27 Things I’ve Learned During 27 Years of Marriage

My Dear Readers,

We made it!

No, I’m not talking about making it to the end of sheltering in place. We’ll have to wait at least another month for that.

We made it to our 27th wedding anniversary, and, even though the global pandemic has been challenging for my own personal mental health, Peter and I are celebrating with our three children who have been sheltering in place with us for the past six weeks.

What have I learned? It may not be a list of 27 new things, but every year for the past few years I’ve taken some time to reflect on marriage – how the covenant, the commitment has changed me and what it continues to teach me.

Here goes:

  1. Sheltering in place makes all the small cracks really obvious. I think we were just a few days into all of this and we argued during a walk because ….
  2. It’s hard to argue authentically with all the emotion and gesturing one needs to release when you have three almost adult children under the same roof ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT LONG.
  3. This also makes having sex very challenging and so far impossible. I think it’s been impossible. I can’t remember.
  4. Love is not blind. Romance is blind. If you believe love is blind there is this train wreck of a reality show (and really no judgment because I watched it twice and would love to talk about it with you if you want) where you can laugh out loud about losing butterflies. Love is about both partners seeing the cracks and STILL CHOOSING TO STAY.
  5. You do not need to share everything. He has his shampoo. I have my shampoo bar. He doesn’t mind plastic cups. I always drink out of a glass made of GLASS.
  6. We don’t have to share all of our interests. We are two people despite the fact that I have lived more of my life with him than without. There are some tv series, movies, books, beverages, etc. that I will just never get into. Ever. He still runs. I smile and tell him to have a good run. Sunday evenings he would go kickboxing and I would practice yoga.
  7. Sometimes we learn to love each other’s interests. We often talk about how it took me three times to enjoy Monty Python. Once I was able to stay awake I was hooked. Whenever we have to trim the shrubs we laugh. If you know, you know.
  8. Communication is key. Even after all of these years we are still learning how to communicate. I may be able to finish he sentences and thoughts more often than he can mine, but that doesn’t mean we don’t crash and burn. We do. We are learning.
  9. Over communication is key. We now have enough toilet paper to last us through the second wave of COVID19 because I didn’t tell him I had asked my sister to grab some at Costco and he didn’t tell me someone scored double-sized rolls on Amazon.
  10. It’s important have shared dreams and goals. We haven’t done much traveling as a couple, but when we eventually become empty nesters we have some dreams.
  11. It’s important to have your own dreams and goals and to support one another. More than a decade ago I wanted/needed an office where I could shut the door. As the kids grew up and started leaving home I wanted more physical space to work – write, practice yoga, read, etc. He now has my old office. I have the living room. (Although with everyone home all day every day I wouldn’t mind some doors now.)
  12. I learned Peter likes sipping tequila and mezcal. I had no idea. We have now gone from no bottles to four bottles.
  13. Missing Peter isn’t the same as being sad. This past year we both have been traveling for work (not anymore, obviously), and it was the first time I have been the one parent at home as often as he was. It was weird being the one to drop him off at the airport, and I definitely missed him but I wasn’t sad. I hope that doesn’t sound bad. I was so glad he was enjoying a new part of his job – Boston, New York, Nashville, and Antigua.
  14. Sometimes we don’t mind living into gendered stereotypes while also dismantling them. Again, a recent discovery because of COVID19 and both of us being Asian American – he does most of the grocery shopping because even if people want to be rude because they are racist they are less likely to take it out publicly on Peter because Peter is a big strong man.
  15. It’s important to say, “I love you” even when you don’t like each other in that moment.
  16. Your bad habits can become your spouse’s bad habits. I realized that slowly over the years I stopped making the bed. He never made his bed as a single man. I always made my bed. We got married. I made the bed. And then I just made my side of the bed. And then I just stopped. But since we’ve been home ALL DAY EVERY DAY I started making my side of the bed and sometimes the entire bed. Wouldn’t you know it, lately when he gets up before I do he makes his side of the bed before he goes downstairs. Amazing.
  17. Even though I can sometimes read Peter’s mind, he cannot read mine, probably because I am thinking about a bajillion things at once. And just because I tell him exactly what I want for our anniversary dinner doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me. The fact that he will order it on the way home from work and pick it up means he loves me. (I also told him exactly what I wanted for my 50th birthday. We shall see, my Dear Readers.)
  18. Sometimes when your spouse says, “I don’t have a preference.” you can take it literally.
  19. But when your spouse says, “I don’t have a preference.” you should always ask, “Are you sure? Here are some options.” just to be clear and over-communicate.
  20. Sex can still be really good and beautiful and awkward and mutually satisfying after 27 years (even if you can’t remember the last time you had sex).
  21. I’ve known this for a few years but I don’t know if I’ve written it on this annual list. My in-laws, specifically my mother-in-law, and I had a challenging relationship until her death more than a decade ago. Difficult in-law relationships strained our marriage but they were never the root cause of the strain. The ways Peter and I managed or didn’t manage that relationship with the health of our marriage as central as opposed to pleasing our parents is what exacerbated conflict.
  22. Which leads to this. Go to counseling. Everyone. Even when you’re not at your wits’ end. Especially when you’re not at your wit’s end. Get counseling before it gets really bad so it doesn’t have to get really bad.
  23. We both have been in the slow process of decolonizing our faith. I don’t know what I would’ve done if Peter hadn’t trusted me. I don’t know what our marriage would look like if he wasn’t also asking questions about his beliefs.
  24. Parenting young children AND working on your marriage is exhausting and you can’t always give both 100%. We are almost empty nesters and I don’t regret not making my children the center of my universe. They have always known they are loved. Peter and I will be sad when we drop Elias off at college (that will happen in the fall, right?) but neither of us will wonder if we have purpose left in our lives just because the kids don’t need us the same way. (I will return to this lesson over and over and over when I am sad.)
  25. Even some of the most horrible memories and moments can change shape over time. Take for example our wedding video for which we paid several hundreds of dollars and is one of the worst videos ever made for the money. We now show it freely as a way to cry laughing because it really is so bad it’s funny.
  26. We became that couple who fills their respective pill boxes every Saturday night a lot sooner than we thought.
  27. The wedding photos are more “important” that the video or the dress or the cake or the whatever, but even the photos (and the dress) are in a box upstairs collecting dust. Marriage isn’t in the memories. Marriage is in the present tense. We do. Now. Again. And again. And again. I love you, Peter.
This is 27 years of marriage in our daytime pjs.

