Toddlers & tummy tucks

OMG. There’s a new book written by a plastic surgeon to help women who are having plastic surgery walk through the process with their toddlers and young children. My kids are 12, 8 and 6. They would notice if this mommy came home with a new nose or bigger breasts. 

Let’s be honest here. I have my moments of vanity. I’m a moisturizer junkie, who has also had to curb my appetite for nail polish. A few months after giving birth to my daughter, I had my eyeliner tattooed onto my eyelids. (Yes, it hurt…a lot. But childbirth hurt more…much more.) I have a thing for great haircuts and hair color, and the local beauty school has allowed for the occasional splurge – a facial for $15!

And I’ve thought about plastic surgery – breast augmentation to be specific. A boob job to be blunt. I wrote a little bit about my personal body image dilemma in “More Than Serving Tea” in the chapter on sexuality. I’m petite with an upper body that looks the same as I did in 6th grade. Finding tailored clothes, even a nice dress, becomes a hunt for the holy grail simply because those darts in the front are meant for some other woman.
I can laugh about it, but when I’m honest there are moments when I compare myself to the media’s images of beauty. I walk away defeated and a bit confused. And I wonder what would it be like to go under the knife.
There are a few things that stop me.
1. Money – those who know me know that I would never pay for plastic surgery even if I could.
2. Pain – again, those who know me know I have a very high tolerance for pain. However, after watching Dr. 90210 one night and catching a glimpse of an actual breast augmentation I recognized my limits for pain.
3. Hypocrisy – one of my struggles is to love my neighbor as myself…I had a hard time loving myself and therefore loving others. So, I am a sinner saved by grace who is learning and longing to love her embodied self. Imagine the conversation I would have with my daughter or my neighbors – “God loves you and knew what He was doing when He created you, your mind, your heart, your body….oh, and by the way, I got a boob job because even though God loves me I wanted to improve on His plans.”
Oversimplified? Yes. But I see my middle school-aged daughter begin to play around with hairstyles, decide what “looks good” in terms of clothing and lip gloss, take delight in her growth spurt that puts her about two inches shy of me. She’s beautiful – all of her. And I listen to my two boys who could care less about lip gloss, except when I get it on them, but sit on my lap and lean into me to say, “Mommy, you’re beautiful except when you yell.”
But the sun is finally out, and pool season is just around the corner…
Would you ever go under the knife?

Asian American worship leaders – women, raise your hands

So, are any of you worship leaders? Are any of you worship leaders out there women? And in what church/ministry contexts are you leading in?

What have you been learning about yourself? about worship? about God as you lead people in worship?
What are your struggles? Joys? Rants and raves? And how do you think being Asian American, being a woman (or a man) impact your leadership?
After three years of a sort-of-self-imposed, waiting-on-God silence, I am singing again. I am leading again. I am breathing again.
Many thanks to mentors like Jennifer and Emily and leaders like Brian and Han. They reminded me to get over myself and to ask God to shape me.

Silencing Ourselves

I spent some time this past weekend with a great group of students and youth ministry leaders at North Park University’s Center for Youth Ministry Studies Topics course on ministering to Asian American Youth. Many thanks to Dr. Jim, Ginny and Alison for being such gracious hosts!

My role was sharing stories about “Growing Up Asian American” and connecting my bicultural upbringing with my philosophy of ministry and how I’ve approached faith and ministry through that lens. Before writing More Than Serving Tea, I had never seriously considered how storytelling might be a significant part of my teaching voice…but that’s for another day.
For this particular course it was helping connect the dots between the Asian American experience of liminality and how we as Christians also experience a similar in between-ness as ones who are in this world but are not to be of this world. It was helping young youth ministry leaders serving cross-culturally understand that they are to be students as they are teachers and leaders. It was also blessing majority culture white students and African American students and thanking them for the ways their cultures bless Asian Americans.
But in the midst of all this great dialogue and discussion were a few bittersweet moments. One such moment was when a young woman approached me and described how she had begun silencing herself in ministry contexts after she had gotten married. She and her husband serve the church together, but my sense was that it was a two-for-one deal – he is the leader, and she is his wife who also serves.
Tracey Gee writes about this in the book (p. 177). Women becoming the quiet “sidekicks” of their husbands or their male ministry partners. Somewhere along the line, and I think mistakenly so, godly submission is too often translated by ourselves and others into silence and subservience. 
The session was about to start up again, so there was little time for conversation. It felt a bit trite to remind her that she was to be a steward of God’s gifts of leadership and teaching, not because it’s unimportant to encourage and bless one another as women but that it’s not the only way to stop one another from silencing ourselves. The beauty and irony of it is that we need men to advocate for us, invite us to the table, share the power and authority. We are not supposed to be alone in silence. 
It’s no secret. I’d like to have more of an audience with the men of the church because there are too many women’s whose gifts for the Kingdom are being overlooked, overshadowed, ignored or invalidated. 
What would an honest and gracious conversation between the Asian American women and men of the church look like? And what might that do to further to conversations of about faith and Christ?

