Noona, Onni, Agassi–Names my Host Family Calls Me

This is how I want to remember my Korean host family. These brief sketches don’t do full justice to the wonderful people that they are, but hopefully capture the essence of their kindness to me. I am truly grateful for how deeply I have come to know and love them over such a short span of time (only about seven months at the time when I wrote this, now almost a year), thanks to their amazing acceptance of me into their family.

*I refer to all people in this post with general titles, or else I have changed their names*

Noona, Onni, Agassi–Names my Host Family Calls Me

[Sister (of a boy), Sister (of a girl), Young Lady, respectively]

Imo [Aunt]

“She’s coming on Friday. You have 24 hours to decide.”

I cannot imagine the conflicting feelings of curiosity, doubt, excitement and anxiety that my host mom must have felt that fateful Wednesday afternoon when she hung up the phone. My school’s host family arrangements had fallen through at the last minute, and in a desperate attempt to find me a new place, one of the teachers had called up her sister and given her this crazy proposition. Imagine this: a total stranger and foreigner who may not speak your language will come live in your house with you and your family for a year. You will have to share your personal time and space with her, cook for her, allow her to interact with and influence your children, and probably deal with not only logistical but also any physical, emotional, social or psychological problems she may have while adjusting to life in Korea. Sounds fun, right?

In what I can only imagine as a moment of spontaneity and tremendous grace, my host mom (or “Imo,” as she asked me to call her) accepted. I knew before I met her that Imo doesn’t do anything half-heartedly. Having accepted the challenge of welcoming me into her home three days before my arrival, Imo immediately directed the full renovation of her son and daughter’s shared room from floor to ceiling, redesigning it to the best of her ability to fit the unknown tastes of her new host daughter, including replacing half of the furniture. She chose green for the walls and white for the furniture, making the room feminine but not too girly. She selected a white bed and matching vanity desk and stool. A white carpet and white slippers added a nice touch of warmth to the room, and a little white cloth shade hanging over the door frame created an aura of privacy and welcome at the same time. A rolling chair with a firm back was also ordered to meet the needs of a new teacher’s busy lesson planning after school hours. Imo’s final touch was a soft, bright yellow blanket, patterned with big white hexagons, making the bed look something akin to a giant beehive. I imagine the yellow blanket was intended to make anyone feel like a queen bee coming home to sweet dreams at the end of a long day.

Besides moving my host siblings out of their childhood room, Imo also got rid of almost all signs that they had ever lived in it, presumably to really make the space feel like my own. She was reluctant only to take down the framed baby pictures that hung on the walls, I know, because she must have put them back after the re-papering. She mentioned at one point later on that I might take the baby pictures down and replace them with my own, but looked relieved when I told her I didn’t mind; actually, I rather like them because they make me feel connected to the family at all times. Moreover, they are a constant gentle reminder of the history that the family has had before I came and imposed myself on their lives, giant suitcase and emotional baggage and all.

During our first week together, Imo went very quickly through the phases of familiarization that were necessary to accept me fully into her life. First, the pleasant surprise that I was not so alien as she had imagined: “You know, I was worried about living with a foreigner, but you are like neighborhood lady!” Second, a comforting affirmation that I was a welcome presence in the house: “At first when I said ‘yes’ to having you come stay here, I was very excited. Then, I became very anxious, very worried. Now, I know I made the right decision.” Third, a crossing over from the polite refrain of acquaintances to humorously correcting my over-exaggerated “Korean” mannerisms: “You are so polite. Too polite! Like Joseon Dynasty woman.” Finally, we reached the positive declaration of friendship: “You have been here for just one week now. But it feels like I’ve known you so long!”

Over more time, I came to love her, but it happened first by allowing her to love me. I remember so clearly the day I came home in early November, distraught because of a frustrating day at school on top of the heaviness of homesickness that had just started to seep out of the seams of my pretended perfection. I had a sort of meltdown as I sat at the kitchen counter, sobbing through mouthfuls of pumpkin tteok, trying to catch my breath and explain five things at once, hardly understanding my own emotions.

My host mom cried with me. She spoke many words of reason and comfort, but what I remember the most is this: “I understand. You miss your mom. I have a daughter, and I am a daughter. When you are here in my home, you are my daughter too.”

