Tonight is the night before she leaves for college, and the dining room is filled with laughter and chatter. There are only two other young women in her incredible circle of friends who are still “in town” waiting, and tonight is a night for friendship.
I sat there with them for awhile, laughing at a Facebook post, our lack of sewing skills in comparison to Bethany, and cried a little bit. It has been such an honor to be allowed to be a part of that sacred space of friendship, and it was time to honor it even more by stepping away. It’s time.
Depression haunted me in my childhood, but I remember distinctly coming home from the hospital with this tiny peanut of a newborn who came with no instructions. I was in pain from an emergency postpartum surgery, unable to do just about anything without incredible pain and feeling quite unlike myself. Five months later with friends in from out of town I recall telling them that I didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like myself. I wasn’t sure if I could feel anything really.
I didn’t look sad in the photos. I didn’t walk around with an animated cloud hovering around my head. I just kept moving.
Gratefully, it has been five years since I sought treatment – a combination of counseling and an antidepressant. I continue to shake off cultural stereotypes and stigma associated with depression, anxiety, and medication. There are some who do not understand how a faithful, evangelical Christian could depend on medication to fight off something that perhaps more prayer and faithfulness could overcome. There are some in my own family who do not approve of my sharing publicly that I am on (whisper) medication. Depression and anxiety do not define me, but the reality is that my mental health is part of me. It is a part of any human being – a God-ordained intersection between soul, mind, and body. We share the earth with other living things, but there is no other living thing quite like us humans.
And I realized again today, as I sat with my son at a medical appointment, that depression and anxiety are a part of my life as mother and a part of my children’s lives. We were asked about family medical history. “Is there anyone in the family with depression or anxiety? Is there anyone in the family who has committed suicide?” Yes, there is heart disease and high blood pressure as well as depression and suicide. Even as my children grow up and mature, their family history follows them and is a part of their story as well.
So as we come to this part of my story as a mother of a college freshman soul, mind, and body intersect. The tears are right there, clinging to my eyes ready to roll out at a moment’s notice. My heart is pounding in anticipation of the incredible things she will see and do in college. I can imagine her rehearsing, choreographing, learning to connect her soul, mind, and body, and I smile like a madwoman. And I know we will drive home with one less body in the car with her smile and spirit lingering. My soul is appropriately, gloriously conflicted, and my mind and body start to take over with tears, smiles, and fear.
How will my brain translate all that is going on in my soul? Will the depression and anxiety come to visit as I enter into a quieter season or will the 10 milligrams keep doing their thing? Will I have the courage to set aside fear and seek out help, ask for the company of friends or a walk with my husband?
Worse yet, will my daughter lose the genetic crapshoot and experience a new dark night of the soul? Will the transitions overwhelm her in an unexpected way? Have I given her the tools, the words, the freedom to know the signs and ask for help? Have I done all that I can do before she goes?
There is no way to know, but there is a way to cope and live. Dear Readers and friends, please hope with me. Pray with me. Pray for daughters and sons launching off into new experiences and their parents who all know there is little we can do to protect them forever. Pray that the lies of stereotypes and stigma don’t keep them from getting help. Pray for friends and mentors who aren’t afraid to offer and get them help. And I pray history and story will ground my daughter and hope and faith will shape her future.
I’ve been silent in this space because I do not yet have the words. The death of Michael Brown is still rattling in my heart in part because he was days away from college. My daughter is days away from college. She does not face the same daily threats to her humanity as young black men. We all live in a broken world. I get tired knowing it often seems more broken for some than others. And honestly, I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around dropping off my baby in a dorm and not seeing her at home until Christmas…and knowing Michael Brown’s mother and I shared some basic hopes and dreams for our babies.
But some of my colleagues have found the words, and I wanted to use this space for others I minister with through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship who have found the words that are still forming and fighting in my heart. I’m watching the news, following Twitter, and staying as informed as I can. I am trying to stay open, teachable, hopeful. Please come read with me, share with me words you are reading and struggling with. This isn’t about a hashtag.
