More Than Serving Tea


Did She Cross a Line?

If you haven’t read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (pepy3, where are you on the waitlist?) I humbly suggest you put your name on the library waiting list, borrow a copy from one of your friends or buy one if you’re the type who likes to own books. I finished the book last month, but it’s following my soul.

It’s a story about Southern African American women who work as housekeepers, nannies and personal chefs  and the Southern White women they worked for. It’s about each group of women and their communities, friendships, mothers and children, and the unspoken and explicit rules that governed their complex relationships across racial, socio-economic and even religious lines.

One thing that I’m still wondering about and thinking through is the author’s own admission that she has and had feared her narrative, particularly writing in the voice of African American women, had crossed “the line”. Clearly, the story she wanted to tell required multiple voices, but by her own admission she acknowledges that while our recent history used laws to draw the line some lines are beyond the scope of law and policy.

A few of us from book club took a field trip to see and hear Kathryn Stockett at a reading/Q and A/book signing earlier this week in Lake Forest. (A little shout-out to “M” who snagged a seat in the front, which meant she was one of the first in line to have her book signed and agreed to take additional copies belonging to Bedtime Stories members to be signed. “M” also asked a great question about the author’s own journey in understanding race and racism – much better than the question asked by the lady behind me who apparently thought there were no significant Southern voices after Eudora Welty from whom Stockett could draw inspiration from. I suppose no one has ever heard of Harper Lee or Zora Neale Hurston…) Anyway, Stockett briefly addressed the real-life complexity of the relationship between White families and their “help” as well as her personal concerns about telling a fictional story by assuming the voices of African American women.

It was slightly amusing and ironically appropriate to be sitting there in a room that was predominantly White and looked like a dress-rehearsal for a Chicos/Talbots/White|Black fashion show to hear Stockett talk about her teenage years when she, by her own admission, was naive and unaware of the rules of race and class even though she had been adhering to them in one way or another her entire life. It was just the way it was and there we were just the way it is.

But does it matter that Stockett is a Southern White woman who was raised by Demetrie, her family’s “help”, and is now telling a fictional Demetrie’s story? Were you worried as you cracked open the book or did it not even cross your mind to worry? Is there really a line and did she cross it by assuming the voices of Aibilene, Minny and Constantine? Was it too much? Or is it a line we should all be crossing?

Advertisements

A Little Star By Your Name

We have been at our church for almost three years, and we still do not have a star beside our names. Granted, it took us several months before we felt like we should have a church directory and then another few months to notice the stars. Technically, they aren’t stars. They are asterisks, but a star evokes sweet memories of attendance charts and shiny gold star stickers. Stars meant you were special. You counted. You’re in. You’re a member.

Church membership is still a fairly “new” concept for me. I grew up in church, but from a child’s perspective membership meant being in long meetings where elders argued with other elders. I’m sure there were other things involved in membership, but no one at church never emphasized or brought up the idea of membership. We were always the “kids” for whom the Korean-speaking “adults” were building the foundations of the church so that one day the kids would take over. The problem often is that the adults never see the kids as adults and the transfer or sharing of power and responsibility never really happens, IMHO.

Peter and I actually can’t remember exactly how we became members at our last church. It was a church that I had attended throughout college, and we returned to it after we had moved closer to home and had our first child. Maybe I had been grandfathered in and then Peter was voted in after the church set up a more formal structure with by-laws, vision statement and website. What I remember were the meetings and many conversations about plans, budgets, and proposals. I do remember throughout a series of meeting involving our pastoral staff, positions and salaries, I grew increasingly aware that I had finally become an adult in a church. The budget, how people’s offerings and tithes – some sacrificial, others afterthoughts and all God’s – were being used, saved and stewarded mattered and members were being asked to prayerfully consider the matters at hand. When a family asked for their child to be dedicated we, the members, pledged to participate in the spiritual development and nurture of that child.

After leaving that church almost five years ago, our goal was not church membership. Our goal was to find a place where we could rest, heal, and hopefully fall in love with Jesus’ bride – the Church – again.

