What I Shared At Grace’s Memorial Service

I met Grace in 2005 when my husband Mike and I started the downtown community group for New Community Covenant Church. At the time, she was a new attorney for Legal Assistance Foundation and like us was also relatively new to our church and Chicago. Starting a new group was hard but thanks to the faithfulness of members like Grace, our newly formed group steadily grew into a tight-knit community.

For some reason, that group had a lot of lawyers in it. Not many people would think that having a bunch of lawyers together is a good thing. But not many people are as good as Grace. Just a couple months after our group had started, she was already asking for prayer requests about starting a legal clinic at the church. Grace could not take the statistics about low income Chicagoans not getting the legal help they needed without coupling it to the divine provision of a community group with a large number of attorneys. She had to become part of the solution herself and mobilized others to do their part as well. She and another member Suzy Choi worked hard to make this vision a reality. After 2 years of praying, planning, researching, networking, and meeting, Micah Legal Aid officially held its first clinic in February of 2007. Many great volunteers came and went, but Grace and Brant stuck with it for years. It wasn’t enough that she dedicated her full-time profession to serving those in need, but she also dedicated a huge portion of her personal time to provide the Logan Square community with free legal aid.

What I also remember of Grace from all those times in our community group was her intense pursuit of truth and how seriously she considered scripture and faith. There were no pat-answers in discussions because folks like Grace were constantly taking us deeper. She was a true philosopher. But she was also a well-rounded person. She could expound upon intense theology one minute and then sing and dance to 80’s music like the life of the party she was. We watched her grow into a strong leader simultaneously with the birth of Micah Legal Aid. She regularly facilitated for both our community group and the women’s group that met separately and endured years after the downtown group ended.

In 2012 my husband became very sick to the point that he had to take 3 months of medical leave. During this debilitating illness and constant family stress, Grace reached out to us on several occasions. She was part of the tangible caring that rallied to our side, praying for us and encouraging us. She shared her own very personal and very vulnerable stories of family sickness and hardship and connected us to resources like her good friend Peter for whom my husband and I are grateful. She was part of the loving community we hated leaving when better health meant moving across the country for a new job.

The last 18 months were my turn to reach out to her in a time of devastating illness and stress. She knew of my background as a hospice social worker and perhaps felt a freedom to pour out some heavy things that naturally come when facing cancer. Over the course of time, we reversed roles, and she became a spiritual mentor to me. She was fully human: struggling with God’s will, wondering where He was at times, and feeling the agony in the deepest parts of her soul at the mere thought of leaving Brant and Dylan. It’s what made her faith accessible to the rest of us; there was no pretense or loftiness. Only the strongest of faiths can question, doubt, wonder and struggle while steadily maintaining unwavering trust in His sovereignty. In her constant battle, physical torture, and mental anguish, she never let go of her belief that God was still good, that He was still faithful, that He was still carrying her through the storm. Just as she had 10 years ago, she doggedly pursued truth in scripture and earnestly sought him in her prayer closet.

Mike and I were able to visit with her and Brant in July. The first thing I noticed from the last time we had seen her at Christmas was the physical changes. That initial observation quickly faded because it was completely overshadowed by the greater spiritual change in her. I can’t quite describe it, but there was definitely a purity in her faith that I had never witnessed before. She was still speaking of the struggle: living with one foot in the world of the living and one foot in the world of death. She was still agonizing over what His will for her was. And even so she was also still showing her familiar sense of humor that had us smiling. But there was a greater presence of the Holy Spirit emanating from her. When we emailed later back and forth about it, she said that being sheltered from the world forced her to see God more clearly and hear his voice of comfort and love. I was floored when she said she did not regret getting cancer because in it he had brought her from what she considered a dark place to life changing repentance through his amazing grace. It showed how her sharpened spiritual eyes could see the blessings that far outweigh anything this world could offer. While weak, tired, and enduring unspeakable hardship, she was praising God in genuine gratitude.

