Lessons from My 30s

I learned not to expect anything from anyone – not even my amazing friends – but to give. People have their own burdens. 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 realize 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 my 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 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 and in her stead emerged 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 just 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’s bare! Thank God for Winter Clearance. With the help of earrings and a top that doesn’t hang on me as 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, and how relationships and my response to life affect me.

I’ve developed a compassion entirely alien to my nature and temperament. It’s hard to go through near-death training and come out with no empathy for those who suffer. One step forward for every 2 or 3 in reverse has made it one dogged climb against a steady rain of impossible setbacks.. 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, coming to see just how deeply it runs beneath my upsets.

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

Why I Run

You might run for the thrill. You sail into the zone, keep on like you’re under a spell. I wish it came so naturally to me, wish these limbs would move with knowing.

I run because I was terrible at it. And I’m less terrible the more I do it. I run to silence the aspiration for what’s easy. To teach my body to endure, hold on just a little longer. I run to meet my weaker self head on – conquer her on strong legs Treadmill2so I limp less under my load. I sprint for the fullness of being alive because I often forget how to live. I remember the power of simplicity. I jog to find my pace and cadence. I run to take ownership of myself and to stretch my reserve. I run to claim every day that is mine.

I run because good enough isn’t good enough.

 

See me wrestle? Why I Sweat

 

The Invisible Woman

PleaseLookMomThough Please Look After Mom was an international bestseller by a South Korean novelist, I didn’t care for the lackluster title or the parts that were overstated. But the well-painted portrait of a mother who goes missing redeemed the read plenty. She is a prototype of wife and mother from every culture since the dawn of time. We see the heart of the invisible woman.

So-nyo, an elderly mother of four grown children, vanishes in the Seoul subways. Her husband hurries ahead in the crowd, characteristically impatient, and in a moment of disbelief the subway door shuts their hands apart, pulling the car away with him. The novel is a rotary of voices – of the children and husband who search for her in despair while thinking back in shame at the woman they realize they had never seen.

Hyong-chol, the eldest child, thinks back on the time his father brought into their village shack a woman to live with him, with the family. Naturally, So-nyo left the house. Trying to buy her way into the hearts of the kids, the Other Woman carefully packed their lunch, even to top it with the fried egg, then a luxury. Hyong-chol not only didn’t eat it, but made his siblings bury their lunchbox. The Other Woman went on to buy them new containers that kept their rice warm. The son refused to renounce the food strike.

   Mom came to school to find him.  It was about ten days after the woman had come to live with them.
   “Mom!” Tears spilled from his eyes.
   Mom led him to the hill behind the school. She pulled up the legs of his pants to reveal his smooth calves, grabbed a switch, and hit them.
   “Why aren’t you eating? Did you think I would be happy if you didn’t eat?”
   Mom’s thrashing was harsh. He had been upset that his siblings weren’t listening to him, and now he couldn’t understand why Mom was whipping him. His heart brimmed with resentment. He didn’t know why she was so angry.
   “Are you going to take your lunch? Are you?”
   “No!”
   …Instead of running away, he stood still, silent, and suffered her blows.
   “Even now?”
   The redness bloomed into blood on his calves.
   “Even now!” he yelled.
   Finally, Mom tossed the switch away. “God, you brat! Hyong-chol!” she said, embracing him and bursting into sobs. Eventually, she stopped, and tried to persuade him. He had to eat, she said, no matter who cooked the meals.

Even in the second reading, my eyes smarted. I am not endorsing child abuse, of course. But my heart swelled with understanding of So-nyo’s pain and the desperate attempt of a mother to get her child to eat – though it meant that she let Another Woman feed him. In one of the most telling moments in human drama, embracing insult to injury, a mother physically tries to force her son to an act that reinforces his father’s galling unfaithfulness. She swallows her dignity for the well-being of her child.

