What I'm listening to

Friday, April 15, 2016

Not enough

Even when you’re afraid of not being enough — you’ve got to be more afraid of not having stepped out enough.  - Ann Voskamp

This morning my sister reminded me again that one of our favorite authors, Ann Voscamp, is also currently in China adopting her daughter, and that I should keep my eye out for her.  I shook my head and just commented, Amy, do you realize how BIG China is?  And that Ann is a week ahead of me, meaning that she's probably already in Guangzhou where everyone out-processes (although now that I'm thinking about it, she's Canadian and I don't know where they exit.)  But sure, I'll keep my eyes out (after I go stalk her website to remind myself what she looks like).  

China is HUGE.  The three cities we are visiting while we are here are  all among the top 4 largest cities in China (Beijing - 19m, Tianjin - 11m, Guangzhou - 11m) and the country now stands above 1.3 billion people in an area roughly the size of the USA.  I have been to China 6 times now (7 including a separate trip to Hong Kong) and never yet seen the Great Wall - I was not even close to it on any of those prior trips.  There are diverse cultures in China - people groups with entirely different ways of life that live on the outskirts or as tourist attractions.  The north side of the tallest mountain in the world lies in China, as well as the third and sixth longest rivers and the third largest desert.  There are so many cities with over 10 million people in them that it makes even Seoul seem small.  Today I saw the world's largest public square, and visited a palace built almost 600 years ago - and it makes you feel small.  

I don't mind feeling small.  It can be scary sometimes - like being lost in a big crowd - but there is peace in it too.  I love feeling small when I stand in front of the Tetons at home, or when I get to surf off the coast of Oregon and both the waves and the cliffs let you know you're a part of something that's bigger than you.  When I made the choice to adopt, it was a small feeling - so many children in need of families and yet I get to choose ONE.  Here in China, that is ONE among over 600,000.  Some estimate higher - that there might be 1 million orphaned or abandoned children here.  I have to choose ONE child to love, nurture, hold, and care for; ONE child to shelter, clothe, educate, and bring up in the way he should go; ONE child to be mine, forever; ONE child to pick up when he falls down, to giggle and be silly with, to snuggle and cuddle and sing to sleep.  ONE child to kiss goodnight.  

How is that possible? How can it be to say YES to ONE when you know just how many are left?  How to say YES to ONE and trust that this child is the ONE God has given to you?  How do you know for sure that you are doing the right thing, that you are the right parent for this child, that you are equipped to meet his needs and that your saying YES is God's answer to the question, "Who's going to love him?  Who will choose him and be his family?"  

Steven Curtis Chapman has a song I have loved since childhood, one that is not well-known.  Its about a little girl named Maria who doesn't have a family yet.  In the Chapman's adoption story, he met a little girl named Maria in China and immediately knew she was his because of this song he had written years before she was born.  I think of the lyrics sometimes - "Who's gonna love Maria?"  and think of that decision.  It was not as clear a choosing as I had maybe expected, and in my case it came with a huge amount of hurt that I didn't know what to do with.  In my case it involved saying goodbye to another young boy who was equally precious in His sight.  It involved saying no in order to say YES, and it hurt beyond anything I knew what to do with.  I didn't expect that.  Love involves pain, I think.  But God is faithful.  When I felt my way through the mist of uncertainty and took a leap of faith in God's leading, and said YES to this sweet, chubby cheeked, tiny little boy - I knew the answer: "I am going to love you, Ming.  I love you." He's so young - so young that he has no idea what's going to happen in less than three days.  His life will change and at first he won't think its a good change.  With God's grace, eventually he will know that I am mama and that he will always have a family.  I want him to know so much more that He has ONE who loves him forever and always, no matter what else happens in his life.  As his mama, it is my privilege to get to teach him - a calling and a responsibility. 

Little Ming, in three days I will get to hold you in my arms.  You don't know me yet, but from here on out, I am yours forever.  I belong to you.  I choose you!  I won't be perfect and I will make mistakes, but I will love you forever and always.  I'm not enough for you - I'm not even enough for myself.  But I know Someone who is enough for both of us!  And He will never leave you, nor forsake you, and He will love us both unconditionally until the end of time.  My sweet little boy, believe in His love for you as you will come to believe in mine.  He will sustain us when we are lost on this journey together.  He will fill our hearts will joy and love.  My beautiful son, I'm coming for you!  Until then, here's to being unbrave enough to trust in the ONE who is. 

