6 days

Six. Surprises.

At the beginning of October, I finally ventured out of Changwon and took my first intercity bus to Busan, South Korea — the second largest city in the peninsula! I was more nervous for this solo trip to a new city than I was about flying to a whole new country. Sure enough, I got terribly lost and wandered around for about an hour until I realized I could just jump in a taxi and show him the address and he would bring me to the exact location. The learning curve has been steep, friends! Eventually, I made it to my destination, and after collapsing all my bags and any pride I had left onto the floor, the next thing I knew I was witnessing someone cut pizza with food scissors for the first time and then I met one of my best Korea friends.

I share this story because it’s so indicative of my experience here: utter failure at first, but followed by mind-blowing goodness!

Looking back, I am so thankful for the month of September that I spent alone, but after Courtney stepped into my life, Korea instantly became so much more amazing. If you know her, you know she has that effect on things. I had literally just introduced myself to her and 5 minutes later she was inviting me to dinner at her home stay. The following Tuesday I got a text from her while at school inviting me to the infamous Jinju Lantern Festival…. at 11pm, and we started our friendship by running around a castle filled with hundreds of life-sized glowing lanterns and taking selfies with her Korean host mom. The next weekend we were hiking the mountains that border our city- the ones I see above the apartment skyline every day- ending the day with pajeon (veggie pancake) and makgeolli (rice wine) at a restaurant that was nothing more than tables under tents. And how could I forget- our next adventure included fresh clams, green tea in the land of green tea, street food, and mud flats…

One of my favorite things about living in Korea with Courtney was how much funnier she made our circumstances. One night I came to her home stay after work and ended up staying the night. As we were about to go to bed she simply said, “Here we are! Just sleeping in a home in Changwon, South Korea! What an average day!” A few weeks later, we were sipping coffee on the patio of a resort on Goeje Island, looking out over the sea and talking about how much we love this life we get to live. I will never forget laughing so hard as we looked out over the stunning sea and town below us and Courtney exclaiming, “What an AVERAGE view! Here we are at this resort on this island…. it’s all just ok….” 

I owe so much of the meaningful impact this year has had on me due to my friend Courtney. I’m sure I would have made it to a few cities around Korea, but it would have been a fraction of what I got to see and experience without her. Not only did she adopt me into her Fulbright family, and not only did we get to go to really cool places (The Blue House in Seoul, DMZ, Andong) but we had experiences that I will treasure forever. Courtney is intentional like no one I’ve ever met, and you better believe she made holidays and birthdays and everyday in-between days really special and memorable.

For example, on my birthday, I came around the corner to my bathroom to find the door covered in notes from my friends and family members, wishing me a happy birthday from the other side of the world.

Christmas, however, was my absolute favorite.

We borrowed our friend’s entire christmas tree and all their decor (they were in America for the holidays), shoved it all into the back of two taxi’s, and paid about 50,000 won for the driver to take us up into the hills along the coast to a cabin we had rented for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I had a massive box of food in the seat next to me, the christmas tree at my feet, and a carton of eggs in my lap, already knowing this would be a holiday I would never forget. I could tell you all the details of the night, how we got out of the taxi, how he drove away, and how the two of us stood in the cold and had no idea where we were, how we waited for our friends and trudged up a hill until we saw our place, how we accidentally set of the alarm and the old man who owned the place came shuffling down the hill to let us in, but what’s more important is how after we got everything unloaded and we settled in, Courtney gave one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given; words. Weeks before Christmas, she had reached out to me and five of our other friend’s closest friend’s and family members back in the States, and they sent her  hilarious wonderful sweet amazing videos from home that Courtney put all together and presented to us on Christmas Eve. I will remember that gift long after the memory of rice-cooker mac&cheese fades (but let’s be honest, the first taste of mac & cheese in 4 months won’t soon be forgotten)!

The rest of the year, until when she left in July, was filled with lots of late week-night dinners, Saturday coffee and breakfast in my apartment on lazy weekends, more fun weekend trips and great conversations on the bus rides back to Changwon. I’ll never get over the massive gift that Courtney’s friendship and presence in my year in Korea was and will continue to be in the States! My year here was characterized by lots of surprises and unexpected circumstances.

This was the best surprise of them all.

So, Courtney — thank you for being who you are, and for changing who I am for the better. Meeting you in Busan that day was a surprise that I’ll forever thank Jesus for. Thank you for so many months packed with so many memories in one of the weirdest but best years of my life!

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The start of our friendship…… unique from the beginning ;)

The lantern festival in Jinju!

The lantern festival in Jinju!

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Our “trip” to Boseong- our first strange adventure! If you look closely you can see mud still in our hair, but don’t…

This is often what I looked like rolling back into Changwon when the weekend was over...

This is often what I looked like rolling back into Changwon when the weekend was over…

Goeje sunrise -- we literally woke up for 5 minutes to take these pics then fell back asleep

Goeje sunrise — we literally woke up for 5 minutes to take these pics then fell back asleep

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Christmastime!! Outside my apartment, minutes before jumping in the taxi headed to the coast!


Christmas dinner: Wine in coffee mugs, a bright red heat lamp, a massive electric blanket, a clogged kitchen sink, and stuffed peppers + mac & cheese eaten with chopsticks around the table with the best people!

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mulled wiiiiiine


Andong adventures.

Standing on the beach between Andong Hahoe Folk Village and the Buyongdae Cliff -- we took a tiny boat across the river, hiked up the mountain, then spend the night on a sweet potato farm....

Standing on the beach between Andong Hahoe Folk Village and the Buyongdae Cliff — we took a tiny boat across the river, hiked up the mountain, then spend the night on a sweet potato farm….

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Spring — camping and biking around Jeungdo island. Shortly after this photo was taken my friend Donald and I had a conversation about how our life felt like National Geographic ;)

Making a fire in the pouring rain, aka becoming bff's with Donald and Kevin

Making a fire in the pouring rain, aka becoming bff’s with Donald and Kevin


We woke up like this, we also literally woke up right here…

Yay weekends and coffee and breakfast burritos!

Yay weekends and coffee and breakfast burritos!

Korea problems: what to do with boxes of trash?! Courtney's last night in Korea was spent wandering her neighborhood and singing at the top of our lungs on a pagoda on a hill behind her apartment!

Korea problems: what to do with boxes of trash?! I won’t tell you, but I will tell you that Courtney’s last night in Korea was spent wandering her neighborhood and singing at the top of our lungs on a pagoda on a hill behind her apartment!

We have mastered the art of jumping-in-front-of-buddah's-birthday-tower-self-timer-photos. It's an art, really.

We have mastered the art of jumping-in-front-of-buddah’s-birthday-tower-self-timer-photos. 

Busan: Back where it all began!

Busan: Back where it all began!

