Parenting in Paris

She has always used my body to support hers. Here I am, her footstool.

There was a time when I knew everything about my children. I knew their due dates before they were born, remembered their birth weights and lengths. Two were born in the morning. One arrived at 12:02 pm just to be special. I knew what they ate, when they ate it, which side they had last nursed, when their diaper had last been changed.

Do you remember the fear and shock when the hospital just sent you home with your newborn? We did it three times and couldn’t believe no one asked any real questions except about a car seat and then double-checked the hospital security bands, which we thought was funny because our kids are all Cheeseheads (born in Wisconsin) so they were the only Asian babies – a full head of dark hair that caused nurses and doctor to gasp each time.

So 8,451 long days that were also 23 short years later my daughter and I traveled through Paris and Iceland in what felt like a dream and master class in parenting a young adult child.

Some things never change

We shared a bed through the entire trip, and I couldn’t help but listen to her breathing settle into sleep, watch her move around until she relaxed. She was the same. The infant, baby, toddler, preschooler, little girl, pre-teen, teenager and now young woman all wrapped up in one – still sleeping deeply enough to have once slept through a microburst that tore through our neighborhood. My instinct to cover her and brush her hair away from her face remained.

But so did her instinct to brush away my hand and look at me ever so briefly with a mix of annoyance and familiarity. I want to push away anything and everything, even if it’s a wayward cowlick, to make her way easier, more open, better, and her instinct is to push for autonomy and discern her own preferences. It is her journey and story she will perhaps one day tell but of which I am a beneficiary of. After all, her learning to push away is what got us to Paris. She had been planning her own trip to Europe when she asked me if I would join her in Paris.

Parenting a young adult means knowing when to push even if it means getting that look and when to wait for that invitation to join in. It’s so much less about the kind of directing I did as the parent of a young child. We were the parents who didn’t ask where our children wanted to eat. They ate where we ate. We didn’t ask them where they wanted to go on vacation. They went where we took them. We involve them much more now because our children are older with preferences, limitations, interests that are more defined, but it’s still so hard to figure out where that line is and how to draw it. But being in Paris with our daughter I knew that these were lines she had drawn to include me as both mother and guest and what an honor and privilege that was.

Some things have to change

I love my own mother very much, but our relationship is different from that of mine with my own daughter. My mother and I still have language and cultural barriers, while my daughter and I have the advantage of having both grown up in the Midwest. I could never quite get my parents to understand the concept of school dances, and I’m still trying to explain to them what a prom-posal is. (Can someone tell me why this is a thing???) The impact of assimilation is palpable in my parenting. My daughter was my Snapchat tutor and helped me find a great deal on my flight to Paris with a different search engine. In my parents’ generation and culture of parenting the parent is always the parent, the advice-giver.

My daughter has spaces where she is the expert, the lead, and it was exhilarating, freeing, and unnerving to live it out in Paris. She had spent part of a summer in Paris as a student so she had a sense of the city, the subway, the places she wanted to revisit. She had a plan, and she asked me about my preferences and expectations. More often than not she was the one leading the way through the streets and subway transfers. It was disorienting enough to be in a foreign city, but to see my daughter as the one leading the way was beautiful. Mothers of little ones, hang on. The babies grow up into grown adults who will forever be your babies. Your babies change and have opinions and questions, preferences (thank goodness we both love baguettes, cheese, and red wine) that you cannot dictate. The time is coming. It’s amazing.

It’s also scary. I’m sure none of my Dear Readers have control issues when it comes to parenting, but I do. I thought it would be easy to let go my tendency to pick up after my child when she was 23 but when you’re sharing a small space that messy suitcase spilling out over the floor is as annoying as the messy bedroom at home she will never sleep in permanently ever again. I thought I would know how to read the silence in our time together as intuitively as I learned to interpret her cries. Just kidding. I never could tell the difference between her hungry cry and her diaper cry.

But the chatterbox toddler who asked a million questions doesn’t always grow up to be the extrovert. Instead of wishing the questions would stop, I’m learning how to ask questions after I decide what it is I really want to know and understand about her young adult life.

It’s not easier. It’s different.

A wise older friend once told me, when I was in the thick of diapers and sippy cups, that parenting never gets easier. It just changes.

I felt that intensely as we tried to strike a good balance between being tourists and simply enjoying being in Paris. There were moments vaguely similar to those long days as I wondered if her silence was simply exhaustion, a need for introvert time, frustration with me, or hangriness. And then I had to remember that being the parent of a young adult means your child now has the vocabulary and capacity to answer questions. To be an adult. “I’m not ready for a meal, but I could use a snack. Do you want to keep exploring or join me for a snack?” “I’m fine staying here for another hour or so. Would you like to go ahead to the apartment?” Those were questions we asked each other. Mother to daughter. Daughter to mother.