You only have to keep believing — and keep stepping out unbrave.  - Ann Voscamp

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Long Story for a Short Announcement

This is a way longer story than most people visiting my blog need - if you want the quick version, skip to the end!  

This story starts a long time ago...more than half my life ago.  I was 15 and sitting in Miss T's health class.  Two women from First Baptist were presenting about their recent trip to work with the Romanian Evangelical Medical Mission (REMM) in Beius, Romania and about the effects of the communist regime and its fall on the situation of orphans there.  At the time I had no idea how important First B was going to become to me, or that someday I too would get to visit Beius. What I did know was that no child should have to live like that, that every child deserves the love of a family, and that the abandonment of a child was a complicated, messy, heartbreaking loss for all involved.  I used to love orphan stories - even used to make up stories to pretend I was one.  Colleen and I would run away to the back pasture sometimes or build PlayMobile orphanages.  Long after Colleen was too old to join me I still wrote romanticized stories about children living on their own.  But after hearing and seeing that day in health class, my heart was tugged;  the fairy tale stories of orphans, adoption, and finding a home were replaced by this real world picture of how real children were living, without a home and without a family.  It was not romantic at all, but heart-breakingly sad.  

Romania stayed in the back of my mind for a long time - all through college.  After graduation I was all set to live in Romania for a year working with a mission group that served orphaned and vulnerable children.  But God had other plans; I found out the mission group was not able to get me a visa, and the door opened to coach at GFU and go to grad school to become a teacher.  They were all parts of my dream - they just did not line up in the order I planned them in!  I spent an amazing 7 years coaching at Fox, while completing my degree through Willamette and teaching at both St. Paul and Gaston. 

In the middle of it all (2008), I decided to spend a summer backpacking through Europe.  Another long-awaited dream!  I headed off on my own with a very detailed itinerary and plans to meet up with family along the way.  That trip is the most consistent blogging I ever stuck to, so you can take a look at 2008 if you are interested!   Towards the end of my trip, I spent five full days in Beius, working with REMM (by this time my family was attending First B, and our pastor connected me to them).  The Lucacius, who founded REMM, were amazing hosts who welcomed me and let me volunteer, rest, and observe to my heart's content.

I spent a week learning about the Roma people and the discrimination and hardships they faced.  I learned about the 8 little girls staying at REMM, whose adoptive families in the US had no idea when or if they would ever be able to bring their daughters home (Romania had shut down its international program in order to show the EU that they were tackling corruption).  I picked up trash, shoveled sand, played with the girls, handed out Bibles in a Roma village, and prayed.  When I left, my heart had stretched and grown - I was never going to forget those little girls.  A seed had been planted - a seed of love and of hope - that just maybe someday I would be able to love on a child that needed a home and a family - a child that would be mine forever.  Romania was closed and has still yet to open; maybe they never will.  Those girls are 13 and 14 year olds now; still with families in the US, still unable to go home to them.  They are loved and cared for by the amazing people at REMM, but they wish adoption was still an option.  

For years after that trip I thought about adoption.  I thought that maybe when I was married, and Romania opened its doors again, that I would pursue it.  I thought sometimes about adopting even though I was not married - and started to feel that maybe God was bigger than the limitations I saw before me.  But still, Romania was closed and I didn't feel led to take steps in another direction.  

In 2012, I made the biggest move of my life and began to teach at an international school in South Korea.  Four years later, I'm still teaching here!  I never would have thought that would be my story when I first moved across the Pacific.  Something about the kids and the community has kept me here.  But it also opened a door that I didn't expect.  My beautiful and loving, slightly younger and even more adventurous cousin, Paige, had moved to China for 9 months to work at an orphanage for special needs kids.  I spent that first Christmas abroad visiting Paige's orphanage, and meeting and falling for the amazing kiddos there.  There was love and laughter, and stress and heartbreak - all of it combined in a place where the staff were doing their best to love on well over a hundred children who may never find a family.  It was a place where harsh reality met God-sustained hope, and I got to be present to see the beauty and the pain.  