Since then we have slowly gotten gotten the hang of things here at what/where/whom we now call “our church” – the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer (“debts” and “debtors” not “trespasses” and “trespass”), stand to sing the “Doxology” after the offering is taken, the awkward “Passing of the Peace”, etc. We’ve gotten to know a few folks and even completed the pre-membership class. But we never took what I suppose is the next step.

We initially waited because we didn’t “feel” like we were really part of the church. Our kids were finding friends much faster than we were, but isn’t that usually the case? The barriers, excuses and awkwardness in the transition between complete strangers becoming acquaintances becoming friends have grown for me over time and age. We tried to “feel” our way through serving and putting ourselves out there in the front, the narthex, the behind-the-scenes – music, drama, dance, magic tricks and coffee, and we have come to this place where we are willing to sit in the tension of knowing what we hope for – deep friendships and rich community that overflows – is not quite where we are at…yet.

So are we ready to make the plunge and become members? Do we want to become, should we become, is it time to become members and gain more, risk more, invest more and be responsible for more than a star by our names?


Why Can’t I Just Shut Up?

I have a problem. My internal filter doesn’t always work. Sometimes thoughts that aren’t fully formed but in the process of being “felt” come out of my thought bubble and rush through my mouth.

My parents did the best they could, teaching me to be appropriately silent first in the way children are supposed to be silent and then in the way young ladies are to be silent. Opinions are best left in the head, and simply naming my alma mater should be enough to gauge intelligence. Words, particularly spoken ones from my mouth, aren’t necessary. Besides, who would want their son to marry an outspoken, opinionated woman? Those traits aren’t high on the “myuh-new-ree” (daughter-in-law) list.

There are times when the properly trained Asian American woman-ness kicks into high gear, almost as if someone dialed me up to “11”. I can smile, nod, look like I am in agreement with whatever is being said and then walk away without a word. It happens, I swear.

My parents also knew enough to know that some things were irreversible. We were here in America, and one day (or almost 40 years) their firstborn would be an American. They struggled to keep the “Korean” first through language, dance, songs, food, worksheets and flashcards and hyphenated “America” by reminding me that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Or is the oil?

I suppose that is part of growing up part of a generation raised to be bicultural – Korean and American – and finds itself developing a third culture – with or without the hyphen – that takes not the best of both worlds and rejects the rest but takes both worlds and creates something both familiar and new with its own best and rejects.

So there are times when I get squeaky. The dial gets turned the other way, and I can’t shut up. The raging extrovert in me, the angry Asian American woman who is tired but clearly not tired enough to shut up comes out and I hate when that happens because I hate that I feel like I should apologize for bringing to the conversation a different voice, a different perspective.

I can talk about things other than race, gender or class. It’s not always about race or gender or class. But many times race or gender or class (or all of the above) are in play. And the other night it was soooo easy. We were discussing The Help
, and there are still hours of thoughts and questions inside my head. Last night was just a taste. Why couldn’t we have started out with something lighter like a Nicholas Sparks book? Bahhhh!

No spoiler alert here for those of you who are still on the library’s list for the book or in the process of reading it. You know that the book touches on issues of race, gender, class, friendship and love. And if you read this blog you know that those issues are what keep us here in this cyberspace.

But those issues are uncomfortable, and it’s not always easy to go from discussing our feelings about a book to how those feelings translate into real life when it’s all so new and we don’t yet know our similarities let alone our differences. But how could I not talk about how I see life in our town as being different but not so entirely different than what we had just read? How could I not bring up how the rules of engagement between the junior league women and their help are as subtle and dangerous as describing “suspicious” cars and their drivers in broad generalities? Don’t we still have subtle lines drawn and communicated about who belongs where? How could any of us read the book and not choose to be uncomfortable if not for one night?


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.


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?


If You Only Had Four Years Left With Her

My daughter and I went shopping last night for her 8th grade graduation/confirmation dress. She was looking for fun, colorful and sparkly, and I was looking for my little girl.

I felt a bit scatter-brained, trying to focus on dress-shopping. Instead my mind kept racing ahead to high school and high school graduation, and then I found myself thinking about the next four years differently. Yes, academics and extracurriculars came to mind. And friends, boyfriends, and all the drama that comes along with high school came to mind. And college prep, exams, essays and application fees came to mind.