What’s in a name?

What should I do?

I noticed on Sunday that Peter and I now have nametags at church, but it took me a minute to figure it out simply because it wasn’t my name.

“Kathy Chang” was next to “Peter Chang”. I recognized Peter’s name, but I did not recognize mine because that’s not who I am.

I did not take his last name when we got married. I was young, idealistic and slightly rebellious. I had just begun to establish a career in journalism, and enjoyed seeing my byline. And when I thought of my parents eventually giving away their two daughters in holy matrimony, there was a pang in my heart. I would become one with my husband, but my name was so tied with my family of origin. If they were really gaining a son, did they have to lose their daughter in the process?

I didn’t set out to make a statement with keeping my last name. I had simply become accustomed to my name in all its oft-mispronounced, misspelled glory.

Hyphenating didn’t make sense. (For those of you who don’t speak Korean, if you put Khang and Chang together with proper pronunciation you get something very close to the word for “soy sauce”.) And as open-minded as Peter was trying to be, we couldn’t think of a way to explain to his parents why their first-born son was giving up his family name. (He still laughs when students or colleagues of mine mistakenly refer to him as Mr. Khang.)

So I stayed Kathy Khang. The kids’ friends call me Mrs. Chang, and I don’t make a big deal about it. When folks ask, I happily explain. I love my husband, and my children with whom I do not share a last name, and I love my name.

There are many women in the scriptures who go nameless. The woman at the well. The Samaritan woman. The bleeding woman. I love their stories. And I really do love the story my name tells. Khang – in Korean tradition the family name comes first. Kathy – given to me by my parents when we immigrated to the states because it started with the same sound as my given name. KyoungAh – my Korean name given to me by my paternal grandfather, according to tradition; the characters mean “congratulations” because I was the first daughter born to the family in three generations.

Back to the name tag.

Despite my slightly rebellious tendencies, I am still Asian American. I don’t want to embarrass anyone by asking for a new tag, and I don’t want to seem too liberal. I don’t want to draw any more attention to our family than we already do when we walk into the sanctuary.

What should I do?

How are we different?

We’ve been doing our best for the past few months at hiding at our local church. We’ve been blessed and quite impressed at how we’ve been welcomed and greeted (“Hi, I’ve not had the chance to introduce myself.” and not once “Hi, are you new here?”). The kids have transitioned well into Children’s Church, though the idea of a separate Sunday School hour is still taking some getting used to. We’ve attended the Inquirers Class to get to know the church and the denomination better. But overall, we’ve tried to keep a low profile, slipping out as quickly as we can after service.

But lately, Peter and I have felt a tug in our hearts. Are we willing to invest into the life of the church knowing that some things will feel different? Until two years ago, we had attended a predominantly Korean-American second gen church where social and cultural connections generally flowed seamlessly into spiritual connections. There was no worrying about what to serve or not serve for impromptu meals together. No explaining why we related to our parents the way we did even though we are grown adults with families of our own.

Peter and I were talking about church, and joked about how we stood out as a family on any given Sunday morning. We’ve been keeping a low-profile, but there are some things we can’t hide, right?

But then my daughter said something that gave me a moment of panic. “Huh? What do you mean we stick out? How are we different?”

My husband and I nearly stopped breathing.

Bethany is developing a wicked sense of humor so for a moment we weren’t sure if she was joking with us, but it was soon obvious that it wasn’t immediately obvious to her how we were different.

And I’m not sure how I feel about that. I don’t want my kids to wear their ethnicity as an angry badge, but I want them to be wisely aware. Does that make sense?

Ironically, I’ve taught on ethnic identity to college students and adults. Any thoughts on translating this for personal use?

21 Shoeboxes and Alternative Church Sundays

I live in the suburbs where we desperately need Jesus. Teaching our children about the world through the lens of our privileged world is difficult to say the least.

