More Than Serving Tea


Superwoman Doesn’t Spend Her Morning In PJs

My superwoman outfit has been at the cleaners for a few years now, but every now and then I really, really want to see if it still fits. There is something particularly draining and yet sadistically energizing about taking on the world with a “I’m going to bake that cake from scratch and eat it with some organic milk and fair trade coffee while calendaring my family’s life on-line with a smile and a load of laundry in the dryer” attitude. Maybe it’s just me.

But I am not superwoman, though many of us try out of love for our children and family and friends and out of our personal brokenness. Deep down I want to exceed expectations because I want to be successful because failure can suck, especially when I see it on the faces of those I love most dearly.

So I was encouraged to read a friend and former colleague’s blog post on failure and success and how that plays out in real life as a wife/mom/grad student/campus minister. She has a full life, and she, like many of us, is wrestling with the fact that there are just some things she will never be good at or succeed at, let alone enjoy doing. She is sending her superwoman outfit to the cleaners, but, like so many of us, is trying to reconcile expectations (self-imposed and those of others on us), needs, wants, personalities, etc.

I’ve grown up with a bi-cultural understanding of success. The American Dream is a pull yourself up from your bootstraps narrative, but the American Dream for children of immigrants and particularly Asian immigrants involves extended family and ancestors. We pull not for ourselves but for those we left behind and will never see again, for those who are with us and for those who are yet to come. When we pull we drag with us ancient stories and family history. I pull the history of the Korean War and stories of families being separated and precious rice spilled into the dirt and a love/hate relationship to the West into the present filled with American and Korean values clashing still into the future where my children, nephews and nieces are just realizing they have dreams.

Success is not what I alone achieve for myself. It involves the entire family.

And failure is the same way. My screw up is not just mine but a mark against my entire family. When I screw up my living relatives and dead ancestors cringe and they don’t know why. When I fail it is not just because I didn’t study hard enough or practice long enough but also because somewhere someone failed to teach me the value of studying and practicing and perfecting. My failure is carried by my family as well.

So being superwoman is impossible. Who can fly with that kind of weight on her shoulders? Instead of fretting over the loss of superwoman, I spend a great deal of time trying to figure out Mary and Martha and their friend Jesus.

One particular incident I’ve written about before is their interaction in the Gospel of Luke. Martha is doing what a good woman does – preparing for her guests, but her sister Mary has taken it upon herself to act like a disciple and sit at Jesus’ feet. I know a lot of us Bible teaching folk have used that passage to talk and teach about discipleship, but what if Jesus’ conversation with Martha about Mary isn’t just about the one big thing – the being a disciple of Jesus is the better thing?

What if it’s also about all the other things we have to choose? Jesus doesn’t tell Martha she gets to stop being the hostess with the most-est. He doesn’t tell her that he refuses to eat the food she is preparing. He tells her that Mary happened to make the better choice and that will not be taken away from her. What if we make that one big choice – the being a disciple of Jesus thing – as we make lots of little, significant and seemingly insignificant choices. What would it look like if I considered which was the better choice each time I had a choice? One choice at a time.

I could beat myself over the head for the list of things I have already failed at this morning. Truth be told I’m sitting here in my pjs with a cold cup of coffee and a sink overflowing with dirty dishes, a laundry room that has immaculately conceived several loads of laundry. I don’t remember what my kids were wearing this morning so if they were late coming home I couldn’t tell the police officers what the kids were wearing for identification. I’m not sure one of the kids finished his homework. I know one of the kids did not have me sign a practice card. I have a ministry support letter that I needed to write a month ago, and two expense reports I need to file. I have a major training conference decision that had to be made last week. And it’s just TUESDAY!

But right now I am going to choose the better thing, and it is neither success nor failure.

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Martha, Martha. Today is Not Cupcake Day.

Even if there were 25 hours in a day there still wouldn’t be enough time to do the things I want to get done – never mind the things that need to get done.

This morning took the cake. Cupcakes actually. My three children are currently at two schools – the middle school and the elementary school. Each school has its own set of activities and fundraisers, and I feel compelled to help when I can. Isn’t that what good parents do? Correction. Isn’t that what good moms do? As a mom who works full-time outside of the home, I’ve been able to take advantage of my flexible hours and home office to get some in-school volunteer opportunities, but on the whole I’m a shoe-in if you need a case of water for a luncheon.

This morning I thought I was delivering in order two dozen cupcakes for 8th grade cupcake day by 8:30 a.m., assorted baked goods individually wrapped for the 5th grade bake sale anytime after noon, and 200 napkins and a loaf of crusty french bread for the middle school teacher dinner after 3 p.m.

Today is not cupcake day.

All I could hear in my head after Peter came back from grabbing the orange-frosted cupcakes from Bethany (who was red-faced after her dad walked into band to free her from babysitting cupcakes all day) was Jesus:

“Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen better and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41, 42 TNIV

I want my kids to know that I care about them and their school – cupcakes, assorted baked goods individually wrapped, napkins and crusty french bread kind of care for them. I need to feel connected to what is going on at the place where my kids spend most of their waking hours. I want to do what I can when I can because I already know the dates on the calendar where my roles collide.

