Sermon: Encountering the She-Bears of Our Faith

Confirmation Sunday: May 15, 2011
2 Kings 2:19-25

19Now the people of the city said to Elisha, “The location of this city is good, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” 20He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21Then he went to the spring of water and threw the salt into it, and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have made this water wholesome; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” 22So the water has been wholesome to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.
23He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!” 24When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. 25From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.


If you’ve never heard this story before, I wouldn’t feel too bad; it’s not widely circulated in Christian circles. And if you’re absolutely horrified by this story, I wouldn’t feel too bad either, that seems like an appropriate response, really.

This passage is perhaps one of the most disturbing and violent stories in all of scripture. One commentator writes, “No other passage in the Elisha cycle has offended the moral sensibilities of readers more than [this] episode…” (Choon-Leong Seow).

Most preachers would avoid this story like the plague, and rightly so! Luckily, most don’t even have to try to avoid it as it never comes up in any of the lectionary cycles. It’s like people knew that no one would really want to preach on this.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to preach on this. In fact, the lectionary passage for this Sunday is John chapter 10: Jesus the Good Shepherd. And today being Confirmation Sunday, how lovely would it have been to talk about the confirmands being guided like sheep by Jesus to green pastures and still waters, sheep who hear and recognize his voice, and get this: never leave the shepherd or go astray… it’s all so peaceful and idyllic. It’s exactly what we want for our young people as we baptize and confirm them. So why would I go out of my way to choose to preach on a little-known passage from 2 Kings?

Well, some would argue that something like this isn’t really my choice, but the movement of the Holy Spirit. And maybe there is something to that. But I certainly did make a conscious decision to go with this passage. See, unlike other pastors who might be able to fully avoid this story and pretend it doesn’t exist in the Bible, I work with youth. And I have heard it referenced all year long. It is a confirmation class favorite. When we began our Bible unit, it dominated our conversation.

And sure, if you’re not put in a position to try and explain why it’s in the bible or what on earth it could it mean for us today, I guess it could be a fabulous passage. It’s got miracles, bald heads, taunting young boys, and, well, then there’re those she-bears and the mauling….it all makes for pretty exciting stuff, I suppose.

Quite honestly, I’m preaching on this passage because our confirmands entreated me to do so. When they first asked me several months ago, I had my doubts that it would ever happen. The more I thought about it the more I realized that today was really the only Sunday I could justify preaching on this story, so I decided to oblige them.

The more I sat with these verses, comparing them to what I could be preaching from the lectionary, the more I realized, however, that our lives are actually often a lot more like this 2 Kings story than the peaceful, obedient images found in the passage in John. Most of us aren’t like those sheep who follow the good shepherd and never stray.

Rather, our lives more often resemble this she-bear story: one minute full of hope and life, and the next, facing deep, unexplainable and confusing tragedy.

Like the tornadoes and the floods that have ravaged our country these past few weeks, life is often full of events that we just don’t get; things we don’t always have answers for.

And, actually, fully encountering this story, facing it head-on, is exactly what the process of confirmation is all about. Confirmation is a journey into the unknown, if you will. On our first confirmation class of the year, we read together a prayer by Elizabeth Johnson, and it ends with these words:

“You, Holy Mystery, are the Communion in which we live and move and have our being, the Mystery growing ever more mysterious as we contemplate the paradoxes of your Being… Incomprehensible God, Be with us as we dare to take up the struggle to understand and live in faith within your mystery.”

Throughout this year, this confirmation class has not shied away from mystery and from what we do not and cannot know. Instead, we faced head-on complex, theological concepts like the trinity and theodicy, wrestling with: why do bad things happen to good people; how can three equal one; and who is this Jesus Christ and why did he come to earth?

We were honest about our questions and our doubts, and while we didn’t find all the answers in the course of this year, we did find community: a group of friends and fellow sojourners to walk together this journey of faith. And together we encountered the “she-bears” of our faith: the stories that we can’t easily explain away, and the faith concepts that seem unfair or confusing. We encountered and wrestled with the questions and fears that most of us often run from or ignore because trying to deal with them seems to complicate everything.

But perhaps we are called not to ignore that which scares us about our faith, but to encounter them and engage them fully. To live with a kind of holy wonder, that has the honesty and courage to ask God, “Why?”

Unfortunately, we don’t always get our answers neatly packaged in a box.
Sometimes, we’re left with the aftermath of a she-bear mauling if you will- messy and hard to understand.

But we grapple with these questions not because we think some satisfactory answer will come down to us from the heavens, but because the questions are important, because the questions are worthy of our consideration, and because while we may never fully comprehend that which is fully other, a life of faith that is not critical or questioning is, to me, not faith at all. Perhaps, we are to be like our forefather Jacob who wrestled with God, who struggled and pushed back.

Our faith, after all, isn’t the sum of a bunch of right answers. It isn’t, as Kathleen Norris puts it, a bunch of ideas or ideologies.

Rather, our faith is a relationship, a relationship with a God who loves us unconditionally and where we are safe to ask and struggle with that which we don’t understand. And what is a good relationship without those hard questions that lead to honest dialogue and even some tension.

There are some things we will never know, that will always remain a mystery. I’m struck by a story told by Stephanie Paullsel at a conference I recently attended. She’s an ordained minister in the Disciples of Christ tradition and a professor at Harvard Divinity School, and she was once asked to preside over communion at an Episcopal church. While she was honored at the invitation, she told them honestly, “I’m not sure I can do this. My tradition doesn’t hold communion on an altar, and I don’t really understand what it all means.” The priest graciously responded, “Oh, we don’t do this because we know what it means; we do this so that we might find out what it means…” Let me say that again, we don’t do this because we know what it means; we do this so that we might find out what it means.