There were three little boys at the center who I fell in love with.  I'm not sure of their ages, but I think they were about 3-5 at the time.  One was a charmer who knew he had you wrapped around his finger the moment he smiled.  One was the slightly more serious oldest who radiated both joy and wisdom.  And the third, and youngest, was a newly abandoned toddler with a hug that was so tight you thought he might never let go.  Again my heart just grew and at the same time hurt - hurt to say goodbye and hurt that they were there in the first place.

I went home and started looking into adoption, this time much more certain that it was a calling - that God had given this to me as part of my story.  But adoption is not an easy or a quick process - and for someone with a phobia of paperwork it is a draining process.  When I was looking in the winter of 2013, I couldn't find any agency that would work with someone living abroad - AND the financial requirements for a single woman were so far out there I couldn't even imagine being able to fufill them - not anytime soon, anyway.  I put adoption on the backburner - something the future me would do, but not something I was actively working on in the present.  I researched intermittently for a long while, but didn't send out another email asking or requesting info until...

Flash forward two years, to a crying version of me flying home for Christmas.  I had met with my principal earlier that day, and because of new responsibilities in my job for the coming year I was being forced to let go of coaching soccer and MUN.  This was heartbreaking for me, because it had been such a huge blessing to coach the previous year and because there were some pretty special senior girls that I wanted one last chance to get to be around.  I felt hurt and confused and pretty upset about the situation.  When I calmed down, I realized that nothing happens without God's knowledge and decided to ask Him what he wanted from my new-found free time.  An old tugging to look into adoption again came back, and I researched and emailed a few agencies.  Right before Christmas, I heard back from an agency that put me in contact with a home study provider who worked in Asia - and right after Christmas I found out that she was actually going to be in Suwon in February! Suwon - what are the chances of that! And the family she was already coming to see are people I know, love, and work with.  I was shocked and more than a little excited - and a little overwhelmed that it could possibly happen that fast when three years ago I hadn't thought it could happen at all. 

It truly felt, and has felt through this whole process, that God opened this door at this time for a reason.  I am not sure what that reason is, other than that I believe God has been calling me to adoption over the course of my whole life.  Through the stories I loved as a child and teen, to the love for 8 little girls in Romania, to holding the hand of a little girl who died a week later without a mama to hold her....God has been leading me to this.  For the past year, I have been following - filling out paperwork, meeting with my social worker, sending more emails than I can count, getting myself and my generous and amazing roommates fingerprinted at the US embassy, writing big checks - following has not always been easy but the firm foundation that God is in it has always been there.  I've doubted at times, especially when people I love and respect doubt it, but my faith in what God is calling me to is bigger.  I'm thankful for my incredible family, who have been so supportive and loving and I know will welcome my kiddo with open arms; to my GSIS family who are so excited for me and have helped me walk through some of the hard days; to my family and friends who have written me letters, hosted or helped with a fundraiser, or sent in money to help with the process - it truly takes a village and you all mean the world to me.  

So, as far as an announcement goes, this is pretty awful and long - but its my story for better or worse.  Soon, hopefully, it will be our story - my child and mine.  I don't know yet exactly when, although I'm hoping for this summer; and I don't know exactly who, although I'm hoping for a toddler-age child with mild special needs (the vast majority of children abandoned in China are special needs children.) Those details, when they arrive, will be so precious in the waiting.  More to come when I do know!  

If anyone is able or interested in helping me raise the money I need for the adoption (which is somewhere in the realm of $30,000) I would be so incredibly thankful!  The link is on the top right of the page.  Thank you!!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thankful for a Father

Five years ago, I shared this post on Facebook after a close friend of my cousin's lost her father right after Thanksgiving.  November 29 is my father's birthday; and although he has not been here to celebrate it with us since 2007, it is still a really important day for my family.  This time of year holds so many memories related to loss - and yet is the time when we come together to show our gratitude for our friends, family, and the blessings poured out on us each day.  These feelings often get so mixed for me at Thanksgiving - and many times over the past few years, especially while living abroad, I have chosen to gloss over what it all means deep down.  Its easier that way.  But its not better.

