my superwoman-tiger mom

DO YOU REMEMBER when you first realized your mom was human?

Maybe you always knew that. Or maybe this is your rude awakening (surprise!).

My Eureka! moment came when I was home for the winter holidays during college. I must have just gotten into an argument with my mom (very likely). Or maybe our family had just had some tense moments – it was an emotionally fragile season for us.

All I remember is seeing something in my mom I’d never seen before: weakness.

Growing up, I thought of my mom as being in her own, one-person category. There were teachers, doctors, men, women… and 10441920_10153128574919590_9067303975421122271_nthen there was Mommy.

Mommy, the one who didn’t get sick. The one who always picked up when I called. The one who got me to piano lessons, violin lessons, swimming lessons, soccer games, and orchestra concerts on time – and packed me dinner-to-go.

Mommy, the one who forced me to drink a cup (8 fluid ounces  – count ’em!) of warm water every morning. The one who always made me bring a sweater to the movies (how did she know!?). The one who won almost every argument, and if she didn’t, it was probably because she knew I’d admit defeat later.

Of course, I knew that my mother was a human being; she wasn’t an alien or a robot. At the same time, she wasn’t just a human being. She was Superwoman-Tiger Mom*. She was so efficient, so reliable, so strict, so intuitive. Even my childhood friends and their moms were a little scared of her.

So that day during the holidays, when my mom backed off of an argument and showed visible signs of grief, I was shaken.

And thus began a journey of discovering and embracing my mother’s human-ness. It was scary at first. I feared that recognizing my mom’s limitations would diminish my admiration for her.

Quite the contrary. My respect for her has multiplied. I have come to see her courage, her persistence, her generosity in spite of her limitations.

My mother is an ordinary woman who does ordinary things in an extraordinary way.

The way she lectures me? That’s the same honesty that keeps her writing and learning new things.

The way she nags me to blow-dry my hair? That’s the same tenacity that helped her survive those first years as an immigrant woman in the suburbs of Chicago.

The way she raised me and my sister? That’s the same pride that gave her victory over salespeople who tried, and continue to try, to take advantage of her.

The way she cared for her younger sisters during their childhood? That’s the same compassion she shows towards the women in her congregation.

When my mom reads this, she’ll probably say she’s made a lot of mistakes and she tried her best. True. That’s the point, isn’t it?

I realized that I was not going just because it seemed like a good idea, but because those who love me most sent me on my way with affection, support, and prayers.
– Henri Nouwen, ¡Gracias!

 

* Note: The term “tiger mother” was coined by Amy Chua in her 2011 memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she parodies her own attempts to follow the supposed strict manner of childrearing typically attributed to mothers in East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Chua says her memoir is meant to be “ironic and self-mocking”. Here, I use the term “tiger mom” not to generate controversy or to put my mom in a box but to describe my previously limited view of her and her way of raising me. Thankfully, I’ve come to see she is so much more.

how did i get here?

THE TITLE OF this post is shamelessly meta and cliché, but I think it every day. Most days it takes the form of a complaint (e.g. Why, God, why?); other days it is a sincere inquiry. Rarely does it express wonder and gratitude.

So tonight I say it as a declaration of praise.

How did I get here? How did I end up in my sparse room in a gentrifying neighborhood in a city that is not in a state but that houses some of the most powerful (and dysfunctional) institutions in the world?

Sojourners’ internship program led me to DC. I learned about Sojo at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference. I went to the CCDA conference through Global Urban Perspectives (GUP), a ministry at my college that allows students to learn and participate in ministry in an urban low-income context. GUP sent me to Denver, where God showed me the limitlessness of the Gospel – through the wisdom of unhoused men and women, the hospitality of families who lived paycheck to paycheck, the vastness of mountains and starry night skies. Working and living in Denver showed me how desperately I needed grace. I could no longer prove my worth with my accolades. My new friends at the shelter didn’t need to know my GPA or how many instruments I played – not because they didn’t care, but because they appreciated me for who I was – just me.

