I Failed to Achieve Citizenship

I find that people like to talk about adoption. Especially when I am open about my own. Whatever culture, class, and countryman I find myself interacting with, there is a natural curiosity, sympathy, and sometimes endearing confusion about adoption.

People are sympathetic to adoption, to put it mildly. Churches have adoption campaigns, so much so that children in need of homes are miscalled “orphans” to really pull the heartstrings. People donate to adoptions. We ourselves are still struggling to adopt, now over 3 years since our first placement was pulled and we’ve fought for another, and almost 5 years since we first started the process. We really believe in adoption–from the top notch celebrity to the Christian icon to the farm with no TV, adoption is pretty popular, and for good reason.

The growth in awareness and advocacy is great, don’t get me wrong. Fewer things in this life demonstrate our theology and our connectedness moreso than adoption. At the same time, I find it interesting that the innocence of children, and the presumed virtue of the adoptive parents, are almost always givens. The positive perception is pretty resilient in this arena.

What about when the adoptive parents are really evil and negligent? What about the mistakes biological family make to get those kids there? What about the dead ends that led children to be in a terrible, expensive and inefficient system—I mean, is it really worth it? What about the adoptees that turn against their parents, develop mental health problems, commit felonies? Are they still worth the campaign? Still deserve a loving home, social belonging, their pieced-together childhood, their citizenship?

Citizenship. Adoption is one process that takes forever, has a million variances, and does not bring guarantees. Children are at the mercy of a system and their caregivers, whether they be social workers, adoptive parents, biological family, or judges. Kind of like all children. Everywhere. Kind of like Dreamers.

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I’m adopted from Korea. I landed in MONTANA, a state which only recently crossed the 1 million population mark, a day short of being 6 months old. I have to say, I didn’t have many choices at that point. And I was pretty helpless. There are a lot of adoptees from Korea. Turns out the citizenship of at least 18,000 supposedly adopted Korean kids in the US is kind of fuzzy. Maybe a felony, maybe a mental break, would land these adoptees back in Seoul. At that point, they may learn that they are actually not adopted, but were supposed to have been, and not a US citizen. They have no language, documentation there, means, or family. Their education is irrelevant. Well, that doesn’t seem right. Because their parents didn’t finish some paperwork? Because something got lost? Because outstanding needs, disadvantages, neglect, desperation, limited resources, and lack of basic necessities…who knows what…from their childhood, they are deported?

If I started being a real deviant or simply did anything that suddenly revealed that my citizenship was not completed as a child, I would really expect you all to be upset if I was deported to my birth country. And I think you likely would be.

I don’t fully grasp the tenacity it takes to enter our country in violation of the shitty legal process, saying goodbye to everyone and everything KNOWN for MAYBE. I’m not even going there tonight. I’m speechless at the idea of doing that with child. I’m saying, why are we so willing to adopt and sympathize with some kids with messy or unknown pasts, but not others. Or why can we sympathize with even the adults who were “adopted” and then screwed up and find themselves deported to what might as well be Timbuktu, but we have a political stance and unbending heart against people who are similarly undocumented but un-similarly innocent of any felonies?

We, our country, have adopted DREAMers. On average DACA recipients arrived as 6-year-olds. They have raised their hands in our classrooms, sung in our Christmas pageants, babysat our children, carried our groceries, designed our products, paid their taxes, lectured at universities and have done everything our “own” children have done (unless your child has committed a felony), without, by the way, access to many safety nets citizens enjoy. Not that it matters, but they’re not deviants. They don’t deserve threats, a price tag, deportation or even DACA. They deserve so much more. They deserve permanence, not only of family but country. Kind of like your son, and your daughter. Kind of like me, and kind of like you.

I hesitate to even call them Dreamers sometimes because it is a false distinction. They are we, and there is no dream among us in this beautiful, complicated country without them.

