The Sea In Between

kindof and ode to a favorite artist of mine

Andrew and I watched this amazing documentary while on Guam this past week. It cost about $4 to rent on Vimeo, but worth every penny. Powerful and inspiring are an understatement! It was a deep deep dive into the fullness of joy that comes from creation, creativity, and the Creator. Here’s the trailer to give you a taste, and we hope you’ll take some time to watch the real thing!

If St. Francis of Assisi was a hip-hop/soul musician, he would be Josh Garrels. Shunning record labels and uninterested in the trappings of celebrity, Garrels simply releases his music on his own terms. He remains the best musical celebrant of the natural world, reveling in the beauty he finds. Mixing lovely acoustic folk music with strident beats and a rapper’s gift of rhythm and rhyme, Garrels continues to be an outspoken, poetic prophet of anti-consumerism, decrying our disposable culture and calling for renewed commitment to living out the implications of the gospel. {music critic, andy whitman] 

I truly believe that shared joy is multiplied joy, so if you don’t watch the film, head over to his website or spotify page cuz his music is transformative and deeply meaningful. I’d be sad if you never heard it.

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I though a lot about these words while on Guam. maybe because there was so much blue, and maybe because i needed to be singing the truth to myself…

And wisdom will honor everyone who will learn
To listen, to love, and to pray and discern
And to do the right thing even when it burns
And to live in the light through treacherous turns
A man is weak, but the spirit yearns
To keep on course from the bow to the stearn
And throw overboard every selfish concern
That tries to work for what can’t be earned
Sometimes the only way to return is to go,
Where the winds will take you

And to let go, of all, you cannot hold onto
For the hope, beyond,the blue

The mundane

“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” {Friedrich Nietzsche}

Why did you move to South Korea?

I get this question quite often, and I normally don’t give much thought to the answer. It’s an easy conversation starter with other foreigners, and I always enjoy hearing other’s stories of what brought them to Korea. Typically, my answer coincides with other’s. Something along the lines of: I wanted to take a gap year between undergrad/grad school in another country. I wanted to get out of my life in the States. I wanted adventure! I wanted a job with easy money and the ability to travel at the same time. When I first moved here, I put pressure on myself to have a more exciting answer to that question. The first time I explained to someone, “Well, I’ve wanted to live overseas somewhere for at least a year after college, so I moved here for the international experience but mostly for the money to pay of my student loans ASAP,” I was so embarrassed. What a lame reason to pick up and move halfway around the world by yourself for 365 days. I found consolation in other’s stories that were similar to mine, but still, deep down I wished I had come here under a different set of circumstances.

That’s where this problem began;

this problem of not feeling good enough; for my reasons in moving to Korea, in the work that I do, by the life that I have here. I started comparing my experience early on with other’s I knew who also moved far away from their homeland for a year.

“Her experience is so much more culturally rich! Her blog is better than mine. He’s already learning more of the local language than I am. They have such a strong sense of community with locals, I bet they’re already thriving in their new country! She has more native friends than I do. He’s making better relationships. They’re actually making a difference in their community.”

I started to think all these deadly threads that cut through my brain and my heart and soon, my experience turned into shards of phonics worksheets and halfway learning the Korean alphabet and only having eaten kimchi a handful of times. By comparing my life in Korea- my job, my relationships, my amount of cultural immersion and language studying- to other’s international experiences, I was watering my experience down to nothing but a mundane job and halfhearted cultural exchange. After all, I thought, I only moved here to work and pay off loans.

Waking up every day to my mundane life in Korea started getting harder and harder. It became increasingly more difficult to do my best at work when I would just ho-hum flip through the textbooks to prepare lessons and constantly think to myself: “This job is so boring. I’m teaching phonics… PHONICS of all things. I have a bachelor’s degree in English Literature. This is the most unfulfilling position.” And it got worse when I started to view my students and co-teachers with this same distain for the mundane: “They don’t even speak my language, how am I supposed to build relationships with them? It’s impossible and pointless. I have them for a 45 minute lesson every day then they run home. Their lives are fine, I serve no purpose and I’m doing nothing meaningful here.”

