More Than Serving Tea


She’s a Writer, a Speaker, a Red Wine & Coffee Drinker

She’s me. I’m going through my mid-life crisis early because I  have always been a bit of an over-achiever. I figure why wait if I can already identify some of my angst, right? My oldest child is getting ready to #flymysweet and head off to New York, not to follow her bliss but to study the one thing that makes studying everything else tolerable. There are so many mixed emotions, and I’ll eventually sort through them bit by bit to write about them, but the mess of emotions is why I’m writing this post. I’m not leaving my family, buying a new car, getting a boob job, piercing my fill-in-the-blank, or taking up a new hobby. (I may, however, get my eyebrows tattooed.) I am trying to carve out some space, time, silence, planned activity and nothing – a luxury, I know. Some call it a sabbatical. Honestly it’s my mid-life crisis. Seventeen years in ministry as a wife, a mom, and then a writer and speaker, always a coffee drinker and then finally a palate that could appreciate being a wine drinker, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Please tell me you can relate. Please tell me that there have been days when you looked at your schedule, your desk, your kitchen, your gym, your pile of laundry, your spouse, your children, your church, your boss, your inbox, your text messages, your journal, your car keys, your reflection in the mirror after spending the morning working from home in your pajamas and robe and thought, “What the hell am I doing?” That’s where I am. There are no doubts about my skills, talents, gifts, passions, pet peeves, and weaknesses, but there is a restlessness I have not attended to. And I’m actually afraid to ask God what I’m supposed to do about all of this because I actually believe if I ask God He is going to answer and sometimes I don’t like the answers. I don’t like to be that honest because you may read my funny, insightful, vulnerable posts, but you haven’t heard my prayers. Prayers are honest, raw, ugly, broken, desperate, and hopeful. We don’t always get what we want, which is what I naively and incorrectly interpreted a Christian life to be. Ask and you shall receive. Knock and the door will be open. When life closes a door, God opens a window or something like that. Sure. Ask and you might receive an “Oh, no.” and the door might open but not for you. And that window is “open” because someone threw a rock through it so going through means getting cut. See. I’m stuck. But over dinner and drinks to celebrate 21 years of marriage, my husband asked me if I could do anything what would I do. It was the closest thing to a prayer about myself since this whole launching a kid to college and ushering my older son into high school sent me to my knees about them and my parenting. This was about dreaming, not for them but for myself. There is an inherent danger in doing that because there are some cultural norms not often discussed in polite company. My unscientific research has shown that men can get away with more self-promotion than women, and even men and women may accept self-promotion more in men than in women. And Asian Americans by unspoken rule do not believe in self-promotion, unless you are a man, which means you can get away with it more. It’s not always true, but it is more often than not the case. An elder at another church once reprimanded me for talking too much about myself when talking about my work and ministry. Huh? And as we approach Mother’s Day let us not forget that we thank our mothers because of their sacrifice and unselfishness, which sometimes flies in the face of having aspirations, goals, and interests that are not some how connected to the lives we birthed, adopted, fostered, and mentored. I don’t buy greeting cards, but I’m going to guess that a lot of cards thank moms for what they did for us. Which is why I want to encourage my mom friends and women friends, my sisters, and my brothers to name three things about yourself and dream a little. These words don’t define you, limit you, label you, etc. It’s just a start. And if you’re game, pray those ugly, honest, hopeful prayers to God to guide your way. Ask your community to confirm, affirm, redirect. Just three things. She’s a writer, a speaker, a coffee drinker. That’s me. It’s not all of me, but it’s start. Who are you?

A dear friend gave this to me just because it was perfect in so many ways. It's good to have friends who know you, can keep things real, keep you humble and honest, and make you laugh.

A dear friend gave this to me just because it was perfect in so many ways. It’s good to have friends who know you, can keep things real, keep you humble and honest, and make you laugh.

 

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Moving From Fear to Faith to Belonging

Sometimes we agree to do risky things. I would have to say that agreeing to preach at my church on Mother’s Day was one of those things. Not only was I “Mom” I was “guest speaker/preacher”, and my church and I are still in what I would call the “pre-premarital counseling days” – we are getting to know each other after already having made an initial, mutual commitment to one another. But there is so much to learn about one another. And you, my lovely readers, know that I share quite a bit about myself and my faith. My preaching style reflects that, and I never know what God will do as people get used to the sound of my voice.

I felt very much in the zone this morning at both services, and was grateful at how I continued to hear God teach me thing about the passage. And the feedback was good, and I walked away grateful that God honored my faithfulness by helping many connect with God on this special day. Here is the script as I preached out of Mark 5:21-43.

Happy Mother’s Day! I am working on Mother’s Day.

