When Life and Death and Life Get in the Way

My grandmother Hee Soon Shin passed away this evening at 5:45 pm. She took her final breaths surrounded by two of her children, one of her sons-in-law and two of her granddaughters. She lived a full 91 years in two countries and several cultural shifts. She left this side of heaven with the same grace and strength I have always associated with her.

She was a widow before she hit her 40s, during the Korean War, with five young children in her care. Shortly after her husband’s death, she lost a daughter – an aunt I had never heard about until I was already a mother myself. She never remarried. I asked her once why she never remarried. She smiled, quickly covering her sweet grin with her right hand, and said in our mother tongue, “It’s not that I didn’t have the chance. But I had children, and I didn’t know if any man could love them like their own. Besides, I had already been married. Why did I need to do that again?”

My sister and I were sitting bedside this evening, urging our own mother and aunt out the door so they could run home, change out of their church garb, and return having prepared themselves to keep vigil. We had spent the day together, at one point in the hospital laughing as we noticed my grandmother was being kept company my mother and her two daughters – three generations of women born into varying degrees (if there is such a thing, truly) of patriarchy. My grandmother’s breathing had already slowed, but as they left my mother and aunt paused to say another goodbye. We noticed my grandmother’s breathing continued to shallow and slow. The stillness, another breath, another pause, another breath, another pause longer than the first.

I suspect my mother is still holding her breath. Waiting.

My grandmother was always a lady. I remember watching her wash her face, a painstaking ritual of cleansing, rinsing, refilling the sink with clean water to rinse her face again. She moisturized religiously, patting, never rubbing, her face. She massaged her neck and hands. Her hair was always cut and styled, her clothes tailored and pressed. She always covered her mouth when she laughed. Fortunately for me and my sister, we inherited some of those genes, though I suspect my tendency to smile and laugh with a wide opened mouth and wild hand gestures are a product of culture and recessive genes.

She came with me and my mother to get tattoos. It was actually a multigenerational field trip of vanity – my mother and grandmother having their eyebrows tattooed while I had my eyeliner, top and bottom, done in between nursing Bethany who came along in her car seat. I will never forget the four of us sitting over steaming bowls of rice and soup after having needles poke ink into our skin. Three of us with eyelids and brows puffy and shiny from the assault staring at each other, laughing over what we had just done, looking at Bethany sleeping in her carseat. Four generations of Korean (American) women who would share creased eyelids and a love for fashion, makeup and style.

She often vacillated between staunch traditionalist – especially thrilled that her first two granddaughters (me and my sister, the only children of her oldest surviving daughter, would give her five great-grandsons), and moments of almost-feminist – supporting my decision to keep my maiden name legally and professionally. She worried about my career ambitions getting in the way of taking care of my husband and children, but she would often tell me how blessed I was to have a husband who loved and respected me for and encouraged me to pursue those very ambitions.

I was supposed to leave for California Tuesday morning for a trip to speak at Pepperdine University’s chapel service Wednesday morning. Those ambitions that often conflicted both my grandmother and my mother (who am I kidding, those ambitions conflicted me!) brewing and developing and growing through writing and speaking and following God’s call and opportunities…instead of speaking to college student’s about the pain of being an outcast and alone and the grace, belonging and power of Christ I will be grieving, remembering, and learning. Sometimes, just when you think you’ve figured life out, life changes.

My grandmother lived through the Japanese occupation of Korea, the Korean War, and martial law. She lived through the death of an infant child, her husband, and a daughter all before immigrating to the United States. She was one of “those” people who never learned the language beyond a very, very polite, “I don’t understand. No English.” and yet she remained the matriarch, setting right her three daughters and son and their spouses; four granddaughters and four grandsons; and three great granddaughters and six great grandsons.

She and I didn’t meet until I was in elementary school, after my tongue had lost some of its Korean fluency. Over the years, my tongue spoke less and less Korean, but I understood her fierce love for three generations, each generation speaking and knowing less of her world yet still connected through blood and faith.

It’s way past my Lenten bedtime, but as I finally make my way to sleep I will remember how my grandmother taught me about self-care, grace, and strength. I will wash and moisturize my face. I will rub lotion into my hands. And I will rest in my Christ’s love.