7 days

I am actually leaving Korea in 6 days. My how fast a year flies by, and oh how crazy wild and beautiful and painful and incredible this year has been! I have been crazy excited to come home all year, but really started to feel the excitement building around 10-11 weeks to go. I had major self control to not start a daily countdown then, and told myself to wait until there were 30 days left. Then somehow I blinked and I had 20 days left and I decided to forgo a countdown altogether. Until last night- I was talking to Andrew and just trying to get the reality of my departure to sink in. It just doesn’t feel real, and so we decided a countdown would be a good idea.

I grow so impatient when I am excited for something, so countdowns always help both build the excitement and give me a tangible visible way to see the expected day approaching. In college my roommate and I would make paper chains, each link would be a major project, paper, or exam that stood between us and fall break, christmas break, summer break. We would have huge celebrations when it came time to break that last chain and hop in the car headed for home. It was the best.

Back in December when I was anxiously and impatiently awaiting Andrew’s first trip to Korea I decided to give him an early christmas present that doubled as a countdown. It gave me something to focus my energy on instead of cleaning my apartment for the 17th day in a row. When the countdown was 10 days, I emailed him a song and a note describing what that song meant to me and how it made me think of him. [ulterior motive: The ultimate result would be that on his way to Korea he would have a collection of music to listen to and think of me the whole 15 hour plane ride ;)]

So it only made sense that my countdown to the end of Korea would need to be significant and meaningful. I will totally have the temptation to just unload my 5 journals onto my blog as a means to share all the the Lord taught me this year- but that would ruin the storytelling in person, yeah? Instead, I want to provide some simple snapshots each day until I leave. I somehow managed to merge the major highlights of my year into seven categories that I’ll share each day- pictures and music included. I hope it provides – as wholly as possible- the scope of this year, if only as snapshots of the real thing. I also hope it can be an encouragement to you, wherever you may be on your journey, to be reminded whether for the first or the hundredth time that no season lasts, so learn from the hard ones and savor the good ones! That good things are always ahead, so keep trusting, obeying, and moving forward, and know that God is so faithful. He is faithful to carry you through the wilderness, to continue a good work in you, and to lead you Heavenward to our true Home.

Seven. September.

At this point in my life, I see so clearly that September’s exist to be a breathing space between transitions. Not only does the air  itself exhale it’s cool breath all over the tense heat and humidity of summer, creating a space for fall to sweep in, but every September for as long as i can remember has been a season of transition. First it was the transition from high school to college, each year different and transformative because of the changes Fall brings. Then it was moving to Korea and landing flat on my face and spending the whole month just trying to breathe and take one step, one day, one minute at a time. Now, I am in a season of leaving that feels just as intense as the season of arriving. So to commemorate the start of this countdown, this is a perfect place to start. Here is a snapshot of this time last September, a memory of a time that has marked me forever as completely simultaneously hard but good.

First night, first apartment selfie

First night, first apartment selfie


The first sunset I saw from my window. Even though my heart felt completely broken and so afraid, I just remember feeling so much peace in this moment — Knowing full well that I can cast every care at the feet of Jesus and He can take it!


Learning my way around, growing more and more thankful for the location I live in — my building is the farthest in the background and a good number of my friends live in the building just across the street!


Moments like these… early mornings at starbucks because I was jet lagged and it was the only place that felt familiar. Little did I know just how many seeds God was planting that He would water and grow in His good timing!


Turning the studio into a home, bit by bit.


persimmons and market sunflowers were some of the sweetest parts of this season!


As soon as the leaves started to change colors and the city grew more vibrant, I started to sink into the reality that all would be well. This was a particularly happy day. Ironic isn’t it? That as the leaves die, some of us come more alive.

 see you tomorrow for day 6!

something that matters.

I’m seeing now that there is a truer sense of adventure- one that is more real, has substance. You and I already know this, but we are so selfish. We’ll do anything to protect ourselves. We’ll do whatever it takes to avoid getting hurt. We love being comfortable, and so we have a hard time being true adventurers. Because pain is an adventure. And grief is an adventure. And death is absolutely an adventure. Doing the hard thing is an adventure. And being known (as well as knowing) is an adventure. And loving is an adventure, the most dangerous of them all. So here’s to adventuring, for more than just adventure’s sake.

 {Billy Jack Brawner}


A few weeks ago, I watched one of my favorite movies with some of my friends. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a good one. I love the cinematography and the colorful vibrant aesthetics of the film, but I love, love, love the story.

If you’ve never seen it before, here’s a brief synopsis: Walter Mitty works for LIFE magazine. He arrives at work one day to find that they are going all-online and half the company will loose their job. Walter’s responsibility is to produce the final cover photo, as he has worked closely with the magazine’s best photographer over the years. However, the slide for the requested photo goes missing, and Walter finds himself on an epic journey: hopping on helicopters in Iceland, long boarding through the hills, escaping a volcano, and eventually, trekking through the Himalayas’ alone until he finds the photographer himself to recover the lost photo. Bonus points, in the end he ends up with the girl of his dreams.

It’s such a feel-good film, but after I watched it for the third time, it resonated much deeper than before. I walked home that night with a good feeling, but I wasn’t sure what it was just yet. I stood on the steps of my apartment building and looked up at the trees, feeling the wind whisk around and thinking about why I love that movie so much. The next afternoon, I was in a coffee shop finishing The Two Towers. Some of my absolute favorite literary words, spoken by Sam (the great!) leapt off the page and I quickly pulled out my journal to write them down. I clicked my pen and wrote the date: July 26. And it hit me, 11 months ago on that day, I moved to Korea! What perfect words to find me on this important milestone:


Sam echoes so many of my own thoughts as I realized how long I had been in Korea and the significance of reaching that point in the year. If I knew what I was getting into at the start, (the difficulty of the education system, the awfulness of living alone, all the struggles with food), I would have said, “No. Thanks.” when given the opportunity to come here. But, what if the tales that really matter are ones in which the good and the bad are often simultaneous? I firmly believe the difficulties are absolutely journeying through, for they are the best tales, however unglamorous, painful your story may be, however ragged you find yourself in the end.

I read this quote and started thinking about how I’ve struggled all year to see how this year matters as a part of my story. Sure, it has been full of sweet memories, new relationships, and more mercies and grace and growth than I can articulate, but it has been so hard for me to find meaning and significance in many areas of my life here, and often, during seasons of my life in the past.

I started thinking about what Sam said about “adventures.” For a long time, I’ve been wondering about what that word really means. It used to make me unreasonably frustrated when I would see #adventure on someone’s picture of a totally average activity, or when someone would call a midnight run to wal-mart spontaneity for the sake of “adventure.” I know myself and our culture cheapens words so quickly, and I sometimes hate that this one is being stamped all over everything we do. Do you have to take a high-risk in order to be worthy of #adventure? Do you have to reach the top of the mountain on your hike in order to call it an adventure, or is half-way up still “adventurous” enough?

