More Than Serving Tea


Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the marriage category.

Forgiveness Six Feet Under

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.

 

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Book Club: Lean In & the Dirty “A” Word

Ambition.

Good Christians usually don’t talk about ambition. Maybe we call it “holy ambition” because if we add “holy” it makes it OK. I’ve read some of the Christian response to “Lean In”, and in a nutshell my take is that we Christians are uncomfortable with ambition. I’m afraid, however, that perhaps we have mistaken humility as the antithesis of ambition. 

And as a result Christian women maybe even more uncomfortable with ambition. I’m uncomfortable talking about it with Christian women until we’ve established some level of safety. I need to know they won’t judge me. That they won’t think I don’t love my children or my husband or my gender because I am considering applying for a promotion.

Sheryl Sandberg is in your face about it.

“This book makes the case for leaning in for being ambitious in any pursuit,” p. 10 (see, still in the intro!)

Any pursuit. Hmmmm. 

As Christian woman I have found it much more acceptable to be ambitious on the home front. Live for your kids and husband, perhaps in that order, because your husband isn’t around during the day and part of the evening, but that’s another chapter. Keep a clean and orderly home. Buy, make, grow, or raise the best, healthiest what-would-Jesus-eat food for your family. Be crafty and a wise steward of money. Be a godly wife and mother.

And that works well, particularly if you are married with children, and that life is something you want and you and your husband willingly agree to.

But not all of us Christian women want that. I want some of that, but I also want to work outside of my home. I enjoy teaching, preaching, speaking, and training. I love it, really. I enjoy writing, and I want to do more of it because (and I say this in a hushed voice) I think I’m good at it.  I enjoy developing those skills as much as I enjoy hearing my husband unload the dishwasher (he really is doing that right now) after I’ve whipped up an amazing meal (that I didn’t do tonight). 

My Christian Asian American parents helped me pay for college, and I enjoy stewarding that gift by also stewarding my gifts of leadership outside of the home. But I know that they have mixed feelings about my sister being a stay-at-home mom after getting a degree in business and about the amount of travel I choose to take on even though I have a husband. 

I just don’t know if it’s OK to say that I have ambitions outside of my home. My home life ambitions have been affirmed in Church. My professional ones? Not so much.

 

Is it OK to tell people I have ambitions? Do you tell people you have ambitions? Would you describe yourself as ambitious? 


20 Things I Learned Through 20 Years of Marriage

Trust me. The math actually works out. Peter and I have been married for 20 years. Some lessons were easier than others. Some are still in process. Some require a lifetime. I’m grateful beyond words, but this is a blog so words are required.

Here are some lessons about myself and about life through marriage learned in no particular order.

  1. I can be a selfish, whiny brat. Ask Peter.
  2. Planning a wedding is easier than loving and honoring your spouse in sickness and till death. (And I had one heck of a wedding.)
  3. Seek out marriage counseling early and often.
  4. Make new friends as a couple.
  5. Make new friends as individuals.
  6. Fall bowling leagues actually last through spring.
  7. I am far too practical to enjoy romance but apparently not so practical that I can’t enjoy sparkly things.
  8. Subwoofer/laser disc/DVD/Blu Ray is a love language for some people.
  9. I thought I married a mind reader. He did, too.
  10. Love is a verb. It is a choice. Everyday.
  11. I do not like “traditional” gender roles when it comes to cooking, cleaning and child rearing.
  12. I like “traditional” gender roles when it comes to shoveling, mowing or cutting down large trees.
  13. I do not like my husband associating with men who refer to parenting their own children as “babysitting”.
  14. I do not like associating with women who call what the fathers of their children do as “babysitting” .
  15. Sometimes you have to go to bed angry with each other because it’s better to go to bed with the understanding you will talk later than to argue when tired.
  16. Men aren’t the only ones who enjoy sex, think about sex or initiate sex.
  17. You really are marrying into a family, not marrying the individual.
  18. Children should not be the center of your marriage.
  19. The Church needs to talk more about healthy friendships and marriages because the world around me is still shouting louder and more effectively.
  20. It never hurts to say, “Thank you” and “I love you” for no other reason than you mean it.