One evening after my classes were finished and I was finding something to do to fill my *long, drawn-out, pointless, waste-of-time office hours* I logged into my dad’s kindle account to see if he had recently downloaded any interesting books. I scrolled through the options and stopped at one titled, The God of the Mundane. Hello.

I inhaled those words over the next few days. It’s such a treasured experience for me when I find words that meet me right where I am and feed my soul the nourishment it needs in that moment. Such was the case with this book, and it pulled me right out of my pitiful rut.

I think it’s hard to tell people you’re moving overseas for A YEAR and not feel the pressure that comes with people’s gasps and exclamations of shock and awe and wow’s and “you’re so brave”‘s, and while I am eternally thankful for those who have prayed for me and sent notes/texts/emails telling me so, there is sometimes a hint of misunderstanding.

Yes, it took a shit ton of courage to pack up my life and head to Korea alone, but that courage was not of myself.

I will always have the draw towards believing I can do all things through myself and my own strength, so when people start praising my bravery I start applauding right along with them.

Yes, I came here deeply desiring to make a difference in whatever community I found myself in, but I will only make a dent of disappointment if I try anything on my own.

Once people start sharing how proud they are of me for serving or living missionally or spreading the love of Jesus, I can actually start piling up burdens on myself. Out of the well-meaning wishes from friends and family I build up a weight of expectations that I simply cannot carry, and then I grow disappointed in myself for not living in a way I think other’s think I’m living.

I’m not a missionary by the technical standards.

I’m not really changing anyone’s life by being “Jesus” in it.

I can’t see any aspect of which I’m changing or “making a difference” by any means.

And the most profound reality I’ve learned in all of this is that it’s ok. 

It’s liberating to know that I don’t have to live under the pressure I tend to put on myself.

The pages of Scripture itself, under a heading “Living to please God” say:

But we urge you, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands. 

Who says living in this way is a bad thing? If more of us cared less about living celebrated lives, imagine how much farther we could possibly move towards doing more good. I know I struggle with this deeply! I want my life to be magnified and significant by everyone noticing how good i’m doing, but the truth is I’m not doing anything good if that is my intention.

From the book I read, I wanted to share some words that really struck my life right where I needed them to.

Ponder.

“Our hearts burn for our deeds to be noticed and celebrated. We want to do something big and have it thrust into cyberspace for all to read. Those who follow the Man of no reputation pine for one, resume’s ready. There are dark and dusty corners of our heart that will fight tooth-and-nail against ever being known to exist.”

I believe it is possible to excel more and to live with ambition by leading a quiet life.

There is much more freedom in being driven by a grace that compels us to live quietly.

This is my prayer for the next six months- I will only continue to be burnt out and discouraged and heavy with pressure and expectations if I keep trying to make my life something that it’s not. As I said earlier…right now, it’s ok to not be changing lives or being fluent in Korean. God has me in this place, I believe, to work on me more than I am able to do anything else, and I’m finding freedom in relinquishing the task of changing the world to Him. But what’s not ok is thinking this life is all about me. Believing that because I can’t do everything that I shouldn’t do something. Understanding that I don’t have to accomplish great feats, therefore not accomplishing anything.

I’ll probably always struggle to make my life bigger and better for all the world to see, but I know this year, this time in Korea is teaching me how to have a perspective that is not limiting by finding myself in the mundane. Because God is in it all, and no matter the width or depth, that is enough.

“And yet I decide, every day, to set aside what I can do best and attempt what I do very clumsily–open myself to the frustrations and failures of loving, daring to believe that failing in love is better than succeeding in pride.” -Eugene Peterson

quiet afternoons

quiet afternoons

Brunch taken literally (breakfast + lunch), favorite cookbook found, and a crepe the size of my arm

Brunch taken literally (breakfast + lunch), favorite cookbook found, and a crepe the size of my arm

Finding the moon

Finding the moon

Friends are the greatest reminder's of life's goodness!