So-nyo chooses to go under. I’m not praising her for laying down as a doormat beneath the man she had served with nothing but devotion. In fact, she returns home to chase him and the Woman out of her house. But part of the attraction the book holds for the reader is that So-nyo seems to be Everyone’s Mom. Please allow the sweeping generalization that bears exceptions. The protagonist was so recognizable: I saw a great deal of my own mother in her and could pull up a good many other moms and grandmothers who could have replaced her name. Hers is a life of sacrifice from the day she marries and her self-renunciation, a silent one. Not once does she complain – I think because it doesn’t occur to her to. Interestingly, I don’t recall her ever saying, “I love you” to any of her kids. Calloused hands freeze over while washing the offerings of the garden, the clothes, the dishes in the winter water. Unflagging fingers pickle food for the seasons ahead while dancing over pots and fire as they contrive the next meal. In fact, she has an awful lot in common with the women out of Little House on the Prairie. In reading aloud some of the stories to my son and husband last year, I tried to figure out what was so familiar about the Prairie series when my life has been so unworthily comfortable by comparison. It hit me one day that the untiring work of the parents, especially of the mothers, mirrored the call to unsung exertion that many Asian women answer when they have children. But this isn’t ethnocentrism. Many, across time and culture, can see So-nyo in our own mother, aunt, neighbor, or grandmother. She is not attractive, and goes about with a towel over her eyes for the sweat. She is no model but certainly beautiful. She has always been there for her family, receives her husband with ready food when he slinks back from an entire season of idle adultery. But she is missing from the family radar. When she actually disappears, the family unravels both individually and as a unit.

Two years ago, I asked a friend if he thought he appreciated his mother who had raised five boys. He didn’t begin to, he answered, until he had his own. And pointing to my boy, added that Tennyson will come nowhere near appreciating the cooking let alone the rest of it until he himself becomes a father. After having my own family, I have nursed shame for not having helped my mother enough in the long immigrant years she juggled work, cooking, and housekeeping, all the while somehow keeping present and active in my schooling. In my elementary years, Mom sewed for the garment factory. One time, flying off the lightning force of the Singer machine, the whole needle sank into her finger. I remember her rushing to the doctor, trying to cup the dripping blood with the other hand. The pain did not slow her down in the many things her hand had to touch: the needle’s remained to this day. We can never thank Mom enough. Because by the time you’re a parent who sees your mother’s hands in your own labor, your own family becomes priority. Grace runs down – not up. The love of a mother will outdo and outpace her child’s, and the debt you owe her is one you pay forward.

Finger Injury and A Philosophy of Mishaps

P1030734Yesterday morning, I was wrestling my son when, as I was about to call it a wrap, he kneed me in a flash that remains a blur and my left finger burned tortuously. I know the neighbors heard me scream. At the risk of downplaying or demystifying the initiation into motherhood called birthing, I have to say it hurt more than it did bringing Tennyson into the world drug-free. I didn’t scream like that then. When I was able to open my eyes and uncurl from the fetal position yesterday, I saw blood had pooled instantly at the base of the nail. I won’t belabor the pain, the swelling, what the lack of circulation did to the hand but after a day at the doctor’s and X-Ray at Urgent Care, I learned the finger’s not broken. Just a very bad sprain that will take up to six weeks.

Those who’ve been following me a while should not be surprised that I’d like to take the occasion to contemplate a philosophy of mishaps.

Two voices have been trying to talk over one another in my head. Yesterday, I was everything from frustrated to worried and angry. Mostly frustrated. What is it about me that attracts accidents and physical impediments? Sheer, simple clumsiness? If you missed the Car Accident – in the Garage tale, here it is. Some hopes and plans for the upcoming months are now delayed. So disappointing that I must wait until I’m whole again. But the steady murmur that usually accompanies me won out today: on what gumption do I wake every morning expecting the day to unfurl my way like a red carpet? I often carry the awareness that everything can change any moment. A drunk behind the wheel can wipe out my family or some freak circumstance leave my son fatherless in less time than it takes to order take-out. I am not in control. So even through rough days, I live in the preciousness of the moment and gratitude for everything I have, all gifts.

P1030739I want to grumble. It’ll serve me well to lay off the typing for a bit – another displeasure, as I can’t not write for long. My piano finger! In keeping with the broad definition of ambidexterity, I favor my left for a lot of tasks. The most unpalatable part has been having to slow down the mad speed that I rush toward one thing to the next with. The dishes, the showering, the doing everything with 1.25 hands. But this too, shall pass. I’ll take it – over something permanent or chemo.

