Lament on the First Day of Spring

The first day of spring was the color of dust and stone this year. That morning, I backed our minivan out of the garage under a continuous cloud stretched across the sky, a barrier between us and the warmth of the sun. The skin around my eyes was puffy and pressed against the plastic rims of my glasses like pillows, reminding me how turbulent the last night of winter was.  Despite the mercies of a new morning, I woke in the aftermath of my own storm. There was wreckage to clean up, things to mend.

I drove my daughter to preschool and looked forward to being back at home in an empty house. Outside our window, we passed the same unremarkable strip malls we pass every time we go this route. Their homogenous messages blurred into one. We passed beige fields and rows of trees that remain thin and naked, their branches reaching to the sky like bitter fingers.

Don’t they know it’s the first day of spring?

It’s easy for me find beauty in shades of gray and layers of fog.  I am not afraid of the melancholy of cloudy days, of bare brown tree limbs, or the visible effects of a long winter.  

But today, all I see is the litter of plastic bags tangled among the tree trunks. 

Have there always been so many?

There’s trash wrapped around the foundation of almost every tree I see. The grief I feel wraps around me as well.

I’ve been passionate about racial reconciliation for years, but engaging in it exhausts me. Since I was a little girl, I’ve thought about the way cultures collide. I’ve seen the effects of those collisions up close.  I’ve lived them.  My own body feels like a collision of worlds, of ethnicities and cultures, of the East and the West, of racial distinctions made with the intention to separate and classify. If I try to ignore racial reconciliation, I attempt to ignore myself.

But engaging in it is not a calling that makes me feel alive. There’s no arriving or hustling that fits into the work of it. My heart beats faster for it, but it’s lonely and heartbreaking and I have no choice but to face it.

Racial reconciliation isn’t something anyone in the church should be able to choose to be apathetic to. And yet, there are many who believe they don’t have to engage because they aren’t feeling it and weren’t born facing it. It’s a flat-out privilege for anyone to say they aren’t feeling itand it’s not their thing.

I wonder how many people weren’t feeling it as they watched their neighbors leave homes with a suitcase of belongings and a yellow star pinned onto their clothes.

Don’t they know we’ve always belonged to one another?

The last couple of months, I was knee-deep in writing about racism for a project I was a part of.  I was hopeful at times, comforted and riled up as I honed in on Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation, but terrified to hope for anything in the world I know. Writing about such a huge topic with such a tiny and inadequate space for the words was daunting, and I came home from the library where I worked and cried often.

The lament I felt as I re-read books, found new ones and tried to write anything worth anything, felt as heavy and ridiculous as wearing a mink coat in the summer. I would rather not wear it. I would rather not be a person who wears a winter coat and tries to get others to wear one with me while they are trying to enjoy their ice cream.

We had a few unusually warm days this past winter. They were so warm that buds showed up on some of the trees in our backyard.  After the most recent tease, winter came back with a vengeance. I walked through our backyard covered in ice to marvel at the way winter has the power to silence things. It was eerily quiet but it felt like someone was laughing. The buds were completely frozen, their tender hope stopped cold.

Engaging in racial reconciliation as a woman of color in the world, and in evangelical circles today, feels like being a tender bud trying to survive Winter’s constant comebacks. There’s hope and there are new mercies every day, but there’s still so much silence and cold. When someone says they are scared to be too bold about racism for fear of scaring people away, we all know which people are the ones everyone is most worried about scaring away. What about those of us who are just trying to keep one bud alive in a world frozen with the power of winter?  

Isn’t anyone worried about scaring us away? 

Do they know how many times we’ve wanted to leave already? 

The calendar says that spring is here, but I still see the bags littered among bare trees.  I cannot ignore them. I refuse to ignore them.

Will anyone else notice the trash we’ve all left on the imago dei?  There’s wreckage to clean up. There are hearts that still need mending.  

My Mom’s Love Letter: Ojinguh over Fire


When I was a teenager living in the Midwest, I ate dried squid in the winter.  My mom would roast the ojinguh in our fireplace while cups of Swiss Miss hot cocoa grew cold waiting on a coffee table close by. Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus sat on our mantel above the fireplace where she took the dried squid flesh out of the flames and pulled off long, ragged strips resembling pale-yellow beef jerky. My parents, my sister, and me huddled together on the floor next to the fireplace, leaving the couch lonely. We eagerly gnawed on these strips, our teeth working hard on the tough texture to get to the chewy bursts of sweet and salty.

