Family of Things

It has been a minute.

I’ve dived more deeply into a few relationships and wallowed in the shallow, muddy waters of self-pity and resentment. I’ve upset people, disappointed people, impressed people, and loved people. My jeans are tighter as I’ve started exercising again, and I didn’t think those would/should necessarily go together. It’s been a little cranky since, like the jeans, some things haven’t worked out the way we thought. A lot of the crooked scoundrels are still galavanting and a lot of the luminescent shepherds are still barely getting by. I let go of some things, not only because they didn’t spark joy, but also because they robbed it. I went to South Dakota, by way of North, and returned through Denver unfrozen. I’ve enjoyed hours around tables, with new and old friends, eating, serving, playing and drinking. I’ve seen my fair share of hangry homework tantrums and wrinkled worksheets and chapter books printed on the worst of all paper. I have made a small dent in a gallon of molasses and maybe that is also related to the jeans sentence. I’ve kept in touch with my mother, and my husband, and neither one of them seem surprised by anything I do or say. I broke up with a couch, and then with another, but the latter still lives here. I have spent many hours with a fish tank I never wanted but enabled and enthroned in my entryway (it is the worst). I wrote out my life story in three pages and it is completely different from the same exercise 10 years ago. I’m facing a new daunting, long-awaited hope, and it makes me a little misty when I put the curly toddler down for a nap. I’ve taught in some settings, and learned in all the others.

I’ve missed writing here though. Today, I talked about tender things with a couple brave women and then I heard about a teenager ending their life, and a poet who left us hers. Today seemed like a good day to say hello. You’re beloved and broken and I am too. Ignore the naysayers, the ones you cannot mend or shrink down enough for. We each have a place in this family of things.

 

Wild Geese, Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

Follow on Instagram @findwideplacesblog.

Advertisements

Confessions from the Backyard

Our backyard is not something I’m proud of. The carefully laid sod we bought and planted our first year here died long ago under the drought and our incompetency–the neglect of both the sky and human attention. The still-loved trampoline has a bad case of sagging-net and has bright yellow duck tape on pieces, betraying its years in the sun. Our mandarin orange tree is so confused, with 3 stages of oranges on it and a slew of ants. The tortoise has some pigeon poo on her shell.

It is a great space but what was once nicely cleaned up and orderly and growing is pretty dusty and rustic and lackluster.

I know the feeling.

14 months since leaving vocational ministry. 17 months since losing a baby and, eventually, a battle. 14 seizures in our youngest son since she was taken. Over 3 1/2 years since we started becoming foster-to-adopt parents. 4 inches of paperwork from our time with her and fighting on her behalf. 2 inches of paperwork from medical bills. A lot of goodbyes. A lot of misunderstandings.

Nearly all the things have been unconventional and unplanned. By God’s grace and love, good friends, the propeller of children to care for every.moment.of.the.day, and the tyranny of time, we have bid some farewells, and had times of healing and moving forward.

6 months pregnant. 4 months seizure-free. 2 months into a new career for Ryan; 3 middle school grades representing a bounty of love, promise, investment, heartache, and heart. 10 months into a new job for me; 4 grants awarded. 1 new Christ-centered, socially-active, egalitarian, small-budget, multi-ethnic church body. 2 beautiful sons growing in character and becoming friends, teammates and co-rascals. There is still so much goodness in our little space.

Still, it has not left us unscathed. All of “It” so near and yet so far back. There are days when we have been ungrateful–where we have not felt like we had enough, could keep going, had things to give, and had received our fair share. Yes, there have been days we have felt downright bratty and mad–“Why won’t anything work out?” “Would it be too much to ask for a break?” And these attitudes, and the survival mode of many months, have left us dry. Left us acknowledging our need for a rekindled devotion to God and service–in our heart of hearts.

Because while the pace keeps going, the extroverts keep showing up, the kids keep growing– things can become hollow, less grounded, more default, more rote, quite smoothly.

“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” Rev. 3:1b-3b

The hollowing is not all wrapped up in grief and injustice. It is not all excused by stress and weariness. It is not all because of inadequacies in our personalities or maturity or marriage or parenting or planning (though all those things possibly exist). Things have really sucked at times despite the best of these things and while God has been near, and we have been helped and supported by Him, our devotion has suffered. Our discipline has lagged. There is discouragement in our prayers. Our faith is still recalibrating. What is left may be true and good; it is solid to grow from, attach to, and offer back. But there is wreckage. The many hard realities of life the last couple of years have not always driven us to Him, but within, or our coping devices, or our hard work, chatter and human autopilots.