To be frank, I am never quite sure how I feel about Mother’s Day. After I became a mother I became quite annoyed that only one day was set aside to celebrate my many accomplishments and contributions 😉

Yet, it’s honestly a tough time of the year. In fact, the entire month of May and the season of spring is fraught with complicated memories and emotions for me.

Thirteen years ago Peter and I welcomed spring with the grief of a miscarriage. I felt loss and a deep sense of shame that perhaps God was punishing me for my greediness. I already had a beautiful daughter. Friends and family tried to console me by reminding me of how lucky and blessed I already was with one child, almost taking away permission to grieve. Mother’s Day that year was complicated and I was afraid to hope for healing and for more children.

In 2005, we lost my mother-in-law, Rebekah Chang to kidney cancer and Mother’s Day that year was a bittersweet one as my husband continued to grieve his mother and I wrestled with how to properly grieve a MIL with whom I had had a tenuous relationship.

Spring usually marks a time of excitement in our home as school winds down and my kids look ahead to our annual trek to Cedar Campus, InterVarsity’s training and conference center in the UP. Five years ago forever changed my relationship with that blessed place as in a matter five days Corban got hit in the head with a rock almost needing stitches; I threw out my lower back and was hobbling around as I lead evangelism training; my mother suffered a heart attack and was in ICU and then the final straw – a series of seizures (to this day unexplained) that put Elias on death’s edge. I left Cedar Campus having taught students to share the Good News of Jesus, wondering if God had abandoned me.

And ever since then, spring marked my annual anxiety and panic attacks and bouts of depression as my family and I begin to turn our minds towards Cedar Campus. Ever since 2006, May and the celebration of Mother’s Day has felt a little like holding my breath and waiting for the crashing wave to pass.

Last year, shortly after Mother’s Day I found myself in my kitchen overcome by a tearful anxiety attack recalling the events of five years past – seeing Elias seizing, Bethany surrounded by other staff kids her age praying with her and for us, Corban rushing towards the closing ambulance doors asking for one last hug and feeling nothing by mind-numbing fear.

Shortly after Mother’s Day last year asking God for strength and faith to face my fears and overcome the social taboos surrounding counseling and medical intervention and sought help from a counselor and my medical doctor to address my fears, anxiety and depression.

Mother’s Day is not easy. Some of you have lost your mothers. Some of you are anxiously awaiting a child. Some of the mothers here have lost children. And many women are not yet and may never be mothers. Some of you can’t for obvious reasons can’t be mothers. And for others, you have your own complicated relationship with Mother’s Day and spring. How can we hope and celebrate when the day-to-day realities don’t fit neatly on a greeting card?

This passage in the Gospel of Mark reminds us that Jesus’ ministry meant redefining categories and relationships and power. Jesus’ ministry is one of hope and healing where fear and dread have once lived. Here we see Jairus , a synagogue ruler, meeting Jesus out in the streets beyond the walls of the synagogue where he has authority, power and influence, falling at Jesus’ feet asking for Jesus to heal his “little daughter” who is 12-years-old. He asks for Jesus to place His hands on her, believing out of fear and desperation that Jesus’ touch is all that is needed.

But in the midst of this story comes along an unnamed woman, who from all that we can gather has no other family, no sons to speak on her behalf, no husband to represent her, no father to ask for her healing. She has been bleeding for 12 years, separating her from public life. Walking into public she must announce her condition yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!” so that no other is affected by her affliction. Hers must be a personal and separating suffering, but her actions mirror that of the synagogue ruler. She seeks Jesus out in public, but instead of asking for a face-to-face audience, the woman reaches out to simply touch Jesus’ garment. I wonder if she had known that Jesus was on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter for surely in that time a true leader would show preference for a man and a male leader at that over a woman. But regardless, she reaches and immediately knows she has been freed. And Jesus knows power has gone out of him.

Imagine walking in the crowd at the Taste of Chicago and asking those around you, “Who touched me?” That’s just silly. And the disciples thought so too, answering rather sarcastically, “You see the people crowding against you, and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

Yet, the woman knows and just like Jairus, falls at Jesus’ feet. She is trembling with fear. The crowd could easily turn on her, her presence in public alone is cause for punishment. Her physical condition, though healed, is unspeakable.

And while Jairus is waiting for Jesus to heal his dying little daughter, Jesus does that very thing. Jesus heals his daughter. His cloak has stopped this woman’s bleeding of 12 years and then reorders society, culture, power and position by calling out to this woman, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

The suffering of 12 years of bleeding is over, but a woman in her situation during that time and culture suffered from so much more. Jesus’ healing and ministry is physical, emotional, spiritual, relational. She is Jesus daughter, a woman no longer unclean and untouchable and alone, but claimed as family and recognized by this Jesus. She belongs because of her faith.