Sometimes it is our actions that precede our faith and our understanding. And we do them with the hope of learning more.

I took that approach as I confronted our story from 2 Kings today. While highly skeptical about this passage, I hoped that by going through the motions, I might receive a better understanding, and I did what every preacher does when faced with a challenge: I looked to others.

Consulting the usual Biblical commentaries didn’t help very much, and when they turned up dry, I almost walked away. But, I continued to dig deeper, calling upon a great cloud of witnesses via twitter and facebook to discern with friends and colleagues across the country what this passage might say to us today.

I was reminded this week that it is truly within community, whether it is in cyberspace or over the phone or in the church library, that we grow and learn.
And I’ve realized with the help of others that even within this gruesome passage, there is something we can learn about ourselves and about our faith. I have to attribute much of what follows to colleagues in Atlanta who read my facebook post and helped me encounter the she-bears of my own faith.

See, in this story, we meet Elisha just as he has inherited the mantle of Elijah, his mentor and the premier prophet of God. Elisha has just stepped into this incredible position of power, and is now a great leader and person of God.

We see that the first thing he does is an extraordinary miracle. With merely salt he turns “bad water” into living water, saving the city from death and miscarriage. He is able to use his newfound power for good.
But as he goes on his way, some boys, at least 42 of them, come and start to make fun of him, taunting him about his bald head. And Elisha, curses them as perhaps any one of us would when taunted by a mob of immature boys. His words, however, now carry more power than ever before, and out come two she-bears, mauling those in their path.
Now, it’s important for me to note that the passage never actually says God made any of this happen. I don’t believe God sends she-bears or any other disasters for that matter to kill or hurt God’s creation.
But this story does serve as a metaphor for how we as people of faith can wield our power.
Our actions and our words, like Elisha’s, do hold great power and possibility. Our words, once said can’t be taken back, and they take on a life of their own. And our actions have the ability to change the world.
In fact, some of the greatest good, the building of hospitals and schools, the saving of lives and granting of hope to the hopeless have come from people of faith who have been empowered by God to use their influence for great good.
But we all know that people of faith have also used their power for great evil. Some of the greatest atrocities in human history have been committed in the name of religion: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, these were all acts propagated by so-called Christians. And great destruction has come from the power we can have as people of faith.
I am reminded of Uncle Ben’s wise words to Peter Parker, also known as Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Unless we recognize that we do have power, we can’t wield it responsibly.
This story about Elisha is a perfect example. I think Elisha, new to his role as a prophet of God and still green to his power and influence, simply forgot how much weight his words now carried, and there were dire consequences for that. I can almost see him wide-eyed, thinking “uh oh” as the two she-bears emerge. I’d like to think he didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt; he just failed to remember that his words matter and hold great authority.
Today, our confirmands inherit a mantle of our faith. They become full members of this congregation with the power to vote and be ordained and to shape this church in ways they never have before. Granted, it’s not a lot of power within these walls, but what you do as Christians can have great repercussions far beyond these walls.
Each one of us, as Christians, engaged in this world, has the ability to use our faith as an impetus for either great good or great harm. The fact that we have the agency to choose life or death; grace or condemnation; good or evil, is a difficult and complex reality we might want to run from or ignore. But we are called to encounter the “she bears” of our faith, and the truth is we have the free-will to do what we want with the power we have been given.
Although our history shows that we have fallen short over and over again, I believe as Christians, we are empowered by God to choose life and to choose grace in order to bring about the transformation of this world.
I believe we are called and charged to make this place more and more like the kingdom of God: a world where all are equal; all have enough to eat and a place to feel safe; where every human being is valued and loved despite our differences.
Choosing to use our power to usher in this kind of kingdom is no easy task and holds no easy answers. In fact, we might never find all the answers, but I bet we will find the community we need, a group of friends and fellow sojourners, to help make this change possible as we walk together this journey of faith.
Together, we can answer God’s call and forge ahead to encounter all that we may fear and all that must be overcome.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


When Pastors Account for Their Hours…

T’was the week before Christmas and all through the church, pastors and staff were preparing for one of the holiest and most important days of the church calendar…

And it was then that we learned that starting on January 2, everyone on our church’s staff (about 17 of us) are expected to participate in a time-tracking program that allows our Personnel Ministry Team to more-accurately gauge how much time and resources are actually needed for each ministry and program. Every hour, nay minute, of what we do with our time, in regards to our “work” at the church, is expected to be logged.

Now, I’ll only say this about timing: The only time it could’ve been worse is if it were the Tuesday before Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.
There are exactly two times of the year when pastors and church staff are almost-guaranteed to have little to no bandwidth for something new to be introduced that will impact and shift their daily lives, and that’s the week of Christmas and Easter.
Did I mention this is when we’re fully ramping up for one of the holiest and most important days of the church calendar?

Beyond the poor timing of this announcement, however, I am realizing how very difficult it is for me to gauge this kind of thing.

I am a pastor. This is not just work I do; it is part of who I am. It is wrapped up into my identity.

In some ways, it’s like being a mother. Just because I’m not physically wiping my kids’ nose or changing her diaper or tucking him in at night doesn’t mean I get to just stop being a mother. I am a mother when they’re at school, and I am a mother when they’re with me. Being a mother changed my life, and it is inextricably tied into the being of who I am now.

In the same way, being ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament changed my life. It is inextricably tied into the being of who I am now.

