More Than Serving Tea


Falling Into New Rhythms

It has been a week since we dropped off our firstborn on campus and high-tailed it back to Queens to drown our bittersweet tears and smiles in three perfectly grilled cuts of red meat and a pitcher of sangria.

I am still exhausted from the weeks, if not months, of anticipation, the measured and outbursts of emotion, the moving of a van full of STUFF, and then the goodbye.

It’s also hitting me that I am tired from (but not of) 16+ years of campus ministry. I did take a few breaks, which were also called maternity leave, but any job that requires you to be a combination of pastor, counselor, coach, supervisor, trainer, teacher, speaker, preacher, candlestick maker will drain you even if you have healthy boundaries and rhythms in place.

Somewhere between 1998 and the present those healthy boundaries and rhythms changed and evolved with each new season, and now as a gift to me from my employer – InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA – has granted me a six-month sabbatical from the daily rhythms of college ministry.

I’d always thought of sabbaticals as something teachers or academics might take, but the rhythm of work and rest or ceasing is part of my life as a Christian. My day of rest or “ceasing” is often Sunday, but admittedly Sunday’s are often a harried morning rushing off late to church with an afternoon of errands and housekeeping. It’s usually the “get everything set up for the crazy week ahead” day, but that’s not what God intended when He modeled sabbath in Genesis. After creating the universe “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2:3, TNIV)

Blessed and holy rest.

I’m excited and scared out of my mind. I’m scared I’ll miss out on making new connections and fun staff reunions, also known as FOMO or the fear of missing out. I’m scared six months away will mean there will be no place to return to at the beginning of March. I’m scared to ask God about this next season of life because He just might answer. I’m scared current ministry partners will stop praying and stop giving financially to the programs and plans I’ve been overseeing. I’m scared I’ll disappear and become irrelevant. I’m scared colleagues will forget about me.

On the other hand, what would you do if you had six months off of work? Granted, I can’t give up doing laundry or cleaning the house (could I?), and the daily demands of being a wife and mom can be crazy enough. But if you work outside of the home and could put that away for six months what would you do??

But I am crazy excited about organizing the talks and sermons, the training modules and articles, the book lists, the blogger lists, and all the other “administration” that is as much about listening and discerning as it is about cleaning up. Cleaning up the physical mess is a part of digging deep into the spiritual mess because after that many years of ministry there are a few messes to clean up. I’m excited about being a part of a two-year spiritual development cohort. I’m excited about some more space to read, journal, and write. I’m excited to have the permission and the luxury to say “no” to the daily demands and to dream and pray about the future.

Below is a link to my fall ministry update, if you are so inclined. In the meantime, even if it’s for an hour, put away the distractions – put the kids to bed, put the phone away, step away from any screen, and just sit. Doze off. Read. Journal. Go for a run. Or just sit in the silence. It’s a little exciting and a little scary, right?

Fall 2014 prayer letter

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Help Me Help You Help Me Help Someone Else

I don’t know if God will provide $73,000, but since He has already provided about $47,000 why not go for it. Go big or go home, right?

I am a full-time minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, and I have the privilege of seeing God’s Good News reach campuses across Illinois and Indiana in culturally relevant and challenging ways with students, faculty, and staff. My focus is developing ministry to Asian American, Black, and Latino students as well as equipping our staff to effectively communicate the Gospel, develop student leaders, and develop personally in an increasingly multicultural world.

In order to do what I do, I also have the privilege of inviting others to join me by praying for me and by supporting my work through financial gifts and gifts-in-kind. Currently, ministry partners faithfully, joyfully give $47,000 annually to my budget.

Here’s the kicker. I’ve been on staff for 15 years, and while my potential salary has increased my real salary has not. Part of it has been my ambivalence and discomfort with raising additional funds. I tell myself we don’t “need” more money, but I have realized that the deeper reality is that I have not been comfortable believing I am “worth” that much money. Asking more people to consider joining my financial support team not only means InterVarsity believes I am worth a higher salary but that I believe my skills, expertise, and quality of work is worth a higher salary. Asking more people to consider giving financial support mean wrestling with my own personal demons of worth, need, materialism, covetousness, envy, greed, selfishness, etc. It can get ugly.

It also makes me wrestle with my core beliefs. Do I really believe God will provide? Do I trust God even when He doesn’t answer my prayers and meet my needs in the ways I want and hope for? If I believe I am called to this work, why isn’t God providing the financial support that is required of me? Should I trust God in a new way and look for another job that doesn’t require raising support? See? Lots of trust issues.

The other kicker is that while I enjoy giving, I don’t enjoy asking. Does that make sense? I love giving gifts of all sizes and types – a jar homemade granola, a quart of homemade soup, two hours of social media help, a last-minute after school pick-up, and a portion of an unexpected windfall. I love being able to support other organizations as well as individuals in various non-profit and ministry roles. Giving away money is fun because I know that money – my salary – came from God. Giving of my time is fun because I know every day truly is a gift, even the ones that involve yelling, parenting fails, and gnashing of teeth. Every month I see the names of my partners in this amazing work and the amounts they give, and I am amazed and humbled. And every month I get to do the same thing right back.

So, here it is. If any of you, dear readers, have any interest in learning more about what I do as my day job so you can pray, learn, ask questions, give financially or in some other creative way, comment here with your contact info or email me at morethanservingtea “at” gmail “dot” com.  I suspect there are many of you out there who enjoy giving as much as I do.

Here is a link to my most recent ministry update letter.

Winter 2013 prayer letter


Book Club: Lean In & If I Wasn’t Afraid

Female accomplishments come at a cost. Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In, p. 17

What would you do if you weren’t afraid? p. 25

I’m finally at chapter one. Now, that isn’t to say I won’t jump back to the introduction.

