Saturday, May 28, 2011

Do This in Remembrance

In the summer of 1999, I saw something that forever changed my perception of soldiers.  I moved to South Korea to teach.

You see, South Korea is still technically at war, and even though the violence has left the citizens of South Korea largely untouched since the 1950s, the reminders of a state of war are still there.  At the time, I lived just a few blocks from a national university, and the first time I heard the shots, I was certain that the North Koreans were coming.

No.  I was mistaken.  That was mandated practice for Korean men in the reserves.  You see, military service is mandated of every Korean male.  The duration of that service has changed over the years, and the duties it may include also vary.  But it is, first and foremost, mandatory and protective in nature.

You see, you don't really forget (or at least I didn't) that the enemy is a two hour flight away.  You always know that the North Koreans could eliminate the quarter of the South Korean population that is based in Seoul at a few minutes notice.  And you choose to keep living.  And you choose to be grateful to those that serve.

And so I thank all those, American or not, who, bearing arms, stand between the citizens of the world and those who would oppress them.

Thank you. 

Thank you for those you leave in order to serve.  Thank you for the years you sacrifice to take up arms.  Thank you for the memories that you must bear because of your service.

We remember you.

But, without any disservice to all of you--my husband, brothers-in-law, father-in-law, and grandfather included--I want to express the hope that someday our swords will be beaten into plowshares and that nations will not learn war again.

And I want to thank those who make it their lives' work to breaking down the dividing walls of hostility and promoting peace.

Thank you to the social workers among us who are out there trying to change the negative aspects of our everyday life that breed hatred and contempt.

Thank you to all of the teachers who refuse to believe that their students will never amount to anything and encourage them to rise above their circumstances.

Thank you to all who leave your homes to teach English in other countries so that, indeed, eventually there may be no subaltern and everyone, at least in theory, will have a voice and a language with which to be understood.

Thank you to all who choose to donate your time, money, and energy to those who need it, be they people recovering from disaster or just the kid who has banged up her knee.

Thank you to all who decide to put equality above profit and who buy goods at fair prices, work for companies that do not gouge their prices, and who give to others as they are able.

Thank you to all of you who have been scorned, discriminated against, or unfairly insulted and have chosen to forgive and love rather than harbor bitterness. 

And thank you even more to those who have endured these barbs and reach out to teach and change the situation.

Violence does not come because we live in a violent world but because we are creatures with violent hearts.

And I believe that when we are remembering our veterans, we are also called to remember our Lord, who bears on His body the marks of that violence, and yet who surrendered to it peacefully.  There are battle scars that are physical, and they are not to be discounted.  But our battle is not against flesh and blood--even in physical wars.  No, our battle begins in the heart--against the powers of darkness that lurk there (not discounting those that lurk elsewhere, I still believe we begin in the heart).

For you see, no war ever began without some intention, and that comes from within, not without.

And so I look at this Memorial Day with a communion of spirit.  Lord, I remember you.  Examine my heart and remove from it the hate that nailed you to the cross because I know that it is always lurking there. 

"Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me." - Vince Gill

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Real Moms

In a recent argument with my little son, in which he was refusing to do anything I asked him, I demanded, "Why won't you listen to your mother?!"

Without even bothering to look up, he asked, "Which mother?"

You see, we have had this ongoing debate over the last several months. It began sometime in October when I demanded that little son comply with some mundane request like, "Drink your milk, and then you can have candy."

This was met with opposition. "I HATE MILK! I NEED CANDY! YOU DON'T LOVE ME!!"

Several exchanges later after the torrential tears had subsided to intermittent sniffles, little son announced, "My real parents are vampires (pronounced "dampires" as in d*** cat, d*** furnace, d*** pire) and superheroes."

Since that time, I have learned quite a bit about what real (dampire) moms do and don't. Some of which I have intuited myself. I have included the list below for your edification.

  1. Real moms don't call their children "little sh**s," even in their heads.

  2. Real moms don't ever drown out their children's car temper tantrums with the radio, and particularly not praise music.

