A Boy’s Love on the Landing

When he walked in this evening, Daddy wanted to take his boy to the park.  As I changed Little Man on the landing, he wrapped himself around my neck and kissed me.  He smiled, “I will never let you go.”

My eyes smarted.landing1

The sacredness of the moment hurt – a swelling tight at the edges. I was thrown forward to the day time will have run out on us, make me let go my son with the borrowed breath.

“Someday you will have to,” I said quietly. A weak smile back, and we puckered for two more wet kisses.

I squeezed those little fingers down the rest of the steps.

Lessons from My 30s

I learned not to expect anything from anyone – not even friends – but to give. Not because I don’t have amazing friends but because people are busy, have their own burden. I am grateful that anyone should stop to think of me in some way. Wish I had known earlier not to impose standards in my relationships, to free people in their weakness. Free God to grow them.

It was the decade I fell in love twice. With the man I agreed to marry and the baby boy I found myself cradling. I realized my guys have been my 30s. With an I.V. needling sustenance into my broken body on my 30th birthday, I had yet to imagine I would meet my husband the following year – on the dance floor. While some of the most excruciating trials darken this period of my history, these 10 years have been the best. That I should be given a companion to come alongside, hold me up and provide for me, depend on me in the mundane. That I should experience the ineffable wonder of growing a person inside and bringing forth that life from my own body. My hands, given to help fashion a mind and soul, feed and grow health in the person God had knit in my womb.

It was the decade I lost myself. When I plunged headlong into motherhood, Diana disappeared – in her stead a little guy’s personal Hometown Buffet. Everything-From-Scratch MOM. Homeschooler. Walking Unmade Bed, way too tired to care about looking presentable.

P1030732Better late than never: on the threshold of the next decade, I began to recover that self. I hadn’t realized how I’d let myself go until I lopped off the hair that was brushing my low back last fall. I—felt—human. Eating right did not exempt me from looking okay. A photo of me and Holistic Husband when it was the two of us presents a woman accessorized and made up. Make-up? I’d forgotten I not only once wore it, but sold it. Sigh. Last month I parted with the clothes I’d worn over 12 years. Closet bare! Thank God for Winter Clearance. With the testimony of earrings and a top that doesn’t hang on me just because it was a freebie from a friend, I now pass for a female. I blow the dust off the gifts that shape me, so I can serve God the way I was meant to.

With the intent studies in health and natural living, I came to understand how to eat the way my body needs to. Sixteen years in the formal education system impart absolutely no working knowledge of two of the weightiest matters in life: how to eat and how to manage money. I can see why Israel’s desert wanderings lasted 40 years. Some lessons take that long. I’ve learned the kind of care my body needs. How relationships and my response to life affect me.

I’ve developed a compassion entirely alien to my nature and temperament. Hard to go through near-death training and have no empathy for those who suffer. It’s been one dogged climb against a steady rain of impossible setbacks. One step forward for every 2, 3 in reverse. I can’t figure the math on how I’ve ended up on higher ground, except for the grace of God and the stints of running He’s blessed. I have plumbed unchartered dimensions of heartache and blackness. Laid bare the nemesis fear, have come to see just how deeply it runs beneath upsets.

It was the decade I should have known better. Paid heavily for some stupid decisions. But there is no stumbling block that cannot transform into a stepping stone.

The Afterlife We Call Legacy

I wondered why Bill Clinton’s and Michelle Obama’s tribute to Maya Angelou sounded so familiar. The eulogies were beautiful and compelling, but it felt like I was hearing the speakers replay a long conversation I’d just had with them on color, courage, and identity. It hit me. They were talking like contributors to my Race Around the World. I grinned thinking Yeah, Michelle would’ve written for the Race. Anyone have access to her for my next series? I felt awe seeing the ripples of Maya’s influence upon people who would become pillars of the most powerful nation in the world. When Maya was a little girl she was afraid her voice had killed a man after the rapist she’d named was found dead. She quit talking for six years. Maya didn’t know she would find it again, a voice that would bring life and healing to those who listened.

