North Carolina Boy

Each year around this time, my mind goes back to such a special Christmas season.

I remember it so clearly, this week two years ago- I hope I never forget, either. The context, if you will: the Stover family moved to South Carolina + nobody at Cedarville University lived in South Carolina = Kate had no way of getting home for Christmas break. Frantic and stressed and only a week from finals, I searched the university classifieds page in search of a ride home. Literally the first or second advertisement from a boy named Andrew read, “Offering rides to or around Raleigh, NC.” Perfect. I sent an email with my phone number and received a text minutes later, agreeing to drive me as far as Winston-Salem. And also,

“So I noticed you have a PA area code… I have a bunch of family from Pennsylvania!”

I was sitting at my desk next to my roommate, and I remember rolling my eyes and showing her the text saying something like,

“Ew I hope this guy doesn’t try to be super friendly with me and try to talk to me for the whole drive. That’s the worst. I’d rather just sit in the back seat and read a book.”

In the days that followed, friends would inquire as to how I was getting home, and I would reply with: “Just a random guy I found on classifieds who lives in North Carolina!” and everyone – everyone – everyone gave me that look. That look that every single girl has probably seen at one point or another, followed by,

You’re driving home with a BOY???” and

“OOOOHHH have you stalked him on Facebook yet??” and

“Is he cute?? I bet he’s cute. I bet you’re going to fall in love!” and my favorite:

“You know my parents know some people who met giving each other rides home in college. and now they’re MARRIED!!” **wink wink**

Cue the eye-rolling and probably foot stomping and adamant quotations along the lines of: It’s JUST a ride home! We’re not even going to talk to each other. So opposed to this guy, I finally searched for him on Facebook just to make one of my friends stop talking about it and prove, “Look, he’s not even cute.”

Friends, I was so fiercely opposed to dating at this point in my life. I was an RA and I was pouring myself into 24 awesome freshman girls. I was involved in two different urban ministries in Springfield. I was working on restoring mine and my sister’s relationship. My family had just moved to South Carolina from Delaware and I was continually processing that huge upheaval. I was so busy, so involved, and I say this not to pat myself on the back or throw confetti into the air of my own self-celebration- that’s not it at all. I say all of this to emphasize how desperately I needed to be humbled. All these things in my life were so, so good- and it was certainly a rich, beautiful time, but I was so deeply flawed in so many ways (still am- always will be) and while I was invested in so many good things, I was continually building huge thick walls around my frozen heart. I would walk around campus criticizing anyone and everyone who was dating, or who would admit they wanted to date. When couples got engaged? I was horridly critical and judgmental of their choice to “throw their life away!” I thought I was doing just fine, but my pride in my own independence needed shaking and breaking. My heart of stone needed to be made flesh.

Then it was Thursday night, finals week, the night before my last final and the end of the semester. My girl Madie Grapes (!!) helped me carry all my bags down three flights of stairs to the Willetts lounge where he was waiting by the doors, his Jetta parked outside to load up my bags. We agreed to meet outside the Bible building after my last final the next day and we’d hit the road, so I needed to get all my stuff in his car the night before. Upstairs, there was a hall full of girls I loved, studying and snacking and lounging on pillows against the cinderblock walls, waiting for me to come back and report what this guy looked like. This moment I’ll never forget. It’s really really true when they say your life can change in an instant. Because I saw Andrew through the small window in the door separating me and all my bags in my hands and all my baggage in my heart and I knew this was going to turn out differently than I expected. My resolve began to crumble right then and there, in the cold lounge of my dorm building. I remember what shirt he was wearing, I remember he was texting on his phone when I opened the door and he looked up saying, “Are you Kate?”

Never mind how much of a gushing fool I acted like as he picked up my bags and loaded them into the back of his car. Never mind how stupid I felt in my shorts and moccasins and really dirty hair. Never mind the I-told-you-so’s coming from the hall full of girls when Madie & I came back upstairs and she burst out, “She thinks Andrew is cute!!” Never mind how I actually did sit in the back of the car and read a book all the way home the next day. Never mind how I tried to ignore how everything he said was really interesting. Never mind how we found out we had a number of things in common that day including loving coffee, Jesus, world missions and the outdoors.

That whole Christmas break was spent in deep, deep conversations with Jesus and close friends, asking “What the heck is going on??” Those weeks between first meeting Andrew and going back to school were some of the hardest yet best weeks because that time spent with Jesus was so, so sweet. I experienced some of the most meaningful moments with God himself as He brought to the surface things I had buried so deep within my heart that I never wanted to deal with. With gentle pressure He revealed the bleakness of where my life would be going if I continued to refuse help and submission to Him and admitting my weaknesses. C. S. Lewis put it this way,

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to?”

…in a way that hurt abominably, at first, but then slowly He started refining me and pouring out so much grace and mercy and filling my brokenness with all His beauty and newness and freedom… and life! So much new life filled every ounce of my soul that Christmas season. I surrendered my whole entire self and everything became so much more rich, vibrant and beautiful. My family became so much more treasured. My sister and I loved each other again. Our house in South Carolina became home. and eventually, quietly, I admitted to Jesus that I wanted to be with someone. I can still see those words on the page of my journal, and I can picture where I sat when I wrote those words and when put my pen down immediately because Andrew was in the back of my mind and I didn’t know what was happening.

But I started learning at that moment that falling into the all-sufficiency of the grace of the great wide open is the best and most beautiful place to ever be, and I didn’t know it at that time, but that moment would set me on a long, long, perhaps lifelong journey of that same surrender. C. S. Lewis also said, when we are wondering what God is up to as he wrecks and rebuilds the house of our hearts, that

“He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

God broke down my walls, and a few weeks later, Andrew started to help. Months went by, and I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but Andrew and I found ourselves sitting across from a table in the cafeteria when he said the words I’ll never ever forget: “You’re my girlfriend now.” Ah! I still laugh when I think of it! Such a small moment, in an insignificant place, that has set us on this crazy huge wild journey.