Happy 20th anniversary to me and Peter. I am so glad I laughed through “Wayne’s World.” I am sorry it took me so long to stay awake (and then thoroughly enjoy “The Holy Grail”). I don’t think I will ever stay awake through “The Purple Rose of Cairo.”

 


My Mental Caricature of a Conservative Complementarian

I love to jump on the bandwagon as much as the next blogger, and this bandwagon is just begging for attention.

Over at The Gospel Coalition is an interesting and alarming post about sex and subordination. Much of the anger and written response is to the following excerpt from Douglas Wilson’s Fidelity:

In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

Now with all the snark I can summon: I can’t imagine why anyone would be alarmed by that sentence, especially if it was written by an intelligent white male conservative complementarian/theologian/prolific author and speaker.

I am not offended by that statement because I am egalitarian. I am not offended by that statement because my husband honors and cherishes me by encouraging me to exercise all of my gifts in teaching and speaking inside and outside of the home to impact both men and women, boys and girls.

I am offended because I am a Christ-follower who understands and takes into consideration the historical as well as the modern-day implications of using those words in a public forum. I am offended because I cannot read between the lines and assume the best of intentions when the words are from someone so learned and lettered. I am offended because as an Asian American woman whose gender and ethnicity come into play whether it is in the here and now or in the kingdom yet to come, those in power use words to put people like me “in our place”.

And my place is apparently to retake my ESL class, according to the response by Wilson:

Anyone who believes that my writing disrespects women either has not read enough of my writing on the subject to say anything whatever about it or, if they still have that view after reading enough pages, they really need to retake their ESL class. A third option — the one I think pertains here — they could surrender the a priori notion that I must be crammed into their mental caricature of a conservative complementarian.

Certainly I have again misunderstood Wilson’s intentions. Surely he didn’t mean to make fun of those who did not grow up with English as our first language. I realize that my role as a woman may be called into question by other believers, but at the end of the day we can all love Jesus together so long as it is with flawless English grammar. Correct?

I grew up in a complementarian world with shades not of grey but of Korea. They were the mothers and fathers of my peer group who sincerely believed that though the matriarch ruled the kitchen at church and at home and school (on Sundays), it was the role of men to teach anyone older than 13-ish about God and other important things. Math, reading and other things that would get us to the Ivy Leagues could be taught to us by women.

Much of my journey with faith and with faith in Jesus has been to reconcile and put into context the cultural patriarchy I grew up with alongside the deep faith and faithfulness that I ultimately embraced. But apparently my mental caricature of a conservative complementation wasn’t completed until today.

Gahmsah hahm nee da.


Saying “I Do” 6941 Days & Counting

Today my husband & I mark 19 years of marriage or 6941 days of choosing to say, “I do.”
Over the years whenever I have the ear of an excited bride- or groom-to-be I tell them to invest as much time into preparing for the marriage as they do for the wedding because with each day of marriage I have been reminded of how much grace, patience, faith, hope and love is required to make a marriage flourish.
And I don’t see any registries, wedding themes, or event planners offering those things. In fact, the very ‘things’ Peter and I stressed over, registered for, planned for or paid for captured, at most, a static snapshot of a day.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for our wedding photos (though I don’t know if I can say the same for our wedding video) and for the gifts the 1,000 guests at our big, fat Korean American wedding gave.
But as Peter and I get ready to celebrate our wedding anniversary, I can’t overlook the more difficult days when I had to learn over and over again that the wedding was over but the marriage would require daily recommitments.
It was easy to throw a party at the beginning.
So here’s to saying, “I’m sorry” and knowing what I am sorry for. To asking for forgiveness and extending it generously. To saying, “I love you” when it was a choice. To recognizing when we needed help and getting it. To learning about bowling, movies, dentures, coffee makers, memoirs, composting and jewelry even when it wasn’t our thing. To encouraging each other to chase a dream or two. To learning some lessons faster than others and being grateful we haven’t yet given up learning the more difficult ones.
Today I again say, “I do.”


Today is Brought to You By the Number 18

I know. You’re confused because today is about eggs, plastic or dyed and decorated, those eggs usually come 12 to a carton, and because today is Easter Sunday surely I must be connecting the number to the day’s festivities.

But today isn’t just Easter Sunday. No, my lovely readers.