Here’s Bill: I first encountered Maya Angelou as a young man when I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” It was written in 1970 about the time I started law school, and shortly after it came out, I read it and I was the one who was struck dumb. She called our attention to things that really matter — dignity, work, love and kindness — things we can all share and don’t cost anything. And they matter more than the differences of wealth and power, of strength and beauty, of intellect. All that is nice if you put it to the right use, but nothing is more powerful than giving honor to the things we share.

I got chills hearing Michelle. I was struck by how she celebrated black women’s beauty like no one had ever dared to before. Our curves, our stride, our strength, our grace. Her words were clever and sassy, they were powerful and sexual and boastful..but she also graced us with an anthem for all women, a call for all of us to embrace our God-given beauty. And oh, how desperately black girls needed that message. As a young woman, I needed that message. As a child, my first doll was Malibu Barbie. That was the standard for perfection. That was what the world told me to aspire to. But then I discovered Maya Angelou, and her words lifted me right out of my own little head. Her message was very simple. She told us that our worth has nothing to do with what the world might say. Instead, she said each of us comes from the Creator, trailing wisps of glory.

Dr. Angelou’s words sustained me on every step of my journey, through lonely moments in ivy-covered classrooms and colorless skyscrapers, through blissful moments mothering two splendid baby girls, through long years on the campaign trail where, at times, my very womanhood was dissected and questioned…Words so powerful that they carried a little black girl from the south side of Chicago all the way to the White House. She touched me, she touched all of you, she touched people all across the globe, including a young white woman from Kansas who named her daughter after Maya and raised her son to be the first black president of the United States.

As a kid, I kept to peers who were bicultural and shied from those more Asian than I out of a sense of superiority. Not thinking that I myself was above those who were more traditionally Asian but because I had bought into the myth that white culture was superior. The blonde on TV was cooler than my parents. I’m obviously over that. I wish I were the measure of my mother.

When Oprah took her turn to speak at the memorial service, I saw more clearly than ever the power and need of role models for all children. Being able to see ourself in the mirror of a hero gives us hope to dream bigger than our circumstances. I marvel at God. I am just in awe that I, a little colored then Negro girl, growing up in Mississippi, having read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” for the first time, read a story about someone who was like me. I was that girl who loved to read. I was that girl who was raised by my southern grandmother. I was that girl who was raped at nine.

I remember when I opened my school in South Africa and I said to her, oh Maya, this is going to be my greatest legacy. And she said, not so fast. Your legacy is every woman who ever watched your show and decided to go back to school. Your legacy is every man who decided to forgive his father…Your legacy is every person you ever touched. Your legacy is how you lived and what you did and what you said every day. So true, sister Maya. I want to live your legacy…Each of us who knew her, those only touched by her words or those who were able to be blessed to sit at the kitchen table, we are next in line to be a Maya Angelou to someone else. It’s a challenge that I embrace with my whole heart.

I caught philosopher Stephen Cave on radio last month when he maintained that all fears, like those of flying or driving, really come down to the fear of death. He said we can’t imagine not being. In the post What If You Weren’t Afraid?, readers brought up the matter of healthy fears, what some consider necessary survival mechanisms. We’d better be afraid of anything twice our size wielding a weapon – fangs or knife. I’m no evolutionist but oh yes, we do want to live and keep living. I believe our wish to leave a worthy legacy is the desire to live on beyond death. Our afterlife.

Calling

old-door-handleWriter Elisabeth Elliot has said God’s NO is His mercy.  In this posture of trust I have tasted the goodness of God. Hindsight faithfully reveals that the doors that had shut on me were pointing to portals that would swing wide with blessing.

I had always felt barred from overseas missionary work. The door to service abroad that I tried and tried wouldn’t budge. In 1996, I set foot in California for the first time on a working vacation as a guest contributor to a Wycliffe Bible Translators magazine called The Sower. Through the research and writing, I was in part scouting the missionary landscape and tapping possibilities for my place in it.