There really wasn’t a choice: I had to cut loose the pair of wedding rings. They had choked off the blood supply and were bottlenecking the finger that only kept ballooning. Peter had realized something had to be done about the rings or the finger – he was supportive, though bummed. I was SAD when they were cut apart in Urgent Care!

Nine years since the engagement, and my finger’s naked again. Honey, when I’m healed, I’ll need a new ring.

P1030760

Technology: The Dark Side of Efficiency, Finale

Of course we don’t feel drugged when cruising in cyberspace or playing a video game. Nor am I saying schools are not teaching history or providing solid language arts. I’m speaking of the proverbial frog in the water that’s getting unnoticeably hot. When kids go full throttle in all things virtual, it fosters a habit of the mind, affects how hospitable their brain grows to the rigors of reasoning that enables ease of articulation. Inhospitality in this case makes for inefficient learning, academic ill ease. Because you just can’t get the results in some things but through the old-fashioned road of exertion. How do you build muscle? Strength? There is no shortcut for the consistency of an hour’s sweat, four times a week. The sweat is proof of progress. The body can’t fool itself, so why do we think any differently of the developing mind? It is one thing to welcome structural and organizational timesavers in teaching and even in methodology. The features of Gmail alone can help streamline teaching beautifully. I would love to learn more ways to harness both wired and wireless power to facilitate instruction. It is a different story, though, when it comes to content and the discipline of the mind, what we expose eyes and brains to on a regular basis. Machines can’t think for us, at least in all the shades and emotional context the human brain functions. Quality books challenge the mind to hold something deep and expansive, along with sophisticated syntax and diction. We let Johnny off the hook in some tasks that require straightforward verbal and auditory attention. But I’ve always wondered to what extent we ourselves have been creating visual learners hooked on pictures that speak the 1000 words they’re becoming less capable of producing. Have we written off trained hypersensitivity to visual stimulation as a matter of learning style?

I am quite happy with my electricity and computer. And I don’t have muscle enough to survive on the prairie. For sure, technology has enhanced how broadly we communicate, relate, and learn. But I fear, at a price. The practice of waiting characterized life on the prairie. Season into season, the kids grew up hoping, anticipating, predicting things about the crop they had helped sow that was to be their very survival and nourishment. What is it that today’s youth have to wait for? Given over to machines in play and study, kids could end up paying for the efficiency we buy into with a laziness of the mind. We underestimate what our children are capable of, both the responsibilities they should bear and the skills they can apply themselves to. It is the Tiger Mom’s question I circle back to, the line I at times can’t easily make out between pushing too hard and encouraging too little.

Dance and Marriage: Metaphors

Dance. Marriage. They serve each other as metaphors.

The Story in the Dance
Part of the charm swing dancing held for me in my early California days was its expression of manhood and womanhood. I noticed right away that it anchored men in their responsibility
1) to initiate the relationship (from the sweet, genteel May I have this dance? still extant in ballrooms) 2) to lead his partner gently through to the end.

I could slide out to the floor knowing virtually nothing of the steps the song calls for, but ended up looking like a queen when I allowed myself to lean into the cues of my skillful partner. When I relaxed under his control, the dance turned out smooth, fun, elegant. He turned my wrist, knowing where he wanted to take me in the next part of the song, and my feet somehow followed. In strong, watchful arms, I even did aerials. I flew. When he was insensitive, busy enjoying himself; or plain clumsy, I got injured. On my part, I could usually attempt only moves my partner knew. No matter that I had just learned some cool steps in a class if he didn’t allow me to showcase them. The night I met my husband, he made room in the dance for me to spin and sashay hips in a way not usually done in Swing, blending my elaboration into his choreography. The times I tensed with other men, especially in the exasperated judgment that they didn’t know what they were doing, we went out of sync and lost cadence and harmony. Which meant that oddly, yes, when I swallowed the impatience and went along with the artless motions of a dud of a dancer, we actually ended up looking pretty okay as a couple. He could take lessons, and come back new and improved. But as long as he was a botch-up all I could do to salvage us in that dance was to go along.