26 Things I’ve Learned During 26 Years of Marriage

We are sitting next to each other at the kitchen table planning another “this might be the last time we can vacation with all three kids” vacation. He is planning it because I spent the week prior figuring out how to maximize 160,000 frequent flyer miles between five of us, one of whom does not live at home. He wanted to me to help decide between the upper canyon or the lower canyon or both. I told him I can’t make any more decisions today.

Peter and I met in November 1992 in Appleton, WI. He was recently separated from the U.S. Air Force working on getting his dental license for Wisconsin. (No, the government didn’t pay for dental school.) I was a very green newspaper reporter in Green Bay, WI. Our friends Scott and Irene (who were my college friends and went to church with Peter) introduced us thinking Peter would make a nice oppa- older brother-type person. Awkward.

We met at the mall and he ate something from Taco Bell while we talked. I had eaten at a work function. He remembers me firmly shaking his hand. I remember he was eating Taco Bell.

We had our DTR (defining the relationship talk) two weeks later and defined our relationship as headed to marriage. We were young, though I was younger, and we were in love. We were engaged on December 26, 1992 with about 100 of our family and friends in attendance for a tradition Korean engagement ceremony. We got married on April 24, 1993 with about 1,000 friends, family, and strangers to us but connected to our parents. It was an intimate gathering.

We have moved three times, each time getting us closer to the Promised Lane – the north suburbs of Chicago. We moved into this home, our second house, almost 15 years ago. Elias decided to start potty training while we were still unpacking boxes. We have yet to remodel the kitchen. Maybe goldenrod laminate countertops and linoleum floors will make a comeback.

And here we are. We often look at each other, usually as we are getting ready to go to bed, and say how incredible this all is. It is.

