Saunas and Sheet Masks: A Theology of Self-care

We have made it to February, my Dear Readers! February! And for those counting days a little differently, it’s Day 12 of the Resistance (actually, it’s been longer than that but …)! It’s time to revisit (or learn about) self-care.

Setting snark aside, winter in the Midwest is challenging never mind being a woman of color. These are trying, difficult times. I know that some people have wished their Facebook feeds to return to the days of  cat memes and news about everyone else’s perfect families (there was one woman in the neighborhood but she unfriended me). But my feed has never been void of politics, challenging news, religious commentary, and the occasional crock pot recipe. Social media for me was never about escapism, but I think for some people it was and because things are hitting closer to home or politics and policies are finally hitting you in a new way you’re exhausted. For others, like myself, we have been exhausted for a very long time.

But we were not designed and created to stay in a state of perpetual exhaustion and anxiety. God did not spend a metaphorical six days of creating to spend the seventh day fretting. We need to care for ourselves – physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, psychologically not only to fight against oppression and injustice but also to simply be. Our healthy whole selves, I believe, are meant to be a testimony to God’s goodness even in times like these. Especially in times like these. Because more and more of us are waking up to the reality that there are real people and forces who do not want many of us, particularly people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ, Muslims, to live, let alone flourish.

So, Kathy, what do you do to take care of yourself? What do you do for self-care?

I actually do a lot. You cannot work full-time, write on the side, help raise three children and not lose any of them on a road trip, stay married for what is now almost 24 years, love Jesus, and not do some level of self-care and not drop dead or hurt someone. And trust me, when I haven’t loved myself, respected myself I have hurt others. Ask my kids, my husband, my parents, my sister, my friends, my colleagues.

So self-care isn’t about spa treatments and weekend getaways, though those are AMAZING if you can afford them in time and money. Self-care isn’t about avoiding or numbing the pain. If I find myself roaming resale shops and the sale racks for no reason I know that I’m just trying to avoid dealing with myself and my pain. SeIf-care is restorative and preparation. Remember the year of beauty treatments Queen Esther had? I can’t help but wonder if that year also helped her be prepared to lead her people. So, on that note I think of self-care in three categories:

REST

Many of us are walking around sleep-deprived. I’m not talking about parents with infants or young children. I’m talking about all of us. We are also bombarded with information and glowing screens all the time, even the kiddos. Screen time isn’t restful, in fact, my own unscientific study of my friends’ Facebook posts recently have shown an uptick of people feeling more stress and anxiety from social media and wanting to take breaks. We need to rest. Remember, God took Day 7 OFF. Things to do for straight up rest include:

  • GO TO BED BEFORE MIDNIGHT. Lately I have been shooting for seven hours of sleep. (My kids are 21, 17, and 15 so I have other reasons to be up late and worried but sleep-training isn’t one of them.)
  • Take short naps if I need them.
  • Technology is my nemesis. I need to be better at getting off of my phone or computer at least one hour before I go to bed. Anyone want to be my accountability partner?
  • Nagging my spouse for years about his snoring. Turns out he has sleep apnea and now uses a CPAP machine. Very sexy. If your partner isn’t sleeping soundly chances are you aren’t either.
  • Cutting off caffeine at 3 pm but my problem isn’t caffeine. It’s the glass of wine with the evening news, which doesn’t help with sleep.
  • Readers. My eyes are older and turned against me last year and because I love to read, when the words started moving and growing fuzzy I gave in and bought some reading glasses to rest my eyes, which helped my headaches, which helped me sleep.
RESTORE

Once I had a better handle on a sleep pattern and rhythm (just like we try to do with our infants), needing rest wasn’t urgent because it was part of the routine. Feeling refreshed and restored is different than just getting enough sleep. I think of rest as turning off my engine. Restoration is filling my tank.

