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.

Hearing and Speaking “Ching Chong”

I am always a bit stunned and saddened to hear children speak Ching Chong, especially when they do it in the presence of their parents without fear of being corrected or stopped.

The other day as we were trying to enjoy a windy 65-degree day at the beach we could not but overhear three families sitting in front of us discuss the uselessness of spending time to learn a second language. As if on cue, one of the kids started in on the Ching Chong with at least one other child and one adult chiming in. Gotta love those everyday racist experiences.

I cannot tell you how tired I am of having to bite my tongue when really what I want to do is approach the offending parties and explain to them how ignorant, short-sighted, and limiting their attitudes and action actually are. I sat there, staring at my husband while practicing mindful breathing when in reality I wanted to say as they passed by, “Oh, how good you Engirsh and Ching Chong speak. Almost perfect for Haole like you. Welcome to America.”

As you can see, I need Jesus because I have practiced this conversation for too long.

The irony is that language immersion programs and second language programs are growing because America continues to slip behind not only in math and sciences but also in its ability to train multicultural, multilingual skilled workers.

The irony is that I grew up bilingual, lost much of my Korean language skills as I immersed myself in my academics, learned enough Spanish to help my kids through high school Spanish, and hated the way my parents spoke English with an accent when I was younger.

It was bad enough that I looked so weird compared to the beautiful, popular girls at school and church. It was hard knowing that my home smelled weird because of the pickled, fermented cabbage and radishes and that I probably smelled weird, too. It was humiliating and terrifying to walk home, ride the bus, walk the halls knowing that there were boys and girls who threatened to beat me up, screamed obscenities at me, and made elementary school worse than it needed to.

I loved and hated being who I was. I fiercely loved and hated my parents for their broken English and flawless Korean. And I didn’t understand until at least a decade later that regardless of the Ching Chong American kids would use to taunt me and my family it was our very ability to speak in two languages interchangeably that put us squarely in the lead of the American dream.

My parents may speak with an accent but they speak two languages. Ching Chong be damned.

But like I said, I need Jesus.

I don’t need the American dream as much as I have needed to plunge into the pain of being an outsider and embrace my multifaceted identity as a Christian Asian American/Korean American working married mother of three in the suburbs as a gift to steward not for revenge or self-righteousness but for Kingdom purposes. I have continued to appreciate the gift of language(s) and culture, and while I struggle with the anger that too quickly bubbles up inside at the Ching Chong comments I also quickly fall into a deep sadness for those who do not see the diversity and beauty of all God’s people.

There is such a limited view of God if we only know Him through the eyes of one language, one culture. Just like meaning gets lost in the translation between languages, no single culture or language can fully express, explain, proclaim the fullness of who God is and what the Gospel is. We can get a glimpse, even a blurry yet beautiful picture but it’s not complete.

So I must also correct my image of those families, children and adults who think speaking Ching Chong is funny and harmless. They are not my enemies. They are the neighbors I am called to love, and if they can’t speak my language I must learn to speak theirs. Sigh. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor.

Which leads me back to those families on the beach. They are back today. Pray with me that my scowl softens and that maybe a day at the beach will be the perfect opportunity for me to stretch my multilingual skills.

Thoughts on Leadership While the Nail Polish Dries

I love nail polish. It’s a low-commitment, low-cost vanity/beauty splurge that when used properly forces me to slow down and not do a whole lot. Which is why I am typing slowly and not moving my feet right now – pink on the toes and a french mani.

And when life slows I can breathe, pray, think and reflect.

Tonight I’m thinking a lot about leadership – the privilege, the joys and the costs. In a matter of a week’s time I saw how God was using me to develop a new generation of leaders (Pacific Northwest Asian American InterVarsity students, YOU ARE AMAZING!) and how God was still buffing and shining the rough edges of my leadership. There were moments of fear and confidence, of joy and anger, of front-door leadership like “fill in the blank with a Biblical patriarch) and back-door influence (Ruth, Esther, Mary, the Samaritan woman, the bleeding woman, the servant girl, etc.).

All while rocking lavender nail polish (last week’s color), telling funny family stories about rice cookers and kimchee refrigerator, and wearing a bra, which apparently is still enough of a novelty that as I head into the final week before I speak on leadership fails at the Asian Pacific Islander Women’s Leadership Conference next week, I reminding myself of how important it is to remember God created me and knew me before I was even born as 1.75-gen Korean American Christian woman, let alone a wife, mother of three, writer, speaker, yoga junkie and nail polish addict.

