The Ways We Become Our Mothers


I chopped my hair. Now, the kids say that I look like halmuhnee, their grandmother, my mother. It was inevitable, I suppose.

It's strange how often throughout the day my mother, and my grandmothers materialize before me.Click To Tweet

I will say something in a certain way, or feel my body in a particular posture or doing a gesture, and I can see in my mind’s eye my mother, and her mother saying or doing it, too, mimicking me. The way I stand or sit shoulders hunched or when I put on my makeup my face against the mirror or when I chase Ellis out of the house, like my maternal grandmother. The tone of my voice or the inflection in a certain phrase, most likely and usually about food. The edge to a screech when I’m losing it with the kids. The quiet and calm that overtakes me in a moment of chaos, like my paternal grandmother. The manic way I tackle certain projects – obsessive and focused, like my mother.

I look at my hands sometimes and see the same hands in old photographs like at the birth of my younger brother. My mother is sitting in the delivery bed clutching him swaddled in a light blue blanket as I sit nearby, a 2 year old buzzing with barely contained excitement at the camera. Whenever I look at this picture my eyes aren’t drawn to my bedhead pigtails or bright red Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls. I see her hands because it shocks me how they look so familiar. They’re really my hands. I notice her hands all the time now, and remember looking at them once when Ozzie was born, and how much they’ve changed with the years, and yet still maintain such strength and tenderness somehow simultaneously.

It’s Mother’s Day, and I approach it with such mixed feelings. Before the twins were born, and when we were trying to get pregnant, I hated it – I hated the elevating and pedestaling of what was my lack and failure. On this side of it, I realize that many relationships with our mothers are imperfect (to say the least), and I admit that my own is fraught with disappointment and often frustration, and almost always guilt. Not only with my mother but with motherhood, in general, and with my own children, and especially my daughter. For all the ways I am grateful to my mother for everything that I know and don’t know of her sacrifices I am always regretful that I wasn’t somehow a better daughter or a better cook or a better housewife or a better student or a better everything. It’s not necessarily something she has put on me directly or explicitly, and yet, I know that it is something that was passed on to me, and I have a feeling it was passed on to her from her mother, and her mother received from her mother.

We receive so much from our mothers. The right way to smother huge napa cabbage leaves the kimchi mixture crouched down on the floor over the blue tub with our hands wrapped in thin plastic gloves or how to measure out the water with our hands for cooking rice. Hours of piano lessons or Korean language lessons, and how to fold the mandoo so the edges match up perfectly or how to scoop perfectly balled up cups of rice into the bowls. How to walk or how to speak or how to stand or how to respectfully call our fathers from their offices or the backyard that “dinner is ready.”

But, we also inherit their insecurities with their bodies and their skin, their struggles with the all too pervasive inequities and inequalities of work and childrearing, and all the questions of how to survive and love all the layers of motherhood.

We acquire their faith, too, and their resilience, their persistence, their songs.Click To Tweet

My mother would go about the house singing old hymns and sometimes that old-timey, operatic rendition of The Lord’s Prayer, belting them out, every verse or simply humming them, like a continuous meditation throughout the day. Everything – not only food, but the laundry, the small vegetable garden, the sewing, everything she touched and shaped – everything was leavened with this thick substance of faith – hefty and dense like the doughy rice cakes we eat for New Year’s day and on birthdays – permeated by a desperate hope for life and the periodic glimmerings of it as that life materialized in surprising ways.

As each year goes by I am amazed and a little horrified at the ways I am becoming my mother. For good and bad. Whether we know them or not, whether we are cognizant of it or not, whether we want it or not, something passes onto us, something connects us to that bizarre, but beautiful force that perpetuates humanity. For all that we carry, for all that we are forced to bear in our bodies and spirits, for all that we are to be grateful, I pray that I will become more. More thoughtful. More hopeful. More faithful. More alive. Perhaps this is the best Mother’s Day gift I can give and receive myself.

St. Margaret and Seeking Peace

I’m tired of being angry.

I’m angry all the time. Angry at the world. Angry at my (lack of) parenting skills. Angry at how little time there is to think or reflect or write anything meaningful. Angry at racism. Angry at the church. Angry at scarcity and shame. Angry at the copious amount of dandelions peppering our lawn, and one more thing on the to-do list for this suburban life. Angry at sexism. Angry at bigotry and prejudice, violence and oppression. Angry at my exhaustion.

I’m tired of being angry.