  3. Real moms never stop including dessert in lunches, even if the child hasn't eaten his sandwich for a week and a half.

  4. Real moms never send the carrot sticks back for a second day.

  5. Real moms never cry in front of their children, even if this might teach them that crying is okay.

  6. Real moms never say, "OH, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STUFF IT!!!" They never even think it.

  7. Real moms never wonder why other people's children are so well-behaved. This is because their own children are angels and the faults they may have are charming.

  8. Real moms never hide in the bathroom for three hours and hope their children will go away.

  9. Real moms' children never hang on them so much that they just dare their husband to try and touch them. Just try.

  10. Real moms never threaten to rip out all of their child's teeth if said child bites them again.

  11. Real moms never sacrifice the house for the children or vice versa.

  12. Real moms always offer empathy first when their child is hurt. They never ask, "But how on EARTH did you get a splinter there?"

  13. Real moms never experience the joys of old congealed half-sucked gummy bears wedged in between the sofa cushions because their children never eat in the living room.

  14. Real moms never have to apologize to the principal for losing their tempers.

  15. Real moms never experience the joy of watching their children mimicking them as they tell someone off because real moms never tell anyone off.

  16. Real moms never find their computers arrow keys are all sticky from children who have played computer games after eating a popsicle (or worse yet, while DRIPPING popsicle on the keyboard).

  17. Real moms always recognize that their children are complex individuals and never conflate them to a phase or an age, e.g., "He is totally two (or "seven" or "sixteen")!"

  18. Real moms are never, having lost a recent battle with a child to eat protein for dinner, serenaded with "I'm a Hungry Herbivore."

  19. And real moms probably never have the opportunity to sit down and reflect that, in the midst of all of their shortcomings, they are so awe-fully blessed to have their very unique children for every short moment they have.

A very late and very happy Mother's Day to all of you moms (and real moms never miss holiday deadlines, either)!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Koala Hugs

My son is into koala hugs. I would be much more into koala hugs if he didn't weigh 60 pounds.
I'm not exactly sure how he came to be so interested in koala hugs, but I see how he's using them now. As our family has bounced about the globe over the last eighteen months, he has seen his friends and family slip through his fingers in ways that he can't control. And every night before his eyes close and he is transported back to the land of nightmares with deceptively even breaths, he clings to me, arms and legs constricting my body.
"Koala hug!" he cries. "Tighter, Mommy! Tighter! I can still breathe!"
Perhaps he imagines that if he holds tight, his grip can somehow control the uncertain world around him. I clasp him back. My world is as uncertain as his, although he'd never believe that.
And so we spend a few minutes thus entwined before bedtime, or before his brother comes for his koala hug. While my heart has room for them both, my back can't support the ninety combined pounds, and we tumble onto the bed.
How do koalas sleep? I wonder. Do koala babies have nightmares? More importantly, do koala moms have backaches?

Monday, May 23, 2011

If It Ain't Broke...

Warning: This post is for women of the non-squeamish sort.

As far as I can fathom, the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," was propagated by men. There are very few things that I cannot think of a way to improve, and there are other things in life that, well, if they're not broken, they are at least seriously warped.

Take womanhood for example.

Prior to adolescence, blood = bad. Honestly. What does your mother say? "I'm going in this room and I don't want to hear a peep from you unless you're bleeding or the house is burning down!"

See? Bleeding, house burning down. Equivalent.

So, even though I had been well prepared by my nurse mother and sex ed classes galore, all I could think when I pulled down my jeans after having the worst stomach pains of my life was that no band aid in the world was going to fix this. But alas, my seventh grade self would soon learn that "this" was the portal by which we entered womanhood.

Myself, I would have chosen something much more fun and a great deal less painful, not to mention gross.

Of course, I already knew the world was a mess. I had already been bullied repeatedly, thought of dying, and had seen death. I knew that life was not perfect.

What I was unaware of was that being broken was just a natural part of it, not to be fought. There was no doctor who thought this was wrong, no quick fix, and no appealing way to make it go away (although my sister did plead with my mother, my mother staunchly repeated that no physician would perform a hysterectomy on a 15-year-old no matter how bad her cramps were).