During our church homeless period, we periodically took Sundays to “home” church with lessons from various news clippings to spur on the conversation. Over the summer a colleague on InterVarsity staff alerted us to an exhibit downtown. Doctors Without Borders was setting up a refugee camp in the heart of the city, and we took the kids to do church at the exhibit. Instead of sitting in pews that Sunday, we stood in line talking to the kids about starvation, war and basic needs. It was one of our best Sunday experiences yet.

Last year the kids each filled a shoebox for Operation Christmas child, and having the kids help purchase and collect things for three shoeboxes was a good experience. We bought things they would want (I kept saying, “If you think it’s a junky toy and you wouldn’t play with it why would you give it to someone else?”) and then talked about how we probably would have had more shoeboxes had we planned ahead.

So for the past year we collected the shoeboxes from every pair of shoes we bought – 21 boxes to fill. (Even though Bethany’s feet grew two full sizes I was still horrified.) We brought along a friend and the kids thoughtfully selected flashlights, hair pins, small toys, soap, etc. and we filled and wrapped and talked. It’s not the solution. It’s a step.

We live in the suburbs where many of our neighbors never have to worry about having enough toys or soap for their children. We live in the suburbs where many neighbors are working like crazy to keep up with their neighbors, living paycheck-to-paycheck with a smile on the outside. We desperately need Jesus more than we know it.

What are some of the things other suburbanites are doing to connect their families with God’s heart for the world?

Trick or Treat

Halloween was never a pagan holiday for me and my sister. The Korean church I grew up attending did not have discussions about sponsoring an alternative Halloween event. It was an American holiday, and we were going to do our best to fit in. Never mind that it seemed like a huge waste of money to be giving away candy to strangers. Celebrating Halloween became part of the bi-cultural fabric of our family.

I remember long nights walking the streets of what is now the edges of Chicago’s Koreatown wearing plastic masks that are now banned in many schools and eating candy along the route. This before needles and razor blades in chocolates, before the Tylenol scare, before hospitals offered to x-ray bags of candy, before trick-or-treating became a daytime event.

My favorite costume was my Jeanie costume – as in “I Dream of Jeanie”. It was a plastic costume with a plastic mask. I thought I was Jeanie who died and woke up in Candyland. Perfect. The icing on the cake was getting to the best three-flat in the neighborhood. You know, the one that gave out chocolates or packs of gum. (I actually didn’t mind the pennies because 10 pennies meant a stop at the corner store on the way home from school. I never did like the popcorn balls, though.)

What was your favorite Halloween costume? And what was the best door in the neighborhood to knock on?

Reflections on a Weekend as Queen

Stepping into leadership was easier for me in high school. I’ll have to psycho-analyze myself some other time, but it seemed appropriate to run for student and class council, to put myself in the ring for section editor, to try out for the pom pon squad.

But stepping into leadership as an adult involves a lot more second-guessing, more internal conversations between the voices that say, “You can’t do it! You shouldn’t do it! You should do it!” It’s very loud in my head sometimes.

So when the women’s conference planning committee members were asked to consider what we might enjoy doing I sat silently. It doesn’t seem appropriate to volunteer myself for this or that, or to say, “Hey, I think I’d really do a great job doing such and such.” It’s more appropriate to simply sit, listen to what others want to do, and do what no one else wants to do.

There were some thoughts, some louder than others, running through my head during that meeting. I think Sharon might have noticed me sitting there making funny faces as I struggled with this internal conversation and she threw my name in the hat for emcee.

I felt my response to her invitation to lead later required a written note of apology and thanks – sorry for sounding like an idiot as I dismissed her suggestion, and thanks for seeing something in me that I wouldn’t dare consider.

So I spent this weekend as the self-appointed queen/emcee for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Midwest Cluster Women’s Conference. I shared from upfront how when I and others in IVCF think of an emcee we think of Greg Jao – a dear friend and mentor of mine, and how that terrifies me. And I shared about the anxiety I was experiencing as I stepped into that upfront role. Seriously, who wants to be compared to a Greg Jao or an Auntie Jeanette? Because honestly I didn’t like how I was comparing myself to them so how I could I bear being compared to them by others.

I decided that Greg’s santa hat was a great idea, but that while I would gladly borrow the idea I would need to make it my own. I look better in a tiara than a santa hat.

I decided about two minutes into the conference that I was more afraid of what God might say to me than what I might say from up front.

I realized that I still stumble for a response when someone asks me to step into leadership, but that I’ve also learned how to accept compliments with more grace and gratitude than before.

I was reminded that being open to what God is doing in my life is both hard and amazing. My body still aches from exhaustion. My heart and soul are still restless and eager to process what God was revealing this past weekend.

