More Than Serving Tea


A Week Before Christmas

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Just so you know, the table has looked like this since Thanksgiving. It’s dusty.

I am not stressed.

This is not a superwoman post. I cannot find the surface of my dining room table. There are several laundry baskets in the laundry room and kitchen. The lovely Christmas cards all of you overachievers have sent (just kidding, I love the photos, by the way!!!) are sitting in piles on my desk and on the kitchen table. There is laundry air-drying in the family room. No, I haven’t finished shopping for Christmas. No, I haven’t started baking for the Thursday cookie exchange or the Friday night poms and moms party. No, I haven’t finished my Christmas cards because I haven’t started them. They may morph into New Year’s cards…or Valentine’s Day cards.

I don’t care.

Don’t get me wrong. I will go grocery shopping today. Or tomorrow. Definitely by tomorrow afternoon. The laundry will get done, folded, and placed on the floor of the appropriate owners by some combination of the many hands in this family. I don’t know about the cards, though.

I just can’t do the frantic Christmas dance anymore. Not this year. It’s just too much. So, let me invite you, my dear readers, to join me in a deep breath and a prayer.

Dear Jesus,

Your mother didn’t have a bunch of women throw her a Pinterest perfect baby shower before you were born. She didn’t register for the perfect gifts, wash your layette in baby detergent, and select perfect birth announcements. 

Despite the horror of finding out she was going to be your baby mama, she praised and proclaimed God’s faithfulness. And she waited.

Help me, in the horror of what I have made this holy season out to be, praise and proclaim God’s faithfulness in my life. Help me to wait. Help me to be present. Help me to breathe, just like I did when I gave birth in the sterile comfort of the birthing suites. Help me savor the Good News of your birth.

Amen.

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Our Christmas Stories

It’s December 3, and it’s 61 degrees in the northern burbs of Chicago. I have the urge to empty the compost bin and start planting carrot seeds and dreaming about tomatoes. But it’s December. Surely the ground will eventually freeze, and everything that triggers my seasonal allergies will die. Right?

It doesn’t “feel” like Christmas. I grew up in Chicagoland, which means it should be cold. Freezing cold. I should be able to use my walk-in freezer – my garage. I should be able to see my breath in the air, and I should be wearing my winter coat, mittens, hat and scarf. I feel like I’m in SoCal, my fake Uggs daring my feet to combine spring and winter into one.

Instead, we spent last night summoning all of our Christmas anticipation and decorated our Christmas tree. Through the years, Peter and I have tried to build in some traditions into our Christmas as part of our family’s story – the things, the smells, the tastes that will last beyond the five of us decorating a tree. Our ornaments have become one of my favorite parts.

The fake tree was fully decorated when Peter and I bought it from Menards. I didn’t come with a box but it came loaded with lights, glass globe ornaments and other sparkly, shiny things. As the years have passed, some faster than others, fewer glass globes make their way onto the tree, replaced by preschool creations, school photos placed into frames, ornaments based on family members’ favorite things, and now two mini trees with ornaments collected from places we have visited as a family.

We will hear and probably say over and over how commercialized this sacred season has become, and it’s true. When Christmas music and decorations of red and green get up in Halloween’s orange and black, and Black Friday takes over Thanksgiving night, it’s enough to do….what?

I’m certain my oldest’s journey towards college is making this mommy a bit sentimental, but it was a sight to see when each child (including me and Peter) unpacked each ornament and shared a sentence or two about their fondest memories and helped piece together our Christmas story.

For me, the tradition I most remember is going to church Christmas Eve where the Korean Santa came to give each kid a gift based on Sunday School class. We would head home late in the night, my parents transferring us from the car to our rooms. And then we would wake up to presents that the Korean Santa would leave under our tree. I remember the just-my-size African American Barbie. The Barbie Dream House and furniture. The flannel sheets.