Since the twins turned 9 months old I’ve been on a generic form of Zoloft for post-partum depression. The dosage is much less these days since diet and some exercise, and of course, the occasional sleep, lunch with girlfriends, and massages help a great deal. But, it’s still there, like an undercurrent, a discordant melody, and I suppose, one of those realities that will remain in my life for a while. I’m always in recovery from something, I think, but I was reminded that almost anyone who is breathing is likely in recovery no matter what side of those steel bars you are on because maybe the fences around our houses are prisons in their own way. I’m in recovery from a handful of struggles and ailments – the latest being a depression that looks more like anger than numbness, and one that has seeped into so many facets of my life.

I’m tired of being angry.

But, some anger is good, I hear people say sometimes, anger can give you the fuel you need to do the work. To bide the course. To keep the steam going and stay in the fight. Anger certainly does that for me in some things but if it becomes inert and stagnant it turns into cynicism rather than something useful. And I think for me it’s come to a head lately.

Because I’m tired.

Not just the “I haven’t had normal sleep in over five years” kind of tired. Not just the “long run of the day is killing my feet I need new Brooks” kind of tired. Not just the deadlines coming out of my ears kind of tired. Not just the emotional and physical exhaustion of keeping up with the schedule of children – mine and college-aged. I’m tired of maintaining anger as if that is the only nourishment for this life. I’m hungry – seriously, on my hands and knees famished – for something else.

I’m longing for peace.

It’s constantly chasing me down especially these last couple of years, and lately it comes to me in snippets and morsels, like crumbs tossed off a table or scraps that have fallen off the kitchen counter. Like flashes of light on my periphery as I grope my way through the darkness trying to find a way out. Like the sound of a melody I once sang without even thinking about it but now I can’t remember the notes or words.

Thankfully, it’s persistent, peace won’t give up on me.


A friend from high school sent me this lovely artwork last week. It was born out of dreams and stories, conversations and revelations about St. Margaret.

St. Margaret of Cortona came to me as I contemplated more intentionally working in spaces that provide not only hospitality, but also solidarity with those labelled homeless in our community. One such place is the Shalom Community Center, and as I’ve blogged already it has become a place for me to simply be and serve, to receive and learn. St. Margaret of Cortona is the patron saint of the disenfranchised and the marginalized, and she came to it after losing the love of her life. But she’s not the only one. St. Margaret of Scotland was a Reformer in her own right as queen of Scotland. She was faithful in her work and ministry through helping to enact numerous ecclesiastical reforms, being spiritually and religiously devout through attending church services and personal prayer, and finally, caring for the orphans and poor. The other St. Margaret is a bit more provocative but important to me – Margaret Cho. A rare Asian American female comedian I have grown to admire her moxie in connecting art and politics. She is unabashedly who she is – something so refreshing in light of the culture of our childhood upbringing. All these Margarets advocate for a bigger dream and another possibility, and reflecting on their stories has nourished my heart. And, this gift, this icon of St. Margaret stands as a guide.

I realize though that more significantly all these Margarets embody the possibility of a life lived in peace and in pursuit of peace, a life that is rooted in peacemaking, and what I am seeing as an expression of wholeheartedness. I want to follow in the way because this is the way of Jesus.

“Wholeheartedness. There are many tenets of wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.”
Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges in my life right now is knowing I am enough. Who I am is enough for the writing, the very periodic speaking and preaching, the parenting, the mentoring and ministering, the living. I try too hard to do too many things awesomely, I realized this last weekend. I think it made me see how much this stems from a fear of scarcity, of not being enough, and that ultimately, it is what fuels my anger. Living in pursuit of wholeheartedness, in peacemaking within myself and thus, outside of myself, this is what I need for recovery – recovery from anger and self-loathing, resentment and ingratitude, bitterness and jealousy.

I’m often paralyzed by this – whether it’s feeling acutely that lack, or feeling in crashing waves that anger, or feeling hollow from the absence of peace, and it was enough to throw me off when it came to any kind of expression lately. But, I will take a cue from St. Margaret. To listen and wait. To trust those scars and markings of the journey on my life. To keep on seeking and living that peace because it will sustain my life.

Being a peacemaker means cultivating more than just an aura of sleepy calm. It means embodiment of Gods promise in the midst of chaos.Click To Tweet

The Day After


I’m waiting on the resurrection.

Easter happened a little more than two weeks ago. The brass and fanfare, the choruses and lilies all of it giving me that familiar jolt. I was momentarily resuscitated by the promise of life persisting despite death’s clutches. The resurrection as the tenacity of joy, the irresistible power and work of love. The embodiment of hope. I was caught up in it all, and humming Handel’s tunes all day on Monday.

And all around I could feel it. The weather starting to finally turn and the wind blowing sighs of relief throughout the streets. The trees laughing and flowering while crocuses stretch to the sky like children after they wake from an bizarre and rare lengthy sleep. 