And my tiara will have a special place in my happy green office to remind me to be open, sensitive and courageous for such a time as this.

What a cute baby! Guess who it is. Duh.

Apparently it’s the tradition at school for 3rd graders (and now 6th graders at the middle school) to get to know their classmates by sharing some facts about themselves posted alongside a baby picture.

The assignment goes something like this: Did you cry a lot as a baby? Did you sleep a lot as a baby? What was your favorite baby toy? etc, etc. Please bring a baby picture sealed in an envelope with your name on the envelope. Photos will be returned when we are done with the classroom project.

The photos are posted alongside the blurb of information, but there are no names. The idea is that each child must guess at the identity of the baby based on the baby picture and the information.

When my daughter did this in 3rd grade she was the only Asian American in the class; she is the only AA in her 6th grade life skills class. From what I can tell so far, my son is the only one in his class this year.

So I don’t want to be hyper-sensitive and find racism in everything. There are not many redheads in my son’s class so that would be an easy one, unless the redheaded child didn’t have much hair as a baby. My daughter didn’t come home traumatized that everyone identified her photograph with little to no discussion. And my son is the one who still doesn’t understand why a classmate would come up to him at the playground yelling “Chinese eyes” since he isn’t Chinese.

Yet the fact remains we live in a highly racialized society and culture.

There is a part of me that cringes at the assignment and some of the messages it may send unintentionally. There is an underlying assumption that the baby pictures will look similar enough that there is an element of surprise and competition. There is also an element of competition and pride for the kids – “It took the class “x” minutes to figure out which picture was mine.”

For my daughter, her friend “E” from Kenya, and my son there is no element of surprise.

Unless the photo I send is the one where they are so bundled up you can barely make out a face.

Here’s the kicker for me. My daughter is doing this assignment for her life skills class. Personally, I can think of several other life skills these new 6th graders need to learn.

Rice & Seaweed in the Thermos

I love my children. I am just very grateful for the local public school system.

All three kids are off to school (though Elias shed a few tears today, causing a few other moms to cry for him), and we are trying to get into a new rhythm. The boys and I walk to the elementary school, and Bethany rides off on her bike to the middle school. Depending on the morning, Peter joins us or waves as he drives off.

And when we’re lucky, everyone has remembered their backpacks, homework, and lunch boxes.

The novelty of the school lunch wore off fairly quickly, so we’ve had to get creative. What will they joyfully eat in the 20 minutes (!) they get for lunch? Bethany and Corban got smart. They asked for leftovers in a Thermos. Every now and then the leftovers are recognizable to friends – meatloaf, mac & cheese, spaghetti. But more often than not, leftovers involve sticky white rice and some sort of marinated meat or fish. Even better are the fragrant soups full of oxtails, seaweed or radishes.

Having been the brunt of much teasing and ridicule during my childhood (we were the 1st Asian American family to move into our suburban school district), I must admit that I worry a bit that bringing seaweed soup would create some social difficulties for my children. One might argue (and believe me I have tried) that cheese has a pretty pungent smell. But kids know cheese. They even get processed cheese food in a can. But seaweed?

Why God why? Maybe it’s the four weeks of seaweed soup I ate post-partum with each of my children to help my recovery and breastmilk production (thanks, Mom!) that they love it so. Maybe they like the shades of green and the opacity of the broth against the glimmer of the Thermos.

The first few times Bethany or Corban take something “new” for lunch I try to be cool. I don’t ask them whether or not their friends wanted to know what was in their lunch. I don’t ask them if anyone commented on the odors released when said Thermos is opened. I just closely monitor the contents of the Thermos when I do the dishes.

I was genuinely surprised when the Thermoses would come home empty. Maybe some rice (sorry, Mom) stuck to the bottom, but pretty close to empty.

I guess the thing that I feared most – that their friends would make fun of them and their food choices – doesn’t matter to them because it hasn’t turned out that way? I know friends have asked, and made a comment here and there. Maybe Bethany and Corban are so hungry that rice and seaweed soup is better than cardboard pizza with fruit cocktail cups? Maybe they don’t care what other people think? Maybe they are more comfortable in their own skin than I give them credit for?

Having children forces me to deal with my stuff, the old stuff from years ago that has spilled into my 30s. Their worldview and understanding of being Asian American forces me to deal with my understanding of Asian American so that I don’t freeze myself in time much like my parents’ generation did.

Next time: Thoughts on the “Guess whose baby picture this is” game.