Finish the paperwork, America. Don’t end DACA. Leave it until it’s replaced with a pathway to citizenship. Adoption doesn’t come in two-year increments and isn’t subject to a presidential vendetta. I recognize I didn’t have anything to do with my privilege of citizenship. Did you?

 

*custom art ordered from doodlebubbledesigns.

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Start Small

It has been a summer, and it is barely even summer.

I cannot talk about all that has happened here, but I have felt the wrongful use of power from within the ekklesia–the adopted family of faith, the light-holders, the called. This is a special grief.

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When I was young, my family experienced a profound betrayal. At the heart-wrenching news of a sibling’s diagnosis, the inherited virus that struck fear in the hearts of the most educated and powerful at the time, a church responded as though they were not heirs to a different Kingdom, as though their inheritance did not set them apart to love and courage.

New to the mission field and missionary kid identity, a hemisphere away from the congregation, my heart was still in those stateside walls. I had grown up there. I had stenciled its bathrooms. I had flipped those worship song overheads. And my faith and discipleship had flourished within that loving community. I didn’t have many friends in Kenya yet. We were sent but had not completely left perhaps. On the ground, but maybe a little in the air.

When as a family we were in the throws of the grief of the surprise diagnosis, I was incredibly unsuspecting that loved ones could respond in any way except empathy, sadness, and love. I didn’t know the word stigma yet, and I wasn’t versed in the rationale behind HIPAA. So when that home church board, which had shown Jesus to me in so many ways, rejected my sibling, and questioned our new livelihood and partnership, I grappled. The silence of others was an injurious as the words blasted out. (My parents tried to shield me from much of this, but they also taught me how to use e-mail and read, so…) Grief upon grief. One parent eventually flew back to the States in an effort to find reconciliation, with the help of a mediator. I remember the other parent crying in their bedroom, when the water tank decided to leak through the roof, alone in a foreign country with 5 kids, spotty electricity and that hovering sense of abandonment. Water pouring down the walls, and my own sense of belonging and home pouring out with it. It was disorienting, and though we did not speak of it much or share about it then, it was defining.

That experience forced my faith to differentiate from a place, or an outcome. And it showed me that the most mature, the most devoted, by word, may be the youngest in deed. Everyone has work to do. And fear is a convincing hurricane pulling up the tallest trees.

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A few months ago, I was working with some colleagues to address some sensitive and serious matters. I heard the words “stay small,” during one time of prayer. As an advocate, a first-born, a leader, and achiever, we can all be confident that these words did not come from my head. The words helped me with patience, and to work within the given system, to wait behind leaders, and watch. And the words help me today as I am forced to continue waiting and watching from this place of betrayal and grief, as I see false narratives and am left alone to check my own attitude and actions in this Church.

I find comfort in the smallness, the humility, of the passion of Christ. The disorder he endured and the abandonment central to our Good News disarms my expectations while hosting my pain. I compare alluring human success, the touting of statistics, name recognition and acquisition of comfort, with his rhythm of ministry, his walk of suffering, and I don’t see much connection. I know from his life that collecting successes and platforms was not the aim; the power and the transformation he preached was in the visit to the prisoner, quiet and inconvenient, the feeding of the individual, unknown and undocumented. His stories are small, like the vulnerability of confronting and empowering a woman, in the heat of the day, at a pivotal moment. His record was one of investment into real relationships. Proximity to the pain was central. His acquisition of status did not overlap a hair with this world’s. His smallness and humility was our very victory and salvation.

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I can no sooner slow the growth of my children as I can solve my current problem or convince people to do the right, small thing. So I am left to start small, to stay small, with my self. Am I one that employs language of reconciliation and love but do not meet at the table with the complicated friend? Do I outwardly suggest all means of generosity and inclusion, but side step relationships when they smack of sacrifice? Do I stay at his feet, do I quiet the demons, enough to be draw near to the God of the margins, the Lord of kings? Do I build equity and justice in the small ways, in the daily steps?