“I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” 1 Cor. 7:35

As the former missionaries, the church goers, the natural leaders, the open house, the whatevers and whoevers we’re tempted to allow others to think of us as, we are fallen, and though stronger in small ways, weaker in many others. We do not know how to wait patiently on the Lord for adoption and how to conduct ourselves in this system and this brokenness. We do not know how long to wait for MediCal back payments on bills after months of fighting and resubmitting. We do not know how cautious to be about epilepsy and we’re not good at being gracious with our local pharmacy. We do not know what it’s going to be like to have a newborn again, in the middle of the school year, with a teacher/administrator and 1st grader in the mix this time.

We do know we need to spend more time in ancient Truth and stillness. In rereading scripture, in rekindling devotion, and investing in the deeper conversations and friendships. We do know that we are not alone, and all is not lost–far from it. We are part of a Kingdom that cannot be shaken–i.e. purposes and a love that both demand and return much despite any of the “It” we face. We know that good is lasting, that love is final, and there is grace enough for us and our mess.

The rains are coming; the land is waiting in all its non-glory. The grass might grow back…and perhaps we with it.

How I Meet Sunday

In the latest parts of a day, and the earliest parts of the next, sometimes my thoughts catch up with me.

In the inky-bluest shadows of the never-dark Los Angeles night, I am alone and the scattered thoughts and pounding heart have free roam before the listening ear of a loving Father and a learning, wandering soul.

Tonight many noises accompany my rising.

The constant whirl of the freeway beside us. The helicopters’ relentless search overhead. The speakers from the other side of the street, sometimes sending a blur of words, sometimes of tones, that remind me of the mosque by our house in Nairobi–the one we used to take the littles to while Mom and Dad walked laps or I jogged for basketball. I remember a navy blue stroller with yellow and green. I almost forgot about that.

Tonight I sit in a room that I can still smell her in sometimes and I lay all the things before a Greatness I believe is there and before and beyond and with. Life has been like the helicopters; relentlessly searching out the plans I had, the places I thought were secure, and I am naked and poor, wretched and blind, before the glare. It has been another long week and I swear we are not crisis-centered people. The four of us have been sicker than we ever have been and we are all thinner and more humbled by our fragility and need for others as a result. The reality of Ryan’s work has hit hard, and we keep finding our youngest having had seizures and the diagnosis and solutions aren’t keeping pace. Yes, there are many thoughts catching up to me.

Since she unwillingly left, it has been long enough to conceive and carry and then hold a new child, home. But we are still waiting to know what was conceived on that night other than loss. We are still looking for a heartbeat of something new and breathing to help give the grief a gloss–not a cover, but a seal. I have not posted more lately about todays as though yesterdays but I have written a story that must wait to be told, to fill in some gaps. I don’t have the story I would like because still there are no conclusions. I pray for her and I ask, what do you want Lord? What does love call us to here? What do we need to surrender?

photo 1 photo 2

My mind shifts to those outside of this empty room with the new paint. The friend who has spent the past week in the hospital, while my family was emptying our guts sick at home, having every part of his gut examined and tested, praying for life and a break from the pain. The family that surrounds him that are the type of people you don’t want anything or anyone to hurt or hold back because they help all those around them hurt less and move forward. Some ruling out has been offered but peace is slippery in the waiting room. And I am transported to this time last year, when our loved one was spending her last weeks on earth with her loved ones, next door. So much has changed since then; there has been much grace but still, the losses are heavy. I pray for the unknowns of the one family of saints, their strength and their care and I pray for the knowns, the finality, that still dawns on the other family of saints–and their strength and their care. 

I consider the hearts of my sons. One is needing me more instead of less–and everything I may have guessed about parenting before is brought into question by fuzzy layers of side-effects, grief, epilepsy, and a 3-year-old personality I don’t completely understand. Each day is a mystery and we are waiting for our own answers for him. One has been so strong through so much, so steady and predictable. But I see his strength growing in some directions that will pen him in, that will close off options that are fully his in a life of grace. And I want to help him avoid the wrecking ball of the future–the decontruction I know because I do it, with Help, over and over. And I pray for grace. For strength, for tenderness, for loving hearts. For rescue from the barrage on his mind and protection in the war over his heart.