But wait. What happened to Jairus? Imagine being in his place. Are you impatient? Angry? Desperate? Yes? How many time have you or I thought that God was paying too much attention to someone else’s pain and not addressing your own? Jairus receives news that his daughter is dead but Jesus quickly turns to Jairus and tells him before Jairus can utter a word, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”

After all, everyone has just witnessed this incredible physical healing as well as emotional and relational healing, but we all quickly forget how Jesus’ power and love conquers all divisions.

So he heals again. This time, the interaction is private with only Peter, James and John there in the presence of this family – father, mother, little daughter. Jesus is the one who reaches out and touches the dead girl’s hand. She, too, is unclean, just like the woman. And Jesus tells her to get up.

But sometimes the most important part of the story of transformation in our own lives and in the lives of the bleeding woman and Jairus and his family is the part after our encounter with Jesus.

Did the woman live as one of faith and one freed from her suffering and as a daughter of Jesus? How did Jairus and his family engage with those in the synagogue or the mourners who were crying in his home? Did those in the crowd welcome the woman who was no longer unclean into their community, and help her ease her fears and take away power from her personal pain? Did the mourners and those Jairus would later encounter in the synagogue play a part in releasing the secret by welcoming the 12-year-old girl and family back?

Before we walk away from this holy place this morning/afternoon, ready to take on the busy plans to celebrate and commemorate, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect. What will you do with your fears and faith? How will you or we as a body react in the face of another’s fear and faith? Are we here because we are ready to acknowledge our fears with our faith in Jesus and walk away freed of suffering or is it just one day of the week we set aside to acknowledge Jesus?


Picking Favorites: My Daughter or My Sons

What would you say if I told you that I loved my daughter more than my sons? Or that I loved my sons more than my daughter? Or if I loved my children more than my husband? Or that I loved my husband more than I did my children?

Well, apparently that is essentially what one blogger did, and she’s getting some heat for her post. She writes about loving her son more than her daughter and the difficulties she had bonding with her daughter, who is also her firstborn. And she responds to some really, really mean comments explaining that her post was more about her deepest darkest fears more than a day-to-day intentional favoritism.

But my first reading struck a nerve for various reasons, and I hope it did for you too. Writing about your deepest darkest fears publicly means you better be ready to take what comes at you, and the author pulled the blogpost and then wrote an update clarifying her first post. The blogosphere is a fickle thing. What blogger doesn’t want 400+ comments? Well, when some of those comments tell you that you are stupid, insane, unfit, etc. the number of comments won’t matter. After all that stuff with Deadly Viper, I’ve put much more prayer and pause into each word and post.

Her post also made me think about sibling rivalry in real life – me and my sister, my husband and his siblings, and my own kids. It made me think about Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, Martha and Mary. And how all of us children, girls and boys, have parents who loved their children but failed. Could you imagine the blog posts Abel, Esau and Leah would have written?

Thank God we can all take a breath and remember we’re all human. Right?

Human, flawed parents. Because only a real but imperfect parent in a broken world wouldn’t automatically cry with tears of joy and feel her heart burst when her perfect newborn is placed in her arms. I cried for those reasons and because I was scared out of my hospital gown that my doctor was going to discharge me and assume I had not only read all of the baby books but memorized the information so that I could take care of that teeny, tiny baby whose head (which apparently was still soft and mushy) and body flopped around. How could she not be my favorite?

I actually joke with my kids about being my favorite. Every now and then I will look at my daughter and say, “You are my favorite daughter.” She’s my only daughter. I tell my second child, “You are my favorite son born in June.” And then I’ll tell my youngest, “You are my favorite son born in October.”

My kids think I am crazy, but I say those things because in my heart of hearts I know that because I am human and sinful and flawed that sometimes my imperfect attempt at equal love is not received equally or expressed equally.

I know that to my sons it could look like I favor my daughter because she loves to spend time helping me pick out what outfit to wear to the wedding Peter and I will be attending on Saturday. The boys don’t want to help but they want my time, and today my time went to determining color-appropriateness for a spring but snowy wedding celebration.

And later this month it will look like I am favoring the boys because we are going to spend some time standing in line for the coal mine exhibit and staring at millions and millions of fish while I make jokes about eating shrimp and salmon for dinner. I will be doing my best to ruin my daughter’s spring break because I love my sons more.

When I want a big hug to make me feel good my youngest wins. He will still attempt the koala bear hug where he wraps his arms and legs around me and hang on with a big grin on his face. How could he not be my favorite? How could I not love him more?

When I want to hear words of encouragement and affirmation my older son wins. He will often come up to me and announce, “Mom, I love you. You are an awesome mom.” I use a bookmark he made for me for Mother’s Day four years ago. On it he writes that I am “caring, smart, honest, thankful, beautiful and organized”. Oh my goodness! How could he not be my favorite? How could I not love him more?