The tomb is empty. But, I realize I still am, too. I’m waiting on the resurrection.

I joked with a seminary student that we never stop discerning, but I guess I was serious. I am nearly 38 years old, and I am still seeking out my call. Every day I wonder about my vocation, and what this means as I look at various possibilities and projects in front of me strewn about like all the children’s blocks and Legos and puzzle pieces. It’s paralyzing, sometimes. I want to get a shop vac and clear it all away, and then sit on a bench in a park somewhere and just stare at the sky. But, no. There’s work to do, and responsibilities, and lunches to pack, and where are their damn rain boots? 

Because it’s raining, and these days are dark once again. I drive around in a little bit of a haze knowing that just beyond the rains the sun and heat will scorch the earth, and yes, for sure, though I long for that heat, I will curse the humidity. I catch a glimpse of someone in a dingy camouflage jacket and orange cap late at night pushing a shopping cart full of black garbage bags down Walnut Street. The Interfaith Winter Shelter is done for the season but it still feels like winter hasn’t let go quite yet. I wonder where he will sleep tonight.

After another excruciating attempt at putting the children down for sleep – constant negotiations and the never ending requests for one more apple or one more cup of water or one more story or one more back rub or one more song – I collapse in bed myself. I look at the clock and it’s only 9:30 pm. I will get up one more time to check on them because I love the way they look when they sleep. Desmond sleeps balled up – his body curled and blankets already twisted around and under him as if he had a brief wrestling match with the sheets just before he gave in to sleep. Like Jacob wrestling those nighttime angels except Desmond would wrestle them because he’d assume they stole his superheroes. He is extra vigilant about them at night. Oz sleeps on his side with his mouth open slightly. Cheeks puffed out, and I see those baby days slipping away too quickly. He’s trying to grow up as fast as possible so that he can keep up with the twins. He’s practically there. Anna sleeps on her back with her arms wide open, a posture perfectly expressive of her personality. She takes in the whole world with her whole self. I wait to see their chests rise and fall, and to hear their breathing, and even to see if their eyes will flutter open a little only for a second.

I’m reading the lectionary texts for the Easter season with college students every Monday. Each time I feel a momentary burst of light as though the clouds have moved aside and I’m awash in a warmth that tells me summer really is right around the corner. But I feel the grief and angst of the disciples locked in rooms trying to make sense of the sightings of Jesus. I wonder if each time they see him and touch his wounds if it feels like a reminder of that sun hidden behind the gray. So, like them I want to go back to the former life, what makes sense, and what my mind and body naturally do when I’m trying to sort it all out, fishing for anything that might make sense, but when I pull up the nets they’re empty.

The tomb is empty. I’m waiting on the resurrection.

It’s only the beginning of the Easter season but already the lilies are starting to wilt and the hallelujahs have long faded away. The people are whispering again, Is he really the Messiah? And I am mouthing the same questions, too, even as Jesus responds, I’m here. I’ve got you. 

The day after began two weeks ago and it stretches into the horizon. But, I see the dawn. Though I barely feel the rays beginning to brush my skin, it is enough. It’s enough to keep my heart and arms open, waiting and hoping.

True spirituality is about keeping your heart space open. It is daily, constant work. The temptation is to close down: to judge and dismiss and hate and fear. If you don't have some spiritual practice that keeps your heart open, even in the midst of suffering and 'hell,' it's easy to end up grumpy and filled with fear and negativity. You have to work to live in love, to have a generosity of spirit, a readiness to smile, a willingness to serve. Regularly check in with yourself, asking, 'Is my heart open? Is love flowing from me? Or am I constricted?' ~Richard RohrClick To Tweet

Why Chris Rock Failed Us

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 1.44.37 PM

I’m not a comedian. I also am not terribly funny although I can tell a decent story or joke once in awhile in a sermon. And maybe after a few drinks. But, not together. Drinks with dinner, I mean. Andy will tell you that I don’t have a grasp of timing and executing punchlines. But, like most anyone else, I love to laugh. I love stand-up comedy – I love Kevin Hart, Margaret Cho, Chris Rock, Louis C.K, Eddie Murphy, Aziz Ansari for the ways they make me engage the realities around me differently.

“Humor is a rubber sword – it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.” -Mary Hirsch, Humorist

That’s the point of comedy, maybe, besides letting some of the air out of those realities that on many days feels particularly burdensome and unbearable. On the other hand, comedy can hold a mirror up in a way, and force us to confront those uncomfortable realities. It can give social critique and instigate transformation in a creative way. It can make these issues more accessible because it appeals to something that’s basic to humanity: the spoken word and how stories have a way of opening up the world in a fresh way. 