The accounts of a visit to Iraq and About sections on adventurers and non-profit starters and writers from afar move me in between apple juice and bed changing and squabbles over Legos. I wonder at those women, and my nearness of heart to them but my seemingly infinite distance of proximity. Have I changed? Did I miss something, do something wrong? Should I be doing something else? These seem like indulgent thoughts this night of shadowy watercolors. No, maybe, I don’t know– I know that I thought I was mightier at some point than I am. I can admit that I thought I would be in charge of more things by now while I’m in fact finding out I’m in charge of fewer than ever. And so I pray. Tired, quiet, with all the night noises my chorus, I pray. You are mightier than the worst nightmare and the biggest success. These questions are too daunting. Show your mighty acts, your justice rivers, your mercy storms. Reassure my frenetic heart as the myths dissolve away. Be close to the warriors in these conflicts; those who are able to start and renew out there.

And I pray for the other women in my life. Who feel alone. Who are vulnerable to attack. Who are restless and bored and strong and exhausted all at the same time. Who are yearning for answers and needing a searchlight to show a new route.

And this continues. I wake and I wake to the storms and this is how I meet Sunday–feeble, frustrated and befriended. By not just a god, but a Shepherd. Not just a counselor, but a Maker.

And this is acceptable.

I find that for someone who does not have journals of conversations with God but piles of lists and academic notes, it can be difficult to pray. It is difficult to pray when the last year has held so many unanswered questions and hopes, you half expect visible debris to fall from the ceiling when you do. It’s difficult for me to pray, alone, unless my heart and mind have so much going on that their caffeine of need overpowers my endless fatigue and distractions.

Tonight, last week, I could not do anything about anything. But this new week, I’m starting with what I can. And it’s all I can more often than not. It’s not my favorite, and it’s not much to write about, but I learned more of true might tonight in my weak state–in the mess of all the pieces that fell out of my head and spilled from my heart, and scattered all across this space of loss, turned holy.

In the winging of this waiting, in the haze of this night, I can only invite Help and rest until morning.

Publicly Mistaken for the Arrival of a Stranger – My Story

“I do not understand. Where are you from?”

He was a scuba instructor and we were in a pool, about 90 degrees cool, on the east coast of Africa. His English was heavily accented in that clipped Kenyan cadence I never mastered. I was maybe 15. There were no other Asian tourists that I can recall but then again, I was technically a resident. And though I was racially Asian, I was ethnically white, with an increasingly amount of ethnic space under construction. Thus his confusion. He thought he knew me, and the words “adopted” “Nairobi” and “American” did not compute without further explanation. I thought I knew myself too, but that, I would learn, would never be the whole story.

photo-3

I am adopted from South Korea. I was raised by and primarily absorbed the white suburban middle class culture of the Pacific Northwest. At age 11, I went to South Korea and the Philippines and I felt more at home in the Philippines. Soon after, we were headed overseas as missionaries, in a state of constant travel and transition until landing in Nairobi at age 13. I attended an international school there, the 2nd largest nationality there being South Korean. My white parents adopted my three youngest siblings, who are racially black but ethnically a blend of the international sub-cultures they lived in and white suburban middle class. For university I returned to the States but a region I’d never spent time in before: Southern California. I attended a school that was committed to promoting multi-ethnic awareness and was proud of its diversity in a crowd of Christian colleges typically monocultural. I struggled as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) reacclimatizing to the United States after formative years away.

Out of college I began living and working in the diverse urban center of Los Angeles that reminded me in many ways of Nairobi. I married a white man whose family has lived in the same white suburb for generations. I also attended a seminary that forced me to continue to interact with and study from people with different racial, ethnic, cultural and theological backgrounds, by text and in person. We became certified to foster and adopt through the county and took cross-racial and cross-cultural parenting classes. I am watching my younger siblings make the tough transition across the ocean that I did, in the opposite direction, still not matching their surroundings, racially or ethnically. I daily interact with people who have had completely different experiences than me, partly due to their familial culture, their economic and geographical history, and partly due to their race. I love my city and my family and I am a career student of the stories therein.

These are the bullet points to a lifelong continuing journey of learning about race and reconciliation.

I am no expert. I don’t hold any keys or any exclusive rights to this conversation; quite the opposite. I happen to like writing and talking. I make a lot of mistakes.