Working in vocational ministry for 15 years as a married mother of one, two, and then three has come with great joy, transformation and cost. It’s easier to celebrate the joy and transformation, but it has not served me to dismiss the cost of pursuing this particular call as an Asian American Christian woman.

In the eyes of most of my family I still do not have a real job; as an Asian American woman “family” does not (if ever) mean my nuclear family. It means FAMILY – nuclear, of origin, and in-law with varying generational depths spanning continents and time. Despite working 40+ hours in this faux-job, the individual funding model used to raise support does not do me any favors. Traditional networks for missionary support require involvement in traditional evangelical networks from which I do not come from.

In the eyes of the Asian, and particularly the Korean-,  American evangelical church in the Midwest I am a bit of a anomaly, which is a polite way of saying I don’t fit. It ties back to vocational ministry not being a real job. I am not a pastor, nor am I a pastor’s wife. I am not a youth director, children’s pastor or women’s pastor. I am not credentialed – no MDiv, no M anything (not even Mrs. since I didn’t take my husband’s last name when we married), no ordination. We women are making strides, but one of my flaws is my impatience.

And there has been a cost to my husband and family. Imagine our horror when a pastor met privately with my husband about my behavior. Actually, I wasn’t surprised, which is the horror of it all.

It’s not all bad, not all horrible, but at a recent book club discussion I did share with my fellow readers and women that I am a bit tired of blazing trails. It gets lonely. It gets hard, confusing, and exhausting.

Which is where part of Sandberg’s motivation for her book comes in to nudge me back.

What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?  Actually, the question for me goes back a step. Why and of what am I afraid of? My faith should inform me. The Lord is my shepherd, and I lack nothing. The psalmist writes the same Lord “delivered me from all my fears” .

I am afraid of failing. Of success. Of disappointing others. Of trying too hard to please others. Of losing myself.

But if I wasn’t afraid, what would I do?

When I wasn’t afraid I managed to repel off of a mountain face in Colorado. I helped write a book. I told my husband to get his mother out of the delivery room. I asked a stranger if she was going to be OK because the young man she was with was yelling at her. I told people I was still sad, months after a miscarriage and years after my youngest child almost died. I asked for a brief leave of absence from work when things were getting emotionally difficult.

The Lord is my shepherd.

What are you afraid of? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

 


The Adventures of Shopgirl & Life’s Small Detours

I am not supposed to be working a part-time job in retail selling miracles in a jar or a tube. I am supposed to be a campus minister/blogger developing world changers, renewing the campus, writing and editing blog posts that draw people into a deeper relationship with God, and storming the castle for Jesus.

But I am. Both. And. All.

My “real” job overseeing multiethnic ministry development and training (the corporate world might translate this into “diversity director”) with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship invites me to raise my entire salary, benefits package and overhead. I know. It sounds crazy, right? It is crazy for all right reason. Ministers of the gospel are not meant to go at it alone, which is why Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs. I go out with more than just one partner in ministry. I go out with a host of others praying for me and giving generously because they don’t want to do what I’ve been called, trained and gifted to do – train staff in cross-cultural mission, mentor leaders across the country, teach & preach at conferences, and other incredibly fun, spiritually challenging and exciting stuff.

It’s just that sometimes the math doesn’t work, and salaries are reduced. And time doing some of the things I love doing gets spent doing other things I love less but should love just as much – like raising more support, networking, inviting people to join me on this adventure.

But part of that adventure means taking the occasional detour, in part because the math isn’t working out. To help balance the books at home, I have become “Shopgirl” – selling cosmetics part-time at a nearby department store. And aside from having to stand for 4-8 hours a day with a little more makeup than I usually wear to pick-up my kids from school or when I teach about God creating culture, I’m finding that being Shopgirl and castle-stormer for Jesus has required me to be the same me in new and sometimes uncomfortable ways. And it’s really, really difficult.

I’ve learned more than I want and need to know about office politics and climbing the corporate ladder in the few short weeks I’ve been back in a “secular” workplace. I gotta tell you that being Christ-like is a lot more difficult when the gossip is juicy or when I’m just plain bored out of my mind.

It’s difficult to sell with integrity when I know that the miracle cure-all for your breakouts will cost you half as much if you buy a drugstore product with the same active ingredient, especially if you really want to believe that you get what you pay for. Telling people about Jesus is actually easier because I believe in Jesus and His miracles; I’m not so sure that my wrinkles are disappearing because of a cream I am trying out, but it sure smells nice.

It’s humbling, sometimes humiliating, when you are interviewing for a job that you know you are overqualified for (no, I don’t have any retail experience in cosmetics, but I have been wearing makeup for more than 20 years), or you are in a job that you are overqualified for but need to have and a customer treats you like you are a stupid housewife trying to keep herself busy. (I have yet to meet a housewife who doesn’t already have enough to do, have you?) I don’t really want to know “How can I help you?” I just want to go back to my “real” job where I tell people about Jesus. 

See how this is hard?

It’s all part of my “real” job. It doesn’t matter if the check come from InterVarsity or that department store. It doesn’t matter if I don’t get a check at all, since my family doesn’t pay me except in hugs, kisses, and their eternal gratitude. My job is to be who God has called and created me to be in all circumstances and situations, in all the roles and responsibilities I have the privilege of having.

And this all started gelling for me this morning as I put on some of that wonder cream I get to try for free because I am Shopgirl after a great morning video conference call in preparation for some cross-cultural leadership and ministry training I will get to do later this month because I am a diversity director with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

It’s a small detour, but I think I am still on the right track.