Some quick, unedited thoughts in reaction to tonight’s premiere (FINALLY) of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat because I want to know your thoughts. I’ll go first. (THERE ARE SOME SORT OF SPOILERS…)
- I liked it. I thought it was funny. I like the kind of funny where I laugh out loud, and I laughed out loud. And my sons who are 15 and 13 sat down with me to watch both episodes and laughed, related, and repeated lines.
- Constance Wu’s portrayal of the mother Jessica Huang was lovely. She loves her children and her husband, but she isn’t going to take things lying down. She doesn’t mince words, but she isn’t one-dimensional. Hmmmm.
- There were as many “jabs” at white culture/people as there were stereotypes of Asian/Taiwanese American culture. White people food, white people bowing, white suburban SAHMs talking loudly, fast, and over anyone else alongside the grandmother who doesn’t speak English, stinky Asian food, and Chinese Learning Centers (CLC, which of course my sons thought meant College of Lake County). I grew up calling white people and their food “Americans” and “American food,” which to some degree still holds true in American culture.
- There were so many moments that sent me back to childhood. The stinky food thing. My sons started reminding each other about “the time you brought insert-some Asian food-here” to school and what reactions they received. My parents sometimes still talk about how their clothes smell after being at Korean bbq restaurant. The CLC thing never happened, but the push to excel meant my parents MADE Korean language worksheets and photocopied academic workbooks (I couldn’t write inside of them because they would re-use the book for my younger sister or make new copies of sheets when I didn’t complete them correctly) for us to do OVER THE SUMMER.
- Yes, some of those things that rang true border on stereotypes, which is probably why I read many, many comments about how the show was good but not perfect…
- But WHY DOES THIS SHOW HAVE TO BE PERFECT??? Why are so many of us Asian Americans adding that caveat? How many shows are perfect? I get it. This is the first show in 20 years featuring a family that looks remotely like mine so there is a lot of pressure. The pressure is real in terms of the network, etc. but it isn’t real in that the “Asian American community” does not, should not carry the burden of perfectly representing our story because there is no one story. I understand the burden in so many ways, but again I want to be held accountable and hold others accountable. How might we be perpetuating the stereotype of the model minority by expecting, even daresay hoping, this show, this ONE SHOW, would perfectly represent a multicultural community? It can’t.
- I’m grateful the show took on double standards and the word “chink.” I was caught a little off guard when it happened because you never get used to that, and why should we. But when the parents defended Eddie and asked why the other boy, who was black, and his parents were not in the principal’s office for using a racial epithet I said, “YES!” Now, I don’t know how many Taiwanese parents would’ve done that, but as a parent and as an adult who still hears “chink” thrown at me or my family I appreciated the call out. For the record, I didn’t punch back because I wasn’t going to start something I couldn’t finish. I swore back in Korean.
- It mattered to my sons. I was surprised that they wanted to sit with me to watch it live because who does that anymore. But there they were laughing and following along. They both agreed it will go into the DVR queue and when asked why they liked it both of them said they liked seeing Asians on tv. “The Asians. They are like us.” Yes, they are.
OK. Unfiltered, quick, off-the-cuff thoughts to jump into the conversation. I’d love to hear from all of you, Asian and non-Asian American!!
- Did you watch it? Why or why not?
- If you watched it, what did you think?
- What did you like the most? What made you cringe? Why?
- What were the things you resonated with? What didn’t you understand or get?
- Whatever else you want to add. :)
So those jokes, those were the jokes we made about ourselves for ourselves. FOB or “fresh off the boat” was a label we applied to ourselves even after so many others had been forced upon us.
Nine years ago today, on New Year’s Day, my mother-in-law died.
I think it was my father-in-law, in a moment of morbid and loving levity, joked that she had waited until the morning of the New Year so we would never forget the day she died. We would start out every year thinking of her.
He was right.
She had been under hospice care for more than a week at a hospital two minutes away from our home. The rare kidney cancer, held at bay through surgery for several months, had spread. Chemo and radiation were not an option because those treatments would do nothing. Months on a trial drug seemed to stall things for a bit, but my mother-in-law was convinced she would be cured of the cancer though tests continued to prove otherwise. She bought mangosteen juice. She tweaked her diet. She prayed, and she sought the prayers of others. She would not die yet.
