More Than Serving Tea


Superwoman Doesn’t Spend Her Morning In PJs

My superwoman outfit has been at the cleaners for a few years now, but every now and then I really, really want to see if it still fits. There is something particularly draining and yet sadistically energizing about taking on the world with a “I’m going to bake that cake from scratch and eat it with some organic milk and fair trade coffee while calendaring my family’s life on-line with a smile and a load of laundry in the dryer” attitude. Maybe it’s just me.

But I am not superwoman, though many of us try out of love for our children and family and friends and out of our personal brokenness. Deep down I want to exceed expectations because I want to be successful because failure can suck, especially when I see it on the faces of those I love most dearly.

So I was encouraged to read a friend and former colleague’s blog post on failure and success and how that plays out in real life as a wife/mom/grad student/campus minister. She has a full life, and she, like many of us, is wrestling with the fact that there are just some things she will never be good at or succeed at, let alone enjoy doing. She is sending her superwoman outfit to the cleaners, but, like so many of us, is trying to reconcile expectations (self-imposed and those of others on us), needs, wants, personalities, etc.

I’ve grown up with a bi-cultural understanding of success. The American Dream is a pull yourself up from your bootstraps narrative, but the American Dream for children of immigrants and particularly Asian immigrants involves extended family and ancestors. We pull not for ourselves but for those we left behind and will never see again, for those who are with us and for those who are yet to come. When we pull we drag with us ancient stories and family history. I pull the history of the Korean War and stories of families being separated and precious rice spilled into the dirt and a love/hate relationship to the West into the present filled with American and Korean values clashing still into the future where my children, nephews and nieces are just realizing they have dreams.

Success is not what I alone achieve for myself. It involves the entire family.

And failure is the same way. My screw up is not just mine but a mark against my entire family. When I screw up my living relatives and dead ancestors cringe and they don’t know why. When I fail it is not just because I didn’t study hard enough or practice long enough but also because somewhere someone failed to teach me the value of studying and practicing and perfecting. My failure is carried by my family as well.

So being superwoman is impossible. Who can fly with that kind of weight on her shoulders? Instead of fretting over the loss of superwoman, I spend a great deal of time trying to figure out Mary and Martha and their friend Jesus.

One particular incident I’ve written about before is their interaction in the Gospel of Luke. Martha is doing what a good woman does – preparing for her guests, but her sister Mary has taken it upon herself to act like a disciple and sit at Jesus’ feet. I know a lot of us Bible teaching folk have used that passage to talk and teach about discipleship, but what if Jesus’ conversation with Martha about Mary isn’t just about the one big thing – the being a disciple of Jesus is the better thing?

What if it’s also about all the other things we have to choose? Jesus doesn’t tell Martha she gets to stop being the hostess with the most-est. He doesn’t tell her that he refuses to eat the food she is preparing. He tells her that Mary happened to make the better choice and that will not be taken away from her. What if we make that one big choice – the being a disciple of Jesus thing – as we make lots of little, significant and seemingly insignificant choices. What would it look like if I considered which was the better choice each time I had a choice? One choice at a time.

I could beat myself over the head for the list of things I have already failed at this morning. Truth be told I’m sitting here in my pjs with a cold cup of coffee and a sink overflowing with dirty dishes, a laundry room that has immaculately conceived several loads of laundry. I don’t remember what my kids were wearing this morning so if they were late coming home I couldn’t tell the police officers what the kids were wearing for identification. I’m not sure one of the kids finished his homework. I know one of the kids did not have me sign a practice card. I have a ministry support letter that I needed to write a month ago, and two expense reports I need to file. I have a major training conference decision that had to be made last week. And it’s just TUESDAY!

But right now I am going to choose the better thing, and it is neither success nor failure.

Advertisements

Adventures in Parenting and Life 101 Because I’m Always Learning: Scheduling

This morning was set aside to calendar.  Yes, calendar as in the verb in relationship to the noun form. Me, my latte and my calendars cozied up now that my iCal and iPhone is synced with a Google calendar (we are a cross-computer platform family where PC and Mac must lovingly and painstakingly co-exist in forced harmony) for a morning of new events, mapping out future childcare needs and plans for cloning when two parents and three children are supposed to be at different places at the same time.