11212689_10153331453712090_2248459871998147253_oBack in May, something started to grow in my heart that weaved itself into my thoughts on both what makes this journey matter, and what truly defines adventure. I’ve never felt a desire like this in my whole life, and I never imagined that living in Korea and traveling around the country would plant and grow this seed. I was standing on top of a mountain next to Andrew, looking out over the sea and the small islands that speckled the horizon before us, and a moment you would expect to be filled with such awe and wonder and exhilaration from the climb was actually a space for me to verbalize a thought that was brooding and finally surfaced out into the air before us. Tired. I told Andrew I was very, very tired. The past 9 months had been either high and intense or low-key and empty, and the constant up-and-down was wearing me out. I remember telling Andrew that for the first time in my life, I want to settle in a place and root myself deeply somewhere. Some of the happiest times of living in Korea has been where I feel like I’m actually living, just doing life normally; creating a daily routine, investing in the people around me, working hard at my job, and trying to simply cultivate a sense of existence in a foreign place.

I want the tale of my life to matter, and I love that Korea has provided a million mountaintop moments, but I am so completely ready for a season of life that is consistent. Not in circumstances, but in rooting myself in one place, seeking the adventure of sinking in. This has brought me to a really cool conclusion, but far greater, a great place of freedom! Let’s feel free to call our lives adventures! I don’t have to live under the pressure for a “big life” anymore. We don’t have to be an adrenaline junkies to have adventurous times. I don’t have to stand on mountaintops or wake up on a cliff overlooking the beach or jump into mud flats or run around lantern festivals in order to have a sense of existence in Korea, because “adventure” is not found in the most extreme things you can do. Saying “yes” to the unknown and saying “yes” to Jesus has led me on the greatest adventures I’ve ever known. Everything from traumatic bus rides to getting lost on a rural island to eating raw fish to exploring Seoul to people and relationships (and alllllllll the bulgogi), saying “yes” always finds me in the most unimaginable places, and all of it has been the most wonderful, undeserving gift! The “big life” I used to pray for has been fun for 365 days now, but it’s time to settle into a life that is driven by something actually much, much bigger.

As I was watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, this is what struck: I love that he just found himself on such a life-changing adventure. I love the scene where he simply shows up at the airport and hands his passport over the desk and asks for 1 ticket to Iceland. I love that it was such a simple “yes” that lead him on this quest, and I love watching all the wild moments he finds himself in. But just as much as I love the scenes of him longboarding or hiking up to the mountains, I love the simplicity of very last minute of the film. You’re left with just as much of a sense of beauty and joy and exhilaration when he simply takes his girls hand and walks down the street that you do when he’s scaling the mountains in a blizzard or playing soccer in the Himilayan sunset. He has had adventures, no doubt. But as you watch Walter and Cheryl hold hands and walk down the street, you are left with a sense that the greatest adventure is about to begin.

I want to live that way. I want to gather moments of meaning and significance and use them to water the seeds that become roots in a place, in a story, in an adventure that matters. I want to stand on shores and try new foods and meet new people just as much as I want to walk the floors of my home and prepare favorite recipes and build into my oldest and dearest friends. That’s the sort of tale I want to fall into. Am I going to miss the crazy weekend trips and the unknowns and spontaneity of living overseas? Absolutely! But I am so excited to take this year and all it’s hardships, lessons, memories, and relationships and continue to allow it to keep changing me as I return home and keep living all of life as an adventure. The tales that really matter, as Samwise said, aren’t the ones you go searching for when life is dull and adventures look exciting. They’re just the one’s folks are landed in, their paths laid out that way.


“Blessed is the one who’s hope is in the Lord…
he will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out it’s roots by the stream.”
Jeremiah 17:7


God has been walking me through my least favorite thing: uncertainty.

As a part of my contract, my school is paying for my plane ticket home. One would think that upon signing a one year contract, when that year was over, one could go home. But 5 meetings with my principal later, I have no plane ticket and no final dates set. A few weeks ago, when I first met with her, she asked if I could stay all the way through September. This request threw me into a spiral of confusion and I was pretty angry. I spent the next two days in fits each time I told someone the situation, my tongue throwing out bouts of “How dare she?!” as if this was some serious offense my principal was committing against me by asking me to stay a few weeks over my contract.

A few days passed in this restlessness. Then, it was a Sunday afternoon and I had refused to stop wrestling with my case. I was folding clothes and listening to a podcast and praying like a child: “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me go home in August like I was supposed to!” or in other words, “Pleeeeease let me get my way!!” The voice from the lecture I was listening to stopped me right then and there. Sweater and hanger in hand, I heard the words

God’s presence is much more important than God’s provision.

My desperate pleas and agitated questions and frustrated stammering prayers that surrounded me like bricks, my false sense of independence and desire to have my will be done just crashed around me. I had been doing this all wrong. I had been begging God to give me what I want out of these unknown circumstances, I had been using his presence as a platform to demand my way. I realized in this moment that I should be begging God for more of Himself, and dwelling in His presence as my permanent circumstance, reveling in the gift that He is alone.

Think through the manner, the lengths, the degrees to which our Lord comes to us amidst our sorrow and sadness and doesn’t get rid of it necessarily, but allows us to walk through it.

The moment I heard these words, my heart was quickened to start a deep journey with Jesus.

My very first night alone in my apartment in Korea I remember looking out my window and thinking to myself, “Living by faith is actually so hard.” The reality of following Jesus is marked by wild goodness and deep joy, no doubt, but it is a long and difficult trek most of the time. As my first few weeks unfolded, I remember being drawn to a lot of the Old Testament stories, not knowing why. I remember where I was sitting in the Starbucks down the street, I remember who I was with and I remember looking out the window at the trees and sidewalk and passerby’s when it struck me: a life of faith requires a long obedience in the same direction, but a year is not a long time. I’m looking out over the next 12 months as seemingly impossible, but nothing is impossible. Abraham stood in the desert and looked at the stars and thought, “Impossible….” until he was granted faith. He waited. He waited. He was one hundred years old when his promised son was born. Surely, I can endure one year.

When this plane ticket uncertainty began, I was reminded of this lesson God taught me so many months ago. Only this time He was whispering to me, “I’ve carried you all this way. Look back and see how far you have come! Why would I not carry you all the way to the end?”

The following week, I was drawn again to the Old Testament stories, so I turned to Genesis 22: the story of Abraham’s faith confirmed.

He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and rose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day, Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go and worship, and we will come back to you.” So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!…. look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.