Her unconditional acceptance of me, a total stranger for the last twenty-three years, as her daughter, even just for this year, shattered the walls I kept up between us out of politeness, or reserve or fear. I understood from that moment on that we were family.

 

Imobu [Uncle/literally Imo’s husband]

My host father, Imobu, is not a man of many words, but the few he does speak to me are always accompanied by a big cheesy smile and an even bigger effort to be understood through his thick country accent. Every night, just before going to bed, I inevitably catch a glimpse of Imobu stretched comfortably on the living room couch watching TV, and we exchange a friendly “hello” and “goodnight.” On weekends, I join him in front of the screen and we watch a program called “King of Mask Singer,” in which Korean celebrities don ridiculous masked outfits and compete in a singing contest. We guess who will be the winner in each round. Imobu is always right.

Imo told me from the beginning that “Imobu is allergic to English,” but that has never stopped him from trying to communicate with me. When the family took me to see Dosan Seowon, a historical Confucian academy near Andong, he used all the powers of body language and sheer optimism to convey to me that the walls were made with special materials, a clay tile of some sort. When I went home for the winter holiday, Imobu asked me repeatedly if I missed my dad and would be happy to see him again. In his question he showed that he understood a father’s love and empathy for a daughter far from home, and in his actions I understood how unreservedly he took on the role of a surrogate father for me while I could not be with my own. The weekend that I left Korea for home, our apartment elevator was under renovation, so Imobu woke up at six in the morning to carry my 50 pound suitcase down eight flights of stairs, and then drove me to the bus terminal, telling me all the while to enjoy my time with my appa, my “Daddy.”

 

Halmoni [Grandmother]

Halmoni is the boss. She’s the proper matron and patron of the family all rolled into one robust, curly-haired package. While the idea of an American grandmother is typically that of a cute little old lady sitting on the back porch knitting for her grandchildren or her cats, my Korean grandmother is a true force of nature. She dies her hair jet black and wears clothes that are undoubtedly more fashionable than mine, often getting mixed up by Imo in the laundry. At dinnertime, Halmoni eats and burps with the gusto and unapologetic manner of a teenage boy. She runs the household with her presence alone, not needing to say a word or even be here most of the time for the magic to happen.

In spite of her youthfulness, Halmoni values tradition, and blesses the family with her culinary hand. She is the reason we have a very traditional jjigae (Korean stew), rice, meat dish, and at least three or four different side dishes every night for dinner. Our house is one of the only ones in the ever modernizing Andong city to still have huge stocks of homemade doenjang and kanjang sitting in big brown earthenware pots on the balcony, soaking in the natural sunlight to help them age properly. I regularly come home to see Halmoni fiercely peeling chestnuts faster than my host sister can eat them, or sitting smack in the middle of the kitchen floor, legs spread in a wide ‘V’ and surrounded by mushrooms that she’s preparing for market. Halmoni has more friends than Imo and I combined. She is always out with them, exercising or making traditional snacks by hand or buying fruit to take home by the crateful. In November she even traveled to Japan for ten days, and we ate nothing but kimbap and sandwiches while she was gone.

Despite my ability to communicate fairly well with the rest of the family in Korean, for the entirety of the first semester I had no idea what Halmoni was saying to me most of the time or whether she was even addressing me at all. This was partly because of the heavy country dialect she speaks, and partly because of her big presence and resounding voice, which together often make it seem like she’s addressing everyone in the room at once. Still, I appreciate how often Halmoni makes an effort to talk to me whether I understand her or not. I recall one morning, when Halmoni pointed her chopsticks at a small dish of chopped green peppers that I was about to taste, and said something that I interpreted as “spicy.” I nodded and smiled patiently, “I know,” assuming that like many other well-meaning Korean ajummas I had met, Halmoni was simply being considerate of my foreignness and the correlating inability to tolerate spiciness. I proceeded to pop a piece of green pepper directly into my mouth. In the resulting crisis, I was almost late for school. For the next ten minutes, I downed half a bowl of white rice, two full glasses of water and a glass of milk, all to no avail. As I fanned my burning tongue in anguish, Halmoni simply chuckled and repeated, “spicy.” Now I understand; even if I think I know better, Halmoni knows best.

