Ode to my 엄마 “Umma” (mom)

 “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her happy…” Proverbs 31:25-28


When I was a kid, Mother’s Day was my opportunity to make or draw a card or make “love” coupons for my mom and give it to her. I have vague memories of preparing breakfast in bed for my mom somewhere between the ages of 7 and 10 years old, and of course, in my mind, the breakfast was this beautiful meal—but I am pretty sure my mom would only take one bite of the toast, so who knows what it really looked like. I do know that my mom was always be super happy and thankful for it though.

Now, on the brink of another year in my 30 somethings and working as a pastor, Mother’s Day takes on a different complexity for me. The pastor part primarily because Mother’s Day always falls on a Sunday and we always have to figure out what to “do with it” in worship, and I am hyper aware and hyper sensitive to the different emotions the day triggers for many people. The 30-something part because I honestly thought I’d be a mom by now and every passing year is a reminder that I am still not.

I’ve always wanted to be a mom. It’s as strong as my calling to be a pastor. I was the 10-year-old kid that would hold babies and they would fall asleep on me—and I’d hold them until my arms felt like they were going to fall off.

I posted a blog earlier talking about how if I never became a mother myself, that I am thankful for the opportunities people have given me to nurture and love their children. After having lived with the Lee’s and their girls, I know for certain that it does take a village to raise children.

So, holding all of that and learning a lot after 8 months of living day in and day out with kiddos, I had to write an “ode to my엄마” (umma). Because even as I understand the complexities of the day for many people, and even as I still dream to one day be a mother myself, with every passing year, I grow more deeply in gratitude for the kind of mom I do have.

My mom immigrated to the U.S. at 26 years old after marrying my dad, and took a HUGE leap of faith, leaving her family and friends behind to move to a new country with her new husband and his family… and not only to the United States, but to UTAH, people. J Don’t get me wrong, Utah is beautiful—it will always be home—but if you thought moving to a new country and having to learn a new language and new culture was hard, moving to Utah as Korean immigrants is just not going to make it easier for you.

My parents did wait to have children. Apparently, they only planned on having one, so they waited. So, when it turned out that they wanted more, my mom felt the pressure to hurry to have more. So out I came, and 18 months later, my sister was born. Another 18 months after that, out came my brother. Bam, bam, bam. Image

I could go on and on—but you get the jist. A young stay at home mom with 3 babies (“it felt like I had triplets” she will still tell you), English as a second language, not just far away from her family, but a world apart from her family and friends… I don’t know how she did it, but she did. Not perfectly, but as best as she could. And honestly, she has three adult children who love her and appreciate her on this Mother’s Day—and every day.

So, an ode to my Umma:

Dear 엄마 Umma,

 When we were kids, I did not understand or even know what kind of struggles you must have gone through to raise us. To be honest, I’ve only recently thought about it because I lived with children and realize how difficult the day-by-day can be, especially if one is sick or if the parent is sick. I can’t even imagine potty training 3 kids. I only have these wonderful memories of you singing and playing guitar for us and making us amazing Korean and American meals. Thank you.

 When I was a teenager, I know I was the biggest pain in your butt. I was struggling so much with my own identity and appearance. I admit now with shame I was embarrassed of who I was. People can be so mean—and I’m pretty sure I took some of the cruelty that was being inflicted on me out on you. I’m sorry for that. We are so alike, so that probably didn’t help the way we handled things at that time. Thank you for looking back on that time as “typical teenager” problems. It was also during those years that I first felt my call to ministry. Thank you for accepting that and encouraging me to follow my call.
You and I know that we have struggled the most in our relationship out of the 3 of us kids. But I also think that we have learned so much from that struggle, and I am so glad we are now in a place where we can be thankful on a daily basis for our mother/daughter relationship.

Thank you for always being my number one fan and cheerleader. I remember at my seminary graduation, they announced that people please hold their applause until after all the names had been read, and when my name was read for the master’s degree, you still shouted at the top of your lungs in that crowded huge chapel, “GO IRENE!!” Yep, I heard you, Mom. J I am sure you surprised everyone sitting around you. When I was younger, I would be so embarrassed when you did things like that, but that day, it made me SO HAPPY.
Now that I am at the age you were when you were raising three babies, I have a new and deeper appreciation for your love, your patience, your prayers, your tolerance, your continued learning, and your support even now. Thanks for being an awesome mom. I love you, and I hope you know that I am proud of having you as my mom.

Happy Mother’s Day!


 Love, Irene