More Than Serving Tea


Another Example of Leadership: Lindsay Cobb

We found out late last night that Lindsay Cobb, an active leader with the Southern Baptist Church and locally at Uptown Baptist Church, died suddenly this week. I met Lindsay several years ago when the church we were attending was in transition and brought in an interim pastor.

He and spent many hours e-mailing and talking about leadership, worship, conflict and crisis. His commitment to helping congregations through difficult situations was deep-rooted in his belief that God could change people and systems, no matter how broken or messed up they were. Grace Community Church was just one of many he had helped with his baseball illustrations and stories from the front lines.

He encouraged discouraged leaders to take just one more risk, to hold a Good Friday service, to change the order of Sunday service a bit, to assess the damage and pray about what God might do in our midst. He’d often talk about his mistakes – walking unknowingly into relational land mines, offending people he was trying to help, frustrating people as he dealt with his own frustrations, his off-balance life of ministry. Sometimes he didn’t make any sense, and I had a hard time understanding some of his baseball stories. He was human, and that made his leadership all the more appealing.

It’s been at least four years since I’ve been in touch with Pastor Lindsay. GCC had hired a new senior pastor by then, but when I had some questions about leadership and navigating cross-cultural conflict he seemed like a natural person to contact. I suppose even then he was pastoring me and Peter in what we would soon realize was our personal time of transition out of leadership roles and then out of the church.

Pastor Lindsay understood his role to be more than filling in a preaching slot. He understood how to pastor a congregation and mentor leaders into a season of discernment, waiting and anticipation. It seems appropriate then that Pastor Lindsay would leave this world to meet Jesus during Advent.

Thank you, Lindsay, for your example of leadership and sacrifice.


Softening My Skin in a Mud Bath

My apologies to those who landed here because they were searching for information on skin care.

Zondervan’s decision to remove Deadly Viper Character Assassin and Mike & Jud’s decision to shut down their website is heating up the blogosphere once again. I’m concerned about the way some of these posts and tweets could be read – tone is a difficult thing to express well in the anonymous electronic world. And as many of us have learned during the past three weeks, the blogosphere can run pretty fast and furious. Right now there is a lot of mud being slung in all directions.

But one theme that has appeared in a variety of places has been the call to those who were offended (pick me, pick me) to grow, get, have “thicker skin”. The comment and admonition to get thicker skin is akin to saying “don’t be so sensitive” or “you’re choosing to be offended” – all of the interpretations lend itself to telling the offended person that this is their personal issue they personally have to overcome.

I don’t want thick skin, and I pray against that. Lately it’s been a daily prayer.

Literally speaking, skin is our largest organ providing protection, support and circulation (I helped Corban study for his science test). Healthy skin is able to do those things well. Unhealthy or damaged skin put the rest of the body in danger as sensory and circulatory abilities are hampered.

When I think of thick skin I actually think of dead skin that hasn’t been shed properly. The callous on my toe from those beautiful but painful new shoes. The gnarly cuticles that snag my most delicate sweaters. The tough skin on my elbows from resting on them too much when I have writer’s block. I scrub off the callous. I cut my cuticles (I know, you’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to push them back and put lotion on them to soften them.) I exfoliate my elbows. And then a moisturize like crazy to soften the skin so that it’s pliable.

I don’t want thick skin because honestly when I think of thick skin I think of elephants and their thick skin. Elephants are beautiful animals, but I don’t want to look like an elephant.

I don’t want thick skin because I do not believe God wants us to create a bigger barrier to feeling and engaging deeply with God and with one another. Our sinful natures make it tough enough. Adding more to the junk of our souls or covering it up with thicker skin isn’t going to help.

I pray for a tender heart and soft skin so that I can hear what God has to say to me, our community, our world in that pain. When someone offends me, brushing it off doesn’t allow for a sacred moment between me, the offender and God. Thick skin means I just “get over it” and move along. But what if God doesn’t want us to move on so quickly all the time? What if our attempts at getting over it just mean “it” never goes away?

There have been some nasty comments in reaction to the Deadly Viper situation – people assigning motive and intent, name-calling, etc. In some places it’s getting mean. If we all get a thicker skin I’m afraid we’ll never understand each other. And besides, Jesus didn’t tell people to get thicker skin. He didn’t tell the bleeding woman to stop being a victim and get over the social outcast thing.  