Friends are the greatest reminder’s of life’s goodness!

Peace, friends. Here’s to living simply, quietly, and knowing that is no less significant. Here’s to this life, this long obedience in the same direction.

Only the Good Things

Happy Wednesday, sweet friends!

If you couldn’t tell from my last melancholy-toned last post, I’ve been struggling to find joy in the day-to-day. The beginning of January brought me to the start of a brand new and very different semester at Jasaeng Academy, and it wasn’t necessarily bad, but the very first day just started off different. And change is hard, so I guess I didn’t handle it as best as I could. I learned very early on in Korea (should have probably learned this one a long while ago…) that a positive attitude has profound effects on every aspect of my life. After I grew acclimated to the new schedule at school, the new routine, the new students, the new facility (we expanded!), the new teachers, the new “feel,” I guess I just sortof settled into my rut of unhappiness without taking any effort to change my heart or my attitude. You can guess how well that has been going for me….

SO. On Sunday night, before starting yet another week of potential schedule changes at work, frustrations with language barriers, the forever struggle of what to eat on a daily basis, my complete inability to wake up before 8 am, my lack of care for my own body/health/heart, I decided something had to change. Sunday night, I did what I used to always do in college before starting another week- and this ritual always always helped center and focus and direct my heart and mind for starting a week ahead:

straighten up the apartment. that pile of clothes on the couch that’s been there for two weeks? hung in the closet. done.

those dishes in the sink? wash. dry. put them away.

wipe clean the countertops.

pack a lunch for the following day.

light a candle.

after a helpful peptalk with my friend and co-worker, Rose, during which we talked ourselves into a “we got this” mentality, I fell asleep that night more hopeful and fulfilled and expectant of a better week ahead.

Six classes on Monday, my first long day in 3 weeks and it felt so good to be back in the grind.

Two classes on Tuesday, and all my students (grade 3 and middle schoolers) were in crazy good funny moods.

I started doing yoga every single day, and my body feels so much more refreshed and energized! I’ve never been consistent with the practice, but I’m hoping this is the start of a long committment.

50 degrees and sunshine and running till my legs shake. (vitamin D + endorphins: Need I say more?)

Fun weekend hangs with friends, filled with laughter and good food (TGI Friday’s in SK y’all!) …and cute babies.

I splurged on some blueberries. best decision ever and worth every won I spent.

I stumbled upon some great new jams that keep my energy levels up for the 3 hour desk time I have at school.

So I say all of this not to paint an idealistic picture of my small life, but instead to celebrate finally emerging from this sad little slump I’ve been wallowing in for the past weeks. There will always be good days and bad ones. Valleys of sorrow and rivers of joy. Yet we’re invited to revel in each moment that comes and celebrate it all!

Here’s to hoping you find some goodness in your every day.

PS. Required listening: If this isn’t some of the happiest – sounding tunes to ever grace your eardrums, then I’m not sure what to tell ya. (I had visions of my wedding starting at 16 seconds. Listen and maybe you’ll be inspired somehow, too!)

Wyoming – by Family and Friends

Shasta’s Complaint

“Child,’ said the Lion, ‘I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”

The sky is a pale grey, the city sounds hushed under the falling rain. It’s monday, a day that ought to be anticipated with an awareness of new beginnings of fresh starts. I have done the rituals, the candle lit, the mat laid flat, the tight legs and shoulders loosened and stretched by a daily practice, the tea simmers, the vegetables eaten. Still discouraged. Still daunted by the week ahead. I opened to Psalms and read some words that I marked two months ago and simply wrote “korea” next to them. “Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works which You have done. and your thoughts towards us cannot be recounted to You in order. if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.” I was reminded yesterday that each day spent here, in this far country and this side of heaven is e t e r n a l l y worth it. Because already we are children of God, but we are not yet who we will truly be. I’m encouraged by the hope of seeing the face of He who led me this far. He may seem far from me, the clouds may holding back the sun, but they don’t hold back hope. He is always here and working for my good, for your good.

