Forever Do-Overs

As the toddler moves through his “terrible two’s”, he’s testing out his whiny voice. We call it jing jing in our home; I think because that’s what you call “whining” in Korean, but mostly because that’s what my bff Mannam calls it in her home, and it stuck.

Whining is awful. It’s like nails on a chalkboard, someone saying the word “moist” over and over again, a persistent cough that tickes your throat. It’s awful. We ask Austin to use his words, that we don’t understand when he jing jings; we attempt to reason and logic with him to get him to just stop. But sometimes he doesn’t want to stop. He wants to whine.

Sometimes it’s because he wants the blue cup. Sometimes it’s because I accidentally broke his cracker or cut his food. This morning it was because he wanted “2 pretzels.”  That’s what he kept repeating in his whine, “I want 2 pretzels…” And it wasn’t a tantrum (I’d use an exclamation mark for a tantrum); it was a whine. Over and over again.

Never mind he already had 2 pretzels. I told him to count them. “You already have 2!” I’d say. Didn’t matter.

So, I was pretty annoyed and short with him for most of the morning. Maybe I even told him to take himself to daycare because his whining was exhausting me.

But then I pulled into the driveway at daycare and saw that face, chubby cheeks, pouty, sad. By this time he’d dropped one of his pretzel sticks so he didn’t actually have 2 anymore. Life is hard when you’re 2.

“Oh, Austin. It’s been a tough morning. How ’bout we do a do-over? Let’s start the morning over again. Good morning!”
“Good morning!” he replied with a smile.
“Did you sleep well?” I asked. He nodded.
“I hope you have a good day at school,” I said. “I’ll miss you; I love you.”
“I love you!” he responded.

So that was our do-over.

Sometimes we just need a do-over (pro-tip: almost always easiest in the last few minutes before dropping your kid off at daycare).

As Easter people who trust in the resurrection, life is about second, third, fourth chances, and forever do-overs. Deep breath, recalibrate, try again.

As Glennon Doyle Melton says, “God is forever tries.”  

Luckily, toddlers who are good at whining are also really good at forgiving and at do-overs.

Good morning, baby.  Good morning once again.

How do I split my love between my child and my congregation? 

Recently, our daycare provider took a much-deserved, two-week long family vacation. I knew it was useless to hope for any kind of productivity with a toddler by my side 24/7, so I decided to take these two weeks off, too, including two Sundays!

Other than maternity leave, I have never taken two Sundays off in a row. Pastor friends, I highly recommend it! It takes a couple days to get work out of your system, and you have to start preparing for work at least a couple days before you start, so it really helps to take two consecutive Sundays off. Do it! It’s so good for you! But I digress.

While I looked forward to some time away from work, I also wondered if I would survive two weeks with the little one. I’m the kind of mom who is convinced that I am a better mom and person because I work; because I have extended time away from my kid; because I am able to drop off my child with people I trust and get some time away to do non-baby, non-child-rearing things. So two full weeks with the little one? We were probably all a little concerned.

I am happy to report that not only did I survive, but Mike & Austin survived. AND I actually really, really enjoyed it! (What we did and some pictures are included below. A big shout out to Mike (who is always a great and involved daddy), my BFF, and my brother in law who were such a huge help these two weeks!) There were of course moments of tantrum and crying that would terrify and/or frustrate even the saintliest of people (which I am not), but I genuinely loved spending morning to night with my growing baby.

So much so that on Thursday of week two, I started to feel a crisis of call. As our two weeks of mommy/baby together time came to a close, and I began to prepare for Sunday worship, I started to feel anxious, upset, and even a little resentful.

Friends, I love being a pastor. I believe God has called me to congregational ministry, at least this season of my life, and it is a privilege to serve in this capacity. Most of the time, I am in deep gratitude for what I get to do day in and day out (and get paid for it no less!)

But here I was, getting ready for something I ordinarily love, but feeling completely disconnected and even angry that I had to do it. Jokingly, I said to Mike a couple of times, “Should I become a stay-at-home mom?” And as I laughed and played it off, I suddenly wanted those words to come true. I wanted to devote all my time, love, and energy to this baby. I wanted to wake up to his sweet smile and spend the day exploring the world together.

I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.