“Within 7 minutes of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I could go on facebook, google, twitter, cnn.com, and have all kinds of information available at my finger tips. Police statements and interviews releasing the name of the person responsible, what he was wearing, what weapon he fired, how many bullets were released. That was within 7 minutes. Within 7 days (10,080 minutes) of the death of Michael Brown, the only information available is the name of the police officer who fired the shot (and mind you, this was not released until 5 or 6 days later) and irrelevant video footage from an entirely separate incident involving stolen cigars and a frightened store clerk. This is a problem because information is power. And while the American public might not be entitled to full or even partial disclosure, I have to believe that the mother who lost her son deserves to have access to the information that will give her a picture of the final 20 minutes of her son’s life.”
“So to my non-black Christian brothers and sisters – maybe the point of honest confession and repentance is where we need to start. What’s the point of pretending to be better than we are. We are far more broken, yet far more loved by the God of Justice, than we know.”
“I got a text today from a White friend looking to understand more about the anger expressed as a result of the killing ofMichael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. After getting into a pretty lengthy text response, I decided to reply via Facebook messenger so I could type the rest on my laptop. Halfway through that, I decided to share my response to him on my blog.”
“So, here are my thoughts for my Asian American Christian community. There is so much that needs to be addressed to correct for the sinful and broken ways in which we have essentially adopted a broken White evangelical view of race and justice. But these are a few starting points.”
“Prayer seems not enough. The problems are too big. In this tension, we become discouraged and wind up neither praying nor acting. Maybe we’ll “like” a Facebook post or retweet a compelling tweet. But without prayer or action, these well-intentioned yet vapid shows of support are meaningless.”
What posts have moved you? Challenged you? Made you angry? Made you cry? Made you reconsider your opinion or your actions?
1. I actually love school supplies – fun pens, crisp paper, color-coordinated file folders with labels printed out on my label maker. (Bird!) However, I hate buying or trying to find those school supplies on the school-provided list. You know, the composition notebook of which my child will only use 10 pages during the entire school year. The three three-subject notebooks with plastic cover and non-perforated pages of which my child will never use all the pages. Or the specific brand of watercolors that are not found anywhere near this side of Middle Earth.
2. You may think the extra credit for bringing in extra boxes of facial tissue or extra disinfectant wipes is a great way to restock your classroom supply, but I would rather you offer extra credit for actual academic work. Make a request for the supplies or wait for that first wave of strep throat cases and then make the request. Timing is everything.
3. By middle school I would really appreciate not having to buy anymore markers or colored pencils. In fact, teachers who tell my children that their pencil case filled to the seams with a hodgepodge of colored pencils from years past will not do go on my naughty list. The same goes for teachers who tell my children that they need to bring a NEW notebook to replace the 70-page notebook they used last year (and by used I mean the first five pages of the notebook). The same goes for any recycled/pre-used school supplies I send with my kids. They should get bonus points for reusing!
3.5. I have a teacher naughty list. Read on because I have a nice list, too.
4. If my child speaks of you with respect, admiration and teacher-crush tendencies I will send homemade granola or the occasional baked treat because my kids desperately need teachers who “speak” to their minds, hearts, and character.
5. Every year I pray for you because during the week there are many days you see my children longer than I will. Teachers and administrators like Ms. Johnson, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Umlauf, Mr. Studt, Mr. Ciskie, Mr. Lyons, and Mr. Benenfeld made an impact on me and my family, shaping me in profound ways. For a kid who was put into ESL in kindergarten, was bullied and teased all through elementary and high school, and couldn’t wait to get the heck out of town and never see some of her classmates ever again, it’s a hoot to be an author, paid public speaker, and minister. I pray for you teachers because any one of you might be the teacher my children and I will talk about when my children send my grandchildren to school.
I have been fighting a bout of insomnia by avoiding reflection. It rarely works, which is why last night I just sat there in silence with God to figure it out.
I missed an end-of-July deadline for a devotional series (Romal, it’s getting done. I SWEAR!) I barely made the deadline for another blog (apologies to my family since we technically were on vacation). I had a moment of panic as the posting schedule for another site went up. Did I forget that deadline, too? No, I did not. I just completely forgot what I wrote about. I’m fairly certain I missed the deadline for my annual ministry plan.
I don’t work better under pressure. I just work. Knowing there is a set “end” puts the idea of a goal into focus, but sitting in that 2 a.m. silence it was deeper than those deadlines I heard God trying to get through my fearful heart. Summer ends soon, and so with some denial and regret I looked at the calendar on our fridge.
