Saying “I Do” 6941 Days & Counting

Today my husband & I mark 19 years of marriage or 6941 days of choosing to say, “I do.”
Over the years whenever I have the ear of an excited bride- or groom-to-be I tell them to invest as much time into preparing for the marriage as they do for the wedding because with each day of marriage I have been reminded of how much grace, patience, faith, hope and love is required to make a marriage flourish.
And I don’t see any registries, wedding themes, or event planners offering those things. In fact, the very ‘things’ Peter and I stressed over, registered for, planned for or paid for captured, at most, a static snapshot of a day.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for our wedding photos (though I don’t know if I can say the same for our wedding video) and for the gifts the 1,000 guests at our big, fat Korean American wedding gave.
But as Peter and I get ready to celebrate our wedding anniversary, I can’t overlook the more difficult days when I had to learn over and over again that the wedding was over but the marriage would require daily recommitments.
It was easy to throw a party at the beginning.
So here’s to saying, “I’m sorry” and knowing what I am sorry for. To asking for forgiveness and extending it generously. To saying, “I love you” when it was a choice. To recognizing when we needed help and getting it. To learning about bowling, movies, dentures, coffee makers, memoirs, composting and jewelry even when it wasn’t our thing. To encouraging each other to chase a dream or two. To learning some lessons faster than others and being grateful we haven’t yet given up learning the more difficult ones.
Today I again say, “I do.”

Identity Formation & Barbie

I grew up with Barbie and her knock-off cousins. My sister and I had the townhouse with the elevator. The pool. The dream house. With all of the furniture. The remote-controlled Corvette.

The collection finally made complete after a family trip to the Motherland where, in the Itaewon shopping district, we found the perfect outfit for our blonde, blue-eyed and busty dolls – a Barbie-sized hanbok (traditional Korean dress). All Barbie needed was some major surgery, hair dye and contact lenses and she would look just like me and my sister on New Year’s Day.

So when my firstborn came of age I vowed to never buy her a Barbie. She received them as gifts and we did let her keep a few, including Mulan Barbie, and I even broke out my vintage Barbie Dream house and furniture.

I still have the dream house and furniture in the basement, as well as the Barbie hanbok. But hen again, there is a lot of other garbage in my basement.

Admittedly it is a love-hate relationship with Barbie because for all of objectification and stereotyping, she was a part of my childhood which included more friends who looked more and lived more like Barbie. And I wanted friends. I wanted to belong.

I still want to belong. Somewhere.

So when friends posted this link about an ‘adoption Barbie’ I needed a few days to digest it all. The doll has been around for a few years, but the conversations around adoption, identity, desire, broken cultural systems, cultural appropriation, family, assimilation, gender preferences, and citizenship are ancient. Take a look at the Bible and read about Ruth, Esther, the Samaritan Woman, the Bleeding Woman, and a host of other Sunday School classics with grown-up eyes. In many ways, as we
Americans open our eyes to human trafficking, we can see how the world has not changed in how it sees women and girls. We are a commodity that can be dispensed of or used for the benefit of others.

But our genuine desire to find ways to connect our personal stories and experiences can make the adoption Barbie seem rather innocuous of even helpful as a way to commemorate an adoptive child’s “gotcha day”.

My husband and I have been a part of three adoptions, vouching for our friends and writing letters for their case files. We have celebrated with many more friends who have journeyed years through adoption, some with unconditional support of their families and some with reserved support.

And as a mother of American-born Korean children I notice the abundance of blonde dolls and Caucasian role models.

Seriously. Why do you think I went out and bought a copy of Sports Illustrated?! Sports Illustrated?

JEREMY LIN!!!

Years ago I cried with a friend as I told the story of how my daughter wanted a doll with ‘pretty hair’, which I learned was code for blonde hair. I’m still waiting for an Asian American American Girl historical doll. I just don’t know how they would market Jade – the Japanese internment doll. (In my mind, Ivy doesn’t cut it. She’s just Julie’s best friend.)

So the adoption Barbie doll makes me a bit uneasy and leaves me confused. What do you think? Great idea? Weird idea? Savvy marketing? Opportunistic?

And how many of you still have a Barbie or one of her accessories from childhood?

No judging.

Lenten Laundry

I did not give up laundry for Lent. I have given up my gas dryer.

The dryer  (or from here on out, the D) stopped drying on January 29, well in advance of Lent and this intentional season of reflection and sacrifice.

