Obedience

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.”

20150613_190642

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

“IT’S ALREADY CHRISTMAS?!” “CHRISTMAS IS OVER?!” “WOW! IT’S FEBRUARY!!” “HOW IS IT SPRING ALREADY???”

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.

UM. TERRIFYING.

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.

11212689_10153331453712090_2248459871998147253_o

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. 

11295920_10155553682625591_5601577064295756180_nyongji7

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

ANDREW

Dreams – Jenny and Tyler

ANDREW pt. II

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

11039593_10155265106620012_1674749423_n

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.

Hope.

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.”

11086665_10155265232580012_1342501105_n

Lately

 

 

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)

 

11008947_10155138360360012_1010692172_n

 

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

 

11004729_10155138360165012_1747314369_n

 

…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!

11016537_10155138259165012_2117607461_n

 

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

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.

10363990_10152498540782090_1368850596390001240_n

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