More Than Serving Tea


The Balancing Act

Hollywood isn’t real life, but when real life (mine and the lives of the actors) and Hollywood converge it is great fodder for thinking and conversation. Peter and I can’t stop talking about last night’s date night movie, “Up in the Air”, starring Vera Farmiga and George Clooney.

IMBD’s movie description: With a job that has him traveling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham leads an empty life out of a suitcase, until his company does the unexpected: ground him.

My oversimplified movie description: Ryan Bingham has a midlife crisis.

But I’m not so focused on Ryan Bingham (that’s for another post). What I am still thinking about is how I was drawn to Alex Goran, played by real-life mom and wife Vera Farmiga. Alex is a strong, confident, beautiful, sexy (but not slutty, for the most part), successful, intelligent business woman whose opening exchange with Ryan had me and Peter talking about power dynamics into the wee hours of the morning. (Peter and I really are a fun couple.)

Women have a different balancing act than men, especially in the corporate world, in terms of how they communicate through their words, body language and even the way they dress and carry their sexuality. Times are changing, but Equal Pay Day, when women finally catch up to what men earned the year before still isn’t until April 10, 2010. We’ve come a long way, but it’s still not a level playing field, which is in part why the length of the skirt, firmness of the handshake and awareness of the hair flipping matters. You  may not agree with the rules, but there are rules. Changing them means knowing them first.

As a Christian woman who works in the tension of a management position in a Christian missions organization, my concerns and thoughts on “dressing for success” can either be dismissed as being superficial and too concerned with “the world” or hijacked by important and related conversations about women’s roles, marriage and parenting (and then get into the messier conversations about whether or not a mom should get a paycheck for her work, whether or not a woman can lead other men over the age of 18, whether or not women can be women without tempting men) while ignoring the obvious truths. God gave all of us, men and women, more than one sense in which we interact with the world and, therefore, people. Sight gives us literal lenses through which we make judgments and assumptions. Hearing allows us to interpret tone and volume and pace. Even smells, touch and taste play into the ways we interact with one another and how that affects success and effectiveness. Again, understanding and awareness is not the same as agreement with said rules.

Successful women are often portrayed in both Hollywood and real life as the “byatch”. The stereotypes are easy: successful women essentially act like men but happen to have breasts or they are women who have used their breasts to gain access. Even in scripture we have to wrestle and understand the cultural norms and stereotypes of women as we interact with Ruth and Naomi, Queen Esther and even Mary the mother of Jesus along with the unnamed sinful woman and the woman at the well. When Bible teachers and trainers are asked to teach on leadership, where do they turn? I turn to those women.

I digress.

The reality is a balancing act of trying to embrace our leadership, our femininity, our voice alone and alongside men. Personally I struggle and am confused when colleagues describe me as being “motherly” and describe other male colleagues as “pastoral”. I don’t want to be overly vain and concerned about my appearance but I’m not going to pretend that my appearance doesn’t matter to others or myself.

Which is why I found Alex as a character fascinating. Alex, from what little we know, is neither a man with breasts or a “byatch”. When the younger female character Natalie Keener, played by Anna Kendrick, is in crisis Alex listens and speaks frankly without cattiness. Alex is a woman who has, in some sense, arrived in the corporate world and in midlife, unlike the younger Natalie. Alex was a woman comfortable with her sexuality, success and choices and Natalie was still struggling to figure out what her choices would be, how she would view success and how her gender would play into those choices.

Twenty years ago I was Natalie, and I suspect I would not have resonated with the movie or the characters in the same way, which is why I say go watch “Up in the Air”. Hollywood gave me 109 minutes of entertainment and lots about reality – past, present and future – to think about.

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Image is Everything

Do you care about what others think of you?

I do. Sometimes I don’t care at all because I’m at the gym to get my cardio done and mascara and my version of cardio don’t mix well. Sometimes I care too much (like during junior high and high school, and when I’m around a group of people I don’t know well). Maybe it was all that great training I got in high school – poms, speech team, student council and the school newspaper. You learn about image and presenting yourself well. You learn about diction, eye contact and presence. You learn that even if you don’t care what other people think of you those people are forming opinions about you.

This weekend I’m headed off to Ohio to spend the weekend with some amazing InterVarsity students and staff to talk with and learn from one another about God, Jesus, faith, culture, ethnicity and identity. I cannot say this enough. I love my job.

We will be talking about image – what we think of ourselves and perhaps what others think of us. My hope is that we will be honest with ourselves and with one another.

So I’ll be honest. The worst part of public speaking isn’t the public speaking (even if it can feel as vulnerable as standing on stage with nothing on but your underwear). It’s packing for speaking gigs. Yup. Stupid? Yes. No. Maybe. Packing unnerves me because I want to project just the right vibe – accessible, warm, engaging, cool, but not trying-too-hard-to-be-cool cool, fashionable but not in a materialistic way, intelligent, prepared and wise but not old. That is a lot of for an outfit to do, right? And knowing that about myself makes me feel vain and foolish.

Where is the middle or appropriate ground when dealing with the way we look and present ourselves? I feel like it’s particularly dicey for women, and there additional issues for women of color. What do you worry about when it comes to your image and where or how do you draw the line?


Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – Goodbye

It’s final. I am naturalized citizen of the United States of America. I am an American – a Korean-American to be specific.

We filed in after having our identities checked against records and confirmed twice and then giving up our green cards. I wish federal law allowed me to snap a photo but we were in the foyer and not in the auditorium. There was something beautiful and poignant in that stack of green cards – so many stories to be told.