The first two days without the D were a flurry of online searches for reviews and deals. Steam drying? Buy a new washer and D or just the D and wait for the washer to fail later? If we buy a washer should we buy front-loading or top-loading? If we are going to replace the D or both shouldn’t we remove the wallpaper and 40-year-old vinyl flooring? Wait, what is steam washing? What would Jesus do? Never mind. Jesus didn’t have two boys with stinky clothes, a daughter with even stinkier leotards and costumes, and a husband tracking in God knows what germs on scrubs. We were this close to ordering a new washer and dryer and….

Then one week without the D became two, and then my husband and I sat down to reflect.

With the D removed for scrap and the equally sudden loss of not one but two cars (both becoming scrap), we found ourselves with an unplanned opportunity to decide what we could do without and for what purpose. What would it look like, be like, feel like to simply do without what we had simply accepted as necessities of life if only for a short period of time? Instead of 12-months no interest, how about a few more weeks of saving, planning, and doing without so that we could simply purchase later what we thought we couldn’t do without charging right now?

Initially it meant getting used to crunchy towels, socks and underwear. The midwest winter, as mild as it has been, still means dry air that sucks up moisture. For us that has meant all of our clothes are a bit stiff (I’m not a fan of liquid fabric softener) and crunchy, but more than anything it has meant slowing down and being more aware.

No one can expect to have something washed, dried and folded on demand. Some loads take longer to air dry. Jeans can take up to two days. Some days there isn’t enough room to hang that favorite shirt or pair of pants. It’s also made us aware of how many articles of clothing we each have and what it really takes to keep it all clean because it is literally in front of us hanging on the rack in the middle of the family room or on the kitchen island or on the ironing board in my room. Oh, or on the lamp in the office or off the fan in my daughter’s room.

It’s a small sacrifice, but it continues to remind me of what I have assumed as convenient and/or necessary. I crave an ordered, aesthetically pleasing space. I don’t care what your space looks like, but I want mine neat and tidy. But laundry drying all over doesn’t lend itself to neat and tidy. It means my laundry, albeit clean laundry, is out for everyone to see.

Which is exactly why this continues to be a small but good discipline for me.

My laundry is out here for everyone to see, and my friends who knew of the demise of our D ask us about the replacement. I find myself explaining again why we’ve chosen to do without a little convenience – because it is reminding me Christ doesn’t call me to convenience but to Him. Sometimes getting rid of the convenience gives us space to do just that.

I can’t imagine many of you have given up your D, but what are you doing this Lenten season? Did you give us something in order to spend more time reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice? Has the sacrifice turned you more to Christ?

 

That’s Not Fair! Too Bad, Kid. Chores Aren’t Meant to be Fair.

There are so many my children will quickly deem “unfair”. Sometimes the distribution of chores appears to be unequal, which they cry foul. Sometimes someone gets the last ice cream sandwich, which elicits similar cries. My response is a finessed version of “Life is not fair. My job isn’t to make life fair for you. It’s to give you tools to learn to deal with unfairness and to live lives that can help right the wrongs not just for yourself but for everyone.”

Usually it’s just: “Too bad. Life isn’t fair.”

But with summer vacation on hand (can someone explain to me why we can’t have year-round school?!?!?) there is more time at home, which means more opportunities to point out the inequities in life….such as chores.

I grew up with an understanding that “we” were responsible for keeping things orderly and clean. “We” mean the four of us – mom, dad, me and my sister. Rooms were clean. Shelves were dusted. Dishes put away. We weren’t perfect, but chores were just part of life, which is what I’m striving for.

There are many days when I wish I had a cleaning genie who would come weekly or bi-weekly to do what I hate doing – the bathrooms. Truth be told there are other things that I don’t want to give up that would allow me the luxury of hiring help. I don’t want to give up my gym membership, haircuts, etc.

And, I don’t want my kids missing out on important life lessons like learning to clean a bathroom or mowing the lawn. This is not a condemnation of those who have household help AT ALL! But I need all of the help I can get, and I am finding that chores is one of those things in the parenting tool kit that I don’t necessarily enjoy but can be very helpful. If chores are the most unfair things my kids experience in their young lives then they are still way ahead of the curve.

I’m trying to explain that in the best way possible, to tell them and show them and help them understand that they are blessed in different ways than most children of this world. They are not “better off” necessarily but they certainly have the material things. I’m afraid, I have been far more diligent in creating patterns and routines when it comes to the kids’ chores than I have in building in spiritual disciplines, which in the long run will help them wrestle with issues of injustice.

Everyone knows that every Saturday morning there will be a flurry of cleaning bathrooms and refreshing towels and linens, but I am realizing as my kids are getting older that the value for fairness and justice will have to come from a much deeper place and more intentional place than clean bathrooms. Right?