And when I want to laugh and share secrets and dreams and fears or dance down the aisle at Costco (actually, she’s the one who does that) or be the one she wants when she’s trying something new and scary my daughter wins. We’ve shared rites of passage together in Sephora, at the foot of her bed in whispers, giggles and tears, and at the wheel of a minivan. How can she not be my favorite? How could I not love her more?

But I don’t. I don’t love my daughter more than my sons or vice versa, but the possibility scares me. It’s scary because I’m Asian and there is a cultural history that has valued the lives of boys and men over the lives of girls and women. Family members hoped I would give birth to a son but God gave me what He thought best – a firstborn daughter. My life is not worth as much, even though my entire physical being as a woman is necessary to produce the more valuable sex.

It’s scary because I’m American with a history of wanting to put women in their place, and then move them into the factories because we were needed, and then putting women back to make space for the more deserving men. I live in America where the trafficking of women and girls is happening everyday and misogyny and sexism is not in the past but in our pop music, vernacular and paychecks. It is our country’s present.

And it’s really, really scary because we don’t want to admit it but we’ve all played favorites, and we’ve all been played. The former is easier than the latter in my experience. I was the smart one. My sister was the pretty one. My parents didn’t play favorites but their words of affirmation felt like it, and it took years/is taking years to untangle those childhood moments. I know I love each of my kids differently but I hope it’s equally because they are created so uniquely by a creative and perfect God, but my love is so imperfect that it’s bound to be misunderstood and unequal.

So I’ve been trying to ease my daughter’s pain by suggesting we go to cupcake shop or walk along the Mag Mile, but there is no way I am going to let my boys help me pick out my outfit for Saturday. (Hmmm. Sexist? Probably. But I’ll save that for another post another day…)


The Growing Pains of Mother’s Day

I am a mother of three, but it wasn’t always this way.

1993: my first Mother’s Day as both a daughter and daughter-in-law. Two corsages, two cards, two gifts, two sets of expectations. Let’s just leave it at that.

1996: my first Mother’s Day remains a bit of a fog. I was five months post-partum, which meant five months into a low-level funk that was occasionally accompanied by a wave of intense and overwhelming crazy like I’d never experienced love for the little baby girl the doctor and nurses let me leave the hospital with after simply checking a couple of plastic bracelets. There I was celebrating Mother’s Day still scared silly that I would wake up and find out it was all a strange, cruel, sweet dream.

I’ve since come to realize it is all a wonderful, sometimes slightly horrifying and embarrassing reality, and I hope I never fall asleep.

1998: the suckiest most bittersweet Mother’s Day ever. I was emotionally raw, again, but this time from just having had a D & C. Our second baby had stopped developing in my womb at 6 weeks, but the body I had so trusted, the body I thought I knew, the body I thought I could control and “time” with pills and calendars tricked me in the most awful way. I miscarried. Another seven weeks would pass before we realized that we weren’t going to have a baby in the fall. Mother’s Day that year was horrible because I felt like such a selfish byatch. Why couldn’t I be happy with the one child God had already given me when there were thousands and thousands of women desperate to be a mother of one, let alone a mother of two? What was wrong with me for worrying about losing a fetus when I was so young and could easily get pregnant again? What the hell was wrong with me? Well, I was grieving the death of my child and the death of all the dreams I had for that child.

I realized how tightly I held onto hopes and dreams for this baby that had yet to see the light of day, and then I realized that slowly letting go was what I would have to continue learning for the rest of my life as a mom.

My one memory of that day is sitting with my daughter who reached up with her cute little hands to wipe away the tears I could not stop and said in her wisest two-and-a-half-year-old voice, “Mommy, you’re so sad.” I wanted to stop crying and smile, but all I could manage was to do both.

And I have since known that it is OK and absolutely necessary to be sad and deeply joyful and to let my children know when their hands and voices ease the sadness and are part of the reason I experience such joy.

Since then I have celebrated Mother’s Day as the mother of two and then of three. Each year I remind myself it wasn’t always this way. I remind myself that for me it is less about celebrating and being celebrated as it is remembering to be fully present. Remembering this is not a dress rehearsal or a dream I cannot fully remember. Remembering it’s a wonderful, broken, imperfect life. Remembering to love and let go at the same time. Remembering to feel the depth of pain and sadness and unbearable loss while knowing there is space at that same moment for joy and peace and love and even laughter.

Thank you, God, for Peter. I needed some help to become a mother, and every day he helps me become a better mother by being such a great father. I’m kind of competitive in a completely healthy, appropriate way.

Thank you, God, for Bethany, Corban and Elias (and even “baby Andrew” who pushed me to learn about letting go). They are the reason I get to pick the restaurant for lunch today and the reason I am more self-aware (i.e. I know how selfish I really am and how much sleep and/or coffee makes me a nicer person), and wiser, gentler, younger at heart and goofier.