 

Namdongsaeng [Younger brother]

Young Ho is the quiet but hilarious brother I never had. In the beginning, our interactions were limited because he was a middle school third grader who spent all of his time studying at hagwon or shut away in his room playing computer games. I’d see him every day for about five minutes as he emerged from his lair to swallow his dinner whole before running out the door. On weekends, I watched him wake up at two in the afternoon, walk straight to the kitchen in his leopard print pajamas, down a bottle of soda and put ramen on the stove. Then he would wander sleepily back to his room, presumably to continue gaming. After a month of living together, I had spoken more words to his cousin at a single family gathering than we had exchanged the entire time.

Slowly, however, I got to know my brother without ever really having a conversation. Like his dad, Young Ho spoke sparingly, but he was always bluntly sincere without being mean-spirited, and his face was forever telling stories. He made me laugh at dinnertime, pulling exaggerated faces while declaring the food to be too hot, too spicy, too unsavory (masi-eopta) or all three at once. Despite all his complaints, he still ate more than anyone else and thanked his mother afterwards. He blew me away with his patience, gentleness and self-control. His little sister sometimes bragged about her grades and teased him for not being as smart, or drew comics about him getting into trouble with their parents, but Young Ho never spoke a mean word or even showed any annoyance toward her, which is more than I can say for myself. One day in October, the furniture in the living room was rearranged. When I asked, Imo told me that Young Ho had asked to have the computer removed from his room because he wanted to study harder. In December, we got a kitten that for some unfathomable reason hated only Young Ho and bit and scratched him viciously. No matter how much it mistreated him, however, Young Ho loved the cat and was always playing with it, taking pictures of it and even trying to kiss it.

This year, Young Ho started high school, and I see him even less because he returns from hagwon after I’ve gone to bed, and leaves for school in the morning before I’ve woken up. Still, in the brief moments that I see him, he never fails to deliver that self-deprecating laugh and shy “Hello,” which somehow always brightens my day. On weekends he shares not only his ramen but also his precious free time, patiently explaining words to me from his old picture books, and never asking anything in return.

 

Yeodongsaeng [Younger Sister]

Ji Eun is my best friend and my biggest burden. Ten years old, she is an endless fountain of warmth, chatter, and creativity. Raised on Disney channel and her mother’s determination, Ji Eun speaks English with more confidence than my top middle school students. We banter daily about a wide range of topics, from the “boyfriend” she’s too embarrassed to talk to at school to the incredible tales of her Lego friends, to the stickers she collected when she was “young.” She runs to the door when she hears me punching in the code to enter our apartment and squeals, “Victoria sister! I’m waiting for you!” She hugs my legs and I laugh, half-pleased and half-wary that she expects me to spend the next two hours playing with her when all I want to do is lie on my bed in peace. When I do make it to the bed some days despite her puppy eyes and not-so-subtle Do you have times and What are you going to dos, she asks me why I sleep so much and I respond, half-joking, “Because I’m exhausted from playing with kids like you all day!”

Because she is the person that I talk to the most in all of South Korea, sometimes I forget that she is only ten years old, that she doesn’t understand many things and that I have to be patient. Sometimes I am surprised by how well she understands, by how instinctively she gives me a hug when it looks like I’ve been crying, how hard she pounds her little fists into my back when I say I’m sore after too much computer work today, how comforting her presence is when she quietly sits on my bedroom floor reading comics while I lesson plan. She begs me to teach her English but cannot sit still for more than five minutes; she promises to read a whole page but gives up on the second word. She makes me laugh more than anyone else with her ridiculous high-pitched impressions of Pororo’s friends—one of whom she insists is my boyfriend—and general excitement about everything life has to offer. She makes me proud when she talks nonstop about the book of dog-hero stories I got her for Christmas and when she understands that she did something wrong and quietly apologizes. Ji Eun is the only person who makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time, as she twirls around my room in a pink princess costume, one moment delightedly declaring that this room will be hers after I leave, and in the next sighing in regret that I won’t be around when she turns eleven.