This year I want to choose, every day, to not only remember but to live in the grateful reality of what I have been given - an abundance of love.  Love in my past, love in my present, and no matter what happens, love in my future. The Father is the author of love - and no loss, no memory, no pain, no hurt, no fear, no uncertainty - can stop Him. If only we choose to see it and live in it and stand in the abundance of what His nail-scarred hands and open arms long to shower on us.  If only we can run to His embrace in the midst of joy, fear, or pain. 

I miss my father.  Not every day as I used to - not with the intensity of those first few years.  Not with the heart-numbing sense that held shadow over me those first months.  But I miss him.  I miss his wisdom and how when he was around, not only did I feel stronger myself but also secure in him.  I miss his jolly laugh and his thankful heart.  I miss him - we miss him - part of me always feels like the world misses him.  Like what he stood for, and how he loved, and who he was, and what his life-saving hands could do are missed by this world every day.  But really, he is the Lord's.  He always will be.  And this world is the Lord's.   And so is my family.  And so am I.  

Happy Thanksgiving, beloved ones.  Happy birthday, Dad. 

From November 29, 2010:

 Today would have been my dad's 60th birthday.  Three years ago, after spending my first Thanksgiving without him, I escaped into a coffee shop in Bridgeport with my Bible and journal in tow.  It had been two months since we lost him and I had avoided these, what used to be my best comforts and time alone with God.  It wasn't that I didn't trust the Lord anymore - it was more that I didn't want to pour out my heart to Him because I was already so empty, I was afraid of what might be left.  
Once I started to pray, and the tears started to come, it was like the floodgates were opened.  My heart, though still in so much pain, was ready to feel again.  I wanted to talk to God, really talk to him, for the first time since Dad died.  A small start, but critical to me.
Exactly three years later now, I am awash with familiar emotions: another year passed without him, another afternoon spent putting a wreath on his grave.  Another Thanksgiving with one less plate at the table, another birthday without someone to sing to.  Watching my mom go through another anniversary and holiday season, I see her strength though I think she sees mostly her weakness.  Her tears and grief are an offering, and she is helping others get through their own in an incredible way.  She is amazing and my dad would be so proud of her.
At the youth group I help out with last night, our pastor asked the kids what they were thankful for.  He asked them to be completely serious, and they were - as far as middle school students get, anyway.  They were thankful for family, friends, for passing tests, for band practice and sports teams. Typical and honest, and blessings all.  But I couldn't get it out of my head that there are sometimes things you are so thankful for, they overwhelm you - and one such blessing happened this past weekend.
On Friday night, a friend of my cousin's (and mine) lost her dad.  It happened suddenly, unexpectedly, abruptly - just the way my dad left us three years ago.  Without warning he was gone, and they are left without their hero, confidant, and guide.  When Paige got the call from her dear friend, we knew only that he was without a heartbeat or breath, and she wanted us to pray.  I felt for my strong, godly cousin in that moment - because she was so far away, with nothing to hold to but the hope and love of Jesus for this family, and she held onto Him with all her might.  We prayed, we cried, we prayed again, and harder; eventually my family went to bed, and still we sat in silence in the family room, hoping that God would use this opportunity for a miracle.  We waited for news - I feel asleep in the armchair, but Paige kept the light on as a true watchman - and near 2:00am we heard that he had passed.  We cried some more, and prayed, and then slept.  I was reminded of David - how he begged and pleaded with God for the life of his son.  And when he was taken home, David got up, and washed, and ate.  This father was at home now, and our prayers were now for the living and hurting left behind.
Perhaps this doesn't seem like something to be thankful for at all.  But if you've lost someone dear to you, you know - those last memories of time spent together are absolutely precious.  How much more poignant that their last days as a family came at Thanksgiving - days already looked forward to and cherished completely.  Our friend told Paige that they had had amazing time together as a family - a true gift from the Lord.  This we can be thankful for - this is a huge blessing from the God who loves us more than we can know.
The Thanksgiving after my dad passed began with a birth - the birth of my beautiful, precious niece Sadie Pearl.  God gave us joy in a time of heartache, peace in a time of pain, beauty in a time of ashes.  I am forever thankful that we had something beyond our sorrow to focus on - Sadie was more than the gift of a life, she was a promise that light would breakthrough the darkness we all felt.
I don't understand the why of hurt - of why this family is without their father, or why my daddy isn't here to celebrate his birthday.  But I do understand the gift of healing - I know that Jesus Christ, the Savior, is present with us in our pain, turning it into something beautiful and good in our lives when we trust in His love for us.  I know that Almighty God, the Father, is holding out his arms to embrace us when we cry.  And I know the Spirit intercedes for us and never leaves us alone, even when we feel like we are.  Such is the mercy, love, and beauty of my Lord - beyond all we could ask or imagine.
Happy Birthday, Daddy.  I know you probably already have, but could you go find Dean Walton and give him a great big hug from everyone down here?  His family and friends miss him more than words can say. I love you & miss you too.
November 29, 2010