We know this because months after her death my father-in-law and I were able to read through some of her final thoughts written in various composition notebooks. We could tell by her handwriting when she was having good days and when she was having bad days.
We could also tell that while she held onto hope of health and life, she had her share of regrets, a few fears of the future, and held onto a bitter and broken relationship.
Our bitter and broken relationship.
My mother-in-law was a strong, opinionated, driven woman. She could move mountains if necessary and she was fiercely loyal to her family. She was creative, funny, and some of her friends warned me when Peter and I got engaged that my future mother-in-law was feared and fierce. At a family function she asked me if my parents were going to allow me to marry her son.
“Of course,” I replied in formal Korean.
“Too bad,” she responded.
I was not yet the woman I am now. I was 22 years old and speechless. I was offended and afraid. I was disappointed and angry. And instead of forgiving her I let those words set a tone for our relationship and sink deeply into my heart. We did not like each other, but we both loved her son. I had so much in common with her, but chose the bitter thing. We were stuck.
For better or for worse.
For richer or for poorer.
In sickness and in health.
Till death do us part.
I let her words sink too deeply and allowed disappointments and anger to chip at my sometimes fragile relationship with my husband his family. It has been almost nine years since we buried her. There are many things I have said many times are in the past, but when newer friends asked me and Peter to recount our wedding and family traditions I knew that the past was still very present in unhealthy, unhelpful ways.
How does one ask the forgiveness of someone and forgive someone who was buried nine years ago?
The start of a new year always begs for fresh starts and new beginnings. May this be the year of journeying into forgiveness and reconciliation.
“The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.” The United States Flag Code
Maybe I am the only one wondering “What can I do?” as I watch and read the news. I have a lot of excuses. I can’t go to the protests tonight because my son has a concert. I don’t coordinate the church service and announcements so I can’t control what will and won’t be said. I’m on sabbatical so I won’t be a part of the conversations that I hope will happen between colleagues at meetings next week. But I hope I am not the only one wondering what can be, needs to be, ought to be done.
The videos are chilling – Eric Garner’s life is being choked out of him until he goes limp on the sidewalk and Tamir Rice being gunned down, the police squad door barely opening as the officer drives by. The images of protests and protesters being tear gasses and throwing canisters back at police armed in riot gear remind me of the summer I spent in Korea, marching in protests against US military presence. That was the summer I learned about wearing damp handkerchiefs near my eyes to help with the sting of tear gas and how to wet the wick of a homemade Molotov cocktail before lighting and lobbing. A few years later in a hotel room in Indiana after a job interview I watched protests and riots take over Los Angeles. Living with, wrestling with injustice day in and day out is a bit like a kettle of water just about to hit boiling. At some point, the water boils, the steam is released.
I have changed my profile pictures on Twitter and Facebook to a black and white depiction of the US flag hanging upside down. I chose that image after a friend posted a similar image with the flag code explaining the symbolism.
I became a US citizen in January 2010 after decades of wrestling with the idea of belonging. I immigrated the US in 1971. I was eight months old. I grew up identifying myself as a Korean American even though the American part continues to be questioned most often by white people. It isn’t enought to say I am from Libertyville or Chicago. How could that be when I don’t look “American” is the unspoken, underlying question. I finally decided to act upon the privilege to apply for citizenship and took the oath, pledging allegiance to the flag.
So as people marched in protest, I watched and read. And the image popped up on my Facebook feed. I changed my profile picture because as an American who at some level has chosen allegiance I wanted to show other Americans and Christians who know the power of symbolism that I am utterly disappointed and disgusted by a justice system picks and choses to define and apply justice. I changed my profile picture because the flag is something we see on a daily basis – in front of fast food restaurants and sometimes in our churches, but I don’t often think about the code governing its display. I changed the picture because if your world doesn’t feel like it has been or is turning upside down maybe you aren’t watching carefully enough.
We are in a time of dire distress. The lives of our black brothers and sisters remain in extreme danger.
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?
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.