 

Hanguk Gajok [Korean family]

My homestay family means so much more to me than a place to sleep and three meals to eat, or even a unique cultural experience, though I am grateful for all these. When I’m frustrated by miscommunications at school or in the convenience store or taxi due to the language barrier, I am encouraged by Halmoni’s persistence in talking to me despite my probably non sequitur seeming answers. I can go to school day after day with a smile on my face regardless of how well I get along with my co-teachers or how poorly my students behave, because I know Imo will always welcome me home with a smile and a plate of fruit. I am never bored for a second because Ji Eun is always thinking of something for us to do together and parading it before me whether I asked her to or not. On the longest of days I am amused by the quiet comedy of Young Ho’s facial expressions as he commiserates with me over the cruelty of schoolwork. When I stay up late at night working, I am comforted by Imobu’s presence in the living room, his kind greeting reminding me of my own dad, who used to stop by my room every night and ask when I was going to bed. My host family helped me get past my initial homesickness and taught me to love Korea by becoming my hanguk gajok, my courageous, generous, thoughtful, patient, loveable, irreplaceable Korean family.

We still have a few months together,* but I am already starting to miss them.

//

*Now the countdown is ten days. I have no idea how to say goodbye. I want to cherish every moment we have left together.

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when memories matter

IMG_2710does it matter
where we were
if I can no longer remember the
names

places become images
like the teal green dome
of the church of that saint
covered in stars
I would say speckled but
that sounds too easy
stars golden and six pointed
pin perfect painted
onto the ceiling or is it real gold
carefully set in place
and how do they keep it there?

what if it fell on us in little sparkles as we sang
sprinkling golddust on our four-part harmonies

the basses catching it down below
as in a deep blue bowl

st. anthony (or is it theresa) would have been proud
to see, to hear the echoes of
our brightest amens resound
from arch to arch
ten seconds
lasting longer than the mist
the notes created before our noses
as we watched the priest reach into that
mysterious box
behind the curtain
wondering if it was proper
for us to sing as if in worship
in a language we don’t know
in a place whose name we have
already forgotten

is it sacrilege
to sing as
a believer
in a place of worship
when you don’t think God speaks
Italian?

and when we step out of this space
to sweeten ourselves with sworls of gelato
and cioccolata waxing thick
in a cream-white cup

will it matter?

[I found my Italy poem! Turns out I did write one after all, a couple of months after the choir trip, on 2 April 2013. I had intended to continue writing more and to edit what I had here, but never got around to it. It was originally haphazardly titled “5 minute memory (Italy attempt 1).” I think I had intended to write multiple short poems about “snapshot memories” in 5 minutes, but then got busy with life. I’ve made some very minor edits here, but this is basically the original, and reminds me of that one place and short performance during mass that we had in a really fancy cathedral. The feeling here describes really just one moment in time, the lingering wonder that I felt listening to our voices echo in that foreign yet familiar setting. And of course I knew that God can speak Italian, but intuitively in that moment it was like we were speaking a language no one could understand, not even the angels. And I wondered what that meant, though in the moment all I knew was that it was quite beautiful. Maybe that’s all it will ever be, a snapshot of beauty and hesitation that I hope I’ve captured even just a little with this poem.]

1 month, 3 years, half a year

I wrote this draft around the exact same time of year, at the end of January, in 2013–3 years ago. I never continued it, or wrote about any of the listed items/events in detail because I considered them too big to grasp in mere writing, or in a single blog post, and the task of writing six separate posts too daunting all at once, if six would even suffice.

Some of the memories listed below remain strong, seared into my memory like parts of my personality and existence that were permanently changed, at least for a while. If that is a contradiction, well, so is memory.

Hm. How to consolidate the last month of my life into one post?

Poem about Italy

Psalm 91

Alabaster

Hy–‘s Baby

Makoto Fujimura–To see is to pray. Maybe for me, to write is to pray. (true already on many different levels!)

Sabbath-ing

God is always so gracious to me, always exceeding my expectations. He answers my prayers before they’re even fully formed in my mind. He gives rest to the weary. It is a joy above all else to simply fall on my hands and knees and face and worship him–I wish I could breathe this truth in every moment of my life.

Some of the memories listed above have turned into smoke, as in artsy, light, wispy, almost-fragrant swirls of chimney smoke from rooftops in Venice that I did not see because it was raining that day and still there were too many tourists, whirling around like inappropriate amounts of cream in our too-thick, too-rich, too-delicious because we already paid for it chocolate, filled up to a romantic substantiality by the echoes of our four part harmony touching the tiny arched ceilings of trespassed Italian entryways.

