Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why Photo Albums Almost Killed Me This Week

Today I’m incredibly sleep deprived because I’ve spent about 70 hours over the past 5 days making photo albums.  Why?  Because 2 years ago I bought 5Photobook America Groupons that expired yesterday.
Yes, I bought those Groupons TWO years ago.
Two years ago yesterday, 5 days before I left for China, Groupon published a deal with Photobook America. For $25, I could get $115 worth of Photobooks.  Great deal, right?

I knew I’d want an album of our historic trip to China.  So I bought 5 Photobooks.  Hey, I was being optimistic!  After all, I had 2 years to do it.
I figured I’d make a China book, a wedding book (our photographer absconded with 1/3 of our photo album, so I’ve always wanted a new one), and some random albums because I haven’t filed photos since going digital in 2004—I’ve printed photos but they’re all sitting in a stack next to our pre-2004 photo albums.
The Groupons have weighed on my mind these past 2 years.  I knew I needed to make those albums.   I knew I’d have to learn the Photobook software that I downloaded after returning from China.
But I soon realized:  THERE’S NEVER A GOOD TIME TO MAKE PHOTO ALBUMS.  As the late and great Steven Covey might say, no matter how important photo albums may be, making them never falls into the urgent category.
Unless you’ve got 5 Groupons expiring.
So at great expense to my sleep, sanity, family relationships and even friendships, I’ve run a marathon of photo album production.
Scott and I were asked to preach at our church this past Sunday—1st time in 12 years of attending the church.  But instead of endlessly refining the sermon, I wrote it, and then went back to photobooks.
As friends have come to swim and socialize, I’ve sat next to them, computer in my lap and worked on photobooks.
I’ve neglected my children.  I’ve neglected my job.  I’ve neglected cooking.  Yesterday I started at 9 a.m. and finished the 5th photobook at 12:45 a.m.  Thank God Photobook still accepted the Groupon despite being cashed in 45 minutes late.
In the process I’ve realized several things:
  1. It’s healthier to work on photobooks than to eat, shop or imbibe for fun.
  2. Reflecting on photos taken over the years inspires thankfulness.  People are usually smiling, you see the key family events like black belt tests, vacations and holidays.  It warms my heart.  A lot more than 70 hours of TV.
  3. It’s good to force a deadline for commitments you’ll never keep on your own.  I bought the deals knowing that I’d make 5 photobooks because I’m cheap and don’t want to lose my money (same reason paying for a gym makes me exercise—won’t pay for something I won’t use)
So all in all, despite the sleeplessness and grouchiness of my kids who’re realizing there’s no food in the house (“There’s not a single leftover!” one just shouted as I write), I’m glad I did it.
In fact, I’m ready to purchase my next Groupon deal if they offer it again—maybe even for five!
You might also enjoy:
This was first posted on What She Said

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The “Awe-ful” Weight of Responsibility

I have a new recurring nightmare. I’m supposed to teach some large gathering and I’ve neglected to prepare. . . anything.  No talks, no snacks, no colleagues who can pinch-hit for me.  So I wing it—through sheer force of personality, I offer scintillating thoughts—and know I’m completely failing.  Maybe I’m finally growing up–until a couple weeks ago, my recurring nightmare was always academic—that I forgot to attend either a history or math class until the week before finals.
Both recurring nightmares share the same theme–irresponsibility.  I’ve failed to prepare and I’m going to pay the consequence—as will those forced to listen to me.
I was the irresponsible child in the family.  I started things and didn’t finish them; I repeatedly lost (and thankfully re-found) my gym sneakers; I hated and resisted chores.  Even worse, as the oldest child, I didn’t sacrifice for my younger siblings as a properly filial older child should—the epitome of Chinese irresponsibility.
Imagine my surprise when my youth pastor told me I was the most responsible kid he knew, and then years later taking Strengthsfinderand responsibility being one of my five highest strengths.
Clearly I’m overcompensating.
I feel a lot of ambivalence around responsibility–it’s so weighty and can seem antithetical to Jesus’s gospel of grace.  Yet I’ve been wondering lately whether women aren’t taking up our God-given responsibilities–especially for our own calls, gifts and abilities.

On one hand, women are the most responsible folks around—we take care of everyone!  We take care of our parents, our neighbors, our friends, our churches, our volunteer organizations and our colleagues.
And our kids?  Forget it.  Our overweening obsession with whether these music lessons, or that soccer team, or this academic opportunity will help my children flourish and become all they’re meant to be is proof of just how much responsibility we assume for those we love.
Yet all that caregiving can mean we don’t take responsibility for our own unique contribution to the world—outside of care-giving.  We need care-givers, but we also need women to do much more.
Sometimes I wonder whether women who cling to more hierarchical views of leadership and marriage do so because they don’t have to feel responsible for their own potential.  It’s their husband’s job.  If God says we can’t lead or teach or work, we don’t have to feel responsible for burying our talents.
My ministry’s dealing with the same dilemmas around women rising to senior levels that Anne Marie Slaughter raises in Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.  Despite our value that women should be at every level of the organization and virtually equal numbers of men and women, the proportion of women decreases the higher you go.  Many of the reasons Slaughter writes about apply:  increased work hours/travel, husbands whose jobs aren’t flexible, not wanting to sacrifice that much time with children, organizational obstacles and culture.
But too often women also don’t take responsibility for our own careers, our own gifts, our own potential.  We have 5 year plans (or at least dreams) for our kids but not ourselves.
And I’m guilty here—I don’t have a 5 year plan other than knowing I’ll be one year from empty nest.
It’s both awesome and awe-ful that the God of the universe gives us talents and expects us to aid in the work of redeeming this planet.  If butterfly wings can start hurricanes, our small little contributions can change the world.
So women, let’s take responsibility for how God asks us to flap our little wings!
Now please excuse me as I go write a talk and responsibly attempt to not live out my nightmare. . .
This was the third of a series of reflections I’m writing based on Ann Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic Monthly story Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.  Read The Problem with Having It All and Why We Need Women (And Others) in Leadership.
You might also enjoy some of my other thoughts on gender and/or work:
This was first posted on What She Said