So help a mother out. Be the village it takes to help me and one another because someday my kids will grow up and may be in your path. What “chores” are your children responsible for and how have you built that into their value system versus their to-do list? What spiritual disciplines have you built in to their lives and how has that changed them and you?

And, what chore would you avoid all together if you could? 😉

 

 

 

Moving From Fear to Faith to Belonging

Sometimes we agree to do risky things. I would have to say that agreeing to preach at my church on Mother’s Day was one of those things. Not only was I “Mom” I was “guest speaker/preacher”, and my church and I are still in what I would call the “pre-premarital counseling days” – we are getting to know each other after already having made an initial, mutual commitment to one another. But there is so much to learn about one another. And you, my lovely readers, know that I share quite a bit about myself and my faith. My preaching style reflects that, and I never know what God will do as people get used to the sound of my voice.

I felt very much in the zone this morning at both services, and was grateful at how I continued to hear God teach me thing about the passage. And the feedback was good, and I walked away grateful that God honored my faithfulness by helping many connect with God on this special day. Here is the script as I preached out of Mark 5:21-43.

Happy Mother’s Day! I am working on Mother’s Day.

To be frank, I am never quite sure how I feel about Mother’s Day. After I became a mother I became quite annoyed that only one day was set aside to celebrate my many accomplishments and contributions 😉

Yet, it’s honestly a tough time of the year. In fact, the entire month of May and the season of spring is fraught with complicated memories and emotions for me.

Thirteen years ago Peter and I welcomed spring with the grief of a miscarriage. I felt loss and a deep sense of shame that perhaps God was punishing me for my greediness. I already had a beautiful daughter. Friends and family tried to console me by reminding me of how lucky and blessed I already was with one child, almost taking away permission to grieve. Mother’s Day that year was complicated and I was afraid to hope for healing and for more children.

In 2005, we lost my mother-in-law, Rebekah Chang to kidney cancer and Mother’s Day that year was a bittersweet one as my husband continued to grieve his mother and I wrestled with how to properly grieve a MIL with whom I had had a tenuous relationship.

Spring usually marks a time of excitement in our home as school winds down and my kids look ahead to our annual trek to Cedar Campus, InterVarsity’s training and conference center in the UP. Five years ago forever changed my relationship with that blessed place as in a matter five days Corban got hit in the head with a rock almost needing stitches; I threw out my lower back and was hobbling around as I lead evangelism training; my mother suffered a heart attack and was in ICU and then the final straw – a series of seizures (to this day unexplained) that put Elias on death’s edge. I left Cedar Campus having taught students to share the Good News of Jesus, wondering if God had abandoned me.

And ever since then, spring marked my annual anxiety and panic attacks and bouts of depression as my family and I begin to turn our minds towards Cedar Campus. Ever since 2006, May and the celebration of Mother’s Day has felt a little like holding my breath and waiting for the crashing wave to pass.

Last year, shortly after Mother’s Day I found myself in my kitchen overcome by a tearful anxiety attack recalling the events of five years past – seeing Elias seizing, Bethany surrounded by other staff kids her age praying with her and for us, Corban rushing towards the closing ambulance doors asking for one last hug and feeling nothing by mind-numbing fear.

Shortly after Mother’s Day last year asking God for strength and faith to face my fears and overcome the social taboos surrounding counseling and medical intervention and sought help from a counselor and my medical doctor to address my fears, anxiety and depression.

Mother’s Day is not easy. Some of you have lost your mothers. Some of you are anxiously awaiting a child. Some of the mothers here have lost children. And many women are not yet and may never be mothers. Some of you can’t for obvious reasons can’t be mothers. And for others, you have your own complicated relationship with Mother’s Day and spring. How can we hope and celebrate when the day-to-day realities don’t fit neatly on a greeting card?

This passage in the Gospel of Mark reminds us that Jesus’ ministry meant redefining categories and relationships and power. Jesus’ ministry is one of hope and healing where fear and dread have once lived. Here we see Jairus , a synagogue ruler, meeting Jesus out in the streets beyond the walls of the synagogue where he has authority, power and influence, falling at Jesus’ feet asking for Jesus to heal his “little daughter” who is 12-years-old. He asks for Jesus to place His hands on her, believing out of fear and desperation that Jesus’ touch is all that is needed.