But something seemed suspicious, just a little not-quite-right.  You know that feeling when you can tell you’re making a decision not out of joy or love or a sense of call but out of fear? That’s what this felt like. Some people choose to be a stay-at-home parent, and it’s exactly what they should do. My desire to do so, however, felt ill-motivated and somehow wrong, even though it’s what I thought I wanted at the time.

Somehow, I knew it wasn’t so much the desire to be a stay-at-home parent but a fear of going back to work.

So, as I occasionally do when prompted by the Holy Spirit, I prayed.
I didn’t pray for guidance or use eloquent words. I just prayed, “I need you,” over and over again.

Now, I know some of this was my way of processing the shooting at Emanuel AME in Charleston, SC. The feelings of grief and anger, hopelessness and wanting to just give up and quit are all tied up with that horrible act of terrorism. I’m continuing to process this and discern how to be an agent of change, so that hatred, white supremacy, and violence may be addressed head on so real change may occur. I no longer want to give up and quit. But I’m getting to that.

As with most “God things”, I can’t quite explain it, but as I prayed, the root of my fears were revealed to me:

I was afraid that I wouldn’t have enough love to give.

You see, to be a pastor of a congregation, you have to love that congregation. You have to see its shortcomings and faults and be willing to challenge the church, too. But those are all facets of love.

After a two week love-fest with the baby (with some tantrums and frustrations sprinkled in, but still love even in the midst of it all), I didn’t know if I wanted to share that love with anything or anyone else. I didn’t know if I could or if I should.

I imagine every parent with multiple commitments feels pulled and stretched at some point. I certainly struggle with work/life balance and dealing with the guilt of being gone so much.

But every person’s situation is unique in some way. And I think what made my situation unique was that my work required my love: my love of the people sitting in those pews, my love of the community in which it stands, my love for God’s people known and unknown to me. Without love, you cannot be a pastor. (Well, arguably without love, you cannot be anything. But without love for your congregation, you cannot be a congregational minister. I simply believe this to be true.)

And I was afraid that I didn’t have enough love. Nor did I want to share the limited love I did have. I wanted to be a love-hoarder and save it just for my kid and my family.

Here’s the amazing thing, though. Once my fears were revealed, God was able to break my heart wide open and fill it with love.

A heart, clenched like a fist, attempting to hoard love cannot be open enough to receive love. But when it is open, it can both give and receive.

And I realized that there is no such thing as “not enough love” because love is not a scarce resource. It is abundant and overflowing. And it comes not from me, but from God.

There is enough love to love both a child and a congregation. It will be imperfect and flawed, but it will be enough.

In fact, there is enough love even for me, so that I am not completely depleted of love as a parent and a pastor, but filled and carried and renewed by God’s abounding and steadfast love.

So, how do I split my love between my child and my congregation? I don’t.
There’s no need to split my love between anything because there’s enough love to go around and then some. Love doesn’t need to be divided and parsed out; it multiplies.
I do have to split my time, but my time is not my love.
Love abounds. Time…well, I’ll just have to learn to manage that better.

Sunday, I got up and returned to work for the first time in weeks.  Worship is exactly what I needed. I allowed myself to openly weep as our children’s choir sang, “Down in the River to Pray.” We named the names of the victims and saints of Emanuel AME. We considered our complicity in systems of hate and supremacy and how we might be agents of change. We grieved; we confessed; we celebrated four baptisms. We were church together. And God enabled me to give and receive love.

There is enough love, friends. There is enough love for it all.

And because months from now, I won’t remember: here’s what we did during those two weeks (with some pictures included):

Sat. 6/6 – Wed. 6/10: Road Trip to LA: family, friends, beaches, and food

dan and annie

Dan & Annie

terrance and grace

Auntie Grace & Uncle Terrance

emo family

my youngest aunt & husband

beach in water

fee in the pacific


feet in the sand

Thurs. 6/11 – 6/20: Staycation in SF begins: fun times at the San Francisco Zoo; sleepovers in the South Bay with the Lee’s; playing at Calvary’s Playgroup and Rochambeau Playground; getting a library card; quick and last minute meals caught with the Yoo’s, Kim’s, and Irene; getting kid furniture at Ikea; visiting Mike at work, and special snuggles and bonding time between Austin and mommy.


selfie on a lazy morning


pubilc library


with his favorite noona’s

water play

Bay Area Children’s Discovery Museum

calvary playgroup

Calvary Playgroup


slaying dragons with daddy at his workplace

lightsaber fight


petting zoo

petting zoo


family photo on zoo train (courtesy of bff)

fathers day

spent father’s day with these great dads & their kiddos

Flying with a Baby

No one plans to take their baby on 25 flights their first year of life, but that’s what happened between our kid’s birth and his first birthday.  One of these trips was international, one was completely spontaneous (we bought the tickets four hours before the flight due to my dad’s unexpected surgery), and none of them were easy. But they were all manageable.
New parents who’ve seen our baby’s crazy travel itinerary have asked about our experience and what we do, so I thought I’d share them here. I found other people’s blogs helpful before our first flight, so why not share our own wisdom?

