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

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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.”

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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)

 

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

 

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…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!

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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.

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

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

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

The mundane

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

Why did you move to South Korea?

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

That’s where this problem began;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not a missionary by the technical standards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

quiet afternoons

quiet afternoons

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

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

Finding the moon

Finding the moon

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

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

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

Only the Good Things

Happy Wednesday, sweet friends!

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

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

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

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

wipe clean the countertops.

pack a lunch for the following day.

light a candle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wyoming – by Family and Friends

Shasta’s Complaint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Beautiful Start

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

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

Oh…

 

 

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

 

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

Christmas on the Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is awesome!

Life is awesome!

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

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

Advent Always

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

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

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

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

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

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

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