By the time I saw her for the last time just a month ago, she had come even deeper in her faith. I didn’t think it was possible considering how focused she always was throughout everything, constantly giving testimony to her God, constantly relying on Him and attributing her unbelievable strength to Him. Gone though was any sign of spiritual struggle. Instead she had a peace given to her just a few days prior when He answered her earnest seeking of Him in all of this. We had talked before about how physical healing is the obvious miracle, but peace that passes understanding in the face of life’s harshest trials is a truly miraculous act of God. Grace displayed this miracle. With tears streaming down her face, she was wanting the world to know that there was real peace in her heart because she knew without a doubt God was with her. In the face of suffering, she focused not on her circumstances but in that her salvation was secure and that brought her sustaining joy. She never cursed God. She never forsake him. She always clung to him even when she was not fully sure he was there. She shared: “And then in cancer, in potentially losing everything, I gained everything. I stand and sit by the grace of the Lord…And I am so glad that God never lets us go…My hope is that others learn something from my hardship without having to experience it themselves, to fix our eyes on Christ and his incredible love, no matter what the circumstances.”

Let’s honor her memory and amazing life by doing just that. Let’s meet the needs of those around us with passion and servants’ hearts. Let’s serve the underserved. Let’s be a supportive community to those facing trials. And above all, let’s fix our eyes on Christ, stand in faith, and find joy in all circumstances. If we can live half the life she lived in her short 36 years, we would accomplish so much in making the world a better place and allowing His love to lead us beyond ourselves to His divine purposes and everlasting peace. Grace has left an irreplaceable hole in our hearts, but we can let her incredible spirit live on in us by emulating her and the truly incomparable life she lived.

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From Grace: Just Stand

Tuesday, October 13, 2015: …But one idea is in those moments of lucidity, send me all your thoughts of what you want to say to anyone (Brant or Dylan or anyone), and I will compile them all as they come to you in snippets…

Grace:…I never considered this legacy since I’m tired, but that’s a great idea. I will send you random current or past thoughts. You can assume they have the same audience, my family and friends.

The bible often uses the metaphor of walking through affliction, that we must pass through it. Most of my cancer fight was focused on standing up first. My motto was that I must, though painful, first stand and then walk through the affliction. But the courage always came when God lifted me off my feet.

Just stand. No matter how hard or all the tears, you must stand first.

God did not make himself easily available during my fight. He clearly was with me providing acts of hope and deep love, letting me know that I’m never alone. But I had to earnestly seek him, his word, prayer, and he drew near as I drew near. I wondered (if he was there) but now I know. When I don’t have a clear mind, I am more confident he is with me because what I’ve learned, the nearness. Bible passages are now in my heart.

I have confidence he is more firmly in my heart. When I can barely pray, Christ prays for me.

I see his purpose now.

A positive is that I spoke to my father for the first time in 7 years. We both cried and said we loved each other. He even apologized for being a distant, bad father which is hard for a Korean dad to say. We forgave each other.

God brought so much love and reconciliation from people I never realized cared. Cancer has been the worst best blessing.

God makes the impossible possible.

Unfortunately, Grace’s condition did not allow for any more legacy sharing to be sent before she passed away. A week before these snippets, she had shared with me in person how she had wondered where God was. He had seemed so distant and absent. She said that there was JOY in pursuing Him, in her earnest seeking. As she was pleading and asking if He was even there, she had a vision as clear as day: big, bold, block letters I AM. It answered all her seeking. He IS with her and He is who He is, the great I Am. From then on, she started having peace.

For all of us with puffy eyes and broken hearts, let us remember Grace’s words to us. Let us just stand, earnestly seek Him, and allow His peace to minister to our pain in losing her. 

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“Second Day on Earth”

Today Ethan received a birthday package from his Uncle Peter & Aunt Robin: a nice variety of excellent books! The stack stood as a gleaming tower of knowledge, promise, and delicious literature. After dinner just an hour after opening them, Ethan started The Green Ember by S. D. Smith, while I had picked up Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. The latter author was familiar to me because of her book Each Kindness that my younger son has and is part of a book club at their school. Woodson writes about her life in chapters of lovely poetry. I am only a few chapters in and already swooning. Here is just an excerpt from her 2nd chapter entitled “Second Daughter’s Second Day on Earth.”