So when this dreaded monthly visitor finally exited my life during pregnancy, I was expecting great respite.

Until I lost that baby, and the visitor was back. But this time it meant emptiness, brokenness. And every month, it was like the red visitor laughed in my face with an utter contempt for my desolation, my bitterness, my--how else do I put it?--brokenness. My friends were all having babies. My little sister even. Why not me?

It wasn't like I had been far along. I hadn't even gone to the doctor. I had only just told my husband. And I certainly didn't tell anyone else until after my firstborn had safely arrived.

But it didn't really matter. I could be full, but instead I was empty. And every month, there was a bright red reminder of my failure--because that was how it felt whether it was or not.

Later, both times I was pregnant, I got another great shock: being full was not what I had expected either. I was not empty. Ohhhh, noooo. I was full, but was the creature inside me human? The scene of the beast emerging from John Hurt's abdomen in "Alien" replayed itself in my mind, and I do have to say that my first glance at my eldest did little to dispel it.

You see, being pregnant just made me aware that I was broken in still more ways--bizarre cravings, the inability to smell chocolate and refrain from vomiting, the need to pee every half hour (if that), the swollen feet, headaches, dizziness, high blood sugar, low blood pressure followed by high blood pressure. The list went on and on.

And birth only made it worse. If I had an opening, it was oozing. Even openings I wasn't used to were oozing. I needed only to think of my little one and my breasts leaked. No, "leaked" is not the right word. The people who use "leak" for the first child are either amnesiacs or in denial. They gushed freely, flooding all but the super-think Johnson's battle shields (also known as nursing pads). Of course very little of this made it to my newborn's mouth, and his hunger was insatiable.

Enter a new kind of brokenness--sleep deprivation.

I couldn't even match my socks or tell the salt from the sugar, much less perform the higher order thinking skills required to navigate my new role as mother and my altered role as wife.

And along with it came a new kind of brokenness. I had the baby in my arms, but I was empty. After spending the last six months counting kicks and the last few weeks rearranging body parts that were jutting out in odd and asymmetrical ways, I was unprepared for the complete emptiness of carrying my deflated stomach in front of me. No, I didn't want to be pregnant again ANYTIME soon, but now that I knew the promise that could be held, I lamented the absence of it inside me.

But these physical womanly experiences have made me more aware of the ones we experience emotionally all the time. I now recognize the times our friendships miscarry, and the promise of what might have been is unfulfilled. I see our thirst for connection--for mates, for family, for community--and again I note those attempts to get pregnant.

But most of all, I am aware of the simple periodic pains of passing time. I say goodbye to friends, to a community I knew, to a culture with which I am familiar. I welcome new ones painfully, learn to live with them, understand them, and then say goodbye again. The cycle repeats. Those I have looked up to pass on. I pick new mentors, and I become the mentor of some who are younger. All this is painful but promising.

And I know that, emotionally, it is that monthly visitor. There was a time when I would have needed a band aid, but this is too big for a band aid. It will pass in time and repeat again, but I will live through it.

I have learned that the brokenness is not a thing to be avoided, even though I often want to. It marks the attempts to achieve the potential of the promise that life holds. Without it, those things worth living for wouldn't exist.

Perhaps my children stated it best. Recently, when they saw me crying while talking to a friend at the playground, they came over with a friend.

"Mommy," asked the big one. "Is this a happy cry or a sad cry?"

"This is just a cry," I answered. "A little happy, a little sad."

My little one turned to his friend. "Boys are good, but girls leak. That's 'cause they're broken."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Calling for help

It is National Children's Mental Health Awareness Week, and I have recently made a point, repeatedly (and had opportunity to witness it), that while we are trained to call for help when there's a problem, too often, we don't know how to give help when a truly dire situation arises.

Recently, we have had to call for help. And so this post is two-fold.

First, I want to thank the mental health workers out there who really care.