75 Years a Slave & Why I Watch the Oscars

Lupita Nyong’o danced with Pharrel like the royalty she is. Her genuine joy, surprise, and awe after hearing her name announced as the winner of the Best Supporting Actress award made my heart swell. Her walk up the stairs, spreading the pleats of that incredible dress like a fan was the way to work that dress.

And it was an incredible moment in history.

It was 75 years since Hattie McDaniel, fondly or reluctantly remembered for her role as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind, became the first Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She was barred from attending the movie premiere in 1939 in Atlanta, GA. McDaniel and her escort sat alone at a segregated table apart from the film’s other stars. Yes, she sat at the “coloreds only” table.

So, it didn’t escape notice during the conversation that ensued in our home that despite it being 75 years later, the role was that of a slave. Nyong’o understood the power of her role when she said, “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s.” Her role doesn’t take away from her award or from the power and beauty of her performance (yes, I did watch the movie, and, yes, I recommend it).

Other Black female winners included Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost (1990), Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball (2001), Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls (2006), Mo’Nique for Precious (2009) and Octavia Spencer for The Help (2011).

Hmmmmm.

Yes, these women voluntarily took these roles. Yes, McDaniels, Spencer, and Nyong’o knew they were playing slaves. Yes, Berry and Mo’Nique knew they were playing impoverished women. That leaves a ghost medium and a backup singer.

Seventy-five years between Mammy and Patsey, and the range of prime roles for Black women (never mind other women of color) seem rather, um, limited. What will it take, how long will it take for women of color to gain the experience, the networks, the audience to be offered the roles that so easily go to the likes all the women of non-color who dominate the awards circuit? How long before Asian and Asian American women are even up on the the big screen and littler screen in leading roles that are human beings? Please don’t name the five roles that are out there. Are there even five?

But why bother actually wasting five hours of my life when clearly I see and experience all of life as an Asian American woman and am going to notice these things anyway?

1. Because, despite a raging headache that pounded the back and sides of my brain, I am a sucker for fashion I can’t afford and would never buy even if I could afford some of it. I love the drape of a well-tailored dress or tux. I appreciate the aesthetic of fashion, and though I firmly believe the Fall of Humankind lead to all sorts of ick I am grateful we have moved beyond fig leaves, fur & leather.

2. Because the Oscars bring together the brokenness of this world together with the thing I believe God intended humankind to “do” – the creation of culture.

3. And because I also am an artist, the wife of an artist, and the mother of three artists. In my household five resides several writers, an aspiring screenplay writer/director, a dancer/choreographer, a seamstress/designer/styler, a photographer, a future master Lego builder, a satirist, and a comic book author. We are Christian home that continues to wrestle with what it looks like to be in this world but not of this world. We try to love our neighbors as ourselves by being neighbors who also watch things so we can have easy small talk and be neighbors who know what’s going on this world through a Christian lens, shaped by our Asian American immigrant experiences. We read (meaning two out of the five of us read without it being assigned) books, we get a paper newspaper and several magazines, we watch the news, etc. We shop at the mall, at the resale shops, and at all garage sales possible. We are first-world Christians desperately trying to live and be light by not hiding under a rock or bushel but by finding joy because we have the privilege and the opportunity to do so in incredibly easy but intentional ways.

So we sat together in the family room with the big screen tv and we watched, learned, and taught.

The five of us stayed up enjoying the likes of U2 (has anyone else noticed Bono can’t dance), Pink (I loved that dress!!), Idina Menzel (or Adele Menzeen, according to John Travolta, ugh), and Pharrel perform. (Pharrel, if you or your people are reading this, I have a daughter and two sons who can work it for your next multi-generational dance party.) We engaged them in critique and asked them about their observations. They noticed the plastic surgery and we talked about the world’s view and standard of beauty for men and women. We laughed when we all thought Jared Leto kind of looked like Jesus from the “Son of God” movie. We asked the kids which child would get the family to the Oscars. We cheered when the boys said they wanted to work their creative magic together. We cheered when our daughter mentioned choreographers can win Emmys. We all reacted to the Chevy commercial featuring Asian American children creating a movie by pointing at Peter, husband and dad, who made movies as a kid and still dreams about writing a screenplay. We noticed they cheered and recognized themselves and our family in a CHEVY COMMERCIAL but have never had that opportunity in an American sitcom or movie because obviously writers, casting directors, and producers don’t take race into consideration.