The list

  1. The sooner you figure out how your strengths work together the better. He paints with the roller brush. I do all of the detail work without painter’s tape.
  2. The sooner you figure out your weaknesses the better. I recommend marriage counseling before and during marriage.
  3. Maintain your own friendships, aka you don’t always have to do things as a couple. Peter and I have been really #blessed having a group of friends where the wives became friends first and then set up play dates so that our husbands would get to know each other, and now the husbands are good friends who plan their own nights out
  4. Every stage of marriage and life will impact your sex life. It’s called stress, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, those long days and short years, menopause and whatever the male version of that is, etc.
  5. Over communicate. We are still working on this. It’s not just about talking a lot. It’s about communicating details and emotions and not just the number of words.
  6. Remember what you enjoyed doing before you were married and keep doing some of those things. For years Peter was in a fall bowling league (that started in the fall and ended around our anniversary, which also was the cause of some tension because of the lack of over communication). I went to the lanes once to stop in and say hi. I like to get lost in a book, alone in silence with coffee or wine and the option to fall asleep.
  7. Learn to enjoy things the other person enjoys. Peter still doesn’t enjoy coffee. I still don’t enjoy running. I have learned to enjoy basketball, baseball, and football. He pretends to enjoy gardening with me.
  8. Learn to say you are sorry, what you are sorry for, and how you are going to change your behavior moving forward, and then change.
  9. Spend some time getting your own shit together, aka staying emotionally healthy. No money for a therapist? Read or listen to some podcasts. There is a lot of information out there to help though a therapist or counselor if you can afford it is the way to go. Peter and I would’ve fought a lot less if he had figured out why he thought his parents were perfect and why I had stayed in an abusive relationship in college. Yup. Lots of fighting.
  10. Non-sexual touch can be very important. There were years when my body was all about gestation and lactation and then the needs of small people’s bodies. A back rub with no expectation it was going to lead to sex was important.
  11. Your marriage isn’t doomed if you can’t do weekly date nights. We didn’t have the money, the time, the energy, the babysitting, etc. We felt like marriage failures, and only the last few years did we understand that was some weird unrealistic BS that didn’t fit us. And how many times can you go out to eat if you don’t have amazing ethnic food close by??
  12. Instead of date nights figure out what will work so that you can connect on a regular basis and have time to laugh, talk, enjoy each other’s company. It’s a lot easier for us now that we only have one child at home but also easy to forgo because we have unrealistic expectations for what family time will look like. Monday night was date night. We went to yoga and had a beer. PERFECT!
  13. Learn to forgive each other. I can remember many of our biggest fights, and that memory is a problem when it’s not coupled with forgiveness. Yes, there are still things I am working on forgiving.
  14. Try to stay physically healthy. If you are reading this blog you can search your heart out for all the little things you can do to stay fit with or without exercise equipment, health insurance (but boy does that help), fancy fitness watches, etc.
  15. We are both Christians so we also work on our spiritual health. Find and develop a relationships with people who share or honor your faith, faith practices and rituals, etc.
  16. You will change. I used to make the bed every day, and it would drive me nuts that Peter didn’t. (I still refold the towels every now and then.)
  17. You won’t change. My shoes are in clear plastic boxes and labeled. The shirts are organized by color and sleeve length. I don’t even look in Peter’s closet any more.
  18. Money doesn’t buy you love, but that security doesn’t hurt. When you can’t pay the bills the stress can be overwhelming, and it strains even the strongest marriages. Don’t pretend money doesn’t matter. It isn’t everything, but it isn’t completely irrelevant.
  19. Problems and strengths in the marriage can spill into parenting. Becoming parents doesn’t fix your marriage. It amplifies the strengths and weaknesses in your relationship.
  20. Learn to celebrate each other in ways that are meaningful for the other person.
  21. Have sex. When you have kids you may have to plan for it or make it super quick. If you don’t have kids already just make it a habit to sleep with your door closed and maybe even locked so that when you do have kids and they get older everyone is used to having to knock. Teenagers sleep weird hours so there’s that, too.
  22. If you don’t enjoy or want sex or it becomes painful, talk to your spouse and maybe a doctor. Seriously. It’s not about procreating. Sex is meant to be fun and enjoyable, not that scary evangelical/fundamentalist stuff Peter and I grew up with. (I should probably write more about menopause. Yay.) If you’re both ok not having sex, carry on.
  23. Sometime you go to bed angry or annoyed but don’t be passive aggressive about it. Figure out when you’re going to pick up the fight/disagreement/conflict, but for goodness sake SLEEP. Most fights aren’t resolved by staying up all night. We’ve tried.
  24. Say “I love you” in as many different ways as often as you can. Variations include “I trust you,” “I am for you,” and ” I believe in you.” I love it when Peter takes my car and fills up the tank. Peter loves it when I make Elias take out the garbage. He knows my current favorite red wine. I buy him his special fancy pants chocolate bar.
  25. Make room for each other’s dreams, failures, growth, doubt, and changes. It isn’t perfect. It may not even come close to the plan, but talk about the crazy dreams and maybe you will find or make some space. I am an author and a yoga teacher. Those were some crazy dreams.
  26. Don’t just look back and remember what made you fall in love or what you loved about your spouse when you first met. Gratitude is a discipline and a daily practice. If I’m lucky I’ll get to write another list next year, but for now I am so grateful that despite being groggy and tired and probably running a little late, Peter will wake up and wash the dirty pots and pans in the sink.

Happy 26th anniversary to us, Peter. I love us!