True, I may not be actually doing work for the church, but if I’m grocery shopping and run into a church member, I don’t get to ignore them or treat them like any, old stranger in the store.

Or let’s say I’m driving, and I realize, “huh. I haven’t seen so-and-so in a long time. I wonder if they’re ok?” And then I say a little prayer for them and make a note to reach out. Do I log that as time spent on work?

Or what if I’m in the shower and talking out loud, vocally trying out parts of my sermon. (I actually do this.) Is that personal time because of the shower or work time because of the sermon-prep?

Or while I’m walking up and down the street outside the church, and suddenly I think, “There’s so little that captures what Christmas is about to us beyond the walls of the church!” And from that is birthed an idea to put a Christmas Tree outside that allows people to give and take what they need to stay warm. Do those walks up and down the street count as work? What about those web postings I came across several years ago that shared pictures of scarves on trees with notes that said, “this scarf is not lost; please take it if you need it!” These images and idea took up seemingly needless space in my brain until now, helping ignite this particular idea that is now actually something for the church, so does that count as work?

Or what if I start an Instagram project showcasing pictures of a non-white baby Jesus. No one asked me to do that for church. I’m not using the church’s account. But you better believe I thought of it because of my work at the church, because my mind is 24-7 on baby Jesus during these high-holy-days, and I realized how quickly I default to a white baby Jesus in my mind’s eye when I pray or imagine the nativity. And I realized, I bet others do that, too. I wanted to combat that and share alternatives to that default, so that we can all re-image Jesus together. Now, on this one, I know for certain that I would not include this as time spent on “work,” but it’s informed by my work; it is a direct result of my identity as a pastor and because my life is intertwined in complicated, joyful, and sometimes difficult ways.

And that’s what it’s like to be a pastor for me. I don’t get to just shut it down because I’m not in the church or doing a pastoral visit. I can’t help but prayerfully consider the conversations and situations of my life and tie it into a prayer, a sermon, or a means to pastorally care for someone.

In First Thessalonians, we are told to: “Pray without ceasing.” Now, that doesn’t mean stop everything you’re doing and only pray for the rest of your life. It means to incorporate prayer into all that you do.

Being a pastor is like that for me. “Pastor without ceasing.” I am known to say in conversation and comment on Facebook, “Wow! That’ll preach!” Does that mean my Facebook browsing is work? Well, sometimes, but not always.

That’s how it is to be a pastor. I am a pastor because I am a Christian, and like most who identify as such, I am a Christian All. The. Time.

The way I engage with the world is filtered through the lens of this call.

I’m sure as we do this, it will become more and more clear what our Personnel Team means by “work” and what will be considered “not work.” The lines have to be drawn somewhere, and they will be.

But the reality is, life as a pastor means that we don’t and can’t clock in and clock out. It is a part of our very being. Most of us do this because we love it, and we couldn’t possibly do any other thing (in fact, many of us have tried and failed….)

So when you ask a pastor to account for her hours, please know, it will not show the whole picture. It cannot be a complete rendering of the time and energy, imagination, and love that goes into this gig; it simply cannot.

And I am profoundly grateful to be a pastor; to have found work that embodies my whole being, to take joy and great meaning from what I do. It is a gift and a privilege.

Even so, I think I can still begrudge, at least a little bit, having to try and account for my hours and being told on the week before Christmas that we will start doing so on January 2nd!

P.S. Does time spent drafting this blog count as work? No, likely not. But I could argue for many reasons why it actually is work-related…. And yet, no, still likely not.

Disneyland with the Littles

Disneyland HK

Our kids are now 4 yrs old & 10 months old, and they’ve already been to Disneyland and/or Disneyland Hong Kong three times! If you count the times we did 2-Day passes, it actually amounts to five times.

We never meant for this to happen. I’m not Disney-obsessed. In fact, I’ve been known to even sometimes feign disgust over it’s overly sugary empire. But we do like amusement parks. And as it turns out, I must have a soft-spot for Disney. We went in college during Spring Break; Mike and I went to Animal Kingdom in Orlando when it first opened. And here we are, with kids under five who’ve already been three different times.

The first time we did it, I just wanted the older child to have a different experience in LA, to try something just for him. But then we got addicted to the wonder and joy it brought out in him. I actually cried the first time I watched him watch the parade. (I know; I’m ridiculous.)

So, here are a few overall tips for going to Disneyland and then, just to help me remember these trips, here’s what we did each trip. Maybe it’ll help you set your own expectations for your family.

Tips for doing Disneyland with an infant and a preschooler:

  • Bring snacks. Disneyland allows outside food as long as it fits inside a reasonably-sized backpack or lunch bag, and it’s not in glass tupperware (exact dimensions are on their website). We never brought enough for an entire meal, but we’ve seen people who have. We usually just bring drinks, fresh fruit, and all the dry snacks. We have a child who is highly motivated by food, so meltdowns can be thwarted with the promise of a snack. We used that to our advantage.
  • We took the biggest stroller we had. To L.A., we brought the double stroller; to Hong Kong, we only had an umbrella stroller. Big stroller means more cargo space, so we also brought a picnic blanket (to sit and watch the parade), food, diaper bag, etc. The double stroller also meant we had a place to put baby down when we weren’t ergo-ing her. For a long day at a place like Disney, it’s always nice to have that option. Please note you cannot take strollers in line, so if your kid falls asleep in the stroller, you can’t take advantage of that by waiting in line somewhere. There are plenty of designated spots for stroller parking (some more convenient than others). We often put a baby blanket over our stroller for easy spotting (there are hundreds of strollers!) and to keep it out of direct sun.
  • We usually ergo-ed the infant on rides or when waiting in line. Disney has several rides where people of any height, including infants, can ride. There are others with a height limit. In those instances, you can do rider-switch where one parents waits with baby then gets a turn on the ride. We probably only used this option once or twice to be honest.
  • We had a diaper bag full of stuff (extra clothes, extra diapers for the little one, etc), but I also brought a small cross-body purse where I kept my phone, a small bottle of water, snacks, and the iPad. That way I could just grab that bag for time spent in line. We mostly used MaxPass or FastPass for rides, but some rides like Peter Pan (which is the older child’s favorite and one we can all ride together) don’t have that option, so that means we will usually wait for at least 45 minutes. Having access to an iPad and snacks and re-hydrating during that wait helped us pass the time.
  • Download the Disneyland App for the park you are visiting. It’ll tell you wait times and give you a map allowing you to make some decisions before arriving to the ride itself.
  • Have a general plan. Check out the map, know which rides your kids can ride. Consider what you’d like to do, but be super flexible because…well, because KIDS.
  • Get the MaxPass (usable on your mobile phone via the app) and use FastPass whenever possible. This will cut your wait times in over 1/2. It’s worth it.
    MaxPass will give you a time slot when you can ride a ride via your phone. You don’t even have to go to the ride beforehand. You just show up during that window of time, and just walk right in. FastPass is the older version: you go to the ride, get a ticket from the ride telling you when you can come back. Obviously not having to go to the ride line twice is much better. You go through the same, shorter line, but it’s just two different ways of gaining entrance to that short line!
    We LOVED the MaxPass. I’m lucky to have a partner who is a planner. He would get the MaxPass for us while we were on one side of the park, so that once we got to the other side, we’d just walk right into whatever ride he thought we’d enjoy. There were, of course, times when we didn’t get there in time, and we didn’t use all the MaxPasses we got. But Disneyland was also pretty great about having some flexibility and grace period if we missed the window by 10-15 minutes here and there. And we were comfortable with changing plans as needed.
  • If you have other adults with you, consider riding an adult ride if you enjoy that sort of thing. Or, if you’re staying close by at a Disney resort, consider putting the kids to bed early, having grandparents or aunts/uncles watch them, and going back for night-time Disney which is magical in a whole different way! This isn’t always possible, but especially with several adults, it’s not impossible.

And now, so you have a realistic expectation of what you might get to do, here’s what I remember we got to do on our three different trips.

Disneyland: Summer 2017
(Kids’ Ages: 3 years+7 months and 2 months)Disneyland LA first time

This trip we ended up getting a 2-Day Pass. We went almost all day on Day 1 and for a 1/2 Day on Day 2.
Day 1: (Hours stayed: ~12 hours!; Rides completed: 3??; Characters met: 4?; Rides waited for but not ridden: 2; Other experiences: 1 Parade & 1 Fireworks Show)
We went as early as we could, but it was still about 10:30am by the time we got into the park. We did stop to take a picture in front of the castle, but we basically went straight to the Peter Pan ride to beat the crowds and since it doesn’t have a Max or FastPass option. A potty-break followed and since Snow White & the Evil Queen were out taking pictures and the line wasn’t long, we stayed for a photo op.
We ate an early lunch somewhere nearby (but I can’t remember where or what.)
Then, we headed to Toon Town where the kid played on the play structures. This was our first time taking the kids to Disney, so we wanted to make sure to get those iconic photos. We got pictures with Mickey and Minnie Mouse and saw their little homes.
We then walked over to try and ride the Disneyland train, but after waiting over 40 minutes and not knowing when we’d get on, we gave up and comforted ourselves with ice cream and found a spot for the parade. (A note about the train: some people love it and say it’s a must-do. But no one is required to get off, so it’s hard to know how long the wait will be. We rode it on our second day and vowed it was not worth ever trying to do it again.)
We were about 45 minutes early for the parade, so we laid out our sleeping bag, ate some snacks, and rested. The parade was magical. Watching the older kid get so excited and into it was so awesome. I think this very well may be why I keep wanting to go.
Next ride was It’s a Small World. Kid loved it and sang the song long afterwards.
We then headed to Tomorrowland hoping the kid would ride the Astroblaster ride, but he was a little too afraid, so we had another snack from the restaurant there.
Then we rode the monorail to Downtown Disney to meet friends for dinner at the Earl of Sandwich.
We walked back to Disneyland for the fireworks which were awesome. What a magical ending to a magical, full, but exhausting day!
Day 2: (Hours stayed: ~5 hours; Rides completed: 3?, but we rode 1 ride 3 times!; Characters met: 5?)
This day, we stayed on the other side of the park: Adventureland/Frontierland/Critter Country, etc. The first thing we did was ride that darn train! There was almost no line, so we waited what we were told would be about 15 minutes, but it took over 40 yet again. But we did actually ride it this time. We did one whole loop + a stop getting off at Critter Country. Baby girl had a diaper blow out on the train, so I changed her diaper AND clothes on that train.
After getting off at Critter Country, we rode the Winnie the Pooh ride and then met all the Winnie the Pooh characters to take pictures with them (Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, etc….) The kid loved the Winnie the Pooh ride so much, and it’s such a “kiddie ride” with hardly any line, that we actually rode it three times that day!
Lunch was at the Hungry Bear restaurant.
We also rode the kid’s first “real” roller coaster: Thunder Mountain Railroad! I got to do this with him, and it was awesome. He was just 40″ which is the height limit.
We also had Dole Whip (yum!), and the kid & his dad rode the ferry to the Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island for some free play.
We left the park early that day, but we were all wiped out any way. The kid passed out in his stroller on our way out and napped all the way home.