Gender or ethnicity doesn’t trump my identity as a Christian, but they are integrated, enmeshed in blessed and God-ordained ways and in broken and needing Jesus’ redemption ways, because Christians are not meant to be eunuchs. Embodied. Gendered. Which for me means wearing a bra and the great option of many nail polish colors. My seasons or micro-seasons of leadership are acutely tied to my physical state – pregnant, post-partum, nursing, PMS, exhausted from the gift and plain old work of raising children, peri-menopausal, and all of that is tied to my gender. And my embodied, gendered life is also wrapped and engrained with the values and mores of my Korean ancestors with a clashing or enhancing palette from my American host. How can that not affect, change, impact, enhance, and challenge my ability to lead?

It does. It’s not all negative, and I’m not surprised…unless I meet and talk with someone who has never considered her/his leadership through their cultural/racial/gendered lens.

What lessons have you learned about leadership, your own and that of others as well as how you are perceived and how you perceive others? Need some time to think? Do your nails.

 

 

Identity Formation & Barbie

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

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

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

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

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

I still want to belong. Somewhere.

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

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

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

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

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

JEREMY LIN!!!

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

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

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

No judging.

Business cards, name tags & other ways to label one another

Next week at my son’s middle school I am going to be a writer.

It’s career day, and for years I’ve signed up my husband, a dentist, for career day presentation duties. I help out lost children in the halls.

But this year I’m trying on the “writer” label out for size. It’s not completely new. I fell in love with writing after getting my first attempt at a high school sports story returned to me decorated with red marker. My favorite color is red, and I must confess there is a competitive streak in me. I am my own biggest competition.

For years I was a bonafide newspaper reporter. My business card proved it. The bylines are saved on yellowing newsprint. A few digital copies still remain out in the inter webs. I was a newspaper reporter.

And then there was this “writing project” that I had the honor of participating in. At one point I had to come to grips with the fact that even if our ideas could become a manuscript it had “a snowball’s chance in hell” of making it to print. And then hell froze over, and someone started calling me and four other amazing women “authors”.

Even then it felt a little phony to call myself a “writer”, but it was the start of a journey back and forward to discover, identify, clarify, and claim that elusive thing many of us refer to as our “voice”. It’s the way we sound when we speak, write, laugh, argue, persuade, listen, dance and simply “are” – and it’s all the same. It’s a hint of the woman I know deep down inside God has created me and “my inmost being” and for those of you who know what I’m talking about know that it is simultaneously exhilarating and frightening. It can point you to God’s faithfulness and goodness just as your false-self with all our insecurities and just plain ickiness.

It’s figuring out the gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses that you have to share, do and express because that is what God meant for you to share, do and express. And then you have to own that.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to “own” it, as silly as it seems since I am writing all of this down.

As a woman, wife, mother, writer/blogger, speaker, aspiring crafter, amateur baker/gardener, laundress, chauffeur, seamstress, cleaning lady, personal shopper, diversity officer at a non-profit, middle manager and an evangelical Christian, I have several ways of answering the question, “What do you do?”

How do you answer the question?

 

 

 

It’s Time to Punch the Ballots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The 40s Are Not the New 30s. I’m Looking Forward.

No, this is not a serious case of denial. I’ve had some time to work this thing out.

No regrets. That’s essentially what my Mom wrote to me in my birthday card to me this year. Written to me in Korean (yes, Mom and Dad, I am thankful that you made me do all of those Korean worksheets!), my Mom shared the wisdom of one who has been down this same path. She encouraged me to live life without regret.

Until I was about 20 years old I couldn’t wait until I was “older”. Elementary and junior high teachers asked me and my classmates, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” which lead to daydreams and funny diary entries.

In high school I spent most of my time wishing I was in college.

In college I had a lot of fun. A lot of drama, but a lot of fun. So I guess there were a few years of enjoying the present…with a watchful and sometimes impatient eye to what the future would hold.

My 20s were full of transition. College to career and then another career. Dorms to an apartment with three amazing roommates to an apartment all alone to our first apartment, second apartment and then first home. Singleness to marriage to motherhood to mourning.

My 30s felt a bit like a test run. I tried healthier habits. I tried to figure out a bit more about myself and my baggage and my legacy. I got a decent dose of what it meant to be a dutiful Korean daughter and Korean daughter-in-law and tried to learn a bit more about being a wife and mother. I tasted bitterness and sorrow, and I swallowed a few doses of each.