  • EXERCISE! This will also help the quality of your sleep. My favorites are walking, yoga, and kickboxing. Walking gets me outside into the fresh air. It gets me out of my head (I don’t always have my headphones on) and if I’m alone it’s my time to rant with Jesus. If I’m with friends, they are a stand-in for Jesus. Yoga has helped me connect my body awareness to my breathing. Kickboxing is great cardio, and I like to hit the bag.
  • Saunas and sheet masks are a given. I go to a Korean sauna monthly to sit in dry saunas and hot steam rooms. I go alone because silence is a good. I go with friends because friends who don’t care about seeing each other naked in the steam room are friends worth keeping. Sheet masks and general “spa” like things are about caring for my body as well as connecting with others. After the Women’s March it was sooooo good to be in a room with four other amazing Asian American women talking about the day, lying on our backs, moisturizing our faces, and delighting in each other’s company.
  • My tank needs 10 mg of Lexapro daily. No shame. My brain needs a daily adjustment. If you have healthcare, don’t get me started, GO SEE YOUR DOCTOR and make sure all your levels are where they need to be. I was worried I was falling into a deeper depression last year so I called up my doctor. Turns out I was anemic.
  • Spend time in community. When I am in a funk, the last thing I want to do is go out but it is often the thing I need to get myself out of myself. Invite friends over for dessert. Take lunch to a friend. Talk with other people. Be around other people.
READY (to go)

Like I said, this isn’t about spa treatments. This is about taking care of yourself because it’s not just about you. What is God inviting you to do, to become? I think of President Barack Obama’s chant, “Fired up? Ready to go!” I think of Jesus telling the disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” or the angel telling the women at the tomb, “Come and see…go quickly and tell…”  I love moisturizing my skin, but our beautiful strong bodies are meant to go. How will you be ready? This is where I feed my heart, soul and mind.

  • Read. Do the work of feeding your mind. Read authors of color. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read poetry and young adult novels. Listen to audiobooks and podcasts if you don’t have the time to sit and read. (But remember, we always have time for the things we make time for.)
  • Use both sides of your brain. Look at art, listen to music and then make some art and dance to the music. Resistance takes work but there has to be joy and hope…and laughter. So tap into the joy and hope otherwise what are you fighting for?
  • I’m a Christian so I pray. I miss praying with friends so I’ll need to do that again/more. I pray aloud and silently. I write my prayers. I walk my prayers. I breathe my prayers.

So help me and each other out, my Dear Readers. What self-care practices do you keep or want to try? How can you help others practice self-care?

Everyday Dismantling #4

What are some practical, everyday ways we can work to dismantle privilege that both are simple, clear things to do and don’t burden PoC (people of color) with the expectation they be our (unpaid) teachers?

It has been one hell of a month – 11 days in Pacific and Eastern Standard Time and what feels like a relentless stream of violence against black people and examples of white supremacy, white privilege, and American racism. (I am using “American racism” because I am freaking tired of people pointing out there is racism in other countries. That’s fine, but like I often hear: WE ARE IN AMERICA!)

So to end this month there are three just two things, dear readers, I would like to suggest as practical, everyday ways to dismantle privilege:

1. Leverage your privilege in a mundane, boring, non-savior sort of way that doesn’t involve asking a PoC for anything. As a Korean-American woman who is in great health with reliable transportation, I have made a small, tiny commitment to donate blood.

What does blood donation have to do with dismantling privilege? What did you think dismantling privilege was going to be? Saving poor people of color and being their saviors?    Nope. Jesus already has that spot in my life, thank you very much. Dismantling privilege in part is taking stock of where privilege lulls us into thinking our money, our platforms, our influence are the best and perhaps only ways of breaking down systems instead of considering how our entire embodied lives can impact the world and people around us. If I can’t do the little things, I have no business trying to do any heavy lifting of social injustice.