But what I kept going back to was that I might only have four years left.

When I left home for my freshman year at Northwestern, I had no idea that I would never really live at home again. I guess I thought that coming home for a few weeks in the summer meant living at home, but I didn’t factor in the internships, summer jobs and college friends who lived all over the country would change my time at home. And then I suppose I always kept the option of moving back home if there was a job change, etc. I never thought I would go from my first apartment and job to marriage and my first home. I always thought I’d go back home, I guess.

When I graduated I essentially moved from my apartment on campus to an apartment in Green Bay, WI. Some of my things stayed at my parents’ home for years, but eventually all of my personal belongings made their way in boxes and bags and large vehicles to wherever I was living. All three kids have read or been read to from my copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. My daughter’s jewelry and makeup sit atop my childhood dresser. Her books and magazines are on my old desk.

As far as I’m concerned, the job of parenting won’t end. In Asian culture, your parents continue to play a strong, active role in your adult life until you or your parents die. In America, you’re an adult and on your own at 18. At least, that’s how I remember the difference. In my Asian American existence, the influence of parents and ultimately of culture is somewhere in the tension of the two sometimes polar opposite views.

Which is why I keep thinking about the next four years, wanting to be a combination of guide/cheerleader/coach/drill sergeant having had a driver’s seat view of the transition from high school to college with parents who did their very best but didn’t know the systems or even what to expect. We picked colleges based on reputation. I did one college visit alone – my interview at NU. We talked about the future, but I guess we never talked about home.

So I’m thinking about home, and how my daughter will always be welcome here in this house, my home, but sooner than either of us may think or know or want this may not be her home. I’m thinking about how to love my daughter, to delight in her and her drama, and to simultaneously trust God and steward the gift of parenting well because we may only have four years left to fold laundry together while watching some guilty pleasure on tv, harvest tomatoes and lettuce, wash cars and paint walls, raid my closet when I’m out of town and be home together in this way.

She tried on a nice pink dress that looked better on her than it did on the hanger, but it wasn’t the dress. I half-jokingly suggested she wear one of the flower girl/junior bridesmaid dresses she wore a few years ago, and she looked at me with that look. She’s not a little girl anymore, but we have four years together at home and at all the places we will be together and apart to discover the young woman she is becoming.


This is Our Story: InterVarsity’s National Asian American Ministries Staff Conference 2010

Here are some images from our national Asian American Ministries staff conference “This is Our Story“.

I’m still thinking about the conference and the significance of what we heard and saw and spoke of, and I’m still wrapping my brain around InterVarsity’s AAM history that began with Gwen Wong being hired in 1948.

1948.

I’m still thinking about the amazing legacy of women like Gwen Wong, Ada Lum, Jeanette Yep, Donna Dong and Brenda Wong who did more than blaze a trail for someone like me to follow decades later. Their legacy is clear and points in the direction I long for my legacy to follow.

I’m still thinking about how we label ourselves – Asian. American. Asian American. Indirect. Model Minority. Shame-based. Female. Working mom. Called. Leader. – and see ourselves through a different lens in order to see ourselves clearly.

I’m still thinking about the hymn that comes to mind when I think of the conference theme – Fanny Crosby’s “Blessed Assurance”. I learned that hymn in parts in Korean. And I’m thinking about how changing the lyrics from “my story” to “our story” makes so much sense in the Asian American context.

What is your story?


The Friends We Are & the Friends We Have

As a child I remember the most jarring part of moving was saying goodbye to Serge, Vikram, and Evangelia. They were the friends that made recess at Waters Elementary worth the wait and gave each of us someone else to blame when the walk home took longer than it should because we stopped at the little store to buy a piece of candy. We were the best of friends and having to find new friends was scary. It still is.

I suppose that is partly why after reading The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women & a Forty-Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow, all I want to do is get together with some of my closest college girlfriends to catch up, cry, laugh, drink some wine and eat. K, P and C are not the childhood or young adulthood friends that are chronicled in the book, but they represent the closest I have come to the deep and enduring friendships I have just read about.