Today is my 18th wedding anniversary! 18 years! How is this even possible? I’m being serious. Every year Peter and I look at each other with a moment of disbelief that we continue to beat the odds, no thanks to our brilliant communication skills, our mind-reading abilities and fair fighting practices.

Eighteen years ago I was 22, and, as a friend noted yesterday, looked not a whole lot like I do today. It had rained during the week of the wedding, and the morning of our wedding day the skies opened up and we had sun despite the cooler temps. I remember our wedding party had to put down cardboard so we could take some photos near a pond on the church grounds. One of my favorite photos is of me and Peter standing on a damp, grassy hill kissing each other just as a gust of wind caught my veil. We were the only ones who had glass glasses at our reception so we clanked our own glasses to steal kisses, and we didn’t realize until months later when we got our photo proofs that the wedding topper we had picked out never arrived.

But then after the wedding is the marriage. I tell my engaged friends that if they spend half the time, energy and even money in preparing for the marriage instead of the wedding they will have taken the wiser route.

Two years ago we had the absolute worst anniversary celebration. Maybe turning Sweet 16 is only for young women because our marriage’s 16th was terrible. We went out to a restaurant and before we even got there Peter and I had an argument, which left me in tears and then meant a very tense over-priced dinner where we barely spoke to each other. I just wanted to go home. Alone. Every time I think about that night I think about the unfortunate waitstaff who thought they were surprising me with the rose and lovely note on the table. Instead they got the anniversary couple from hell.

Fortunately for us it was so incredibly, utterly terrible that we realized we couldn’t just hold our breath, count to 365 and make it to 17 years of marriage. It was a sucky 16th wedding anniversary that made us desperate for help because we didn’t want to just make it through another year. We both wanted what I suppose Easter represents as well – new life and victory, and I suppose we both realized we had lost our way from each other and perhaps from God.

So help in our marriage and in our individual lives has required more intentional work – the kind of work that couples who are long-past the newlywed stage will mention to their newlywed or engaged or soon-to-be or googely-eyed in love friends. If you think planning a wedding is work, marriage will break you. (Btw, I know wedding planning work and stress – we had 1,000 guests at our wedding !%@#!?)

Peter and I are deeply grateful that many of our friends and family who witnessed our marriage vows 18 years ago are still a part of our lives (except for the guy who caught the garter. We still aren’t sure who he is/was!). And we are just as grateful for the many new friends and family who have joined in our lives throughout the years – witnesses to how those vows continue to play out 18 years later because the flowers have since shriveled up and died and the perfect dress is boxed up sitting under the bed in the guest room.

The wedding is a gilded memory but the marriage is ever-present. I am amazed at how God has used my amazing but sometimes uncommunicative and slightly emotionally detached man to soften some pretty harsh edges in my heart and soul, how the worst in each of us still can give way to the very best in one another. Some mornings I am amazed to wake up and find that he hasn’t run away from my judgement and criticism, and other evenings I enjoy a moment of self-satisfaction because I really do have an uncanny ability to be right 99% of the time. I look at this life and this family and I really do see the hand of God in this beautiful mess of a marriage, and I am so blessed that Peter sees it too.

Happy 18th anniversary, Peter! And since neither of us is any good at reading minds, I really, really do not want anything based of the 18th wedding anniversary gift ideas of porcelain and or gemstone Cat’s Eye. 😉


Is Blonde+Black > Everything Else? BTW Hindu Isn’t a Language

Wondering out loud, as an extrovert often does…is it my imagination or is the media (and perhaps the public) more concerned with:

  • the fact that Jackson, who is married to Chicago Alderman/Alderwoman/Alderperson Sandi Jackson, (and both Jacksons are African American) had a personal acquaintance flown in twice for a visit, and that said acquaintance has been described as female, blue-eyed, blonde and a hostess at a D.C. restaurant;
  • or renewed interest in allegations U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was hoping some fundraising prowess was going to move him up on the U.S. Senate seat replacement list;
  • or that Jackson, during an on-air radio interview in Chicago Friday, said that while he was in the room when, “two Indian fund-raisers began speaking practically in Hindu and that he didn’t participate in the talk or even hear it.”

Um, if Jackson didn’t participate in the talk or even hear the talk how did he know the two Indian fund-raisers spoke in Hindu? Oh, wait. Maybe because Hindu isn’t a language, therefore Jackson couldn’t hear it? Ugh.