That’s not the poem I wanted to write about Italy, but that is the general feeling that I still remember. I think I may have written an actual draft saved somewhere on my computer, and maybe I will dig it up again later, but for now this smoke will suffice.

As for Psalm 91, that was a testimony of how God spoke to me powerfully through a sister in Christ in a time when I was overwhelmed by fear, nightmares, and various sources of stress both real and imagined. I was comforted and strengthened that week by this Psalm, and I shared its testimony a few times with other people in the next month. I could not have imagined that about 3 months later it would be this Psalm, that testimony, and God’s gracious divine repetition that would pull me out of the deepest doubt and despair that I have yet experienced about my faith in my life.

The basic message that remains in my heart is this: There is no fear that Christ has not overcome. God’s promises are true and steadfast, and he will crush the devil underfoot, in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones. The greatest miracle that we need has already been accomplished, and yet because of his grace he allows us to witness even more miracles daily; similarly the best miracles are those that cannot be visibly seen or tangibly grasped, but are undeniably real, like the love between a mother and a daughter.

Sometimes I still forget this message. I pray that this truth will continue to resound in my heart and in my life today.

Alabaster is related to the point above. I realized then that the church is flawed and we cannot take everything for granted or as truth, even if it is said in a church, or by someone of authority. Of course, in every flawed church there can also be many great achievements. I mean this not in the sense of miraculous healings or sweeping conversions but in the humbling of individual hearts before God, alabaster jars of perfumed oil spread at his feet. I realized that I do not know everything, in fact, I know almost nothing at all. I wondered if the perfume was wasted or if after all was said and done that I would find the jar to have been empty all along. But I also realized that when I poured out even the emptiness of my little jar, it was then that I knew what it meant to be filled up to the point of overflow. People complain that the Bible is full of contradictions. In some ways, I think it really is. Life is gained through death. Wealth by giving everything away. Honor through humility. Fullness of God by emptying of self. They are the most beautiful of contradictions that somehow make perfect sense.

Hy–‘s Baby was the first baby I have ever witnessed carried to term by someone I consider a close friend. I remember watching her grow in her mother’s belly for months, and how easily she was made to smile in her cradle after she was born. She was given a name that means “full of life,” and now that she is 3 years old, everyone can see how true she is to that name. The family moved away the year the baby was born, at the end of my sophomore year, so I had not seen them since.

Now there is another baby, and the family has moved to Korea, coincidentally (or not), and I was able to visit them for the first time in 3 years just this past week. I was so filled with joy and awe just watching how the whole family interacted in love and how the parents raised their children with patience and wisdom. For the first time, I felt truly envious of my friend in her life stage as a young mother.

Makoto Fujimura was a Japanese artist who spoke to us about how he sees and serves Christ through his art. The most impressive thing that I remembered, I already wrote down. To see is to pray. To live is to pray. If this were to become true, what would my life look like? Not to spend my whole life in the actual physical act of prayer, but to envision every physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual act as an offering, as prayer.

Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. This is something that took me the rest of college to learn, and that I am probably still learning. Isn’t it ironic that we spend so much energy learning to work hard, and then work even harder to learn how to rest?

I think it is incredible that 3 years later, I can see how the things God was teaching me back then have returned, or perhaps have always remained, in my life, only with more meaning than before. I have been in Korea for half a year now, and I have been putting off writing about all the things that have happened so far because I have feared again that they are too big, too many, too indescribable, or perhaps too small, too trivial, too unworthy of my time to take note of them, except in brief scribbles in the margins of my notebooks and emails to myself.

I see now that even if I do not write, God continues writing. I write these things in retrospect and reflection now because I do not want to forget, and because I want to start again in writing without fear. Maybe someone really needs to read these things that God has taught and is teaching me. Maybe that someone is me. So I echo this prayer that I wrote 3 years ago and I hope that the next 3 years may be as emptied out, and thus as filled to the point of overflowing:

God is always so gracious to me, always exceeding my expectations. He answers my prayers before they’re even fully formed in my mind. He gives rest to the weary. It is a joy above all else to simply fall on my hands and knees and face and worship him–I wish I could breathe this truth in every moment of my life. Amen.

A Thanksgiving Eve Poem

[I like to keep all my poetry in the same place, so I will just post this again even though I originally posted this on my school-related blog (without the explanation here; you can look at it there if you’re interested).]