But on this morning I was reminded that today is not cupcake day. I am worried and upset about many things – the laundry, the e-mails, the phone calls, the mess in the family room/kitchen/bedroom.

How on this morning will I sit and choose the better thing?


When Your Star Shines Brighter

When the idea of a group of Asian American women writing a book about faith, gender and culture started out with a snowball’s chance in hell, I had one fleeting thought that unnerved and annoyed me: What if this book actually gets published? Will my husband be OK with my success?

Somewhere in quiet, indirect messages I grew up to understand that boys were preferred over girls and smart, successful girls are scary or, even worse, undesireable.

It’s not that I thought two chapters in a book would launch my New York Times Bestseller literary career. But I understood that in the ministry world I’m in being a published author opens up opportunities that may have taken a lot more to open in the past. This is no time for false humility. After spending five years in the marketplace and then nearly a decade in ministry part-time, loving and learning from college students while raising a young family, my star was rising.

It is no small feat to be able to write a statement like that. Culturally there is no place for self-promotion – self-effacing comments, maybe. And by culturally I mean having grown up with a certain brand of Korean-American spirituality/fundamentalist/evangelicalism that let me know that under no circumstances was I to take credit for anything that I happened to achieve or fail. 

Good grades? I was lucky, or God pulled through. A promotion at work? I was lucky, or God had a plan. A big project flops? Bummer, or it wasn’t God’s will. Oversimplified? Without a doubt.

I will say here that my husband has been very supportive, but even then the kind of comments he would field while I traveled hinted at the audacity of what I was doing – pursuing a rising career. Men and women would gush over his willingness to babysit the kids while I was away writing or speaking, as if he had granted me a favor. Men at church would joke about “letting” me have so much time away from him and the kids. Women would ask how I could spend so much time away from my family.

It was as if my rising star needed to be explained away as an anomaly or excused as a luxury.

I’m not sure if it’s the sudden change in weather that is making me a bit cranky these days. I’m pretty sure it’s because over the past few weeks I’ve talked with a few other women who have wrestled with being a supportive wife and present mother who has an opportunity to stretch her wings and fly a bit. And maybe my fuse for this internal conversation is growing short…I want to respond graciously when I’m asked about the toll of my travel schedule on my family (because I really do agonize over it). I want to respond confidently when I’m asked about my ability to speak to a large audience about matters of faith and life. But I know I’m cranky.

Anyone else cranky out there?


Working Mommy=Unhealthier Kids? Work, Parenting, Calling & Roles

I’m always telling my children that they have the “meanest mommy in the whole wide world” but apparently I now have proof that they are pretty lucky kids.

According to a new study out of Britain, researchers have found that children of mothers who work full-time were the unhealthiest of the bunch. The second group of unhealthy kids belonged to part-time working moms.

Why? Because those kids ate more sweets, chips and sweetened drinks in between meals and spent more time than did their stay-at-home-mom-kids counterparts.

Hey, Bethany, Corban & Elias! Stop whining! You may have spending limits on clothing, and restrictions on the types of movies you are allowed to watch, but YOU get more sweets, chips, high fructose corn syrup enhanced drinks & tv/computer time than your friends whose moms do not work outside of the home. I have research to back this up!

I told you you were lucky to have the meanest mommy in the whole wide world!

Studies like this frustrate me to no end. Apparently fathers and their presence or lack thereof is irrelevant. Because their working trends have not changed significantly since the stone ages or so, it is obviously up to women to stay at home and raise healthy children. Razzle, frazzle.

I have worked outside of the home since Bethany was born (minus the first six months of her life when I was recovering from nearly bleeding to death, but that’s another story for another day). I may have been a career-driven 20-something, but when I was holding Bethany, and then Corban and Elias, in my arms I did not care whether or not I would see another byline again.

I have often wondered what it would be like to be a SAHM (stay at home mom) and to never feel that work gets the very best of me on some days while my children get the tired, worn out version of me. I have listened to SAHMs who refer rather wistfully to my “trips” away to exotic destinations like Madison, WI; Champaign-Urbana, IL; and Cedarville, MI. (OK, Seattle and SoCal are better!) What we’ve learned in living the journey together: the grass is always greener on the other side if all you’re doing is looking at the other side.

I’m in my 14th year of parenting with a lifetime to go and thousands of years of Korean American cultural baggage of guilt and shame with a splash of Christian fundamentalism to weigh me down. I do not have the energy nor the desire anymore to take on more false guilt or spend energy frustrated over things I cannot change. That is how I do it.

For those of you moms out there, what have you done to make it “work” for you and your family – whether you are a SAHM or a mom who works outside of the home? What about your situation has frustrated you or made you feel guilty or even envious of the other side and how have you dealt with it?

And out of curiosity, what do you think? Are kids with SAHMs better off?  Are kids with moms who work outside of the home better off? Does it have to be an either or?