So often I find myself much like Shasta, from C. S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy. We demand He show his face, and He reveals that he’s been walking beside us all along. though all I can hear is breathing in the dark, like the lion, He goes before me, He protects me, He comforts me.

waves that beat upon the shore, they brought me no peace
somewhere I must belong, somewhere for me.
who was it left me there, a boy scared alone?
no, I don’t think you heard me calling
always thought, He must not know
surely He would never leave
He wouldn’t leave me here alone

you tell me now that I was never on my own
well pardon me, I don’t remember you at all
’cause with my back against the tomb I called you out
but I don’t think you heard my answer,
I don’t think I heard a sound
I don’t recall you in my anger, I don’t remember you around

but He answered, “Who are you to question me?
do you command the mountains or calm the raging sea?
for I am the current, there to save your life.
a man my find his eye deceiving,
a fool holds on to trust his sight.
a wise man knows that his own feeling
may not with the truth align.
and you think you have never seen My face?
but every moment you’re alive you know My grace.
for only death in this cruel world is justly deserved.
and you say that I never answer
just because you have not heard?
but you don’t know how to listen or understand my word.

My love, I cared for you.
I was the comfort you felt in the house of the dead,
I drove from you beasts in the night,
all of this I have done while you slept,
all by my design, every chapter, every word
I’ve written every line.”

“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mill so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

A Beautiful Start

“For it is possible that the earth was Art-made to whisper hymns over us while we sleep. And it is possible that we were made with the capacity to listen.”
Annie Dillard

Currently…
I’m writing from a little corner booth at a local Starbucks and listening to some music as I warm my hands on my cup of cafe mocha. The band playing in my ears is the same band that opened for Josh Garrells when Andrew and I went to his show in a tiny little theatre in downtown Charlotte this summer, and though I’m facing a busy street with colorful lights and bright signs in Hangul lettering that I can’t read, in my mind, I’m back to warm Carolina summer days. Watching rainstorms and lightning and splashing in the puddles that covered our entire front yard. Washing dishes after dinner, the warm, soapy water up to my elbows, and singing along to the beautiful lyrics. Riding the hills between the greenway where I worked in the car that had no air conditioning, leaving me sticky and slightly miserable, and blaring the banjo tunes as I showered off the dirt of the day. I haven’t been transported back to my Carolina home in such a powerful way in a really long time. It’s chilly in this Starbucks, and it’s busy and loud. I can hear the chatter of a language I don’t know even through my headphones, and I’m really, really far away from those warm summer days in the southern USA.
But it’s ok. Life in Korea, although slightly more chilly and at the moment a little stressful, has still been full of the same beauty and goodness that has always been here.
I’m still learning to live alone, while being intentional with the community around me.
I’m learning how to steward my money better, and how to be creative with giving.
I don’t think I’ll ever be a good teacher, but Lord knows I’m learning how to be more organized, structured, firm, and diligent.
I’m learning how to be content in a new and more difficult semester of school, content as I near the half-way point of my time in Korea, content as I navigate the unknowns of a new year and content as I face even more unknowns once I return back home. 2014 was a year marked by incredible changes, the biggest steps of faith I’ve ever walked, and God’s grace all over each endeavor. I am anxious about many things, but I have no reason not to believe that 2015 will be full of the riches of His grace, whether they come in the form of hardship or ease.
Since the last time I posted, so many things have happened! A sweet christmas season came to a close with cherished memories made on the coast of Korea- one I’ll not soon forget. I was able to enjoy a nice loooong holiday because my school was renovating the building. I started some new books. Made some new friends and deepened my existing relationships.

Oh…

 

 

and the boy I love flew across the globe and asked me to marry him!