  • We don’t buy the baby his own seat. Our little one can get pretty fussy in his car seat, but he always did really well in the baby carrier (in our case, the ergo), so we always opted to carry him as a lap child. Also, we’re cheap, and he’s free until two, so we took advantage of that! But people say the car seat is the safest place for the baby, and I believe it. We just chose the option that was easier for us and guaranteed a quieter baby.
  • Whether you use a car seat on the flight or not, take a baby carrier for going through security. We put the baby in the ergo, and then we’d have two hands to get trays, take off shoes, take out liquids, put bags on the conveyor belt, and etc.. They don’t make you take the baby out of the carrier to go through security (They will make you take him or her out of the carseat or stroller.) You’ll just go through the metal detector, then test your hands.
  • Diaper Bag:
    • take more diapers than you’ll think you need (just in case!)
    • all the other stuff you usually carry around
    • a change of clothes for baby
    • a change of clothes (at least another shirt) for parents. Once our baby pooped through his clothes and onto me. I had a change of clothes for him, but not me, so that was a rookie mistake!
    • TSA should allow you to carry breastmilk and formula through. If you have ice packs, though, they need to be completely frozen. They’ll throw them out if they’ve melted.
    • Nursing covers are helpful for their obvious use, but also for darkening your baby’s surroundings (or at least making them less interesting) to encourage sleeping.
    • Swaddling blankets like the Aden & Anais kind are thin and easy to roll into a diaper bag. They’re great for throwing on the floor of an airport for tummy time.
  • Strollers: We have one of those travel systems where the car seat fits on the stroller, so we take those all the way through security.  All airlines we flew (Delta, United, EVA, Frontier) let us gate check those for free. Occasionally, we’d put the baby in there after we got through security, but if not, we put our backpack or diaper bag on it. Super handy!
  • Our carseat fits through the TSA security screening deal, but our stroller doesn’t, so they just wheel it through another way and hand-check it. The agents would prefer that you fold your stroller up, and it fit through the screening thing, but not all of them do. That’ll just depend on your stroller. After your first go at it, you’ll know what yours is capable of.
  • Some airports (like MSP) are so great about letting families through in the fast lanes. Just let them know you’re a family traveling, and most likely they’ll wave you through to either the TSA pre-approved line or the elite-class line. Not all airports are like that, though (SFO & DEN are not).
  • Try to get in aisle seats. If traveling together, my partner and I usually sit across the aisle from each other. That way, either one of us can take the baby and walk him up and down the aisle if necessary. I would also go to the very back when I boarded and bounce with the baby until everyone boarded. Then, slide right into my aisle seat once it was time to go. Easy access to aisle has been so helpful!
  • Diaper changes on a plane can be tricky since the bathrooms are small and you’re hurling through the air. But most airplanes have at least one lavatory with a changing table on board. The table is small, so fine for infants but harder for 1 year olds. It’s worth asking or scoping out which lavatory is changing table-equipped, so you know ahead of time before a diaper emergency happens. Another reasons aisle seats are helpful, easy access to bathrooms! 
  • Try to nurse or give the baby a pacifier or a bottle when ascending and descending. It helps with their ears popping from the altitude change. Some babies really hate it, ours didn’t seem to notice it too much. But the nursing/feeding definitely helps.
  • We usually check bags. We used to be those people who always carried on all our bags, but it’s too much for me to lug around a diaper bag, a baby, stroller/car seat + baggage. So these days we usually pay the extra money and check bags. If you opt to check bags ahead of time and pay for it online, it’s usually cheaper than if you do it at the airport.
  • Take a direct flight whenever possible. Connecting flights might lead to missed connections, possible items left on planes, longer travel times, and double the take off and landings (which I think are the hardest part).