The Story in the Marriage
The longer you stay married, the more you experience the ways you can keep in step with one another and enjoy the music or slip into a dysfunctional waltz where you keep tripping your partner: pull or push too hard, lead without seeing the other, or refuse to follow in trust. It really is a holistic journey, so simple we miss it. All a dance is, is a pattern. The Lindy, 123 and 4, 567 and 8. Repeat. It is math in music. A healthy relationship builds on a pattern of ingenuous courtesy. You keep in tune to each other’s wishes.

The video was taken at our wedding reception which we held at the ballroom where we had met. We couldn’t run for you the original music from the reception for copyright issues, nor could we shorten it readily so if you don’t have two minutes, please don’t bother seeing it through.

I’m clearly no dancer. Peter is a different story. It was his impromptu idea at the wedding celebration that we enact how he’d approached me that fateful night we danced as strangers. So I stood again on the very spot where he’d first asked me

to dance.

Postscript
I just realized it was today in May, nine years ago, that we met.  Happy Anniversary, Honey. Sorry I kept talking about dancing with other guys.

Technology: The Dark Side of Efficiency, Part 4

Will kids accustomed to virtual magic tricks readily invite self-discipline, the handmaid of hard work? We express ourself through the click of likes and flurry of fingers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (not saying I object to your liking this post). The breeziness with which kids are talking online from a progressively younger age will wear on their ability to articulate themselves on important matters. To frame an opinion, analysis, insight on literature, politics, faith. Navigating gizmos well does not mean they will be unable to communicate effectively. But obviously, times have changed.

P1030705Life is far different today from the Prairie Days when, sun-up to sun-down, physical exertion and problem-solving called upon both young and old. Though limited schooling often gave way to marriage or a trade in the pioneer days, when children did study they did not read and write clipped thoughts. Those able to pursue an education learned proper grammar and speech, were taught to recite the history of their nation so they could understand their place in the world, joined the Great Conversation of literature. That is, students took in and engaged written works that were a complete thought. Edith Schaeffer has said, “They need to love books, for books are the basis of literature, composition, history, world events, vocabulary, and everything else.”  There was an organic wholeness to the process of formal learning, of building the stamina called for in the training of the mind. Students did not have the option of flipping channels, websites, or even their own book pages every 30 seconds, dissatisfied with pictures or content that did not titillate. Rather than take the time to sit and drink in great works, more and more postmodern kids are looking to quench their thirst for visual excitement. The next hit. We don’t read LOTR and indulge our imagination anymore. We watch the epic and let the screen tell us what Middle-earth looked like. With each generation becoming literally more restless from the luxurious feast of options, how will it develop the patience needed to examine, ponder, question, argue, reason?

In his keen social commentary Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman teases out the effects of television viewing on the mind. In the briefest window of time, you can go from a news segment to a commercial to a soap opera, each presentation itself spliced by dizzying action, noise, and change of scenes. The watching brain gets a string of disjointed messages that remain incoherent together. Postman asserts that the problem of television is not what we watch but that we do. I suggest that with the infinite number of channels procurable on YouTube alone now, not to mention the 3-D magnetism of so-called kids’ movies, what the mind experiences is like the discrete, disconnected, visual provocation of the TV, on amphetamines.

20 Things I Consider Sacred: Part 4

Music
Music is heaven-borne. Was God’s idea. God’s people sung their prayers through the Old Testament, though they did not have to. And they sang a new song before the throne…Revelation 14:3. Music will crown the triumph of restoration, vindication, renewal in heaven.

Color
Imagine there were no such thing. So we couldn’t even paint. Your house and office is straight white; your neighborhood devoid of color, the trees blank against a blank sky.  We live in color but often don’t even think about it. Every color bears its own purpose and energy. Color therapists use green to revitalize the ill. Green in food helps rejuvenate and cleanse the body. When the sun stains the sky in a particularly spectacular way, I point out the canvas of God’s painting to my son. A woman recently shared with me some challenges she was facing, I reminded her to look at or listen to something beautiful because beauty is healing. Seasoned in faith and living, she didn’t need preachy but encouragement to refresh her spirit and senses with the glorious things that surround. She took time to take in her garden.

Words
Words to others. With these we can give someone wings or clip them.

Will
Essentially, self-talk. People rising from their cancer bed. Or dying before resurrecting to pummel themselves through the finish line. Or choosing fruit over the chocolate bar whispering seduction. With our self-talk we keep on or give up. Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over…every living creature that moves on the ground. Genesis 1.28. This call is also the unique ability of man in all of creation to subdue himself. When we tame the beast within and nourish our mind with good words and pictures, the body flourishes. There is no thought that does not produce a biochemical reaction that affects us physically.