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?

25 Things I’ve Learned During 25 Years of Marriage

My Dear Readers,

I know you have been waiting a year for my new list. I toyed with the idea of simply adding #25 to last year’s list of 24 things I’ve learned during 24 years of marriage, but I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t look at last year’s list. I’m just sitting here across the desk from my groom (Bahahahahahaha! No, I don’t ever call him that. He was my groom 25 years ago. Today he is my husband, spouse, +1. We put a ring on it so no more bride and groom unless we are referring to the Church and Jesus or we are around white Christians.)

Peter and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage with a day off. We might even go buy some towels because we still have towels from our wedding shower. They are thinner, unlike the two of us, but just like us they have absorbed so much in the past 25 years. We also took a cooking class together on Sunday where he learned to separate a yolk from the egg white and practice/learn knife skills. I learned you don’t always have to stir the pot because sometimes too much stirring ends up steaming the food instead of browning it. That is definitely something I need to do some more thinking about…

We met in November 1992. We got engaged on December 26, 1992 with about 100 friends and family exchanging gifts in the Korean tradition. We then got married in front of a gathering 10x that size. From the time we met to the time we were married was just over six months. I’ve learned so much.

  1. Sometimes you have to go to bed angry because you have to go to bed and go to work the next day.
  2. Commitment is a lot harder when neither of you are changing in the same way at the same time.
  3. It’s easy to criticize the parents-in-law when neither of you are a parent-in-law.
  4. You learn a lot about yourself and about your spouse when you take on DIY home improvements.
  5. Our taste buds change as we get older, and for us that has meant he has always liked beer and I now like red wine, bourbon and whiskey.
  6. Our sex drives change as we get older. I’m premenopausal and have barely any sex drive. He is not premenopausal.
  7. Despite changing sex drives, the most difficult thing about having sex is working around the schedule of teenage children. They stay up so late!
  8. Your spouse doesn’t have to be your best friend. If your spouse is your best friend, lucky you. I mean that. But that won’t make or break your marriage.
  9. Try to find things you enjoy together and bless the differences. I just don’t see the point in paying to run, but I make awesome signs and ring a mad cowbell. I also don’t see why you need multiple bowling balls but he also doesn’t share my desire to  overcome my fear of being upside down and learning to handstand. Mutual respect.
  10. Even after 25 years we can’t read each other’s minds. Instead, we try to practice over- communication: I dramatically unplug the little fragrance things in his car vents because they give me a headache.
  11. Work on your own shit. Seriously. Marriage won’t fix you, and you can’t fix someone else.
  12. Sometimes I actually can read his mind. It freaks him out every time, and I revel in it.
  13. Be playful. A friend gifted me a life-size Rose Tico cut out and I put her by the kitchen light switch in hopes it would scare the bejesus out of Peter. It did. For several days. This morning I came down and he moved Rose, but it did not scare me. I’m moving her tonight. He is going to pee in his pants!
  14. Maintain your friendships. My best friend from college and I used to joke that we would outlive our husbands and move into a retirement community together like a Korean American Golden Girls. We are serious. I love Peter but it is special to have friends I’ve known longer than Peter and I have been married.
  15. Maintain good couple friendships. We are truly blessed to have neighborhood friends  where the husbands genuinely like each other and no longer need the wives to set up  daddy playdates. We also learned that none of our husbands went to prom and all of the women did so there’s that.
  16. If you’re the praying type pray for each other. I grew up in a culture that encouraged singles to pray for their future spouses with little instruction on how prayer would change, let alone last 25 years. Yes, there can be things you are praying about for 25 years and celebrating answers to prayers of 25 years!
  17. If you have children and are hoping things will get easier in marriage as the children get older or, in our case, start leaving the nest. The problems you don’t address in your marriage don’t leave with your children. They stay. Across the table at breakfast or dinner when it’s just the two of you.
  18. Have each other’s back and dreams. He wanted to run a half marathon, and then a couple more, and then a marathon, and now maybe back to a 10k. YES! Run! Stay healthy because I selfishly don’t want to be a widow. Me? I want to write and speak at events across the country AND go prepare for my midlife crisis by wanting to get certified as a yoga teacher. He says, YES! buys me coconut water so I stay hydrated during training at a hot yoga studio, rubs my feet after I get home from the airport with puffy feet.
  19. There is no perfect marriage. Even the bible is lacking in perfect examples. So don’t beat yourself over the head if you don’t cook meals together. We have done just fine with divide and conquer. I cook. He cleans. I wash. He folds and irons. He puts away the towels, I rearrange them the right way.
  20. Buy a king-size bed as soon as you can afford to or have space for.
  21. If your spouse tells you that you snore, you snore. Get checked for sleep apnea because snoring can be a strain on your marriage and on your heart.
  22. Just like with anything, learn to ask for help – help from each other or for your marriage.
  23. Look into each other’s eyes and tell each other, “I love you.” Emojis and texts are cute. Handwritten notes are lovely, even with horrible handwriting (his). Eye contact is severely underrated.
  24. Learn to apologize.
  25. Love is a verb. (It’s also a four-letter word in the very best way.)