Two weeks from today my sons return to school as a high school sophomore and a seventh grader, both having adding inches to their height and a summer of video games to their enrichment. I hear my older son’s voice, and I don’t recognize it. I catch their reflections in a mirror, and I have to look harder to see their baby faces. But they will still wake up in their beds and leave those beds every morning unmade. They are still home.
Three weeks from today we will drop off my daughter at her freshman dorm and then drive away holding back tears and snot. I am going to guess that four weeks from today I will have met that missed July deadline, turned in a ministry plan, washed my daughter’s sheets, and closed the door to her room.
It’s so true. The days are long but the years are short. All those times I wanted to tell older women to stop telling me to appreciate the school years? I’M SORRY! YOU WERE RIGHT! I WAS WRONG! I DIDN’T KNOW! I WAS SO TIRED AND CRANKY! I can still physically recall the exhaustion, anxiety, stress, and numbness of those infant-baby-toddler-preschool, breastfeeding, diaper changing, sleep training, nap dropping, potty training years. The ridiculous stress, anxiety, and #firstworldprivilegedparentingprobs of standardized tests, class placement, team sports, friendship drama, GPAs, and socialization remain as we add on a new frontier of young adulthood and college student parenting. The conversations about drinking, drugs, sex, faith, relationships, and overall decision-making shift into a new space for our daughter and for us as parents, for me as her mother. The physicality of parenting – the late-night feedings, the diapers, the baths – shifted dramatically as they became more independent, and I regained healthier sleep habits until she started driving and then driving without the restrictions of a newly licensed driver because I was waiting up for her to come home.
Three weeks. Three weeks and then we will be the ones driving away to go home.
I know this is what I am supposed to do. I am so excited for her and proud of her. I know in my heart this is what it looks like to trust God, and that is what I’ll be counting on when we drive away and head straight for some restaurant in Manhattan for food, tears, a toast, and a prayer. I know that this is gift for her and for us, a continuation of the privilege of being a parent. I know she will miss us even if she doesn’t call, text or Snapchat within the first 24-72 hours of our departure. I know she will have moments of buyers’ remorse, and I will wish we had demanded she go to school closer. I know this isn’t the privilege of most young 18-year-old women and 43-year-old moms. I know that letting her go has been the point of all of this.
But where in the world did all that freaking time go?
Three weeks. I just never thought it would come so soon.
I just bought several cans of low-sodium Spam, and last week I used a paper facial mask for skin brightening/whitening.
Yes. I eat gelatinous meat by-products and I want to be white. Not really. Not at all.
I don’t want to be white, though there was a time when I did. I’m just vain and human. I am heading into my mid-40s, getting ready to launch my firstborn, wondering where all that time I thought I had went, and wondering when all those freckles and sun spots appeared. When the melancholy settles into that sweet spot next to gratitude and hope, I like to sit down for some self-care – some nail polish and a facial mask – or with some comfort food – a bowl of rice, a piece of fried Spam, and some kimchee. Sometimes I will indulge in both in the same night.
The funny thing is that both skin whitening and Spam have similar complex roots in human nature, culture, and politics.
Vanity isn’t unique to Korea (my motherland), despite what we could infer from stories about a Korean golfer playing for Japan because she didn’t fit the beauty standards of her homeland or beauty ads asking women “Do you want to be white?”. I just think it’s easier for us Americans to look outside when it’s convenient. It’s called deflection. It’s easier to point out extreme examples in other countries and cultures than it is to look at our own culture’s jacked up standards of beauty and femininity because, face it, looking in the mirror metaphorically can be as frightening as it is to do it the morning after a rice and Spam bender.
Skin whitening exist here in America, but it is more often promoted as skin brightening – eliminating the freckles, sun spots, sun damage, and imperfections that actually come with being alive and aging. The whitening language is connected to class as well as race. I remember being told during my visits to Korea to carry an umbrella or parasol to keep the sun from damaging my skin; darker, tanned skin was associated with the lower-class farmers or outdoor shop owners. I suspect the stigma of darker skin only increased as Western culture influenced Korea. Oh the irony to be Korean & American where just 50 years ago the U.S. government passed and signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in the decades since then tanning beds, tanning lotions, and straight up “tanning” is part of looking healthy (by the way shades of orange does not equal tan nor does it look healthy. It looks orange.). Think about it. We needed laws to protect and give full rights to women and people of color while white people want to be “tan”. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?