Andrew walked across the graduation stage exactly a month later and we started fumbling around the unknowns of a long-distance relationship. I somehow managed to trudge through my senior year of college. We both wandered through unknowns and toed the deep water of uncertainty as we faced our future. As Andrew was heading towards Guam I found out I was bound for South Korea. I moved across the globe. Andrew got fully-funded.

And in 19 days he’ll be here. Here, in a place I could have never asked or imagined for myself, or for the both of us. And I smile and sometimes still weep with the same awe and humility that I felt two years ago. When God asked, “Are you willing?” and I said “Yes” and found myself where I hoped- where I think we all hope we might stand after taking that last deep breath and falling free, out in the great wide open of grace. Too much grace and goodness for us to contain- this has been the only way I can describe the past two years. and to know there is more to come? I don’t have words to express the fullness of my heart, so here are some verses that can:

We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that He has already thrown open His door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand- out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. There’s more to come! We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever happens next… we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! {Psalms, The Message

Andrew & I wear leather bracelets that have words pressed into them, words that God keeps pressing into our hearts: “Into the grace of the great wide open / Into the grace of the great unknown.” It’s the best place to be.

Happy two years of knowing you, North Carolina Boy. 

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Dear Korea…

I like it when you snow and I happen to glance out my window to see a few little flakes…

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I like your abundance of coffee shops for reading on rainy Sundays…

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I love that you have more trees than my college campus in the country, and that even some of your parking lots look like this…

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I love that you are festive…

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I love the kindhearted people who I work with…

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I like that you have enough foreigners here to celebrate thanksgiving and make an abundance of potato salad…

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I like your traffic circle and the view of your mountains that makes me stop in the street every time and your massive christmas tree in the center…

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I like watching your sunsets from my apartment window…

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I really love your market and buying cheap vegetables with the dirt still on their skin…

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and I love your children…

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November in Korea was full of good things. I don’t deserve this abundant life, but I am thankful every single day.

I am thankful to live in a beautiful city, I am thankful to work at a school with kind teachers and a principal who texts me the weather forecast and reminds me to bring a coat, I am thankful for a church family, I am thankful for this whole year- all the challenges and hardships that strengthen my hope in Christ, that deepen my need for Him, that further my love for who He is. When I first moved here, I remember a conversation with one of my friends at church who framed all these lessons I’m learning and how they are aligned with the faithfulness of God–

she simply grinned and said, “He’s your friend!”

Yes & amen. What more could I need?

Thanks giving.

Our very saving is associated with our gratitude. “Thy faith has saved thee” The leper’s faith was a faith that said thank you. Is that it? Jesus counts thanksgiving as integral in a faith that saves. We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks. Because how else do we accept His free gift of salvation if not with thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our YES! to His grace. 

-Ann Voskamp

This was the first Thanksgiving that I’ve anticipated with dread. Weeks ago I started preparing for what unknown emotions this day would bring… would I feel sad? Would I wallow in nostalgia of past thanksgivings? or would I be ok, walking forward as if it was just another day, like the rest of the people around me in this far country? Today I woke up and got out of bed, treading carefully the fine line between self-pity on one side and joy on the other.

Generally, I consider myself a thankful person. Realizing how much joy is found in giving thanks for all things changed my life about two years ago… the Lord took my heart which was so sad and lonely and selfish and broke it in all the right places, allowing me to see that all is grace- the dark nights, the tears of pain or joy, the embrace of family, the losses and the gains. Since then, I have never been the same, and He graciously led me through more difficult times– through valley’s of sorrow to rivers of joy. So now, this year in Korea, I trust Him even more. He’s never failed me yet, and I believe He never will. I walk the sidewalks of Changwon, South Korea and go about my days here with more joy in my heart than I thought could be possible. Like most experiences in life, difficulty and pain often precedes the ease and happiness, and the past three months have been no exception -however: I find I am experiencing the good and the bad simultaneously. “Hard but good” sort of became my motto upon moving here, and each day, week, and month has proved it to be true. Hard days followed by peace and joy in God’s presence– I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This morning, the words from psalms echoed in my head as I made coffee and folded clothes, just another day still made special because of this truth:

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord for He is good.” 

To give thanks today feels almost more difficult. Korea feels farther away than normal, Thanksgiving day looks more beautiful via Facebook than it ever has, I’m strangely craving cranberry sauce (which is gross), and the whole day just sort of feels like I’m dreaming, as I’m watching all my family and friends from a distance. But still, I am giving thanks. Because it is more difficult, it is more necessary, and because of the necessity and difficulty, my gratitude feels deeper and more meaningful, the gifts more beautiful.

Two years ago on thanksgiving, I wrote An Anthology of Thanks. Today I think I will bring that tradition back. So, from The Studio in SK, here I am with coffee and leftover pumpkin pie in hand, my bible and journal open before me and my heart ready to give back a small, small portion of the goodness God has given me, remembering that when I taste His goodness, I shall not want.