My husband said that though we hadn’t known each other for very long before our marriage, meeting my friends, watching us, and hearing us taught him so much about me. He was watching both the kind of friend I was as well as the kind of friends I had, and he continues to watch as some of my friendships enter a third decade while others are just starting out.

There was a season in my life when there was little space for new friendships. I craved connection to other new moms, but the demands of motherhood when life was full of infants and toddlers and preschoolers made establishing new friendships seem impossible. But God surprised me with new friends, some of them women I had known of or known years ago.

So now that there is a different pace to motherhood I find myself longing for friends like K, P and C to be both near and far.

To maintain the friendships from far away we have used technology to help us connect through three time zones. We have made celebrations and professional conferences as perfect excuses to get together. We will see how crisis and death in the future play into our reunions.

And to build new friendships I am simply trying – trying to set aside my own insecurities, competitiveness, and other character traits that desperately need God’s redemption and trying to be the kind of friend I have been so blessed by. Trying to be open to new things, but I’m really not sure I have the time for scrapbooking. (If any of you are reading this you know who you are 😉 Thank you for reminding me that I am still invited even though I joke about it being a cult.) Trying not just because I’m an extrovert but because we aren’t meant to do real life all alone. Trying because my daughter is watching and hopefully learning how girls and their friendships grow into women and their friendships. Trying because friendships have been good for my soul, made us more into the image of God we were created to be. Trying because laughing and crying and coffee and wine and a good book or a bad argument are always better with a friend.

How old are some of your most precious friendships and how have you weathered life’s transitions? How have you nurtured new acquaintances into deeper friendships? How have your friendships changed you?


Has LOST Left You Behind?

More Than Serving Tea readers, do you watch LOST?

My husband and I are big fans. We jumped into the show at the start of Season 2 and because of the convergence of several personal transitions/crisis/circumstances we chose to self-medicate by buying Season 1 on DVD and spending many nights getting know Sayid, Jin, Sun and Hurley. We currently own the entire series. After Season 6 comes out we will need a new idea for a Christmas gift to ourselves.

Our appreciation for the show has deepened as our investment in the characters and what they stand for has increased. Tuesday night there were 17 of us watching the show’s final season premiere at our home, complete with Dharma Initiative food and costumes. We had guest appearances by Hurley, Charlie, pregnant Claire, the Smoke Monster, Kate, Eloise Hawking and Workman.

Seventeen of us – half of the group traveled from the city out to the burbs – gathered for food and fun in the middle of the work week to hang out, watch a great show and talk during the commercial breaks. The group was a fun mix of people who wouldn’t have any other reason to get together except for the fact that they all know me and my husband and we all love LOST.

LOST has created a community, and for me that has meant an excuse to invite people into my home and therefore into my life to break bread, drink some Dharma wine, watch a show and get to know one another. More than a few people having seen photos of our past LOST parties on Facebook have half-jokingly, half-seriously said they would start watching the show just to come to our goofy parties.

I’ve talked to many people who are not interested in the show at all, but many of them have commented on this community around the show. There is a sense of being on the outside, left behind. I know at least two people who have invested A LOT of time catching up on five seasons in order to catch this final season at the start. Is it that the show is that good or the community is that convincing?

Do you watch? Why? Why not?

Leave a comment. Better yet, the person leaving the best comment (as determined best by me and maybe my husband) about why you love the show or why you don’t watch the show in a limerick, haiku or iambic pentameter will win their choice of  1.)Dharma Initiative chocolates, 2.) Dharma Initiative iron-on transfer or 3.) a copy of More Than Serving Tea.

P.S. Here is a great article about why another fan is a fan.

UPDATE: Sorry I neglected to include a deadline for my little contest. This morning at 12:45 a.m. CST, just a few hours before the earthquake, my husband and I declared Sara as the winner of our LOST contest. Her prize will be in the mail this week.

But if you feel the urge to rhyme and write an ode to our beloved show LOST, please do so. We love LOST around here. With or without tea.


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?