And then came the goodbye. Somehow nine days that looked like more than enough time to spend together in Paris and Iceland snuck up on us, just like the long days sneak up into years that vaporize. The first day of school is both the best and worst day of the year for me as a mom who has had the privilege of working from a home office. The silence in the home after a long summer of a never-ending revolving door of children and their friends and their toys, electronics (my youngest son’s friends are known to bring their gaming PCs over for a night of gaming), socks, hoodies, keys, cars, drama, and heartbreak is both welcomed and lonely.

But when your child no longer lives at home, no longer has clothes in her bedroom dresser or closet the goodbye doesn’t get easier. It changes. I thought saying a mutual goodbye at the airport, where we were both headed to our respective homes would be fine.

It wasn’t easier. The tears welled up, and I took a deep breath. We both took a deep breath and said goodbye.

Turning 21, Again

I am taking a trip of a lifetime next month. My daughter called me up and asked me if I would meet her in Paris and could we tack on Iceland.

“YES!” I screamed with no hesitation. “Oh, wait. Hold on. Let me talk with Dad (my husband, her dad, not my dad).”

I’ve never been to Europe. My miles and money went to Paris a few years ago for Bethany’s study abroad, and I have all sorts of ridiculous fantasies about traveling abroad and a clean bathroom and a perfect paper planner. Her question, while it could’ve waited for a few days, felt pressing, urgent, and important. I didn’t ask my husband. I told him. I told him our young adult daughter asked me, her mother, to meet her in the City of Lights, and I told him I wanted to go.

So we said yes.

But getting to yes also meant making some other decisions about how this almost empty nest stage of life would be, what needed to stay and what needed to be let go. Before deciding on this trip to Paris was one other decision to be made that had been hanging around like the last dumpling at an Asian gathering. I didn’t want to touch it. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Asian American/Canadian Lounge at Urbana18. Y’all know exactly what I am talking about.)

Before saying yes to Paris, I knew it was time to say yes to a different invitation into uncharted waters. I said yes to leaving InterVarsity. My last day will be February 15.

Milestones are a chance to shift

This month my staff career with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA turned 21 years old, barely legal and ready for new things. I sent out the following words in an email to a few colleagues after I had given official notice:

There has been a cost that I no longer want to carry, do not feel called to bear, or have the influence to change – a funding system that was designed for white men in a completely different cultural context, the human sexuality rollout that left our LGBTQ staff vulnerable and inconsistently asked for belief and behavior, and an affirmation of women in leadership that falls short of calling the Church to do the same. 

As I’ve wrestled with those concerns I’ve also sensed that it’s simply time to leave and explore options to write and lead in another context. I do not have another job lined up except for the two yoga classes I teach on Thursdays. I am asking God what the invitation is for this next stage of leadership and life with the privilege of stepping away from IVCF without a plan.

I tell people I am a product of InterVarsity’s training and development – my deep love for scripture and manuscript Bible study, a commitment to mentoring and discipling, integrating my values into action. IVCF has been one of the few spaces in the Church that provided a Korean American married mother an opportunity to learn and be mentored by the likes of Jeanette Yep, Lisa Espinelli Chin, and Paul Tokunaga. I can only hope I will have left staff with a fraction of their wisdom.

I don’t know

That’s still my answer to the question, “So, what’s next?” I do not have a job lined up. I have not talked with an agent or a head hunter. I’m looking for a new spiritual director, preferably a WOC. I’m looking at the first three months as a sabbatical and, in some ways, a detox and untangling of my identity from an organization I’ve been a part of as a student, volunteer, and then employee for almost half of my life. I don’t know what’s next in terms of employment, but that’s OK.

For having worked most of my adult life in ministry I am finding that question funny because in it is an implicit request for certainty, and as a person of faith the older I get the less certain I am and the less certainty I require. My children are young adults. They have taught me that humility, failure, and uncertainty are essential and critical in parenting. My husband and I have been married for almost 26 years, and that friendship and relationship has taught me the same. We screw up on the daily, and more often than not I am not sure how we will fare the “till death do us part” part of our vows.

I don’t know what my next job will be. I know that uncertainty is a privilege and one I do not enter into or carry lightly, but I am carrying it.