American culture, in some ways, creates a level of dissonance as it could be construed as a collection of cultural appropriation with a dose of good old-fashioned creativity and varying degrees of separation and offense to the originating cultures. What isn’t American about celebrating our country’s birthday with fireworks? Fusion kimchee taco trucks? Churches hosting Harvest Day celebrations? Communion wafers or chunks of white bread with grape juice?
It isn’t always clear to me what is the “right way” and how that is different than the “Christian way” or the “American way” of doing, being, eating, etc. In my experience, Spam was American (which meant “white” in my home) food tweaked to fit our family’s Korean sensibilities, served with rice and kimchee, rolled into kimbap, or thrown into kimchee stew. For goodness sakes you can buy it at chain grocery stores in the canned food aisle near canned stew and those little sausages NOT the “ethnic” food aisle! It slowly dawned on me in adulthood that Spam was American but not necessarily eaten by white Americans.
Spam arrived in my motherland through the Korean War and the U.S. military. Pre-cooked in a compact container, Spam was a fairly economical source of protein during wartime scarcity. My father has regaled us with stories about Spam, Hershey’s chocolate bars, and other wartime black market items. He probably thinks it’s funny his daughter still eats Spam but has gotten snotty about her chocolate. The kids can have s’mores with Hershey’s while I whip out the good stuff for mine. But my kids have had Spam musubi, and there is no shame. The blue can that releases its contents with a “splat” is iconic American though many of my white American friends have never had it because it wan’t necessarily good enough for home consumption but good enough to import elsewhere. Fine. I’ll take it. I am told that the Spam now produced in Korea uses higher quality ingredients and tastes differently but is just as prized as it once was. Tradition and nostalgia tied with grief, loss, scarcity, and displacement is a powerful force.
So how can I, as an Asian American woman wanting to dismantle and deconstruct the racial ties that try to define me use a skin whitening product? Because sometimes, I live into my privilege of not examining everything I touch, wear, eat, use, etc. to see whether or not the producers of everything around me were paid a fair wage, did not harm animals, did not contribute to an unjust war I did not agree with based on my religious beliefs. Sometimes I like a good bargain and the facial masks were buy four-get two free so I grabbed one of each kind. Sometimes I don’t want to fight every fight because there are so many things to be against and not enough time to be for something. Sometimes I just want to take care of myself with a facial mask and some comfort food and it not be a political or racial statement but rather a way of loving my family because a relaxed, centered, well-fed mommy and wife makes for a happy life.
Sometimes it’s more complicated and complex.
I’m heading out Thursday to speak and learn at The Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC.
I’m not sure what I’m getting into.
I’ve been told by past attendees that I am in for a great experience – community, learning, sharing, faith, and so much more. I have no reason to not believe them, but let’s be honest. When I first heard about “the Goose” two years ago, I imagined a bunch of white faith-y, hipster-ish, slightly granola folks camping and enjoying it. For those of you who know me, you see where I’m headed with this. For those of you who are still getting to know me, I’ve been known to take my mani/pedi supplies with me to the Upper Peninsula when traveling there for student leadership training, and I once drove to Madison for staff training with my paraffin wax bath to treat some friends to a little pampering. I was a Girl Scout up until junior high school, and I did go camping as recently as 1995. I sent my kids “camping” as in bible camp. And for some unknown reason we have a camping mess kit, which also in on my packing list for the Goose.
So is a headlamp (shout out goes to Sabrina who introduced me to the headlamp and has been known to be my twin).
Now, I do want to clear the air here. I am a suburbanite with a conscience. I make my own granola and pancake mix because it tastes better. I love resale shops, garage sales, and my church rummage sale. I repainted furniture and frames before there was Pinterest. I have a veggie/herb garden, and I don’t plant annuals. We have three rain barrels and two compost bins cooking up earthy perfection. We recycle like nobody’s business with more recycling than actual garbage that we cut back our garbage pick-ups. My parents taught me about reuse/recycle/repurpose before it was a thing. She used cloth diapers before there were pick-up services and before she owned her own washer and dryer. My dad could store just about anything in a Hills Bros. coffee can so he did. We used every page of every spiral notebook, and showers were taken military style. My mother gardened or foraged in the forest preserves because we couldn’t find certain vegetables and herbs in the “American” grocery stores and those were the days before HMart. And they still find paper towels extremely wasteful.