 

Andrew’s visit to Korea was over too soon, as all good things seem to be. Seeing him walk through the doors at Terminal C in the airport was a moment swelling with joy, and pretty much a blur (don’t ask me about the 3 hours I spent wandering the Incheon Airport and literally pacing in front of the terminal doors waiting for him to arrive….). All I remember was running towards him and hearing him say, “Finally!” as we hugged for the first time in 4 months. I wish we could bottle up moments like these. I’d replay that one always if I could…
We had an amazing time wandering around Seoul on New Year’s weekend, watching K-pop on TV with our hosts in their apartment where we stayed, climbing a mountain to watch the first sunrise of the year with a very kind group of Korean couples, eating kimchi and rice cake soup for breakfast, getting lost in Gangnam, takine selfies on the subway, experiencing the Seoul tower, being followed around a museum by two little girls who wanted to practice english, and riding the KTX and watching the sunset over the mountains. After 3 nights in Seoul, we headed back to Changwon for the last few days of Andrew’s stay. We went on a sushi date, I got food poisoning, was sick all night, and Andrew stayed by my side and got up each time I threw up to hand me paper towels and make sure I wasn’t dying, (which I was sure I was). The next morning, he put on my pink bathroom slippers (every bathroom in Korea has little slip-on plastic slides since floors are typically always wet)… and I found him scrubbing my bathroom spotless- grout and all. Over twenty-one months of dating, I’ve watched him love me in many different ways, and I’ve found myself thinking in those moments many times, “I could marry this man…” After this long, rough night, and after all the ways he took care of me while I was sick, I found myself thinking the next day- in a more certain, sure way than I normally have thought: “Andrew’s going to be a great husband.”
God knew, but I sure had no clue, that even as I thought that, Andrew had a ring hidden in his suitcase, and he was planning to ask me to be his wife the next day. Sure enough, on Sunday, January 4th, we’re climbing up stairs that lead to a huge bell inside a pagoda on top of a hill overlooking the city and the mountains, and he jokingly comments on how many stairs we’ve climbed this week and he starts singing U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and then the next thing I know, he’s on his knee and he’s saying he’s found what he’s looking for and I’d never seen him smile so big.
My friend Caroline asked me the other day how it feels to be engaged, and it’s a completely different feeling than I thought it would be. I wasn’t expecting to feel too different, or to look at Andrew through different eyes, or to sense that our relationship has taken on a different feel, but it has, and I have to say, I love it. As the reality of what we’re committing ourselves to started sinking in, and as new thoughts and feelings began to surface, all I can say is that saying “Yes” to Andrew 21 months ago when this journey first began, and saying “Yes” to being his wife, and all along, continually saying “Yes” to whatever the Lord has planned for us has all been nothing but an undeserved, unmeasurable, beautiful gift. Andrew and I had a conversation shortly after the proposal about how God gifts good and perfect gifts. Even if we didn’t have each other, it would still be absolutely true of God that He is good and His gifts are perfect.
The day we got engaged was a Sunday, and we went to church together that evening. The sermon couldn’t have been more perfect for such a significant day in our lives, for it was a reminder of sanctification, of giving our salvation flesh and bones. It was a reminder that the call of Christ is to be changed, and how that change takes diligent work because it is uprooting sin that doesn’t die easily and it is laboring for a fruit that is life eternal. Yet all along, we will look back and discover that God has been working to do these things in us that we could never do alone. All is done by God in us, and all is done in community, with fellow sojourners on the same journey.
I don’t know much about marriage, you know. But to hear these words spoken over us after only a few hours after agreeing to spend our lives next to each other was not just fitting and encouraging, it breathed anew the flame inside my heart to live even more for the glory of Jesus, by the work of His spirit, to be sanctified each day I breathe– and now, alongside a man who holds steadfast to believing the goodness of a faithful God.
Together.
I’m so excited to step into the beginnings of a brand new year with this challenge before me, and with the hope and promise of getting to marry Andrew Peter. I’ve walked the first few weeks of January with new goals in mind, different areas where I want to see my faith deepened, and many areas I know God is breaking and re-building in my heart in order to do the hard work of sanctification, in order to make me more like Jesus.
With all of this, I am humbled and grateful that we don’t walk alone. God has enriched my life in abundant ways by giving me an incredible community here in Korea. I begged like a child for friends and relationships in my city before moving here, and week in and week out God reveals those answered prayers by the lives of His people here. Bright, brilliant, creative, intentional friends who teach me and challenge my life on a regular basis, and a solid church family who love Jesus so, so much. I’m learning so much about our innate human need for community, and better, how much the Lord delights to bless us with one another. Another one of His good and perfect gifts, undeserved, but oh how we need people and relationships!
I could say so much more about what the past  weeks have unfolded before me, and of how much I have seen the Lord just pour out His grace all over my life. I think I’ll leave it here, with thanks from the deepest part of my being to a Master Story-teller who keeps calling us all to new chapters filled with more beauty than our hearts can contain.
Happy New Year, sweet friends!
Let’s keep seeking truth, goodness, and beauty in the year to come. 