The ones who pick up the phone and don't tell you to fasten the seatbelt when your five-year-old has unbuckled himself while you are driving on the parkway and is trying to open the door or climb out the window. (HELLO! Should I turn around while driving 65 mph and try to accomplish this feat? Or should I pull over to the shoulder where the kid can SUCCESSFULLY open that door and dart across three lanes of traffic moving at 65 mph? What exactly are the viable options here?)

This is a sincere and heartfelt thank you for the ones who listen to the crazy talk of the severely distressed and translate it for those who love them, who help us to understand things like the importance of sensory needs in resetting the formal operations of the brain. The ones who understand that certain dietary needs can change a kid from plum loco to a happy child (maybe not that quickly, but with a definitely noticeable impact). These are the ones who understand what it is like to fear for your child's safety on a daily, hourly, or moment-by-moment basis and who dedicate their lives to changing these circumstances.


You would think that, when children are truly in pain, truly in crisis, truly crying out for compassion, the average person would reach out with kindness.

This is not the case.

But this is not a post about blame. I do not think people hate kids, hate kids with special needs, or hate people in general.

I think that they simply don't know how to love them.

For those that are unfamiliar with treatment plans and the real work of therapy (the data collection and systematic retraining of behaviors), the second part of this post is to help you understand just a little bit about what these therapies are like.

Below is my attempt at a treatment plan for myself, a treatment plan to help my own listening and response when I hear those cries for help. Of course, in a perfect world, I would do these things all the time. But this is a treatment plan, and I know that I can't. It is a reminder of how far I need to go that I am really struggling to reach "6 out of 10 opportunities."

Preparing myself to hear and answer calls for help from my neighbors/those around me (i.e., what would loving my neighbor as myself look like?):

Goal 1: Listening
  • 1A: In 6 of 10 opportunities, I will listen to what they say without interruption (other than the noises to show I am listening).
  • 1B: In 6 of 10 opportunities, I will refrain from responding with a judgmental attitude as expressed in words like "good," "bad," "appropriate," "should," "shouldn't," or "have to," BOTH IN REGARD TO MY NEIGHBOR AND/OR OTHER NEIGHBORS THAT MAY HAVE BEEN IMPLICATED IN SUCH STORY.

Goal 2: Changing my heart
  • 2A: In 6 out of 10 opportunities, I will pray for my neighbor before offering advice to them or opening my mouth to comment (or condemn) the behavior of someone not present.
  • 2B: In 6 out of 10 opportunities, I will try to walk away from my neighbor citing one concrete thing that they have taught me or that is good about them.
  • 2C: Once per day, I will think of one way that a neighbor has shown me something positive that I would like to incorporate into my own life.
  • 2D: Once per day, I will remind myself that my neighbors have the same needs for love and acceptance that I do.

Goal 3: Answering the calls (both silent and voiced)
  • 3A: In 6 out of 10 opportunities, as I am aware of them, I will actively try to meet my neighbors' needs (for quiet, cleanliness, etc.) for our neighborhood in ways that are not restrictive for them or for me.
  • 3B: In 7 out of 10 opportunities, my neighbor has expressed a need and it is in my power to satisfy it, I will do so without thinking so much about the cost.
  • 3C: In 6 out of 10 opportunities, I will be brave enough to step forward when I see a problem to offer help--even if I need to be told what to do or even if I can only make a call or listen to a problem--rather than let my neighbor suffer alone.

These are the things I need to work on myself. Perhaps they will resonate with you as well.

Monday, May 2, 2011


I realized in my last post that I wrote about the journey but not about the life of JC. JC's beautiful days here, his presence with us, were so precious that I want to record just a few. Below is one for every month we waited for JC and for each month he was here with us. They may not have happened quite in that order or quite in that month, but they stand out in my mind.