Fast-forward about ten years to the night a church leader came over for dinner. I had felt judged by this man who was passionate for overseas missions. I got the sense that he, knowing nothing of the many challenges I’d faced until then, thought me complacent in my little world. He never cared to probe, to discover anything of the work abroad I had pursued but that had never panned out for me. That night, he picked up the copy of The Sower that happened to lie on the coffee table, and flipping through, caught my byline. Taken aback, he seemed to see me in a new light.

A deep, sweet realization emerged in a talk with a friend last week. When she expressed pleasure over my writing, I pointed out that my hands don’t have the creative touch of hers and that I lack the verve and strength to serve people in the way she does.

I suddenly got chills.

I saw, after all these years, that anything I arguably could have accomplished as a missionary would have remained limited in scope. But the words I have put down, here and in global publications, reach more people than I would teaching English or laboring to build a hut somewhere. I heard God’s answer to the misperceptions of the man who had wanted more…activity out of me. I don’t always have to be talking faith. My writing is my art and the art, my worship.

My worship, my calling.

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. Revelations 3:7

Around the World in Eighty Days

What a trip. England, Turkey, India, Africa, China, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia.

That’s not counting North America, where we hit Canada and Hawaii, trekked across western United States through the Midwest and Texas to the Eastern seaboard. We glimpsed Native American culture, the WASP world, New Zealand Maoris. We spoke with the daughter of a picture bride, a young Arab in North Africa, an American who chose life in an Indian ashram over the noise and ease of the States. We learned of the genocide of Armenians 100 years ago and the civil wars in Liberia, caught sight of the KKK.

flag-of-turkey_w725_h483I learned as much from the discussions as I did from the posts, more history than I did in a year of high school. I did not know “Tejanos are land-owning Mexicans who were farming and ranching before the Germans, Czechs, Irish, and Scottish settled in Texas. They speak with the same drawl the Caucasians do, but still get treated like border crossing migrants.” Mark, our American Gypsy, taught us so much.

PERCEPTION
Seems race is often the color others paint of us. Paul, not a blogger but a wonderful reader and writer, said to Sreejit, American in India:

flag-of-india_w725_h484I found it delightful that in America you are black and in India you are white. That is amazing and completely counter to conventional wisdom. It reminds me of an interview I watched with Barak Obama and his wife Michele before he was elected to the first term. The interviewer asked Barak what his response was to those who said he wasn’t really black, as one of his parents was white. Michelle jumped in and said he was black and if they needed any proof all they had to do was watch when Barak tried to wave down a taxi on a street curb. If there was a white man farther down the block, the taxi would go right past Barak and pick up the white man. That put an end to race questions. Michele is a lawyer and it shows: she picked an example that clearly showed that discrimination determined race.

White people in America told Sreejit he was white, blacks insisted he was black. And he wasn’t the only blogger on this journey to have been told what he was.

I said to Sreejit: That is something – plain funny and sad – how people kept imposing their own background on you. Projection? I’ve always said we see what we want to see. And you were chameleon enough, with enough black and enough white for others to pull you to themselves in the attempt to categorize you.

We see what we want to. Why? We fear what is OTHER. We fear the unfamiliar. It made them feel more comfortable to be able to identify with Sreejit.flag-of-australia_w725_h363

BELONGING
Julie, whose contribution did not make it into the race, shared some thoughts as an adoptive parent:

My husband and I are Caucasian; we adopted our daughter from China when she was ten months old. We are a mixed-raced family. This fact is both irrelevant on a day-to-day basis, and the thing that defines us. A while back, I read an article about a person who got in trouble for saying that she had forgotten that her adopted Chinese daughter was Chinese. I think what she was trying to say was that she simply thought of (let’s call her) Ann as “Ann.” Her “foreignness” was removed by familiarity, and she had for all intents and purposes blended into mainstream white America. Just an ordinary child, her child. And this is what offended people, the very denying of her ethnicity, the removal of her birthright of Chinese heritage and culture.