Christmas on the Coast

The Christmas season in Korea was sometimes strange. When you live in a country where Christmas isn’t your greatest, most significant holiday, you have to dig deeper to sense that “Christmas spirit.” Occasionally I would hear music in a coffee shop or a store and out of the blur of Korean words there would suddenly be “Christmas!” or I would hear an occasional “jingle bells!” in the lyrics and know this was a festive tune. Besides the huge tree of lights in the traffic circle or festive advertising in the department store, the Christmas season just sortof brushed me by and then all of a sudden it was Christmas Eve, and I was working. The season wasn’t all entirely devoid of cheer. I read an Advent devotional for the first time. I listened to “O come, O come Emmanuel” more times than I ever have. One of my friends in community group pointed out that it’s kinda nice to live in a culture that doesn’t amplify the outward appearance of Christmas as much, or give so much attention to preparations and festivities and the intense blur that Christmas can be in the States. Since I had to make it “feel” like Christmas for myself, it caused me to ponder a lot about what really makes Christmas feel like Christmas. It was such a rich season of Advent, of waiting and anticipating the coming of Christ’s birth as we wait and anticipate His eternal coming.

To help make Christmas Eve and Day as special as we could, Courtney and I planned a celebratory getaway on the Masan coast, about a 40 minute drive from where we live in Changwon. As you probably know, I live on the bottom of Korea- close to the south east corner. The coast is just over the ridge of mountains that you can see from my apartment window! Five friends stayed in a little cabin that looked out over the bay and the mountains and it was peaceful and full of goodness.

After the Christmas Eve service at church we loaded up our bags, a giant box of food, and a small christmas tree into two separate taxis. Yes, I literally just shoved a christmas tree into the back of a taxi. We arrived late at night, and after turning on the heated blankets and hanging christmas lights and settling in, Courtney started sharing that she had her Christmas present ready for all of us. Like water to quench a thirst, she so graciously and kindly shared why each of us are special to her. I was so humbled and struck by the power and beauty of people and relationships and affirming words. It didn’t end there. She told us that she reached out to our friends and family and…. and we sat on the floor of our cabin, huddled under thick blankets, watching our closest friends and families on her computer screen sharing memories and well-wishes from all over the US. You can believe that I cried tears of joy from a full, full heart. The greatest gift is being known, and to have those who know and care enough to prove it in beautiful ways.

Christmas day included sleeping in, waking up to the sound of sea gulls, making breakfast, skyping and meeting everyone’s families, eventually rolling out the door to explore the coast, finding starfish (!!!), watching the sun set over mountains I had hiked in the fall, making a huge dinner, laughing, drinkng mulled wine, playing games, having good conversations, and just enjoying the season, the celebration, and the gift of such an abundant life.

I never expected the emmense gift that this whole season would be, but I am grateful and joy-filled that my Creator saw it fit to give so freely. Grateful that my Savior was born that men no more may die. Grateful that because of Christmas, we have life to the full, we have peace beyond doubt and joy beyond sorrow and beyond the shadows there is a new and glorious morn.

I hope your Christmas season was filled with good things, and a deep abiding sense of peace, joy, and light.

Explorin' -- can you believe I get to LIVE in this beautiful place?

Explorin’ — can you believe I get to LIVE in this beautiful place?