*REQUIRED thanksgiving day listening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZM51liNM6k0

An Anthology of Thanks — A to Z from South Korea 

Andrew. (Confession, I totally started writing “Andrew Peterson,” you know, the singer I’m obsessed with? and then realized there’s an equally important Andrew in my life… sorry babe! haha!) I am grateful for the man that you are, for all the ways you show your love to me, for how loyal you are to your family and friends, for your sense of humor (I admit it), and for your commitment to work on our relationship from the other side of the world!
Black coffee.
Community. When you move across the world by yourself, and when you find a community of people who love Jesus, and when you have friends in your building and friends across town, you realize how vital community really is to your heart and soul. I really couldn’t make it through without the people God has in my life here. Along with this theme, COURTNEY HILL: I’m so thankful for you. Also I hope you already knew that.
Desert for breakfast!
Emily – my “manager,” co-teacher, and friend
Family. My wonderful, supportive, hilarious family (Dad, Mom, Mare, Matt, Jacob, Jonathan), friends who are easily family, and the many church communities that I and my family are apart of who are family to us, too.
God’s faithfulness, God’s constancy, God’s control, God’s goodness, God’s peace, God’s grace.
Hannah Disbrow — If you read this, know that the Lord used you (and continues to use you!) to make my first days and weeks in Korea as smooth and manageable as possible. You are a great encouragement to me!
International friends: It is so cool to meet people here from all over the world! From parts of the States I’ve never been to, from France, South Africa, Ireland, Canada, it’s awesome. Even more awesome- to worship Jesus together.
Joy! Deep joy even on homesick days, during stressful weeks, and in-between the good and bad.
Keeping in touch: I was so scared of losing touch with friends after I moved here, fearing the time difference would be too hard to coordinate communication and most of my friendships would simply fade away. I am thankful for faithful friends who have not let this fear be so!
Learning: I am thankful to always be learning.
Martha & Caleb Button: I am so thankful for you guys!! For weekly community group, for your encouragement to me over the weeks, for our thoughtful discussions, and for getting to pray for each other. You guys are awesome.
New experiences- this year has been full of them! New mercies- with each and every sunrise. New friends, new foods, new life.
Outdoors: It’s almost December and Korea is still warm enough to walk to school and spend time outside!
Pumpkin pie. For breakfast. Leftover from Sunday’s beautiful feast.
Questions: I’m thankful for a God who can handle all my questions. Lately I’ve been calling into question a lot of things, but I know He can take them all, and that whether on this side of eternity or the other, one day they all will be answered.
ROSE CORBETT. You, woman, are an incredible gift. My experience this year would not be the same if I didn’t have you. I’m thankful for all of our shared interests, for all the good long talks we’ve had, for getting to experience the first few weeks of Korea together, for your amazing pep-talks that almost always include “get yourself some coffee,” and for the months ahead that will be full of all these things and more!
Singing: Lately I’ve been singing all the time to myself, while planning lessons, while walking to the copier, while walking to school, while washing dishes, singing along to the music I’m playing or the music in my head. I think it’s good for me. umm also SKYPE.
Toffee nut lattes at Starbucks… becoming a weekly thing, because Christmas.
Understanding co-teachers: To understand each other in spite of language and cultural barriers is incredible. The teachers at my school have been so patient and gracious with me, and now as relationships are forming it is amazing to realize how much we can understand each other though we are so, so different.
(Emma) Van Vuuren: Contagious joy, constant encouragement. So glad to have met you here and I’m so thankful for every interaction we have together!
Warm weather, still.
eXplaining new things to my students: “Teacher, your hair is curly!” “Yeah, it’s magic!” (really it’s just dirty, but they believed me), the wonders of popcorn chicken.
“Yes and amen,” all the promises of God.
Alpha — Omega. thankful that God is from beginning to end.

Don’t you ever wonder why
In spite of all that’s wrong here
There’s still so much that goes so right
And beauty abounds?
‘Cause sometimes when you walk outside
The air is full of song here
The thunder rolls and the baby sighs
And the rain comes down
And when you see the spring has come
And it warms you like a mother’s kiss
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?
{Andrew Peterson}

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Fighting and truth.

I’ve got a story I’ve been meaning to share…

Earlier this month I was faced with a circumstance at school that I never thought would happen. So far I’ve noticed many similarities between Korean kids and American kids. I’m a firm believer that cultural differences are a very real thing… but kids are kids no matter where you go on this globe. However, I never thought I’d find myself in the middle of a fight- a FIGHT, you guys- at my little hagwon.

I’ll be honest before I break out the details- it was my fault.

Student A and Student B were talking too much,

I threatened to give them a “bad stamp” (our form of discipline) if they kept interrupting me or talking to each other,

Student A and Student B kept talking,

Student A starts messing with student B, taking his pencil case, punching/hitting him, I

give student A a bad stamp,

Student A and Student B keep messing with each other,

I move Student A to the other side of the room,

Student A starts sobbing and slamming his books and pencil case around.

Class ends, and Student A jumps out of his seat,

marches over to student B and starts threatening him, all up in his face, totally freaking out,

Student B looks like he’s facing godzilla, totally terrified, and of course I have no idea what to do.

They leave the class, and I hear “TEACHER FIGHT!” and the same scene is going on out in the hallway.

After the night was over and all the students had left, I talked about it with my principal and realized that punishing one child more than the other child is a serious offense. I get it. My mistake. Before I left for the night I stopped by her office in case she had any more questions and she told me she would handle it, that I shouldn’t worry, but I cried all the way home.

More than making me feeling like a failure, the whole situation made me realize how much I love my kids- how much I really, really love them.  It made me feel completely helpless to help them. They can’t express themselves to me because I can’t understand what they’re saying. And it made me afraid for them, anxious that they might receive a punishment or scolding from their parents that I felt like I should have received.

Well, friends. I’d never felt more helpless here. It was a horrible few days following this incident. I read into everything my director did/said around me, frantically worried that the incident had caused tension in our relationship. Anytime I saw a parent at the school I would freak out, worried it was one of the boy’s parents coming to yell at me in Korean, or coming to tell the director that they’re pulling their child of the the academy. I feared that the parents would go around saying horrible things about me, or worse, ruining the reputation of the school. When I saw Student A in the principal’s office the next day I literally paced around my office wringing my hands, dying to know how everything would be settled.