And in watching we continued to push ourselves and our children into the risky business of being in the world but not of the world. In many ways, it felt like an extension of Sunday worship as my heart, mind and soul continued to wrestle with the commandment to love my neighbor as myself when this world keeps telling me I am invisible.

 

#givingtuesday, anonymous & my kids

#givingtuesdayMy entire paycheck depends on the generosity of others. This has been the case for the more than 15 years I have worked with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Each month for 15+ years, individual donors have given financially to allow me to do my job. I know. It sounds crazy on multiple levels, right?

  1. Other people are giving money they have earned so that I can do a job that I love.
  2. In order for those people to know what I am doing and what the financial needs are, I have to invite/ask them to learn about what I do and consider giving financially.
  3. In order for me to be able to invite/ask others I am constantly digging deep into my heart and personal issues about money, self-worth, dependence on others, etc.
  4. If donations don’t come in, I don’t get paid my full salary.
  5. This model flies in the face of  the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” model of American opportunity because no matter what, I cannot make people give.
  6. AND I’m not the only one who lives this way!

So on this #givingtuesday I am giving thanks to the many, many individuals who have given not just on a Tuesday but for years and years to allow me to share the Good News of Jesus with students at Northwestern University, to train and lead the InterVarsity staff team at NU reaching so many corners of the campus, and to develop and help lead training that integrates cross-cultural skills and competencies into leadership development, evangelism and discipleship for campus staff and student leaders to more effectively reach a diverse student population in Illinois and Indiana!

One of the most encouraging gifts has been from “anonymous” every month for about a year. I have no idea who anonymous is, though selfishly I would like to know so I can thank anonymous. After 15+ years of living into #givingeveryday I am still learning the gift of giving is a gift for the giver and the receiver. Yes, there are times when I give out of guilt, and I am sure that some folks I’ve approached about giving financially to my work with InterVarsity wrestle with guilt. But that really isn’t what it is about.

My kids can be reluctant givers, but something about this time of the year brings out the very best in them. They give, much like anonymous I suppose, because they want to. They don’t have a lot of money. They are kids after all. Yet for the past few years, my youngest, Elias, money isn’t an issue. He spends generously and can’t wait for the family to open the gifts he has carefully selected for each person. He looks like he might burst with anticipation, hoping the gift will bring the recipient as much joy as it has given him to pick it out. Corban is a little older, a little more patient, but he is just as excited having asked me and Peter rather stealthily to take him out shopping without the siblings or without one of us around. Bethany is older, but just as thoughtful. The other day she asked me to take a look at the gift she had selected for Dad. She wanted to share the joy almost a month in advance with anyone who could keep a secret.

That is what is incredible about giving. The gift can be physically large or small. It can be financially costly or not. When givers like anonymous or my kids give it’s truly from the heart in a way that doesn’t allow for guilt. It only creates more space for joy and generosity.

So on this #givingtuesday take a moment to consider the various ways in which you can give joyfully.

And if you need some ideas, here are some of my personal favorites that make me giddy and excited.

International Justice Mission – an incredible human rights agency that rescues victims of slavery (yes, slavery still happens), sexual exploitation and other forms violent oppression. I learned of this organization through a family that has supported me through InterVarsity. See, giving is contagious.

Heifer International – as Korean Americans, my children also enjoy receiving additional financial gifts for New Year’s Day. We asked them to consider tithing – giving 10% or more – of their New Year’s bounty to charity, and several years ago they decided this was the charity of choice because who doesn’t love giving a water buffalo or a pig?!

Locally, I’ve been involved with Youth and Family Counseling here in Lake County, Illinois. The not-for-profit social service agency works to provide affordable mental health services. Let’s be honest. Mental health services is a trickier “need” to raise support for, but as one who is under treatment for depression because I have medical insurance I don’t and can’t take access to mental health services for granted.

And finally, there is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. If you know someone who works for InterVarsity, consider giving to her/his staff account. If you were involved with an IVCF chapter, consider giving to the staff who are currently serving your alma mater, even if you don’t know the person. And if you are still looking for a personal connection, you know me.