Life is awesome!

Life is awesome!

The Christmas Crew! (L-R: Sam, Judith, Donald, me, Courtney)

The Christmas Crew! (L-R: Sam, Judith, Donald, me, Courtney)

Advent Always

“We live in constant Advent, in waiting, in anticipation, in not yet. Every fiber of this earth knows something of death, and it groans, and we groan with it. And we wait with it for the second Christmas, when creation is restored and all things are made right. [….] we step back and remind ourselves that we want to be the sorta folks who get their hopes up. We want to feel the weight of this world in its entirety, in its beauty as well as its brokenness. We want to laugh from our bellies and weep from our souls. And we can do that because our hope and our peace and our happiness is not here—not in our babies, nor in each other, nor in our house, nor in good food, nor in travel, etc. These are all good things that, although marred with brokenness and death, serve as signposts that point us back to the King and his kingdom. We live in Advent for all its worth, waiting for the Christmas feast when all will be made right.”

I read these words about a week before Christmas and they stuck with me. The source was an Instagram photo caption, the context was that the husband was informing their viewers that the baby growing in his wife had ceased to grow. It was their third loss. I felt so heavy the whole day after hearing this news, but beyond the sadness there was a different kind of ache, ushered in by the husband’s words. “We want to be the sorta folks who get their hopes up.” I don’t know if I could still say that after losing my third child. It’s incredibly hard to believe that way when I see the state we’re all in, when I actually ponder the depth of this world’s brokenness.

On a small, small scale and certainly incomparable to losing 3 stillborn children, part of why these words resonated so deeply was what I’ve been pondering about hope as I anticipate Andrew’s arrival. I’m glad Andrew is getting here after Christmas because the post-Christmas blues haven’t hit as hard as they normally do. Waiting for Andrew has caused me to savor the beauty of waiting. I’m anxious some mornings, but I love this time. I love the anticipation and the building excitement. And I’m glad this waiting has lined up with the Advent season- an even more significant waiting.

The day I saw this photo and heard this sad news and read these words I was sad because I remembered that Andrew isn’t going to get to stay in Korea with me forever. He’ll be here for a week then he’ll leave. And this leaves another pound of weight to the heaviness. This leaves another pang of sadness.

But through this simple caption on a photo on social media, I was reminded of profound truth:

“Our hope and our peace and our happiness is not here.”

So instead, we will savor the time together and the good and the bad simultaneously point us back to the Kingdom to which weare headed.

Finishing firsts

If we are going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.
Anne Lamott.

This same writer also once said of prayer that there are really only three essential ones. Help. Thanks. Wow. Never before in my life have I known this to be more true.

Four months ago- almost to the day, I moved to Korea.

Tonight, I have finished my first semester of teaching!

It’s been a pretty anticlimactic week. With classes only on Monday and Tuesday, I had most of my final classes last week. It’s not a really big deal to the kids because winter break is nothing compared to the hype we put into our Christmas school breaks, and I will have all of them again next semester. So even though my last classes were mostly just like any other class, I tried to savor them as deeply as I could and make them meaningful for my students as well. In my older classes I tried to explain that this was their last class with me for the semester, but they all misunderstood and thought I was finished teaching and moving back to the states. Those little sweeties literally gasped and started freaking out: “TEACHER NO! Don’t leave! Don’t go back to New York!!” (No they will never understand that I come from South Carolina… it’s either California or New York and nowhere else ;) ) I finished their textbook materials early so I could spend all my final classes doing fun things like playing games or writing Christmas cards. Just trying to make it exciting and special.