And while I don’t feel particularly inclined to join in the condemnation, I must say that I never forget that my daughter is Chinese, for that is part of her very essence. What I often forget is that there is anything out of the ordinary for a young Chinese girl to be parented by middle-age white parents.flag-of-china_w725_h479

Ann’s mother obviously meant she did not see her girl as being other. What does it mean to belong in this situation? To be full-blooded Chinese and part of a white family? What I hear from this mom is a deep acceptance of a child that did away with any self-consciousness about color. The way I might talk with a dear friend and, while appreciating the wisdom she brings to our relationship, forget she is old enough to be my mother. Because it feels natural, like we were meant to be together. Can we just say what we feel about race? Of course we can. And of course we can’t. I am so glad we didn’t have to worry about being politically correct in this series. Navigator echoed sentiments Jenni and Elizabeth had expressed: “Perhaps there is an unconscious luxury of being white.” I found the point-blank confession refreshing.

SELF-DEFINITION
Paul recently said to me, “When you started the Race series, you were obviously exploring asymmetry – how do we each create value in our lives given the different starting places and circumstances? Quite a few of the interviewees identified seeking commonness as the means of success. And yet if you looked deeper, they actually leveraged their unique personal circumstances to be successful.” Any thoughts? Many of our articulate writers felt race didn’t matter. flag-of-united-states-of-america_w725_h381I think it most certainly does but we need to clarify the not mattering. Race does not determine worth and should not affect opportunity. Sadly it does both these things in many places and where this happens, race should not matter. Can we instead take healthy pride in the culture of our lineage, and be neither overweening nor ashamed? My God made strawberries red and lemons yellow. And He delights in their color. Imagine strawberries looking to erase their ruby signature or trying hard not to be so red. Interestingly, every color of the farm fields and gardens offers its own irreplaceable nutrients. Why have I at times felt apologetic about being Korean? Why did I feel looking back at where I came from, talking about my past, would be a waste of your time – until you said otherwise? It was out of your response to my story that I gave myself permission to keep going with The Measure of a Woman. Remarkable that the immigrant tale would make its way up my Top 10, second only to my About which had over a year’s running start.

We had more than discussion and history lessons in our race around the world. There were personal history and conviction and fears. In my virtual travel around the globe, there wasn’t one tour guide of a contributor who has not opened these small Asian eyes. I’ve decided people who don’t travel or at least open themselves to cultures outside their own short themselves.

Sreejit put it well and sufficiently in reply to a comment: “I think the more we see of the world, the less we are stymied by race issues. But since most people don’t leave their own backyard, it is easy for stereotypes and prejudices to persist. Though I think the internet is also helping to break down the walls as well. The world is becoming a little smaller everyday.”flag-of-mauritania_w725_h483

I was nevertheless reminded in conversations with the Race participants who live in a far and different time zone just how grand our world is. Even instant email could not keep our long-distance exchange going at the pace I wanted. When I was up, my fellow writers were in bed. There is a sunrise every hour throughout this world. I am consumed by the affairs of my day but my light is someone’s darkness. We do well to grow a bigger heart.

Fathers From Around the World

When I was not yet three years old, John Richard and Grace Elizabeth Ingram adopted me from an orphanage in southwest London. When I was four, a stroke left Dad paralysed down his left side; he died when I was 18.

I can still hear the cranky squeaks of your wheelchair. And the clicking of the calipers attached to your legs below the knee. There was the incessant wheezing from the asthma that later attended the paralysis. Your body was your burden. Your light relief was watching the BBC news and “being tickled pink,” as you liked to say, by the old classic British comedies. Dad’s Army. The Good Life. Rising Damp. As a child I longed to pick you up and carry you on my back. Far and away from your wheelchair and back to the fleeting memory I had of you as my able-bodied dad. Now as an adult, I believe there are no accidents. You are still my role model and I have found my dream job serving persons with disabilities in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Thank you, Dad!