I don’t particularly like giving blood, and the finger prick, IMHO, is the worst. But I live in the “safe” suburbs where kids and adults don’t generally get pulled over for a missing license plate or arrested for drug dealing and abuse. But I also live within walking distance from a Level 1 trauma hospital where we regularly hear medical helicopters coming and going. Broken systems in a deeper sense mean we all experience death and brokenness in a way God did not originally intend. People are suffering and dying everyday, spiritually and physically, right in front of our eyes. It’s not just in the news. So as an act of worship I barely inconvenience myself to willingly shed blood for those who need it, because my health allows me to do it freely. That is part of dismantling – acting freely, without strings attached, to help right something that is wrong.

2. Care for the PoC around you. Now, this doesn’t mean going up to PoC you don’t know and giving them a hug and asking to get to know their story, and I say this because this was suggested at a conference I attended where the last thing I needed was another random white person asking to get to know me. I am assuming, dear readers, you have friends who are not white. Send your friends an actual note of encouragement or a text. Check in with them when the poo poo hits the fan. Tell them how their engagement and unofficial role as unpaid teachers of social justice has made an impact in your life. Treat them to coffee. Send them a care package or a gift certificate (I am not even kidding you on this!) and encourage the PoC, especially those who are deeply engaged in the work of dismantling privilege, to care for themselves. We are TIRED.

Honestly, I don’t know how some of my black friends walk out the front door anymore. Does the car have both license plates? Do I have my polite voice? Will I make eye contact but not too much eye contact? Will my friendliness be perceived as disrespect? Can I reach for my license and registration or do I need to point to my purse or wallet first? Again, to point out the obvious (maybe it isn’t that obvious since many of you don’t actually KNOW me), I am a Korean-American woman. I don’t think being pulled over by a police officer is a threat to my life. But life in America as a non-white person can be exhausting, a series of microaggressions – daily reminders of my otherness – that I choose to ignore or engage. Some examples of the “easier” ones:

  • The random stranger who greets me with a phrase in her/his choice of Asian language, usually a man saying “konichiwa” or “ni hao” because clearly all Asians speak all Asian languages and not English.
  • The “where are you from” line of questioning that is rarely satisfied by my answer: Chicago.
  • “Where did you learn your English? You speak it so well.” 
  • Conversations about “minorities” or “black people” but then being put at ease by being told, “but you’re not like that”.
  • Reading Yelp reviews about nail salons and the rudeness of employees speaking another language in front of customers (‘cuz you know the nail techs are always talking about you, lady) or the language barriers mono-language Americans face when ordering at their favorite authentic Asian restaurant.

We can only ignore things and let them roll off our backs for so long before we begin to pick up the message that we don’t fit the standard of American. This happens not just on the street but in our churches and places of worship, our schools, our favorite coffee shops. Turn on the tv or open up a magazine. Go to the movies. Look at the speaker line-up for conferences or at the attendees at the next conference or meeting you are at. Look at the list of recommended books. Glance at the patrons in your favorite restaurant. I usually make a scene when my family and I aren’t the only ones. Why do I pay attention? Well, because white people don’t have to. And because you don’t have to, your energy doesn’t go into managing all of the possibilities of every encounter, every post you put up on Facebook, etc. You aren’t tired the same way we are tired so care for your friends of color.

Falling Into New Rhythms

It has been a week since we dropped off our firstborn on campus and high-tailed it back to Queens to drown our bittersweet tears and smiles in three perfectly grilled cuts of red meat and a pitcher of sangria.

I am still exhausted from the weeks, if not months, of anticipation, the measured and outbursts of emotion, the moving of a van full of STUFF, and then the goodbye.

It’s also hitting me that I am tired from (but not of) 16+ years of campus ministry. I did take a few breaks, which were also called maternity leave, but any job that requires you to be a combination of pastor, counselor, coach, supervisor, trainer, teacher, speaker, preacher, candlestick maker will drain you even if you have healthy boundaries and rhythms in place.