But in the midst of this story comes along an unnamed woman, who from all that we can gather has no other family, no sons to speak on her behalf, no husband to represent her, no father to ask for her healing. She has been bleeding for 12 years, separating her from public life. Walking into public she must announce her condition yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!” so that no other is affected by her affliction. Hers must be a personal and separating suffering, but her actions mirror that of the synagogue ruler. She seeks Jesus out in public, but instead of asking for a face-to-face audience, the woman reaches out to simply touch Jesus’ garment. I wonder if she had known that Jesus was on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter for surely in that time a true leader would show preference for a man and a male leader at that over a woman. But regardless, she reaches and immediately knows she has been freed. And Jesus knows power has gone out of him.

Imagine walking in the crowd at the Taste of Chicago and asking those around you, “Who touched me?” That’s just silly. And the disciples thought so too, answering rather sarcastically, “You see the people crowding against you, and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

Yet, the woman knows and just like Jairus, falls at Jesus’ feet. She is trembling with fear. The crowd could easily turn on her, her presence in public alone is cause for punishment. Her physical condition, though healed, is unspeakable.

And while Jairus is waiting for Jesus to heal his dying little daughter, Jesus does that very thing. Jesus heals his daughter. His cloak has stopped this woman’s bleeding of 12 years and then reorders society, culture, power and position by calling out to this woman, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

The suffering of 12 years of bleeding is over, but a woman in her situation during that time and culture suffered from so much more. Jesus’ healing and ministry is physical, emotional, spiritual, relational. She is Jesus daughter, a woman no longer unclean and untouchable and alone, but claimed as family and recognized by this Jesus. She belongs because of her faith.

But wait. What happened to Jairus? Imagine being in his place. Are you impatient? Angry? Desperate? Yes? How many time have you or I thought that God was paying too much attention to someone else’s pain and not addressing your own? Jairus receives news that his daughter is dead but Jesus quickly turns to Jairus and tells him before Jairus can utter a word, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”

After all, everyone has just witnessed this incredible physical healing as well as emotional and relational healing, but we all quickly forget how Jesus’ power and love conquers all divisions.

So he heals again. This time, the interaction is private with only Peter, James and John there in the presence of this family – father, mother, little daughter. Jesus is the one who reaches out and touches the dead girl’s hand. She, too, is unclean, just like the woman. And Jesus tells her to get up.

But sometimes the most important part of the story of transformation in our own lives and in the lives of the bleeding woman and Jairus and his family is the part after our encounter with Jesus.

Did the woman live as one of faith and one freed from her suffering and as a daughter of Jesus? How did Jairus and his family engage with those in the synagogue or the mourners who were crying in his home? Did those in the crowd welcome the woman who was no longer unclean into their community, and help her ease her fears and take away power from her personal pain? Did the mourners and those Jairus would later encounter in the synagogue play a part in releasing the secret by welcoming the 12-year-old girl and family back?

Before we walk away from this holy place this morning/afternoon, ready to take on the busy plans to celebrate and commemorate, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect. What will you do with your fears and faith? How will you or we as a body react in the face of another’s fear and faith? Are we here because we are ready to acknowledge our fears with our faith in Jesus and walk away freed of suffering or is it just one day of the week we set aside to acknowledge Jesus?

Panthera Tigris Mother

Yesterday was a banner day for me. One of my sons feigned illness because he had not prepared for a test, and I (along with the full support of my husband) forced him out of his bed and eventually back to school.

“You are not sick. You are tired. Being a student is your job, and you are responsible for completing your work whether or not you are tired. Please do not complain to me about being tired when you disobey me at bedtime and do not get to sleep when you should.

You are going back to school, and you have two choices. You can go to school in your pajamas, or you can get dressed before you go. Staying home is not a choice you get to make.”

Yup. That was me. Feel free to use the speech in your own home.

And then later in the evening the same son and I spent time going over some music for a band lesson. Please note that he asked me for help. We sat there, and I corrected his posture before we went over cut time versus common time, grace notes and posture. We went over and over and over the lines of music, and I became the human metronome – clapping, snapping, humming, tapping. I pushed him despite seeing his eyes start to tear up because I KNEW HE COULD DO IT. And he did. So there. I was exhausted and then after a few hours exhilarated, with a touch of guilt because I could’ve (should’ve?) changed my tone a teeny, tiny bit and smiled a little more so I wouldn’t look so strong and scary.

But he did get that short piece in cut time, and he did get that piece in 6/8 time.

But this afternoon, he is back where he should be (at school and then at track practice, which my husband and I forced him to participate in) and I am taking a break from reading the overall program director manual for InterVarsity’s Chapter Focus Week at Cedar Campus/Timberwolf. It’s interesting reading if you are getting ready to welcome college students to a week of leadership and Bible training and have very little first-hand knowledge of the administration that goes into the week before the actual week.

But even the best manuals need to be taken in slowly, with feeling, and right now what I am feeling is the need to dialogue and discuss.