Yes, I’m scared

No, I’m not totally OK with all of this uncertainty. Why do you think I am still searching for the perfect paper planner system (right now I’m loving my very basic bullet journal)?? I am a planner. I like making lists and checking off to-do items. I love setting goals. I love the friendships and community I have had the honor of being a part of on staff, and I will miss seeing colleagues who have become friends. I’m scared of losing friends and losing a sense of identity. I sat on making this decision for a LOOOOOOOOONG time, in part, because of the uncertainty and the privilege to say, “I’m quitting” without a plan to replace that income. It feels incredibly selfish, and as the daughter of immigrants all you know and are told is about the unselfish sacrifices our elders made/make for us to live better lives.

And just to drive the point home even my parents were worried about my non-plan even though for the past 21 years they haven’t been convinced that working in ministry where you are required to raise your own salary is a real job that one could really quit. How do you quit a job that isn’t a real job? See? It’s weird.

But I quit, with some financial planning because I’m not that selfish or stupid, and I’m scared. I’m scared my dreams are too old or faded. I’m scared I’ve become risk-averse and practical. I’m scared my imagination is too limited. So why did I quit? Because I’m scared of being stuck because of my fear.

My Dear Readers, are you stuck? Are you scared of staying stuck? If you could “do” anything or make a career change what would you do? If you’ve taken that scary leap of faith, what advice do you have for us newbies who are free falling?

Tidy Up, Dear Christians

For all the various takes on KonMari (Kondo Mariko is her Japanese name), I am left wondering about what we as Christians haven’t been taught well in our church buildings with multipurpose spaces, cafes, and bookstores that is coinciding with this cultural moment. Why do we have so much stuff? Why are we or people we know getting rid of garbage bags full of things from one room of my/their home I/they don’t need, I/they don’t fit into, and that don’t spark joy?

Lovers and haters note that Kondo has hit a nerve around our stuff and our preoccupation with stuff, the accumulation of it, and the purpose of the stuff we surround ourselves with. Christians are not immune from that preoccupation even though we say and have heard that we can’t take our stuff to heaven (or our church buildings, for that matter) and yet the Christian industrial complex pumps out stuff, most of it geared towards (white) women sold to us at (white) Christian women’s conferences by (white) Christian women. There are several (white) Christian women who have built lifestyle brands around shabby chic, reclaimed wood decor, and statement jewelry, none of which we can take with us to heaven, and even as I look around my home I wonder what if any of it is about bringing about joy let alone bringing about God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven unless we think heaven will be a cross between Ikea and Magnolia.

And just in case someone is ready to pounce, I AM PART OF THE CHRISTIAN INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. I am a published author promoting a book, side gigging sassy cross-stitching and bracelets. Part of my “brand” is that I often sport a t-shirt with a provoking message, and the other part of my brand can’t be copied because I bought the last blouse in the clearance section. I am writing because I am wrestling, and I hope my Dear Readers you are, too, whether or not you are KonMarie fan. I am also a neat freak but also a child of immigrants. There is no pretty way of drying my ziplock baggies that I have washed to reuse. There is no joyful way of saving every plastic container that can be reused rather than buying matching plastic food storage containers. Old towels don’t bring me joy but their stiffness and scratchiness help with exfoliation and absorption (I don’t use dryer sheets).

Kondo is Japanese. Her method is socially located in a country where space is limited and overcrowded spaces are giving way to tidiness, whereas here in the US an entire industry has emerged around people paying for additional storage to hold their extra stuff.  Haters go on about how ridiculous it is to pare down a book collection to 30 books, but as one who has several bookcases throughout my home full of books I will never read again how many of us are too afraid to admit the books make us feel accomplished, intelligent, and therefore safe and affirmed? No? Me neither. It’s not a judgment, but I will be honest. The books I surround myself with say as much about my intentions around reading as they do about how I perceive myself and how I want to be perceived. Who wants to talk with me about that and not just about how my bookcases look so much better having gotten rid of many of the books written by white men?

The same goes with the rest of our stuff. Does a tidy home say something about our interior lives? Do we believe a tidy home is inherently better and therefore a reflection of my interior life being…better? Tidier? Closer to an ideal? What does this love/hate around Kondo say to us Christians about our relationship to the physical world and its connection to our interior lives? Or does it? Instead of Christians bragging about the number of books they have gotten rid of or kept, I want to wrestle with our relationship to the physical. I think that is in part what Kondo is doing and that’s why it’s hitting a nerve, for better and for worse. I am afraid that once again the Church has abdicated some degree of responsibility to the “culture out there” as if we can’t taste a bit of our own hypocrisy as we sip our fair trade coffee in church-branded mugs.

When a White Girl Wears Vintage “Chinese” Dress to Prom

There was a white girl from Utah who wore a “vintage Chinese dress” for prom. There was no indication on her post that she knew it was a qipao (Mandarin) or cheongsam (Cantonese). She wrote (and no, I will not link it here) that she found it at a vintage clothing store, was told by the store owner that it was vintage, and bought it because she liked it. She comments that it was an act of appreciation of the Chinese culture.