 

 

 

 

Book Club: Lean In & If I Wasn’t Afraid

Female accomplishments come at a cost. Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In, p. 17

What would you do if you weren’t afraid? p. 25

I’m finally at chapter one. Now, that isn’t to say I won’t jump back to the introduction.

Working in vocational ministry for 15 years as a married mother of one, two, and then three has come with great joy, transformation and cost. It’s easier to celebrate the joy and transformation, but it has not served me to dismiss the cost of pursuing this particular call as an Asian American Christian woman.

In the eyes of most of my family I still do not have a real job; as an Asian American woman “family” does not (if ever) mean my nuclear family. It means FAMILY – nuclear, of origin, and in-law with varying generational depths spanning continents and time. Despite working 40+ hours in this faux-job, the individual funding model used to raise support does not do me any favors. Traditional networks for missionary support require involvement in traditional evangelical networks from which I do not come from.

In the eyes of the Asian, and particularly the Korean-,  American evangelical church in the Midwest I am a bit of a anomaly, which is a polite way of saying I don’t fit. It ties back to vocational ministry not being a real job. I am not a pastor, nor am I a pastor’s wife. I am not a youth director, children’s pastor or women’s pastor. I am not credentialed – no MDiv, no M anything (not even Mrs. since I didn’t take my husband’s last name when we married), no ordination. We women are making strides, but one of my flaws is my impatience.

And there has been a cost to my husband and family. Imagine our horror when a pastor met privately with my husband about my behavior. Actually, I wasn’t surprised, which is the horror of it all.

It’s not all bad, not all horrible, but at a recent book club discussion I did share with my fellow readers and women that I am a bit tired of blazing trails. It gets lonely. It gets hard, confusing, and exhausting.

Which is where part of Sandberg’s motivation for her book comes in to nudge me back.

What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?  Actually, the question for me goes back a step. Why and of what am I afraid of? My faith should inform me. The Lord is my shepherd, and I lack nothing. The psalmist writes the same Lord “delivered me from all my fears” .

I am afraid of failing. Of success. Of disappointing others. Of trying too hard to please others. Of losing myself.

But if I wasn’t afraid, what would I do?

When I wasn’t afraid I managed to repel off of a mountain face in Colorado. I helped write a book. I told my husband to get his mother out of the delivery room. I asked a stranger if she was going to be OK because the young man she was with was yelling at her. I told people I was still sad, months after a miscarriage and years after my youngest child almost died. I asked for a brief leave of absence from work when things were getting emotionally difficult.

The Lord is my shepherd.

What are you afraid of? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

 

Book Club: Leaning In Into the Unknown

My husband just dropped me off at the airport. I haven’t seen my daughter all day. My two sons put themselves to bed. At least, I think they did.

I’m leaning in, and I have no idea what I am doing. I wish I had a clearer picture, but I don’t.

Sojourners and its founder Jim Wallis wanted to invest in a group of emerging leaders – not emerging as in the emerging church but emerging as in developing, in process, growing. I am honored to be a part of this group, and from the initial invitation I have been challenged to reconsider my presence, privilege, and power. I have asked myself what a suburban wife of one, mother of three is doing in a room with national leaders in social justice, advocacy, and public policy. I am not a pastor, social justice worker, founder of anything.

But apparently those weren’t the only qualifications. I continue to wrestle with the imposter syndrome, wondering when someone will figure out I actually DON’T belong in he room.

Have you ever felt that way?

But here I am waiting for my flight to D.C. – the last flight out today so I could catch my son’s last middle school band concert and still make it in time for the morning session.

My husband, as usual, told me I had to do this. And since he hears this so rarely…

He was right. I had to do this. Sandburg’s big picture message for women is that we shouldn’t take ourselves out of the game until we have to. That means silencing self-doubt, even when it’s REALLY LOUD. It means listening to God and knowing the talents and gifts He has given us are to be stewarded and developed, not buried, ignored, diminished, or disregarded.

I’m scared. I’m intimidated. I’m confused. I’m excited. I’m open to learning, failing, and leaning in.

Is it OK to admit all of those things?

Will you still like me? Wink, wink.