A few things; God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love” — your son who you have been waiting decades for. Your son who I promised would seed the nations. Your son whom I covenanted to give you, take him the mountain and sacrifice him on the mountain: and there is no hesitation on Abraham’s part. “So Abraham rose early in the morning.” Full obedience. Full faith, and yet full uncertainty. As I read these verses, suddenly my situation seemed so much less daunting, but clear: God said to me, “take your plans. take your ‘rights.’ take whatever sense of control you think you have and come sacrifice it on the mountain.”

Another thing I love about this passage is when Abraham says to his young men, “We will go worship, and we will come back to you.” He knows God is going to provide, though he doesn’t know what it will look like. “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering.” I love that this evokes a sense of worship, of God’s provision for Himself, that He will be glorified. Abraham’s response in obedience is an act of worship above anything else.

And so here I am, ten months later, I stood in the same spot as before, in front of my window looking out towards the mountains and realized His presence has been abounding here every moment of every day. I walked through the next few days worshipping by obeying, by constantly relinquishing control of my circumstances, by constantly laying down my desires upon the alter on the mountain and waiting for God to provide, however he will.

Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off.” I can’t imagine the sense of dread and fear, looking towards the mountains and facing the potential killing of your own, only, promised son.

I still don’t have my plane ticket. I still don’t know when my last day of school will be, or when I will actually get to leave. In fact, there are even more unknowns thrown into the whole situation, and the past two weeks have been met with crippling anxiety on my part. I’m looking towards the mountains with a similar sense of far-off-ness. How will all of this be resolved? As I get closer and closer to the end of my contract I’m more restless and the tension between waiting and expecting is an exhausting place to be. But God calls me to obey, to climb the mountain, to prepare my alter of worship, and to wait. So I will.

Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”


Each month, like clockwork, God brings words or music to me that speak directly to where He has me. This is what June + July have felt like so far: “Whether I sink, whether I swim, it makes no difference when I am beautifully in over my head.”

Other refuge have I none, I helpless hang on Thee;
leave, oh leave me not alone, support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all help from Thee I bring;
cover my defenseless head in the shadow of Thy wing.

Thou, O Christ are all I want, here more than all I find.
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick and lead the blind.
Just and holy is Thy name, I am all unrighteousness;
false and full of sin I am, Thou art full of truth and grace.

Plenteous grace with Thee is found, grace to cover all my sin;
let the healing streams abound, make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art, let me take of Thee!

Spring Thou up within my heart for all eternity! 

The fingerprints of the Gospel are pressed upon everything I see. it is beautiful and freeing to abound in the richness and holiness and purity of God’s love these days, and in the days to come. I am rejoicing in the most beautiful reality in the world: “The Gospel says you are more flawed than you ever dared believe, but more accepted than you ever dared hope.”

“Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For he spoke, and it was done. He commanded, and it stood fast. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in his mercy, to deliver their soul from death, to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our hearts shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name. Let your mercy be upon us just as we hope in you.”
Psalm 33

On friends and islands.

“This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we’re most sure that love can’t conquer all, it seems to anyway. It goes down into the rat hole with us, in the guise of our friends, and there it swells and comforts. It gives us second winds, third winds, hundredth winds.”
-Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

Remember that time I blogged about all the cool things I got to do during April? Well, now it’s June. I apologize for the fact that each time I sit down to write a new blog post, the FIRST thing that comes out of my brainbox is something along the lines of


Friends. Family. Strangers reading my blog. It is summertime.

My first week in Korea, arguably one of the worst weeks of my life, I sat down to dinner with a group of people who were total strangers to me. We were making small talk, and I remember asking these people how long each of them had been in Korea.

Caleb and Martha had been here for over 4 years.

Hannah and Traylor had been here for 3 years.

Elani had been here for 3 years.

But it wasn’t these years that stuck out to me most. I remember my friend Jonelle nonchalantly replied,

“9 months.”

In my head I thought, “I swear. If I can make it 9 months living in Korea and look as calm, cool, and collected – hell, still in one piece – and not shrivel up and die, I will have truly accomplished something great.”

I absolutely longed for the day I could say “I have lived here for 9 months,” but since then, I intentionally lost track of time. I didn’t like the way it was altering my vision, making me lose myself in the “not yet” instead of being present in the “now.” So, it was a really profound moment when I was climbing a mountain with 4 of my friends and we started talking about how long we’ve been in Korea, and when my friend Elise asked how long I’ve lived here, and I nonchalantly replied,

“9 months.”

Today, I started my last semester at Jasaeng Academy. I was handed a syllabus journal that is 12 weeks long, and I know when I cross off each week completed, I’m 7 days closer to home.


I feel a little bit foolish for spending so much time being so excited to go home, that now when departure is just on the cusp of the horizon I want to run in the opposite direction. I’ve resolved to spend my last weeks in total and complete enjoyment of the life I’ve been given in South Korea.

I’m still struck with small pangs of ready-to-go. Such as: I am so excited to go grocery shopping and not navigate around piles of kimchi and live fish, or to pay less than 5000W for a coffee, or to sit on a sofa or to walk on carpet, or to not be stared at on the sidewalk, or to be able to talk to whoever I want with words that we all will understand, or to hug my family, or to drink coffee with my Mom, or to sit on our back porch under the trees.

At the same time, I’m equally as struck with pangs of beauty and not-ready-to-leave. Such as: the ability to walk or bike or bus to wherever I need to be, finding a new coffee shop to enjoy whenever I want, total independence, a plethora of international restaurants surrounding me, my cozy apartment, being neighbors with all my friends, sleepovers with Courtney, free “service” at restaurants or the sweet old man who snuck extra peppers in my bag at the market, constantly receiving gifts from teachers and students, my STUDENTS, and without a doubt, my friends. My community. The people I prayed so fervently for and hoped so deeply for.

You may have heard me mention on the blog before how thankful I am to have the good friends God gave me in Korea, but I’ve never really elaborated on who they are, or what they mean to me. Let me say now, without this group of people, I would probably have checked myself into a mental hospital of loneliness. That’s slightly dramatic. But my year would not have been the wildly transformative time of growth it’s been without community. Giving me

“second winds, third winds, hundredth winds.”

The last week of May, when Andrew was here and we were just a little slightly high on life, we all went to retreat on Namhae Island. Do you know how much I love the word “retreat?”

Retreat. Noun. An act of moving back or withdrawing.

11202649_10155553682325591_525912676248723794_nI packed a backpack with some shorts, a hoodie and my chacos, and Andrew and I boarded a 7:50 am bus that drove us through beautiful woods, over bridges, along the coast, until we stumbled out onto the beach. There we met some of my favorite people on this continent at what we in Korea call a “pension” (equivalent of a beach house), a block from the beach and right beside a mountain covered in gardens. I sat on the beach and chatted with friends and ate too many Korean corn dogs while Andrew immediately became bff’s with all the rest of my friends and I didn’t see him for hours because he was playing volleyball and football and ultimate frisbee. When we all regrouped later, he had more inside jokes with half my friends than I’ve probably made all year. Typical, and I love him for that.