Michele at Michele D’Acosta, Museum of Documentary and Fiction

—————————————————————————-

Charming, intelligent, belligerent and very Greek, my father is one of those people you meet and never forget.

When I was little, he would often regale my siblings and me with stories of his childhood in the mountains of Greece. His eyes would light up as he recalled the deep snow that carpeted the land each winter and how every night he used to lie listening to the wolves howling in the freezing cold. I could never quite believe this story. I had visited Greece only in the summer months when the cicadas hum through the trees and the cool Mediterranean offers the only welcome respite from the heat.

But my father assured me it was all true, and he would describe how during these snowfalls Yiayia (my Grandmother) would make Stifatho, steaming hot beef stew. If my father and his brother misbehaved, Papou would threaten to throw the bones from the stew out near the house so that the wolves would come prowling down from the mountain tops. This both terrified and fascinated my father, and he admits he sometimes wanted my Papou to carry out his threat so that he could steal a glimpse of these great creatures.

Whenever it snows now, my father can’t quite contain his excitement and we indulge his boyhood memories by asking him to tell us the story again. Stubborn, impatient and thoroughly Spartan he may be, but show my dad a snowflake and his heart melts.

Ekaterina at Ekaterina Botziou, It’s All Greek to Me!

——————————————————————————

Even as a kid I knew my father was more fun and affectionate than most Korean men. He differed in another way. Back then expecting parents wanted a son. You couldn’t have too many boys. My father never cared. Seems he was one proud dad when I was born. Gifts poured in from the office. He threw a big party on my birthday the next year and danced with me in his arms.

We immigrated to America a few years later. When I was in fourth grade, Daddy joined the ranks of the best drivers in New York City. He became a taxi driver. A classmate from Pakistan approached me one day. “Your dad drives a cab. Mine does, too,” said Rukshinda in the glad relief of a confidante.

“No. No, he doesn’t,” I lied. She looked confused.

I hadn’t known I was ashamed of what my father did until I had to acknowledge it. I also didn’t know he was held up at knifepoint doing it. One afternoon the passenger wanted to go to 106th Street, close to Harlem. Before they got there, Daddy suddenly felt a blade digging into his neck. He rubbed his fingers to say money, then pointed to the pocket of his sweat pants. The guy dug in and bolted from the cab. Daddy had been sitting on the day’s earnings, the bills in his pocket just change.

I wish I could write in the sky that no job was beneath my father to keep his kids clothed, fed, and safe. I would tell the world a thousand times over that my daddy was a cab driver.

Wayfarer on A Holistic Journey

——————————————————————————

I kissed your bones before I immersed them in the water with your ashes. As I watched the river carry them to the ocean, my tears ran, bringing back memories.

You would get into our bed Sunday mornings in England and tell us stories of wonder. This wakened our imagination and allowed us to seek magic in the world. You raised us with iron discipline, and I knew that the army did not impose this on you. It came from within, and I rebelled. You wanted me to follow your path into the army, and yet supported me in my own journey. As I grew older, we spoke of your childhood in undivided India, and I learned how your family lost everything when Pakistan was carved out of India. We managed to get a video of our ancestral home. We watched it together, knowing you would never see your childhood home again.

What I learned from you was to conduct myself with grace and dignity. I learned that people respect us for what we are, and not for the position we hold or the riches we gather. As I lit the fire that consumed your flesh, I looked upon the faces of the people who had gathered to pay their last respects, and I saw that this was true.

We often did not speak much, but we did not need to. We communicated. As I looked into your eyes in the hospital, I knew you were going to die, and I knew you knew it as well. I promised that everything would be okay, and I will keep this promise.