From walking through sewered pathways in the Kibera Slum of Nairobi to reading Gustavo Gutierrez’s On Job to finding my heart ashamed as I realized deep, unfounded fear of another race in college to seeing the Gospel in new ways in the housing projects of Los Angeles, I am convinced that despite all my blindspots and all my mistakes, I will continue to learn from and talk about people with different levels of privilege than me. I am dead set on keeping in touch with the margins in this issue because I believe that Jesus is there and when I insist that the strangers to my life are strangers, I miss truth. I accept an under-developed level of compassion and understanding that will hurt my community, my siblings, the Church, and my own children. There is ample opportunity for this story-exchange and learning in today’s world; in tomorrow’s, it will not be optional.

It is my privilege that this is a choice. That I could choose to go through life without talking to people who are not white and not of the model minority race with which people secondarily attach me. It is a privilege that I grew up seeing leaders, authority figures, illustrated Jesus and the disciples, and heroes portrayed as the race I primarily identified with (though not the gender). Constant translation of pervasive icons and messages was unnecessary to me as a child because I so strongly accepted my white ethnic identity; my ethnic identity was normative and dominant so I did not have to be actively aware of my race or ethnicity. For others, translation and accommodations and making room for the stranger, the other story, the social norms that don’t correlate with your own identity and experience, are constant. That is called being a minority. And I tend to think that those who have been cognizant of their race and racial relations all their life have more to teach me about the subject than I them.

When Ryan first went to our local Costco with me, he left with a stark realization of his white-ness. Did it define who he was? No. Did it explain all of his behaviors, mistakes, idiosyncrasies and worldview thenceforth? No. But the fact that he had never been in a public place in the United States and been forced to think about being the only person of his racial background spoke to his racial privilege. This isn’t an indictment; this is a fact.

I speak and learn about race not as a victim or as an intrinsically conflicted adult TCK with adoption issues (both of which I’ve been accused of). I speak and learn about race as someone who has enjoyed a great deal of privilege and knows it. I do not feel guilty about that; I feel more informed about that than I used to be. That’s all. I wish more people would learn about this with me, correct me and listen to my limited stories. I wish that more of my brothers and sisters in Christ would be vulnerable and humble online and in person, sharing their stories, their questions, their fears, and listening in this arena.

I sincerely apologize to those that I have rubbed the wrong way in this journey for the things I have said and tones I have used that have inadvertently excused you from the conversation. I am truly sorry for the part I’ve played in separating us from connecting and engaging with this topic to the degree that your response has to do with me. I am not going to stop talking about race and listening to and highlighting the voices of the underprivileged, but I am hoping to do it better. I am new to this topic; for those who have not been racially or ethnically privileged, they do not have that luxury.

In international communities, it is normal to acknowledge race and nationality and celebrate the differences. It’s not the basis from which to understand people but it is a useful description that is not taboo. Current events in our nation continue to raise the issue of race relations, which are incredibly relevant and important to my family and local community. Yet this has struck a good/bad false choice in people that jars my heart deeply. I had forgotten, after many years in an international community, the academy and now in international Los Angeles, that debating racial issues could be an abrasive topic from the outset in circles where the very subject of race is politely avoided (out of often good intentions). I recognize that in bringing up solidarity with the race-based experiences of other races, I have threatened a white solidarity unspoken norm at times. As a result, I have been rejected from circles to which I used to belong. I can see my own past and current tendency with what has been termed “white fragility” in avoiding acknowledging any privilege or dominant influence my ethnic category has had on society as a whole. I almost daily recognize knee-jerk reactions against these hard, awkward conversations and situations in an attempt to make myself feel more comfortable and innocent. I get these postures. But I want to move away from them. And if this is a constant source of alarm and offense to you, perhaps we should unfriend and step apart for a time; I deeply hope to reconvene later.

At the end of my life, I hope that I was able to be a public learner–which is to say, a public, apologetic, messer-upper. I’ve said before that part of my purpose in this blog is to write part-way–to disclose weak and deconstructed parts of my journey in order to normalize and invite the secret struggles of others. Part of my purpose as a parent and older sibling is to show them why Jesus matters in every context and to model being brave and broken. This matter of race and reconciliation is of utmost importance to me and, I believe, central to an understanding of the Christian faith. For this reason, I’m willing to have awkward and fruitless conversations and go there. I’m okay with being publicly embarrassed and discredited along the way. I’ve accepted that I’ve made mistakes and I’m going to make more and I know that the people I need most in life are going to still track with and love me through those blunders.