Back in January when Amy Chua, the Wall Street Journal and everyone else with a tiny piece of the internet platform jumped into the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother debate, few of us had actually read the book. We read the excerpt and commentary, wondered aloud about the mental stability of mother and children, wrote about success and achievement, compared Western to Chinese/Asian/immigrant parenting, and I put my name on the waiting list at the library.

My number finally came up, and now I want to know if any of you read the book. What did you like about the book? How did Chua’s story make you think about your parenting style or that of your parents? What made you read the book, and was it worth your time? If your children are older, do you have any regrets about not pushing or pushing your children academically, musically, spiritually, etc.?

If you, my dear readers, jump in, I will follow. I promise. Rawr.

A Mission for Moms Free For the Courageous (and 1 book if you are game)

UPDATE: Thanks to my readers who commented, tweeted and linked this post. Thanks to a handy, dandy random number generator “Between Worlds” has won a copy of  “The Missional Mom” by Helen Lee.

Things I learned in adulthood but didn’t expect to learn:

  • Pimples do not stop just because wrinkles move in.
  • Peer pressure does not disappear just because you leave high school.
  • Becoming who you were meant to be can be just as difficult as an adult as it was as a teenager.
  • You don’t lose yourself when you become a mom, even if there are moments like you might just drown.

That last lesson is an ongoing one (I suppose all of them all if I were to be honest). There are shelves of books to remind us that parenting, and specifically motherhood, is THE most important job a mother could have. It comes with or without Christian-ese about blessing, calling, heart and spirit. We talk about guiding and nurturing the future leaders of the world. We read about the studies of how a mother’s time working outside of the home can be damaging, be linked to childhood obesity, contribute to childhood delinquency and the general moral failure of the world.

So here in America, and even in the American Christian church, it’s easy to believe that being there for our children is a mother’s highest calling.

But is it?

“The calling and mission God has for us remains unchanged once we become wives and mothers.

What I have seen time and time again, in my friends’ lives, in my own life, and the lives of countless others reflected in the Christian and secular media, is that we mothers often forget how motherhood intersects with the bigger picture of our primary calling and mission. Sometimes we replace our primary calling and mission by saying, ‘ Motherhood is my highest calling…'” The Missional Mom, Helen Lee

Our primary calling, whether or not we are mothers, is to be Christ-followers who love others knowing and living in the knowledge we are loved by God and to be His witnesses everywhere we are. Motherhood is just one context in which that primary calling can be lived through.

Which is why reading Helen Lee’s book was a relief. It challenged me, encouraged me and unsettled me in all of the good ways we need to be. Telling myself that my life is good because someone else’s life isn’t as good doesn’t compel or inspire me to reconsider my choices, but reading stories of women – mothers who love their children and want not just the easiest or nicest or best for their children but want was God wants for them – inspired me.

It inspired me to look past the boxes of photos screaming to be organized or framed or scrapbooked, to look past the various piles of artwork, homework and plain old work, to look at my family’s schedule and to ask God for wisdom to make the choices that actually align with the values I hold as a Christ-follower and not as a supermom.

Worldly martydom is easier than the daily dying to yourself that Christ calls us to. It really is easier to pore myself into being the best mother and lose sight of who God intended me to be and become in the context of my many circles of influence. It’s easier for me to be busy making sure my kids are happy than to take the time to direct myself and my family into joy and a spirit-filled life. Kodak moments are easier than a Christ-filled life.

So when you, friendly blog reader, find yourself in a quiet moment when you are wondering where you lost yourself choose the better thing and dare to ask God what might need to change in your life.

I have a copy of The Missional Mom courtesy of (and signed by) Helen to give away to one of you! How do you get a chance to win a copy of the book?

  • Post a link to this blogpost on your FB or blog for a chance;
  • Tweet a link to this post for another chance;
  • Leave a comment on this post. Ideas for comments: Why do you want this book? How has becoming a mother been challenging to you? Have you ever felt like you “lost” yourself after becoming a wife, or a mother (or a husband or father) and what was that like? If you’re not a mother, what are you most afraid of as you consider the possibility of becoming a mother?

Picking Favorites: My Daughter or My Sons

What would you say if I told you that I loved my daughter more than my sons? Or that I loved my sons more than my daughter? Or if I loved my children more than my husband? Or that I loved my husband more than I did my children?

Well, apparently that is essentially what one blogger did, and she’s getting some heat for her post. She writes about loving her son more than her daughter and the difficulties she had bonding with her daughter, who is also her firstborn. And she responds to some really, really mean comments explaining that her post was more about her deepest darkest fears more than a day-to-day intentional favoritism.