I went to a park the next day to pray for my kids before school. It was there, on a bench under bright red leaves where I silently preached the truth of God’s peace to myself: I have the peace of Christ within me, I told myself. I have a wellspring of strength from which I can drink deeply and be revived in every way. I can walk forward from this and know it is not my strength carrying me from day to day, but trusting the strong arms of my Savior to bring me through. This is so freeing! Through this difficult circumstance, I was able to see and know this truth in new ways, in powerful ways, in ways that were pervading my reality to reveal the beauty of depending on Christ in painful feelings of helplessness. This is the paradox: God placed me in that situation and completely stripped me of any control to remind me that I am not alone. He brought me to a place of complete surrender to remind me that He is sovereign.

There under the trees, with that timbered choir, I worshipped. I worshipped my God who leads me by the light of His spirit alone. I am so humbled and grateful for this situation, because it brought me into a place of total trust and dependency upon Christ. There was absolutely nothing I could do- for my kids, for the principal, for the parents, for the academy. I knew the situation would be resolved, and though I felt anxiously sick about it, I had no choice but to leave it in the hands of the Almighty.

As I saw two of my kids in a place I never EVER want to see them in again, and as I cried for them and feared for what might happen to them, I caught a glimpse of the Father’s heart that I’ve never seen before. I was reminded that He is always looking out for us- not in anxiety or fear as I was, but in sovereignty and control. In the same way that I tried so desperately to plead both the boy’s cases, I caught a glimpse of the way Jesus intercedes for us and pleads righteousness for us before God. I love my kids, though I can barely communicate with them. But the Lord loves his kids and proclaims his love in a thousand ways, in a thousand languages, in the morning sun, in the vibrant red and yellow leaves, in the words of others, in His word, by deep laughter, by tight hugs, in good coffee, by His son, by His sacrifice. I tried my best to alleviate the wrong my students had done, but I don’t know- and probably will never know how the situation was resolved. But friends, we know the outcome of our guilty wrongs, and all the fights we’ve gotten ourselves into, and all the problems we’ve faced and all the hurt we’ve walked through, and it’s banished to the ends of the universe. And it’s been replaced with a forever with our Father.

Being the foreigner here, nothing else was ever disclosed to me on how the situation was handled, and after a few days, it was as if the incident never happened. The two boys were friends again, and when I had them in class the following Wednesday they were back to their usual crazy, rambunctious selves that I love so much. In fact, it was the best class I’ve had with them all semester. Another reminder of the Father’s grace and kindness to me, so undeserving. My heart felt so broken after this had happened, but I am thankful it happened because I got a small glimpse of the Father’s compassion and heart-aching love for His kids. And I got a deeper, fuller taste of the gospel through my failure and helplessness.

Please continue to pray that I would remain this dependent on Christ. Pray that I would continue to walk in light of the Spirit’s strength in me, free from fear of failure because I know I will continue to fail in a hundred ways throughout this year. Christ has taken fear of condemnation, doubt, failure and anxiety, and I’m a fool for insisting on caring those heavy loads when I can walk freely. Pray for His spirit of joy, comfort and peace to radiate through me and to somehow be communicated to my kids in a language they can understand. Maybe it never has to be words.

How thankful I am that He is my only hope. How thankful I am to be a teacher, learning and following the greatest Teacher of all. I would be so lost without His truth to guide me.

How comforting to know, He guides us all.

October goodness

October came and went, and I simply cannot wrap my mind around how rapidly time flew! I’m in my third month here, and only weeks away from the end of my first semester at Jasaeng Academy. Pinch me.

While there is so much I love about my life in Korea, and while I found myself in October significantly happier and much more confident in my new surroundings– the ins and outs of Changwon city as well as the ups and downs of teaching– I realized about halfway through the month that all the ease and comfort I was now experiencing was causing my heart to dry up spiritually. Life works this way for me, it’s always been this way. As soon as I’m good, happy, settled, comfortable, I forget God. Picture me in August/September and you would see a more sad, but much more Christ-dependent girl. Picture me in October and I’m bouncing around the city, but thinking to myself that I got to this place by myself… which isn’t the least bit true.

Even so, the Lord is forever faithful, and although I neglected Him so many times, He never ever forgot me. For this I am grateful.

Just as I did for September, I want to share some of the highlights that October brought. In spite of struggles and weaknesses, October was so so good.

10/2 — “Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as unto the Lord.’ It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.” C. S. Lewis, from “The Weight of Glory.” The whole concept of time has been actualized completely differently than when I was in the states. When you are living on a 365 day trajectory, every day is a countdown, each day brings you closer to the last day. I have had to intentionally NOT think about time passing, and then it goes by so much quicker! Not that I’m wishing the end of the year would arrive sooner, but when I get homesick, the first thing I think of is how much longer until I can return. I am learning to take my daily bread daily, to remember that I have just enough grace for today.

10/5 — “Cause me to hear your lovingkindness in the morning, for in You I do trust; cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to you. Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; Your spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness.” Psalm 143. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, Korea is where I should be.

10/6 — “It is impossible for God to forgive you more.” Sunday sermon.

10/10 — “It is not in me; God will give an answer of peace” Reading Joseph’s story, Genesis 41:16

10/12 — Officially became a member at Redeemer International Community Church. Words can’t even express how thankful I am for this Body of Christ in Korea.

10/16 – “We sang a hymn to the river that flows/ down from the mountain of the Holy Ghost/ & into the souls of those who know His name… / peace like a river in a valley of bones / it fills the valley up & it carries them home.” Andrew Peterson forever inspiring me. Thankful for the river that flows into my soul.

“You loved me first & fully when nothing lovely existed, & gifted me with grace till my heart could awaken, embrace, & return it. All I see now – every goodness, each beauty & blessing are but tremor & awake me & stir me further to love & longing only for You.” – My Epic

What God showed me this month was simply this: only He can give me a sure and rested soul. It is only the Spirit that can blow on the embers of my hear and breathe me back to life when I have begun to forget God and thus harden my heart.

