In the Middle: Wondering and Wandering

I’m devouring books these days like a famished soul that has been lost in a desert wilderness where the only possibility of quenching any thirst comes from the backlit text on my phone. Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her and Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark and Lauren Winner’s Still (a real book, not Kindle) and Amber Haines’ Wild in the Hollow. Books I started a while ago and need to finish, and all the latest – each one somehow about the rawness of being caught in the in-between, whether the middle or darkness, but it all feels like a homesickness and longing. So familiar.

Nobody ever wants to admit that his or her soul is feeling wasted and desolate. That faith feels like a no-man’s land or a ghost town with tumbleweeds rolling through like the cliche Western movie. That feeling or believing or trusting or following is clutching straws that are brittle and fall apart in your hands and slide through your fingers just when you think you have a grasp on something.


This is what theology looks like.

I keep hearing that chant – the call and response on the short Vine posted the day after the anniversary of Michael Brown’s killing. I see them standing huddled together heads down laying hands on each other like it’s an ordination – these demonstrators are being commissioned for something massively important as they shout #blacklivesmatter and #nojusticenopeace anointed with sweat and tears and blood and Spirit and set apart for a holy work in which liturgy is wailing and protest. They are demonstrating resistence in the flesh-and-blood and show us what survival means in its purest form by simply breathing and lamenting together. Hands clutching each other eyes set on the heavenly prize which is the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before them and surround them even now.

They are where they are supposed to be – these saints, these angels, these ministers of light and love and power.


I keep thinking about tactics. That the pursuit of justice requires participants and players at all levels of the game. And in all possible spaces and places. There is no one way to do this justice work. We need all hands on deck. Somehow, this shapes my sense of vocation more and more as the urgency towards the goal and theology of #blacklivesmatter becomes more intensely a part of this life. It’s unavoidable. Another shooting. #andregreen What does it mean to embody this theology here, there, wherever I am? What does it mean as a parent? What does it mean as a woman? What does it mean as a clergyperson? What does it mean as an AAPI? To work towards the tangible goals of decreasing police violence and brutality, better housing, employment, and education for all, and dismantling the prison industrial complex. What can I do from where I am? What can the #church do?

I lift up the darkness. I embrace the middle. I articulate the longing for a profound and meaningful transformation that impacts all – and particularly the church – from within – without – and throughout its currents. I do what I can with what is before me wherever I am. With the sacraments of defeat and loss, the liturgy of protest and grief, I hold up to the sky, prop up on my hands and back, those prophets of today whose voices are crying out in the wilderness for #blacklivesmatter #allblacklivesmatter and the call to #sayhername.

Deeper Story: Summers, Lazy Days, and Blessings

Joe and Mihee
(Me and my brother too long ago. Yes. I’m apparently wearing a tube top. The only one I will ever wear in my life.)

We would wake up early and stay up as late as possible.

Me, my little brother, and kids in our neighborhood. Summer days were full of long hours at the community pool playing an eternal game of Marco Polo then when we got tired it would be back-float competitions and our own version of synchronized swimming. We would burn, then peel, and quickly turn a dark brown with the outline of our swimsuits tattooed in our winter flesh color onto our shoulder and backs.

Sometimes bikes would be our mode of adventure and we would ride to another neighborhood lying to our parents about how many Popsicles or cans of Coke we bought throughout the day. We’d come home covered in sticky messes and the truth would literally be etched on our faces with remnants of the forbidden left behind despite our efforts to clean it up with water from a garden hose. Probably, the major sugar crash gave it away.

It didn’t matter. We didn’t have a care in the world.


When it was just me and my brother and we were too little to go out we would spend hours in the backyard searching for grasshoppers to keep as pets in old jam jars. We’d cram handfuls of grass in there as makeshift nests to assuage any guilt of trapping these helpless creatures. Of course, it was the least we should do to be as hospitable as possible while they struggled and jumped against the glass trying to make sense of the shimmering sun through the walls of their prisons.

And my brother and I would run and run up the hill to the back of our yard to the fence and then back down. Laps over and over again chasing butterflies and birds and clouds trying to forget that there was a fence around us – to protect us – while the rest of the world spun on.


I was up late with Baby Oz one night last week. He was unusually fussy and inconsolable even at my breast. Though maybe common for most babies – certainly with the twins – it felt strange with him since because he loves to sleep. When his wailing turned into two, and then three hours of crying we decided to take him into the ER.

