More Than Serving Tea


Me, Ambitions, Q & What Happens When You Get What You Secretly Hope For

When I was in high school I wanted to grow up and be a journalist. I wanted to write for a major metropolitan market daily and be a section editor by the time I was 30 years old, to be precise.

I imagined what life would be like, considered the possibilities, didn’t rule out marriage or children but tried not to worry about it too much. I did the internships, collected the clips & recommendations, and utilized the career center like a boss. I was disappointed at the rejection letters, and then I started collecting them & correcting them for errors. I posted the rejections and numbered them. My apartment-mates agreed with me that editors who misspelled words on rejection letters weren’t worth working for, and those same apartment-mates greeted me at the airport celebrating what would be the first of two job offers.

And in all that time I never doubted my ambitions were part of my faith journey. Following Jesus meant dreaming, trying, failing, dreaming some more, and stewarding the gifts and talents I knew I had. There was always doubt, but there was always faith. I also knew that my ambitions were never completely my own. My parents and I immigrated to the US when I was eight months old. My life as the child of recent immigrants would never be “my own”, and I understood that before I understood what giving my life to Jesus meant. Sacrificial living is part of my Asian American DNA.

But somewhere between the age of 21 and 43 the doubts went deeper. Was being ambitious selfish? Could a faithful Christian woman still claim ambitions? How could I reconcile surrendering my life to Jesus and pursue my ambitions? The books I have read on leadership, discipleship, and parenting have all mentioned goals and achievement, but for some reason it began to feel less safe, less feminine, less godly like Mary and more like Martha to be ambitious.

Somewhere along the way my voice changed, and somewhere along the way I recognized the difference….and I didn’t like it. But to find your voice can be dangerous because you have to choose things and take risks and speak. Sometimes it has been clear as day; some opportunities were a “no” without a doubt.

But some opportunities are the ones we secretly hope for. Some opportunities are the ones I secretly hope for. The hopes are secret because who in their right mind tells anyone, “I’d love to be the speaker at a conference”? I don’t. Well, actually I do. Indirectly. I have a page on this blog with testimonials, my schedule, and my contact information. I’ve been told I should have a speaker request form plug-in. I’ve secretly wanted to speak at conferences, churches, and retreats.

A secret ambition becomes reality next month. I’ll be one of 12 presenters at Q Women & Calling next month in NYC. Well, how was that for burying my lede?

I’ve been waiting to write about it because:

  1. I got caught up in writing about Asian American stereotypes and evangelicals;
  2. Elias, Corban and then Bethany all took turns coming home with different germs;
  3. my day job keeps me busy; and
  4. I am terrified. And that’s OK.

I’ll be speaking on ambition with a voice that I pray is mine, embodying my Asian American Christian woman/friend/wife/mother/daughter/sister/neighbor thing. So as I finish prepping, fretting, and prepping some more (18 minutes is not a lot of time for a woman who grew up in a Korean American church) I would appreciate hearing from you.

What, if anything, is wrong with ambition?

How can Christian faith and ambition co-exist? Or can it not?

What are your secret ambitions? What keeps you from pursuing them?

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Business cards, name tags & other ways to label one another

Next week at my son’s middle school I am going to be a writer.

It’s career day, and for years I’ve signed up my husband, a dentist, for career day presentation duties. I help out lost children in the halls.

But this year I’m trying on the “writer” label out for size. It’s not completely new. I fell in love with writing after getting my first attempt at a high school sports story returned to me decorated with red marker. My favorite color is red, and I must confess there is a competitive streak in me. I am my own biggest competition.

For years I was a bonafide newspaper reporter. My business card proved it. The bylines are saved on yellowing newsprint. A few digital copies still remain out in the inter webs. I was a newspaper reporter.

And then there was this “writing project” that I had the honor of participating in. At one point I had to come to grips with the fact that even if our ideas could become a manuscript it had “a snowball’s chance in hell” of making it to print. And then hell froze over, and someone started calling me and four other amazing women “authors”.

Even then it felt a little phony to call myself a “writer”, but it was the start of a journey back and forward to discover, identify, clarify, and claim that elusive thing many of us refer to as our “voice”. It’s the way we sound when we speak, write, laugh, argue, persuade, listen, dance and simply “are” – and it’s all the same. It’s a hint of the woman I know deep down inside God has created me and “my inmost being” and for those of you who know what I’m talking about know that it is simultaneously exhilarating and frightening. It can point you to God’s faithfulness and goodness just as your false-self with all our insecurities and just plain ickiness.

It’s figuring out the gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses that you have to share, do and express because that is what God meant for you to share, do and express. And then you have to own that.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to “own” it, as silly as it seems since I am writing all of this down.

As a woman, wife, mother, writer/blogger, speaker, aspiring crafter, amateur baker/gardener, laundress, chauffeur, seamstress, cleaning lady, personal shopper, diversity officer at a non-profit, middle manager and an evangelical Christian, I have several ways of answering the question, “What do you do?”

How do you answer the question?

 

 

 


I Saw Him Yelling So I Used My Voice

The guy was yelling at her so loudly that everyone in baggage claim area #4 watched them out of the corner of their eyes. He paused to point out the signage and how she had clearly bleep-bleep-bleeped it up. He seemed to grow taller and she continued to disappear into her already slight frame. I’m sure she wished the escalator would swallow her up while I hoped it would swallow him up.

Just a few minutes later as I head towards the platform to catch the train to remote parking I hear that yelling again.

There they were at the very end of the platform. The guy kept yelling and calling her names we tell our children are mean and shouldn’t be used. My heart was pumping as he kept yelling, flailing his arms, getting in her face and then backing off. I looked around and there were just a few of us at first, but after another three minutes a crowd was watching this unfold, keeping to the other end of the platform.

What would you have done?

Well, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t just stand there. Sometimes, and this may have been one of those times, the voice inside my head filter doesn’t work. I couldn’t ignore the voice in my own soul that told me to use my little voice.

So I did. Never mind how angry I also felt knowing that there were several other potentially more menacing types on the platform – dude, put your ski bag down and walk over here!

I walked up to her, put my hand on her shoulder while making sure I didn’t leave my bags unattended lest I look like the crazy one, and I said, “Ma’am, are you OK? Do you need some help here? Are you in any physical harm?”

And then I gave him a quick look.

She said she was fine, and then she sat up. And he took a few steps back and quieted down a bit. And then she stood up, said a few words to him, and then she walked just past me so that I was physically in between them on the platform. One minute later he walked away in a huff, leaving her on the platform and presumably leaving behind his ride home.

She and I got on the same train car, and she explained that she couldn’t find the right pick-up area. She went on to explain she got lost and that she was tired. She was trying to get her bearings straight after a verbal assault, and I again put my hand on her shoulder and told her that no one had the right to call her all the names that he did so that he could feel better about himself. And then she cried.

It’s been a slow ramp-up to Christmas. Maybe it’s the lack of snow. But that encounter at the airport so very late Sunday night made me think about Mary and how in a time when the world around her and the circumstances she found herself in could have rendered her voiceless she found the courage to use her voice and proclaimed God’s mercy and power.

I saw that guy yelling, telling one woman that she was stupid and silencing others with his anger. I didn’t yell, but I learned to use my voice.


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?