Another Lesson on White (Christian) Privilege From Cleveland

“I want everyone to know that the acts of the defendant is not a reflection of the Puerto Rican community here and in Puerto Rico.”  Cleveland Chief Assistant Prosecutor Victor Perez, at a press conference announcing initial charges against Ariel Castro.

When you are White, you never have to apologize for what another White person does, especially the really, really, really bad stuff. That is White privilege.

If you are White in America you are assumed to be an American. Not a U.S. citizen. Not naturalized. Not a legal resident of “fill-in-the-blank” descent. Just American. That is White privilege.

If a young White American bombs a federal building killing more than 160 people or guns down 20 elementary school children and 6 adults, no White American, male or female, in fear of retaliation, gets in front of the media and apologizes for White people. No officials during a press conference remind the audience that the acts of the defendant are not a reflection of White America. That is White privilege.

The kidnapping/rape/sick-to-your-stomach case in Cleveland is both unbelievable and hopeful. I desperately want more hopeful. I hope people like Charles Ramsey are in every neighborhood. I hope more missing children are found. I hope for justice and healing.

But I don’t know what to feel after hearing Maria Castro-Montes’ apology on behalf of the entire Castro family. I don’t know what is appropriate after hearing Cleveland’s chief assistant prosecutor address the pall of suspicion that falls over an entire community because of one person’s actions. (BTW, I can’t find a link to Perez’s comment I use at the start. I heard it on NPR this morning.)

Anger? Confusion? Disappointment? Resignation?

Why aren’t law enforcement officers and neighborhood religious leaders in front of the media apologizing for failing these three women, their families, the neighborhood? The women and a child were enslaved in their community. This didn’t happen in Puerto Rico. This happened in Cleveland. In America.

When news of a shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech started poring out, I remember emails and calls from colleagues and friends. We held our breath until the identity of the shooter was confirmed. And then we kept holding our breath. Koreans and Americans of Korean descent apologized. Young Asian American men were told in hushed voices and in knowing looks to lay low for a bit – retaliation  doesn’t necessarily distinguish between Korean American and, say, Chinese American. We felt under suspicion by the way media coverage used words to distinguish, differentiate, and define, reminding us that we were actually the “Others”.

I can’t do this turmoil in my heart justice. I can’t. I can’t believe Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight were enslaved and hidden in the middle of a neighborhood. I am amazed at their courage and at the story of their freedom. I am thankful Charles Ramsey didn’t ignore a woman’s scream for help. And I can’t stand that Ramsey’s past became part of the story and his words are becoming a minstrel show. I can’t stand that Perez felt it necessary and then publicly distanced an entire community from one person’s sins.

It’s only in God’s presence I can know deeply in my soul that my Asian-ness, what I often feel is my other-ness, is a reflection of God’s image. It is part of the plan. Just a part of the whole. We are all human, created male and female, in God’s image. Connected. Castro’s sin isn’t mine or Perez’s or anyone in the Puerto Rican community, but we are connected to one another through our humanity and our brokenness. We all sin.

 

In that way, my disappointment lies mostly with Christian leaders who stay silent on the issues of racial and social injustice, claiming those issues are not the gospel. How can what is happening to my brothers and sisters of any race or ethnicity not be a part of me and a part of how Jesus’ Good News changes the broken into wholeness? How can we as believers not come alongside Perez and Castro-Montes and say this isn’t about you being created in God’s image, your ethnicity and your race, but is about a broken majority culture our Church has both ignored and embraced?

That, my friends, is White Christian privilege.

 

Running in the Real World

My daughter Bethany will be running her first half marathon Sunday morning. She and my husband Peter have logged many training miles together having discovered the perfect race in a running magazine. “The Flying Pig” half marathon – perfect for the girl born in the year of the pig.

The only thing we worried about was keeping both father and daughter injury-free. But as we watched news unfold about the April 15th Boston Marathon bombing I realized that the real world continues to change. She asked if we should be worried about her race, and I was as honest as I could be.

Yes and no.

No one here in America expects to be bombed, and while I am well aware shootings are part of the day-to-day in many places across the U.S., bombings are not. Despite the Oklahoma City Bombing, the World Trade Center and 9/11, we don’t really worry about bombs. So no, don’t worry, my darling. Chances are The Flying Pig run and runners will finish in safety.