Disneyland: Winter 2017
(Kids’ Ages: 3 years+11 months and 6 months)
(Hours stayed: ~12 hours; Rides completed: 14!!, but we rode some rides several times; Characters met: 0; Other experiences: some musical show at the Golden Horseshoe Restaurant)
We went back to Disneyland during our winter trip to LA and caught the park decorated for the Christmas holidays which is a special experience in and of itself.

We only went for one, full day and made a plan to have the older kid nap in a stroller, so he wouldn’t be so over-tired at the end of the day. We were warned about the crowds during the holidays (peak time!), and yes, there were definitely more people and waiting then we were used to, but between MaxPass and flexibility, we were able to make good use of our time. I mean, the kid somehow rode 14 rides!
After a quick pause to take a picture in front of the giant Christmas tree, our first ride was “Finding Nemo,” an underwater, submarine ride. It was different and cute.
Then, we successfully got the kid to actually ride “Astroblasters” (he was too afraid last time). Dad & son did some driving at “Autopia” which the kid loved so much, he did it again with me later that night after dinner.
While I grabbed a table and food with the baby in Tomorrowland, dad & son went on “Star Tours”. We got a rider switch for this but never ended up using it. I’ll just have to check it out another time.
Then we went on “It’s a Small World” and watched the parade.
Post-parade, we found the least-crowded, least-stimulating walkways and walked the kid around in the stroller and sure enough, he fell alseep! Parents got some caffeine and pastries while the child slept. He probably got about an hour’s nap and would’ve slept longer if we hadn’t tried to carry him into a line.
We tried to sneak him asleep into the line for “Peter Pan”. He woke up, though, and waited using the iPad for his favorite ride.
Between his nap and dinner get a little fuzzy. We rode “It’s a Small World” another time; Did we ride “Thunder Mountain Railroad”? We definitely saw that silly singing show at the Golden Horseshoe Restaurant while the kid snacked and we indulged in Dole Whip.
Dinner was at Downtown Disney again with the same friends and at the same place, always good to connect with friends and watch our kids play.
Then we took the Monorail back sitting in the first car which was a whole different experience! The Monorail dropped us off right by “Autopia,” so we did that again.
We wanted to watch Fantasia, but the kid was feeling strangely afraid of fireworks this trip (he seemed to like them last time), so instead, we did a few rounds of “Winnie the Pooh.”
After Winnie the Pooh, we were on our way out of the park when we saw the “Dumbo” had a short line. So we did “Dumbo” making it our 14th and final ride. Now, again, I don’t remember how we got to 14, but a facebook post from that trip says 14, and I trust that more than my memory 6 months later!
Disneyland for the holidays is beautiful and packed and can still be fun with some planning and patience!

Disneyland Hong Kong: Spring 2018
(Kids’ Ages: 4 years+ 3 months and 10 months)
When we decided to go to Hong Kong to introduce the family to the baby, we decided to go ahead and go to Disneyland in Hong Kong, too! We knew it’d be similar, but our cousins were willing to come along with us, and prices were better than in the states, so we decided to just do it!
We got a 2 Day Pass this time AND stayed at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hollywood Hotel between those two days. For dinner after the first day, we went to a Character Buffet with pretty decent food and where Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto come around to say hello to the diners! So fun!Mickey Mouse HK