I made some choices to move forward and pledge allegiance and embrace both my identity and declare citizenship. I came to understand the darker, more anxious moments of my days needed more than an hour of cardio to give me a boost and stabilize things.

But that was literally yesterday. My 30s were wonderful and amazing and painful, but I don’t want to buy into the lie that tells us women that we’ve peaked in the decade prior. My memories may be gilded but my life isn’t.

Sure, today has enough troubles of its own, but I’m ready to look forward to today and each today after that.

Here’s to the 40s! Thank you 30s for preparing me for this next season!

Did She Cross a Line?

If you haven’t read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (pepy3, where are you on the waitlist?) I humbly suggest you put your name on the library waiting list, borrow a copy from one of your friends or buy one if you’re the type who likes to own books. I finished the book last month, but it’s following my soul.

It’s a story about Southern African American women who work as housekeepers, nannies and personal chefs  and the Southern White women they worked for. It’s about each group of women and their communities, friendships, mothers and children, and the unspoken and explicit rules that governed their complex relationships across racial, socio-economic and even religious lines.

One thing that I’m still wondering about and thinking through is the author’s own admission that she has and had feared her narrative, particularly writing in the voice of African American women, had crossed “the line”. Clearly, the story she wanted to tell required multiple voices, but by her own admission she acknowledges that while our recent history used laws to draw the line some lines are beyond the scope of law and policy.

A few of us from book club took a field trip to see and hear Kathryn Stockett at a reading/Q and A/book signing earlier this week in Lake Forest. (A little shout-out to “M” who snagged a seat in the front, which meant she was one of the first in line to have her book signed and agreed to take additional copies belonging to Bedtime Stories members to be signed. “M” also asked a great question about the author’s own journey in understanding race and racism – much better than the question asked by the lady behind me who apparently thought there were no significant Southern voices after Eudora Welty from whom Stockett could draw inspiration from. I suppose no one has ever heard of Harper Lee or Zora Neale Hurston…) Anyway, Stockett briefly addressed the real-life complexity of the relationship between White families and their “help” as well as her personal concerns about telling a fictional story by assuming the voices of African American women.

It was slightly amusing and ironically appropriate to be sitting there in a room that was predominantly White and looked like a dress-rehearsal for a Chicos/Talbots/White|Black fashion show to hear Stockett talk about her teenage years when she, by her own admission, was naive and unaware of the rules of race and class even though she had been adhering to them in one way or another her entire life. It was just the way it was and there we were just the way it is.

But does it matter that Stockett is a Southern White woman who was raised by Demetrie, her family’s “help”, and is now telling a fictional Demetrie’s story? Were you worried as you cracked open the book or did it not even cross your mind to worry? Is there really a line and did she cross it by assuming the voices of Aibilene, Minny and Constantine? Was it too much? Or is it a line we should all be crossing?

Do You Need a Gift Receipt With That?

One of my love languages is receiving gifts. I love gifts not because I’m a material girl but because I appreciate the love, effort and thoughtfulness that goes into a well-planned gift. Some of the best gifts I’ve received over the years have been the ones that let me know that the giver knows me – beautiful notecards I would never spend the money to buy for myself, a book by a favorite author, a piece of dark chocolate with almonds, a pretty pair of earrings, a fabulous scarf that is really, really almost the color red.

I try to be a gracious receiver of these gifts, these expressions of love and care for me. It has not been easy because it has meant dealing with the voice – that stupid voice inside my head that says, “Kathy, you’re not worth that person’s love. You’re not worth the paper those cards are made of. You’re not worth the words written in that book. That piece of chocolate will only make you want another piece of chocolate. The money spent on those earrings could provide food for the food bank, and you are too vain to be wearing a fabulous scarf like that.”

I know. It’s crazy.

What’s crazier is that because I have such a hard time receiving gifts I become absolutely paralyzed when it comes to giving myself a gift, a little treat, a little something something. I have talked myself out of buying things that I actually need – socks, moisturizer (no, you really do need moisturizer), a notebook. It really is a song and dance in my head because as one who enjoys shopping just to see what’s out there I also know that while those lies are lies they are powerful. The lies that try to keep me in my place by telling me that I am undeserving and utterly selfish are just as strong as the lies that tell me that cute little something something will fulfill me.

Yup. Still crazy.