Rajiv at RajivChopra

 

 

Confessions: Mismatching Socks and My Deepest Longing

She doesn’t look for her keys before leaving the house. When you meet her as planned, she’s on time. Out of the car bounds an active kid, shirt ironed, as his mother materializes with a rock of a baby in an easy arm. Of course Mom’s groomed. When did she have time to paint those nails? She greets you with eyes and a smile that say she pulled off a restful night and she’s good to go.

And then there’s me.

Last month on the way out to the park, I realized my socks didn’t match. I had grabbed the white one and the checkered brown from separate piles off the tired path out of bed. I didn’t want to go back upstairs so I shrugged and drove off. The disinterest in the impression I make in public is an offshoot of my young, willful self. I was known for the different-colored socks in junior high – usually one red, the other purple. didn’t see why they had to match. So the asymmetry this time wasn’t so crazy of me, only I am thirty years older. I plainly looked more off than like a trendsetter. The women I know match – even purse to outfit.

And here I am, one of those days. My plans, my body, my emotions don’t seem to…work. I’m a Hyundai from the 70s. Dang ignition’s sluggish and the car gets temperamental when she’s finally on the road. Why the overcast view of the week ahead, the brooding storm clouds in my spirit? My son’s laughter makes its way to me through a thick wall of emotional static. I want to really see him but need to clear my circuits. I pry loose the helpless confession. Discontent and fear. Not sure which wins out but there they are, wreaking havoc. I wish this were different, wish that came easier – and I fear they won’t. I redesign my life in my head.

The nerve. How many people wouldn’t jump for this life? But hold on. Can we say this? Can we compare lives like we do houses? We don’t know all the stuff that goes on in a home, in human hearts. We all have closets we keep shut, some locked. Apparently Superman wasn’t so special – some of us have x-ray vision too. Last week someone who had been very kind and friendly to my family decided I was too imperfect for her and her circle. The ax fell from nowhere. I’d had no inkling I had been under scrutiny, especially because I had not seen her at all this year until a week before she wielded her hatchet. I had never uttered a bad word about her or anyone we knew. In any case, I somehow wasn’t good enough for her. Well Super Woman, here’s some more ammunition for you. Days like this, I in fact do remember my textbook Christian answers. I’ve taught the Bible. I know who I am and Whose I am. And I still feel like a failure, precisely because I know better. It’s not low self-esteem. I believe we are all full of ego. Why is compassion something we have to work on? “Love your neighbor as yourself” is one commandment, not two. We are told to love others as seriously as we take our own needs. If only I were more grateful, really grateful for all I have and for those who love and need me. I could disable the discontent. I am responsible for the perspective I take and how I respond when life seems to move against the grain of my hopes. I ache in my fallenness.

I’ve thought hard, blogging the past year, about what keeps us shuffling forward on the journey. Hope. Without it, tomorrow is nothing and closes in on today. I disagree that love is man’s greatest longing. Unless you’re Daddy Warbucks, all your love for me won’t keep food on my table and put my son through college. Hope is the picture you paint in your head of yourself and those you cherish in a better place. Ironically, hope is what drives you in your plans to kill yourself. Yes, I dare say because I was there as a teen. Bottomed out, you are so miserable you trust that anything will be better than where you are. What gets us through our daily fears is the hope of a good living, a happy family, improved health. You keep on through another round of chemo, holding on to the brighter picture ahead. But it’s a deeper kind of hope we nurse. Assurance of redemption, that our sighs and disappointments will not merely lead out to fresh air that makes the vault of our past feel like a bad dream. But that we will one day see – whether in this life or the next – the storyline behind our sufferings. We want to see the writing on the walls of our despair, know that we haven’t lived senseless years. We pray God or whatever we trust in will make right the wrongs, show mercy for our transgressions and vindicate us where we suffer. I hate waste, of time especially, and remind myself of the truth that’s found its way as a popular aphorism. I don’t want to waste my sufferings. I listen for the lessons they have for me. Onward and upward? My God makes this possible because He wastes nothing.