20150523_194310We watched the most beautiful sunset from the porch on our pension while Jonathan grilled endless amounts of meat and vegetables. I went inside to get something, and an hour later I was sitting on the floor with my friend Simone, who I had just met, story telling and tearing up and reveling in the good and the bad of living in Korea, and how God is faithful always and in between. That night, the girls gathered in our room and shared with one another two of my absolute favorite parts to know of a person: scripture that is meaningful to them, and their story. It was rich and beautiful to see the same, constant thread through every different person’s life: God’s ever-present faithfulness, His always-perfect guidance. 

The next morning, after coffee and breakfast on the porch, all 20 or so of us gathered in one of the bedrooms for “Church.” We sat on chairs, on the couch, on the floor. We sang, we worshipped, we prayed. My friend Caleb shared a message on abiding in Christ, on living out of the Gospel and the eternal importance on setting our hearts on the anchor that is in Christ. I couldn’t think of a more perfect truth to meditate on while retreating.

11045468_10155553702560591_7613251753029545520_nAfter packing our backpacks full of snacks, me, Andrew, Johnny, Jonathan, Caleb, and Warren (l – r) set out to hike the mountain behind our pension. Straight up the mountain, no switchbacks. Absolutely exhilarating and exhausting and awesome all at the same time. In-between gasping for breath and taking water breaks and catching the view through the trees, we talked and we listened.

The rest of the trip was a good kind of blur. More good food. More laughter. Another sunset. More rest. Everything a retreat should be.


This retreat was the first time Andrew got to meet a lot of my friends. It was amazing to see so many of my favorite people get to know him, and it was amazing to get to retreat with him. I get giddy-happy when I think about all my friends being friends with each other in general, and this trip was no exception. BUT. Better than just watching my friends become friends with my fiancé, they poured into us. They didn’t just play volleyball and make inside jokes with Andrew or I. They truly befriended us.

I got to hear my friend Jonathan asked Andrew some of the most to-the-point questions about his work on Guam. Questions that require thought and answers that require reflection. On our hike, I got to hear Caleb share ideas and thoughts directing us towards our unknown future that I’d never even considered before. We got to pray with our friends about needs we have, and desires to be met. It has been a long, long, time since Andrew and I both felt connected to people the way these people connected with us. It has been a long, long time since we got to participate in a sliver of life with people together. It has been a long, long time since we both felt intentionally loved and cared for by a community on purpose.

So friends, if any of you read this- please know that I am on word #1424 of this blog post and I hardly feel like I’ve articulated the depth of thanks in my heart. A whole lot of good was done on Namhae Island in our hearts, and we are so thankful for you all. The folks at Redeemer ICC love well, and I’m grateful. 20150524_184529

Retreating and spending time with Andrew was a perfect way to transition into my last 3 months. Andrew is the world’s greatest listener, and I got to process and unravel and unload heaps and heaps and heaps of what I’ve suppressed and kept inside and locked down in my heart over too much time. When we had to say good bye right outside of my school minutes before he would bus to the airport and I would start teaching, I felt a sure and swelling peace. We’re really doing this. This long, massive amount of time between this month last summer and where we stand now is actually underway.The long distance days are literally numbered, and shrinking every day. We’re gonna make it.

9 months, guys. The milestone I thought I’d never reach, and had I tried to go it alone I wouldn’t have made it. Yet here I am. Stretched and worn, yes. Probably a little thinner than when I started out. But well, and good, thanks to the people God placed around me. Far more happy. Far more better at being able to cook! Far more better at loving and learning to be loved well. Far more better at listening. Far better at giving and receiving gifts from others. Far better at trusting. Far better at hoping.

Far more in love with the God who has brought me so far, far more sure of His promises kept. 


Songs for the Seasons

I used to walk 30 minutes to school and back every day – I told myself that I enjoyed it, but most days it just felt so tiring. I was telling this to a friend of mine one day, and before I could finish my sentence, she had her hand in her purse and pulled out her 누비자 bike pass, told me she never used it, and that I could have it! (Changwon has a bike share system, all you do is swipe a card and you can rent a bike for up to 2 hours, the stations are literally everywhere around the city, it’s the best idea!)  The first time I rode my bike home from school, I was thrilled. It was such a great change, more needed than I realized. I remember telling my friend Rache that night that this seems like something so small and mundane, but i felt like it was going to make a huge difference. I’ve always believed in breaking from routine once in a while as a way to refresh yourself, and this was a perfect change that I needed! Not only does it shorten my daily commute to half the time it used to take, it is so much more enjoyable to bike around the city instead of walking, ruining all my shoes, and showing up to work sweaty and tired.

This was a huge, long tangent that probably could have been avoided, but last night as I was riding home from work, I was thinking again about how glad I am to have a bike now. There’s a long stretch of road, about the last half mile before I reach my apartment, and I love it so much. I pedal really fast and then coast the whole way home, under the trees with the cool breeze whipping around me. I don’t know why, but it’s one of my favorite moments of the day. More often than not, I’m so invigorated and glad and at peace on my ride home that sometimes – actually almost all the time – I sing! It’s probably totally dorky of me, but that’s one of the advantages to being a foreigner, anything I do is strange no matter if it is genuinely embarrassing or not.

Last night on my ride home, I had one particular song in my head that I was humming along to. It made me realize how many songs have played through the different seasons of my year here. There are so many songs that have brought me comfort and peace in difficult seasons, songs that have helped shape the joy and gladness of good seasons, and there are a few that have literally pulled me through the most painful seasons. I made a list of some of the most significant ones, and it just didn’t seem right to keep it to myself. As the end of my year approaches quicker than I could have ever anticipated, I feel it’s so important to mark, signify, and gather what has made this year the wild, unpredictable journey it has been. Certainly songs help capture the moments we might soon forget. But since I always want to remember, here they are: the songs of my seasons.

{Fall; September – November} 

Change. Newness. Dependence. Solitude. Hunger. Gifts. Surprises. Thankfulness. 

Called Me Higher — All Sons and Daughters

I first heard this song on Andrew and I’s last road trip before I left – we were driving 100 miles on Skyline drive near the Shenandoah Valley and I just wept at the words being sung over the current moment and what I knew was about to happen to me. They gave me an invigorating sense of hope that moving to Korea was the right choice.

Guide Me Oh Though Great Jehovah — Indelible Grace

This was the theme of my journey here. I listened to it in the airport as soon as I walked away from my family for the last time, I listened to it on repeat on the flights, and I listened to it over and over and over my first week in Korea.

Oh The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus — Sovereign Grace Music

I think I may always cry when I hear this song. This was another one that got me through the transition and my first few weeks in Korea. I’m just so thankful for the current of His love.