And then the internet blew up. She got a ton of followers. White woke people called her out. Asians thanked her. Asians told her, “BOOOOOO!” Asian Americans said they don’t care. Asian Americans said, “BOOOOOOOOO!” White people said people of color look for things to be offended by.

Good golly. It’s only Tuesday. Fullish moon anyone?

I have a lot of thoughts because cultural appropriation is complicated because it cannot be discussed separate from the social construct of race and how non-white bodies are policed, commodified, objectified, and regulated. Cultural appropriation also cannot be discussed without addressing the impact of colonization (historic and present-day), internalized racism, and social location.

Again, I’m not going to provide all of the definitions because I blog for free and you can Google it.

This is not an exhaustive post, but here my thoughts after a morning yoga practice (where I am also having lots of conversations about cultural appropriation) and half a cup of coffee.

“She can wear whatever she wants!” screams of, wait for it, western white privilege. Yup. There are many of you who are upset that people are upset. There are many people out there in the interwebs upset that people are upset. You believe no one has the right to be upset about what an individual white girl chooses as an individual to her prom let alone face the public consequences and backlash should she choose to post it publicly on Twitter. There are so many people telling me I have no right to be annoyed because it’s her right to wear what she wants. What? She posted the picture on TWITTER. Yes, she can wear whatever she wants AND be prepared for the consequences.

The consequences for a white girl wearing a qipao to prom are different than when an Asian or Asian American woman/girl wears a qipao in public. (Notice, Asian is not the same as Asian American.) Again, the girls writes that she found the dress liked it, so dammit she was going to wear it. Do you know what happened when I, as a teenager, wore my hanbok (tradition Korean dress)? I didn’t even have to post it on the internet because it didn’t exist back then. People to my face and to my back and called me lots of names and none of them were, “Hey, she looked beautiful in that dress that honors HER OWN CULTURAL HERITAGE!”

And, as my wise friend Cindy Wang Brandt wrote on a mutual friend’s FB post: “If I went to prom wearing a qipao, I would experience racism – Asian women are fetishized and stereotyped. The high cut on the thighs would make me subject to perverse associations because of that fetish. A white woman wearing it is just a cute schtick.”

I’m also reading comments from white people who have family or friends or some connection to ASIA or China (y’all know Asia is a continent and not a country, right? Just like Africa is a continent and not a country.) and that’s why it’s ok to wear a qipao. Sure, your family lived as expats (also a privileged term) and you love the culture. Cool. Take note that you are also consumers of the culture and do not have to pay the price and face the racism when you wear that qipao here in the US. Yes, it’s getting better, but no it’s not really that much better. It doesn’t matter whether or not I ever wear a hanbok to honor my own cultural heritage. I still get asked where I learned my English and where I am really from because even though I am a US citizen who wears yoga pants religiously I am not seen or approached as an American.

Non-Asian and non-Asian Americans say they wear clothing or eat food or collect art or cultural kitsch in appreciation but get all defensive when asked how exactly is eating at Panda Express or the local Chinese restaurant appreciating culture? I actually asked  the white girl who wore the qipoa to prom on her Twitter feed if she knew anything about the style of the dress (Don’t forget fashion is often political.) or what her Chinese or Chinese American friends thought about her dress choice. If you are going to claim appreciation, you better do some homework. Don’t throw “cultural appreciation” out there as if to equate consumerism as the same. It isn’t the same thing though related.

Don’t forget colonialism. I am always amazed and amused at how the US education system fails its people on the daily. One commenter (never read comments, never read comments) wrote about her grandparents living overseas, etc. My grandparents could not just come over to the US to live here for a bit for work and then go back. Immigration laws and restrictions actually limited the number of people from Asia because we weren’t desirable until the flow from eastern European nations slowed down. White business people, heck even missionaries, can go into another country with limited understanding or fluency of the language and still manage because of the economic and political force the US traditionally has wielded. My grandmother? She was told to learn English. I’ve been told to stop speaking my foreign language in public.

And then there is the “if people in other countries are wearing jeans is that cultural appropriation?” line of commenting. No, it’s not. Appropriation involves power. When my cousins in Seoul wore western-style clothing it was considered modernization. Why? Because only backwards people don’t wear western clothing. Again, it’s the impact of colonization. Non-western countries adopt western cultural practices, adopt new technologies, westernized clothing, learn English on top of their mother tongue, in order to compete globally. Think about the recent summit between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-Un. They wore suits. Kim’s suit had a Mandarin-style collar, again politically-influenced fashion, but they both wore suits. For those of you who watched beyond the handshakes and crossing of the border, you saw men wearing traditional clothing specific to the type of occasion. As if people in the US don’t make fun of Kim as some sort of emasculated communist puppet, imagine if he and President Moon appeared wearing hanbok. No, most of you wouldn’t have had a cultural appreciation moment.