We got there and filled out paperwork almost immediately. As soon as we went in to see the nurse he was…Quiet. Observant. And even cheerful. He was not the screaming baby of 20-minutes-ago. Andy and I looked at each other in exasperation. We would have to wait another two hours before getting discharged at 630 am and come to sleep for a couple hours while my parents watched the twins before heading back home.

I didn’t fall asleep right away. I watched him sleeping next to me. I tried to push out of my mind the what-if pictures of him in the hospital all the time with tubes snaking in and out of his little body. We are fortunate. Blessed, I guess, would be one word. All I want to do in that moment for all three of the babies is to build huge fences around them. To shut out diseases and guns and drugs and eating disorders and bullies. Even if it means shutting out the butterflies and birds and clouds.


Blessed. Blessings. Favor. Joel Osteen has made me hate both those words with his favor-mindedness and bull-shit prosperity gospel. Because it dilutes those tragedies that need to be told in its full-body-ness. I need more.

I can’t shake the George Zimmerman infraction. And all the other stories surfacing in Chicago and NY with not only teenage boys but children and women on whom the sewage of injustice is being poured out on. It makes me seize up with anger. Where and when will that arc bend towards justice? It isn’t just about my babies and wondering what they will face on the future but my neighbor’s babies, those who are black and brown (though almost invisible here in Bloomington I know they exist). And I think of the absurdity. The absurdity of my children with all their blessings and privilege. They are so privileged. No fears, no hunger, no loss, no cold. I’m wracked with guilt some days. And I’m so deeply grateful on most. Still. It’s not enough to build fences for and around them. I need to tear them down. I need to be a part of building something. Something more.

Redemption comes in strange place, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are

And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside…-Sara Groves

Originally posted at Deeper Story.

Ordinary Effects and #WholeMama


The crowded Starbucks.

We’re crammed together at a table of refurbished wood dark but glistening with the reflection of a hot summer morning sun. He took the lid off his coffee cup and I keep staring at the steam that swirls up in front of a backdrop of windows facing out to an impeccable suburbia. A dense forest of trees and cars that rush by in a blur – stillness and speed having a disorienting effect on me as I sit in my own clash of buzz and quiet.

The ordinary is a thing that has to be imagined and inhabited. It’s also a sensory connection. A jump. And a world of affinities and impacts that take place in the moves of intensity across things that seem solid and dead…The vagueness of the unfinished quality of the ordinary is not so much a deficiency as a resource, like a fog of immanent forces still moving even though so much has already happened and there seems to be plenty that’s set in stone. This is no utopia. Not a challenge to be achieved or an ideal to be realized, but a mode of attunement, a continuous responding to something not quite already given and yet somehow happening. 

-Ordinary Affects by Kathleen Stewart.

Rereading this book on the ordinary again and it’s fitting for numerous reasons, one of which is that it is the #wholemama theme this week. I chose ordinary as my One Word for the year in 2013:

So that’s what I’m going with for this year – 2013. Paying attention to what seems small and insignificant. Gazing at what is normally around me instead of passing it by. Being present in the mud and muck, the water, the laughter, the skies, the bite of a cold wind, the pink of a child’s nose and cheeks, the fleeting thoughts and difficult-to-describe emotions. Embracing the ordinary. Leaning into the ordinary. Growing in the ordinary. Looking out for the ordinary and how it might lead me to kneel at God’s feet, kicking softly in that bed of hay, covered in dirt and cow hairs, his blankets and swaddling loose, and the sound of gurgles and slow blinking…to kneel before God-Incarnate over and over again. It makes sense…to approach God’s very first human throne I would be led there not by a burning bush or even a choir of angels but by something as ordinary as a star and a road.

It’s strange to think that a word can continue to summon meaning and necessity.

Kathleen Stewart writes about her project: “[It is an endeavor towards] speculation, curiosity, and the concrete it tries to provoke attention to the forces that come into view as habit or shock, resonance or impact. Something throws itself together in a moment as an event and a sensation; a something both animated and inhabitable.