10/18 – I was so obsessed with Rich Mullins this month. Watch the Ragamuffin film if you haven’t seen it before. It wrecked me in the best possible ways. Deepened my heart’s cry to truly be one of surrender. I found myself praying this continually, and meaning it more than ever before:

I can’t see how You’re leading me unless you lead me here, where I’m lost enough to let myself be led.

10/28 – “What if we were driven by grace?” ……..this is everything.

Other October highlights include: 2 epic hiking trips, first trip to Busan, my school taking all the teachers on a vacation weekend, Jasaeng Academy halloween party, traveling to Daegu alone around midnight, an epic clam festival, finally getting my ARC card and becoming an official “alien” … and plenty of other adventures I’m forgetting.

I apologize for the lack of posts lately. As I said, time has been zipping by! I blink twice and we’re halfway through a new month! Such is life, I supposed. As always, thank you for your prayers.

kamsahamnida.

감사합니다

Love you all.

Peace to you

There is so much more I could write about. There is so much God has been teaching me this month– I am thankful that God’s presence has been so thick over these past few weeks. What He has been teaching me is certainly hard, but with the gentlest pressure He is refining me. I am humbled and thankful, though most of the time crying out in my weakness.

Tonight, however, I just wanted to share a small sliver of goodness He has been showing me. A small but bright sliver nonetheless…

If you know me at all, you know I have recently rediscovered a gem from my 90’s upbringing, and that is the incredibly talented, powerfully inspiring, Rich Mullins. One sunny Sunday this past spring, I came home from church and had the house to myself so I blared his “Songs 2″ album while I made lunch. I didn’t really listen to him much all summer, until now when I play a different album every single day. Maybe it’s something about being far away from my homeland, or all the foreign strangeness I encounter here on a daily basis, but when I find that I like something, especially when that something brings comfort and peace, I very quickly become obsessed. Coffee, peanut butter, apples, my phone’s kindle app, Andrew Peterson, Tolkien, and now: Rich Mullins. It’s probably silly, but I think one of the reasons I’ve been listening to RM’s music so constantly is because he has always reminded me of my childhood. Something about his voice and the sound of his music makes me think of when I was young, and for some reason he always makes me think of my dad. We sang “Awesome God” quite often at our church growing up, if I remember correctly. Funny how I sang that song so many times as a young girl, funny how I listened to that one album a few months ago, yet I never knew how much this man’s humble life, reckless faith, and profound lyrics would impact me here in South Korea at this point in my life. The lyrics to his songs have been stirring some deep meaningful truths in my heart, as well as pouring encouragement and peace, peace, so much peace in my soul where if often feels empty.

And challenging- oh, how this man’s life and testimony has been challenging me!

I say all of this to really say one thing. I’m so thankful for the peace of Christ. If I could take the risk of being obnoxious, I would write a full post on each of my favorite RM songs, describing how each one of them has met me where I’m at these days, during this season of life (The Color Green, The Love of God, Hard to Get, We Are Not As Strong As We Think We Are, Hold Me Jesus– I could go on!) …but I won’t. Instead, I just want to express the most simple but profound reality that transcends all that I could glean from all his songs and all these lessons from all these days. It is this: God’s peace.

I’m no good at being a peacemaker. If anything, my job as a teacher has shown me completely that: I am so unorganized, so forgetful, “frazzled” is the word that most often comes to mind when I think of the ins and outs of this thing called teaching and how I do it. And what do you do with peace, anyway? Do you believe it? Am I supposed to seek it? How do I go after something that is supposed to cause me to “be still”?

It is this: that I have felt and known the gift of the Holy Spirit pouring his peace upon me. It’s incredible to see the difference between when I am struggling to work out my salvation on my own, when I am working so hard to have strength from my own efforts, when I am endlessly mapping out my future plans by myself– as opposed to when I stop. be still. and know that He is God. It’s almost tangible, in the sense that when I’m sitting at my desk, 20 minutes before class starts, downing my second cup of coffee (one after the other) and frantically flipping through my syllabus journal to make sure I’m prepared for the day ahead, it hits me:

in the form of a song in my head, “…still His light shines in the dark”

or in the words on my phone’s screen from a friend’s heart, “You can radiate His perfect peace”

or even from something as simple as the steam rising from my cup of coffee.

The peace of Christ.

Andrew and I visited his uncle’s church in Blacksburg, Virginia many times before I moved here. One of the moments I love most about their Anglican tradition is when we turn and greet the people standing around us with a simple, “Peace be with you,” to which we reply, “And also with you.”

Peace to you, friends. May His peace dwell in you richly as you taste and see His goodness. Thank you for praying for me, and please do continue! It’s a gift that breathes life into my soul when I think about the loving friends and family on the other side of the world who are bringing me before the Father. I am praying for so many of you too. Praying that His peace would wash over all of us, tired and heavy and burdened as we may be.

And though I love you, still we’re strangers
Prisoners in these lonely hearts
And though our blindness separates us
Still His light shines in the dark
And His outstretched arms are still strong enough to reach
Behind these prison bars to set us free
So may peace rain down from Heaven
Like little pieces of the sky
Little keepers of the promise
Falling on these souls the drought has dried
In His Blood and in His Body
In this Bread and in this Wine
Peace to you
Peace of Christ to you

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Not coincidentally– Happy birthday, Rich. Autumn will always remind me of your life, death, and our hope in the life to come. 