 

Fried Cabbage in the Kyomushil (teachers’ office)

Eager noses pressed up against doors and windows, peering in,

breath fogging up the glass

What is it? What is it? I can’t see! Smells good—

Here comes Teacher, will she take pity?

it’s cold outside—

oh!

Time for class.

Kids scurry off—still, a few noses and sighs

Linger in the corridor.

 

A chuckle slides opens the door: Welcome.

Step into the room now, another world—

Warmth.

tips of Ears, Nose and Fingers suddenly aglow

the hearty crackling of grease permeates the air,

paechu jeon sizzling in a pan.

 

The room is bright with anticipation

as six or so surround the expert hand—

flip! crack! sizzle…

a steady buzz of chatter and cheer

complement the spitter-spattering of the prize—

Do you have cabbage in America?

—a deft motion, deference (or maybe preference) to the delicacy at hand

and—flip!

crack!
 

startled!

for a split second by the flying object

momentarily poised to wreak havoc

 

break—disrupt, disturb, suspend—our heady expectation of perfect satisfaction to come

 

then, swiftly as it came, summoned back as if by magic

SNAP! Perfect landing.

 

sizzle, crack, sizzle…

back to the same simmering state, just

sizzling,
sizzling,
smelling of
simplicity

 

And common grace fills the room.

 

Soon—a Feast! It’s not quite Thanksgiving, but the spirit is here

Chopsticks separate at lightning speed

Dip, drip, devour

Crispy cabbage with a kick of spice

Flavor of delight.

A Strange Problem and a Simple Truth

Recently I have felt unable to pray. I mean, I knew how to pray, and I knew that I should pray, but every time I tried it seemed like I had nothing to say. Because of this I started to subconsciously avoid thinking about it at all, just filling my time up with other busywork instead (and there is always plenty of that to go around).

Last week, however, I was convicted at church to ask for prayer for my lack of desire to pray. Being actively in community by sharing something that I was struggling with encouraged me to try again. Knowing that the five people who heard my prayer request would be praying for me this week pushed me to pray for them as well–and suddenly I realized that there were many things to pray about again. There are always so many things to pray about, that sometimes I don’t know where I should start, for fear that I can never finish. But two days later I had forgotten again, and simply didn’t remember to pray, or didn’t feel like it. I then prayed again, simply about this condition of mine–was it apathy? Spiritual dryness, whatever that really means? I didn’t know.

Today I didn’t feel like going to church. Part of me was physically tired because I had slept so little last night, but a bigger part of me was struggling with a small but growing sense of despair–despair that I would ever find a stable, meaningful community here in Andong. This was ironic because I was so blessed by the same community at the church last Sunday, but this morning I didn’t believe it was worth my time. Thankfully I was talking to an old friend and mentor on Skype and she encouraged me to go even if I didn’t feel like it. She reminded me that even just the action of going because I knew I should do so out of devotion and commitment to God was a good thing and was worthwhile in the long run even if it didn’t feel fulfilling immediately. This rang true especially in relation to what I have been learning lately about loving the unlovable, performing actions of love even when you don’t feel the feelings, in order to show and thereby develop real love.

So I semi-reluctantly decided to go. I was late leaving the house, and then missed my stop by several stops because I was tired and distracted on the bus. This meant that I was much too late for the normal international service that I go to, but I knew that there were still two afternoon services in Korean, the last one being a worship-based service. I got off the bus and decided to take a 45 minute walk to the church, which would get me there in plenty of time before the last service began.

As I walked, I prayed. I think walking, especially in nature, is my favorite prayer position. It really helps to clear my mind of unimportant distractions and only lets in those distractions that further turn my mind and heart toward God, like rivers and trees and sky. During this walk in particular, I stumbled upon a little grove that had a gingko tree, a pine tree, and a maple tree standing next to each other in a beautiful little semi-circle, their branches intertwining, the perfectly gold, green, and red leaves of their fall attire just touching to form a small canopy. I paused for a while under it and was simply thankful. God’s heart is so beautiful. I didn’t know before coming to Korea that the gingko, my favorite tree, is native to this land and lines almost every sidewalk.  Small red maple trees have always been a close second, and Korean pine trees are also especially elegant. So to see my three favorite trees standing there above me shoulder to shoulder, I couldn’t help but feel love and wonder stir in my heart.