Through the years I have returned many, many thoughtful gifts from my husband. My mother used to tell me that I had better stop doing that or he will just stop giving me gifts out of exhaustion and a feeling of failure. The thing is that I would return those gifts because I didn’t feel deserving of his love through his gifts.

Jesus has helped silence those lies, just like he silenced the many demons he cast out during his crazy 30s. He tells those lies to be silent, and in their place he reminds me that his grace is sufficient and his love for me is what flows out. He reminds me that my husband and my friends love me, and their gifts do not need to be returned. No gift receipt necessary. (Unless, of course, the gift doesn’t fit. Honey, that ring really didn’t fit.)

So, do you like receiving gifts or giving gifts? What is the best gift you have ever received or given?

And how about this…for posting a comment in response to this post, one lucky winner will receive a gift from me and the good folks at simply-bags.com. The owners of this internet bag/purse company contacted me earlier this month about “advertising” on my blog in exchange for a free purse. Honestly, I had to go a round with those stupid lies, which this time included thoughts like “sell-out” and “greedy”. And after coming to peace and joy with the fact that this little blog has become a little more than a group of two people (me and Peter) reading it and marveling over my wittiness, I wanted to receive the gift and give one as well.

So, share with me and the other readers of MTST about the best gift you ever received or gave and why that gift was the best, and one lucky commenter will be selected randomly and receive this cute bag (monogrammed if you’d like) courtesy of Simply-Bags.com:

It's simply called "The Summer Tote"

www.Simply-Bags.com is giving one of my readers this bag because I like to drive a hard bargain!

Comments will remain open, but if you want to win your comment has to be posted by May 5, 8 a.m. CST. And it’s ok if you’re a first-time commenter, long-time reader and you’re commenting just because this bag is so cute and you want to win.

The giveaway is now over. Drum roll…the random number generator picked…Shirley! Thanks to all who commented off- and on-line. You all are a a gift to to me!

Reasonable Suspicion

My college girlfriends and I had considered Arizona as a spot for a 40th bday bash, but I’m not sure we’d pass muster. We’ve all been questioned before. We’ve all been told one way or another that for some reason that surely has absolutely nothing to do with race, color or national origin that we just don’t look like we belong.

It usually goes something like this…

Someone trying to make conversation with me: “Where are you from?”

Me: Oh, I’m from (fill in the blank  – Chicago, Seattle, Columbus, Portland, Phoenix, Flagstaff).

Same Someone: No, I mean where are you REALLY from.

Me: Huh?

Still that Same Someone: You know. Where are you FROM?

The only place I knew as “home”, as the place I was from, was Chicago. Why wasn’t that answer enough? Because I don’t look or sound like a Chicagoan? Just ask me to say “hot dog” and “beer”. I’ve got Chicaaahgo.

Being told in so many words in so many ways that you don’t belong, that you couldn’t possibly be from where you say you are actually from can make you reasonably suspicious of people who ask the “where are you from” question.

But now the “where are you from” question takes on an entirely different level of fear, intimidation and distinction. Will all American citizens living in Arizona or traveling through/in Arizona, as a precautionary measure and to be in full compliance will the law, carry proof of their immigration status? You’re not an immigrant so you don’t need to carry identification? Prove it.

One of the provisions in the Arizona law “requires police officers to ‘make a reasonable attempt’ to determine the immigration status of a person if there is a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that he or she is an illegal immigrant. Race, color or national origin may not be the only things considered in implementation. Exceptions can be made if the attempt would hinder an investigation.”

Help me understand what are the other things to consider in implementation? If the person speaks with an accent or can’t speak proper English, is that enough to raise reasonable suspicion? Jeez, I know plenty of folks who had better laminate their birth certificates or carry their passports if they are going to be in Arizona. How can you tell national origin by looking at someone, listening to someone?

I’ve been following the reactions to the new law, and the responses that confuse me the most are the ones that argue the only ones who are worried or angry or concerned about this law are probably illegal and already undocumented. Obviously, citizens who are here legally should have nothing to be worried about. But doesn’t the law apply to everyone? Anyone’s immigration status could come into question, but it’s not really “anyone” we’re talking about here. Not just “anyone” is going to have their immigration status questioned because not just “anyone” gets asked “where are you from?” more than once. Not just “anyone” gets pulled over in certain neighborhoods and communities. Not just “anyone” gets followed in certain stores. Not just “anyone”. Just those who raise reasonable suspicion. Right?

I am trying to make a reasonable attempt at understanding how this law will be implemented but I’m reasonably suspicious.

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