by Grace Ko

The other night, Y and I had a “date night in” of sorts. The kind where you put the baby down and then sneak off to the living room and turn it into your own oasis. This night, it was movie night. We popped open a can of beer and shared it while we browsed the plethora of options Netflix had to offer. We ultimately decided on “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”. (Yes, I’m a bit late to the party.) But to say that I loved this movie would be a gross understatement.

I don’t know if it was the incredible chemistry between the actors or the reliability of Lara Jean’s character. Okay, fine, it sure didn’t hurt that Peter Kavinsky, played by Nick Centineo is a TOTAL cutie (I’ve confessed this fact to my husband…)

But what I wasn’t expecting was how hard I was hit with a sense of nostalgia. It whisked me back to my high school days. (Not because the plot was similar to my life. It wasn’t.) But maybe that was exactly it. It was so different from my life in high school that it felt refreshing. It was empowering to see an Asian-American female protagonist, not ticking off the list of the stereotypical images of an Asian woman. The plot wasn’t one where the girl had to “change” to win over the heart of the ever-so popular jock. He just fell for her because of who she is. It was one of those movies that I wish I had grown up watching.

Growing up in a mostly White, affluent town, I was definitely a minority and I felt it on many levels every day. In the subtle and the not-so-subtle ways. Not only did I look different but I felt different. There were seasons my mom worked multiple jobs to make ends meet and my dad pastored a church while pursuing his doctorate studies. We didn’t own a McMansion like many of my classmates did. We didn’t even own a property. I didn’t even have my own room.

From an early age, somewhere along the way, I had picked up the message that I was not “desired” because I thought I wasn’t as pretty, smart, funny, tall, curvy, witty, athletic as my White counterparts.

So I just resorted to walking the narrow path, sticking to my studies, living my straight-edged Churched life. I floated between friendship groups and didn’t venture out to parties or many social gatherings and sure as hell didn’t date for most of my high school years.

I’ve been listening to Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime”. And recently, a passage hit me like a ton of bricks.

I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to. “What if…” “If only…” “I wonder what would have…” You will never, never know, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.

- Trevor Noah, Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

I was walking on the treadmill at the gym when I listened to this excerpt. And I had to stop because I was flooded with regret. I started recalling things I had long forgotten about.

And it then dawned on me why “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” hit me so hard. See, there was a boy. We’ll call him Peter for fun. He was a grade below me but he was tall, handsome, fun, funny, athletic, musical. And he was my friend. He used to walk with me to class, we would stop to talk briefly at our lockers. He was basically my Peter Kavinsky. And I wanted to ask him to my senior prom. One day, a friend of mine asked me who I was thinking of asking to prom. I responded saying, “Oh I was thinking of asking Peter.” That’s when she said, this other girl in my grade (we’ll call her Amanda) was going to ask him. So… I didn’t ask him.

Why did I think it was my responsibility to accommodate Amanda?
Why did her desire to ask Peter triumph mine?
Why didn’t I stand up for myself and tell my friend that I wanted to and that I was going to ask him?"
Why didn’t I give Peter the choice of choosing?

Probably because I feared rejection. Probably because I didn’t want to confirm in my heart the assumption I had had all along, that I was not “desired”. Maybe I even thought that because Peter was White, he wouldn’t want to go with me, because I’m Asian. (I know it sounds far-fetched but I think if I’m honest, there was a part of me that genuinely believed this.)

In college, I studied French for the first two years. I qualified to apply for Junior Year Abroad in France. And I accepted but under the condition that I study the French language over the summer to prepare myself for a full year abroad studying all of my academic courses in French. And guess what I did?

I backed down. I ended up going to London for a semester (I don’t regret going abroad. I’m glad I still got myself to study abroad) but I still wonder… if I hadn’t backed down, would I have become fluent in French? I’ll never know. Because I gave up even before trying.

Why did watching an innocent chick flick spiral me down such a rabbit hole? Why is my choice of prom date haunting me when I’m happily married with a beautiful family and life? Why does this even matter?

I’m not sure. But regret sucks. It’s uncomfortable. It makes you feel raw and exposed. It feels gross and I want to do what I can to minimize feeling it from here on out.

It got me thinking… “How do I live a life without regret?” I don’t have an answer. But I do think gratitude has something to do with it. But so does not letting fear dictate your actions or inaction.