Another Buckeye!
the nurse says to my mother.
Already, I am being named for this place.
Ohio. The Buckeye State.
My fingers curl into fists, automatically
This is the way, my mother said,
of every baby’s hand.
I do not know if these hands will become
Malcolm’s–raised and fisted
or Martin’s–open and asking
or James’s–curled around a pen.
I do not know if these hands will be
or Ruby’s
gently gloved
and fiercely folded
calmly in a lap,
on a desk,
around a book,
to change the world…

You will probably want to get your own copy not just because it is a Newbery Honor Book or National Book Award winner or Coretta Scott King Award recipient or because we need to continue supporting diverse books and authors, but because you will be glad that you (and your children when they are able to pry it from your hands) read it. At least, I think this will be the case once I actually read the rest of the 300 pages. But I am taking the gamble this early and predicting a winner.

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True Beauty

Lately I have been thinking about beauty. Who would you say is the most beautiful woman in the world? Scarlett Johansson? Beyoncè? Any of the Victoria Secret models? What makes them beautiful? Flawless skin? Flowing locks? Shapely curves? In what ways do you consider yourself beautiful? Your best physical attributes? The things you would keep when you look in the mirror? The cute outfit that makes you feel extra confident?

As women, we are inundated with what the world says is beautiful. We would like to think that we are deep and not subject to the superficial, but the truth is we spend about $100 BILLION a year in beauty products trying to look pretty and stay young. That astronomical number pales in comparison to the amount of money we spend on anything involving weight loss. When a cream says it will take away my fine lines and repair my blemished skin, I am feeling I need that magic cream. In the face of fundraisers for worthy causes, I am more likely to update my wardrobe from the sale rack at J.Crew, reasoning that it was an extra 40% off. Despite considering myself as practical and secure in who I am, I can still be a total sucker in my pursuit of beauty.

“This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
Ecclesiastes 2:26; 4:4; 4:16; 6:9

Within the daily barrage of images about what is “beautiful” according to media, there are the quieter, less obvious pictures of real beauty I get the privilege of seeing when my eyes are graciously opened. It takes some reprogramming. We are programmed to think that gray hair, wrinkles, no makeup, and no accessories are worse than the opposite. Thankfully, my mom has not bought into that thought or does not care to indulge it. Most Korean adults start dying their hair black as soon as any white threatens their crown. Even with others calling her grandma well before she officially became one, she let her early white hairs alone. She rarely wears any make up. The only jewelry she puts on is her wedding ring. I never learned to groom myself from her (it took college girlfriends my senior year to educate me on eyebrow maintenance). While my dad had said that he would be ok if I wanted eyelid surgery, my mom quickly and firmly responded with the nicer equivalent of a “He-e-e-e-e-ll, no!!” Even though I would have loved bigger eyes (that the world tells me is more beautiful than my small Asian ones), I never gave it a serious thought after her response.

Even now as age attempts to hide her natural beauty, my 71 year-old mom is one of the most beautiful women I know. Her white hair represents her wisdom, and her wrinkles are a result of her years of industry. Her plain, makeup-less face has been the countenance of compassion to the sick she has visited and fed. Her unseen accessories are the faithful prayers she offers each week with her prayer team. Her disregard for the worldly standards of beauty ironically confirms her actual accomplishment of that ideal.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30

In the same way, the other most beautiful woman I know is my friend Grace. It is not because she could make it on the cover of Vanity Fair right now. It is because despite her bald head and taut face she exudes beauty to any who has the privilege of being in her presence. The last eighteen months of courageously fighting pancreatic cancer have brought the worst physical torture, mental stress, emotional agony, and spiritual struggle. In the world’s eyes, this disease has robbed my friend of her natural beauty. But in actuality, it has revealed the wellspring of incomparable beauty she has within her.