Issues of race, ethnicity and gender all involve tough conversations about power and privilege. I don’t like being called names. I don’t like being lumped together and being referred to as the “minority tail wagging the majority dog” (yup, that’s an actual comment on a blog). I don’t like being told to stop playing victim because I made some noise and the authors were the sacrifice (yup, that’s real too). But I suspect people who thought nothing of the initial outcry paid much attention because maybe they never had to. Maybe the anger and disbelief over the book being pulled and the authors shutting down the website has more to do with never having anyone tell them to get over themselves? See, it can get ugly and polarizing real fast. Thick skin will just keep us from going deeper. 

I’m not suggesting an over-the-top emotional response to everything in this world, but when the mud-slinging ramps up like it has our natural instinct is to duck…or throw more. But the mud has to land somewhere right? Maybe instead of ducking I need to sit in the mud a bit, get a little dirty and then let the mud soften my skin.


Chinese Eyes & Playground Prejudice

“Look, mom! Chinese eyes!”

Apparently that was the lesson of the day during recess.

Three years ago my son came home from 2nd grade and showed me how he could gently pull up the outer corner of his eyes. Duh. Chinese eyes.

I didn’t want to alarm him or make him feel like he was a bad kid, but I didn’t want him running around pulling his eyes back for obvious reasons. What I was able to gather was that a kid on the playground came up to Corban and said, “Hey, this is what Chinese eyes look like.”

Corban, who at the tender age of 7, understood he was Korean American but he associated that more with some of the customs we keep, our Korean names, the food and the language. He figured that he was learning something new about the Chinese, and thought his classmate was sharing fact. 

“Mom, did you see? I made myself Chinese,” he said with his one-dimple smile.

I wrote in my journal:

“I need more manuals for this kind of stuff.”

So what would you have said if your child or a child you know came up and proudly showed off her/his newly acquired skills?

I remember walking into my new 2nd grade class. We had recently moved from the north side of Chicago to the northwest suburbs. As far as I was concerned we had moved to Mars. 

Miss Thompson did her best to welcome me, but the real welcome came in the bathroom. “Amanda” came up to me and asked me what was wrong with my eyes and nose.

It was an honest question with no ill-intent, just like Corban’s re-enactment of what he had experienced on the playground. Amanda had never encountered an Asian American, and I had never encountered someone that weird. We were best friends that year.

But when you get beyond the playground, say, in your 20s, 30s or not quite 40s, it’s not quite that simple is it? Or is it?

My youngest is in second grade. I wonder what lessons Elias will bring home from the playground this year…


Bon Appetit!

Did any of you watch Julie & Julia? What did you think? Did it make you want to run out and buy a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking?

I enjoyed the movie, but I didn’t leave the theater inspired to cook my way through self-discovery (but if any of you were so inspired and need someone to help you eat what you cook on your way to self-discovery, I’m your woman).

It did make me wish I had more counter/prep space in my kitchen (which is frozen in time just like Julia Child’s, though mine is not at the Smithsonian). It made me think about role models and the women who have gone before me. It made me think about friends – new and old – who have helped me become a better version of myself.

And I left the movie with the itch to write again.

Writing is part of what I do and who I am. I didn’t grab a pencil at my first birthday for nothing people. (Koreans traditionally celebrate a child’s first birthday by placing them in front of a table to “choose” a symbol of their future destiny.)

I write down lists even though my iTouch has a handy dandy app for that. I write in my journals. I compose letters when something that happens on the Oprah show irritates me or when my kids’ school teachers all have a different reason explaining why President Obama’s speech was not being shown in class. No one would describe me as “slow to speak” but there is something about committing words to writing that compels me…it keeps me honest. It’s not always beautiful prose, but life won’t be this side of heaven.

So I unexpectedly found inspiration to get back at it through a movie about cooking, eating, doing something that people say you can’t do or shouldn’t do or will stink at doing and finding one’s voice in the process. Thanks for joining me.

Sorry I don’t have any food to offer you (but if we meet in person we’ll chat over coffee and something made with butter, sugar, eggs and flour). But indulge me with a glimpse into what has inspired you lately? And what has that inspired you to do?


When to hit “Remove From Friends”?

Has anyone hit “Remove From Friends” because someone has crossed the line between friend and frenemy?