There is enough work to do in me to keep me thinking small and to extend far beyond the puffing chest or the raised fist. Giving helps the grief, and blessing out of brokenness is the only way to heal. So far Life keeps reminding me that it is in the pouring out and the breaking, the kneeling and washing that we meet, we share in, and enjoy, the holy. We echo him, and we find him, and that is all we ever could hope to do.

 

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.

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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.”

1 night, 1 4-inch binder, 1 gentleman and 87 days // 8

It has almost been 8 months since our eyes were changed permanently. When three strangers entered our home, after I had returned from a rare girls night out. We had watched The Fault in Our Stars. It was a late balmy night, unsuspecting and innocent. Almost 8 months since two strangers formed one opinion while the other came with her own established. 8 months since a child was taken and this clawing journey began.

Last night we received a uniformed visitor.

It was one of the strangers from June who has now been at our doorstep 5 times. He does not seem like a stranger any more. He, like she, also walked through our home, examined our children, spoke to each of us separately, and is in a profession of protection, service, and risk. He is a police officer.

His and his partner’s role that night was largely to protect the social worker should things go badly in this then-unknown home. They were not to weigh in on her decisions or process that night. He adhered to his role that night but has since allowed it to become much more.

This police officer and his partner expressed concern, disbelief and regret immediately after she left with the baby. He came by the next day to give us his card and offer help. He came by a few months later to check in after receiving a message at their office from us. He came by last night with a copy of an e-mail he had sent in response to a request for information from DCFS. It seemed that someone, somewhere, had received one of our many letters formally complaining of the conduct we experienced that night. Without him, we would have never known it, as USPS recipient receipts and personal requests for confirmation of our letters have not been returned.

Almost 8 months ago we found an unlikely friend, one of about three we have encountered in the dozens of people we’ve communicated with–in the Department and in the force–since that night. We have a 4-inch binder documenting all of our correspondence and the reports and visits that have occurred since we brought baby girl home to this day. We have been waiting 87 days to learn if the Department will correct its decision to put our home on hold, closed to children to need it, closing our hearts to this dream. Despite the state’s decision to re-license us, we may not be allowed to support the county family welfare system again. We don’t know if the long debate in the upper ranks is encouraging or alarming given the past 8 months.  We don’t know all that she endured since leaving and how she has developed and healed now. We don’t know if anything will come of this officer’s report that collaborates our own and if anyone is looking at both the social worker under question and our home approval at the same desk, though one certainly determined the other.

Much has happened in the past 8 months to change our understanding of law enforcement and power in our city. We have encountered many officers and read many news stories that have robbed us of prior confidence and a feeling of safety and justice. On a personal scale and on a grand scale, grave wrongs have occurred due to the negligence of officers and their organizations.

However, there is a foil to these accounts that we had the chance to encounter last night–someone we are happy to see at our doorstep and who has come to our aid in one way he can. He has seen this story and vouched for us, and this is no small thing. He is a leader and a gentleman and we are grateful–whatever the effect of his letter, whatever the decision is about the social worker or our own foster home status–we are grateful that he became involved. That he did not brush off the discomfort and offense to his integrity that started that night. That he did not let fear or the next call, the next task, the next drama, to sweep away his attention to the last. That he maintained his values and truth in a complicated situation just because it was the right thing to do. We are incredibly grateful for this hero in this story and for the contradiction he bravely offers to so much of our experience.

I am thankful that today I will add one more page to that binder that is truthful. That today I can write a personal and positive account of an officer in our city. That today I can know that there is one outside person added to our corner since we found out we needed a corner.

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May light find a way.

Sharing: Just for Kids?

It seems like adults all agree that kids should share but I’m not so sure if we all agree that WE should share.

After being a vocational missionary for about 8 years, attending a seminary and university that are leaders in their circles in promoting social justice and diversity, and living overseas, I have a pretty warped perception of privilege and power. Specifically mine.