It was on the coldest nights of our midwestern winters when my mom would ask my dad to get a fire going with ojinguh on her mind. He obliged, putting aside whatever he was doing, the same way he almost responded to her requests. Squatting in front of our white-washed brick fireplace with the fire screen wide open, he placed new logs on the log pile and shifted the old ones around with a poker.

The smell of wood and ash mixed with an inescapable scent of burnt sealife took over the entire lower level of our home on nights like those. I love remembering those nights and the way my family of upbringing shared food. It wasn’t just the sharing of food I treasured. It was the language of love my mom spoke effortlessly, knitting our multi-cultural, bi-racial family together.

When my mom held a large squid in the fireplace, her eyes lit up with dancing flames. I could almost see the seaside vendors in her simultaneously-happy-yet-ever-lamenting eyes. They reflected the fire of hunger she held close no matter how the time, distance and understanding between then and now stretched. The same fire fueled her everyday desire to make sure my dad, sister and I were always more than full. It was this fire in her that packed my dad carefully-curated lunches every day for as long as I can remember. No one told her she was supposed to be a Proverbs 31 wife. She did it, because she knew what it was like to have nothing but the hope of a few seconds of warmth from someone else’s fire, and only the scent of what roasted over it to feed her empty stomach and aching heart.

Read the rest of this post over at SheLoves Magazine.

All the Pages

While she was still in Korea, our daughter went to a weekly playgroup with other kids like her, who were waiting for their forever families. When we came to bring her home, the adoption agency that had become part of her regular community gave us a little photo book with a cheerful yellow cover and English words and phrases spread throughout it like, “I love you” and “happy day.”  It’s full of pictures of her at playgroup playing with friends, enjoying Korean snacks and Korean toys. It’s a glimpse of her in her culture of birth before everything changed.

She loves to look at this book. Every so often, she will pull it off of the bookcase on the low shelf spot it keeps and pore over every page of it on repeat. Even though she is young and cannot fully comprehend or explain the loss she’s experienced, it’s clear that she still feels it, no matter how happy, brave and adjusted she’s become since. Early on, I was a little afraid to show her this book and other things that would remind her of life before us. For a few weeks, I put it on a high shelf behind other big books and looked at it when I was alone, thinking about what we would say when she looked through it and wondering what she would remember of it.

Eventually, we put the book out where she can see it and reach it and show interest on her terms. We look at the book and other pictures we have now and speak simply but honestly.  We don’t do this perfectly.  Sometimes I feel fear sneaking up on me and the desire to try and make sure she is happy and doesn’t have to face anything that reminds her of what she’s lost is strong. I have to push back against this. Again, and again, we see how imperative it is that we welcome her whole story. A story is incomplete without all the pages. In adoption and beyond, we must to learn to welcome our whole stories, or we risk missing out on growing in grace and knowing how deeply we are loved.


When she looks at the book, she says things like, “I want  go there. Can we go Korea ‘gain?  Together?”  She then lists each of our names and says she wants us all to be there. She naturally wants to make connections between the two worlds she has known in her short life while knowing that we aren’t going anywhere and that we are forever.

We tell her we want to go back there and yes, that we want to go back there together. Every chance we have, we try, however imperfectly, to tell her that what she grieves is worthy of the grief she feels, whenever and however she feels it.

In western Christian culture, we’ve been conditioned to hide sadness, cover up weakness and put a strong and cheerful face forward. We hide our grief for fear that others will mistake it for ingratitude.  We bury our lament before it’s finished because we’ve been told there’s an open window somewhere that we should be focusing on instead.  And yet, when I look at scripture, I see there is welcome space for these things. There are no time limits or cut-off dates placed over them.  Jeremiah does this beautifully in Lamentations 3.  While the chapter ends with hope, there’s nothing of platitude in his writing.  In Lamentations 3:19-24 (The Message), he writes:

“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
    the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
    the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
    and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
    He’s all I’ve got left.”

His sadness is spiritual; he meets with God and affirms the place of his hope in the very depth of it. The most beautiful art and poetry courageously rise from places of ash and loss, brokenness and grief.

I am learning from my daughter.  It’s impacting the way Matt and I parent all of our kids and the way we welcome our own stories with wholeness.  I watch my daughter’s small hands working together, one holding her playgroup picture book  steady while the other turns pages and urges her to remember who she was and who she is. I am learning in fresh ways that grief and joy can co-exist and work together. Like two hands from the same body, they work together to lead us to our one and only hope throughout every page of our story.