So I’m not completely outside of some creation care practices and homesteading because that actually comes natural to me from a different vantage point. It wasn’t a choice of luxury/stewardship but of survival. But there is something I don’t exactly know how to describe that makes the idea of being out in a more rural part of the country uncomfortable for me. Deeply unsettling and uncomfortable.
My parents wanted me and my sister to see and experience as much of America as we could on a budget so we drove. “We” meaning mostly my father, hopped up on caffeine (instant coffee made in the car with water we carried in jugs and thermoses). One summer we drove from Chicago all the way to Vancouver, Canada and back. Everyone in the car made it back alive. Through the years we saw Pikes Peak, Mt. Rushmore, Old Faithful, the Grand Tetons, the Smoky Mountains, Acadia National Park, Wall Drug and Disney World. They exposed me to more of America than all my history classes combined. And they were right when they drilled into my head that one day I would look back and appreciate those trips because I do, which is why we road trip with our three kids as well. We, too, are creating gilded memories, my dear readers, one mile at a time.
But another thing I remember, which is probably why the Goose is making me feel a bit uneasy, is that along every stop our family would get stared at. Not looked at. Not a glance. Not a friendly “oh, you’re a tourist let me help you” look. People of all ages would stare at us like we were monkeys at their circus. It didn’t matter where – in restaurants, gas stations, national parks, the motel pool, or the local grocery store. It happened much less on our trips to Niagara Falls (Canadian side) and New York City, but outside of those two trips I remember the looks we got.
My sister recalls the two of us roaming the aisles of a grocery store on one of our family road trips when I caught someone staring at us. Apparently, I looked over and said “Why don’t you take a picture. It lasts longer.” I do not recall this specific incident, but it sounds like something I would do. And while I know in my heart the Goose isn’t going to be a repeat of that, there is also a part of me that isn’t exactly sure or convinced it won’t happen.
So why did I agree to go? Because some of us need to keep building those bridges and crossing cultures even if it means packing a mess kit, your own linens, staying at a hostel, reconsidering footwear, and bringing a headlamp. Sometimes living out the Gospel and truly living into my identity as a Christian means being the object of a stranger’s stare, being asked “No, where do you really come from?” or simply going to a campground. I am also going because I want to challenge the many sisters and brothers of all shades who find that environment and culture home to consider what bridges they ought to consider building or cultures they ought to cross and what “traditions” are actually uninviting, unwelcoming to those of us who are too often reminded we don’t belong unless we conform or assimilate. I am going to see how open-hearted I can be and how open-hearted others are as well.
I’m just not sure what I’m getting into.
I completely agree with #TakeDownThatPost and the request to remove an offensive and poorly written piece on leadership lessons from the perspective of an incarcerated former youth pastor, aka a convicted sexual predator, recently published in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal. The anonymous author was given a broad, respected platform from which he compares his situation to that of King David. He refers to a “friendship”, spends several paragraphs throughout the piece explaining how his ministry continued to flourish, and describes himself as a youth pastor in his 30s who “began a physical relationship” with a student.
Interesting. I thought that was technically called statutory rape.
I suppose there are plenty of lessons to be learned from a pastor who has sinned in the technical, legal sort of way. But it isn’t a new story. It’s just that by and large evangelicals have let the Roman Catholic Church take the brunt of this one with the occasional pastor tripping into sin, falling into sin, failing morally, etc. IMHO the better story would be one of seeking forgiveness, restoration, and healing…from the victim and her family’s point of view. At the very least, the anonymous author’s piece – his tone, his choice of language, the piece’s structure, etc. – should have been vetted a bit more.
Seriously, how does a convicted sex offender – a man who raped a girl – get to publish a piece on leadership when Christianity Today (the parent title/company of Leadership Journal) ought to have been spending more time diversifying its bylined contributor pool, editorial advisory board, and editorial board?
Do I sound like I’m on the edge? I am. I am beyond disbelief when Christian publishers, convention organizers, church leaders say they don’t know where to find qualified writers, speakers, and trainers WHO AREN’T WHITE and a convicted sex offender gets to write about leadership after spending what reads like less than two years in jail with a possible 2015 release date.
