Changes Ahead

GG bridge

Me, Mike, Austin, Terrance, & Grace in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in March 2014.

The longer I live, the more I believe that the one thing you can count on in life is change.  Life changes. It is simply a fact.

Nonetheless, sometimes those changes catch you off guard and surprise you. And that’s what happened with the newest change coming up for our family.

The APNC of Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco contacted me a few months ago asking if I’d apply for their Associate Pastor position. While we loved the idea of living in the city, Mike and I just didn’t feel like it was the right timing for us, so I didn’t.  But when they contacted me again, asking if we might “just talk” and see where God leads, I felt like I had to at least have a conversation.  After all, what’s the harm in just talking?
The problem is, anyone who’s allowed room for the Holy Spirit to move in your life knows how much trouble she can cause!

The more we talked and the more we discerned together, the more it became clear that God was calling us to this ministry.  Even Mike, for whom this is horribly inconvenient having to take the bar again and find a new job, recognized that we couldn’t say no.
Once upon a time, a guy named Jonah said no and ended up in a big fish, so….

So, we are moving to San Francisco at the end of September.
We are, on the one hand, so so excited and happy. This city, this church, this ministry, there’s just so much to look forward to!
On the other hand, we are so so sad to be moving away from the friends we’ve met here in the Twin Cities and to be saying goodbye to the church that taught me what it means to love a congregation. For me, the thought of leaving The House of Hope breaks my heart over and over again. If we weren’t sure we were being called elsewhere, I couldn’t do it.

Here’s the letter the congregation received last week:

Dear Friends and Members of The House of Hope Presbyterian Church,
Sometimes new opportunities for ministry come find you even when you are not looking for them, and so with bittersweet feelings of both joy and sadness, I share the news that I have accepted a call to be the Associate Pastor for Community Formation at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, California. My work will begin there at the beginning of October, and my last Sunday at The House of Hope will be Sunday, September 14, 2014.

    I am blessed to have served as your Associate Pastor for the past four years. You have challenged, loved, and supported me.
    Not only did you welcome me, but you welcomed my family. Mike and I could not have asked for a more supportive and loving congregation to welcome us and our growing family. Saint Paul and The House of Hope will always hold a special place in our hearts. It is where Mike learned to be a lawyer and where I learned to love a congregation. It is where our family grew and will always be the birth place of our son, Austin. And above all, it is where God placed me to experience what it truly means to be a minister.
    Even as we are excited to begin a new phase in our lives; we are heartbroken that we cannot continue this journey with you all. Although God now leads us to different paths, I am thankful for this time at which our paths intersected.
    You are a congregation with so many gifts and so much to offer, and you are blessed with compassionate and capable leaders. I know that God will continue to transform this world through the faithfulness of this church.
    It has been an honor and a privilege to share in ministry with you all and to work with such an amazing team of colleagues. Thank you, so very much, for surrounding us with your love during these four amazing years.
    I look forward to being with you throughout this spring and summer, and I ask for your prayers during this time of transition for us all.
Faithfully yours,

Rev. Joann Haejong Lee

Liturgy used in United Theological Seminary’s service at the closing of an internship year says, “Ministries begin in anticipation, and when fulfilled, end in thankfulness.”  While my ministry at The House of Hope has not yet ended, that’s where I am, filled with thankfulness. Thankful for colleagues who became family. Thankful for a congregation’s love and trust. Thankful for these deep, abiding relationships. Thankful for this opportunity to have sojourned here in Saint Paul doing what I love. Thankful for all the growth and change that occurred while we were here.

Four years ago, when we crossed the border into Minnesota after our seven hour drive from Chicago, it was me, Mike, & Bailey in his Honda Accord. When we leave Minnesota, we go with two dogs, a baby, and hearts full of gratitude.

Traveling with a 2 month old…

Traveling with a two month old takes a lot of planning, but it is so worth it.

on flight

on a plane for the first time with baby A

Luckily, Austin slept for most of his flights to and from SFO except to wake and feed once or twice. On the way back, though, he had a huge diaper blow out  & managed to get poop on his clothes, his baby carrier, and somehow even my shirt! I wore Mike’s jacket most of the flight home, but at least he was otherwise quiet and pretty well-behaved!