I’m certain that my parents had some method to their madness, but it really wasn’t quite as full and weighty as what we/I make life out to be now. My parents didn’t have the money to afford all of the activities – tae kwon do, magic class, owl pellets class, ballet class, pointe class, modern dance class – that fill up my evenings and weekends. The priorities were school and church and anything beyond that was gravy. We took Korean language classes, which I think were free through the church and then priceless when we stopped going to a class and my mother would simply buy the books, make photocopies and make us do the worksheets during the summer months, and piano lessons, which for me gave way to a few years of flute lessons. There was little space, money or felt need for summer camp, swimming lessons or sports camp because for many years we were latch-key kids who learned to float well after I had mastered my multiplications tables and long division and yet learned early on that competitive sports were not in our future.

My parents didn’t know they needed to carry around their digital calendars. I remember my mom having a small paper organizer and the house always had free calendars from the bank, back when banks gave customers toasters, calendars and lollipops, and the Korean grocery store, which still give out free calendars. But they also didn’t know what we weren’t getting to do because they were too busy trying fairly successfully to provide for us more than they had had.

These days in my affluent suburban existence I can parent through my issues – swimming lessons because dammit my kids will be stronger swimmers than I am and tae kwon do or dance classes and the occasional tennis or golf lesson because life is too short to not have a brief introduction to a “life long sport” they can carry into their retirement years.

I am not alone in my angst. The bar is higher and more competitive for college, and at Bethany’s high school orientation I began to hyperventilate (maybe it was those crazy strobe lights and lasers during the slideshow) at all that the “average” kid has to do – academics and extra-curricular – to be college-worthy. No study hall so she can get in an extra elective, but how will she manage the course load with her classes if she keeps up with dance or takes on other extra-curriculars? Or keep the study hall so she has extra time during the day to get the extra work done, but will her overall academic course load be enough? The calendar feels heavier just thinking about it.

At least she’s never heard the “Why don’t you have all A’s? Why isn’t this B+ or A- an A” talk.

And it’s not even just the parenting part of scheduling. Have you ever watched a group of adult friends try to schedule a night out or an extended family try to plan a trip together? My girlfriends and I have been talking about celebrating our 40th birthdays at some spa, but the first round of e-mails were rather amusing. We are very, very busy (but so help me if it means celebrating after we all turn 40 we are going to do this!).

I’m grateful to be alive, deeply grateful for the opportunities, access, ability to have and do so much but sometimes it feels a little out of control.

For awhile we had a rule: each kid was limited to one activity. But then we started fudging our way around that one with band because technically it was at the school, during and after school so it didn’t feel completely like an extra activity. And then Bethany made the poms squad, which was related to her dance classes. And then youth group/confirmation/Wednesday night Kids’ Club was extra but also important so we made room. And so on, and so on, and so on. I was hoping my youngest would try baseball, mainly so I could hang out with the other moms during practices and games, but he wanted no part in another activity no matter how much he could learn from being on a team sport. Sometimes, our kids are so incredibly wise.

Everyone has a system. Mine has evolved over the years as DINKs became parents of one, two and then three. My trusty Franklin Planner gave way to copying everything onto a wipe board. Now I am completely electronic with five color coordinated calendars that Peter and I can now sync online relatively seamlessly. A printed copy goes on the fridge so the kids can check to see if a sleepover will conflict with a family event.

So how do you get through it? How do you manage and schedule your time and, if you have a family, your family’s and family time so that everyone doesn’t need a clone and resent you?


Making New Friends

I’m not “new” to the neighborhood, but there have been many days where I have felt deeply the absence of good friends nearby. I spent way too much time in crisis-mode (work transitions and conflict, church transitions and conflict, MIL’s cancer and death, FIL’s transition, son’s brush with death, and too many problems with the house) to be bothered with making friends. There didn’t seem to be enough time to make new friends, but just enough time to know I needed some.

In college I was blessed, truly blessed, to have made several life-long friends. We have weathered life’s transitions and remain close, even when time and distance make intimate friendship inconvenient. When I think of friends who will be with me when my parents leave me and see Jesus or be with me when my kids get married I think of a special group of friends. They are all Christians. They are all Asian American. They are all now married and mothers. We have had shared experiences during college and common childhood/cultural experiences. Our value systems are the same. Our life stages currently are the same.

Making new friends and then nurturing those friendships into deeper friendships can be difficult. Why? Because I’m a sinner, broken, crooked-hearted and selfish. Just ask my husband. My insecurities get in the way, and then when someone else’s garbage meets mine it’s just a bigger pile of garbage, most days. Because I find being friends with people who are more like me in race, ethnicity, age, education, life-stage, etc. easier – less explaining and wondering about the big things and little things that make me who I am. The broader the common ground the easier it is to walk on together.