 

Happy anniversary to us. Peter, I love you. Here’s to the next 25.

--------------- This is us on our 24th anniversary, celebrating Corban's senior night for gymnastics.

————————————— This is us on our 24th anniversary, celebrating Corban’s senior night for gymnastics.

 

 

 

 

24 Things I’ve Learned During 24 Years of Marriage

My husband and I did not court. I don’t even know if that is the way you say it. He didn’t court me? I wasn’t courted? We met in November 1992 through a mutual friend who knew we weren’t interested in dating. We were so disinterested in dating that we went straight for marriage. We got engaged December 26, 1992. We got married April 24, 1993. We had a simple ceremony with three pastors and about 1,000 of our parents’ closest friends. We have been married 24 years.

This past weekend we decided to use our daughter’s final faculty dance concert as an excuse to go away for the weekend. Our collective memory is a bit foggy, but we agreed that it was the first time we have gone away alone on a trip since our first wedding anniversary. We can unpack that later, but here in no particular order is a list of things I’ve been reflecting on as we approached our 24th wedding anniversary.

  1. Sometimes you need to go to bed angry because you can’t solve anything with sleep deprivation.
  2. Don’t get married if you don’t like conflict or if you don’t like working hard at relationships. Get a pet. Seriously.
  3. Loving someone isn’t the same as liking someone. There are many moments when we have had to remember we love each other even though in the moment we don’t like each other.
  4. If you have access to health care, see your primary care physician regularly. I love Peter, and I want “until death do us part” be later rather than sooner.
  5. Marriage isn’t 50/50. It isn’t a contract. It isn’t a cake you split in half. It’s kinda like sharing an ice cream sundae – messy, imprecise, etc. There isn’t time to count the peanuts or sprinkles before the ice cream melts. And you usually only get one cherry, which I would give to Peter because I don’t like maraschino cherries. I don’t actually like ice cream sundaes…
  6. Don’t forget your friends. Women, don’t forget your girlfriends. Really. They will rage and complain with you, but when the crap hits the fan they will help you fight for your marriage. I’m assuming the same goes for you men and your friends, whom you probably don’t refer to as your boyfriends because of socialization.
  7. Marriage counseling is a good thing. It’s even better if you do it before you want to kill each other.
  8. Over communicate. I fall into a rut with all this texting, assuming I told him about something at some point when in actuality I had not said anything. I may have started a text or thought about telling him when we had time in the evening.
  9. I wish Google calendars had existed earlier in our marriage.
  10. Keep doing the things you enjoy doing as a couple. You are married to each other, not your work, not your children, not your garden or your car (neither of which are our issues).
  11. Talk with each other. I know and Peter knows when I’m talking at him as opposed to talking with him. Talking at him serves a purpose – grocery lists, last-minute errands on the way home from some other thing, etc. Talking with him is what keeps us connected to each other.
  12. We change. Neither of us had a taste for alcohol when we first got married. Five years ago I didn’t think I’d ever enjoy beer…or whiskey. Twenty-four years ago I would never have imagined Peter ordering an Old Fashioned.
  13. Sometimes we don’t change because we aren’t given the opportunity. For example, if you don’t like the way the other person folds towels, discuss it early on in the marriage.
  14. Sex gets better only if you have it. Have sex. Women, if you haven’t had an orgasm (and if you don’t know if you have, you haven’t) talk to your spouse. Seriously. What is the point???? (And please don’t comment if you are going to tell me the point is only procreation. I am not having any more babies.)
  15. I am always learning how to communicate better. Yelling often doesn’t help, but sometimes it does.
  16. Give space, time, and money (when possible) to each other’s dreams and God’s gifting. Peter has learned what an all-night writing session does to my meal planning.
  17. Try new things. It took three attempts before I could appreciate the humor of The Holy Grail. It also took several attempts before I agreed to watch Battlestar Galactica. I am so thankful Peter was patient and persistent.
  18. Give space, time, and money (when possible) to each other’s healing. Counseling takes time. Getting to a place where I could say, “I think I’m depressed” took time. Going on meds took support, time, and health insurance. Be gentle with each other.
  19. If you choose and are able to have a family, children will not make you better spouses. Having children make you parents. There is a difference and overlap. Know the difference.
  20. Practice being that old couple you see. You know that couple that walks around the neighborhood holding hands. Practice being that couple.
  21. Even after 24 years, some jokes are still not funny.
  22. Even after 24 years, we can still surprise each other. He says he can’t multitask but last night he folded the laundry and ironed shirts while watching the playoffs.
  23. You actually can start to read each other’s minds but don’t rely on it.
  24. Dream together for each other.
  25. This one is for next year.