Our first weekend we spent in the city of San Francisco.
Then, we spent the week in the South Bay staying with my bff Mannam’s family:
N D AHA D and A irene mannieThe following weekend, we drove up to Napa Valley for Dan & Annie’s wedding:
DSC_0716DSC_0698DSC_0765DSC_0770While we were in Napa, we visited the winery where Mike and I got engaged:
DSC_0787DSC_0793We also got to spend some time with Uncle Terrance and Auntie Grace before they flew home to LA after the wedding:
DSC_0818DSC_0796Then, we spent another almost-week with Mannam’s family in San Jose.
And on our last weekend (Thurs-Sun), we drove out to Tahoe for Jenny & Eric’s wedding where we stayed with 17 people in a beautiful home in Truckee:
Jeneric DSC_0845DSC_0855DSC_0858DSC_0861Being able to introduce Austin to so many family & friends was such a treat, and he was so spoiled, being held and loved on all trip long! We are so lucky.


group photo of everyone who stayed in the house together (photo cred to Mannam & Stephen Lee)

During these two weeks, Austin definitely grew and developed. He began holding his head up better and higher during tummy time. He got longer and chubbier, and he started social smiling regularly.
We had his 2 month check up when we got back and he was 12lbs 10 oz; 24 inches long; with a 15.55 inches head circumference.


Dear Austin…

austin sleepDear Austin,
I want to thank you.
Not for keeping us up all night; not for peeing on me at least once a day, not for giving my ear drums a work out with your loud, piercing cry…In fact, not for anything you’ve actually physically done. But for what your simple presence here on earth has done for my soul.
You see, your mother tends to be a bit cynical. While some people see the silver lining in every situation, I see whatever the opposite of that is; I see how much worse any given situation could be and am able to be grateful that it’s at least not that.
I am a pessimist with pretty low expectations of people and humanity. And though 32 isn’t old, I’m already fairly jaded. People’s bad actions don’t surprise me, and while I do believe beauty is found in every corner of our lives, I don’t and can’t pretend that that’s all there is. I don’t know whether nature or nurture made made me this way, probably a bit of both, but that’s me. In fact that will probably always be a part of me.
But lately, some of that has changed.
You see, when I, look at you, I can’t help but feel better about the world.
When I watch your sweet face as you sleep, I can’t help but believe in the goodness of humanity. When I watch you take in the world around you, curious and wide-eyed, I can’t help but feel hope for the future. When I see your tiny hands and feet, I can’t help but trust that we grown ups will use our own hands and feet to work for justice and peace. And when I sniff the top of your head, it seems all is right with the world, even if just for the duration of the whiff.
Maybe because when I’m with you, I have to believe that I’ve brought you into a world that’s better than what it shows itself to be most of the time.
And in that way, you have already made me a better person, more tender and hope-filled, more loving and gracious.
And for that, I thank you.
You’re 9lbs 4oz today! Way to grow!

25 Rules for Mothers of Sons


I wanted to keep this where I could find it easily, so I’ve decided to reblog it. Wise words. Confident i can do #24; will work on the rest.
Also, some of it assumes he’ll grow up and end up with a woman.
Austin, I’m telling you this now because it’s a “thing” these days. Hopefully by the time you’re ready to marry it won’t be, but if you end up with a man, I couldn’t and wouldn’t love you any less. I guess i should add, if you end up without a partner to share your life, i hope you have amazing friends and a fierce community with whom you can share your life because life isn’t meant to be lived on your own.

Originally posted on Life Out of Bounds:

May 2011

My dear friend, Maria, passed a blog post onto me and I had to share it with all my readers.  Have a tissue handy; maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones or maybe I am starting to grasp reality since my baby with my 5 years old in a few short weeks.

