More Than Serving Tea


We Have Become the Ahjummas

My girlfriend and I stood there first cutting the traditional birthday cake – the flour, sugar and egg variety –  and then cutting another traditional birthday cake – the sweet rice and sugar variety, laughing and perhaps delighting in what had become of us over more than 20 years of friendship. Another friend quickly joined us to help pass out plates of cake and mujigae dduk, understanding without ever being asked that she, too, had joined us in friendship and cultural tradition.

We started out as young ladies – “ahgashi”. Two decades filled with some experience, wisdom and grace have changed us. We have become the “ahjumma” – the older women who were always by our mothers’ sides, laughing and helping them through every church and family function.

The ahjummas were always there to help cut the fruit, serve the tea and help maintain and direct the delicate balance between managed chaos and mayhem. They knew to help, knew how to cut the fruit and dduk, knew to send leftover dduk with guests and to encourage them to take some food home. The ahjummas always seemed to know when to do these things without being asked, and I remember their efficiency as well as their hearts. They did these things out of tradition and learned expectations as much as out of love and respect for their friends and families. They just knew when it was time.

And as my girlfriend and I stood with knives sticky with cake, frosting and sweetened rice we realized we knew, too. We knew that there were things in our Korean American upbringing that we had not carried on into our adulthood – things we found too Korean to be easily transferred to our American lives or too American to transfer into our Korean lives. We also knew that we would never be able to, or want to, shake the impulse to come to another girlfriend’s side. We knew that our friend needed not just girlfriends but ahjummas to step in and help her daughter’s “dol” (a child’s first birthday) move from the pasta and salad and Korean potstickers and braised short ribs to cake and dduk without a word.

My girlfriend and I stood there laughing and grateful because we knew whom we had become.


Moving Forward Sometimes Means Looking Back

I am not trying to rehash the past for the sake of rehashing the past. I am, however, trying to figure out what, if anything, was learned from the DV incident. Personally, I’m still sorting through the experience which gave me a unique opportunity to speak up about issues of identity – both ethnic and gender.

I found myself speaking out with the likes of Soong-Chan Rah and Eugene Cho while having to ask them to consider the cost of not speaking out against misogyny and sexism. And in the end my only regret is not pushing the issue further with them. We talked about whether or not “adding on” the issue of gender would hinder the effectiveness of our protest, and there was talk about whether or not we could go back and criticize content when initially we all had agreed that we were not as concerned with the content of the book.

Looking back, I would have pressed us to stop and say what we were hoping the authors would say. We made a mistake. We drew attention to the obvious – the random “Asian” images and objectification of culture for one’s own gain. But I wish I had quickly run out and taken a look at the book (which I did about two weeks into the mess), slowed down the online rant to a more thoughtful chapter-by-chapter analysis. Once I had the book in my hands I realized I had a problem with both the content and the images. I wish I had slowed down and then pressed the issue further because at the end of a day of explaining white privilege, stereotypes and brokenness I looked at a photograph in the book of an Asian woman baring her midriff, wearing an Chinese-styled dress carrying a Japanese samurai sword I had to come to terms with “male privilege” where the normative experience is that of men.

So I’m still thinking things through, praying that God will help me find a gentle, powerful voice to move forward without losing lessons of the past.

But I wasn’t alone in DV. This e-mail was sent out on March 11 in hopes of some clarification from a few folks involved.

Dear Jud, Mike, Chris and Stan,

I trust you are all doing both well and good, and you are connecting with Christ in a fresh way this Lenten season.

It has been almost four months since our paths crossed, but I suppose in some ways our telephone conversation and subsequent online “interactions” may still be fresh. I am writing not to open up old wounds but to see if you have any reflections or a response to all that happened in the fall now that there has been a little bit of time and space. I continue to have blog readers, friends and colleagues who watched the situation unfold ask me if I have had any contact with any of you (particularly Jud and Mike) and what if any thoughts I might share publicly.