Happy anniversary to us, Peter!

23 Things I Learned in 23 Years of Marriage

Sometime ago I saw a post about how married people shouldn’t be congratulated for staying married. I tried to read it and couldn’t track with it. Perhaps it was because I have now been married for as long as I have been single, and being single between the ages of birth-22 isn’t the same as being single for those same years, nor is it legal to be married for most of the former.

I’m all for self-congratulating and celebrating every year of marriage. There is something to be said about the honeymoon period of any relationship, but in marriage the end of the greeting card images shot with a hazy filter and perfect light can be a rude awakening. It is the moment or moments when two people learn that love is a verb, a choice. Marriage is serious work in close quarters until death if I am to take my vows literally and seriously.  When we hit 20 years I wrote a list of things I had learned, and I am still learning. Neither of us are dead yet.

So, here are 23 things I am still learning in no particular order. Some of them might be repeats. I don’t know. I just linked the blog post from three years ago. I didn’t re-read it. I’m too busy learning about marriage, love, and being a perfectly broken human.

  1. I like things my way. He likes things his way. My way is still right and better. He is still learning.
  2. My way isn’t always better, but when it is, and he admits it, things go a lot smoother.
  3. When his way is better, and I tell him so things go a lot smoother.
  4. I can simultaneously miss my husband and not want to go home and listen to his c-pap machine.
  5. Speaking of c-pap machines, love isn’t blind nor is it deaf.
  6. Sex with young children is tough because you are so sleep-deprived. Sex with teenagers is tough because teenagers stay up later and know things and we are still tired.
  7. Sometimes scheduling sex is as necessary as scheduling date nights.
  8. Sometimes #loveiscold, and it’s perfectly normal to do the happy dance together in the middle of the kitchen because the new refrigerator is quiet, big, cold, and clean.
  9. Fighting fair still eludes us.
  10. I can’t always read his mind, but it sure is funny when I can complete his sentences.
  11. I love being married to a feminist who also understands when I have had it with shoveling the snow or moving furniture.
  12. He is perfectly happy pointing out the large spiders for me to kill.
  13. The concept of generational sin becomes clearer to me the longer I am alive and the older our children and families of origin get.
  14. I have worn my traditional Korean dress (which I didn’t pick out nor know what it would look like until it arrived from Korea) more than I have my western white wedding dress (that I ended up choosing because it was the middle ground between what my I would wear and what my MIL and mother wanted), and my daughter most-likely will wear neither of them. I’m still figuring out how I feel about that.
  15. I love that no one laughs as hard at my jokes as Peter does. And I love that.
  16. It drives me crazy when he reads my blog posts and his first comments are about grammar or punctuation, but then I remember grammar and punctuation are love languages.
  17. Speaking of love languages, others include empty dishwashers, folded laundry, new running shoes, the library book sale on bag day, and encouragement to go see movies with other people who share one’s enthusiasm and fandom over such movies. And we both love high-quality pens.
  18. It is hard to teach an oldish dog new tricks. It also is harder to unlearn old tricks regardless of the age of said dog(s).
  19. Don’t judge the quality or character of your spouse’s heart based on your dating story, proposal story, etc. Creativity for a one-shot deal is great, but sustainability is another thing entirely.
  20. I regret how my value for frugality killed some of Peter’s attempts at loving me and made him feel foolish because I know now that sometimes lovers are stupid and foolish when in love.
  21. When life gives you lemons, find some other citrus and maybe some strawberries and make sangria. Lemonade isn’t going to cut it.
  22. Making only my side of the bed doesn’t look as weird to me as it used to.
  23. You can never say, “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or “I bought you some wine and dark chocolate” or “Have a great night bowling” enough.

    why yes, we do appear to be floating in a dirty champagne glass lacking champagne…

Grief & Gratitude

Sometimes the expression of an emotion has to catch up to the spiritual disruption. Grief is a very strange, powerful, exhausting emotion, and it didn’t really hit me until I opened my mouth and said the words on the phone.

