More Than Serving Tea


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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Chicken Feet Taste Better Than My Own: Random Thoughts on The Social Network, Immigration & Imago Dei

I haven’t had the energy to sit down in awhile to blog. Somewhere between the multiple google calendars and multiple modes of communication life over-shared with me.

But fortunately I have had several opportunities to put my foot in my mouth, regret the way I communicated my thoughts and feelings, and ask for and receive forgiveness for a recent misstep, which has made me want to slow down again and write. Writing, it seems, is one of the disciplines I need to keep in my life. Writing compels me to pause, reflect on my day-to-days and interact with Jesus and  in helpful ways. The optimist in me hopes that it all translates eventually into fewer moments of foot-in-mouth.

A few weeks ago I convinced a group of friends to entrust my daughter with all of our children so that as adults we could go out and enjoy dinner and a movie without kid menus. We went to see “The Social Network” having gotten wind of all the rave reviews.

I must confess that I was enjoying the movie quite a bit until I saw Brenda Song. Ah, the Asian sidekick reappears. Her character is a sexy groupie who morphs into a crazy, jealous girlfriend. I was saddened to see that once again a “young, female star” lands a more “grown-up” role, which simply means she shows some cleavage and leg and then does not have sexual relations with one of the lead male characters. We wonder why girls want to grow up too quickly and wear makeup, low-rise pants and thongs? Because we show them that growing up is just that.

But then I got angry. Every Asian woman was a sidekick or a waitress. And then every woman, with the exception of Rooney Mara’s character, was really just a body to drink with, sleep with, get high with, stare at, etc.

The word “misogyny” came to mind. And then versions of the word escaped from my thought bubble into the conversation. I don’t regret bringing up my opinions. I do regret how and when and even my tone and posture in the delivery of my opinions. Sometimes, it’s OK to leave a movie a movie until later. It really is.

And then it happened again at staff meetings when the issue of immigration came up.

Immigration reform is highly politicized and misunderstood by all sides, but it is one that as a Christian who lives in America and is now finally an American by documentation I continue to wrestle with. What do I say to a student who wants to go to a conference but can’t fly because he is undocumented? What do I tell staff to do when a student confides she is undocumented and can’t consider certain job opportunities? What is my role in the conversation as someone who has had access to and the ability to navigate a rather complex system, which included paying hundreds of dollars, having my fingerprints entered into a national database before I’ve committed any legally punishable crime, and being essentially asked “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” ?

But how do you say that without putting your foot in your mouth? I don’t know because my first attempt was this rant that seem a bit disconnected from my update, and as soon as I sat down I had that pit in my stomach which is the result of pedi-indigestion. I enjoy well-prepared chicken feet and pig feet. The last time I enjoyed sucking on my own feet was in my baby days.

Anybody share in my pain? I’ve been told that I can be indirect. I’ve also been told that my bluntness can be liberating but off-putting. I don’t reject those observations. I want to learn from them because as someone called to teach and preach and lead and learn for the sake of the gospel I have to communicate well. It does nothing if it’s clear as day in my head but clear as mud coming out of my mouth. Worse if it’s mud slung out of my mouth.

So I continue to struggle to develop this “voice” because at the end of the day  I don’t want to be the angry religious Asian American woman who can’t just enjoy a movie or let something slide until there is a better time. Perhaps the woman doth protest too much, but I really don’t take life so seriously all of the time. I have a lot of fun, and I often think I am fun…or funny. Ask my kids.

But seeing women portrayed as sexual objects grieves me not because I think Hollywood should know better or that movie critics don’t know what they are talking about but because we women are created in God’s image – imago Dei. Seeing God’s image bearers portrayed as objects, valued for their bodies giving pleasure to others angers me. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

Wanting to create space in meetings to talk about the tougher things isn’t about being politically correct but about understanding how our theology shapes our interactions with people and our engagement in policy-making and policy-changing. I may be documented but that isn’t the image I bear. I’ve been told that my ethnicity and gender isn’t what defines me, but I need to know how to respond when documentation determines and defines how we speak about others. A person may be undocumented but she is equally created in God’s image and how we as Christians interact with her matters.

So I keep thinking, talking and keeping my feet clean for those foot-in-mouth moments. Thank goodness for pedicures and grace.

 

 


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?