Friday, May 30, 2014

When I can do nothing

About 10 days ago, a student that I am incredibly fond of lost his mom.  She had been fighting a  battle with cancer for a long time, and for the whole time I knew her it seemed like she just might win.  She was a vibrant person, always demonstrating how much she loved her kids and how far she would go to see them succeed.  To be honest, as a teacher that sometimes was intimidating - when I first met her, I wasn't even teaching her son yet and I immediately felt I needed to be on my toes.  But she also came across as very supportive of what we are doing at GSIS, and somehow that brief meeting has stuck with me.

The next time I interacted with her was several months later when her son came with me, 3 other teachers, and about 15 other students on a missions trip to Myanmar.  By that time I had taught him for about a month, and in that time had learned that he will always be the very first to turn in assignments, but never read the directions all the way through.  He also is incredibly athletic, intelligent, handsome, and charismatic in a very subtle way - his actions or inactions influence others but you don't notice it immediately.  I, being not great at classroom management, and still being relatively new to the PE curriculum at GSIS, had a hard time getting him to participate in class.   He also didn't participate well in our group preparations for Myanmar.

Once we were there, I thought that getting this large group of 10th grade guys to join in wholeheartedly was going to be a challenge.  We had English lessons to prepare, rooms to clean, dishes to wash, and kids to play with.  It was a daily, hourly interaction with these beautiful orphan kids who just wanted to be friends and have the Korean teenagers play with them.  There were times when we were tired and times when the days grew long, and still we would be playing games, sitting with them, talking, learning Burmese.  I say "we" but mostly it was our girls - a God-sent group really.  But when I looked with open eyes I saw the guys joining in - playing a couple's version of duck duck goose, holding the jump rope, sitting with kids on the steps taking pictures, playing soccer with the older guys in the yard....and it was beautiful.  Those moments when kids surprise you are the best.  Those moments humble me.  I love them for what they show me about what God does in our lives when we're not looking.

I'm not saying that it was perfect.  But really, who ever expected perfection from 15-year old kids and got it?  The whole time I was preparing for this trip I felt that God was saying that the reason I was going was not because of the kids in Myanmar, but because of the kids we were taking with us - that was the primary ministry for me.  I had chances on that trip to get very close to some of the seniors that just graduated yesterday - that I worked with all year in Treehouse club and soccer - who would hang out playing worship songs or spoons or talking about faith - it was an incredibly special time that I am forever thankful for.  But one of my favorite moments on the trip was day 3 or 4, when the student I've been talking about was sitting on the steps with a boy of about 9 or 10.  He was taking pictures of them together, and told the kid that he wouldn't forget him now that he had his picture.  I wasn't really meant to overhear - I think he was embarrased that I did - but in that moment I just felt that there was something in this "too cool" kid that I wanted to reach out to. Later we were washing hundreds of dishes for a wedding at the orphanage, and that moment sticks out to me to - because even though he complains when he's uncomfortable, he didn't quit.

On our last day at the orphanage, I sent an email with some pictures of the group to all the parents of the kids we had with us.  His mom emailed back a very nice thank you - she was so excited to see pictures of her son with his arms around a Burmese child, and of him washing dishes.  As someone who wants to be a mom, reading her words of pride and love for her son and the way she was so joyful to see him loving, serving, and growing - it was special.

This year I have gotten to know both of them better - through having him in class again and seeing her at school events.  She was so supportive and so present - watching soccer games, celebrating our return from the Indonesia missions trip, coming to parent teacher conferences to find out exactly what needed to be fixed and make sure he was being treated fairly - that I never realized something was wrong.   I just didn't know that she was getting worse, and I'm so incredibly sad that I didn't.  It wouldn't have meant anything different, except maybe I would have stayed and talked at that last soccer game instead of moving on.  Maybe I would have gone deeper into why I was proud of her son's actions and attitude in Indonesia this year instead of just saying it quickly and not planned out.  Maybe.......maybe.