IMG_7679

I continued to walk, and think out loud to God about my life so far in Korea. And it struck me quite suddenly–I think I am anxious about not having enough uncertainty in my life. This is a very strange thought, as most people, including myself, are usually anxious about so many of the uncertainties of life. Especially during my last four years in college, I spent most of my prayer time asking God for direction and for peace when I couldn’t see the future. Yet now I seem to have a very fixed path ahead of me at least for the next two years, and potentially five to ten years after that as well. Of course, I don’t know what the next day will bring, and my temporary 2-5 year plan may suddenly go up in flames for some reason I cannot yet foresee, but currently I am just amazed that I can even say I have a 2-5 year plan ahead of me. There is suddenly no more worrying about what I will major in, what classes I should take next semester, where I should intern at over the summer, what jobs or fellowships to apply to after school–I’m simply living my life in the direction that I have chosen (or that God has chosen–well, both, really). And for some reason, that scares me.

What, God, do I trust you for if not for the future direction of my life? What do I ask you about if I already know what I am supposed to do (or if I think I do)? Is it crazy to be addicted to uncertainty, and to have an identity crisis once my identity seems relatively (temporarily) fixed? Or am I wrong to think that I can plan so much ahead and trust in those plans?

Those are the questions that arose in my head as I walked and struggled with my confused emotions.

IMG_7677

Then I arrived at church, and felt strangely comfortable surrounded by a bunch of Korean grandpas and grandmas that I didn’t know, listening to a group of church children sing “Jesus loves me” in Korean at the front of the room.

 Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.

날 사랑하심, 날 사랑하심. 날 사랑하심, 성경에 써있네.

I smiled. It was cute, hearing this song in Korean. Still, I wished that we could sing more sophisticated hymns in an adult service. The service started and we were led by the children to do little dance motions to another VBS-like song that they had learned. I awkwardly followed along, not wanting to seem too-cool-for-school when surrounded by such eagerly participating grandparents.

Then we sang “Jesus loves me.” Halfway through the first verse, despite my best efforts to avoid embarrassment and resist the feelings, I started to cry. And I cried and cried like a baby, singing this baby song. 날 사랑하심, 날 사랑하심. Why, God, why? 성경에 써있네. I never thought I could be touched by such a simple song as this, a song I had associated with my earliest childhood, singing these words without really understanding what they meant. Or perhaps I understood them better back then. Yes, Jesus loves me. It is the simplest truth in the world, and also the most powerful. I didn’t have any answers to my questions, didn’t know if I would be able to pray any better tomorrow than I could today or yesterday, didn’t know if God was calling me to do or think or feel differently about my current situation. But I knew that Jesus loved me. Loves me.

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He doesn’t always offer an immediate solution to our problems, but he never hesitates to remind us of his love.

“Love that will not ever let me go.”

I happen to be listening to a Matt Redman song, and really liked this line just now. Thank you, Jesus, for loving me. May I remember that as I continue to pray.

Life in Korea, Part 1: Getting Oriented [7/12-8/21/2015]

The first six weeks in Korea were meant to be an orientation for a new place and a new culture, but I found that more than getting oriented with where I was, I was pushed to really reflect and re-orient myself in terms of who I am, which was and continues to be far more important and helpful as I adapt to life after college and in Korea.

A Brief Overview of Orientation

Orientation for the Fulbright ETA (English Teaching Assistant) Program* in South Korea began on July 12, 2015 and lasted for a total of six weeks (until August 21). The goal of Fulbright ETAs in Korea is to teach English and act as cultural ambassadors for America while learning about Korean language and culture. I joined 69 other ETAs for six weeks of Korean language classes, English (TEFL) teaching methodology and Korean culture workshops, as well as a variety of fun cultural extracurricular activities and excursions. We were a little bubble of foreign-ness sequestered in what soon became the all-too-familiar gray walls of the “marble palace,” otherwise known as Jungwon University. This little-known but beautifully constructed school was located on the outskirts of Goesan, a tiny town in the rural province of ChungCheongbukdo (smack dab in the center of Korea, about a 2.5 hour bus ride away from Seoul). Our environs were quite picturesque; Jungwon was surrounded by lush green mountains and boasted an elaborately (if somewhat eclectically) decorated garden and golf course.

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Brief Life Update: Tired, but hopeful.

