The Vitamin L Diary: Fear, Faith & Deep Breaths

I see my doctor every six months to make sure the Vitamin L (Lexapro) is doing its thing. Today was that day, which included a flu shot (too late for poor Corban, my second) and an unexpected encounter with the bleeding woman and a dead girl.

My doctor asked me about my mood and whether or not I was having any anxiety attacks. I was honest, telling her there have been several times in the past six months where I have had to take some deep breaths and mentally go “there” – dig deep, to breathe, close my eyes literally or metaphorically, and slow…things…down…to figure out the trigger of the anxiety, the fear.

Instead of asking me about dosing alprazolam, she sent me to the very passage in the Bible that I had used a few weeks ago when preaching at the Asian American InterVarsity chapter at UW-Madison. She sent me to meet the bleeding woman and the dying girl.

My doctor and I have talked about the stigma of mental illness and of using drugs to help address depression and anxiety, and today she addressed it head on by reminding me not to be afraid of fear.

She said to remember that whenever God shows up in a big way, through angels or a vision, God says, “Do not be afraid” and then offers some sort of assurance that He is with them. That fear seems a rather natural physical and mental response, the kind that keeps people from speaking and acting, the kind expressed on your face or in your body language. Fear happens even in the God’s presence. In the gospels of Mark and Luke, Jesus encounters people who were afraid of the demon-possessed man, the bleeding woman who trembles with fear having been “caught” healing herself by touching Jesus’ cloak, and Jairus who is afraid because his daughter has died.

If that kind of fear and anxiety exists in scripture, why are we so afraid to deal with it?

I am certain there will be many moments and seasons of fear in my life. The drugs don’t make it all go away. They do not erase or eliminate emotions. But what I have found most freeing in this journey has been to take that which festers in the darkness and elicits fear and to bring it out whether through my blog or when I speak publicly. I do not want to be afraid of fear,

of anxiety,

of depression,

of what people think when the read whatever I’ve written and disagree with me,

of disappointing my husband or my kids or my parents (it’s a cultural thing),

of bombing a speaking gig or not doing what I imagine would be my “very best”.

I

do

not

want

to

be

afraid.

I want only to breathe and believe that God

is

with

me.

 

 

***Don’t worry. My doctor knows I am a Christian, and I have told her I welcome these candid conversations as she is taking my vitals and vaccinating me. I am blessed.***

 

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.

Moving From Fear to Faith to Belonging

Sometimes we agree to do risky things. I would have to say that agreeing to preach at my church on Mother’s Day was one of those things. Not only was I “Mom” I was “guest speaker/preacher”, and my church and I are still in what I would call the “pre-premarital counseling days” – we are getting to know each other after already having made an initial, mutual commitment to one another. But there is so much to learn about one another. And you, my lovely readers, know that I share quite a bit about myself and my faith. My preaching style reflects that, and I never know what God will do as people get used to the sound of my voice.

I felt very much in the zone this morning at both services, and was grateful at how I continued to hear God teach me thing about the passage. And the feedback was good, and I walked away grateful that God honored my faithfulness by helping many connect with God on this special day. Here is the script as I preached out of Mark 5:21-43.

Happy Mother’s Day! I am working on Mother’s Day.

To be frank, I am never quite sure how I feel about Mother’s Day. After I became a mother I became quite annoyed that only one day was set aside to celebrate my many accomplishments and contributions 😉

Yet, it’s honestly a tough time of the year. In fact, the entire month of May and the season of spring is fraught with complicated memories and emotions for me.

Thirteen years ago Peter and I welcomed spring with the grief of a miscarriage. I felt loss and a deep sense of shame that perhaps God was punishing me for my greediness. I already had a beautiful daughter. Friends and family tried to console me by reminding me of how lucky and blessed I already was with one child, almost taking away permission to grieve. Mother’s Day that year was complicated and I was afraid to hope for healing and for more children.

In 2005, we lost my mother-in-law, Rebekah Chang to kidney cancer and Mother’s Day that year was a bittersweet one as my husband continued to grieve his mother and I wrestled with how to properly grieve a MIL with whom I had had a tenuous relationship.

Spring usually marks a time of excitement in our home as school winds down and my kids look ahead to our annual trek to Cedar Campus, InterVarsity’s training and conference center in the UP. Five years ago forever changed my relationship with that blessed place as in a matter five days Corban got hit in the head with a rock almost needing stitches; I threw out my lower back and was hobbling around as I lead evangelism training; my mother suffered a heart attack and was in ICU and then the final straw – a series of seizures (to this day unexplained) that put Elias on death’s edge. I left Cedar Campus having taught students to share the Good News of Jesus, wondering if God had abandoned me.