But if I stop just for just a moment longer the shadow of a darker reality can’t be ignored. Race organizers have changed gear check procedures and reminded runners not to leave things along the race course. Periodic checks and sweeps of the course will be completed, and anything found unattended will be thrown out. Running in the real world will have to look a little different, just like the landscaping around buildings changed with the addition of large concrete barricades a la planters and architectural eye candy. Just like airport security changed. Just like checking in at the school changed.

The real world plays off of our fears while simultaneously tricking us into believing steel doors with lockdown systems at schools will keep the crazy gunman out or limiting liquids to 3 oz. in a quart-size plastic bag will keep the airplane from blowing up or the ugly concrete planters in front of the important buildings will keep bombs from driving through the building.

So yes, my darling, running in the real world means I worry a little bit, because I don’t believe having runners’ gear checked into clear bags is going to keep you safe. The real world will never keep you safe, but don’t let that stop you from running your heart out.

 

20 Things I Learned Through 20 Years of Marriage

Trust me. The math actually works out. Peter and I have been married for 20 years. Some lessons were easier than others. Some are still in process. Some require a lifetime. I’m grateful beyond words, but this is a blog so words are required.

Here are some lessons about myself and about life through marriage learned in no particular order.

  1. I can be a selfish, whiny brat. Ask Peter.
  2. Planning a wedding is easier than loving and honoring your spouse in sickness and till death. (And I had one heck of a wedding.)
  3. Seek out marriage counseling early and often.
  4. Make new friends as a couple.
  5. Make new friends as individuals.
  6. Fall bowling leagues actually last through spring.
  7. I am far too practical to enjoy romance but apparently not so practical that I can’t enjoy sparkly things.
  8. Subwoofer/laser disc/DVD/Blu Ray is a love language for some people.
  9. I thought I married a mind reader. He did, too.
  10. Love is a verb. It is a choice. Everyday.
  11. I do not like “traditional” gender roles when it comes to cooking, cleaning and child rearing.
  12. I like “traditional” gender roles when it comes to shoveling, mowing or cutting down large trees.
  13. I do not like my husband associating with men who refer to parenting their own children as “babysitting”.
  14. I do not like associating with women who call what the fathers of their children do as “babysitting” .
  15. Sometimes you have to go to bed angry with each other because it’s better to go to bed with the understanding you will talk later than to argue when tired.
  16. Men aren’t the only ones who enjoy sex, think about sex or initiate sex.
  17. You really are marrying into a family, not marrying the individual.
  18. Children should not be the center of your marriage.
  19. The Church needs to talk more about healthy friendships and marriages because the world around me is still shouting louder and more effectively.
  20. It never hurts to say, “Thank you” and “I love you” for no other reason than you mean it.

Happy 20th anniversary to me and Peter. I am so glad I laughed through “Wayne’s World.” I am sorry it took me so long to stay awake (and then thoroughly enjoy “The Holy Grail”). I don’t think I will ever stay awake through “The Purple Rose of Cairo.”

 

How to Train a Kid & Thoughts After Career Day

This is a Smith-Corona portable manual typewriter. I remember using one of these when I was growing up. Clack, clack, clack. Ding.

This is a Smith-Corona portable manual typewriter. I remember using one of these when I was growing up. Clack, clack, clack. Ding.

Less than half of the 48 elementary school kids who sat in on my “writer/blogger” Career Day session recognized the photo of a manual typewriter, the writing tool I used in 1988 for “Basic Writing” – Medill School of Journalism’s freshman weed-out course for journalism majors.

A few of them had Instagram accounts. Many of them knew they were too young to be on Facebook, but a few of them had been promised an account for future birthdays. They all recognized my iPad and talked about typing on laptops.

Yet all of them were still thinking of writers in the more traditional sense – authors of books or writers of magazine or newspaper articles. Very few of them were thinking about writers in terms of web content, scripts for TV & movies, song lyrics, etc. The idea of writing a book or writing for a newspaper, both of which I have done, did not easily translate into the 21st century despite having been born into a fast-moving tech world.

My father had me keep a journal when I was young. I read the first entry from my yellow notebook to each Career Day group – Oct 13, 1978. It was journaling in the pre-blog decades – pencil and paper. Almost 30 years later, I’m still journaling – on paper and onto the internet.