With dry mouth and limited energy, Grace told me that she is thankful His love for her allowed this cancer to come into her life to bring her from a dark place spiritually to this newfound joy of true abiding. Let me just make it clear that before cancer she was like most of us: serving God, worrying about finances, trying to lose weight, relaxing with adult beverages, stressing about preschool for her son, and working the daily grind. He has brought her to such a pure place spiritually that she considers that past of worldly concerns as “dark” and in need of His merciful intervention. What is so beautiful about her is her constant testimony to His goodness in the face of extreme hardship. What is so beautiful is her desire to let the world know as much as possible that He has been her strength, that in her life-shattering difficulty she is not without mistakes or sin but with Him she is able to endure. This is a time when many would rather spit in God’s face. Yet she chooses to praise Him. What is more beautiful than that? Not supermodels, not losing 100 pounds, not having the smoothest complexion. All the nonsense of the world fades away to nothing when I am in the aura of my friend’s beauty.

The minute I leave her I look at a picture and see my wrinkled forehead, my disappearing eyes, and my flat chest. It is so hard to maintain seeing beauty in its truth when human nature and all of the world around us battles against it. But I am determined to be reprogrammed.  I am determined to remember that women like my mom and Grace are really THE most beautiful. I am thankful for their example. May my efforts and investments be towards the more worthy pursuit of this true beauty.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:18

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What to Expect When Getting a Puppy

One week ago, our family adopted our first puppy. My kids loved the idea of having a dog but were also not used to one. I thought a puppy would be less intimidating due to its small size, and they could get accustomed to it before it grew to full size. The 3 of them could grow up together. Images of lifelong companionship and adorable childhood-puppy bliss filled my mind.

E's successful soothing in the car ride home from the city shelter.

A scared pup gets successfully soothed in the car ride home from the shelter.

What was I thinking?!?!

Prior to becoming a parent, I read several books to prepare myself as much as possible. Where were the puppy books? I naively did not think to prepare or read a single one. If I had, I am sure this is what it would have said to me.

Goodbye, sleep! Remember how as a new parent you did not handle the newborn stage well? It was because you love (LOVE!) sleep. It was because any disturbance in your nightly rejuvenation, no matter how small, turns you into a monster from the crypts of hell. How convenient of you to forget that before you decided it would be awesome to bring home a young puppy. On her first night, she cried so loudly and desperately that your son woke up, and your husband banished the poor creature downstairs. You heard her again throughout the night and awoke to puddles of urine. ‘It’s just the first night,’ you ignorantly told yourself. Not wanting to face pools of pee every morning, you learned that you should take her outside when she cries in the middle of the night (thank you, internet). You found yourself feeling like the Walking Dead while you dutifully took her out at 2am. Night after night, you endured while your ability to function during the day dramatically decreased despite consuming large amounts of industrial strength coffee. You also woke up earlier than usual on top of the midnight escapades. You’re sure you look like a dancer from the Thriller video. On night 6, she finally slept through the whole night, and you celebrated like the Pope was coming to town. Even still, she started night 7 with pitiful whimpers and cries that had you praying to God that He would please let her sleep, please let her know it was ok, please make her be quiet because at that moment you were certain that the Creator of the Universe’s main concern was your puppy’s bedtime whining. Blame the lack of perspective on the sleep deprivation and caffeine overdosing.

Hello, poop! You are learning how to mouth-breathe again. Each time you clean up a pile of poop, you feel your aging process quicken (as if it needed any more help these days). For survival, you have convinced your kids that using the pooper scooper is as fun as going to Disney. Suspicions that your kids are capable of fighting about anything are fully confirmed once they wage an all out war about who gets to clean up dog poop. You still need to assist, and therefore your rapidly aging self is mouth-breathing A LOT. Your hands have come in contact with enough urine-soaked towels that you are conditioned to gag at the site of a roll of Bounty. It may be the quicker picker upper, but why could it not be thick enough to keep your miserable hand from feeling the dampness of wet waste? You hope for your birthday you get a steam-vac which would make you more excited and overjoyed than were it a diamond from Tiffany’s. Yet even the best carpet cleaner cannot maintain your once neurotic ideas of cleanliness. That neurosis has been gradually beaten down after marriage, then children, and finally the fatal blows from having an animal in the house. There are no (Asian) dogs who can take their shoes off when they enter the house. You thought kimchi made your house reak, but it has a fierce competitor now. There is nothing quite like opening your door, stepping in your house, and filling your nostrils with the odor of smelly, dirty dog. That lovely scent clings to you and becomes your own. You then realize that being in public without showering was not your worst offense as you now emit “eau de smelly dog” on a daily basis.