The ordinary is a shifting assemblage of practices and practical knowledges, a scene of both liveness and exhaustion, a dream of escape or of the simple life. Ordinary affects are the varied, surging capacities to affect and to be affected that give everyday life the quality of a continual motion of relations, scenes, contingencies, and emergences…They’re things that happen…in impulses, sensations, expectations, daydreams, encounters, and habits of relating, in strategies and their failures, in forms of persuasion, contagion, and compulsion, in modes of attention, attachment, and agency, and in publics and social worlds of all kinds that catch people up in something that feels like something.”

Sometimes my body rebels against the ordinary. I keep thinking that I can, will, should pursue the sensational and magnificent, and the continuous trek I make to the refrigerator for juice-apples-cheese-carrots all day long seems lacking in any kind of glamour.

Is it the ordinary that my insides revolt against ... or I wonder if I fear getting lost in this banal routine?Click To Tweet

I think of Kathleen Norris and her spiritual discipline of folding laundry. And Brother Lawrence who discovered a kind of peculiar gratification in washing dishes. At least a few times a day I almost touch on it, too, my hands plunged into the soapy water and the rhythm of scrubbing and rinsing and organizing. A baptism over and over. The steady hush of towels and tiny t shirts and shorts increasing in stacks all around me. But, it’s those socks that wrench me out of whatever tranquility. I can never find all the socks.


The ordinary is the stuff of our lives – it doesn’t arouse feelings of momentousness and relevance. The conversations around me about kitchen renovations and the distance between the refrigerator and island that make me feel like I might lie down in the drive-thru here at the Starbucks … it is everyday life. It simply is. And when I go back home to the continuous push-and-pull of children needing something and everything … same thing – it simply is what it is. And the ever present choice in front of me is to either try to escape it with meaningless pursuits of attention from the wider world or I can bear down and clutch that reality in my fingers as though it is a dandelion blowing away in the wind.

Because it is.

It’s not to say that escape periodically isn’t ok – we need a respite – a break – a change in scenery. But all these moments can be occasions to make meaning. To make beauty and art. To make music. To see and receive more.

The Christmas Spirit is that hope
which tenaciously clings to the hearts of the faithful
and announces in the face of any Herod the world can produce
and all the inn doors slammed in our faces
and all the dark nights of our souls
that with God all things are still possible,
that even now unto us
a Child is born!

I want to experience that hope, that tenacity, that radical possibility in the midst of the ordinary this year, and to share that experience with others.

Part of #WholeMama this week as hosted by Esther Emery. Lovely conversations!

Whole Mama

It’s Crowded: Locking Myself In My Room

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These days – these summer days are crowded. The children are at home ALL THE TIME. They are busy. Busy with their markers, busy with their chasing and pretending, busy with their persistent demands and orders for help-me-get-the-lid-off-the-yellow and I-want-apple-juice and I’m-hungry and Mommy-Ozzie-hit-me or Mommy-Ozzie-yelled-at-me. The laptop is on or the phone is open to a Google Doc but I’m only able to tap out a few words at a time. Podcasts and radio shows are playing in the background all day long in the kitchen and in the TV room is Little Einsteins or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I’m really desperate for a lone moment. Ceiling fans are whirring and the poor dog, Ellis, is ever click-clacking (nails in need of a trim) across the floors following me around or the children if they’re carrying a bagel or crackers. Blocks and Legos. Crumbs. Everything is sticky, for some reason. The kitchen is halfway clean and halfway always getting-ready-for-the-next-meal.







And then a skirmish erupts deep in the heart of that ever transient quiet. A particular marker. Someone grows weary of the TV show and has the nerve to turn it off. Anna doesn’t want to play ninjas. Where are my gorillas? asks Desmond. I’m huuuuuuuuunnnnggrrrrrry, whines Anna for the 8000th time this morning.

I quietly go into my room and lock the door. They follow me up there and pound on the door: “Moooommmm, are you in there? What are you doing? Mommmmmmmmm, are you in there?”


There’s not enough space.

Physically, even in our 2300 square foot house. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually – every thought – I’m leaning on the kitchen counter frantically typing as if these are last my words and every fleeting and glimmering image in my mind is completely obliterated by every squeal and cry that suddenly appears at my hip.

I remember Sheryl Sandberg’s words to lean in – that now-unforgettable phrase like an earworm – a mantra and song I repeat to myself but not when it comes to my professional life because well, that’s mostly nonexistent – and I wonder if I need to lean in here.