I’m so thankful for these last few days. My school finishes finals during the first week of December, and at first I thought that was a little strange, but with how long it takes to collect all their grades and scores and decide who moves up to the next level and who should repeat the past level, three weeks fly by and each day was packed with tasks. I’m more than ok with being on the opposite side of finals- the distributor vs. the receiver, but there were so many responsibilities to finish, including preparing all of the books and materials for next semester. December was a full, full month, and here we are at its closure. Tomorrow, all my students are coming to school for “Big Market Day,” where they get to trade in their good behavior stamps given by teachers throughout the semester for paper dollar bills. Each classroom will be transformed into a different shop, and the students can use their money to buy a whole load of things- pencils, candy, headbands, etc. I’m in charge of the snack shop, and I get to distribute the topokki, the best snack in the world. Pictures are promised! It’s going to be a sweet celebration- the kids are going to freak out, and the whole night will probably be a long exhausting whirlwind. Then, I’ll head off to church for a late Christmas Eve service, and then, me and four friends are off to the coast for a Christmas extravaganza in a little house by the sea where we will cook loads of makeshift American food and probably just sprawl out on the heated floors in between meals. It’s going to be epic. Classes are over, but there will be a few things to finish up and a multi-branch meeting…

then,

then, 

THEN….

On December 30th, I get to hug Andrew. 

I am grateful beyond words!!!

Today i woke up and made breakfast and listened to Christmas music and spent some time reflecting on the past 4 months. Sometimes it feels like I just landed here, blinked three times, and suddenly I’m one third of the way through my contract! Other times, when I look back on my first few weeks of fumbling around this brand new life, it feels like an eternity ago. I stood by my window and looked out over the city. Big, wet, messy tears started streaming down my face when I realized just how far God has brought me here…. 4 months ago i was standing by the same window, looking out at the same view, yet I was a completely different person. I prayed aloud that day over my students and I prayed out of fear and uncertainty. I prayed, “What am I doing??” I didn’t know the first thing about teaching, let alone teaching to kids who don’t know what I’m saying. My tears this morning were really good tears, because God is a God of really good things, and He has been up to something really good all this time. In a conversation with my mom this weekend it struck me: God has not only answered every single one of my prayers and desires of my heart before I moved here, He has planted me here and He has prospered me. I’m so undeserving, but my heart swells with gratefulness. This morning, I prayed again for my students, but now I know them each by their English names, and I know their personalities and I know some of their stories and I’ve met some of their families. I’m in awe of how far I’ve been taken, of just how much the Lord has done in this little tiny hagwon with this frazzled, unorganized foreign teacher.

A few people told me when I moved here that they were praying for “the little things.” At first I had no idea what that really meant. I would sometimes silently refute that, questioning what significance “the little things” have when I obviously moved here to have a BIG life and to experience the grandeur of this vast globe and new culture! Why should I care about the little things when I came here to enlarge my life? Ah. I’ve been so humbled in that thought these past few months. Yes, I will always chase after a big life, but hello- I teach phonics. One of the biggest changes that has come over me this year is how much the little things really do matter. They matter because they are the pieces of this mosaic of life, and life can only be “big” when all of the “small” has been acknowledge, gathered, and thanked for. When it comes to the little things, I have found myself continually praying through cycles of help + thanks + wow. I have prayed “help” when I’m tired and don’t feel like speaking in broken english for 6 hours. Or when I’m lost. Or when I have to watch my students cry from stress on speaking test days. I have prayed “thanks” when my principal offers me some mandu on a Tuesday just because, or when some of my littlest students pop in my office with their hands open saying, “Teeeacher have some cheeeeps!” Or when my co-teachers forgive my countless mistakes. I have also prayed “wow” when I see my students think of and write creative sentences in their essays. Or when it snows. Or when I’m laughing with new friends. Or when I realize a full semester has been completed. All of these are little things, yes? What then do we say when even the mundane becomes beautiful and magnified by gratitude?

All is grace.

So ruined. So loved. In charge of so little. I gladly accept this as true of my life and days here, and for the days to come in Korea, and for the days to come wherever I may be.

If He keeps this up, finishing my last semester will probably have me sobbing the whole flight home.

Even so, good tears. Good things. Good days. A good God.

{Pictures to come of what Christmas in Korea looks like. Thank you, thank you for following me on this journey and for hemming me in the presence of Jesus by your prayers. Again, undeserving, but grateful. You’re loved.}

Kamsahamnida! 

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?