Puppy Prima Donna. Your independence has fallen to the mercy of a small, furry animal. This means you have not gone running all week (which common sense tells you should make you happy, but the release of endorphins after torture is still missed). You limit times away from the house because you have to go home and let the dog out or because you feel guilty for leaving her in the crate too long. You are the loser who tells your dinner hosts that you cannot stay for a fun game because you have to go back home to your puppy. You postpone errands to the point that your husband uses water in his cereal one morning, and your kids complain they have to eat the neglected snacks from the unwanted side of the pantry. (Cry me a river, kids.) Because she is young and not fully vaccinated, you are she is under house arrest. Normally, this could drive you crazy but being as sleep-deprived as you are, you actually do not mind being isolated. You would enjoy sitting on the couch in a stupor, but alas you have to monitor your pup 24-7 because everything can be a chew toy when a dog is teething just like any surface can be a toilet when potty training. You are pretty sure secret service agents have to own young puppies as part of their surveillance training.

Final Verdict. You are cranky from sleep deprivation. You are dealing with endless amounts of stinky poop and peed-on carpet. Your house is dirtier than normal. You cannot escape the strong odor of animal. Your life now revolves around a 4-legged creature who thanks you for your sacrifice by nipping at you with her sharp teeth. What were you thinking?! You are not quite sure, but you are certain that your thoughts at this time are this: SHE IS TOTALLY WORTH IT. It is not without reason that she has cute, floppy ears and big, imploring eyes. Even though she can be a hyperactive, somewhat stubborn pup, she shows signs of being trainable. She has made progress, and today there have been zero accidents in the house (hallelujah!). You realize that when her tail beats against the ground in happiness that it corresponds with your own endorphin release as she gently lays her head on your lap. Despite scooping poop and being jumped on, your kids say often how glad they are that they have her. Your younger son has been inspired to lyrical forms of expressing his happiness and has produced melodic tunes like, “Oh, Harpy! Oh-oh-oh, little Harpy!” You are sure that Bob Dylan and Smokey Robinson both had dogs as muses. Your older son whose sibling regularly accuses him of meanness shows such sweetness with this animal that you have renewed hope he can grow to be an empathetic, good human. You are certain each Nobel Peace Prize winner had a puppy. Your boys are learning responsibility in feeding her and taking her outside. All your hearts melt when she lays on her back for a belly rub or curls in a ball for a nap. You find yourself unable to imagine your family’s life without her. What to expect when getting a puppy? A really, really, oh-little-Harpy-HAPPY home.



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Mid-Childhood Crisis

A couple years ago, I realized our family had entered the sweet spot stage (and wrote here about how it changed my perspective on camp-free summers drastically) where our children are in the precious balance of still needing us but not needing us. In other words, they can carry out their activities of daily living unaided but still think we are a valid source of wisdom and (let’s be honest) food. That awareness has continued to grow to where I will spontaneously bust out Trace Adkins’ lyrics loudly on my unsuspecting family at any given time: “YOU’RE GONNA MISS THIS! YOU’RE GONNA WANT THIS BACK! YOU’RE GONNA WISH THESE DAYS HADN’T GONE BY SO FAST!” As jittery as it may make them, my clan is used to me bursting out in song. But for me to let loose some country music rather than El Debarge (or Tears For Fears this Sunday when my younger son buttoned his polo-styled shirt ALL the way up) is simply a sign of one thing: mid-childhood crisis.

I did the math (I’m Asian, after all) and according to my advanced calculations, my older son is halfway through his childhood. (I need a moment. One more moment, please. Hang on…YOU’RE GONNA MISS THIS! YOU’RE GONNA WANT THIS BACK!) He has lived 9 years with us and in 9 more years (if all goes according to plan) he will be leaving us for college. God-willing, he will no longer be living under the same roof as I. His daily life will no longer be a large part of my daily life. He will be off on his own never to return in the same way as the here and now ever again.