Somewhere between 1998 and the present those healthy boundaries and rhythms changed and evolved with each new season, and now as a gift to me from my employer – InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA – has granted me a six-month sabbatical from the daily rhythms of college ministry.

I’d always thought of sabbaticals as something teachers or academics might take, but the rhythm of work and rest or ceasing is part of my life as a Christian. My day of rest or “ceasing” is often Sunday, but admittedly Sunday’s are often a harried morning rushing off late to church with an afternoon of errands and housekeeping. It’s usually the “get everything set up for the crazy week ahead” day, but that’s not what God intended when He modeled sabbath in Genesis. After creating the universe “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2:3, TNIV)

Blessed and holy rest.

I’m excited and scared out of my mind. I’m scared I’ll miss out on making new connections and fun staff reunions, also known as FOMO or the fear of missing out. I’m scared six months away will mean there will be no place to return to at the beginning of March. I’m scared to ask God about this next season of life because He just might answer. I’m scared current ministry partners will stop praying and stop giving financially to the programs and plans I’ve been overseeing. I’m scared I’ll disappear and become irrelevant. I’m scared colleagues will forget about me.

On the other hand, what would you do if you had six months off of work? Granted, I can’t give up doing laundry or cleaning the house (could I?), and the daily demands of being a wife and mom can be crazy enough. But if you work outside of the home and could put that away for six months what would you do??

But I am crazy excited about organizing the talks and sermons, the training modules and articles, the book lists, the blogger lists, and all the other “administration” that is as much about listening and discerning as it is about cleaning up. Cleaning up the physical mess is a part of digging deep into the spiritual mess because after that many years of ministry there are a few messes to clean up. I’m excited about being a part of a two-year spiritual development cohort. I’m excited about some more space to read, journal, and write. I’m excited to have the permission and the luxury to say “no” to the daily demands and to dream and pray about the future.

Below is a link to my fall ministry update, if you are so inclined. In the meantime, even if it’s for an hour, put away the distractions – put the kids to bed, put the phone away, step away from any screen, and just sit. Doze off. Read. Journal. Go for a run. Or just sit in the silence. It’s a little exciting and a little scary, right?

Fall 2014 prayer letter

The Art, Gift and Discipline of Self-Care

It’s so quiet here. Even the ceiling fan in my office doesn’t make any noise.

Yes, all three kids are back in school, and I am trying to give myself a ton of grace as we try to re-establish a routine. What is always top on the list is how to make the transition back to school a healthy, joyful one for the kids. What has appeared and creeped up on the list has been ways to make the transition and routine a healthy and joyful one for me.

Me.

That’s OK, right? Right. Yes. Absolutely. Sometimes. Most of the time. Of course it is.

There were years when all I wanted was to be able to go to the bathroom without one of my kids needing/wanting to be within earshot or on my lap. All I wanted was to pee in peace. Was that too much to ask for?

But now that my toddlers are much older, it is a discipline to give myself the gift of self-care. Sometimes it’s a few minutes in the morning with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. Other times it’s 60 minutes of exercise. Or a bottle of nail polish.

It takes time to figure out what little thing or slightly bigger thing restores and rejuvenates my body, mind and soul so that my thought bubble doesn’t read “HELLO?! Am I the only one who sees this mess and cares about it?” It takes discipline to tear away at all of the real and important demands on our lives. It takes discipline to prioritize, to honor commitments, to understand yourself in all the crazy and beautiful ways God created you to be. My mind keeps wandering to those crazy sisters Mary and Martha and that little slice of life in their home we read about in the Gospel of Luke. Martha is running around very much like I run around and she is ticked off that her sister Mary is just sitting there listening to Jesus.

What kind of life does Mary think she has? Who does she think she is?

This morning I get the sense that Mary knows herself the way I want to know myself…so I am going to go sit…with my coffee. And then I am going to walk, not run, through my to-do list.

What are you going to do? Or, what do you need to do for yourself today? It’s OK. Really. It’s OK.