“Actualy, we’re Korean!”

Leslie is a friend who, along with her family, has been very generous to our family over the past few years.  She agreed to let me post the following story which she originally shared on her Facebook page.  I share it here with no commentary except to express my gratitude to Leslie and other friends whose stories help me understand a little more what the world feels like from another’s perspective.

“Hey, you’re Chinese!”

Our family of four had just left the house on our way to dinner.  Four young white boys were strolling leisurely down the alley.  As our car slowly approached, they made barely enough room for us to drive by.  As we did, one said loudly, “Hey, you’re Chinese!”  While my husband Mike kept driving forward, I immediately rolled down my window and replied, “No, actually, we’re Korean!”  Then one of the boys took the ball he was holding and threw it towards our car.  We were too far forward and his arm was too weak to place the ball anywhere near us, but the intent was clear.  While Mike kept driving forward, I tried to roll down my window, look back, even tried to get out of the car, etc.  Ball retrieved and thrown again.  I was ticked.  Mike calmly kept driving only stopping once briefly in response to my, “STOP!”  Mike: “Why?  What are you going to do?”  Me: “I don’t know, but I can’t just NOT do anything.  Maybe teach them some manners or see where they live or try to find the parents?”  Mike kept driving.  I kept being ticked.

What to do in that situation?  They were probably only 8 to 10 years old.  Being a quarter of a century older and wiser didn’t seem to affect my reaction.  In fact, as we continued driving, I had to fight back tears and even say to myself, Think happy thoughts. Instead, I thought of first grade in West Virginia when some kid called me Chinese.  My friend, Ellen Wheeler, was so mad she told the teacher, Mrs. Morrison, who was navigating how to handle this situation since I was probably the first Asian kid she taught.  Even some 6 year olds, like sweet Ellen did, know better.  But then again, many do not.  I thought again of 2nd grade when a cute 3rd grader’s friend also called me Chinese and made the usual “ching chong” sounds.  I have a bad memory, but these and many others are burned in my old, forgetful head with much clarity.

My darling children will be teased, hurt, made to feel less than, and there is absolutely nothing I can do.

It’s not just that the incident unearthed childhood wounds.  I could say that last night’s sleep deprivation was making me emotional to an extreme today.  It’s more likely the fact that my precious and impressionable 5 year old and my adorable and mimicking almost 3 year old were in the back seat to witness it all.  Poor Ethan had to hear another mom speech about ignorance, people making mistakes/poor decisions, how you are not to throw things at people no matter what, do not tease, etc.  But what might be most responsible for the tears and allowing prepubescent kids to upset me so much was the fact that I know it is inevitable that my darling children will be teased, hurt, made to feel less than, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about that fact.  I cannot protect them from the cruelty of life.  I will not be able to stand in front of them and take every bullet of pain no matter how much I would want to or how hard I try.  All I can do is love them and give them the tools to wear their own bullet-proof vest or the means to heal from those shots that eventually penetrate, because they will.  And they will sting, hurt and wound.

Ignorance is everywhere, in the hills of West Virginia and the streets of Chicago.  Human nature as well.  But I do believe that being where we are (the city, a diverse church, our neighborhood school) will provide opportunities to broaden our children’s horizons so that hopefully they will not be the kids who throw stones.  Earlier this same day, I had the privilege of helping to shower a mother-to-be.  The room was filled with friends and family of different races who touchingly shared the beauty of Anna and the fortune of her son who will no doubt be raised in abundant love.  I cried happy tears in celebration of who she is and who her biracial child will grow up to be under such direction and care.  It was a stark contrast to what I experienced just a few hours later.

Black hair and small dark brown eyes are just as lovely as blonde hair or black skin.

We continued on to Cho Sun Ok, ate a delicious Korean dinner, and were surrounded by a room busting of Asians.  The boys gobbled down mandoo, chadolgui, and little Connor even ate several bites of the spicy kimchi bokumbap.  For some reason, seeing him inhale kimchi made me so proud.  Good food and ice cream for dessert helped diffuse the anger.  Those kids in the alley are probably decent kids.  Contrary to my desire to label them as bad, ignorant, and even sheltered rich white boys, they are probably not.  After all, I’ve seen my “perfect” children tease and make poor decisions, too.  Instead, I have to remind myself that there is very little to separate us in the mistakes that we make.  Instead, I threw in one more mom speech before bedtime about how God created us differently and those differences are not to be objects of ridicule but rather beauty, that black hair and small dark brown eyes are just as lovely as blonde hair or black skin.  I’m thankful that Ethan and Connor do and will have friends of all kinds, races, socio-economic statuses, languages, etc.  I’m also thankful that I’m married to a calm, rational man who can counter my urges to get out of the car and whoop some ass.

Common Threads

In the almost 12 years we’ve been married, Maggie has had quite a few different jobs.  Each of these jobs and their incomes has benefited us significantly; in the early days  hers was the primary income while I was in graduate school.  Income hasn’t been the only benefit from Maggie’s assortment of jobs: she regularly brought home books for me while at Christianity Today; I was introduced to the realities of suburban poverty and those serving the hidden poor through her case management at Outreach Community Ministries; these days we are eating very well as a result of all Maggie is learning at her two part-time cooking jobs at The Chopping Block and Common Threads.

Teaching about culture and cuisine before beginning to cook.