Actually, I wouldn’t have known about Jackson’s comment except for the fact that I read about it in this morning’s newspaper (the paper version). Until then, what I read and heard about primarily was that allegations about Jackson’s involvement in the Illinois U.S. Senate seat pay to play politics were back on and that Jackson wanted at least two private visits with his blonde, female friend who is a hostess. I heard that Jackson and his wife have dealt with this private matter and want it to stay private. Blah, blah, blah.

Yes, I have bone to pick. Several, in fact. Why does it matter that the female acquaintance is blonde and a hostess? Surely it isn’t meant at all, not even a teensy weensy bit to discredit her or make her seem “less”? It’s rather perplexing, actually. We live in a culture that worships young and beautiful (and often paler shades of beautiful) at all costs and then when you actually are young-ish and beautiful you’re the “acquaintance”. And it really matters if you are the white acquaintance of a black man (a la Tiger Woods).

But this recent scandal is almost perfect because it hits on race, ethnicity, culture, gender and religion. Jackson’s radio comment hit a nerve with me because so many conversations, as difficult as they are, are whittled down to Black and White. Hindu is not a language but a religion and a religion not limited to but connected deeply with India as well as other East, South East and South Asian cultures. Conversations about race get even more complicated when we add different voices, stereotypes, assumptions and blind spots and Jackson’s off-the-cuff comment about not hearing the conversation because the fund-raising power brokers in this case were of Indian descent and allegedly broke out in “Hindu” is a great example of that complexity.

The media would have us more ticked off that Jackson had a white female acquaintance than the fact that he, a U.S. Congressman representing a diverse population, made a rather ignorant statement about his understanding of diversity and culture.

At some point the media will talk with the female acquaintance and we will see more unnecessary photos of said woman in various stages of dress and less-dressed. In some circles of politically involved Evangelicals, there will be conversations about leadership and integrity and marriage all sorts of important “values”. And I will put money on at least a handful of us women talking about the gender issues in this story…but will we – politically involved or invested Evangelicals, men and women, of all races and ethnicities, dare embrace the complexity and messiness of integrating issues of race, ethnicity and religion into our conversations. After all, Jackson knew how to talk woman and blonde (and dare I say presumably white) but he couldn’t hear Hindu. Maybe he didn’t want to see it either and I terribly afraid so many of us out here don’t either.


Forgiveness & Reconciliation: Will I Know It When I See It?

Tiger & Elin. Jon & Kate. Deadly Viper & some angry Asian Americans.

What does reconciliation look like? What’s the difference between “moving on” in a healthy way and exercising the privilege to walk away from difficult conversations?

All the buzz about Tiger’s return to golf  and Kate’s debut on the dance floor caught my attention not because I care about golf or hair extensions but because their choice to “move on” from their respective scandals has got me thinking about forgiveness and reconciliation. Yes, their lives were a circus before the scandals, a teeny bit different than mine. Peter is not a pro golfer, and I am not a model. Peter does not own anything Ed Hardy, and I don’t get followed by the paparazzi. They are celebrities, but they and we are human beings. Why wouldn’t they want to move on, heal, and, perhaps, forget? I would.

But is that reconciliation? Would it be enough to see Elin stand by her man at the Masters? (IMHO, no. It would not.) If not, what is enough? Can someone ever apologize enough? Ask for forgiveness enough? Be forgiven enough? And then is that reconciliation?

So the saga known as Deadly Viper isn’t exactly like Tiger and Elin and Jon and Kate, but when I think about forgiveness and reconciliation I can’t help but think about DV. There was a lot of ugliness and some hope. There were hurt feelings and misunderstandings. There were conversations and side conversations about actions versus intent versus past deeds done. There were divisions, sides taken, and allegiances. And it was in real time, on-line and public in a “you can’t take that back ever” sort of way. Relationships that started out broken between real people fractured in such a way that made me (and I speak for myself and no one else involved in the DV saga) wonder if we achieved the right end. I’m still wondering…

If, for argument sake, reconciliation for the two celebrity couples means restoring their marriages, what does reconciliation for those involved in DV look like? Is reconciliation necessary? Is it worth it? Who pursues it and how?