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Why We Need Women (and Others) in Leadership

This is the second of a series of reflections I’m writing based on Ann Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic Monthly story Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.  Read The Problem with Having It All
Back in my 20s, because I had 3 diversity points (female, Asian, young), I was invited to sit on a couple national Christian ministry advisory boards. Affirmative action brought me to the table—I was severely under-qualified compared to fellow board members—but I was glad to be there.  After all, if you want a young, female, Asian perspective, you’ve got to involve young, female, Asians.  Kudos to these ministries for taking seriously God’s care and concern for all peoples and all nations!
Because I was the youngest and least accomplished person on both boards, and because I cherished the free plane ticket to Chicago so I could meet with my graduate school advisor, I was the most constant member over the years—the perk of being single, unknown and rarely in demand.  So as time went on, I often became either the only woman or only person of color in the room.

I soon noticed that when the room was full of ethnic minorities, ethnic minority issues got attention. Likewise, when there were many women, issues around gender and justice got more space.
But when those representatives disappeared, so did those conversations.  I valiantly tried to continue the dialogue from previous meetings but was usually unsuccessful.  Not because people didn’t care, but because one lone (and young) voice crying out in the wilderness just doesn’t garner much attention.
That’s why I think Ann Marie Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It Allis so important.  She’s concerned about the dearth of high-level women leaders in every facet of our country, and even more worried that women, having dropped out over work/life balance issues, aren’t even in the leadership pool.
Without diversity in the highest echelons, we lose a great deal of perspective, or using business terms, we lose the ability to reach crucial markets.  We’re all blind to most issues and needs of anyone who isn’t us. We need help to see things we don’t see. So if our schools, communities, churches and institutions are ever to include people who are different, we’ve got to involve those different folks at every level.
Yet to be honest, despite my deep desire to see diversity in the upper echelons of my ministry, I’ve been reluctant to be part of the solution for the precise reasons Slaughter observes. I haven’t climbed the leadership ladder, not because I lacked opportunity, but because there are many who can lead but no one else can mother my kids.  My husband’s high-powered job has little flexibility, so keeping a flexible job helps our family.  And when I look up the ladder, I haven’t wanted the costs—especially travel—that promotion entails.
But 20 years after my stint on those boards, I look up and still don’t see many folks that look like me in the top ranks. . . of anything.  And I wonder how God wants folks like me to think about our lives, our calls, our sacrifices.  Because if we don’t join the tables where issues are discussed and decisions are made, how will we ever move forward in God’s desire to serve all peoples well?
You might also enjoy some of my other thoughts on gender and/or work:
This was first posted in What She Said

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Problem with Having it All

This is the first of a series of reflections I’m writing based on Ann Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic Monthly story Why Women Still Can’t Have It All
When I was a kid, I read a Parade magazine interview with either Barbara Walters or Margaret Thatcher—can’t remember which one just that she was an older White woman with big hair—who said something like, “You can either have a great marriage and a great relationship with your kids, or a great marriage and a great career, or a great career and a great relationship with your kids, but you can’t have all 3.”
Really?  I thought.  Bummer.
Because even as a kid, I wanted it all—marriage, family, career—and it just seemed wrong that there was no way to be great in all 3 at the same time.

Dr. Ann Marie Slaughter has purposefully re-ignited this debate in her Atlantic Monthly cover story Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, and she has succeeded.  It’s a long article, but worth reading.
There have been a slew of thoughtful (and sometimes rabid responses) to her article, ones I especially appreciated include:
These responses point out how men have never “had it all,” that it’s impossible to “have it all,” and that the standards of “having it all” are questionable in the first place (do we really want our leaders working 100 hour weeks, neglecting their kids, and passing that those values to the larger culture?).
I can get all twisted inside in this debate because inevitably I start thinking what Barbara Walters or Margaret Thatcher so presciently said those years ago, “I’m failing at all 3—wife, motherhood and career.” I’m so far from greatness in all arenas.
Yet on a spiritual level, it’s intrinsically bankrupt to hunger and thirst to “have it all” and “be great” precisely because they’re the wrong goals and the wrong methods.
Instead of “having it all,” God wants us to “get a life.”   Even better, God wants to give life to us.  We just have to follow.
There’s nothing wrong with marriage, kids or work.  Nor is there anything wrong with wanting to be great.  But God’s paradox is that as we lose our lives, we’ll save them, and the road to greatness involves being the servant of all.
Maggie (or Barbara) may have said I’ll never achieve greatness as a mom, wife and worker as I try to do them all at the same time, but perhaps as I give up on grasping for greatness and focus on serving and receiving, I’ll get the better deal.
You might also enjoy some of my other thoughts on gender and/or work:
This was first published on What She Said