“Someone very important to me died this morning. He has been my pastor since I was 15,” I said, requesting to be excused from a retreat I was to have attended addressing the connection between body and soul.

How appropriate that in finally saying the words I burst out in tears over the home-going of Rev. Robert D. Goette, good and faithful servant, pastor, husband, father, son, brother, uncle, spiritual father, lover of peanut butter, Bears fan married to a Packers fan, church planter, evangelist, leader, and friend.

Someone said Robert may now find himself bored because there is no one in heaven to share the Good News of Jesus with, but he is healed from the ALS that took him physically away from his family and friends bit by bit over the past 5 1/2 years. He lived longer than doctors initially expected, but that’s Robert.

Robert was a missionary kid to parents called to South Korea. By the time I met him (I was in high school) he was gathering groups of Asian American kids in the Chicago suburbs – mostly but not exclusively Korean Americans – for Bible study and fellowship. He and sometimes a few volunteers would pick up these kids to meet in the basement of a family’s home and meet Jesus in the form of a tall, lanky, blonde, soft-spoken white dude. Yes, Jesus was white in those years but strangely Korean because of his missionary kid experience. Robert had a unique perspective on and personal connection with the spiritual formation of Korean American children and youth – children of Korean immigrants caught somewhere between being the first and second generation in the U.S. also known as the 1.5 generation.

Me.

Robert understood that a generation of kids were growing up in the abundance of America with parents who had just experienced the aftermath of a war – the Korean War – and the political and social turmoil that followed. Robert knew that the language and cultural gaps  would widen, that Western churches were ill-equipped to welcome us (they were happy to rent their spaces so long as we didn’t smell them up too much with our food, which really was superior to donuts and coffee IMHO), and that Korean churches would lose us because of the very gaps caused by chasing the American Dream.

Korean pastors thought he was stealing sheep even though most of us sheep weren’t thrilled to sit in the pews listening to pastors preaching in Korean, couldn’t (or didn’t want to or were never invited to) go to the white church youth groups, or weren’t going to church at all. And I have no idea what his white pastor-peers were thinking as he slowly built the foundation of a church with a bunch of junior high and high school kids.

Surely some people thought he was crazy because junior high and high school kids are not the group church planters are going after. That is not the demographic strategic, trained church planters necessarily go after when dreaming of a strong core. Kids are flaky and unreliable. We don’t have an income let alone our own modes of transportation. We bring and create drama (we were K-drama before it was a thing). We are immature in ways our non-Korean peers were not because we also did not have parents who understood America.

Yup. Robert was crazy.

I’m so grateful Robert was crazy. His investment in my spiritual formation and the formation of a generation of Korean American kids is immense. He understood that my experience as a Korean American child of immigrants was going to mean life and a journey with God would have different turns and curves and bumps and that I would need a place with peers who spoke and understood my heart language – not Korean, necessarily, but a way of understanding and connecting and expressing what our non-Korean American peers could not understand, would never experience, but at some point would benefit from our articulation and expression of it. Robert knew the Kingdom of God needed my generation before most of us cared, and his faithfulness in investing, discipling, mentoring, pastoring, and evangelizing…well, even though it had been a long time since Robert could speak on his own I knew he was still Robert. Even when he ceased to be the senior pastor at Grace Baptist and then Grace Community Church. Even when Peter and I left the church. Even as we stopped seeing Robert and Julie, his wife, on any basis. Even as ALS took away more than Robert’s balance. Robert was still Robert. He was still a missionary, a church planter and trainer of planters, a husband to Julie and father to Jennifer, Emily, and Robbie.

And because Robert was faithful I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Before I knew what ethnic-specific ministry was, Robert and those who believe in Robert did it. They invested in a bunch of kids who grew up to become doctors, lawyers, pastors, investment bankers, traders, and designers. He followed us to Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Chicago – Circle Campus; bible studies on those campuses eventually became Asian American Christian Fellowship chapters connected to JEMS – Japanese Evangelical Missions Society and then later affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. Yes, the very organization I work with. See?

There is so much to be thankful for, so much to remember.

Grief is a very strange and powerful emotion. I’m looking forward to being on the other side of it someday.

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Robert was one of three pastors we had presiding at our wedding. He also was the only one who spoke in English, the only one Peter could understand, and the only one who knew me. Robert didn’t mind being one of three. He understood the Korean family/church politics involved in planning the wedding of two firstborns and the son of founding elders of a church. Peter and I have been married 22 years, and we still remember the gist of what Robert said to us about respecting and cherishing each other.