Our kids don’t remember seeing a Korean Santa, but they did. Instead, I hope they will remember the bits and pieces of memory each ornament carries, because, as I tell them every year, when they move out and have a place of their own and a tree of their own my housewarming gift will be “their” ornaments wrapped with the love and expectation only a savior can bring to cover their trees and lives (“…while my tree stands all naked and lonely,” I tell them each year).

What traditions have you continued from your childhood or built new into your family?


I Saw Him Yelling So I Used My Voice

The guy was yelling at her so loudly that everyone in baggage claim area #4 watched them out of the corner of their eyes. He paused to point out the signage and how she had clearly bleep-bleep-bleeped it up. He seemed to grow taller and she continued to disappear into her already slight frame. I’m sure she wished the escalator would swallow her up while I hoped it would swallow him up.

Just a few minutes later as I head towards the platform to catch the train to remote parking I hear that yelling again.

There they were at the very end of the platform. The guy kept yelling and calling her names we tell our children are mean and shouldn’t be used. My heart was pumping as he kept yelling, flailing his arms, getting in her face and then backing off. I looked around and there were just a few of us at first, but after another three minutes a crowd was watching this unfold, keeping to the other end of the platform.

What would you have done?

Well, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t just stand there. Sometimes, and this may have been one of those times, the voice inside my head filter doesn’t work. I couldn’t ignore the voice in my own soul that told me to use my little voice.

So I did. Never mind how angry I also felt knowing that there were several other potentially more menacing types on the platform – dude, put your ski bag down and walk over here!

I walked up to her, put my hand on her shoulder while making sure I didn’t leave my bags unattended lest I look like the crazy one, and I said, “Ma’am, are you OK? Do you need some help here? Are you in any physical harm?”

And then I gave him a quick look.

She said she was fine, and then she sat up. And he took a few steps back and quieted down a bit. And then she stood up, said a few words to him, and then she walked just past me so that I was physically in between them on the platform. One minute later he walked away in a huff, leaving her on the platform and presumably leaving behind his ride home.

She and I got on the same train car, and she explained that she couldn’t find the right pick-up area. She went on to explain she got lost and that she was tired. She was trying to get her bearings straight after a verbal assault, and I again put my hand on her shoulder and told her that no one had the right to call her all the names that he did so that he could feel better about himself. And then she cried.

It’s been a slow ramp-up to Christmas. Maybe it’s the lack of snow. But that encounter at the airport so very late Sunday night made me think about Mary and how in a time when the world around her and the circumstances she found herself in could have rendered her voiceless she found the courage to use her voice and proclaimed God’s mercy and power.

I saw that guy yelling, telling one woman that she was stupid and silencing others with his anger. I didn’t yell, but I learned to use my voice.


Halloween, Christmas, Yoga & Jesus

In about one hour my neighborhood will feel more like a neighborhood – kids running around, some with parents a few steps behind to exchange friendly greetings with those they share a street or zip code with. The streets here are safe, just like I remember my streets on the north side of Chicago were some 35 years ago. Halloween was and still is one of the few times during the year it is completely acceptable to ring a stranger’s doorbell and say “hello” (of course, unless you are a Girl Scout selling cookies).

I grew up learning with my parents about these “American” traditions – begging for candy, selling cookies, baking Christmas cookies, hiding Easter eggs. It was more about being and becoming American and not so much about whether or not these were acceptable Christian practices.

But in the past few months there has been a bit of chatter around whether or not Christians should practice yoga because of its Eastern religious roots and how “those” values and beliefs are dangerous and in complete opposition to Christians and our faith.

Perhaps it’s because I grew up practicing so many things that were rooted in those scary Eastern traditions that I am trying to make sense of the fuss while I stretch out in downward dog and breathe in deeply. I bow to my parents and elders of the family every New Year’s Day. Yes, the actual practice has Eastern roots (btw, can someone help me understand why Christians should fear the East? Aren’t our religious roots deep in the East?) but through immigration, many Christian Korean Americans cling to the practice as a way of redeeming culture and our value for respecting our elders – for the cloud of witnesses who have and continue to go before us.