Honest Songs – Noah Gundersen

My friend Rache gave me a piece of advice once when I was really homesick, and I didn’t believe her at first. She said you should have some sad songs on hand for when you really miss home/people. At first I thought this was a terrible idea- why would I want to be more sad? But there’s something about this one that hits my heart in just the right place when I’m missing Andrew extra, and in it’s own sad way it makes me feel better.

Faith to Be Strong — Andrew Peterson 

This is our Guam – Korea theme song and maybe it will be our life theme song.

Peace — Rich Mullins 

The words of this song are really special because I was listening to it a lot during a time when God was teaching me so much about peace. My version of peace was obliterated when he started showing me His.

The Color Green — Rich Mullins 

Fall in Korea – I’ll always recall that beautiful time when I hear this song!

Pilot Me — Josh Garrels 

I always loved this song, but during this season of my life it became much more of a prayer for me. God was really showing me how to depend on him, how to be led by him, and how that is the most beautiful place to be!

Rain (Setting Out in the Leaf Boat) – The Innocence Mission

Sunday nights after church, I would come home and light a candle and prepare for the week ahead. This is the perfect song to wind down from the weekend, and it will always remind me of my first few months here.

{Winter: December – March} 

Traditions. Comfort. Anticipation. Love. Loneliness. Sorrow. Hope. 

Don’t You Want to Thank Someone — Andrew Peterson 

Thanksgiving day was a little easier because of this song.

Labor of Love — Andrew Peterson

My favorite Christmas song this year!

Shadowfeet – Brooke Fraser 

Brooke Fraser’s music always makes me  good kind of nostalgic. Her old albums kept me company during my countless grading hours this past winter.

[The entire Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe Soundtrack! = Christmastime]

Time is Dancing — Ben Howard

I’m always reminded of the HUGE anticipation and excitement for Andrew’s visit to Korea when I hear this song!

When I’m With You — Ben Rector


Dreams – Jenny and Tyler


Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For — Jenny & Tyler feat. Sara Groves

For those of you who haven’t heard our full engagement story, A$ used some of these words when he proposed… then we came back to my apartment and listened to this exact song and I bawled my eyes out (normal). :) :)

Broken Vessels — Hillsong United

We sang this one a lot at Redeemer this winter, aka I cried a lot at Redeemer this winter.

You Make Me Brave — Bethel Music

One Sunday in February, my friend Traylor preached a sermon and mentioned this song. That was my friend Emma’s last Sunday at Redeemer Changwon and it is always so hard to send people off – especially if they have touched your life the way Emma touched mine. I came home that night and listened to this one over and over and over and thought about how unexpected and undeserving I am of the relationships and community I have in Korea. He made me brave, called me from the shore into the waves, and overwhelmed me with goodness.

The Love of God – Rich Mullins
Hold me Jesus – Rich Mullins

These two songs taught me so much about one thing, one thing that I was just beginning to learn the summer before Korea, but that God started to deepen my knowledge of and my experience in: The simple but profound reality that He is for me.

Ulysses – Josh Garrels

One word: Homesick.

Wyoming- Family and Friends

I discovered this band really out of the blue. Their sound helped lift my spirits for much of the dark, awful winter months.

Ever Be — Bethel Music

This song. These words. Literally pulled me through March.

{Spring: April – May} 

Revival. Refreshment. Routine. Growth. Strength. Depth. 

Oh the Blood — Kari Jobe 

I can say without a doubt, Easter 2015 at Redeemer International Community Church was the best Easter Sunday of my life. Winter was over, my season of depression had ended, and we got to celebrate the defeat of winter and depression forever. I got to sing this song with the worship pastor from the Redeemer Busan church, it was such a privilege.

Reckless Forgiver – Jars of Clay

A throwback, a favorite, and a good one to get me through all the grading I have to do.

Oceans — Hillsong United 

The words to this song have never meant so much as they did when I literally was led deeper than my feet could wander. Singing it at Redeemer always stirs up a plethora of emotions, between rejoicing for His faithfulness and fear for what truly singing these words might lead me to next.

Morning Light — Josh Garrels

This whole album, and this song in particular signifies spring, the start of my best days in Korea.

Garden – The Collection

I love this song because it reminds me of the incredible journey Andrew and I have been on since we got engaged. A journey that started with the question: “What next?” that led to a spirit of anticipation over anxiety as we started praying towards what we would do after we got married. It reminds me that whatever we seek to do in the future is futile unless it is an act of serving God and serving people. “the only thing in life worth doing is that one thing that you’re made for/ well, am I made for myself anymore?”

Shepherd — Bethel Music

Evening bike rides, singing to myself.

Every single one of my days has been a narrative of His faithfulness. 

P.S. For a more whole gathering of these songs, I made a spotify playlist. They’re all there, mostly in order, give or take a few changes. Enjoy!

living and doing and being

I have no idea where to begin.

Life the past few weeks has been so, so good. As soon as April 1 rolled around and March was out of sight, I felt everything in me breathe a sigh of relief and my heart suddenly dipped into a place of peace and contentment. As soon as March was over, I felt the aches and burdens of all that winter held over me vanish into the warmth of a new coming season. I think that is why God designed seasons, because the change is always so healthy and beautiful and the shift in the weather always brings a necessary shift in my spirit. I’m so so glad spring came!

As soon as the weather totally warmed up, no time was wasted.

— Last weekend in March: Courtney Leah Hill had a birthday and so of course, since she is awesome personified, she had to be celebrated big time. Her closest Korea friends planned a celebratory birthday weekend in ANDONG, south korea and we pulled it together in a week. I am so proud of what we accomplished: we toured a traditional village, watched a famous play/dance, rode a little boat across a little river to a little mountain, hiked said mountain, took pictures with random Korean guys who thought our friend Donald was the most handsome guy alive, walked on the longest wooden bridge in the country, made stovetop pizza + mac&cheese for dinner, stayed up too late drinking sweet wine and soju and talking about our first impressions of each other, and my favorite: we stayed in a Korean home transformed into an air B&B on a sweet potato farm. HBD COURTNEY ;)

— First weekend in April: Jinhae cherry blossom festival!! I had been waiting for this festival since I moved here. The city of Jinhae is just a short ride from Changwon and the streets are lined with cherry blossom trees that are out-of-this-world gorgeous. The rain held off long enough for a group of us to drive up and wander around for the afternoon. What a cultural experience: everything I have observed and love/hate about Korea was full throttle at this festival! an abbreviated list includes but is not limited to: matching couples outfits, selfie sticks, bright colored “hiking clothes” (pants, shoes, jackets, hats), hairbows, headbands with cat ears, girls dressed like super models, pose pose pose as cute as you can, a million pictures being taken of the same thing (trees). We had some jimdak for lunch (my faaaaaaaav: rice noodles, veggies, chicken served in a massive bowl of sweet/spicy sauce), and of course, the post-meal coffee.