“But I look back over the events of my life and see the hands that carried Moses to his grave lifting me out of mine. In remembering I go back to these places where God met me and I meet Him again and I lay my head on His breast, and He shows me the land beyond the Jordan and I suck into my lungs the fragrance of His breath, the power of His presence.” 
― Rich Mullins

New Wonders

Look again, at the cross
Where you are found when lost
Make a new song of praise

Fill your cup at the mouth of the spring
New wonders we will sing
As the Spirit blows the ambers of our hearts

Tell the story of Jesus the Christ
And His promisies we write
Of the doorway of our house

Oh the mirror and remember your own face
Brother do not forfeit grace
As the Savior pleads your pardon with His blood

Oh crown every sparrow every flower
All creation sings out loud of the grand design

You are small, but you are filled with breath and life
If you seek then you will find
As the Father looks with favor on His child
Oh the Savior pleads your pardon with His blood
And the Spirit blows the ambers of our hearts

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The past few days have been hard and discouraging. Midterms week equals stressed out kids and a frazzled Katelyn Teacher. My reliance on the Lord has been slipping, and I was growing more convicted that some things need to change in my life in order to more fully grasp onto God’s strength instead of trying to fumble around on my own efforts.

Before I go further, let me tell you how fun it is to make the most random connections with people. My friend Rose invited me to a party at a popular foreigner bar across from our apartment. We went on Wednesday night and hung out with some people she had met last weekend. They invited us to go hiking the next day since it was a national holiday and we had no classes.. Of course I agreed to go hiking with 10 foreigners I’ve never met, because yes, it sounded fun to met some new people, but I just really wanted to go hiking! I had no idea what impact this beautiful day would have on my heart.

From a new perspective, as I stood on the top of the Korean mountains and looked out over the city, the coast, islands and more mountains in the distance, I contemplated my own frailty in contrast to the fullness of my Creator. The One who imagined these very ridges brought me here to experience this joy in the beauty of His creation. He is so kind to bring me to the heights and remind me of His greatness and my weakness. He is so gracious to bring me to the mountaintops to revel in the beauty around me, to allow the Spirit to blow on the embers of my heart, and to remind me of His magnificence in all the wide earth and my small, frail heart.

He just keeps pouring out so many gifts of grace… Random and unexpected from the outset, but full of beauty and mercy and joy.

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So as I said, meeting people and making relationships has been somewhat random to my feeble awareness, but just today I was comforted by the realization that none of this is random at all. In some ways, even moving to Korea was random (but that story will have to wait for another time, perhaps.) Last weekend I went to a church retreat in Busan, and had I not trekked all the way there, to another city over an hour away, I wouldn’t have met the fantastic individual that is my new friend, Courtney- who lives in the same city I do. I say this is “random,” with a full knowledge that God knew, God knew all these things would transpire.

It seems random that I met her in a completely different city, but it wasn’t.

It seems random that her host family offered to take us to Jinju (a city an hour away) at 10pm to the lantern festival on Monday, but it wasn’t.

It seems random that Courtney was waiting outside the same bar at the same night I was at the birthday party when two Korean’s came up to her and asked her a question, and it seems random that she hung out with them the rest of the night instead of going to the same party where I was, and it seems random that they invited her to go hiking this weekend, and that Courtney invited me along too, and it seems random that we spent all day on Saturday together, and it seems random that when we got to the restaurant where we ate dinner two couples from our church were there and they invited our new friends to church

…but it wasn’t.

Because that trip to Busan taught me and encouraged me more than I ever expected it to, and there God gifted me with a new friend. Because Courtney’s host parent’s took us to the lantern festival at 10 pm to avoid the crowds. Because Courtney hung out with those Korean friends and they took us hiking and bought us dinner and we got to invite them to church and talk about their stories and histories with the church in Korea and doors were opened for deeper conversations.

I looked back at this week and stand in awe of how God orchestrated every detail. His handprints are all over these days, and I just stand back and watch in amazement at all He is doing. The gift of Thursday’s hike and the fresh perspective, the gift of new friendships, the gift of abundant life, new wonders each day, it is all underserved grace!

I am thankful. Thankful for a God who shows me my weakness and His steadfastness through the grace of the great wide open, thankful for a God to whom nothing is random, everything is held in His hands and known by His will. I am thankful for this year, and the journey it has been so far, and to think I’ve only been here for a month and a half! I anticipate what new wonders the next 11 will hold.

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“Trust the twists and turns as part of the greater narrative” — Kelly Keller

Thursday evening thoughts

Today I woke up at 6:30 am. Watched the last moments of my first Korean sunrise, thought about how God does not hesitate on His promises. Fell back asleep while the cool breeze refreshed my little studio.

Woke back up around 8:30, watered my plants and swept this floor that continually stays dusty. Scrambled eggs. Sipped tea while talking to some of the four most beautiful faces in the U.S. Grace, Sarah, Sarah, Alli. We talked about what God is teaching us, some of us got emotional, we laughed, it felt like I wasn’t an ocean away.

I walked to school at 1pm, like I do every day. A little bit disappointed that the cool breezes from this morning didn’t stay, that the sun was hot, that it didn’t feel like how October should feel. No, I thought to myself. Don’t discount the goodness of this day because you’re a little bit sweaty and your feet already hurt. I was walking past the grocery story, turning right, stoping the negative, a mental 180. I was halfway across the crosswalk by the traffic circle when the thought struck my heart straight through: I’m so happy here. I don’t deserve this outpouring of goodness. I must, at all times, praise and thank Him!

You should know, I walked into my office to see a package and a letter on my desk, all the way from Chicago, from my sister Caroline. Tears, of course, because I inhale written words as a love and life source, and because she wrote, “I believed God was still good” over and over and over.

Cheap iced coffee from the first-floor convince store works wonders and gives me magic teaching powers. An evening of amazing classes flew by, mid-term week planned and prepared, then the principal pops in to ask if I’m hungry and how I feel about Chinese food, 20 minutes later there are four Korean women and one foreigner in a classroom sitting in chairs built for 7 year olds, slurping noodles up with chopsticks and dripping sweet and sour sauce all over the table, eating until my heart and stomach are filled to the brim with new foods and newer friendships that grow each time we gather. I retire back to my office to double-check some things, the principal calls me to her office and there’s an ice cream cake and they are lighting candles and she whispers, “It’s Emily’s birthday!” and we tiptoe down the hall to Emily’s classroom and sing happy birthday while she laughs and repeats “kamsahamnida!” over and over and over. We gather around the little table with little chairs once more and eat almost the entire cake. And I think to myself, “kamsahamnida” over and over and over.