Which leads me to the other edge I am dancing on, which is to call out those who are tweeting and manning #TakeDownThatPost social media fronts to take a look on over at CT’s Facebook page post on reparations. Where is our collective outrage and response to “our own” who are telling our black brothers and sisters to “get over” slavery? It’s one thing to rage against “The Man” and try to get a faceless entity like Leadership Journal to take down a post on something so “post-racial” as statutory rape, but apparently it is another thing to get in another commenter’s business and say, “That was racist.” But too often there is a smaller group of us dancing on both those edges because we have never lived in a post-racial America nor in a post-racial Church. My acceptance into broader American culture and Church culture has depended on my ability to play along and assimilate. However, I have known that my voice is welcomed when it’s token, when it adds the Asian American voice, when it is in solidarity with the majority, but when I call out racism I will be asked in the name of Jesus to remember that I am to put aside my ethnic culture and experiences and be a Christian first by my white sisters and brothers in Christ who do not think they have a culture to put aside. But they do. It’s the one that allows them to only pay attention to #Take DownThatPost and ignore understanding the Church’s tangled, dark history with slavery and systemic racism that dates even further back in history that continues to play out today.
I am a Christian. #ItsTimeToCallOutRacism
***In the hours after posting this, Christianity Today/Leadership Journal has removed the post and published an apology. Apology read, heard, and accepted from More Than Serving Tea.
Jiwon Lee. Kevin Lee. Andrew Sun.
The 52-year-old Korean vice-principal of Danwon High School hung himself after more than 200 students remained missing after the tragic April ferry disaster.
University of Illinois student Hye Min Choi, 19, remains missing after his luggage arrived at its destination but he did not.
A Huffington Post article by Andrew Lam starts out declaring mental health issues and suicide in the Asian American community is a hidden tragedy.
It is not. It is out in the open. It’s on television, in the newspapers, in the stats. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Asian American women ages 15-24. Did you read that and let it sink in?
SUICIDE is the SECOND-LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH AMONG ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN AGES 15-24.
Why and how is this hidden? When I look at my own life I cannot ignore the impact of mental illness and suicide among Asians and Asian Americans.
My cousins. My aunt. Me. A college girlfriend. A friend from my high school youth group. A freshman at Northwestern University during my years on staff with the Asian American InterVarsity chapter. Countless students struggling with depression and anxiety. They were not hidden even as some of them tried desperately tried to hide what they thought was failure, shameful, a burden, a sin.
I have written about my own life with depression and about being on an antidepressant. The decision to “go public” was not an easy one. My husband initially was reluctant about it for the same reasons I was as well. I waited a year, all the while under the care of doctors and taking Lexapro, before writing and speaking publicly about it because I wasn’t sure how my extended family and those connected to them would respond.
Asians and Asian Americans are communal and that value has its good days and its “need Jesus days” and when it comes to mental illness the Church needs to speak Jesus loudly and clearly. The fear is that a diagnosis of mental illness, made worse if it goes public, will not only reflect poorly on the individual but on the entire family. And if the family and the family’s network doesn’t understand the physiology and science behind the illness, fear drives people and their families into hiding.
I am writing this as a Christian who is deeply aware of my cultural lenses and privileges, and I’m willing to beat the drum on this. Asian and Asian American Christians, we need to get out heads out of our butts. We need to talk about mental illness, about our questions and fears. We need to pray and invite doctors into the conversations. We need to ask for help, and we need to get help for ourselves and for the ones we love. We need to stop talking about this in hushed tones and whispers because we live in the now and not yet – in the tension of cultures and brokenness and hope, and we cannot let the Enemy keep telling us lies and letting our brothers and sisters believe the lies.
We have to stop the insidious message that failing to be the perfect fill-in-the-blank means we are worthless, a burden, an embarrassment.
We must stop shoving God to the side and replacing faithfulness with GPAs, test scores, and academic achievement.
We must identify the brokenness in our families, stop the cycle of honoring the American Dream over following Jesus, become parents who fiercely love our children by naming our mistakes and apologizing for them when we are jerks.
We must learn to talk about mental illness like an illness and not a sin. I repeat. Mental illness is not a sin. And neither – mental illness OR sin – should be left hidden in our Christian communities.