So…Facebook is a major time suck. I know several hold-outs who don’t want to read that so-and-so is stuck in traffic and so-and-so is eating this amazing meal and so-and-so went to the U2 concert with her daughter and lost 2% of her hearing. 🙂

I kind of like it. I have to take my FB in small portions otherwise I get sucked in looking at photos (like my cousin posing with Ludacris is one of my favs), responding to funny status updates (like Jessica’s about “No one should be frozen in carbonite” still makes me laugh), etc. It’s like eating. Eat several small meals during the day instead of the big three which tend to make me veerrrryyyy sleeeepppyyy and in turn less productive.

For the most part I’ve figured it is his/her status and he/she can write whatever whenever. Whatever. But lately there has been quite a bit of chatter on FB by “friends” who are doing what I am doing right here – venting, and I’m feeling very conflicted.

Have you ever read someone’s status and thought, “This comment makes me uncomfortable.” Or better yet, “WHAAAT?! Are you kidding me?” 

So when you read something like that, do you engage or not? Do you ignore the status and maybe that person’s updates for awhile? If you see that person to you acknowledge the crazy status update? Or do you comment on the status?

Anyone out there unfriend a friend? If so, why? Did you think about it but decide against it? Why?

I’m looking for a few honest folks who aren’t just removing friends because they are no longer OK with not really knowing all 1,000 of their friends. I’m looking for the few folks who’ve had a bone to pick…and picked it.

Anyone?


Queen Bees

Has anyone read “Queen Bees & Wannabees – Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends & Other Realities of Adolescence” by Rosalind Wiseman? 

When we moved back to Illinois, one of our concerns was moving our daughter out of her charmed school experience. In Wisconsin, she was enrolled at a charter school – a public school that ran very much like a private school. The school drew from the entire school district by lottery so it had a great mix of students with one class per grade level.

The move here was rough all around, and our daughter had a tough year making new friends in a larger school. I remember talking with her teacher at parent-teacher conferences and asking about the girls and their friendships. This teacher was honest and said that cliques had already formed. 

For the past few years we’ve watched and counseled Bethany through a few friendship bumps and dramas and crisis. I’ve only stepped in once when I felt that another parent had crossed the line and owed Bethany an apology. But each time something happens I wonder, “Why is it that girls turn on each other? Why, even in adulthood, do women get so catty?”

Personally, I hated junior high  and high school. I couldn’t wait to leave. Looking back I’m sure some of it was “normal” teenage angst – not getting asked to the dance, not getting the name brand clothes, not being cool. Some of it was “normal” but painful; to this day I can still name some of my tormentors who teased and threatened me. You might think that I just need to let it go, but others of you might relate. My confidence today comes from God alone, but back then my confidence came and went with the wind or the way certain peers looked at me or spoke to me. I wasn’t a queen bee, but I was definitely an overachiever with a lack of self-confidence. (And there’s nothing like looking ahead to your 20th high school reunion and looking back at high school through facebook to bring it all back again!)

I picked up the book because I wanted to revisit adolescence just as my daughter is entering it. The way I see it is that I have an advantage over my mother. My mother grew up in Korea attending girls-only schools in a time and culture that no longer exists for either of us. Her junior high and high school experiences were frozen in time when she immigrated to the US, and when I hit puberty all bets were off. We literally were from different worlds. But for me and my daughter we have similar starting points – the Illinois public school system. I remember being worried about opening my locker and changing for gym so it was a good chance to release some pressure when Bethany and I went to the open house last year and neither of us got the locker open on the first try. I remember wanting the perfect outfit for the first day (actually, week) of school so it’s a blessing to be able to take her shopping with much more financial freedom than my parents. I remember wanting to fit in and have fun, but I have been able, so far, to guide Bethany in hopes that she doesn’t lose herself in the process of fitting in.

I also wanted to read the book to better understand myself. I am a grown woman, and when I’m honest I can admit that I long to fit in and am still trying to find my niche of friends in this community. There are the working moms and the stay-at-home moms. (Those labels don’t make sense to me. I rarely see a mom who doesn’t work or just stays at home.) There are the PTA moms and the soccer moms and the ballet school moms and some are the all-of-the-above moms. Most of us are just-managing-by-the-grace-of-God-moms. And just like in junior high there is gossip and the looks we give one another. Sometimes we are very much like our teenage daughters.

So, were you (or are you still) a queen bee or a target or somewhere in between? Be honest.