25 Rules for Mothers of Sons

1. Teach him the words for how he feels.
Your son will scream out of frustration and hide out of embarrassment.  He’ll cry from fear and bite out of excitement.  Let his body move by the emotion, but also explain to him what the emotion is and the appropriate response to that emotion for future reference.  Point out other people who are feeling the same thing and compare how they are showing that emotion.  Talk him through your emotions so that someday when he is grown, he will know the difference between angry…

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All About Austin: Week 3

At Austin’s 2 week check-up, he was back up to his birth weight and then some:
6 lbs 13 oz; 19.75 inches long; 13.78 inches head circumference
According to the charts, he’s still comparably a wee one at about 15th percentile, but he’s healthy and growing!

Today, at 3 weeks and 2 days, I think he must be close to 8 lbs. His newborn-sized clothes fit quite well, and the two tabs that secure his diaper no longer touch.
It’s a remarkable thing to watch someone grow right before your eyes, to see his cheeks round out and his feet start to reach the end of his footed onesies.  Plus, he’s heavier to carry around! No more whisking him up with one arm and walking around the house.

These past two weeks have brought on new developments:

  • Mike’s mom is in town which means our house always smells like food, and the dogs are following her around hoping she’ll drop something. Cantonese is now spoken regularly at home, so I hope Austin’s soaking in all the intonations that mommy can’t pick up or provide! Also, It’s so nice not worry about meals or dishes and to have another set of arms to carry the baby because…
  • Austin now prefers to sleep in someone’s arms over anywhere else… It’s sweet when you’re not exhausted, but not so sweet when you’d just like some sleep yourself. In fact, he’s not sleeping quite as well or as deeply these days which means no one is.
  • Tummy times now occasionally feature Austin turning his head from side to side and using his legs to inch himself “forward.” That’s right, folks, our 3 week old is on the move! (kind of…not really)
  • Hands still feature prominently in his life. He likes them by his face and/or in his mouth, but he also scratches himself up, so I go back and forth on whether to cover them up or not. I haven’t found filing his nails to be all that helpful in keeping the scratches off his face.
  • We’ve done a good handful of outings mostly to Target and Asian grocery stores, but I did take him to the House of Hope’s Choir School dinner on Wednesday night, so the children & youth could meet him. That one I did on my own which felt like an accomplishment!

And finally, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day! I’ve had the same Valentine for the past eleven years.
Many of the books I read said that couples reach a peak level of happiness in their relationship in the third trimester of their first pregnancy, and then it bottoms out when the baby is born, only to rise again after oh, 18 years or so…
So far, that’s not yet been the case for me and Mike’s relationship. Perhaps something about the extreme sleep-deprivation and motherhood has made me a nicer, more reasonable person who is able to see the good in my husband like never before. We’ve been gentle with each other and kept a good sense of humor as we’ve jumped into this crazy adventure called parenthood. We laugh together often, and the truth is, I’ve never felt more supported and understood by my partner-in-life than in these last three weeks.

And so, with the rest of the world, on this week of Valentine’s Day, I celebrate Love:
Love that grows stronger and deeper with time; Love that endures hardships and loss; Love that celebrates joys and can laugh at each other, and especially, in this season of our lives, Love that grows and multiplies with every addition to our family.
valentines 2014

All About Austin: The Birth Day

Our baby Austin was born on January 21, 2014 at 7:24pm. These are the events leading up to his arrival:

Midnight: Mike & I go to bed1:15am: I wake up because my water breaks. What they don’t tell you at these labor & delivery classes is that initial breaking is not the last of the water… The water keeps on coming, and it is not a fun feeling.
2:00am: We finally get to the hospital after taking our sweet time packing our mostly-ready bags, getting dressed, walking the dogs once more, etc.
2:30am: The hospital begins to check us in after confirming that my water broke and that I am 3cm dilated.
3:00am: They ask if I’d like to sleep a bit as I’ll be needing the rest later, and I try. I probably get about an hour’s rest between contractions and hospital staff coming in to take vitals and other stuff.
7:00am: I can’t ignore the contractions any longer, so we get up and walk around and sit on a birthing ball.
8:00am: 6cm dilated! Nurse says, “I know you’re hungry, but I think you’ll have this baby before lunch, and you’ll be eating in no time!” (wrong. she was very wrong, but that happens sometimes….)
8:30am: I ask for an epidural because it hurts.
9:00am-ish: The anesthesiologist comes in to do the epidural which in and of itself kind of hurts and feels weird. He has to insert tube or whatever in me it twice because the first time he hit a blood vessel (or something).
9am-2pm: I feel GOOD… totally relaxed and good.
2:30pm: I say to Mike, “Labor is kind of boring…” and we start wondering how much longer this is all going to take. At some point, they start giving me pitocin to speed up the process.
4:30ishpm: I’m fully dilated, and they say I can push whenever I want, but that I’ll “know” when it’s time. I actually can’t tell- maybe the epidural is working too well?
4:45pm: It’s go time. I’m tired of waiting, and I want to meet this baby. We begin pushing with each contraction. Mike is a great coach, counting and helping me breathe, and eventually they can occasionally see the top of the baby’s head as I push. Unfortunately, he’s not coming out, and with each push, his heart rate decelerates.
6:45pm: We discuss and choose to do a c-section. They’re worried about his heart rate; they’re worried about how tired I am; they’re worried that he might be too huge to pass through even if I get his head out… I ask the obgyn on call if I should push the button for another dose of the epidural before going into surgery. She says, “yes, sure!” But she was wrong. You’re not really supposed to do that. The anesthesiologist chews her out in front of me, and in my drug-induced state I say, “you’re angry…”
7:00pm: We go into surgery, and they’ve numbed me for surgery, but the epidural that I took moves its way up my body, so that I can’t feel anything. I can talk, but I can’t swallow; I can’t feel my arms; it’s difficult to breathe. I am so out of it.
7:20pm: They ask Mike, “Dad, do you want to take some pictures?” So he stands up to take some pictures
7:24pm: I hear our baby wailing- he’s here! Mike says, “whoa.” And gets a good shot of him just as he enters the world. From the other side of the curtain I ask, “How big is he?” expecting at least an 8 pounder, but he’s tiny, just 6 & some change.
7:30pm: I meet our baby boy who is tiny and perfect, proof that love does actually multiply and grow… They ask if I want to hold him, but I still can’t feel my arms, so Mike does some initial skin-to-skin with the baby
8:00pm: I’m all stitched up, and in recovery, and will be in recovery for several more days.
The next days are spent in the hospital as I slowly learn how to be human again while also learning how to care for and feed the baby. On Friday, January 24th we come home to fend for ourselves!

Austin’s birth was not how I would’ve planned it if I had a choice. But he’s here, he’s healthy, and we’re learning how to be a family together, and in the end, that’s what matters.

I’m so grateful for the nursing staff who babied me while I babied my baby. I’m grateful for Mike who was by my side the whole time, and who changed all of Austin’s meconium diapers (which I never even saw!) I’m grateful for modern medicine that made Austin’s entry into the world possible. I’m grateful for all the calls, visits, and messages sent our way with all your love. And I’m grateful for a God who is present with us through it all… I actually found singing Taize hymns very helpful during contractions…“Nada Te Turbe” was one I found particularly helpful and kind of ironic because I was troubled indeed!

All About Austin: The First Week

{My “All About Austin” posts are not so much for other readers, but more so when I look back on these early days with this little guy, I don’t have to rely on just my memory}

Austin Announcement

Austin is 1 week old today! It’s hard to believe it’s already been that long. At this time, exactly a week ago, I was in labor wondering what he looked like and, quite honestly, a little concerned about how much he might weigh! Turns out, he couldn’t make his way naturally into the world because of his positioning, not his size.
At birth, he was 6 lbs, 7 oz.; 18.75 in; head circumference of 13.5 in

What we’ve learned about about our son this week:

  • he can sleep through just about anything, especially dogs barking
  • he hates being cold: at first we thought he hated getting a diaper change or undressing, but turns out, he hates that he gets colder during that time
  • he’s pretty flexible: he’ll sleep in a pack&play, his crib, our arms, a rock&play, and he’ll easily breastfeed and/or take a bottle
  • this kid’s got lungs and can scream, but reserves this only for special occasions
  • he’s got big hands and big feet that are always moving and squirming around: the doctor called him “grabby,” and it’s true, he grabs and touches everything with those hands
  • he likes looking at lights and light fixtures: the baby books said when he’s in the few moments of newborn “alert” mode, babies will most likely stare at a parent’s face. not so with this one! he’d rather look at the lights above and around him.