I yearn for companions on this journey. Would you let me know if you are on this path too? I know that you are strong enough and there is courage in numbers. I love the black women who reached out to people with different hair and capitalized upon racial curiosity. I love that now that I live south of Koreatown, I am learning about my own hair for the first time! There is such freedom in talking about our differences, from hair to how we define respect. All I am saying is that I am listening to new accounts and it is changing my own to be more truthful. It is opening wider places of understanding and humility and while it is hard and frustrating, it resonates in my soul as right and He is near.

This is my story with this collective story of our country called race and ethnicity. This is why I care and why I keep talking about it. May our lifelong pursuit of wholeness (shalom) bring us ever closer to each other and our Creator.

Matthew 25:38-39
“And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? ’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

A Spot

Today I said goodbye to a treehouse.

Not a treehouse as in the fantastic play place of a gleaming sepia childhood.  A place of work, actually. But we have joined a work that is life and a life that is work. No, not a treehouse exactly, but I would meet my friends there. I helped make it what it was in small ways with my own two hands. In the proverbial treehouse, there were club meetings and arguments and brainstorms and plans and snacks. Seasons passed but it continued to be a place to gather. Its walls are thick with time and experience and history. Of decades of team and tears and trying.

My memories are recent in comparison but valued nonetheless. Climbing the steps to the old office, a senior in college, I received a phone call from Fuller Seminary saying I was in and my program was paid in full. In the brightest room, Ryan and I had interviews for World Impact, then discussed how our first year had gone, then helped with others’  interviews, and throughout, could find an inviting leader and friend. Next door to the director’s office was the room in which most of the staff became acquainted with Ryan, who was the City Administrator for our first three years. Across the hall, he dumped the recycling box of paper on Isaac’s head in a lighthearted afternoon round of Office-guys Goofing Off. Then there was the very serious moment of realizing he had to clean human feces from the sidewalk entrance at 8am one morning. There in the old office, we would have informal gatherings, times of visiting, of recognizing footsteps up the stairs, times of listening prayer and reading the Bible aloud, times of teaching and reporting. Times of dedication, reconciliation, ah-ha moments, and check-ins.

Most people did not come to say goodbye to the treehouse this afternoon in the group time, and most of most of those people may have not understood the goodbye time anyway. That is for the most part okay. After all it is a building. An office at that. Just a finite space to a motley crew committed to apostolic movements and permanent dislocation. Lord knows I do not need to seek out one more thing to miss or be all nostalgic about. I found and find myself envying some of my friends’ and spouse’s not-un-caring, perfectly-understandable nonchalance.

If ever a word did not describe me, it is nonchalant. I am terrible at it. Case in point, I am blogging about an office.

The office has been consolidated with the national offices across the street. Not a big move. Not a shutdown. But yes, a break in routine, a shift, an end. We did our best to add our treehouse to the one over there, and ultimately we are less encumbered. I know. I know it is just an old building and it all makes sense in Excel. I know I am a strong Feeler and that my enneagram profile says I should lighten up and just have fun. I know-know.

I also know that to me, the Non-nonchalant, and to a few others, it is still something to stare at. It is a grief and it has implications and it is just a spot but was ours. And so I was thankful for a simple time today to, with others, say goodbye to it. And say thankyouGod for the treehouse. For the time we had with a redeemed space of both spontaneous and strategic shepherding, for the years of a work-home that housed those big and little moments that make up a community of wounded healers. I was thankful for the time to honor what was done in those walls, who had passed through our ranks and roles and how He had been there and seen to our needs there.

The office, of course, is not our north. But it was a base and an intersection. It is where the tours began and the departures finalized. It was a workplace and a parsonage. It was often where we could find help and found Him too.

There are very small things sometimes that still deserve a pause of thanks and goodbye. Those things that years later, someone will miss and someone else in the room will have no idea what they are even talking about because they happened later. A band. A local donut shop. A family tradition. An old car begging to die. An office space. A small goodbye could be silly, it could be overlooked at the time, with the pressure of the new. But even just the chance, the moment, to recognize and name the change, can be healing and later comforting. It could make something in the future seem less disorienting. At least, that is what I have found. I have found that naming and praying and grieving and pondering the ends, the overs, is one of the truest ways I can be present to the life I have been given. I have found that my vision and my gut are such that these things are important and can be of help to the community at a later time. That facing and investigating the losses make the gains more accessible.

So yes, I said goodbye to a treehouse today. An office-building-turned-treehouse. I will remember and carry that goodbye and be glad for it.