As a reminder to myself, this is a working list of things I won’t ever regret:

  • spending quality time with loved ones

  • making time to care for and love myself

  • being vulnerable to those who have earned my vulnerability stories (Brene Brown)

  • working out

  • trusting in God

Weekend in Hwasun

by Grace Ko

We’re going on five years here in Korea. But waiting on, banking on contracts to be renewed or extended or the reality that it could possibly not be has been a source of uncertainty and anxiety.

But the silver lining through it all has been knowing my parents are here. (If all goes wrong, at least we could move in with them for a time.) :)

Over MDW, we made the three-hour drive to visit my parents. Their home feels like just that, home, but simultaneously like a beautiful retreat, tucked away in the mountains of Hwasun. I’m so thankful J gets to grow up here in Korea and have the luxury of not just one backyard but two. He spent the weekend planting and watering flowers and trees with grandma, enjoying a ball game with grandpa. And it dawned on me, it’s the most amazing thing being able to witness J start to enjoy the very things I enjoy. The joy doubles, triples when I get to see him enjoy the things my loved ones enjoy.

As soon as we arrived, J was overjoyed, over-the-moon to see grandma and grandpa and to be at their place. It was contagious and set us off to a beautiful weekend that I’m still reliving. I felt thoroughly spoiled with my mom’s delicious home-cooked meals, and the coffee my dad would brew for me first thing in the morning. We spent an evening cheering for our favorite baseball team, the Kia Tigers, and even fit in a day trip to 화준적벽.


Motherhood: Self-Care - "Me before you"

by Grace Ko

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the proverbial airplane air mask analogy when it comes to self-care - "In the event of emergency, put your oxygen mask on first before you help others."

This is something my dear husband has had to remind me of often. But let’s be real. When a child is utterly dependent on you for life, when he needs to be fed, when dirty diapers need to be changed and clothes need to be washed, caring for yourself gets placed on the back-burner. Even the most basic needs like eating and hygiene get lost in the shuffle. Not to mention that when I was really really new to this “mom” thing, I somehow let lies get to my head, that if I took care of myself first, I was less-than. The lie was that if I cared for myself and my needs and desires, I was “selfish”. But thanks to loving friends and dear husband, I’ve come to realize that you truly do need to care for yourself first. When we’re filled, we can love from a place of overflow, not from emptiness.

So, what have I learned about self-care? What does it look like for me?

  • Do something for yourself once a day/week/month: This could mean taking 15 minutes to read a book you’ve been meaning to crack open, or getting your nails done or making a monthly commitment to have a “mommy date” with a friend.

  • Embrace joy: Motherhood rocks your world and your identity. It’s been grounding, energizing and life-giving to go back to things I enjoyed pre-motherhood but also to try and find new things. For me personally, this has been going to Zumba class, practicing yoga at home or devouring books of all genres.

  • Create a routine that works for you: I’m a sucker for routine. And structure. But it felt like that all went out the window with motherhood (especially in that newborn/infant stage). But over time, I’ve found little things here and there that have created routine and stability in the chaos of parenthood: a morning routine that involves waking up before everyone else for a bit of me-time, an evening routine that I look forward and that helps me unwind (usually involving a good book or show with the husband).

  • Ask for help: I’ll confess, this is one that’s been really hard for me, one I’m still working on. For those familiar with the enneagram, I’m type 2. One thing the enneagram has helped shed light on is how often I find my worth in helping others and when left to its vices, it’s often at the cost of myself. The internal tape in my head is one of “I’m worthy to be loved if I’m needed”. But what about when I need others? It’s hard asking for help, letting down my guard and being in need. Whether it’s asking someone to watch your child so you can enjoy a date night or some alone-time, going to a lactation consultant for guidance on breastfeeding or seeking professional help in counseling to better navigate the vast emotions, hurts, pain that surface with parenthood, asking for help doesn’t show weakness. It takes courage and strength.

  • Find your inner friend: Recently, I watched a video uploaded by one of my favorite YouTubers, Do it on a dime. She’s a mommy of two boys and posts content on organization and low-budget lifestyle. But in this video, “An open letter to mediocre moms..” she urged us to “find your inner friend”, to show yourself the grace you so easily show friends. Be a kind and gentle friend to yourself.