Forgiveness Six Feet Under

Nine years ago today, on New Year’s Day, my mother-in-law died.

I think it was my father-in-law, in a moment of morbid and loving levity, joked that she had waited until the morning of the New Year so we would never forget the day she died. We would start out every year thinking of her.

He was right.

She had been under hospice care for more than a week at a hospital two minutes away from our home. The rare kidney cancer, held at bay through surgery for several months, had spread. Chemo and radiation were not an option because those treatments would do nothing. Months on a trial drug seemed to stall things for a bit, but my mother-in-law was convinced she would be cured of the cancer though tests continued to prove otherwise. She bought mangosteen juice. She tweaked her diet. She prayed, and she sought the prayers of others. She would not die yet.

We know this because months after her death my father-in-law and I were able to read through some of her final thoughts written in various composition notebooks. We could tell by her handwriting when she was having good days and when she was having bad days.

We could also tell that while she held onto hope of health and life, she had her share of regrets, a few fears of the future, and held onto a bitter and broken relationship.

Our bitter and broken relationship.

My mother-in-law was a strong, opinionated, driven woman. She could move mountains if necessary and she was fiercely loyal to her family. She was creative, funny, and  some of her friends warned me when Peter and I got engaged that my future mother-in-law was feared and fierce. At a family function she asked me if my parents were going to allow me to marry her son.

“Of course,” I replied in formal Korean.

“Too bad,” she responded.

I was not yet the woman I am now. I was 22 years old and speechless. I was offended and afraid. I was disappointed and angry. And instead of forgiving her I let those words set a tone for our relationship and sink deeply into my heart. We did not like each other, but we both loved her son. I had so much in common with her, but chose the bitter thing. We were stuck.

For better or for worse.

For richer or for poorer. 

In sickness and in health. 

Till death do us part.

I let her words sink too deeply and allowed disappointments and anger to chip at my sometimes fragile relationship with my husband his family. It has been almost nine years since we buried her. There are many things I have said many times are in the past, but when newer friends asked me and Peter to recount our wedding and family traditions I knew that the past was still very present in unhealthy, unhelpful ways.

How does one ask the forgiveness of someone and forgive someone who was buried nine years ago?

The start of a new year always begs for fresh starts and new beginnings. May this be the year of journeying into forgiveness and reconciliation.

 

Book Club: Lean In & the Dirty “A” Word

Ambition.

Good Christians usually don’t talk about ambition. Maybe we call it “holy ambition” because if we add “holy” it makes it OK. I’ve read some of the Christian response to “Lean In”, and in a nutshell my take is that we Christians are uncomfortable with ambition. I’m afraid, however, that perhaps we have mistaken humility as the antithesis of ambition. 

And as a result Christian women maybe even more uncomfortable with ambition. I’m uncomfortable talking about it with Christian women until we’ve established some level of safety. I need to know they won’t judge me. That they won’t think I don’t love my children or my husband or my gender because I am considering applying for a promotion.

Sheryl Sandberg is in your face about it.

“This book makes the case for leaning in for being ambitious in any pursuit,” p. 10 (see, still in the intro!)

Any pursuit. Hmmmm. 

As Christian woman I have found it much more acceptable to be ambitious on the home front. Live for your kids and husband, perhaps in that order, because your husband isn’t around during the day and part of the evening, but that’s another chapter. Keep a clean and orderly home. Buy, make, grow, or raise the best, healthiest what-would-Jesus-eat food for your family. Be crafty and a wise steward of money. Be a godly wife and mother.

And that works well, particularly if you are married with children, and that life is something you want and you and your husband willingly agree to.

But not all of us Christian women want that. I want some of that, but I also want to work outside of my home. I enjoy teaching, preaching, speaking, and training. I love it, really. I enjoy writing, and I want to do more of it because (and I say this in a hushed voice) I think I’m good at it.  I enjoy developing those skills as much as I enjoy hearing my husband unload the dishwasher (he really is doing that right now) after I’ve whipped up an amazing meal (that I didn’t do tonight). 

My Christian Asian American parents helped me pay for college, and I enjoy stewarding that gift by also stewarding my gifts of leadership outside of the home. But I know that they have mixed feelings about my sister being a stay-at-home mom after getting a degree in business and about the amount of travel I choose to take on even though I have a husband. 

I just don’t know if it’s OK to say that I have ambitions outside of my home. My home life ambitions have been affirmed in Church. My professional ones? Not so much.

 

Is it OK to tell people I have ambitions? Do you tell people you have ambitions? Would you describe yourself as ambitious? 

20 Things I Learned Through 20 Years of Marriage

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

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

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

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

 

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