The ceremony was a mix of corny and genuine. The couple in front of me held hands and glanced several times at their 8-year-old-ish daughter who was presumably American-born and their photographer for the day. The couple and the woman to my right shed a few tears as 121 of us stood up as the names of the 44 countries we represented were called out. Lucky for them I always carry kleenex.

The immigration officer spoke about the sacrifices immigrants through the generations have made to make this country their adopted home – leaving behind lives to start anew, sometimes leaving behind everything for nothing more than hope.

My mind wandered a bit because I was eight months old when I left Seoul. I’m not sure what I left behind. The only story that tugs at my heart is that of my great-grandmother wandering the neighborhood, calling out for me long after we had left the country. I left her behind, and we never knew each other long enough to perhaps say a proper goodbye.

The ceremony also included recognizing the men and women currently serving in the armed forces, including the story of one man who was commended for his bravery and service in the Viet Nam War. Even before he was an American he fought for America.

Honestly, the well-scripted ceremony had me ready to pull out the kleenex for myself and then they played a music video complete with karaoke style lyrics of “I’m Proud to Be An American” on the three large screens. My apologies to those of you who love that song. Personally, it makes me cringe. The song rings a bit jingoistic, and if you’re going to showcase a song to welcome Americans let’s showcase the very best of what America has to offer. Or at the very least, play the national anthem recorded by a quality vocalist and orchestration. Ugh.

And before I knew it we were free to linger, take pictures by the stage or downstairs in the foyer  between the two flags, and leave the building as Americans. The security officer who had so humorously helped me and Peter through the security check-point congratulated me. We rushed off to pick up the kids from school after an equally rushed celebratory lunch – Portillo’s Chicago-style hot dogs.

As for my choice of proper attire, I dressed up. I paid way too much money to not take this day as a reason to dress up – a little black dress with a beautiful emerald green silk coat of my mother’s. She once told me that she had taken the fabric given to her by her in-laws as part of their wedding gift to her to have party dresses and matching coats made. She had imagined her life in America being full of parties and celebrations, but the dresses hung in her closet, dusty and unused.

I thought it appropriate that on the day I said goodbye to my green card I would wear my mother’s unused green party clothes to celebrate. Thank you, Mom and Dad for giving me your dreams, and thanks to all of you who joined me on this journey.


What is Proper Attire For Becoming An American

This one is just for fun. Really. Fun.

At the bottom of my Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony is the following statement:

Proper attire should be worn

So, what do you think is proper attire? What would you wear if you were becoming an American citizen? Blue jeans – nice ones that look tailored? Jeggings, yay or nay? My hanbok might be over-the-top, right?

And yes, I will post a photo after the ceremony.


WWJW or What Would Jesus Wear (if Jesus Was a Tween/Teen Girl)?

A friend’s post about fashion and leggings got me thinking about how my daughter and I are navigating the scary yet vaguely familiar world of teenage fashion.

Life was a lot easier when I could go to just about any store and buy a few things for Bethany, stick them in the closet, and pull them out for her to wear with little to no objections. But I don’t know if it was as fun. Life now means going to the mall or Goodwill together and trying to out-do each other’s best buys.

But starting around age 9 finding “appropriate” clothing and avoiding exposed midriffs and butt crack became priority #1. I remember walking into a tween girls’ clothing store and horrified at their underwear display – bikini and low-rise underwear for tweens. What does a 9-year-old need low-rise underwear for? Apparently to make sure her underwear doesn’t show too much under those cute low-rise jeans. Duh.

Bethany isn’t 9 anymore. She’ll be 14 the day after Christmas. And when she tries on a pair of jeans I ask her to sit down in them before I’ll pay for them. When she tries on a shirt I ask her to raise her hands in the air because I care about whether or not the shirt rides up and shows off the spot where she was once tethered to me for sustenance.

But fashion and appropriateness can feel like a moving target. I don’t have big issue with her wearing a bikini, but I may change my mind on that this summer. I think she looks great in those low-cut skinny jeans, but I don’t want boys or men googling her. I want her to see herself as God (and Peter and I) see her – beautiful inside and out. But I also remember what it’s like to be a teenager, and I’m still the kind of woman who likes to look good in what she wears. And I want her to understand that what she wears isn’t as important as her heart, but that it’s OK to appreciate her physical beauty as well as a fabulous fitting pair of jeans. Clothes don’t make the woman, but we all know that at one point or another we’ve judged another woman for what she was or was not wearing.

See? Moving target.

A few nights ago Peter and I were watching ABC’s Nightline when a segment on tween/teen fashion came up. A national program called Pure Fashion was promoting modest fashion for teens. Pure Fashion’s creator and former Miss Georgia, Brenda Sharman says, “The idea with Pure Fashion is very countercultural.” She goes on to explain that the program is for girls with courage, and that is extends beyond fashion to cover proper behavior and actions for Christian girls who wish to remain virtuous until marriage.

But something about that segment bothered me, and I’m still trying to figure out why. Perhaps it’s knowing what it’s like to be judged based on appearances and not wanting my daughter or her friends to be judged that harshly…or for them to judge others based on their fashion choices. Maybe it’s because I want to believe that what I wear isn’t all that important but I hold in tension the reality that what I choose to wear can communicate messages I intend or don’t intend to communicate. There’s a reason we call the power suit the “power” suit.

So, should we even be asking the question, “What would Jesus wear if he were a tween/teen girl?”? What have you seen in fashion trends that make you cringe? (Why are shoulder pads coming back? At least they cover the shoulders, right?) What are the lines you have drawn for your daughter or for yourselves as you shop and get dressed? (No belly button or butt crack exposure. That goes for both of us. And I refuse to let her shop at a particular store that insists on dimming the lights and assaulting potential customers’ sense of smell and hearing, but we’ve bought a few of those label’s items at rummage sales.)