Revisiting DV publicly didn’t seem appropriate until a follow-up of some sort had happened. You see, as I’ve replayed our phone conversation (with Mike, Jud, Chris, Nikki, Soong-Chan, Eugene and me) and re-read our joint statements post-conversation, I cannot help but shake the impression that our conversation would continue at some point offline. Perhaps I mistakenly assumed that Soong-Chan, Eugene, Nikki or I would be part of those conversations and that you have sought counsel of other Asian Americans. Was I wrong in assuming we would at some point come back to the table to talk?

Jud and Mike, I have been watching POTSC from it’s unexpected early start develop into what looks like a lively community ready to engage in learning from and extending second chances. I’m getting ready to write a follow-up reflection piece, and I’d prefer to include a public comment or two from either of you (or from Stan or Chris) in response/reflection four months later rather than a “no comment” or non-response. At the very least, I will be letting readers know by the end of the month that I’ve contacted you, perhaps including this e-mail, in hopes of getting us back to the table to talk again.

Please let me know what kind of response I can share publicly with my readers.

Peace,

Kathy


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?


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?


What Does It Mean To Be “Feminine”?

There is a great discussion going on about Mark Driscoll and the “chickified” male/church at the Jesus Creed. I’m running out the door so I’ll have to revisit topic, but I have blogged about  my concerns with similar thoughts on masculinity and femininity.

But controversy aside, I’m curious. I’m not sure who all of you are who read my blog, but I’d love to know how you would define, describe, live/seen lived out femininity? It can’t  be about lip gloss and twirly skirts, but sometimes we don’t push the conversation, the descriptors, the issues deeper than that, I’m afraid. What do you see in women that is a part of the image of God that is reflected uniquely in the feminine? Or is there such a thing? And does race and ethnicity play any role in how you’ve seen the feminine defined?

For you women, what about being a woman do you find joy or discomfort in? What about being a woman draws you closer to God or makes drawing closer to God more challenging?


The Little Voice Inside My Head

Right now my head is a bit stuffed up thanks to a cold, but the little voice inside my head usually takes no prisoners. This past weekend, however, it was not expecting such a direct confrontation.

“Why don’t you think you’re an ‘A-level’ speaker?” asked a respected colleague of mine.

The little voice inside my head was very quick on its feet and replied, “I actually don’t do a lot of teaching and preaching so I don’t get as much practice as an A-level speaker would have. I tend to ramble a bit. And, I let life hijack me and my emotions too much to bring my A-game every time.”

I’m fairly comfortable in front of a crowd, can make eye contact, etc. Larry Studt, my high school speech team coach, taught me well. I’m a good public speaker, not great. Good. At the same time, I’ve never considered putting my name in the hat to be the Bible expositor at our summer training weeks, nor have I considered myself to be of that caliber. Self-promotion is not my MO. I was raised to believe that if you are that good, someone surely will notice and advocate on your behalf. There is no need to toot your own horn if you’re that good, right?

Um. Sort of. Sometimes? Maybe? Not always?

I’ve often wondered if there is unique flavor to female self-doubt, or perhaps a unique spin to a woman’s self-confidence. I know so many strong, successful women who are often surprised when asked to consider putting their names in the hat for a promotion, a speaking gig, a leadership role. Add to that any cultural layers that explicitly or implicitly limit a women’s role and there you have a interesting combination – confident self-doubters.

My colleague later asked me what I could only presume was a rhetorical question: “Why aren’t you out there more speaking?”

There are a lot of good reasons. I’ve spent the past 14+ years having and raising three amazing children. Speaking gigs don’t always fit in between childbirth, nursing, weaning, teething, potty training, preschool, kindergarten and suddenly high school registration.

And perhaps there were a few opportunities to put myself out there and to get a little more training and experience when I let the little voice have too much space. Perhaps.

I’ve found ways to quiet and calm the little voice – mentors and trusted colleagues and friends who will give honest feedback, trying new topics and speaking in front of new audiences, and listening to my own voice.

What does the little voice inside your head stop you from doing or trying or experiencing? How, if at all, does gender or ethnicity, play into your experience of self-doubt? How have you silenced that voice of self-doubt or have you found it helpful?

This past weekend was good for my soul on so many levels, and I’m still thinking about the questions my colleague threw at me. And I’m rethinking, reconsidering how I might answer them the next time those questions come my way.