Then it’s 8:35 pm and I walk home and sing the words to myself and hum the tune out loud….

“…..now all I know is grace.”

thank you. kamsahamnida. thank you. kamsahamnida.

God is good. He does not hesitate on His promises.

Gathering

A number of people told me when I first moved here, “Wait it out, once you get to week 4 or 6 things will be much better.” Oh, how I clung to the words, “It will get better!” for dear life. Coming from the girl who could hardly unpack her suitcase upon her arrival, I have to say that those words have now become a true reality for me, and it has indeed become better. Incredibly, so. Now that I’ve hit the 4 week mark, I have found myself thinking and saying, “I just LOVE living here! I love Korea!” I’m making this place my home, and every step of the way has been so rewarding: rain and tears and all.

To celebrate 1 WHOLE MONTH of life in Korea – so hard to believe!! – I thought it was about time to share a compendium of the small details of my life in this huge city. I have come to love this city and my job because of the small, somewhat mundane aspects that culminate every day into a full mosaic of beauty and grace.

So here we go- I give you: A week in Korea!

– Sunday: I’ve begun to shift my mindset to think of the week starting on Sunday instead of Monday. This is because I intentionally try to make Sundays as restful as possible; sleeping in, cooking a big breakfast or lunch, finding a nice place to read for the afternoon, church at 4pm, and ending the day with a big meal with friends from church. One of my very favorite moments all week are walking home after church and dinner. My soul is full of hope and reminders of the Gospel (from the incredibly beautiful, heart-gripping worship and teaching), my body is full of delicious food, and my heart is full of laughter and happiness after just having shared a meal with brothers and sisters in Christ. I have found that entering the week stepping forward from this day and all its goodness is a much healthier approach for me than to leave the weekend behind and decide the week starts on Monday.

– Monday: ….which is because Mondays are the longest day of the week! I teach 6 classes in a row, levels Prep (kindergarten) to 6 (students in about 5th or 6th grade). I have to be at school by 1:30, then I teach from 3:00pm to 7:50pm. As I said before, I teach at an academy (“hagwon” as they are called here), which is an evening school that almost all Korean kids attend for various lessons: math, english, etc. I am EXTREMELY fortunate to teach at an elementary hagwon that only goes to level 6 – some teachers at other academies that have high school levels teach until as late as midnight. That’s right – Korean high school students go to school until 12am (Not ok, in my opinion- but perhaps more on that later). I, however, get to leave at 8:35pm, get home around 9pm, and after making a quick dinner (but let’s be honest, I normally pick up food on the way home to reward myself), I crash. Really though, I cannot say enough how grateful I am to be able to finish so early. Things might change next semester, so I am reveling in the grace of this amazing schedule as much as I can!

– Tuesday: In my mind, the reward for teaching 6 classes on Monday is that on Tuesday I only teach 3! Then I plan lessons for the next few days to get ahead and get prepared, and I grade stacks on stacks of english journals and book reports that the students have to do each week. If you ever happen to read a random Facebook post about something ridiculous by one of my students, it’s something they either blurted out in class or something hilarious I find in their journals. By far one of my favorite parts of the job. For the past 2 weeks, the new foreign teacher at the other Jasaeng Academy branch in Sangnam (the other “neighborhood”) has been coming to school with me to watch us teach and get a little bit of training. Her name is Rose and she. is. awesome. We got lunch before school this past Tuesday, walked around the lake – one of my favorite spots, and spent the evening talking after I had finished my classes. What a gift to have another “Foreigner” here with me, sharing lesson ideas, funny things our students say, the joys of this beautiful city, our coffee obsession, Tolkien love, and overall great conversations. Rose- if you read this, know that I am really really thankful for you :) This past Tuesday was a special treat- the principals from both branches took us out for dinner at a really nice restaurant. Plenty of kimchi plus about a million other side dishes, raw fish + garlic + sesame leaves (a dish called sashimi), and soju (a vodka-like beverage). It was an experience for sure! Nothing like sitting cross-legged next to your principal with a pile of raw fish in front of you, making toasts and trying to pinch the rubbery substance with your chopsticks. Then we all went out for coffee and Rose & I walked home in the rain around midnight. Good, good day.

Kimchi, y'all.

Kimchi, y’all.

– Wednesday: 5 classes, with some breaks in between. Lesson planning in my free time, stepping across the street to the market for some snacks for dinner or the coffee shop on the first floor for a sandwich.

– Thursday: 3 classes, lesson planning for Friday and Monday, plus a little procrastinating and e-book reading on my phone. Can’t lie.

– Friday: This Friday, Emily- one of the Korean teachers who I’ve gotten pretty close with, took me to the hospital for my health check (a visa requirement), then we got bimbimbap for lunch and a quick stop for an espresso before work! Every other Friday we have ACTIVITY DAY! One of the many reasons why I love this academy is their perfect blend and balance of rigorous and fruitful education coupled with fun and ensuring the students are not killing themselves. It can be easy to do so, when your 7 year olds go to school all day, then english lessons in the afternoon, and some even stay afterwards for one-on-one lessons with the principal. I can’t imagine their exhaustion, but it becomes evident when their little heads start nodding and their eyes start drooping halfway through my lesson. I’ve started to give my students “fun breaks” every 15 minutes or so. We close our books, stand up, run around the table chanting our words of the week, or we dance, or we play simon says, or we pretend to act like different animals. Works like magic. Anyway, as I said before, the school balances work and play really well, and one of the ways they do so is having zero phonics lessons on fridays, and making crafts instead. I get to collaborate with Emily for these activity days, but she runs the show. I just make sure the kids don’t cut their hair or get glue all over themselves. It’s awesome. After that, I teach 3 classes, then it’s the weekend!

bimbimbap: one of my favorite dishes. a sizzling hot clay bowl with an assortment of veggies and rice, by the time you reach the bottom, the rice gets a little bit burnt & crispy and it's more than delicious.

bimbimbap: one of my favorite dishes. a sizzling hot clay bowl with an assortment of veggies and rice, by the time you reach the bottom, the rice gets a little bit burnt & crispy and it’s more than delicious.