Prayer
Words we lift to heaven.  They rise from depths of hope, longing, fear, joy and move the hand of God.

There are people limited in the use of of their senses.  But there is a power available to those who are forced to compensate for the inability to see or hear, a power that’s also sacred. I could manage all of these parts of my life better. Some, I am outright terrible at enjoying and well could have named this series 20 Blessings I Take for Granted. Perhaps it’s best to work on sinking more sweetly into a few, for starters.

Technology: The Dark Side of Efficiency, Part 3

angry_birdIn my lifetime, global tech advancement turned a corner, and a sharp one at that. For all their benefits, the microwave, internet, multipurpose cell phone have accelerated the pace of living. When I was in elementary school, a digital Hello Kitty watch was hot stuff. Today, I sight at least 3 kids out of 5 with an iSomething in their hand. Only, they’re not the ones really holding the machine. It is the kids who are held captive by their tablet, their iPOD. As technology serves our demand for instant amusement and excitement, our dependency grows.  With the computer literally shrinking, more compact and portable every year, our minimachines ironically are not an accessory but a necessity. Left unchecked, the reliance has the potential of tailspinning into an addiction. The South Korean government is scrambling toward yet another law to constrain the number of hours kids under 16 can play virtual games within a 24-hour period. The nation whose youth has been known for its academic ambitions is buckling under the weight of her children’s virtual obsessions. I can only imagine how the typical gaming brain of the Korean student has rewired. It has become a product of clicking for instant gratification, not of laboring to produce something deep, meaningful, or imaginative.

As a former teacher in the public schools, I know enjoyment enables and enhances learning. But the world of video gaming has redefined fun. Our young ones are not inherently different from kids two hundred years ago. Our physical apparatus has not changed. The parenting, the environmental influences we watchdog or don’t, condition our children’s preferences. So, at least from observing my own son, it seems to me kids still can get quite a kick out of the incarnations they can summon out of a cardboard box – were it not for the etoys readily put in front of them.

Preoccupation in the virtual sphere can redefine not only amusement but reality.  How many of us believe it’s healthy to keep lost in a world of fantasy? The transfixed gamer not only loses time and opportunity to engage the real world and people, but becomes enamored with a place that does not exist in nature and with powers he in fact does not have. The gamer enjoys the delusionary high of being able to make cool things happen quickly and easily – whenever he wants. It is the omnipotence of the Hero who’s simply changed costume every decade, the Lone Ranger, Superman, Ninja Turtles, the Incredibles: we love being able to manipulate boundaries, play God. Where we are not careful, we could be nurturing impatience and restlessness of character and thought in our children.

Technology: The Dark Side of Efficiency, Part 2

A friend called herself lazy in telling me she replaced her laptop with her mobile because her phone finishes her word for her as she types. I’d say that’s being efficient. But it is a fuzzy line between efficiency and laziness, isn’t it? We are today surrounded by machines dedicated to saving us time because we really are so busy. I, notoriously so. My husband has come to see I honestly don’t have a New York Minute. So if you offer me something to maximize my time, I’m in. But I wonder about the aggregate impact of a tech-dependent culture on our kids’ capacity to learn. How will children who’re used to commanding entertainment and sensory incitement at the touch of a button grow up to embrace endeavors that require simple patience and dogged commitment?

The boundless places we can go and things we can do in cyberspace are technology’s version of fast food. Speedy, convenient, satisfying service. Our powers on the internet embody the antithesis of what took time to clean, chop, simmer properly for health’s sake. Only there is no hassle of a drive-thru, the kids are behind the dash, and for many of them, it’s free. Not unlike the sugar they prefer over whole foods, their online fun is a saccharin pleasure. The body becomes sedentary, the mind grows numb. Antisocial Networking, a 2010 NY Times article by Hilary Stout, mentions kindergarteners buried in their technological fixations during playdates. In the knowledge that sensory experiences grow and direct cognitive neural pathways, researchers believe that brains will be rewired. What are the implications for learning in our tech-crazed culture?