My oh-so-(not)-sentimental husband only says, “Yeah, try to remember that when they are fighting and whining.” As hard as that is sometimes, I do try. It is undoubtedly harder to sing Trace Adkins on mornings like today when they screamed (!!) after I repeated in gradual escalation that they needed to hurry up (!!!) to get to school on time. Then their ear-splitting fight over whose items could occupy the middle section of the back seat made me think that square foot of prime real estate was a penthouse condo in Manhattan. Tonight the household yelling and crying had me think towards the open window, ‘Enjoy the show, neighbors! Pop some popcorn! May our drama be as unbelievable as APS and/or the pre-election shenanigans!’ As annoying and wine-inducing as those (too frequent) moments are, I know that they are all part of the total package that I will miss in 9 very short years. Silence is golden except when it is forever.


Though I am not a selfie-kind of person (I cannot take one and not have a double chin or face cut off or other unflattering results…distance is a forgiving friend), I took one of the boys and me on Sunday. We three were squeezed on my rocking chair where my 7 year-old reminisced I had rocked him as a baby years ago. Despite losing feeling in my legs because 2 elementary-aged children take up way more space and are ten times heavier than an infant, I held onto that lazy afternoon moment like the savor-worthy jewel it was. We relished in leisurely conversation that started with Ethan asking me if I had ever been bullied as a kid (thanks to a lesson on being fearless at church). Because, like Popeye, I yam what I yam, that evolved into discussions about race, class, diversity, character, godly pursuits, and my hopes for them to change the world for the better all in their short lifetimes. (And they thought Tiger dad’s expectation of extra workbooks was a bit much.)


The desire to burn that afternoon in my mind was strong enough to resist the urge to delete an unflattering selfie. It was worth it to preserve this precious period where they ask questions and actually listen to my answers, where I can ask them questions and they earnestly attempt to answer in their tiny awareness of the world and themselves, where for just a couple hours time seems to stand still and I make a conscious effort to file this in the memory bank.


I know it will not always be this way. In the blink of an eye, they will be flying away from the nest. If I am in mid-childhood crisis now, will I be completely undone then? No. (I think.) I hope then I will know it is truly their time to fly. I will be excited for them to be an adult, to vote (just like me), to taste their (first) beer at a frat party (and then call me to confess), to date girls (that they know I will love), to realize that there are tons of other Asians out there and become fully secure in that identity for the first time, to expand and stretch their worldview, and to grow into the men God created them to be. For now, I try to savor these days of the sweet spot for as long as I can even when sibling squabbles hit WWIII levels and the whining as a reactive response takes me to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. My older one has had to endure extra hugs (unlike his brother, he is NOT my cuddle guy and shrieks in protest). Get used to it, shrieker boy, because for the next 9 lightening-fast years I will be working out this current mid-childhood crisis with gusto.

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Their Love Story

This is my parents’ love story picking up from the prologue post you can read here.

After Dad graduated from college, his assignment for military service in the Korean Army was at an English language instructional school (training for military interpreter services) in Daegu, a city in the southern part of the country. He went there for a 12-week training course. While there, he read an article in the local paper about the May Queen of a nearby women’s college, Keimyung College (now Keimyung University). The May Queen was like the school’s Homecoming Queen except instead of being elected due to popularity or prettiness, one was officially appointed by the school, probably for being a role model student. Something must have piqued his interest because for some unknown reason, he clipped it out and saved it.

Later, one of the assignments for his English course was to write a letter. He decided not to write any random letter just to fulfill the requirement, but to write a letter to the May Queen from the article he had clipped and saved. In the letter, he introduced himself and said he had read about her in the local paper. After the assignment was returned to him, he boldly sent the letter off to her in the mail. His excitement in getting a reply soon turned to disappointed confusion. All he received was another article about the May Queen from the college paper that was lengthier and more detailed. There was no personal note included, just the clipping. He did not know what to think of that and decided to forget about it. She must not be that interested or willing to risk it with a complete stranger. He finished his 12-week course and returned to Seoul.