Lean in to motherhood. Lean in to interruptions, demands, and negotiating who gets what Rescue Bot when and for how long. Lean into this season. Lean into their lives.Click To Tweet

And then I think: I really hate that phrase.


You know, Jesus didn’t really lean in much. That’s what I think when I read the stories and see how often he went away by himself to pray or got in a boat to spend a day on the lake or took nights off to just have dinner with friends.

Something about this turning away – turning inward – turning into solitude makes me see more and more how we were created for it but that everything around us compels us to lean in – lean into the needs and petitions of the external – ie. everyone else. Because if we don’t then we are being selfish. We are being irresponsible. We are being negligent. We are being unfaithful.

Of course, so much has already been written about how we’ve turned the vocation of raising children into a kind of religious idolatry and how we need to be quiet to really care for our mental health, and that being productive all the time is impossible, and that a simple tidying up does wonders.

So, what am I trying to sort out here? There’s something about how all this stuff – literally and symbolically – gets conflated with faithfulness. What does it really mean to be faithful?

What would it mean if being faithful in this season of life – whether parenthood or singlehood or childhood or clergyhood or stay-at-home-momhood – meant being free? Being free of the guilt of not performing or providing every second of every day? Being free of the pressure to constantly be available and attending to every cry and whine immediately? (I’m a big proponent of the French pause – not only for sleeping/sleep-training but for everything – “let them work it out for a few minutes” is another motto of mine.) Being free of the continuous insanity of ninja turtles, transformer robots, and where-is-the-blue-marker inquiries?

I keep going back to this language of faithfulness – what it looks likes, what it means – because it’s not just about our marriage or about our faith in God, which is often the way we use this term, but maybe it’s about being full of God’s faith. Maybe even God’s faith in us? God’s belief in us. God’s faith in our process and journeys. God’s faith in our desires and love. And how that moment of stoppage is not just a chance to get away or to clear our heads or to write or to process:

It's a chance to breathe in the freedom of God's faithfulness to us and God's faith in us. Click To Tweet

Because sometimes I ultimately need to remember – to feel the reality – that God has faith in me. I suck at this parenting-job at least 80% of the day and I think often, God, how am I supposed to do anything much less change the world if I can’t even figure out how to make a decent fort??? That all those voices and standards and expectations that crowd my vision of myself, my ability, my capacity, my life – those take away from the faith of God.

Κύριε πιστεύω

Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief. Help me to know your faith. 

Sometimes it takes locking myself in my room to hear these words, more than a pause, more than rest, but a moment to step into that space where I can give myself a chance to remember what it means to be faithful.

Inspired in part by Olive Chan’s post at SheLoves:

Mark Buchanan, in his refreshing book, The Rest of God, writes, “[Sabbath] is sheer gift. It is a stop-work order in the midst of work that’s never complete, never polished. Sabbath is not the break we’re allotted at the tail end of completing all our tasks and chores, the fulfillment of all our obligations. It’s the rest we take smack-dab in the middle of them, without apology, without guilt, and for no better reason than God told us we could.”

On Passing, Queerness and Raising These Kids

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They came downstairs growling and hissing, gliding on all fours.

Desmond’s arm bent out a little and he stumbled forward tripping down the rest of the stairs on his face. “WAHHHHHHHH, MOMMMMMMYY I FELL DOWN AND HIT MY FACE!” he cried.

This morning they decided they would be jaguars since “jaguars have spots” (do they have spots???) and no wonder it was so quiet for 15 minutes, it was because they were coloring their faces and appendages with thankfully, washable markers. Red for Desmond. Blue, green, purple for Anna. Both looking more like alien creatures than anything we would see on the Planet Earth series.

Ozzie got in on it and the three of them passed the rest of the morning playing jaguars – lunging at each other and running away, rolling and wrestling, swiping and clawing like blind kittens just born into this world. Walking on hands and feet proved to be much more difficult than they anticipated, I think, as they lumber around with measured steps. “Mommy, do jaguars have stripes? Do leopards have stripes?” Desmond asks, as he parses out the differences in cats.

“No, tigers, have stripes, dear.”

“Oh,” as he thinks this over and is clearly debating whether he should get markers to make some revisions on his body but sees my disapproving look preempting those thoughts:

“Uh, ok I want to be a tiger laaaaaaater.”