But my first reading struck a nerve for various reasons, and I hope it did for you too. Writing about your deepest darkest fears publicly means you better be ready to take what comes at you, and the author pulled the blogpost and then wrote an update clarifying her first post. The blogosphere is a fickle thing. What blogger doesn’t want 400+ comments? Well, when some of those comments tell you that you are stupid, insane, unfit, etc. the number of comments won’t matter. After all that stuff with Deadly Viper, I’ve put much more prayer and pause into each word and post.

Her post also made me think about sibling rivalry in real life – me and my sister, my husband and his siblings, and my own kids. It made me think about Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, Martha and Mary. And how all of us children, girls and boys, have parents who loved their children but failed. Could you imagine the blog posts Abel, Esau and Leah would have written?

Thank God we can all take a breath and remember we’re all human. Right?

Human, flawed parents. Because only a real but imperfect parent in a broken world wouldn’t automatically cry with tears of joy and feel her heart burst when her perfect newborn is placed in her arms. I cried for those reasons and because I was scared out of my hospital gown that my doctor was going to discharge me and assume I had not only read all of the baby books but memorized the information so that I could take care of that teeny, tiny baby whose head (which apparently was still soft and mushy) and body flopped around. How could she not be my favorite?

I actually joke with my kids about being my favorite. Every now and then I will look at my daughter and say, “You are my favorite daughter.” She’s my only daughter. I tell my second child, “You are my favorite son born in June.” And then I’ll tell my youngest, “You are my favorite son born in October.”

My kids think I am crazy, but I say those things because in my heart of hearts I know that because I am human and sinful and flawed that sometimes my imperfect attempt at equal love is not received equally or expressed equally.

I know that to my sons it could look like I favor my daughter because she loves to spend time helping me pick out what outfit to wear to the wedding Peter and I will be attending on Saturday. The boys don’t want to help but they want my time, and today my time went to determining color-appropriateness for a spring but snowy wedding celebration.

And later this month it will look like I am favoring the boys because we are going to spend some time standing in line for the coal mine exhibit and staring at millions and millions of fish while I make jokes about eating shrimp and salmon for dinner. I will be doing my best to ruin my daughter’s spring break because I love my sons more.

When I want a big hug to make me feel good my youngest wins. He will still attempt the koala bear hug where he wraps his arms and legs around me and hang on with a big grin on his face. How could he not be my favorite? How could I not love him more?

When I want to hear words of encouragement and affirmation my older son wins. He will often come up to me and announce, “Mom, I love you. You are an awesome mom.” I use a bookmark he made for me for Mother’s Day four years ago. On it he writes that I am “caring, smart, honest, thankful, beautiful and organized”. Oh my goodness! How could he not be my favorite? How could I not love him more?

And when I want to laugh and share secrets and dreams and fears or dance down the aisle at Costco (actually, she’s the one who does that) or be the one she wants when she’s trying something new and scary my daughter wins. We’ve shared rites of passage together in Sephora, at the foot of her bed in whispers, giggles and tears, and at the wheel of a minivan. How can she not be my favorite? How could I not love her more?

But I don’t. I don’t love my daughter more than my sons or vice versa, but the possibility scares me. It’s scary because I’m Asian and there is a cultural history that has valued the lives of boys and men over the lives of girls and women. Family members hoped I would give birth to a son but God gave me what He thought best – a firstborn daughter. My life is not worth as much, even though my entire physical being as a woman is necessary to produce the more valuable sex.

It’s scary because I’m American with a history of wanting to put women in their place, and then move them into the factories because we were needed, and then putting women back to make space for the more deserving men. I live in America where the trafficking of women and girls is happening everyday and misogyny and sexism is not in the past but in our pop music, vernacular and paychecks. It is our country’s present.

And it’s really, really scary because we don’t want to admit it but we’ve all played favorites, and we’ve all been played. The former is easier than the latter in my experience. I was the smart one. My sister was the pretty one. My parents didn’t play favorites but their words of affirmation felt like it, and it took years/is taking years to untangle those childhood moments. I know I love each of my kids differently but I hope it’s equally because they are created so uniquely by a creative and perfect God, but my love is so imperfect that it’s bound to be misunderstood and unequal.