We’re still trying to figure out who he looks like, but I think he definitely has Mike’s widow’s peak, eyebrows, and ears. He may have my nose and eyes (to the dismay of many, I’m sure), but since he’s asleep most of the time, we can’t tell that just yet. Mike’s parents think he kind of looks like Mike’s brother, Terrance.

This week has been full of ridiculous joys, successes, disappointments and grief. Some highlights/low-points have been:

  • Low: Having to go from 18 hours of labor (which included 2 hours of pushing) to then delivering by Cesarean Section, especially after they told me how tiny he was! I felt like I should’ve been able to give birth naturally and was exhausted from the day.
  • Low: Recovering from surgery, which is an on-going process but that included ridiculous things like, oh, I can’t shower by myself… (I can now, thank goodness)
  • Low: Then, once we were home, he lost 10% of his weight because I wasn’t producing enough milk, so we had to start supplementing him some formula. That, too, felt like failure.  
  • Low: Sleep deprivation: I’m not cranky like I usually am when I’m tired. I’m just so out of it and spacey. Why am I carrying food into all these rooms? Was I going to eat it? Why do things keep falling out of my hand and onto the floor? Is gravity stronger these days?
  • Low: We got home on Saturday afternoon from the hospital, and my grandfather died on Saturday night. We were planning to introduce Austin to him in April, so the grief of not being able to do that was heavy. Read more about that here.
  • High: Finally meeting this little person and putting his name & face together
  • High: Seeing his name written out for the first time.  Yup, that’s our son’s name!
  • High: Snuggling his tiny little body
  • High: Finally (like starting yesterday) starting to get a sense of some sort of routine: feedings, followed with brief “awake” time, followed with a nap. This cycles every 3 hours. (I recognize this will probably change soon, though)
  • High: Glimpses of a smiling face (I recognize this is probably just gas, but I’ll take it!)
  • High: Despite our sleep deprivation, how much Mike and I are able to laugh together and at each other.
  • High: Going with Mike to Austin’s first pediatrician appointment which revealed that he’s gaining weight again and healthy overall. He’s pretty much about 14th/15th percentile, but head circumference is more about 25-ish
  • High: Getting to kiss him all over
  • High: Me telling Mike, “I miss him when I shower,” and Mike looking at Austin and saying, “Don’t let her smother you.” Hilarious! And so true. Don’t let me smother you.
  • High: Watching Mike be a dad. I fell in love with this guy when I was 20, and he was 21. Now he’s a daddy, changing diapers, feeding and caring for the baby. He’s always been good with kids, but it’s a whole different experience watching him with our son.
  • High: Singing to Austin (gotta do it now while he can’t complain!) I love the Dixie Chick’s Version of Godspeed and learned it while Austin was in utero, so I could sing it to him. Now, I can and do as part of his bedtime routine (which bedtime, you ask? the one following the 11pm feeding) Listen to the song here.
  • High: “Family Couch Time”: Before bed, Mike and I both sit on the couch with Austin letting the dogs cuddle the one who’s not holding the baby. It’s one of the few (if only) times during the day when the whole family, furry and non-furry, get to be in the same place at the same time. Because we’re being hyper-vigilant about dog/baby interactions, this creates a safe, warm, low-stress time together with the pups and the baby.

The first week of Austin’s life has been amazing and what some folks call “thin” in that I’ve felt the presence of God in our lives often and deeply. I’m so grateful for it and look forward to many, many more.