Things are slowly shifting with more school districts adopting language immersion programs alongside ESL programs, but we here in the US generally don’t see a need to change and learn. We just take what we want and call it appreciation.

Also, and this is another blog post entirely but sometimes POC will fall in line and say stuff like this ok because of internalized racism. It happens in all communities of color. We approximate whiteness in different, destructive ways.

Michael Eric Dyson writes in Tears We Cannot Stop,“The ventriloquist effect of whiteness has worked brilliantly; black mouths moving, white ideas flowing. What your vast incuriosity about black life keeps you from knowing, and this is heartbreaking to admit, is that we black folk often see ourselves the same way you see us.”

And I have to add that this is a young woman wearing a dress with a slit that rides up to her boy-short panty line. I like to think I am all for female empowerment and feminism, but many of us know that if a black or brown girl (heck, even an Asian American girl) wore a dress with a slit that high people would be calling her names that rhyme with bow and thut because issues around race and ethnicity intersect with gender.

So, what do you think? Have you ever worn a qipao or thrown a Cinco de Mayo party? Have you ever dressed up as a geisha or though Long Duck Dong in Sixteen Candles was hilarious? Is there anything you’ve done that you now see as cultural appropriation? What made it shift from appreciation to appropriation? Or maybe vice versa?

 

 

 

 

 

Marching While Asian American

I feel sick to my stomach. Walls. Immigrants. Refugees. Native lands. Silencing federal agencies. If any of My Dear Readers think they are going to be OK because, you know, God is in control, let me gently suggest you read the Bible. There is hope and deliverance but there also is a lot of suffering. We don’t get to skip out on the suffering because we go to church or are documented citizens. I’m also sure that Enoch is the only one lucky one who was “taken up”.

With that, I’m going to write about marching at the Women’s March on Washington. I’ll probably write more, but it’s in process. Thank you for indulging me.

First, me checking my privilege:

  1. I was able to be away from home Thursday-Sunday with little financial impact to my family, including carpooling with a dear friend the ride to and from D.C. from my safe little north suburb of Chicago and staying with friends while away.
  2. This was only my fourth protest march in the US, and I’ve never been arrested. (A little known fact: I marched against US military presence in South Korea as a college student where I learned about tear gas, exiting protests when things look a little iffy, and how to make and throw a molotov cocktail. My people know how to protest.)
  3. For now we live in a democracy where we have the right to protest. I have the energy and the cultural value of swallowing suffering. I didn’t have to worry if my wheelchair or cane would be problematic.
  4. I’m not a black or brown woman whose mere presence can threaten some #notallwhitewomen.
  5. As an Asian American woman I am often perceived by some #notallwhiteowomen as “safe” and quiet and practically white, practically invisible. I’m not. Because of that some but not all black and brown women don’t know what to do with me. I get that. We all have some learning to do. I do not experience the physical threat black and brown women face. WOC, however, all experience a dehumanizing through hyper-visibility and invisibility that as a Christian grieves me to the core. I’m still learning.

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Me in process:

  1. The experience was better because of the 24 hours in the car with my friend Tina and my daughter. There was something about the adrenaline rush and crash, the expectation and the different experiences that filled in some blanks for me.
  2. The experience was better because I was able to prepare for, be present, and recover from the march with a group of Asian American women – my adult daughter, two former colleagues, and one current colleague who all have been a part of my journey for the past 21 years. (Add that to the list of privileges.)
  3. Why did that older white man feel like he could come up to my daughter and ask her to define intersectionality when he made clear he had seen it on other signs during the day? (I was so proud of her and her answer. If you don’t know what it mean, please Google it and know a black woman coined the phrase and developed the area of study.)
  4. From where we stood (for almost 6 hours) the crowd was sort of diverse. There were WOC present but my unscientific observation is that the diversity of the rally speakers was greater than than of the crowd. Again, I HAVE NO ACTUAL PROOF except for the SMALL FRACTION of the crowd I could see. But WOC were there, with our signs, with our friends and signs.
  5. When the Mothers of the Movement took the stage it seemed to me that many of the white women there had no idea who these women were and why we were asked to chant “Say Her/His Name”. Again, I don’t know this for sure, but I’m sorry. You don’t walk away and start marching because you’re tired of standing and listening to speakers when it’s the Mothers of the Movement.
  6. I wondered if Asian Americans would be represented up front. My friends and I joked that when ScarJo took the stage she might be the closest we get to a celebrity. I think she was. I was relieved to see Sen. Tammy Duckworth speak (she’s Thai American and a decorated war vet) and thrilled out of my mind to see my friend Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director at National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, took the mic wearing her “Not Your Model Minority” hat. Again, I found myself wondering if non-Asian Americans in the crowd understood the importance and implications of that phrase.
  7. The programming reflected a desire and need for representation but honestly we didn’t need to hear from Michael Moore, ScarJo, Madonna, Amy Schumer, and several other speakers. We didn’t because we hear from them when we don’t want to march. We meaning me/I.
  8. There is a lot of talk about how “peaceful” and arrest-free the marches across the country were. I’m not gonna play respectability politics. Reality is that with that many white women marching there was no way police were going to come out all militarized with riot gear like they did just the day before for the inauguration. However, I also wrote down the legal aid number in an inconspicuous place because I’m not white, because I protested against the U.S. government in another country, and because the government also has all my info, including biometrics because I went through the naturalization process. Paranoid? Maybe. But I can’t help but remember Executive Order 9066 and the incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans especially under this current administration.
  9. I went because I could, and I also have many (many, many, yuge numbers) of friends who couldn’t go because of work, family, health, self-care but wanted to march or wondered if they should march or could march. I marched for them and for myself. Marching isn’t for everyone. Protesting by marching, chanting and carrying signs isn’t for everyone. It’s for me. I can’t represent all Asian Americans but I can show up as one Asian American woman.

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My personal action steps:

  1. Self-care. This is not about eating my feelings, avoiding the exhaustion and pain, or home spa treatments. It’s about making sure I am physically, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically healthy and well. It means drinking more water, sleeping, praying, worshiping, laughing, crying, reading, and exercising. It means recognizing my body is a temple but I can’t hire people to clean, maintain, and feed said temple.
  2. Sign up for monthly volunteer opportunities that will make an impact locally.
  3. I’m a Christian and I might even still call myself an evangelical, and I haven’t been to church in months because it has not been a place of hope. If you are a person of faith, stay rooted in a faith-community. I am finding myself missing communal worship and prayer.
  4. Making at least one phone call each day to a politician or organization involved in this mess. Today I called the White House Correspondents Association to ask them to stop reporting lies and “alternative truths”, aka lies.

Here is a sample script for the WHCA: “My name is —– . I am a resident of the —– congressional district in (state) and there is no need for a return phone call. I am calling to ask reporters to stop repeating the lies and alternative facts of Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway. The American public deserves to read and hear truth, and if this administration is unable to communicate actual facts please stop quoting them.” Call 202-266-7453

So, I’m wondering. Did you, my dear readers, march? Why or why not? Are you glad you marched???

One More Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental Health, AAPI Awareness Month, and Being All of Me

My college kid is home resuming a vampire’s sleep schedule for another week-ish and then off to her study abroad program in Paris. My high schooler is getting ready for his junior prom, which really translates into using my credit card and acting like I don’t understand the significance of this social event. He also has finals wrapped around Memorial Day weekend, which makes me want to swear. My middle schooler has checked out of school because he is “graduating” from 8th grade, and we made the mistake of telling him that 8th grade didn’t really count as a way to help him cope with all the talk about high school expectations.

I am so done.

But May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and May 10 was AAPI Mental Health Awareness Day. May is also host to Mother’s Day, which for some of you is Instagram worthy and for the rest of us requires deep breathing. May is my month. All of me. #intersectionality

I live in the Midwest so May being  the month of my people is cruel. May should be the peak of spring, but here it’s frost advisories, overcast days upon overcast days, rain that carried over from April, and a few days of glorious spring and “sprummer” – days that start like spring but then heat up to the 80s causing all tulips to bloom and wilt within a 24-hour period. I don’t know why May was selected for AAPI Heritage Month, but I’m not actually going to share any tidbits about AAPIs because we have Google.

Today is about being all of me. All of you. And how that can be simultaneously empowering and exhausting because when you are integrated and whole, you also have a sense of when things aren’t working, aren’t in sync, aren’t “right.” Right?

Today I was supposed to be somewhere else training great people to do important things that I am passionate about. But I’m not there. I’m here in my home office, in my pajamas because they are comfy and I don’t have to leave the house quite yet. I’m here because all of me – the Jesus-loving recovering Korean American child of immigrants perfectionist who swears and drinks a lot more than she ever did in her “younger” years, working mother of three who doesn’t have it all but has a lot, writer, speaker, coffee drinker – was given the permission to opt out.