And sometimes, honestly, you just need a good laugh to keep from crying because so much of the world is ugly and horrible.

Now, Andy and I didn’t watch the Oscars because actually we never watch the Oscars, but mostly because we don’t have cable TV, and we got sucked into watching the Crossfit Invitational on the ESPN channel on the ROKU. But, after following it on social media in between #justiceforflint and watching some snippets of Chris Rock’s stand-up, and then reading the reactions of numerous writers, I felt like I didn’t miss much. Because the kind of comedy Chris Rock employed wasn’t his usual thoughtful and intelligent social commentary on race and race relations. 

Akiba Solomon articulated the problems well: Besides disrespecting women, Black women and making light of the history of violence towards black people from lynching to police brutality, “he effectively disappeared an encyclopedia of interlocking issues within the broader movement for racial justice.” He was as Solomon said, a “cliche monster.” He took the despicable (pun intended because Ali G’s joke about the minions) and easy road, and instead of following through with his initial crusade on the blatant racism of #OscarsSoWhite, he became a pawn for the sake of a paycheck and a few laughs from the people who create, perpetuate, and benefit from these white supremacist structures.

It was more than a little disappointing.

So when he paraded out the three Asian kids on stage, which I did see the next morning, I was done. Because those were our kids. On that stage. Being used as props for a bad (at least), confusing (at most) joke about what? What was the point? Slate writer Lowen Liu wrestles with it:

The joke here is garbled at best and doubly offensive at worst. It fails as a satire of Asian jokes, because while it flatters Rock to be one step ahead of the audience, it relies on equally base premises: Asian kids are either accountants or child laborers. But is he talking about privileged Asian Americans, raised in graduate-degree households (at least one with a Jewish parent!) now stocking white-collar jobs? Or is he talking about kids from a mostly rural China, whose population is trying to leap into the middle class by soldering circuit boards? He points to the briefcase-toting tots on stage as if they are a single group, when, of course, they are not. And this is the very misapprehension that undergirds every stereotype about Asians: that they are all the same.

The optics of the bit were an erasure, which is in itself a violence towards me, and people who look like me, my family, my parents, my kids, my home church, a whole host of people who continue to experience daily violence at so many levels and be used as a wedge and scapegoat between communities of color. There was nothing smart about it and nothing productive. Just another reminder that AAPI continue to be used as the token butt of the joke, but that’s okay because all the Asians in this country are doing well and what’s wrong with having a stereotype like that? 

Grace Ji-Sun Kim writes: “White supremacy works when people of color are in disagreement and in tension with each other. White supremacy works when people of color do not support each other and ignore each other’s plight for equality and opportunity. White supremacy works when we continue to speak about racism in binary terms.”

Remember, Stephen Colbert did the same in the spring of 2014. He tried to make a point mocking Dan Snyder’s Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation and in one segment he said “I am willing to show the Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong, Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” Suey Park created #cancelcolbert – she obviously wasn’t serious – but used it to critique white liberals who use forms of racial humor to mock more blatant forms of racism. Because it was a cheap joke – it hit on a narrow image – stereotype – a trope of a minority in order to get a point across. It was the same thing with Chris Rock. Do we really think that it’s okay – it’s helpful or productive – to fight against racism – with more racism?

And so, yes, Chris Rock failed us. Like Anthony Berteaux wrote:

Rock himself has forgotten how the Asian model minority myth has been utilized to relegate Black Americans as a “problem” minority who are lazy and uneducated. It cannot be forgotten that in 2014, Bill O’Reilly used the myth of Asian success and intelligence to discredit white privilege and justify the perception of Black Americans as a “failure” minority.

Good comedy should take the power out of these stereotypes. It should break down those expectations and empower their communities by providing a way for others to see their humanity. Chris Rock failed us by playing right into Oscars that are always so white, to a world that center whiteness and one that ultimately needs those stereotypes and for us to play them out – our bodies, our children, our lives – to prop up these institutions of whiteness. Whether it’s blatant racism or tokenism or the feel-good language of “diversity” and “diverse leaders” that ends up covering up deeper institutional problems like a flimsy multicultural bandaid or the grandstanding of liberal progressives who love to pat themselves on their backs because they work for inner-city agencies – it’s all whiteness. It’s all about whiteness and protecting its towers and pillars. And, what Chris Rock did failed us – his kids, my kids, our kids. Because this humor isn’t made of rubber. It draws blood.