– Saturday: NOT the day to get groceries, though I continually keep forgetting. Too crowded. I normally clean my apartment on Saturdays, then if I don’t have any plans, I find myself a nice park and read the afternoon away. Changwon is full of beautiful parks! If I must live in a bustling city, I know this is the perfect one because of all the sweet places to escape.

So there you have it! A scope of my days here. One of these days, I promise I’ll write a post all about my students and their hilarious, PRECIOUS, hardworking, exhausting, great little beings.

***

As I have gathered up some moments from my week to share with you, I thought I would also gather some things I’ve been learning and thinking about this month. I think of the word gathering as when you throw a bunch of things into one basket- your raspberries and blueberries and carrots and radishes and daisies. Here is my Romans 8 and my Psalms and my C. S. Lewis and my Rich Mullins and my J. R. R. Tolkien and the prayers I pray and the songs I ponder, gathered in my basket of September.

9/2 — “When obedience to God contradicts what I think will give me pleasure, let me ask myself if I love Him.” –Elizabeth Elliot. Oh that sudden, gracious pang of conviction…

9/8 (journaled thoughts, contemplating that weeks sermon) — “a life characterized by repentance isn’t to be re-saved and continually checking in to be sure I am right with Christ. He has kept you, you are His. A life of repentance is to ask and ask for the forgiveness from constant sin, to remember that each time He sees you as righteous because of Christ, and to move from there to be made new and new and new so you can grow more and more like Jesus.”

9/9 — I read through Romans this month. Then I read through it again. Romans 8, “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (That one’s for you, Andrew. #80percent)

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9/11 – Romans 9, “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? So much here to unpack, but I spent the day praying to be a vessel of mercy to others, and deep in thanks for those who have been such vessels to me- here in Korea and back home: in praying for me, messaging me each morning to check up on me, sending thoughtful emails, sending mail, helping me navigate the market, a welcoming community group, new friends to pray for… I’m learning the power of forgetting myself.

9/12 — the sticky note in my syllabus journal at school reads: Drink deeply from the well that is Christ, for He is all that will satisfy. 

9/14 — really good sermon.
“To know and remember God is to t r u s t Him.”
“Rest in your Sovereign Creator.”
“Let your life be a testimony that you know God.”

9/16 — songs I’ve heard 100 times take deeper depths when you listen with a tired heart:

When your spirit is hovering over the deep,
in the image of God just look into that darkness and speak:
Let there be light! Let there be love! Let there be music!

…reminded that I have to pursue the light, and stepping into God’s presence is as sweet as music.

9/20 — as soon as I stepped out of my apartment building this afternoon I felt it. The first moments of Autumn. Spent the afternoon walking, slowly and intentionally around the city, soaking in the sun and breeze and clear views of the mountains all around me. Sat under a canopy of pines facing my favorite pines, reading The Fellowship of the Ring, a festival of sorts was taking place across the street and just when I thought my heart would burst with joy, the orchestra started playing “Amazing Grace”

CAM00290+ it’s truly wonderful when lines from the story resonate with your life in that moment, when stories resonate with your life the past month…

The air was growing warm again. The hobbits ran about for a while on the grass, as he told them. Then they lay basking in the sun with the delight of those that have been wafted suddenly from bitter winter to a friendly clime, or of people that, after being long ill and bedridden, wake one day to find that they are unexpectedly well and the day again is full of promise.

+ rediscovering Rich Mullins on the anniversary of his heavenly birthday. Played “fields of green” on repeat as I made dinner.

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9/21 — Psalm 107, “They cry out to the LORD in their trouble, & He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven.” Struggling a little bit with finding meaning in teaching phonics and months and how to give directions in English and how to write an essay on an African Safari. Reminded to continually work really hard, get really tired, rest in the freedom of grace, and know that all is done unto Christ. There is meaning enough for me there.

Rereading The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis: thought a good deal about Sehnsucht this week.

“These things- the memory of our own past-  are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

Also this, “To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son- it seems impossible, a weight or a burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.” 

ps. I have started trying to learn Korean! So far I have only the courage to say “thank you” and “hello” and while I always remember to bow in greeting or in thanks, sometimes I get the two mixed up and greet the school secretary with “Thank you!” when I walk through the door.

Some new and old songs I’ve been listening to this week…

Jesus, I Come 

After All You Have Done

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (cover) 

The Far Country 

***

As I say to my students at the end of each day…

See you next time! 안녕히 가세요

Wednesday morning thoughts

I prayed these  words on July 27th.

Andrew and I had just spent the weekend together, and time was beginning to slip away as my departure date for Korea raced towards us. It was during the month of July when I began to see this new facet of God’s grace- when I began to see Jesus as beautiful still, when all is stripped away, and at the same time- when Jesus became all beauty and goodness and realness and closeness to me while he lavishly poured out His gifts and mercies. At the same time. I began to see that the goodness of God is as constant in dark and trying hours as it is in times of wealth and ease.

My life on September 24th echoes the same grace, the same beauty and the same joy. Months later, across the globe. 

Thank you for laughter and music and friends and good food and cool breezes and tender mercies and warm sun and trees and joy and sleep and love. Thank you for being merciful enough to place us in all this beauty and hold us together here, and to whisper, “More to come.”