And ever since then, spring marked my annual anxiety and panic attacks and bouts of depression as my family and I begin to turn our minds towards Cedar Campus. Ever since 2006, May and the celebration of Mother’s Day has felt a little like holding my breath and waiting for the crashing wave to pass.

Last year, shortly after Mother’s Day I found myself in my kitchen overcome by a tearful anxiety attack recalling the events of five years past – seeing Elias seizing, Bethany surrounded by other staff kids her age praying with her and for us, Corban rushing towards the closing ambulance doors asking for one last hug and feeling nothing by mind-numbing fear.

Shortly after Mother’s Day last year asking God for strength and faith to face my fears and overcome the social taboos surrounding counseling and medical intervention and sought help from a counselor and my medical doctor to address my fears, anxiety and depression.

Mother’s Day is not easy. Some of you have lost your mothers. Some of you are anxiously awaiting a child. Some of the mothers here have lost children. And many women are not yet and may never be mothers. Some of you can’t for obvious reasons can’t be mothers. And for others, you have your own complicated relationship with Mother’s Day and spring. How can we hope and celebrate when the day-to-day realities don’t fit neatly on a greeting card?

This passage in the Gospel of Mark reminds us that Jesus’ ministry meant redefining categories and relationships and power. Jesus’ ministry is one of hope and healing where fear and dread have once lived. Here we see Jairus , a synagogue ruler, meeting Jesus out in the streets beyond the walls of the synagogue where he has authority, power and influence, falling at Jesus’ feet asking for Jesus to heal his “little daughter” who is 12-years-old. He asks for Jesus to place His hands on her, believing out of fear and desperation that Jesus’ touch is all that is needed.

But in the midst of this story comes along an unnamed woman, who from all that we can gather has no other family, no sons to speak on her behalf, no husband to represent her, no father to ask for her healing. She has been bleeding for 12 years, separating her from public life. Walking into public she must announce her condition yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!” so that no other is affected by her affliction. Hers must be a personal and separating suffering, but her actions mirror that of the synagogue ruler. She seeks Jesus out in public, but instead of asking for a face-to-face audience, the woman reaches out to simply touch Jesus’ garment. I wonder if she had known that Jesus was on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter for surely in that time a true leader would show preference for a man and a male leader at that over a woman. But regardless, she reaches and immediately knows she has been freed. And Jesus knows power has gone out of him.

Imagine walking in the crowd at the Taste of Chicago and asking those around you, “Who touched me?” That’s just silly. And the disciples thought so too, answering rather sarcastically, “You see the people crowding against you, and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

Yet, the woman knows and just like Jairus, falls at Jesus’ feet. She is trembling with fear. The crowd could easily turn on her, her presence in public alone is cause for punishment. Her physical condition, though healed, is unspeakable.

And while Jairus is waiting for Jesus to heal his dying little daughter, Jesus does that very thing. Jesus heals his daughter. His cloak has stopped this woman’s bleeding of 12 years and then reorders society, culture, power and position by calling out to this woman, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

The suffering of 12 years of bleeding is over, but a woman in her situation during that time and culture suffered from so much more. Jesus’ healing and ministry is physical, emotional, spiritual, relational. She is Jesus daughter, a woman no longer unclean and untouchable and alone, but claimed as family and recognized by this Jesus. She belongs because of her faith.

But wait. What happened to Jairus? Imagine being in his place. Are you impatient? Angry? Desperate? Yes? How many time have you or I thought that God was paying too much attention to someone else’s pain and not addressing your own? Jairus receives news that his daughter is dead but Jesus quickly turns to Jairus and tells him before Jairus can utter a word, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”

After all, everyone has just witnessed this incredible physical healing as well as emotional and relational healing, but we all quickly forget how Jesus’ power and love conquers all divisions.

So he heals again. This time, the interaction is private with only Peter, James and John there in the presence of this family – father, mother, little daughter. Jesus is the one who reaches out and touches the dead girl’s hand. She, too, is unclean, just like the woman. And Jesus tells her to get up.

But sometimes the most important part of the story of transformation in our own lives and in the lives of the bleeding woman and Jairus and his family is the part after our encounter with Jesus.

Did the woman live as one of faith and one freed from her suffering and as a daughter of Jesus? How did Jairus and his family engage with those in the synagogue or the mourners who were crying in his home? Did those in the crowd welcome the woman who was no longer unclean into their community, and help her ease her fears and take away power from her personal pain? Did the mourners and those Jairus would later encounter in the synagogue play a part in releasing the secret by welcoming the 12-year-old girl and family back?

Before we walk away from this holy place this morning/afternoon, ready to take on the busy plans to celebrate and commemorate, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect. What will you do with your fears and faith? How will you or we as a body react in the face of another’s fear and faith? Are we here because we are ready to acknowledge our fears with our faith in Jesus and walk away freed of suffering or is it just one day of the week we set aside to acknowledge Jesus?