But, failure and success aren’t static realities. I’m hopeful that the conversations that come out of this – and maybe even Chris Rock will be a part of it – they will accomplish so much more than these cheap jokes and stories. Because we can tell better stories. We can and we will.

Parenting Through Brokenness and Insanity

Kindergarten Classroom_3

We attended the open house for the twins’ school next year. They will be in kindergarten. How this is possible, I have no idea, but we’re here. I’m trying to enter into this season with presence and honesty, even though I kind of feel scared shitless.

Because I feel like they’re slipping away from me already.

I know – I’m being a little dramatic. They’re not even five. But there are days when I feel like I have zero influence on their lives. Because either I’m repeating myself a dozen times before they respond or listen or they are doing the exact opposite of what I ask them. 

One morning last week when I dropped them off for preschool, I made a rookie mistake. Heaven forbid, I open the doors or allow anyone else to open the doors, but as we walked in with another family, I saw their littlest reach for the door bumping into Desmond as he grabbed the door handle. So I told Desmond to let Colin open it for us.

Hell hath no fury than an almost-five year old who is deterred from this task.

I watched him have his meltdown and waited as he stomped his feet and screamed through his tears, “I. Hate. School!!!” I said to him, gently, “You don’t hate school. You’re frustrated with Mommy for asking you to let Colin open the door.” He responded with more shrieking, stomping and pounding the air. Finally, I was able to convince him to help me distribute the Valentine’s Day cards to all his friends’ cubbies. We were doing so great, and he was starting to forget the door.

Along comes Ozzie, our youngest.

These two together are a constant train wreck on the verge of happening. Ozzie starts shoving and goading Desmond, which makes him cry even more, of course, and it’s totally derailing whatever progress we’re making with the cards. Finally, Oz punches him, and then I yell at Oz and shove him aside. He falls to the ground and cries like I’ve committed the ultimate betrayal. Et tu, Mommy? 

I’m done. At this point, I leave the rest of the cards on top of the cubbies, throw the lunch boxes in the fridge, and stomp out. Desmond tries to follow me and I say very firmly, and in a not-so-Happy-Mommy voice – “GO TO YOUR CLASS.”

He cries, and turns around.

I get in my car, drive off, and cry at the stoplight.

I know, I’m being a little dramatic. But, they’re about to go off to school-school. I feel like I’ll blink and the next twelve years will be over, and all they will remember is how I yelled at them and left them at school today with my voice in their ears void of any loving support. I know, I know – we all have our days. I know we all have our exhaustion. I know we all have moments where we just can’t hold it together even for the sake of our kids.

One of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one's secret insanity and brokenness and rage. ― Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First YearClick To Tweet

My mother was never this way in public. She was the prototypical Tiger Mother – hardcore piano lessons, school was the be-all-end-all, and Lord, Lord the emotional manipulation, the screeching and the wooden spoons. But, she was somehow able to keep it together when we were outside of the house. She never raised her voice to us, she never shoved us, and we were never just dropped off in anger or frustration.

Sometimes this patient demeanor would translate into a muteness and reserve. When she didn’t speak up or if she was reticent to participate in conversations with the other parents, I would feel annoyed. Why is she just standing there staring? I would ask myself as I observed her with the other kids’ mothers.

I wonder, though, if being an immigrant had anything to do with her voice when we were out on the playground or at school together. She has always struggled with the language, but it was more than that – she wasn’t comfortable or familiar with the culture around her. Perhaps she felt the depth of her foreignness when the mothers around her chattered about pie recipes or the latest visits with the in-laws. I began to see the origins of that smile she would automatically paste on her face whenever we were out together. A smile to express listening, but one to also cover up the straining-to-understand, and I could almost feel her heart and spirit were somewhere else, on a different shore.

“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It's a sign of bravery.  Those are people who crossed an ocean to come to this country.” ― Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherClick To Tweet

When I look at her now as I stand on this side of motherhood I realize how brave and strong she was with us. How some of that not-so-secret insanity and brokenness and exhaustion we saw glimpses of in the home – what a burden that was to carry for our sake. How she must have carried it alone in so many ways – holding it in private and out there. How grateful I am for the community of mothers and teachers and schools and childcare workers and babysitters and my spouse around me who get it and help me to keep parenting through it all.

I doubt the kids will remember the moments I lose it with them – the screaming, the frustration, and the stomping away, but I will remember, I think. But, I’ll remember the grace, too. I’ll remember the ways my mother kept on, and I’ll remember the ways the kids keep on, I’ll remember how when I picked them up from school, they came to me with squeals and laughter, squeezing my neck, they ran to me as though I’d been away for days and that morning nothing but a wisp of a memory.