So I’ve been trying to ease my daughter’s pain by suggesting we go to cupcake shop or walk along the Mag Mile, but there is no way I am going to let my boys help me pick out my outfit for Saturday. (Hmmm. Sexist? Probably. But I’ll save that for another post another day…)

Full-time Ministry and Motherhood

I’ve had another quiet spell on the blogging front. Writing energizes me, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen for public consumption. The end of the year came and went, and Peter and I have spent quite a bit of time fixing the flaws to our calendaring system. If only our refrigerator had an iPad on it where our perfectly synced google and iCal calendars could appear in its rainbow glory.
This is a cheat blog post. The content appears in “Models of Ministry: Husband in the Workplace”, which is part of a resource developed for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff. It is linked on the staff website this month, which I didn’t know about until a few e-mails and Facebook posts alerted me to the fact that I had written something. While the following piece was written with InterVarsity staff in mind, I do believe that quite a bit of translates into a non-Christian ministry context. Every mom I know is a working mom, and for all of us parents, calendaring is a verb. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have a paying job that is personally satisfying and has made me a better mother. Not everyone gets to say that.
But parenting is not easy. I have plenty of stories of bringing sick children to lie on the floor during meetings I had to run or leaving a grocery cart full of groceries in the store because when I say, “If you don’t stop (insert unacceptable behavior), we are leaving the store” I am not making an idle threat. So being a part of an entire resource for and about working mothers for the organization I work for and with was hardly work.
(For those of you who only “know” me through this blog or the book I helped author, I am a full-time working mother – the regional multiethnic director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA and am based out of my pretty green home office. For more information please visit www.intervarsity.org and if what you see makes you want to be a part of what I do, feel free to join my financial support team by going to www.intervarsity.org/donate/to/kathy_khang ).

What were the key factors shaping your choice of model for ministry and motherhood?
I had already been in the marketplace for five years, gotten married and had my first child when I made the move to join InterVarsity staff. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be a working mom just because I was going into campus ministry…until I realized there were so few of us.

What was most difficult or challenging about your choice?
Hands-down childcare was and continues to be the most difficult and challenging part of the decision because it affects my family and my personal development. Campus ministry doesn’t fit neatly into daycare hours, nor does the level of financial compensation fit easily into the cost of quality childcare. Overnight student retreats and staff meetings and travel have required constant negotiation with family, friends, supervisors and colleagues. And because my husband is not on staff, has a set schedule, and has limited flexibility and because taking advantage of any flexibility has a direct impact on our finances, figuring out how to manage two careers takes a great deal of energy, planning, communication and grace.

During my CSM days I was blessed by a wonderful group of students who watched my kids for free as their ministry to the chapter, freeing me up to meet with other students while they fed my kids jellybeans and McDonald’s and pored love and affection on them. But it was never easy or seamless.

My husband and I decided that we would do our best to schedule my job around his for very practical reasons – his job paid more. That meant staying part-time because the full-time job required three weeks at Chapter Focus Week as well as additional area, divisional, regional and national meetings that did not and could not offer childcare.

I made the choice to put personal leadership development and training on a much slower track in order to accommodate my family’s needs and time limitations. It also meant feeling like I had no choice but to say “no” to many wonderful opportunities to teach or be trained, and digging deep into fears that saying “no” too many times would mean the invitations would dry up. To be honest, some opportunities do dry up but others have come back around now that I am full-time and my children are all in school.

My childcare needs have continued to change as the kids have gotten older, entered school, added activities, etc. and as my roles and my husband’s career demands have changed. We are frequently at our desk with our calendars mapping out requests for time-off, adjusting doctor’s appointments, notifying the school and teachers to call Peter in case of an emergency because I am out of town. It has forced us to communicate better.

What have you valued or appreciated about your choice?
Being on staff with InterVarsity has been a gift to me and to my family. It has not been easy, and I often step back to make sure this decision is right for this time in my life and in my family’s life. The choice gave my husband and me a chance to put our values into practice and honor our marriage vows in tangible ways. Honoring one another in a two-career family has required some difficult, heartfelt, honest, conversations about ambition and opportunities and sacrifice.

I can still find myself envying staff couples who would serve their weeks at Chapter Focus week or attend staff conferences and still have vacation time to spend together. For us those situations have required us to either use my husband’s vacation time to stay home with the kids, for the family to come with me at our cost or for me to ask my supervisors to be excused from meetings, conferences and training. It has meant being sure of the calling but uncertain about the intensity or feasibility of pursuing that call at various points in our family’s life.

But all of those choices have in turn opened up an extended family to us. Alumni and fellow staff who met my children when they were young enough to nap in a carseat in the corner or stay busy with a few coloring books when I was able to attend meetings don’t see them as often but from a distance continue to watch Bethany, Corban and Elias grow up, and they have been blessed through a few key relationships developed through my years on staff. My kids look forward to Chapter Focus Week at Cedar Campus and talk about the various conferences and retreats, which to them have been mini-vacations with an ever-changing extended family.