Last Wednesday I joined Maggie’s team of volunteers and helped with the cooking class she teaches as a Chef Instructor for Common Threads.  Her eager class is made up of Chicago Public School students from a South Side elementary school. There are a lot of smart people working to support CPS students in Chicago and it seems like Common Threads is doing their small part to contribute to these students’ success.

Some final thoughts from the chef after enjoying a homemade meal.

Each week the students in Maggie’s class learn a few things about a different country and then cook a healthy meal from that country.  And they really cook: knives, flames, the whole deal.  At the end of the semester the students receive a cookbook of all of the recipes they’ve cooked.

Seeing Maggie in her element- teaching, cooking, organizing -was a gift and I’m glad to know she gets to work a job like this.  I’m also glad to know that these students have such a terrific chef instructor!

thanks for making chicago feel like home

IMG_3339This photo was taken on May 10, 2008, the day of our move from Glen Ellyn to Chicago, a move that has highlighted the difference 25 miles can make.  The median income of our former suburb was almost $75,000 while our new neighborhood, Logan Square, sits just above $36,000.  Another noticeable change: Glen Ellyn is 87% White while Logan Square is predominately Hispanic.

Despite these differences, much about our lives remains the same.  We still take walks around our neighborhood, though we are now three and the walks include a stroller.  And we still enjoy hosting people in our home and eating summertime dinners in the backyard.

Our year in the city has been fantastic.  Not always good or easy of course, but definitely a wonderful experience and one we look forward to continuing.  It will still be a while before we can claim Chicago as our own, but after one year we’re beginning to get a taste of the city being  home.

At some point I’d like to reflect on this past year in more detail.  I’ve moved enough times in my 31 years to know that it’s often the first year or so of being in a new place that allows for some of the most interesting observations.  Being an outsider has plenty of drawbacks but it does allow a unique perspective.

For now I’d like to simply thank those who have helped Chicago begin to feel like home.  We’ve shared meals in friends’ homes, had enthusiastic help unloading our moving truck, been taken to favorite restaurants, been immensely supported through Eliot’s adoption, hung out with neighbors in the backyard, and been welcomed into an amazing church family.  For all of these things and much more, thank you.

what adoption is showing me about good friday

img_54761Late last week we received our Foster Home license from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.  In order to adopt a child in Illinois we have to be licensed as foster parents, so it was pretty significant to get this piece of paper in the mail.  The main criteria for this license was the completion of our home study.  We’d heard from a few people that the home study can be fairly challenging as the social worker asks about issues related to family and marriage.  Someone told us their home study process was like having a stranger hang out in their bedroom!  This certainly wasn’t our experience at all.  Either we had a super kind social worker or we’re just used to being introspective about the kinds of things he asked about.  Regardless, the home study shouldn’t deter anyone from considering adoption.

We arrived at this late stage of the adoption process quicker than most because it seemed we may be a good fit with a particular birth mother.  Because we want to completely respect this mother and the complex and sensitive decisions she is making, I’ve not been at liberty to share much about this situation on the blog.  And that’s how it needs to stay for now.

Here’s what I can share: Waiting is hard!  As we have thought, prayed, and talked about this baby we have continually been reminded of our powerlessness.  There is nothing we can do except to wait for this birth mother, or another birth mother in the future, to make some difficult decisions.  We’re aware that our anxiety must pale in comparison to those mothers who are choosing adoption.  Even so, it’s been hard to know how to experience these past few weeks as the emotions we’re feeling are many.

Interestingly enough, this season of waiting and wondering has coincided almost perfectly with Lent.  It’s felt enormously appropriate to experience this process during a time of fasting and reflection.  And now it’s Good Friday and I’m anticipating Easter Sunday more viscerally than ever.  Reading through the crucifixion accounts in the Gospels this week, it’s been surprisingly easy to feel something of the loss and confusion experienced by Jesus’ friends and family at his death.  I too am ready for resolution.

Whether or not you share my faith in the resurrected Jesus, I wish you an Easter weekend filled with genuine and beautiful hope.  Adoption is teaching me a lot about that too!  Happy Easter.

cold (doesn’t always) = bad

There are plenty of irksome aspects to the current cold snap we’re experiencing in Chicago, but this morning Maggie and I experienced a few silver linings.

After dropping her off at the Kedzie Metra stop at 6:30, Maggie called to say that the train hadn’t arrived.  The -15 degree temps made this a problem.  When I returned to the stop I found Maggie crammed into an SUV with her tribe of fellow commuters.  They were bonding.  Maggie and another guy got in our car and tried to figure out what to do.  Maggie really needed to get to the office, so she asked a commuter who had decided to drive to work if she could ride with him.  He gladly gave her a lift, driving out of his way to deliver her right to the office door.

I gave the other guy a ride back to his apartment.  On the way we figured out that he used to attend our church and now is a part of Willow Creek Chicago with his wife.  Not only that, but he’s pretty close with a friend of mine from New Community.  We traded phone numbers and plan to meet up for drinks with our wives in the near future.

Later in the morning I stopped by the New Community Warming Center.  Libby, the center’s director decided to remain open during the night to provide a safe and warm place for some homeless folks to spend the night.  She told me how impressed she was by the many folks who volunteered to help out last minute in order to keep the Warming Center open during the night.  They will be open tonight as well and then the weather warms up enough for the center to return to its normal hours.

Again, there are things about the extra-cold weather that are a pain.  But there have been these pleasant surprises as well.  Has the chilly weather (for those of you experiencing it) led to any unexpected experiences for you?