Day 1: (Hours stayed: ~4 hours; Rides completed: 2; Characters met: 3 (but THE BEST ONES according to the kid; Other experiences: 1 Parade, Swimming at the hotel pool, & Character Buffet Dinner)
We went to Hong Kong’s Disneyland using public transportation. There’s a special train that takes you to the park, and it is adorable! Of course it is…it’s Disney.
We didn’t plan to take too long at the park. We just wanted to get there, do a few things, then check in to our hotel and use its amenities. Hong Kong’s Disneyland has a more developed Marvel Universe, and the older kid is really into superheroes, so we really focused on that for this day.
We arrived and went first to the “Iron Man” ride. Baby girl wasn’t allowed on, so dad & son went on this while we waited. Afterwards, we met and took pictures with Groot who happened to be out, and then we lined up to meet Iron Man himself. The kid was pretty hungry and impatient during the wait, but it was so worth it. He later said it was his favorite part of the day.
Lunch followed, and it was an Iron Man-themed lunch; we even splurged for the special Iron Man collector’s cup. After eating, we walked over to Adventureland because we heard Black Panther would be there. Sure enough, we were first in line to meet him, and it was such a cool experience. “Wakanda Forever!”
We rode the “Jungle Cruise” afterwards. And then it was perfect time to grab a spot for the parade, so we got ice cream and sat down. After watching the parade, we made our way to the hotel. The first thing we did at the hotel after checking in was put the kid down for a nap. He slept for over two hours!
Baby girl and I went for a swim, and by the time the oldest was awake, it was darker and chillier, and he didn’t want to swim. He watched me and dad swim while grandparents played with the baby. Then, we all showered and went to dinner with grandparents and an aunt.
Dinner was pretty good (sushi was available!), and all the little character-themed food was too cute. It wasn’t cheap, though, so I’m glad it was such a positive experience with each character taking the time to take photos with each table and etc.
We slept fairly well at the hotel (They provided a crib and guard rails for one of the beds), and it was just nice to be so close to the action!
Day 2: (Hours stayed: ~10 hours; Rides completed: 3-5 depending on who you are; Characters met: 1; Other experiences: 1 Festival of the Lion King & 1 Becoming Iron Man Experience)
This was Mike’s birthday! He got a pin that said “Birthday Boy” from Disney, but he didn’t wear it.
We woke up earlier than the park opened (didn’t open until 10am!), so we went to the hotel’s game room to play. It was a free space with games and toys and a perfect way to spend our time while Mike checked us out.
Then we rode the shuttle bus to the park, and I took the older kid to meet Iron Man again while Mike & baby waited for everyone to show up. Once everyone got there, and the kid & I had met Iron Man again, we had a loooooong lunch with the family. There were five kids and seven adults, so everything just took longer overall.
After lunch, some of the adults and bigger kids went on the Iron Man ride while the rest of us waited. Then, our child wanted to do the Iron Man experience where you are digitally made into Iron Man and then put into a video game where you can blast things, so Mike and baby waited with him while I and the rest of the cousins went to see the parade.
After the parade, we walked around hoping some of the kids would nap, but they didn’t. So we walked over to “It’s a Small World” and enjoyed the air conditioning of that ride. We were lucky enough to have a Priority Pass, so we didn’t have to wait too long.
Then, we all shared in an ice cream break!
Afterwards, we walked around again, trying to nap some of the kiddos, but only one fell asleep! We did walk through Toy Story Land which is unique to Hong Kong, and it is really well done and cool to just look.
We got to the Festival of the Lion King about 45 minutes before the show began, so most of us went in to wait and watch. It was a good show – a little loud but exciting and entertaining.
Then, most of us rode the Winnie the Pooh ride while one dad was on the train with a sleeping kid!
After Winnie the Pooh, one family went home, and the rest of us ate dinner together. After dinner, three adults left three kids with two adults to go ride a 42″ or taller ride: Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars. It was surprisingly fun, even after just having eaten dinner.
The kid wanted to ride Winnie the Pooh again, so everyone else left for home while we went once more on Winnie the Pooh.
We left at about 7:30, right before the evening lights parade began, and we made good time back to MongKok.
This was probably the least “efficient” day we’ve ever had at Disneyland, but we got such good quality time with our extended family and their kids. That was really the point any way, so all that time spent just walking and eating were the real highlights. Having the kids experience some new things in the midst of it all was just an additional plus!

If you’re heading to Disneyland with kids under five, best of luck with all the logistics and details and planning! We’ve enjoyed each visit we’ve made and have learned to be flexible and savor the small moments where they’re just captivated or delighted by the experience. And, trust me, they will be!

Maundy Thursday Foot Washing

I was asked to speak at a Holy Thursday Vigil and Foot Washing outside of the ICE building today. Here’s what I meant to say (what I actually said was much shorter and repetitive because that’s what happens when I decide to scrap the careful notes I’ve prepared!)

Good afternoon. I’m Joann Lee, one of the pastors at Calvary Presbyterian Church here in San Francisco. And Sarah asked me to speak about the significance of foot-washing in the Christian tradition.

There’s no better day to talk about this than today as we celebrate Maundy Thursday.  “Maundy” comes from the Latin phrasemandatum novum meaning “new commandment.”

And this “new commandment” was really just a sum of all the commandments that had come before: to love one another.

Jesus demonstrated this love on that first Maundy Thursday by washing the feet of his disciples.

It was unexpected and uncomfortable to some of his disciples that their teacher, their leader would kneel before them and so intimately serve and care for them in this way.

But Jesus shows them through his example that any power or privilege we may hold is to be set aside or to be used in service for others, to show God’s love and to show God’s upside-down justice to the world where the first shall be last and the last shall be first; where the powerful are made weak, the meek are made strong.

This stole I’m wearing is to actually remind pastors in my tradition, that our duty and role is first and foremost to serve and to love. It represents the towel that Jesus wore around his neck as he washed his disciples’ feet.

The act of foot-washing, then, is symbolic of mutual and sacrificial love.
It is a sign of humility and of service, BUT it is also a form of resistance. A way to reject the ways of the world that tell us fear, violence, brutality, might and strength will save us. Jesus shows us that love and care and concern for others can and will ultimately bring about the transformation this world so desperately needs; it is a radical way to bring about wholeness and justice in the world.

Today, outside this ICE building, where so much harm and trauma is done to the bodies and souls of immigrants in this country, we come to wash the feet of these, our sisters and brothers who are suffering.

We hope and pray that it is a balm, a source of healing, respite, and strength.

And through this ancient ritual we honor immigrant community members who are leading us and showing us what justice looks like.

As people of faith, we stand with immigrants.
And this is one way we can outwardly show that we see, support, and love these individuals and their families.
This is one way we can outwardly show that we do not support the unjust systems and structures that continue to oppress and dehumanize those who are created in the image of God.

Christians today believe we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ, and Jesus chose to use his hands to wash the feet of his disciples and through that great act of love, to usher in God’s justice and peace that would turn the world upside down.

That’s why we do this; to simply follow Christ’s example the best we can.

And there’s no better day than today, and no better place than here to be doing so.

So thanks to Sarah and your team at the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity for providing this opportunity.

And thanks to our fearless and tireless immigrant leaders and families.
It is a privilege to be here with you all, taking part in this sacred ritual.

However, this is my prayer:
That there will be a day when symbolic acts like this are no longer necessary, because decent human kindness will prevail, God’s justice and love will prevail, and sensible immigration reform will pass. And one day, may this kind of human suffering will be a thing of the past.

We hope and long and, most importantly, work for that day.

But until that day, for days like these, we will continue to come together, continue to show up, continue to pray and serve, and work together for that day.