It has also kept me honest and forced me to dig deep into my soul and then run to Jesus about my personal ambitions, frustrations, envy, calling and roles. There are roles and jobs I would be interested in pursuing, but I continue to need a job with some degree of flexibility because the public school system isn’t flexible and my husband’s boss’ vacation requests will always take priority over his.

What advice would you give to women as they’re considering what path is appropriate for them?
You need to do three things: pray, talk with your husband and find support. Whether you choose to stay on staff or leave, and whether or not your husband is on staff, you need to pray and sit at Jesus’ feet because there are many things motherhood will make you worry about. Whatever you decide you may have moments of regret, of feeling like you’ve lost a part of your identity, etc. Be with Jesus first.

And then talk with your husband. There is nothing as demanding as parenthood (well, maybe caring for an aging parent, but that’s another discussion), and I’m not close to being done yet. Your choice may be crystal clear so talk about it with your husband so that when the decision doesn’t seem so clear the patterns of communication are set and they are strong.

Pull out your calendars, know what your babysitter can or cannot do (Evenings? Weekends? Overnight care? Sick child childcare?) You will need to look at the realities of your schedules. How flexible is your husband’s career? How will his schedule look against your schedule work with consideration to childcare? How will scheduling demands affect your effectiveness? Will you or your husband run home from a meeting to pick up your kid from school because she has a fever? Will it always be you because your students will understand or will you take turns? How will you help your husband understand your job and InterVarsity when some of your donors or students don’t even understand all that you do and the importance of it?

How can you explain to your husband (and children) that the emotional intensity at the recent set of meetings means that even if you are “home” by 5 p.m. you aren’t really ready to get dinner ready before he gets home or to appreciate the dinner he made before you got home? The topics and scenarios are endless.

Nothing makes you look crazier than putting on a Wonder Woman costume every day. We are not supermoms and we’re not meant to do this alone. Don’t let the brokenness of our culture and our families isolate you and let you think you have to or should do this alone.

Find a mom’s group or a group of moms who may not have chosen your exact path but support you, pray with you and for you, ask you challenging questions that bother you until you have to go pray and journal. Find women who are single, widowed, empty-nesters from whom you can learn from and with whom you can also find a different audience for the things you’ve learned as well.

Oh, and let me add a fourth – don’t judge. Whatever decision you make, you know it wasn’t a piece of cake. You may not make the same decision as I did, but one decision isn’t better than the other.

 

It’s Time to Punch the Ballots

I’m pretty sure I won’t actually be punching a ballot so much as I will be touching a screen or pushing buttons, but in the end it’s all about casting my vote.

(And would someone please tell me if the ridiculous “bot” calls to my home and the shameful stream of campaign fliers and costly commercials will magically stop tomorrow? I never thought I would miss seeing the ED commercials, but at least the blue pill commercials talk about blindness, sudden drop in blood pressure and death without the character assassination and misrepresentation.)

This will be the first time I vote, having just been sworn in as a naturalized US citizen earlier this year, and I’m excited because the information I’ve been taking in and the questions I’ve been asking will mean a little piece of something at the end of the day. Years of  hyphenated American angst will not romantically fade away, but there is a good degree of relief in having equal access to the system regardless of where I was born.

One thing I am learning, and it is a rather steep learning curve, is how to talk politics and policies with friends. There is an American idiom about avoiding politics and religion, but I have found that in recent years the former is almost more deadly a conversation killer than the latter. What has been most difficult is to find that while some of my friends and I share a deep-rooted faith, I am still learning how to listen and learn from others with vastly different viewpoints when it comes to issues of politics.

Citizenship has added another layer for me, another slice of identity that gets so quickly called into question if perhaps I offer up an opinion that is not “Christian” enough. My sense of belonging in the only country I’ve known as “home” has always been questioned, but having dipped my toe into conversations about policy, the economy, the wars and politicians my sense of belonging firmly in the camps of “Christian” and “Evangelical” has a new identity crisis to wrestle with. And while much of my identity angst has been done while my family was very young, it has been a new thing to talk about faith impacting my politics with my husband and children. Worlds colliding.

And I am amazed. For all of the political garbage on the radio, on tv, online and on my doorstep, I am amazed that regardless of faith and partisanship, the polls will open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. at a neighborhood church where a wooden cut-out of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the church door is brightly lit. What a strange moment of convergence it will be…

But I’m curious. Will you, dear readers, be voting? Why do you vote or why do you not? Or, why are you choosing to opt out this time around? For fellow evangelicals, which is more difficult to talk about -faith or politics?