  • Stay curious: At the beginning of this year, I signed up for life-coaching. Though I’m a counselor by trade, it was the first time I received coaching or counseling of any kind, outside of work/training. After receiving life-coaching from Jenn and the many conversations I’ve had with my family and friends as a result, a new motto I’ve adopted is, “Stay curious”. Staying curious means creating space for communication - not just with others but within myself, allowing myself space to explore and grow in self-awareness.


by Grace Ko

We’re made for connection. Just take a look at any study on attachment theory or the effects of neglect and trauma. Our need for connection runs so deep, is so innate.

But this is an odd season, living quite a distance from family and friends and I frequently find myself in a funk, one filled with a constant, lingering FOMO that spirals into jealousy and bitterness.

I’ve tried different things to combat these diseases ailing my heart but one weapon I’m learning to wield is gratitude.

My present life may no be filled with the coffee dates and dinner parties I so desire.
But today, I discovered a neighborhood park.
Today was one of those unicorn days here in Korea with blue skies and clean air.
Strolling along a meandering path lined with wild flowers and rice paddies in the distance.
I enjoyed a walk accompanied by Michelle Obama’s voice in my ears as I listened to her read aloud her book, “Becoming”.

I’m grateful:

  • early morning me-time

  • facials

  • Zumba classes and the ladies I’ve met through it

  • daily yoga practice

  • the current podcast I’m listening to that’s rocking my world (“Emotional Healing” by Mike Plunket at Risen King Church)


I’ve grown a deep appreciation and fondness for rice paddies. Living in the country with our house surrounded by them, we’ve been observing the rice paddies through the seasons. The labor of love they are. And lately, the rice paddies are a lush blanket of green.

Every time we arrive home, it’s become somewhat of a thing to look for the lone crane perched somewhere near the paddies, as if to be greeting us home. Maybe it’s its stark contrast of white amidst the pool of green that I find calming. Maybe it’s that I can relate to it in its aloneness. Maybe I desire to be like it, so at peace in its solitude.

One evening, the three of us sat and watched the crane when it suddenly took flight. It gracefully began soaring over the fields. And I felt like it was whispering to me, “This too shall pass.” This season in limbo, this season of waiting, holding, containing will lead to a season of flight.


Motherhood: Mommy guilt

by Grace Ko in

As soon as I birthed the child I had carried in my womb for ten months, a new realm was opened to me, a whole new world of emotions both in breadth and depth spanning from joy and pride to anxiety, fear, guilt and shame. My highs felt higher, my lows felt lower, everything a bit stronger, deeper.

Someone once asked me what was most surprising about becoming a mom. I think it’s how easily the mommy guilt came. How quickly and loudly I began hearing the little devil sitting on my shoulder, shouting, “Do more! That’s not enough! How could you? How dare you?” I’m still working at quieting that voice.

“I should be able to exclusively breastfeed. What’s wrong with me?”

“I should keep him home. Why am I sending him to daycare? That’s selfish.”

“He’s sick, again. It’s because I’m failing as a mom.”

“We had fried chicken and French fries for dinner. That’s awful. If I cared about my child’s nutrition and development, I wouldn’t be feeding him this.”

If I could rewind and go back to those first few months that felt so sweet, so precious but so vulnerable, raw and unwound, I would whisper to myself, “Take time to lean on and lean in. Be “good enough”. You’re navigating unchartered territory. It’ll take time and space to grow into this role, this new identity, this new part of you. You’re doing the very best you can. And that’s more than enough.”

Once, after an emotional talk with my mom, she turned to me and said, “You’re a great mom. How could you give, do any more than you already are?” I wept. In the deepest corners of my heart, I was afraid I would never measure up to my mom, my hero.

There was another time I distinctly remember my dad was talking to some of our relatives. He told them, “Y and G are pouring out everything into being the best parents they can be for J.” This affirmed me in the deepest parts of my heart. My inkling is to hang my head, shaking it, saying, “Oh, no, no, no… You see, there’s this and that I could be doing, should be doing…” But I’m learning to just nod and say thank you and to acknowledge that it’s all by grace.

Strangely enough, I’ve realized guilt wasn’t magically birthed into me as I birthed my child. It was a pre-existing condition of my heart, only exacerbated and accentuated by hormones and the highs and lows of motherhood.

I’m not writing this because I have the panacea for mommy guilt. I’m not at the other end having defeated it. It’s still a daily battle. But I’m chipping away at it, with my pen and paper where I go to war against my internal tape, with the help of those that speak truth over me, with daily reminders to myself that “I am enough”.