Stickers, snuggles, and no sleep

These are the days….

  • of stickers showing up all over my stuff and clothing
  • of early morning snuggles with the kids in bed, one of whom patters in with his “lambie” and a blanket in his arms
  • of late night feedings even when the baby probably doesn’t need it because the “working mom guilt” is strong, and she still asks for it
  • of snot and germs being passed around and around and around
  • of playgrounds and libraries and mostly unstructured weekends
  • of ergos and strollers and baby wipes, none of which we can leave home without
  • of kisses and hugs and singing at the top of our lungs
  • of always running late, of always forgetting something, of always feeling a little tired
  • of belly laughs, and sweet giggles, and ear to ear smiles

4 years old and 7 months old: I never want to forget these precious, harried, exhausting, yet joy-filled days.

Bailey: 11/30/2003 – 1/9/2018

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

For our Bailey, today was a time to die. And for us, today is a time to mourn, to embrace, and to weep.

We let Bailey go today. In her last moments, she did what she loved most: ate treats.

Then, as she died, she seemed at first really peaceful and then finally at rest.

We loved her. I think she knew that.

Bailey was never an easy dog. She was a wild and crazy puppy. And then, in her prime, she developed epilepsy. Her seizure meds really slowed her down, and she got really big for a while as a result. Once we changed her medication dosage, though, she lost weight and acted more like her self. She got old and slow soon afterwards, though.

I’m pretty sure her epilepsy caused some neurological damage. She had some strange and weird ticks that were exacerbated in her last days.

Bailey lived in five cities and eight homes with us. She was there before Mike and I were married, before Logan or the kids joined us. She was tolerant and accepted these changes, but I swear she rolled her eyes at us sometimes.

Bailey used to jump: into water bowls, into people’s arms and laps, into Lake Michigan, and over puppy gates. She lost the ability to jump like that a while ago.

But two things she never stopped doing were eating and cuddling.

Bailey loved to eat. Food motivated her and brought out a drive and fixation in her that was surprising, even in her last moments.

Bailey burrowed under covers and loved to cuddle. Her favorite spot was on your lap, under a blanket. Sometimes, she’d force her way into your lap, knocking over laptops or babies that also happened to be there.

Bailey nurtured the nurturer in me. She (with Mike’s help) taught me about commitment and follow-through. She helped me love better and deeper. And, through her death, she taught me how to let go.

I believe she is finally resting in peace. And being with her transition from life to death was an unexpected comfort.

Rest now, Bailey. Thank you for these last 14 years.

All about Rose: Your First Thanksgiving

Dear Rose,

It’s your first Thanksgiving with us on this side of the womb. This time last year I was pregnant with you and just starting to tell some family and close friends about you.

Happy Thanksgiving, baby girl! This year, I am so grateful for you.

You joined us during an interesting and hectic time in our lives, arriving in the midst of so much change and transition. But your presence reminds me to slow down and to “zoom out” to really appreciate what matters.

You are a wonder to behold. When you smile, your entire body gets into it- your feet kick, your arms flail, and your whole face lights up. You are also very vocal – so much to say for such a little one.

You’re so easy at home, independent and able to sleep on your own when we put you down. You’re an amazing self-soother- the thumb sucking helps, I think!

When we’re out, you’re still pretty easy, but I’ve noticed you have your limit with people. You tolerate being passed around and having several faces in your face for a little bit, but then you’re so over it.

These days, you’re constantly rolling over and putting everything in your mouth. Five months is a fun time. You interact and smile and coo and even sometimes shriek for joy.

My favorite part of the day with you is walking over to your crib in the morning and being greeted with your big smile. I swear, your brother didn’t sleep as well as you, and he was never thrilled to wake up. He’s still a little grumpy after waking up.

But you. I get the sweetest, most warm smiles from you in the morning, even if I’m the one who’s waking you up!

Watching you and this life we’re making together fills me with gratitude. I hope you find this kind of profound joy in your life, too. I’m the luckiest, most thankful mom today. I love you, sweet Rose.

Happy first Thanksgiving. May your life be filled with much to be thankful for.




The concept of “home” has never been straight-forward for me. I’ve lived in six different cities and many different apartments and rentals within each city. All these places feel a little like home.

Perhaps one of the advantages of a nomadic adulthood is that I do feel at home in many places. And yet, I don’t feel fully at home anywhere. That’s mostly good, I think, to remember that we are all just sojourners, that we really ultimately belong to God and find our home in God.

But recently, we moved. With a newborn and three year old, two dogs, two grandparents, and me & Mike, we moved to a new home in San Francisco. It’s a single family home where both kids have their own room, and there’s an in-law unit, so Mike’s parents can have more space. We’re so lucky to be able to do this, and I’m grateful Calvary for helping make it happen.

It was one ugly house on one of the busiest streets in San Francisco. But the day we walked in, Mike and I knew it could work. We saw its potential, and we’ve been making it feel more and more like home ever since we got the call that they’d accept our offer.

Since then, it’s gotten a lot prettier- a lot of work and decisions that mostly Mike made which I just get to enjoy. He’s got an eye for interior and exterior decorating that I just don’t seem to have.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude that we get to live here, even when weird electrical wiring confuses us or the old plumbing goes awry. This is home, for now any way. And our children will grow up here for at least a little while.

One of our projects was to make our backyard more livable and low maintenance. This included putting in a large slab of concrete in the middle for bike and scooter riding or basketball dribbling and chair sitting.