While I would really like to think that I have given up a lot of privilege and power, I haven’t. It’s more than touting living simply, practicing incarnational ministry, and soaking up lessons from those who are underserved. You might be surprised to find out that living in a developing country says nothing about your detachment from worldly comforts and privilege. Sadly, I haven’t really scratched the surface and that is extremely hard for me to admit.

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No matter what lengths I go to separate myself from luxury or power that I was given by my upbringing, I could basically reclaim any of the things I have managed to lie down (not many) at any moment. And, even more upsettingly, the non-empirical effects of privilege– the way I see my options and time, the confidence and vocabulary I have, the relate-ability to those smack dab in the middle of privilege, the trust I have for authority, and the choice to deny or not deny my privilege–are inescapable.

Since attending Storyline, I have been wresting with how to share my privilege; I don’t want to deny it (thus insulting those with less privilege) and I don’t want to waste it (in thinking it’s mine, all mine, to enjoy). When I first arrived at the event, I was judgmental of the crowds and their privilege and homogeneity. But I knew deep down that that was ugly of me. It was over-simplification and I judge the things I fear in myself. I desperately don’t want to fit in in those situations but ultimately I cannot deny that I mostly do. And no one really cares about that as much as I do.

I’ve since been trying to think constructively about how to translate the culturally-embedded Storyline material to other contexts and what to do with the privilege I simultaneously enjoy and judge. Ideas have been swirling about and were given more substance as I read Christena Cleveland’s eye-opening Disunity in Christ. Despite its negatively-toned title, it bears hope and practical ideas of recovering a commitment to reconciliation in the segregated Church.

I have been grasping around, trying to think of how to share privilege in clear, lifestyle ways. As always, I want company in this. I need company in this. Is anyone else wanting to share some of the privilege you have (class, race, ability, gender, sexuality, age, nationality…)?

At the risk of being found simplistic, here are some ideas. 🙂 My starting lines to sharing better: 

1. Regularly invite people of different cultures to speak at your pulpit, class, and small group or (gasp) write on your blog.

2. Take someone without a wholesale membership with you and divvy up products if they so desire; share in the savings and mitigate the overhead cost.

3. If I were a man in any leadership position, even in a singular meeting, I would invite a female co-leader as frequently as possible and potentially fight for another position to be opened for her.

4. The next time you attend a training event or conference, invite someone to be your guest, who normally doesn’t have those opportunities. I would also like to ask them if there was anything that they are planning on attending that I could tag along to.

5. Instead of vying for position on a bus, in a line, or in a room, use your abledbody-ness to reserve a seat for the differently-abled, the elderly, the shy.

6. There’s always a line outside of our Ralphs for the shuttle service. I wonder if anyone would let me drive them and their groceries home.

7. Swallow the inconvenience of translation, not ending on time, or an adjustment to a 7-course church service or meeting to allow for a more inclusive time together that allows for translation without feelings of embarrassment or time strain.

8. Invite others to use your computer and internet for online job applications.

9. Go without things. Until you can afford two. Until you can afford four. Until you don’t need it any more.

10. Print text, order books and format powerpoint in large print, with two languages when remotely appropriate.

11. Quietly sponsor a retreat for a family, for a pastor, who does not have the privilege to afford reflection and space.

12. Dress down.

13. Accompany a single mom to some places she is interested in going; help with snacks, get the directions, manage the shopping cart.

14. When the remodel happens at your church or office, fight for a family, unisex, accessible restroom. Or five.

15. Use that camera, or recruit your friend, to take pictures of families, events, engagements and newborns who don’t have a professional photographer budget line.

16. Next time you travel, travel with someone who doesn’t travel.

16 is my favorite number so that is the deep reason I will stop there. Thoughts?

I am coming to terms with the facts that my privilege is not something I can bleach myself of, not something to be shamed by, nor something to soak in. It is a gift, and it can be shared. I can spread beauty and justice and mercy and in doing so, experience so much more Truth.

What are your favorite ways to share? What other ideas do you have for me?