted to say as they passed by, “Oh, how good you Engirsh and Ching Chong speak. Almost perfect for Haole like you. Welcome to America.”

As you can see, I need Jesus because I have practiced this conversation for too long.

The irony is that language immersion programs and second language programs are growing because America continues to slip behind not only in math and sciences but also in its ability to train multicultural, multilingual skilled workers.

The irony is that I grew up bilingual, lost much of my Korean language skills as I immersed myself in my academics, learned enough Spanish to help my kids through high school Spanish, and hated the way my parents spoke English with an accent when I was younger.

It was bad enough that I looked so weird compared to the beautiful, popular girls at school and church. It was hard knowing that my home smelled weird because of the pickled, fermented cabbage and radishes and that I probably smelled weird, too. It was humiliating and terrifying to walk home, ride the bus, walk the halls knowing that there were boys and girls who threatened to beat me up, screamed obscenities at me, and made elementary school worse than it needed to.

I loved and hated being who I was. I fiercely loved and hated my parents for their broken English and flawless Korean. And I didn’t understand until at least a decade later that regardless of the Ching Chong American kids would use to taunt me and my family it was our very ability to speak in two languages interchangeably that put us squarely in the lead of the American dream.

My parents may speak with an accent but they speak two languages. Ching Chong be damned.

But like I said, I need Jesus.

I don’t need the American dream as much as I have needed to plunge into the pain of being an outsider and embrace my multifaceted identity as a Christian Asian American/Korean American working married mother of three in the suburbs as a gift to steward not for revenge or self-righteousness but for Kingdom purposes. I have continued to appreciate the gift of language(s) and culture, and while I struggle with the anger that too quickly bubbles up inside at the Ching Chong comments I also quickly fall into a deep sadness for those who do not see the diversity and beauty of all God’s people.

There is such a limited view of God if we only know Him through the eyes of one language, one culture. Just like meaning gets lost in the translation between languages, no single culture or language can fully express, explain, proclaim the fullness of who God is and what the Gospel is. We can get a glimpse, even a blurry yet beautiful picture but it’s not complete.

So I must also correct my image of those families, children and adults who think speaking Ching Chong is funny and harmless. They are not my enemies. They are the neighbors I am called to love, and if they can’t speak my language I must learn to speak theirs. Sigh. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor.

Which leads me back to those families on the beach. They are back today. Pray with me that my scowl softens and that maybe a day at the beach will be the perfect opportunity for me to stretch my multilingual skills.