7 weeks into being in Korea and only 3 days into full-time teaching as an ETA, I am totally exhausted. I have no time to even process mentally what I have been experiencing, and even less time to journal or blog. In the past week I have experienced so many different emotions–extreme highs and extreme lows–due to my students, my homestay situation, moving to a new city in general, leaving orientation, etc. and I don’t know if I will have time to really reflect on it while it is still happening to me. I feel like a lot of life is happening to me right now and I love it and I hate it but most of all I cannot stop this tide washing over me. I am not passive, no, I am extremely active, nay, overactive, 24/7 for the past 2-3 weeks, if not all 7. But I know at the core of my being when I fall asleep each night that this is exactly where I am supposed to be, exactly where God has placed me, and so I am content. I also know that the high tide will not last forever, that things will calm down, that rhythm will take its rightful place again and time will cease to be an endless barrage of names, lesson plans, first impressions, manners and implicit social bargaining. I probably sound kind of negative right now, but it is only because I am really tired, I have not had enough time to unpack, and I am already dreading next week’s lesson planning. In reality, I am glad to be here, and I am really enjoying teaching. I just need to pray and sleep and take a little bit of time to breathe. That is partly why I am writing this now. To the me in a week or two from now, the calmer, more confident me: I envy you. And from that future me to myself right now: 화이팅!

For any of you still reading this, please pray for me to have energy to teach and love for my students and coworkers, and for me to be able to smile in the face of failure, stress, and this extremely fast-paced lifestyle. I think I am only just starting to understand the meaning of 빨리빨리 문화.*

*(the hurry-hurry culture that our Korean RAs told us about.)

Manna Senior Banquet “Speech”

[Thought I should finally put this up. My parting (but definitely not final!) words to my Manna family :)–May 10, 2015]

Freshmen: you did it! Survived a year,
and though your seniors are going away,
chin up! come back without any fear
Cuz we’ll still be available to talk and to pray
And besides, you’ll have all of these wonderful peers
To share in good times with, to cry and to cheer with
so walk on with faith cuz four years is
but a breath, so take it slowly.

Sophomores: next year you’ll no longer be “wise fools”
And you’ll likely be tempted to think you’re too cool
Or more likely too busy to spend time with your friends
But it’s not true! A JP is only a paper or two in the end
Eat with strangers, brave new dangers, but remember this rule
With God, parents, siblings, roommates and good friends,
You’ll make it through anything coming round the bend!

Juniors: thank you for walking with us all this way
And now that we’re here I don’t know what to say
We’ll miss you all dearly I know that’s for sure
Next year may seem daunting but if you endure
You’ll soon realize that by prayer and faith
Yourselves you’ll surprise and by this time next May
You’ll be graduating just like us, full of joy and the knowledge that God always provides for you, your class, and all the other people at Manna and Princeton that you’ve been so blessed to serve and learn from. I know that’s how I feel.

To my class, and to the staff, thank you for being there with me through it all. You’ve been a huge part of helping me to become who I am today and who I’ll be next fall–and probably long after that too. I love you and I’ll miss you all.

Speechless

He is the First Person
who has ever asked Me
to talk—
More.
Have I changed? left
my Garrulous Self behind
in the lonely days
where too much talking only made louder
the Silence
of echoing Manque?
or is it a sincere desire
to see, to Sea, to dive deep
down into the depths of where I am
how I think
what I feel
whither I would go and whether
that should coincide
in time
in space
in unforeseeable inerasable
Opportunity
with another Future?

I hesitate,
want to hear more, listen
to understand
to question
to appreciate
this Face which looks
so kindly, so surely at my own
anticipating a Story, any! Mine, probably

anxiety flutters

it’s not that easy
when one Person finally wants to
hear
to be Here
in my thoughts
(oh ear
oh dear
do I hear what I hear?
do I fear that I drear?
do I near one so dear?)

Possibility opens a wicked gate
of amiable dreams and terrible seems
to be cruel in the worst winter way
and to hold so much sway
o’er a Heart which delays
so afraid
to dismay

yet I while and He’ll wait
(so I hope, so I pray)
in the end God will say
how it went, if it stays
and in all, either case—
I am grateful.

He said, I think I have been talking too much. You should talk some more.
He waits, gentle, open, obliging.
I am
( ).