— Second weekend in April: I will sum it up real quick. There is a reservoir in Changwon that I have wanted to see for months, and I finally made it out there. Totally worth a 15,000 won taxi ride! Open country fields, huge body of water, surrounded by mountains, farms, and fields of yellow flowers. My sweet friend Apa and I spent the entire afternoon walking around, talking about everything, and then eventually our nice walk turned into a crazy (and probably illegal) adventure of trespassing around people’s farms and paths that weren’t really paths and jumping over creeks and running into old korean fishing men who took pictures of us. We hopped on a random bus that took us back to the city, grabbed bibimbap for dinner, watched a movie with some friends after, and I fell asleep so happy and the best kind of tired.

— Third weekend in April: friday night sleepover with Courtney (I hope my friends will always have sleepovers with me, they are the best), saturday morning run, brunch on my yoga mat, then korean barbecue with some of my co-teachers + Rose and her PARENTS who are awesome and came to Korea last week. It’s such a privilege to share this experience with friends or family, and I am thrilled to have been able to meet my friend’s family! Had some coffee with friends afterwards, then had anther sleepover with Apa. I really love sleepovers. We woke up early the next day and hopped on the KTX headed for Seoul! In spite of the cold and the rain, we wandered around Gangnam (yes, just like “Gangnam Style.” my life is really cool), had lunch (followed by coffee duh), and then sang our hearts out at the Hillsong United concert! Oh what a sweet, sweet gift that whole night was! I could probably write a novel about how powerful those two hours of worship were, how absolutely incredible it was to worship God alongside so many different people. Such a sweet and vibrant taste of heaven; I could hear some young people behind me singing their hearts out, these same songs that threaded my years at cedarville together now being sung in a precious korean accent, a group of people to my left in African clothing, to my right was a group of middle-aged/older Korean people who held their hands out in worship the entire night, and in front of me, a group of foreigners just like us — all of us, from all over the world, under the same roof, praising the same Creator. Some of these people looked totally different. Some of these people looked more like me. Some of these people look like the people I pass on the sidewalk every day. But our worship was the same and our God is the same. I totally sobbed the entire time. Totally amazed, humbled, in awe.

The best part: Hillsong has a song called “This I Believe,” which is basically the creed of our faith put to music. Before they sang it, they described what the Nicene Creed is and why it is so important for believers to know and understand what we believe. The Hillsong guy would say a few things, a Korean guy would translate, and each time the translator ended his sentence, a reverberating “neeehhhh” went up from the crowd and I broke down every time. ” 예 ” means “yes,” but it is used whenever an affirmation is necessary and I hear it constantly. To hear it in response to Jesus, in the proclamation of His glorious grace, in the lifting up of His great name, left my heart completely in awe of the body of Christ in so many different cities, countries, cultures, and languages across the globe. It was the most beautiful sound. Then, we read/recited the Nicene Creed together. Thousands of us, who love Jesus and love what He has done for us, read the words of our faith in both English and Hangul out loud. I will never forget it.

We returned home at 5am and needless to say, it took me the next 3 days to fully recover. BUT. Totally worth it.

— THIS weekend brought me to such a good, good place. A fun workout with a friend in the morning (discovering a foam roller at the gym = life made), and then a mini-trip to the wonderful town that is Jangyu to see a friend and fellow Jasaeng teacher (same school, different branch). We walked along a stream at the base of the mountains, had the most delicious pizza + pasta for lunch, walked around some more, and then sat outside a coffee shop until the sun set. Talking the whole time, filling my heart with so much goodness.

And now, here I am. The month of April has been full of so much living. A great balance of going and doing and also resting and being. It could be the iced americano I had around 6pm tonight that is making me feel so full of a deep joy almost giddy, or it could be that I am just completely content with where I am and loving the life God has given me. On my way home from Jangyu tonight I realized something of why the past few weeks have been my absolute favorite so far.

If I could categorize the past 8 months, it would look a little like this:

beginning months = struggle/pain/what the hell have I done/homesick –> peace/satisfaction in Christ/finding community/deepening trust in the Lord –> crazy fun adventures/big trips/exciting “I-can’t-believe-this-is-my-life” moments –> all the newness –> Andrew comes to Korea + ENGAGED! EVERYTHING IS AWESOME

middle months = “Oh, I have been here for a long time. I have friends. I know how to do my job better. Everything is starting to feel normal.” –> “Wait, now it is cold and everything is boring.” [intermission for trip to Guam] + [return from Guam] “Everything is terrible and I hate living here.” –> “6 months was a long time. Now I have to do 6 months more.” –> sob.

currently (do I even dare say I’m in the “final months” !???!!!?) = everything about my life here has become just that: life.

I have such amazing people in my South Korea life. I’ve been given such a wonderful South Korea community. I love my South Korea church and singing on the praise team and being in charge of the hospitality service team and meeting more and more people that join our church plant. I love my South Korea apartment and how much it feels like hom. I love my South Korea market and the kind, smiling people who sell me awesome fruits and vegetables. I love my South Korea kids that I teach and the secret handshakes we invent and the dried sweet potatoes I will bring for treats and the nicknames they give me and the funny sentences they write in their english journals and the way they will never ever be able to pronounce “turtle” no matter how hard they try. I love my South Korea city and the beautiful mountains and the parks that have given me good and bad morning runs and weird looks (and sometimes gasps) from everyone I pass.

I realized today that I have truly started to live here, to be so much more present here, to be deeply invested here. And then, I realized that I don’t really want to leave here.

I didn’t know how to begin this blog post, and now I don’t know how to end it. This is such an abundant life I’ve been given, I don’t even have words to describe what a joy this year has been so far. It has certainly been one of the hardest years of my life, but even for all the times of loneliness, or the times my heart has felt totally empty, or the times when I feel like I’m forgotten by people back home, or the times when literally every one of my fears I had before moving here became realities, nothing has been wasted. Every pain, tear, and ache will be transformed into good, if it hasn’t yet already.

This year I’ve found hope in the reality that “the best is yet to come.” There is still a whole lot of hard in my life here (I mean, I live on the other side of the world from everyone I love and the man of my dreams lives on an island far away…. not easy by any means!) ……but, there is so much, SO MUCH good.

There always is. And I believe there is even more to come.

So I will keep living here. I will keep doing what I am called to do here. I will continue to be here. The hardships will still be here, and probably a lot of the same struggles will still be here. But that is ok with me, because there is so much good. There is so much more life to be lived here, things to do here, places to be, here. Here, in this country I love. Here, in South Korea.

This song literally pulled me through every awful terrible day of March, and I still listen to it constantly.
“Because your steadfast Love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” — SO many reasons for His praise to always always always be on my lips.

Singing these words with people from all over the world changed my life. 