Because he did well in the course, he was assigned to return as an instructor in Daegu for the remainder of his mandatory 2-year military service. In Korea, all men are required to serve at least 2 years in the military. As an ROTC graduate, Dad advanced to an officer (lieutenant) during his years of service. In that era before speed trains, the trip to and from Seoul and Daegu took about 7 hours by train. An older officer at the time advised Dad to find a local girlfriend instead of trying to maintain anything in Seoul from that distance. He remembered the May Queen and decided that he would try and write her again, this time in their native Korean language. His repeated gamble paid off. He received a personal letter from her in return and thus began their written correspondence.

After a few letters back and forth, he suggested they meet each other for the first time near the train station before he left for a visit back to Seoul. Dad sat waiting at a bakery. The designated time came and went. An employee of the bakery called out, “Is there a Chong Woong Kim here?” The May Queen had called to relay the message that she would be late. At the time, she was living with a professor’s family as the children’s tutor in exchange for room and board. The children had an exam the following day, so she had to work late to prepare them.

Dad waited at his table anticipating his image of a beauty pageant queen: high heels, fashionable attire, made up face, and well-groomed hair. He pictured a glamorous model from the cover of a magazine. Finally his daydreams were interrupted by the sense that someone was standing over him. He looked up and saw a simple white blouse tucked in a sensible black skirt, flat shoes, and a plain completely make-up-less face. Maybe he thought May Queen meant something akin to Miss Korea and neglected to think that she was probably the most obedient scholar at a Christian college founded by Presbyterian missionaries. He felt undeniable disappointment but went forward with cordial conversation. Despite the lack of glamour, that first meeting grew into regular weekend appointments at restaurants, tea rooms and bakeries across Daegu. He came to realize that his initial pageant ideals were not the definition of actual beauty. He discovered that she was naturally and truly attractive in the ways that mattered most. She was the real deal.

As things progressed, he found that his heart was no longer dormant but awakened again. As far as he could tell, she reciprocated those feelings. Was this true love? Was he just bored and lonely being away from his family and friends? Was she really someone who could be his partner for life or simply an enjoyable distraction while serving out his army time? He wanted to be sure. He had a 2-week leave from the army coming up and planned to go visit his home in Seoul. Before he left, he suggested to her that during his leave they take a break and not communicate at all. She reluctantly agreed (not sure if she really had much choice).

When he finally returned back to Daegu, they met up in a park. He started telling her the story of his young love in high school. He spoke in great detail about this other woman and their relationship. Maybe the May Queen thought he had reconnected with her back in Seoul. Maybe she wondered how a simple girl from the countryside could override a cosmopolitan woman of the country’s urban center. She might have known not to underestimate the strength of first love; she knew the power of it seeing as how he was her first love. He continued with his story and confessed that he still had those saved letters after all this time. In fact, he pulled them out and showed them to her. He let her read every single word. After she had finished, he placed them in a pile before her. He took out his lighter and dramatically set the worn out papers on fire until nothing was left but ashes. The time apart had not diminished his strong feelings; it had only fueled them forward into confirmation that she was THE one. Once he knew, he was so inpatient to see her that he cut his leave in half and returned a week early. The May Queen, my mom, had completely extinguished the dying embers of first love and taken her rightful place as his heart’s true love. Burning those letters was, in a way, asking her to be his lifelong partner.

July 27, 1968

July 27, 1968

I think Dad considers their story a “true love story” because it stands in contrast to the typical matchmaker introductions of his generation. I cannot imagine my father (a Korean Rico Suave) having it any other way. Through a little newspaper clipping, my parents met and got married. They are celebrating 47 years today. Those years have not always been easy. They still fight and get on each other’s nerves. (They also still hold hands and laugh at each other’s jokes.) They still grumble at each other on a very regular basis. (And she still cooks dinner for him; he still washes the dishes for her.) They continue on in their covenant and in this way demonstrate the fulfillment of LOVE: unconditional commitment that forgives, extends grace, and promises future presence in spite of all the annoying habits and discordant personality traits that come with that promise. I am thankful not just because I am a direct result of their story, but also because I get to have their example in my life so personally.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Keeping love alive

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