But the rabbit trail doesn’t end there. I found GUP on a bulletin board as a freshman overflowing with “blessing” (privilege). I wanted to give more of myself to others. The reason I wanted to give was that I had received so much love (and graduation money) from friends and family members that summer, including those living in Hong Kong whom I hadn’t seen in 10 years.

I could go on, but I want to dwell on this: relationships. I’ve experienced relationships of all kinds, but the relationships that have transformed me for the better are the ones that don’t expect me to fit a mold. The ones that give without a predetermined budget. The ones that embrace without explanation. The ones that allow, even propel, me to be the person God creates me to be.

And all of these attributes are just a smidgeon of the love God has for God’s creation. Blows my mind.

How did I get here? I don’t really know – in the sense that I don’t know why certain things happened or why certain people entered my life. But at the same time, I do know. I know God is good. God is love. God is real.

I am here and only here by the grace of God.

the remnant

Cycle 30

Say hello to Cycle 30, the 30th class of interns at Sojourners: an eclectic mix of cultures, personalities and Meyers-Briggs profiles.

One month has passed since I was thrown into community with these nine young women and men. We live together, eat together, play together, work together… and laugh, A LOT, together. Even our next-door neighbor can hear our laughter through the walls at 7 in the morning. From the outset I have been surprised at how easily we get along, at least considering how different we  are from one another.

During our first week together, our director told us:

You are the remnant.

Translation: “You, Cycle 30, are the remnant, the legacy of the Sojourners community that served as the foundation of the organization’s work when it first formed in 1971.” Talk about an ego booster. =)

The Bible speaks of “the remnant” in various places. Isaiah, amidst his proclamations of judgment, tells of God preserving “the remnant of Israel,” who will return to the Lord and experience His favor (7:3; 10:20-23). Micah declares that God will “gather the remnant of Israel” even as they are in exile (2:12). Paul refers to the believing Jews in his day as “a remnant” (Rom 11:5). In each of these instances, the remnant exists when it shouldn’t have. Under normal circumstances the remnant would have been crushed, scattered and diminished alongside the others.

But when does God ever act “normal”? He brews wine out of water. He doodles in the sand in front of a bunch of Pharisees. He speaks from a burning bush, in a low whisper and out of an ass (literally). Materialism, oppression and legalism seek to suffocate, but grace breaks through with an unexpected breath of fresh air. By His grace the remnant lives on.

 

You are the remnant.

I think of the remnant of Israel in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Returning to Jerusalem as exiles and strangers, these Israelites faced a perplexing question: “How do you make yourself at home when you’re not even sure you belong there?” Day after day their enemies reinforced their remnant status with mockery, lies and even death threats.

But the Israelites themselves perpetuated their existential crisis: they took advantage of the poorer individuals in their midst, and even after rebuilding the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, the tasks to which God had called them, they conducted business on the Sabbath and intermarried with peoples who didn’t follow Yahweh, undermining the very structures that were meant to sustain their identity as God’s beloved.

Perhaps the Israelites were forgetful. Perhaps they didn’t understand the significance of the Law or the implications of their decisions. Perhaps they just wanted to have fun. After all, living-in-community-in-distinction-from-mainstream-values-while-seeking-to-make-a-positive-impact-in-society is, well, daunting. The life of the remnant is, in a word, inconvenient. Whatever motivations the Israelites had for disobeying, it’s obvious they’d had enough of the remnant life.

And how often have I, too, arrived at this place?

 

You are the remnant.

I look at the photo above. A bunch of wide-eyed 20-somethings. How is it that we get to be here? How is it that we have entered an organization, a community, a legacy of women and men who have challenged the injustices of this world for over four decades? We can’t even agree on how to spend our food budget, let alone move people to care about the environment, immigration reform and SNAP. What are we doing here?

In the middle of the chaos and awkwardness
the Lord speaks:”You are My people. You have received mercy” (Hos 1:8).

The remnant exists because of grace. We get to be here because of grace. To be the remnant is to embrace everything that comes with it: friendship, responsibility, conflict, inconvenience… and grace. Because grace feels much more real when you have to weigh 10 different opinions for one decision. Because grace is what you give when dishes are left in the sink again, and grace is what you get when you take your stress out on the wrong person.

By His grace the remnant lives on.