I’m a parent now, and I am wondering what habits, skills, and values I am instilling and emphasizing in our day-to-day chaos that will serve my children well in the decades to come. It’s not just about jobs but about passions and the sweet spot when passions and vocation collide. My parents are immigrants, and I am the product of that pragmatism. Anderson Cooper could chase after his bliss. My job was to succeed. My parents didn’t leave a developing country on the verge of martial law so that I could follow my bliss. Bliss was a vocabulary word. My future depended on education and a job. The goal was to develop skills whether or not they were my gifts.

But life as the adult child of immigrants in this century continues to be that of navigating shifting sand. The kids at Career Day will most likely never know what a pension is, and who knows what will happen to Social Security. Kids today have parents who in earlier years may have expected companies and employees to live out loyalty in terms of job security instead of a punch card or plastic key fob for points. The job market, and the idea of a career continues to develop and change. It used to be who you knew. Now we add a touch of LinkedIn and Career.com. I thought I was ready, but I’m barely ready myself. I feel behind, and if I’m behind where are my kids?

So it got me thinking about Career Day and how the format has remained the same, but the careers and the idea of presenting options may have to change with the times as well as how we have conversations at dinner about school, grades, favorite subjects and “what do you want to do when you grow up?”.

That last question is a tough one because sometimes I feel like I’m still figuring that one out.

 

 

Rice Pudding and Other Cross-cultural Adventures as an Outsider

I eat a lot of rice – white, brown, sweet, wild, steamed, fried, with Spam, and with kimchee. It’s “just” rice, rice cakes, rice noodles, rice crackers, rice porridge. When I buy rice it is not in a box. It is in a 20# bag, which I empty into my rice dispenser. The rice cooker (mine plays a song) takes up precious countertop, right next to the toaster oven and the coffee grinder. I have spoons for serving rice.

But until Sunday I had never had rice pudding, and I didn’t know you could eat it with lingonberries. The occasion was my church’s 35th anniversary. My family has been there for at least 5 of those years. The festive, celebratory mood was obvious, and knowing that my church has been such a key place for so many throughout the years continues to give me hope that I too will feel a deeper sense of belonging in the years to come.

But I get impatient, and I get cranky. And I wonder if it’s OK that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week for Christians because on Sunday I really felt like the best I could do was eat and leave. I had to ask what “that dish” was, which I learned was rice pudding. I recognized the salmon and the ham & rolls. Thanks to my mom’s days at Motorola I recognized versions of broccoli salad and jello salad. And thanks to Ikea my boys and I recognized the meatballs and lingonberry as well as the blue and yellow. I felt like a guest at my own church.

I’ve been told by others that I am not alone, and that it takes time. But when you are in the moment(s), time is not what I want to give.

It was a homecoming for many, but it was another cross-cultural adventure for me. I felt so outside inside of my own church, and I am still wrestling with how I as a regular attender can engage well when on most Sundays my family and I stand out.  Our traditions are not part of the present or the past, and we are still trying to find our way to places to impact the present and future. I don’t want to get rid of the rice pudding or meatballs, but I really do think potstickers and seaweed would go well with the salmon.

Because it is in the breaking of bread (or breaking out the rice in its many versions) and in the act of fellowship amongst sisters and brothers in faith we should find that the differences matter because there is space to delight in the variety, creativity and abundance that is from God. Look around. God doesn’t paint all the leaves one shade yellow. Our differences don’t define us; our Creator does.

But that’s easy to say when no one is there to point out the differences and say “we celebrate God’s goodness this way, with this food, with these people”. At the last church we were a part of, we wrestled with the same issue. The church was started specifically for second-generation Korean American youth who were growing up in immigrant, Korean-speaking churches. (And if that doesn’t make any sense to you, please ask for a longer explanation because I would welcome that.) The youth grew up, got married to Koreans and non-Koreans. We had children. We celebrated milestones with kimbap, Korean-style wings, jjap-chae, and dduk. And we assumed everyone would know what it all was and would enjoy it because that is how we all celebrate. And we were wrong.

And so I take a deep breath and discover that rice pudding is OK (better with the lingonberries) though I prefer rice cakes or the meatballs. Because the idea of creating an inviting and welcoming space isn’t limited to Sundays and a church.