Our contractors poured the concrete today, and I had this sudden idea to write our names in the concrete. I’ve always wanted to do that- it seems so subversive and like you’re making a mark in time that’ll be there for generations. Since it’s our own backyard, it’s not illegal, also less subversive, I suppose.

The guys let me know when it was best to do it. I wish I could’ve had the kids make hand prints, but they said it would’ve been too hard by the time they got home this afternoon.

So I just did it. It was harder to write on concrete than I thought. And I didn’t have a lot of time to give it much thought or line it up all that well apparently.

But it makes me smile to see our little mark in the backyard knowing that it’ll be there until someone decides to pull up the concrete. This is our home.

And this little gesture really cemented it into reality (pun intended, obviously).

Lost in Translation

One day, Austin will most likely grow up and pronounce all his words the way the rest of us do.

But for now, his “L”s sound like “W”s and he drops the “S” when a consonant follows. It is an adorable marker of his preschool days that I already know I’ll miss.

Sometimes I just plain cannot understand him. But he’s really great at describing what he means or using a synonym to help me.

Two examples:

(1) He kept saying something was ‘Cary and I didn’t understand him. Then he said, “I was afraid!” Ohhhhhh.

(2). He says, “I washt Catwoman.”

Me trying to figure it out: “You washed her? You was her, like pretended to be her? You washed her in the tub?”

Then he said, “No. I cannot find her.” Ohhhhhh. You LOST her.

One day, so much won’t get lost in translation. But for now, I will soak in the sweet ways he says certain words like:

yellow (wewwow)

Spider-Man (piderman)

Stop (‘top)

I love you (I wuv you)

I understand (I unner’tand)

Twinkle twinkle little star (twinkle twinkle wittle ‘tar)

Brave (bwave)

Listen (wisten)

❤️ you, my little talkative man with all the adorable words.

All about Rose: The Birth Day

If I've learned anything from the first child, it's that you forget so much. Already at 6 weeks, I'm not remembering things from the first day. So before I forget everything, here's Rose's birth story.

Rose was born on 06/17/17 at 8:07 PM. She weighed 7 lbs 7 oz and was 20 inches long.
Because I had an emergency c-section with the first pregnancy and all the presenting issues still existed this time around, we scheduled a c-section for Saturday, 6/17 at 11am.
There's a lot you need to do when a surgery is scheduled vs. when it's an emergency, like bathe and wipe yourself with some anti-bacterial wet wipes the night before and worst of all fast 8 hours before the surgery.
We went to sleep the night before ready and awaiting the birth of our daughter.
That morning, we got a call from the hospital saying they had a lot of births that day and that they'd need to push my surgery back at least several hours. First, they thought about 2pm. Then, they called again at noon, and they pushed it back to 6pm-ish, but that they'd call again to confirm around 4pm.
All the while, they told me only to drink clear liquids, so that when it was time for the surgery, I would have an empty stomach.
After the second push back, we decided we couldn't just sit around the house waiting for their call, so we took Austin to Korets Playground at Golden Gate Park.

This is him playing on his sister's birth-day, about 6 hours before she arrived.
When I didn't get a call at 4pm, I called them, and they said, "Oh right! I was supposed to call you and tell you to come in!" So we did. We were just thrilled that she'd be coming on the day we'd planned.
We got to the hospital and did more waiting, first in the waiting room while they prepared the room. And then in the hospital room while they prepared me. And then in the operating room while they tended to another emergency c-section. I think I rotated through 3 different doctor's who I met and who said they'd be operating on me! Once was a shift change, not sure what precipitated the second change. Apparently there had been a lot of emergency c-sections that day. And a lot of babies being born. I got a lot of apologies, and while I was hungry and tired of waiting I remembering saying, "well, we wanna make sure everyone is safe and tend to the highest needs first, right? We all just want healthy babies and mommas." I was surprised at how gracious I sounded because while I knew I ultimately meant it, I was also pretty darn cranky…or, let's face it, hangry!
Because I had fasted all day, my blood sugar was in the 50s, and I was given some sugar via IV so I wouldn't go into surgery so low. That then of course spiked my sugars to above 180, so my blood sugars were all over the place.
Rose, too, was hypoglycemic when they checked, so the poor thing had her foot pricked multiple times that first night as they checked her sugars until it normalized.
Once we were ready to go in the OR, it didn't take too long.
She was taken out, and the first thing Mike said was, "She looks like (Austin's nickname)." I agreed. She did. And we were thrilled to finally meet and hold our baby girl!
This time, I got to do skin to skin because I could feel my arms. And then we were rolled back into our room.
Later, we were taken to the mother/baby floor, and the hospital seemed quite under-staffed and low on everything. No baby blankets, no instruments in the room, no one to help move me. Mike actually helped roll my hospital bed in and out of the elevator, and helped the nurse use a gurney to move me from bed to bed. It seemed strange. And I noted that in my evaluation.
Jenny, who had planned to come and bring me dinner, brought me a late night snack at 11pm- miyeok gook (Korean seaweed soup), and it was so good! She got some baby snuggles in return.
It wasn't until at least 2am when we were ready to just settle in and rest a bit. And Rose was amazing that night. She slept so well and hardly cried. I think Mike probably got about a good 5 hour stretch that night, he woke up and said, "whoa! It's morning?"
I should've taken advantage of her sleepiness that night, but I only dozed for about an hour or so at a time.
Nurses were in and out, so I couldn't have slept that long any way, but I wanted to look at my baby, hear her breathing, and hold her.
Second time around, there was a lot less anxiety, a lot less preparation, a lot less thought put into the whole ordeal. But the love, the love just grows exponentially.