Unsettled, Unequal and Uncomfortable Things


Presidio | San Francisco

As glad as I am for the husband’s transition to a new job taking on an intense C-suite role this year, it was to be the most challenging year for our marriage partnership.

It’s a hard thing to explain a hard thing, more so when the world rarely talks about it.

What they don’t talk about in modern day parenting is how the parent with the less intensive career often defaults into the intensive primary caregiver role especially in the early years, while also having to work out a healthy parenting identity and more.

What the McKinsey/LeanIn study reveals is that women leaders are leaving their companies. Just because they have climbed higher doesn’t mean they’re comfortable up there. In fact they’re uncomfortable: For every one woman at the director level who gets promoted up another level, there are two other women directors who choose to leave the company.

— “Why Women Are Leaving The Workplace” (Forbes)

I think about this stat a lot. This Forbes article nailed it, calling it “uncomfortable”. How there are seasons in marriage where there will be unequal sacrifice. It took me all year to be comfortable to acknowledge that.

“So you left your six figure salary jobs to make Christian films… for free?! And you have two little kids?!?”

I guess so… if you put it this way. But it is of course a lot more nuanced than that. And I’m no Saint. I am also well past the life stage of ‘quit your job to pursue your passions’ thing. What it is, is I do see life and especially parenting as a wholesome pursuit.

“Sorry madam, we won’t be able to do it. The underwriter wouldn’t get it.”

Rejected. Rejected. Rejected.

This is a year of hard rejection… Rejection after rejection.

For six months, no banks would give us a mortgage loan. For what is long known as the San Francisco Housing Crisis, we battled deep and hard with questions like calling and purpose, must we be here?

And that’s not yet counting at least $4000 per month for childcare for two kids too. In many urban cities, “the working mom” is most of the time an “unprofitable” pursuit.

Or in my case, with an economy heading towards recession, I was a “red flag” to banks for a mortgage loan. In their view, I had “suffered a six-digit income loss” – twice – for becoming the primary caregiver for my two babies for two of the last three years. My societal worth was reduced to what I make — or no longer make — with no regard for maternity health, parenting babies, etcetera.

Taking a maternity break was always a risk. Often for fear of being “mommy-tracked”.

“We will just use your husband’s income… but you are also making films for free and childcare costs, so nothing adds up. Sorry.”

We were repeatedly told, and ghosted.

We were renting a 1 bed + den city apartment. Once the housing markets turned cold in June, we snapped up a modest house in a developing area. Even so, it wasn’t enough for a conventional bank loan. We were on a ticking clock staring at our savings dwindling away fast with exorbitant monthly costs to just have a roof over our four heads.

When I look across oceans and know that if I were to live on the other sides — where I had once lived — how more significantly affordable childcare is, or the support system for women: be it access to confinement nannies and live-in helpers or family in Asia, or year-long maternity in Europe. It’s led me down a rabbit hole of envy and questioning.

And if you get rejected enough, you start questioning your self-worth altogether.

As the other thing with the rejections is being put down for what I am still working on day-to-day this year while on maternity: Serving in nonprofits (deemed a “pay cut”) and making our parable films (deemed “a loss” or “an unprofitable business” as we invest our income every year to make our films).

Months and months of hours and hours spent applying for a bank loan later, one day, after being informed that an underwriter has yet again rejected us, I didn’t even have it in me to explain or fight for my case anymore. Nor did the rejection surprised me.

But minutes later, my phone rang again.

“I will fight for you.” It was the loan officer.

MERCY AND KINDNESS

From the start, I felt this loan officer was different. But with the underwriter’s rejection twice, I was skeptical. We were ghosted by another loan officer from the same bank just a month ago who, after a month working on our case, had given up.

I still have no idea why he’d inconvenience himself to take our case. “Your loan was on life support”, he mused. Against all odds, he won us an exception, and we got approved.

Then, in the same week we learned we were approved, I received news from Biola – where I’m doing graduate business school and seminary – that I have been selected for a scholarship. This not only minimizes the financial burden for me to continue school while raising little kids, but a lift to my spirit unsettled by rejections and not enoughs.

In it all, God is enough.

The funny thing is, I’ve only had enough finances and bandwidth to take one graduate class this year. It was Accounting and Finance – a compulsory business module that I had dreaded the most. But given the slew of “hard things” I already have to be tackling this year, it almost just felt like a ‘might as well‘. To my absolute surprise, I finished what is my hardest class with a perfect 4.0 score.

In one week in December, I felt mercy and kindness washed over me – or over my hard things all of this year. The hard things that strain and break marriages.

With unequal sacrifices in a marriage – or in a hard season where it feels that way in marriage – it is actually a matter of God-perspective from an honest fighting it out. John and Lisa Bevere navigated this well in their podcast episode.

‘What about me’ ‘What about mine’ ‘My spouse isn’t meeting my needs’ … if these are the things you are saying all the time, you are going to feel completely hopeless. Because you are not in control of your spouse’s actions. You are only in control of your response. You are responsible for your own happiness… [and] when God is more than enough for you, you are no longer complaining about people who aren’t doing enough for you. You actually have an overflow for other people, and you begin to see people differently.

Lisa Bevere

Much of this year, there was a hopelessness that I thought it would resolve itself if there is some form of parity we can get to within our marriage. The reality is, babies are not the hardest thing, it is the “everything else”.

In fact, I was so confused at one point that I found myself dangerously reaching for ‘Let’s just have another baby!’ Since it’s been relatively easy for me to carry babies and birth and care for them. So to justify to myself all that time – a lot a lot a lot of time – I am pouring into little kids caregiving… Like, hey, multiply the investment, right?

The thing is, I always knew deep in my spirit that motherhood is not in itself fulfilling.

At best, I’d call marriage and parenting sanctifying, it really is. And for good measure.

Fulfillment, for me, is independent of a third party be it a spouse or kids or ministry or work or school or who or what have you.

So instead of looking to fix the hard things like unequal sacrifice (that really stems from society at large), ultimately, I am responsible for my own happiness and fulfillment that is just the journey purely between me and Him.

Where am I on the journey? What’s the vision? (Reading ‘Sacred Fire‘ has helped.)

At 37, I fondly call this year – or this fourth decade of my life – one of deep foundation building for the next half of my life journey and vision with Him. I could also see how every decade of my life so far has ended strong, and with a bit of a pleasant plot twist.

So heading into this decade’s final stretch in the new year, that, even after all the hard stuff of getting the bank loan for this home here where we live through this transitional season or period, we do believe this is but a short pitstop. This story is not quite over.


So long, 2022.

Part I: The Year of Doing Hard Things

Part II: Unsettled, Unequal and Uncomfortable Things

Part III: Royal but Ordinary Victorious Things