So I did. I felt like a failure because the model minority myth is a tough one to remove. I felt like a failure because my own inability to manage my anxiety was getting in the way. I felt like a failure because aspiring Christian speaker writer types do not decline/back out of speaking invitations. I felt like a failure.

And then I didn’t. I woke up today looking forward to seeing updates from friends doing their thing and grateful I could do mine, unshowered in my pjs. And I want to let some of you, dear readers, know it’s OK. You can opt out of good opportunities. You can even opt out of great opportunities. Yes, some of them truly are once in a lifetime, while others may come around again.

Be you.

Be.

Before the Book Launch: (The First) Announcement

Don’t let this fool you. This photo was taken on the day I wrote this post.

Dear Readers,

I have an announcement. No, I am not pregnant.

I signed a contract. To write. A book. All by myself but not truly alone because we know writing is both a solitary and simultaneously communal act, with the prayers, support, and stories of my family and all of you!!!

This has been a 10-year journey – 10 years since “More Than Serving Tea” was published and the awkward beginnings of blogging. It also has been a decades-long journey as a former journalist who has journals dating back to 2nd grade. (“Dear Diary, I had a hot dog for lunch. It was a good day.”)

The book is about finding your voice and stewarding your influence well in a world that competes for our attention and energy. It’s about speaking up and speaking out honestly, truthfully, boldly. It’s not about building a platform. It’s about God’s invitation to all of us to discover how we are uniquely created in God’s image – imago Dei – and to live into that fully, which for me today has meant two video conference calls dressed professionally from waist up while sitting cross-legged in yoga pants and Minion socks with a sick teenager a room away texting me about nausea and the need for club soda.

Thank you for reading, for cheering me on, for commenting, and for sharing my words, my Dear Readers. I hope you will stick around for this part of the ride!!

What Are You Worth?

No one likes to talk about money.

I mean we/I like to talk about it in the abstract. We can talk about it in terms of statistics (Women’s Equal Pay Day) or generalities (tax brackets) but there is a degree of taboo in talking about the nitty gritty. Because of what I do (work for a religious non-profit where I raise my entire salary through donations) many of my donors know about how much I could make and some ask how much I actually make.

Raising your own salary does a number on your soul. Some of it is messy in a “I know this is holy work” way and some of it is just plain gross. When people decline to give or stop giving to my support, I’m not supposed to take it personally but sometimes I do. I’m supposed to trust that it’s all in God’s hands. Some days I believe that. Some days I don’t because the bills are in my hands. There are also other layers because of gender and culture. If you grew up in the Church, think of the missionary families you or your church has supported. My husband is not the one called to vocational ministry; I am. Now, who supports the family? See? Layers.

I think many of us have a complicated relationship with money and how it isn’t supposed to be everything but we know it’s something. As Christians we are taught that we can’t have two masters, but personally the interpretation and application of that gets even messier when we remember America’s sinful relationship with slavery, mastery, and money – the Church included. As the child of immigrants, money was a means to stability and safety in a way I could not fully understand as a child. I can still sense that tenuous relationship between faith and security when my parents express their disappointment in how little my job currently pays. I have to actively remind myself they aren’t disappointed with me. They are disappointed in a system that doesn’t pay me what they think I am worth.

Which has gotten me thinking about my side-gig. I am a writer and speaker, and I often get paid for those opportunities because they are also jobs. It is work to write and/or speak/guest preach/present/teach/train. More often than not, I get paid very little or am asked to do it for free.

Corporate trainers, corporate editors, pastors, teachers all get paid. It’s fairly easy with a few keystrokes to find out the salary range in the school district my children attend. I can ask friends what their churches pay their pastors. My friends who are in the hiring loop in the business sector openly share starting salary ranges.

It’s a little more awkward in the Christian speakers circuit. Yes, there is a circuit -many circuits that overlap, run parallel, etc. And it’s a business, which is weird because it is also ministry and vocation and calling and all sorts of spiritual terms that make it that much more difficult to talk about MONEY.

So, I am going to do something awkward. I’m going to talk about money. My money. (This is where I am getting ready to duck and to read/hear comments about how I should be grateful, how that is too much, how nice it would be to make that kind of money, etc. Deep breath.)

I have already heard all of those things. I am tired of being asked to do what I do for free because it’s ministry, because I am a woman and not the one supporting my family, because it’s for a good cause, or because it’s a great opportunity to increase my platform. I have been told that my going rate is too high, that I should take what is offered, that organizers were surprised I would ask for money, that I am not well-known enough to have a rate, etc.