But as we’ve shed our college lives and expectations behind, my college girlfriends and I have realized that even with so many things in common maintaining and deepening friendships takes work. And at the end of the day, venting on a blog post isn’t nearly as fun as calling up a friend.

So what do you do to meet new people and deepen friendships?

I have learned to be honest. Honestly, I can be stand-offish and intimidating. To quote “Up In the Air” – I type with purpose. I walk with purpose. I talk with purpose. And just like in the movie it can look like I’m really angry. My mom has told me that I have a hardened look on my face and that I need to smile and soften the intensity. I was angry with her for a long time over that comment, and then I realized she was right. I hate that.

A little bit of honesty and lots of forgiveness, grace and love from others, especially Jesus, has allowed me to step into situations and create situations that make friendship possible.

I’m looking forward to an overnight with a group of women I’ve been slowly getting to know over the past two years. I’m excited to find out what we may have in common other than our children attending school together and our delightful personalities. I’m relieved to find out  I wasn’t the only one wondering what others were going to pack and wear, and I wasn’t the only one who was going to make a beeline to the hot tub. The only other times I’ve done something like this have been in safety with friends I’d known deeply for years. This is new.

Another thing I’m trying is to use my mad e-mail skills and gather people together. I had heard of some local neighborhood book clubs and felt sorry for myself that no one had ever invited me to join. Well, here in America if you can’t join them, throw your own party (hee, hee). I shared my book club fantasy – a room full of women with diverse viewpoints and experiences and sharing their interactions with a common book over a glass of wine and laughter. It was creating space for relationships to develop into friendships. I’m not expecting a room full of new best friends, but I am hopeful for the possibilities.

And I guess that is the third thing I’m trying. I’m trying to be hopeful for the possibilities.

So what has helped you make new friends and stay hopeful in friendships? What do you do together that has made your friendships richer and deeper? What are the roadblocks that you keep coming up against?


Passing Up A Chance of a Lifetime For A Chance of a Lifetime

I am an expert in kicking myself in the butt. For those of you who live life without regrets, this is not the blog post for you, friend. My life has been messy and beautiful and full of poor choices and better choices shaded by the inability to make decisions. I am grateful for the moments of perfect clarity and timing, but those are few and far between.

Some of those decisions rank low in the “change my life” category, like the beautiful red coat I spotted on the rack, tried on, considered buying and then decided against it hoping it would go on sale. The coat went on sale but out of stock in my size. That was more than 20 years ago, and every now and then I’ll kick myself in the butt for being practical to a fault (how many coats does a girl need?).

Other decisions are weightier . Will I stay home and put my career on hold when we start having children? How will we care for aging parents? How will we choose a church?

So when two opportunities of a lifetime vied for prime real estate on my calendar this fall I found myself in a familiar place – full of gratitude and momentarily full of whining.

Opportunity #1: to be home to see our children (and myself) through a major transition. This fall our oldest child is headed to high school. (Yes, I know. I don’t look old enough to have a child in high school. Yes, time has gone by quickly. Yes, she is nervous and Peter and I are too.)  This fall our second child is headed to middle school. (Yes, we’re a little nervous. We’re not sure if he’s nervous, but neither is he.) And, our youngest, will be in 3rd grade and not have an older sibling at school. (Yes, he is excited and nervous, and so are we.)

Opportunity #2: to be one of 4,000 leaders from around the world to attend the Third Lausanne Congress, Cape Town 2010.

I know. Poor me.

I was honored & humbled to be invited to participate, and amazed at the opportunity to be a part of an international discussion on the critical issues we are facing and how they relate to the future of the Church. This was never in the career plans.

But after the thrill came the realities of the opportunity, the largest hurdle was time. Saying “yes” to #1 meant seeing my family through a once-in-a-lifetime transition, with the possibilities ranging from full of drama to smooth as butter. Saying “yes” to #2 meant being a part of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a learn from international leaders and be a part of conversations that have a global impact. Raising money to attend and travel was one thing, but no one was going to be able to give me my time back.

All parents have to make choices weighing the pros and cons, comparing time and money against opportunities gained and lost. I have never been able to separate my statuses as Asian American Christian working mom and wife from one another, and this decision pulled on me in all directions and pushed all the right buttons.

When you say “no” to something, you are leaving open space to say “yes” to other things. That is what I tell other ministry colleagues, friends and even my family. In a culture and society that often screams “more is better”, saying “yes” to every good opportunity makes sense. Seize the moment. Carpe diem. No regrets. The phrases sound good and are wonderfully inspiring, perfect for a bumper sticker or status update.