March on


Within the first hours of living in Korea I began to move vividly understand the paradox of life this side of eternity, and I coined it as my mantra of sorts for this year of my sojourn. Hard but good. At times I’ve seen the pattern of my life more like mountaintops: all beauty and ease and deep content. Other times, all I can see is the badlands of the hardship and pain in my life, the lives of those I love, and this broken earth. I remember looking over the four years of college the day before I graduated and seeing mountaintops and valleys both, and realizing every step of the way has neither been the peak or depths of my existence. It’s been the walking in-between, sustained by the Maker of the summits and canyons all.

Weeks before I moved here, I remember sitting on the front porch stoop where I spent many summer evenings with a cup of tea and a book and the Carolina humidity. This evening I remember so vividly, because I saw something awfully wonderful for the first time. I had just been scrolling through pictures of my time at college and before college, and I realized how happy I looked in every one of them. Even in times of deep loneliness, or incredible stress, or anger or frustration or tears. Glad, and happy and content.

Yes, I know there is undoubtedly something to be said of how we only put our best selves on social media, but these were my pictures of myself and I know my own story. So when I saw a thread of photos of myself still looking happy in times that I remember were distinctly hard, I also saw a steady thread of God’s faithfulness that held me on the mountaintops and yet never left me in the badlands.

And now, without a doubt, the same can be said for the past 7 months in South Korea. There have been times when I wake up and don’t want to even move- the loneliness too crippling. And there have been times where I’m all but skipping around Changwon city with a heart so full of gratitude for what I’m seeing and experiencing.

This is the paradox. This is life in the far country. This is hard, but this is good.

March was a season of hard. The week my great-grandmother died was painful and draining and crying-in-the-bathroom awful. It took me the rest of the month to get out of that darkness, even thought I was so lonely and heartbroken and far from my family and friends I felt like I was being broken in an unmendable way. When I thought I was finally mending, everything about South Korea’s excruciating education system seemed to hijack my very breath, and as I saw the manifestations of it in the lives of my students I felt completely paralyzed to continue on as their teacher. Coupled with that, the heartbreaking reality of the standards of outward beauty that these girls are inflicted with has been nothing short of troubling when you hear their comments of wanting plastic surgery before they even reach high school, or how their dad won’t look at their legs because they’re too fat. One day it all became too much, and I remember telling Andrew, “I don’t want to learn another thing about South Korean culture, it’s all heartbreaking to me.” And then my co-teacher came to me informing me that one of my elementary students had been so stressed that he pulled the hair of his eyebrows out, “So don’t be shocked when you see his face” she said… but actually I had to walk outside to pull myself together before the class began.

I tried to take action. I tried pounding words of truth into my brain. I tried expressing myself to people but only ounces of my internalized pain could seep through. I found I couldn’t even pray. I could smile a weak convincing smile while I shoved it all down beneath my skin so I could get through another day and collapse into bed at night.

March was hard.

In recognizing that all of life is hard but good, there are moments so small you might almost miss them, yet so profound they almost knock you over. At the end of a hard, hard, week, in the middle of this hard, hard month, I was walking to school, pretty lost in my thoughts, when for whatever reason I happened to glance to my right. Along the sidewalk that takes me to my job, there is a small creek within a deep trench of concrete, fenced on either side. It’s prettier than it looks, especially on this day- the azaleas were just starting to burst into yellow blooms. I think it was the brightness that caught my eye, but it was something beneath them on the cement wall that stopped me dead in my tracks.


Someone in this country wrote it. Someone who lives in this country of never-ending work hours and school until midnight and stress so dense it makes high schoolers take their lives and unreachable beauty expectations that make young girls go under knives for the sake of manmade eyes and noses- someone in this place wrote the word hope on the wall above a gutter beneath the blooming azaleas. I absolutely broke down right then and there, and for the first time in weeks, cried tears that weren’t from pain. There is a promise of hope, and there it was; in plain sight, mingled with the promise of spring.

As I began to emerge from the dark tunnel that was this month, at the exact same time, the trees began to grow small buds and leaves and flowers. Each and every day I feel myself getting better and better, and the trees and new life around me is growing fuller and brighter and warmer. The promise of spring has quickened my heart to see the good amidst the hard and all the beauty mingled in between.

Just yesterday, my friend Courtney and I were coming back from a weekend away and as the taxi took us into the heart of Changwon we were greeted by thick, vibrant pink cherry blossom blooms lining the streets. I mean, miles of fully-bloomed trees along the highway. “Let’s never forget this moment,” I said. “Let’s never forget that time we were driving back into our city after an incredible weekend and everything was transformed because these buds literally bloomed overnight while we were gone.”

The best part is, this isn’t even the peak of their blooms. My breath was still stolen.

~ ~ ~

On hope, Brian Doyle once said:

“Look, I know very well that brooding misshapen evil is everywhere, in the brightest houses, and the most cheerful denials, in what we do and what we have failed to do, and I know all too well that the story of the world is entropy, things fly apart, we sicken, we fail, we grow weary, we divorce, we are hammered and hounded by loss and accidents and tragedies. but I also know, with all my hoary muddled heart, that we are carved of immense confusing holiness; that the whole point for us is grace under duress; and that you either take a flying leap at nonsensical illogical unreasonable ideas like marriage and marathons and democracy and divinity, or you huddle behind a wall. I believe that the coolest things there are cannot be measured, calibrated, calculated, gauged, weighed, or understood except sometimes by having a child patiently explain it to you, which is something that should happen far more often to us all. In short, I believe in believing, which doesn’t make sense, which gives me hope.”





Lately I’ve been thankful for…

…teacher luncheon’s at the city’s finest buffet- Chinese + Korean + Italian + Indian + BBQ + Sushi + Sashimi + the finest deserts you can imagine, complete with a coffee bar & a cappo that almost made me cry. (I still don’t know why this happened, btw)




…for the warmest February day of my life and sunshine that calls for short sleeves and journaling outside on my favorite bench




…and for the opportunity to teach a subject I’m passionate about. It was beautiful to hear some of my students discussing both small and great ways to help others. I’m sure this week’s topic isn’t going to inspire them to start volunteering at homeless shelters (slash when would they find the time?), but it was oh so fulfilling to talk about things that really matter!



It’s been a really hard week. I feel like I was jolted out of a dream when I returned from Guam, but in spite of my pitiful state, I’ve been so humbled by such good gifts.

I complained about my job, and then *surprise* they take us to the finest restaurant I’ve ever seen.

I complained about the weather, and then *surprise* it’s gloriously warm and sunny.

I complain about the subjects I have to teach, and then *surprise* I get to teach something I love.

Humbled, to say the least. In awe, that none of these things are surprises to the One who knew and knows all along and the One who gives freely.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” -Melody Beattie

Happy friday, sweet friends