We have to face the music. We have sinned by not identifying the broken patterns of parenting and relating to one another that fuel the false narrative that material and academic success=faithfulness and health.
We have to break the model minority stereotype because it isn’t a compliment. It isn’t positive. It doesn’t help our community or make it easier for us to be Americans. A stereotype is a broken image that is used by and against others to demean, degrade, and reduce others.
And I write this with the weight and fear that my depression could be genetic and that the many years I parented while untreated for my depression has already left a mark that will take equal measure of prayer and medical & psychological intervention. I worry and pray that my depression isn’t passed on to my daughter and sons. I do not want this kind of suffering for them, but I also cannot pray away suffering. The Christian life isn’t about running away from suffering, and I am afraid our silence has been exactly that.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month, and I have almost gotten away with not talking about it because frankly I’m a bit ambivalent about it for reasons I may blog about later. But this year the theme is #IAmBeyond and personally that evokes anger, strength, voice, hope, and action.
#IAmBeyond silence and stigmas
#IAmBeyond the lie that depression is a sin
#IAmBeyond keeping our stories silent to save face
#IAmBeyond the model minority myth
#IAmBeyond believing silence makes it go away
I can tell stories upon stories about the challenges of women of color face as they minister as a vocation. One of the difficulties hinges on the idea of story as being a legitimate teaching tool. My personal experience has been that my stories, woven into a sermon, often are received as something unique to me and not something from which listeners can draw life lessons about faith and faithfulness.
I may share or give talks, but there often is a moment of hesitation before someone – and that someone may even be myself – will say I teach or preach.
But story is what scripture is. It is truth told through story – narrative, historic, poetic, and prophetic. Jesus tells stories as he tests the patience of the Pharisees, the crowds, and the disciples. We learn about Ruth, Esther, and Mary through their stories.
When teachers and preachers get up to do their thing in front of the congregation or in front of the conference, they use and tell stories to invite people into a relationship with God.
In doing so, in being faithful to the call to be vocational ministers, women of color face having to validate their story and their place in the bigger narrative in unique ways. Personally, I have not chosen that path fully as I have not felt the call to complete an advanced degree in theology or pursue ordination and a formal call to serve in the church. But I know intimately many of the stories I read in “Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with young women of color,” by Mihee Kim-Kort, Judson Press, 2014.
In fact the first page of the foreword made me stop with these words:
“The uphill struggle is not the result of their swimming against the will of the Holy Spirit. Rather, they swim uphill as they struggle to overcome the sexism, racism and ageism that are thrown before them as obstacles to God’s calling,” writes Marvin A. McMickle, PhD, president and professor of church leadership at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.
It’s an important word, perhaps for the many women who will pick up this book because they are drawn to the familiar stories, but more importantly for those who aren’t naturally drawn by kinship but because they personally have either thrown down the obstacles or have done nothing to remove them.
This book doesn’t need to be read by the women who are already living different parts of the stories in the pages. Those women, I suspect, are the primary audience for this book, which in its accessible format could be used as a guided reflection. Yes, those readers will find much-needed inspiration, encouragement, and advocacy. Yes, those readers will find their stories validated in a way only similarity can provide. Yes, those readers should read this book because so very few are written specifically to this audience.
However, if only those women who are already looking for inspiration, encouragement, and advocacy read the book, the obstacles will not be removed fast enough, in my opinion, for the need of another version of this book in the future. We women need more than validity. We need new advocates who are willing to read a book they personally are not drawn to, wrestle with their own complicity or apathy, and take small and big specific action steps to dismantle, destroy, and permanently remove the obstacles that force streams uphill.
This isn’t a book arguing for the ordination of women. This book presupposes clergywomen, but just because a denomination or church allow clergywomen doesn’t mean there actually are any. This book needs to get into the hands of church leaders who say, “We welcome any women (and women of color) to apply. Our doors are open.” This book needs to get into the hands of congregants who think similarly, even if it is about the diversity in their pews. Why? Because an open door doesn’t mean there aren’t any other obstacles to get through and feel like the door was open not by accident but as an intentional way of welcoming new leaders with new stories.
*Disclosure: I received a free preview copy of the book from the publisher for this review. No monetary gifts were offered in exchange for this very, very overdue review of “Streams Run Uphill”.