But reality, at least the whole, big picture of reality, doesn’t fit neatly on a bumper sticker. Saying “no” can feel foolish. Saying “yes” can feel selfish. It’s all so messy, isn’t it?

So, I thought I knew within a week which opportunity to say “yes” to because I saw once-in-a-lifetime one way. It wasn’t wrong, but a month later it didn’t feel right. I needed to let go of some angst, deal with ambition and self-image issues, figure out what space I was going to leave in my life and how to draw the margins.

This fall 4,000 leaders from around the world will gather in Cape Town, South Africa and I will watch Bethany become a high schooler, Corban become a middle schooler, and Elias become a third grader. I will not be discussing issues facing the Church, but I will be discussing scheduling challenges facing a family headed in five different directions. I will not be with thousands of international leaders, but I will be with three future leaders who will probably be running a little late or needing a little help and teaching me a few things about life in the process.

It is a once in a lifetime opportunity I could not pass up.


Calcium, Sleep and Phone Calls Just Because: Welcome 2010

I’ve been MIA with the holidays taking over life. We had a great but full two weeks with family, friends and food, but today (Monday) the kids went back to school, and I went back to my Monday routine – cardio and sculpting class, lots of water, one latte, less food than last week’s average and quiet office time in my happy green office.

Our family rang in the New Year with Korean food, Japanese soda, a few rounds of Pit, a looooong round of Mexican Train (does anyone know why that dominos game is called Mexican Train? Elias wanted to rename it Asian Train), and lots of laughter over my inability to wakeboard on Wii Resort. I was asked what my New Year’s resolutions were…I usually don’t make resolutions because I don’t like the pressure.

But after thinking about it for a few days there are just three things I’d like more of in my life:

1. Calcium – there is nothing like seeing your shrinking grandmother to remind you that stronger bones are within reach. I started working out with more intentionality in 2008, and by the fall of 2008 I added weights (my sculpting class) to my routine. I love the class but I hate crunches and crazy pushups. This year I will finally listen to my doctor and add calcium supplements.

2. Sleep – I don’t get enough of it and it shows. It’s already past my bedtime. No LOST episodes tonight.

3. Phone calls just because – in an age of text messages, Facebook and blogging it’s tough to keep up and keep in touch with friends. Seriously. Status messages are great, but if I can’t see someone face-to-face hearing their voice is second best, not seeing an emoticon. I used to regularly call friends just to chat for a few minutes – no agenda, no reason, but technology in many ways created more busy work for me. I’m hoping to slow things down a bit and pick up the phone more often.

And if I had a #4 it would be to be more welcoming to all the newbies in my Monday morning cardio and sculpting classes.

Do any of you make New Year’s resolutions?


Martha, Martha. Today is Not Cupcake Day.

Even if there were 25 hours in a day there still wouldn’t be enough time to do the things I want to get done – never mind the things that need to get done.

This morning took the cake. Cupcakes actually. My three children are currently at two schools – the middle school and the elementary school. Each school has its own set of activities and fundraisers, and I feel compelled to help when I can. Isn’t that what good parents do? Correction. Isn’t that what good moms do? As a mom who works full-time outside of the home, I’ve been able to take advantage of my flexible hours and home office to get some in-school volunteer opportunities, but on the whole I’m a shoe-in if you need a case of water for a luncheon.

This morning I thought I was delivering in order two dozen cupcakes for 8th grade cupcake day by 8:30 a.m., assorted baked goods individually wrapped for the 5th grade bake sale anytime after noon, and 200 napkins and a loaf of crusty french bread for the middle school teacher dinner after 3 p.m.

Today is not cupcake day.

All I could hear in my head after Peter came back from grabbing the orange-frosted cupcakes from Bethany (who was red-faced after her dad walked into band to free her from babysitting cupcakes all day) was Jesus:

“Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen better and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41, 42 TNIV

I want my kids to know that I care about them and their school – cupcakes, assorted baked goods individually wrapped, napkins and crusty french bread kind of care for them. I need to feel connected to what is going on at the place where my kids spend most of their waking hours. I want to do what I can when I can because I already know the dates on the calendar where my roles collide.

But on this morning I was reminded that today is not cupcake day. I am worried and upset about many things – the laundry, the e-mails, the phone calls, the mess in the family room/kitchen/bedroom.

How on this morning will I sit and choose the better thing?