99% of the time people tend to be really nice and helpful. We’ve only had rude comments twice. Once, we deserved it (baby was teething, upset, and on the 2nd leg of a connecting flight…it was a bit of a nightmare, but this is also the last time we flew. I think flying with toddlers is a whole different beast! …sigh…)
The other time we totally didn’t deserve it, so I called her out.  I told her she was being unreasonable and that babies are allowed to travel, too.  Don’t let people push you around just because you have a baby with you, but understand that a flight with a baby can be a less than pleasant experience for everyone (especially the parents!)

Finally, have no fear. You can do it! And if your baby is a mess, well…it’ll be over soon (or eventually).

on flight flight 7 flight 5 flight 10 flight 6 flight 4flight 3 flight 2 20150106_185004 flight 9 20150109_155505flight

Happy 1st Birthday!

Dear Austin,
This year (2015), you turned one! We celebrated with a traditional Korean-style dol jan-chi.
Watching you grow, learn, and change this past year has been incredible. You are such a joy in our lives! You make us laugh and remind us of the important things in life.  For me, personally, you have cracked my heart open in ways I never knew possible and taught me how to truly love. I am working on loving others like I love you, not perfectly, but fully and deeply, and with no reservations.
I realized that I am so afraid of having my heart broken that I’ve always held back a little in my love for others.  With you, while you bring the best kind of joy to my heart, I also know that as you grow older, change, and become independent (all things I want for you!), my heart is bound to be broken again and again with the realization that my baby is not my baby, or even a baby any more. But that doesn’t stop me from loving you with reckless abandon. I love you.  so. darn. much. with all of who I am.
So thank you. Thank you for teaching me to love a little bit better.
Here are some highlights of you at 12 months:

  • Height: 29 inches
  • Weight: 20 lbs, 5 oz
  • Head Circumference: 18 inches
  • 4 teeth
  • 25 different flights total, including 1 international trip to Hong Kong
  • You say “woo, woo” (dog in Cantonese baby-talk) and “mam-ma” (food in Korean baby-talk). You also say “baba” (dad) and “umma” (mom), but more indiscriminately than the other two words, so we’re not sure you’re using them to address us.
  • You are sweet, silly, and pretty easy-going, but when you feel emotions, you feel them with your whole body. You used to scrunch up into a little ball and turn over to your side when you first learned to smile. Now your smile and laughter light up your whole body, and your crying involves falling face first onto the floor.
  • You are out-going and love getting people’s attention. At restaurants, you’ll stare at people until they notice you, then flash them your biggest smile. No one has been able to resist yet, and so you make friends everywhere we go!
  • At your doljabi, you touched the paintbrush (an artists’ soul, perhaps?), but you crawled over to daddy and really chose him. I think you will always choose people over things, and for that I am proud.

Happy 1st birthday, Austin!

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Raising a Book Worm, Hopefully…


I love to read. I especially love to read fiction.  My love for reading began in second grade when I started reading chapter books and couldn’t put them down. My parents instituted a “no books at the dinner table” rule because once I started a story, I wouldn’t want to stop. There’s so much research now detailing the benefits of reading, but from my own experience reading has allowed me to live vicariously through the lives of other people and to experience worlds and ideas far beyond my own reach and/or imagination; reading has helped me empathize with different people who experience a very different life; reading helps me escape when I’m stressed or overwhelmed.

I hope Austin loves to read. And I hope he loves to read with me cuddled in my lap or next to me in bed. These are the books I hope to read with him that I’ve compiled from my childhood favorites. Some of you have given Austin some great books that we’ll definitely read with him (thank you!), but these are the ones that left an impression on my young mind that I hope to share with my baby.  If you have any you’d add, leave them in the comments!

Ages 0-4:a
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
by Laura Numeroff
50 Below Zero by Robert Munsch
Murmel, Murmel, Murmel  by Robert Munsch
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Click, Clack, Moo. Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

Ages 5-7:
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
The Magic School Bus by Joanna Cole
Mr Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater
Pippi Longstockings by Astrid Lindgren
Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
Matilda by Roald Dahl
The BFG by Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
by Judy Blume
The Mouse and the Motorcyle
& other Ralph S. Mouse series by Beverly Cleary
Stuart Little
by E.B. White
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol (I never actually read these, but Mike remembers them from childhood, so we’re adding it to the list!)

Ages 8-10:
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Holes by Louis Sachar
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

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.