A sweet little boy named Sebastian came to camp in an Elsa dress and Elsa and Anna crocs. Anna asked why he was wearing a dress. “Boys don’t wear dresses,” she said, more as a question.

“Boys and girls can wear whatever makes them feel happy,” I responded. “Plus, doesn’t he look so pretty? I think the blue looks nice on him.” She nodded and smiled.

When I pick up the kids at the end of the day, Anna tells me every detail of the day. That they painted and made doughnut holes, and she pulled someone in a wagon and they pulled her, too, and she, Sebastian, Ozzie, and Desmond pretended they were lions, but then Ivan kicked Desmond in the face, and kicked her in the face, and Sebastian told Ivan that he shouldn’t do that because it’s not nice.

“He’s a good boy,” she concluded.


The twins hate plays.

Every time the school put on a play while the rest of the group crooned at the tops of their lungs, yelled and stomped around on stage gesticulating wildly, Anna would stand in a corner and pensively stare out into the audience. Desmond would stretch his body out on the stage behind all the kids and look as though he were preparing to nap. We would try to stand near the stage with them to reassure them or hide in the audience so they wouldn’t insist on sitting on us or their teachers would hold their hands to try to get them to participate with the others.

They refused. Later we would ask the twins after the end-of-the-year play why they didn’t sing the songs or say their lines, and they would shrug as if to say, “What songs? What play?”

And I would feel this weird pressure inside, Why do the other kids sing and play and act like kids and not ours? What am I doing wrong?


That question haunts me all day long. What am I doing wrong? 

I worry sometimes that people look at me and wonder the same thing. I worry I will be caught and people will know that I am a terrible parent, or that I’m not doing enough, or that I’m doing it wrong – how am I passing for a parent? Because let’s get it straight, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing most of the time. And it’s not just in being a mother but being a pastor, writer, teacher, leader, and even more basic, a Korean, an American, a woman. I wonder if that’s why the controversies around the identities of Caitlyn Jenner, Rachel Dolezal and even the absurdity questioning Andrea Smith strikes an odd chord for me. They are extreme cases in which the question of one’s identity is fabricated and then legitimized by what’s socially normative and ultimately, judged by the masses and social media. These are women who were “seeking to pass” and/or “passing” for a particular identity (as a woman, as a Black woman, as a Native woman) and when “the jig was up” for Rachel and Andrea “passing” became deceit and offense. But up until they were caught they were lauded for their work, their voices, and their advocacy for marginalized peoples. What is this? Is it enough to simply call it [insert color]face? 

An article in Salon from 2003 says:

So what to make of this passing fad? Here’s the simplest explanation: It goes hand-in-hand with new-and-improved notions about race and identity. Passing “upends all our tidy little methods of recognizing and categorizing human beings,” writes Kroeger, and “makes us wonder what exactly makes an identity authentic, or if and how authenticity matters.”

Bingo: In the context of race, “authenticity” and “identity” have truly begun to unravel.

Authenticity and identity are not tied up together in the same way. And I continue to wrestle with what we mean by it, why exactly it matters, and how we are to judge it in another person. What does it mean to take on an identity? To find meaning in it and meaningful work in and through it? I look at the kids in their rainbow-colored stripes and spots, and boys in their princess dresses, and I think they are playing and they are happy. Back in the day when I wrestled with my own questions of identity, racial and gender – I dressed like a boy and acted like a boy, and sometimes was even mistaken for one. Until two years ago I carried a shame that I wasn’t following the script of femininity and womanhood even after bearing and carrying children, and then I encountered writings on queerness, and was inspired by friendships with Gender Studies students, and I realized, I’m queer. I felt like I had received a new name even though I still read cisgendered and heterosexual. But, I don’t feel constrained by it in the way I look at myself, and most importantly, by the way I look at others.

Because queerness is the recognition that we are all passing for something.Click To Tweet

That by being virtue of human we are constantly playing with our identities, and therefore pressing up against the boundaries of what is gender, race, and ultimately, human. Sometimes we perform it and sometimes not, sometimes we see it and can read it, and sometimes not, but that doesn’t make it any less real or authentic. There’s a wonderful possibility in the spirituality of queerness and how it can liberate us to be and see more. Somehow I found freedom in this in everything – from the way I understand myself, my relationships, and even my parenting because if there is one thing I love about parenting, it is that 90% of it is playing – in that playing, we explore, we challenge, we love.