It seems that so much of what we Western Christians practice as “Christian” – Christmas trees in December and Easter eggs, for example – were created in response and reaction to things going on in the pagan world. Yoga isn’t in the Bible but trees and egg hunts aren’t either so how is it that we decide some rituals and practices are ok and not scary? Yes, oversimplified question to a complex situation. I know. But it’s a start, right?

Our children (even the teenager) will dress up this afternoon and run through neighbors’ yards and collect enough candy to frighten (or delight?) my dentist husband. We choose to participate in what has become a fairly benign cultural practice because it’s a great excuse to spend time with friends and neighbors with busy lives and schedules. We have decided that the darker roots of this day are a chance to bring out into the open the things that we might be afraid of but do not have to be. I read somewhere that Halloween is Satan’s favorite holiday. I beg to differ. I think the way we American Christians celebrate Christmas might make Christmas Satan’s favorite holiday, IMO.

I’m off to a friend’s Halloween potluck party, just weeks away from unpacking the Christmas tree ornaments and decorations, hoping to manage my time well to practice yoga and spend time meditating on Jesus…Do you and yours “celebrate” Halloween? Why or why not? What other holidays have been tweeked and adjusted to be in harmony with your family’s core beliefs?


Move Over Santa. The Bunny Has Arrived.

As if Christmas in December and Christmas in July isn’t enough (though I don’t really know anyone who celebrates Christmas in July) we now have Christmas in the spring. Apparently it’s called Easter. Watch out Santa. There’s a target on your back and a bunny armed with eggs. You better hope they’re of the chocolate kind.

I’ve been reading my share of Lenten devotionals and posts from friends and favorite bloggers about the observation of Lent, fasting and feasting, but it was Sunday’s article and the increasingly larger Easter/”Spring” display at various stores that caught my eye.

Apparently the Easter Bunny is gaining popularity in the malls. It isn’t enough to take your kids dressed up in their holiday best to the mall to sit on some strange man’s lap, sorry, I mean Santa’s lap. Now you can do it with a different color palette and a big, giant bunny rabbit. Do you think they cry less for the bunny?

As a parent, this whole Easter basket turned bigger first hit my radar before my youngest was even born. A very kind neighbor dropped of a huge Easter basket for my two kids. It was taller than my son was at the time, and maybe I’m exaggerating, but it was big and full of candy and little toys.

On some level we deserve this. Peter and I lied to our kids and played along with Santa. For the record Santa gives one little gift and Mom & Dad give the other gifts and fill the stockings. And we told them about the Tooth Fairy. Apparently some Tooth Fairies give out $5s and $10s. Not here. $1 even if they pull the tooth out on their own. That actually happens quite a bit here.

Now my parents over time adopted what we knew as “American” traditions, including the tooth fairy, celebrating our Sweet 16th and “golden” birthdays, and the gift of a small treat of Easter chocolate and jelly beans in a small basket with plastic grass that disappeared and then reappeared most years. The point is that the basket of chocolate eggs and the Sweet 16 party were the same for me and my parents – American traditions not Christian traditions.

Anyway, about two years ago one of the kids came home to ask if the Easter bunny was going to leave them a gift just like their some of his friends’ Easter bunny does. The boys’ playmates would talk about what they were hoping to get on Easter, and each year what I see in the stores sets the pace – bigger displays and advertisements in the Sunday paper about Easter baskets and toys for Easter.

So I suppose it was only time before the bunny came a hopping for a piece of our consumer pie. Right? But is it right? Does it matter? How many more holidays – religious, pagan, religious made pagan and vice versa and simply made up become all about creating memories and buying stuff for our kids or for one another? How have you or where have you drawn the line in terms of Santa and the Easter Bunny?

I’ll write more later on why the Easter Bunny and the Christmas tree are important in our understanding of culture and a Western/American Christianity…I know you’re at the edge of your seats…