My going rate for a day is $1500 plus travel, lodging, meals. I fly coach. I will drink instant coffee. I don’t have to check in luggage. I won’t, however, guarantee I will be wearing something with a waistband, a collar, or pockets (male sound people often don’t know what to do with me).

I have never received my going rate. And in conversations with many other WOC who do what I do, we often are grossly underpaid.

YES, I KNOW THAT MANY PEOPLE ARE GROSSLY UNDERPAID. That is not my point. I am talking about Christian POC and specifically WOC who are being asked to lead, preach, speak, train, etc. and are being asked to work, to do what our white Christian counterparts can’t do, but not being paid for it and being told to be grateful.

I have been in vocational ministry for almost 20 years. I oversaw ministry involving 300+ students at a Big Ten university. My writing credits include a book, two devotionals, a contribution to a monograph, and five years of bylines as a newspaper reporter. As a 1.5 generation Korean American immigrant now in the sandwich generation who paid her and her husband’s student loans off so that we could now take on parent loans for our oldest child my lived experience may actually more “universal” than many white speakers.

Now, I set my initial going rate several years ago at $1,000/day at the advice of a mentor – an older, very learned, seminary professor, theologian, international speaker-type. He recommended no less because it isn’t just about the talk I’m being asked to give. He reminded me that it is my lived experience, expertise, time away from my day job and family, and preparation that needs to be considered. He told me, “Kathy, you are worth at least that per day.” He told me I might not get paid that much but that I needed to decide how much my time was worth. He also was honest and told me that as a woman of color I couldn’t be “good” like most white speakers, particularly male speakers. He told me that I had to be better than good because that is the unjust reality.

I knew the part about being better than good. That message was engrained in me by my grandmother and parents. The message was always “KyoungAh, you have to be better/smarter than Americans (translation: white people) because that is the only way they will see you almost as equal.

But the dollar amount? $1,000 a day? For doing something that I actually love doing? Something I’ve been told that I am fairly good (maybe better than good) at doing?

I was speechless.

And then I started asking around and realized I am worth that. Good grief. I am worth more than that, but again a good Christian Korean American with a uterus and breasts does not talk about worth in connection to money. The message, direct and indirect, is that I should be grateful for whatever comes my way like the birds of the air. The message is that I should be grateful to speak from my unique lived experience as a Korean American woman in ministry to speak/preach/train/teach/share from that unique lens because other speakers cannot because they speak from a universal lens.

I and many, if not most, of my sisters of color who do this work are now being told by the Church our stories and perspectives are needed because they are sorely and obviously lacking but we aren’t worth the same money.

Maybe if I hired an agent my agent could do the dirty/awkward work of negotiating speakers fees. Yes, many of your beloved Christian speakers have agents and there are agencies that represent many beloved Christian speakers. Most of those speakers are white men and women. #NotAllAreWhiteChristians but many of them are, and, yes, that is changing. And, yes, I have thought about hiring an agent (so if any of you agents are out there, feel free to contact me though I have also been doing some homework).

But that isn’t the magic wand to drive change. Change will only happen when several things start happening in different spheres at the same time with enough frequency to start forcing, encouraging, inviting change particularly as the Church and Christian conferences wake up to the racial, ethnic, gender, and cultural diversity that exists in the world is rarely reflected on the big and smaller stages, platforms, podiums, and pulpits of our Christian world.

So let me offer a few questions for conference planners, folks who invite guest speakers to preach in their churches or at the church events, etc. to consider as they invite people like me, especially as they are looking to diversify the line-up:

1. What do you pay and offer to your “big name” speakers and consider what it means to pay fairly and justly? Do you negotiate honoraria the same with all of your speakers and worship leaders?
2. Consider what is the person’s expertise and experience worth because that is also what you are investing in and paying for. Many times I get asked to speak on the difficult topics of race and faith. There is a cost to being that person. If you don’t understand that, ask other POC, particularly women of color who speak, preach, lead worship and ask them.
3. If you are inviting someone to be a guest preacher: your church’s preaching teacher’s salary/# of weeks she/he preaches = a good starting point for a guest preacher.
4. Many conferences put a lot of good time, energy, and money into pulling off a “professional” event. Are you paying your professionals accordingly? If you are inviting them to be on the main stage, aren’t they all main stage speakers? Do you think of them as equally important but not pay them equally? Why not?
5. If you lack the skills to fix a leak in your home or building, would you ask a plumber to fix your bathroom for free and tell her/him to be grateful for the opportunity and chance to build her/his reputation? Then why are you asking an entire worship team to do something you can’t do for free?

And for my dear readers who are worship leaders, writers, or speakers, what other questions or suggestions do you have for those who hire, invite, and plan these conferences?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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