  • T-9 and counting: The day Jimmy told us during the church greeting, "I'm going to be a father!" There is no bright enough decription for the light in his eyes or the pride in his chest.
  • T-8 and counting: The weeks talking to Cindy in which she recounted morning sickness. Ever like Cindy, she never really complained, no matter how much we invited her to.
  • T-7 and counting: Cindy finally begins to note that her belly is getting big.
  • T-6 and counting: Jimmy appears so much more protective of Cindy...or is that just the baby he's protecting?
  • T-5 and counting: Despite looking pregnant now, Cindy still works like mad for the church, seeming to have endless energy.
  • T-4 and counting: We are starting to guess about JC's personality as he moves around inside his mother.
  • T-3 and counting: Watching Cindy glow as the days grow shorter
  • T-2 and counting: With Christmas on the way, we are reminded of the holy family as we rejoice at the birth of our savior and await the birth of this new sweet baby.
  • T-1 and counting: Occasionally, we women don't see Cindy (sometimes she's just down in the fellowship hall) and so we accost Jimmy...but no, the baby is not here yet!
  • JC's here! We've been waiting for you!
  • Month 1: Such a sweet little one--always watching, trying always to keep those little eyes open.
  • Month 2: Listening to Cindy tell JC's birth story--every birth is always such a miracle!
  • Month 3: Cindy takes JC to the nursery for feedings. Cindy's constant positive attitude and cheerful talk are so appreciated! (And the cute sweet little JC makes it even better!)
  • Month 4: Love seeing Jimmy with JC strapped to him.
  • Month 5: Such a happy JC! Always happy to smile at the other ladies!
  • Month 6: JC is so fun to hold that the church ladies have run off with him, and Cindy is running around asking, "But where is my baby?"
  • Month 7: Love listening to JC giggle in the church stairwell.
  • Month 8: I can feel Jimmy and Cindy's love as parents as they pray for the seizures of my own little one at church, laying their hands on him with the elders.
  • Month 9: JC is roaming the church now during service! :) How we love to see him go!
  • Month 10: Even a child is known by his actions! JC's smile and outgoing, laid-back personality make him loved everywhere.
  • Month 11: Trying to play with the big boys. JC is constantly mimicking the older children in an effort to play!
  • Month 12: One year with our precious JC!!
  • Month 13: Even sick, JC is determined to be joyful.
  • Month 14: I hear JC singing in the background as I talk to his parents on the phone. What a lovely voice!
  • Month 15: I hear stories about JC in the church by the hospital, so sick but lifted by prayer and loving parents.
  • Month 16: Cindy mentions how much JC wants to go out. It breaks our hearts when a little one is sick, but we thank God for JC's outgoing personality.
  • Month 17: Ever praying, ever hoping, we are bolstered by the lovely JC and by the love, strength, and faith of his parents.
  • Month 18: I talk to Cindy in California. I hear JC. My heart is lifted both by his precious voice and his calls for "엄마!"
  • Month 19: It is good to hear that JC has friends in California.
  • Month 20: I am bolstered by another call from Cindy. How pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity! Praising God for finding a family and support for Cindy, Jimmy, and JC in California (and wishing California and Pennsylvania were a little closer!).
  • Month 21: JC has a little friend in California!
  • Month 22: God is sending gold dust to comfort Jimmy and Cindy. We know he remembers and loves JC.
  • Month 23: I see JC's pictures at Shasta Dam and suddenly I understand the gold dust and Psalm 42:7-8 make sense. I know JC and his family are exactly where God has put them. Praise the Lord for his neverending love!
  • Month 24: I see Cindy's pictures of JC squatting like a little 아저씨. He is still Korean, even in California!
  • Month 25: Loving the photos of JC in his parents arms--smiling next to Cindy in her profile photo, lifted high up in the woods by Jimmy.
  • Month 26: Praising God for the last days with JC. Praising him for the moments that his parents can still hold him in their arms, can still hear his voice, touch his hair, smell his skin... May the Lord preserve these memories in their hearts.
  • Month 27: Knowing that JC is whole in his Heavenly Father's arms, even though we still want him in our own. Thanking God for the opportunity for JC to be cradled in his parents arms and praise as he was lifted to his Heavenly Father during his last moments on earth.

I am so priviliged to have been blessed with knowing this JC! He is not forgotten and is so loved.