But now she's gone.  I have realized again, just how poor I am at entering into another's grief.  My mom does this over, and over, and over again, week after week as she ministers at GriefShare.  She's done it for years now, and has heard stories I don't think I could even listen to sometimes.  I admire her and I love her for what she can give, how she can bless people by standing with them in their sorrow.  But I can't  - not in the same way.  While his mom was still alive, fighting in a hospital and being told that there was nothing they could do anymore - I emailed him a couple of times to say I was praying.  And I was - so many nights I was crying myself to sleep praying for her and for this student - for her daughter that I barely knew and her husband.  I gathered with another teacher before school and we both wept, begging God to heal her and to save the heart of our student.   Since they have lost her, I haven't seemed to be able to find the words.

 I don't know why this has impacted me so much.  I think partially because in the past year and a half this teenager has become really special to me.  He's not the easiest kid to work with, and he's not very open with others - not very open with me.  But he stands out to me - maybe its because of the potential I see in him or maybe its just because I have spent a lot of time with him.  Maybe its because he's sometimes a little kid with an adorable smile and sometimes an adult with logic I can't argue with.  Maybe its because there's a strength and depth to him I wish he would let people see.  Maybe its just because God laid him on my heart.  In Indonesia, even though I was often hard on him, I saw something that seemed like a breakthrough - one honest conversation, one Mafia game where he convinced me to trust him, one statement about how it doesn't take wealth to be happy.  One moment when he wanted to give his soccer shoes to a boy in Indonesia without any.  All the smiles when the kids he was working with succeeded.   I got to tell his mom some of that, but not in that many words - I wish I had.

But now she's gone.  And my heart breaks for them all.  He's been away from school for a month, just waiting, not knowing when but knowing she was not getting better.  I can't even say with certainty that he'll be back next year although I obviously hope that he is.  My deepest fear is that this sorrow, this pain and grief, will tear him away from whatever relationship he has with the Lord.  He's not open enough for me to know what his relationship with God is - I've never asked him and he's never told me.  It is a helpless feeling because I can't impact this - unlike when I enter his grades and I have complete say.  I can't change anything about how he is going to go through this healing journey.  And then I come up against this wave of fear and relief - the only One who can is the same One that he needs - the only One who can reach him truly is the same One who wants to heal and hold him.  Its fear because I can do nothing to help this kid I love.  Its relief because the only One who can is the only One who loves him more than his mom did.  Her love was powerful and strong, deep and wide, fierce and protective, gentle and kind - and it is nothing compared to how much God loves him.

Someday soon I will find the words.  In the last 10 days two more of my friends have also lost someone - and I don't know how to enter in to their grief either - how to comfort or encourage.  Maybe I should know, but I don't.  Lord help me give what has been given to me so often - a place to share whatever needs sharing and a mouth that speaks only what You want heard.

She's gone now.  But he is not.  Lord Jesus, when I can do nothing You can do everything.  I know You want him to turn to You for strength, healing, love, and peace.  I know You can reach to him through the sorrow.  Please, Lord of Lords, don't let him go.  Don't let any of them go.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Discipline, Guilt, & Grace

I have been pretty delinquent about updating since coming to Korea.  Sometimes it seems daunting to commit to writing my thoughts and experiences - more so than when I went to Europe for a summer and found time every couple of days to update on adventures and the people and places I had met.  Perhaps the problem is that Korea has become.......normal.  This is my everyday life now - not so much an adventure as a daily grind.  The commonplace occurrences of dragging myself out of bed, walking to work, laughing with some of my teenage students, taking deep breaths with others, coming 'home' to a small apartment that is slowly becoming more homey, and spending way more time on Facebook than I ever thought possible, have worn off the newness of being here.

Some of this is good.  I feel at home in this life - lonely at times, but at home.  Working full time as a teacher is much more pleasant and fun than I anticipated.  The PE department is made up of 3 of the best people I could have ever asked to work with.  The students are, for the most part, very respectful and really good about getting work done.  They are slow to warm up to me sometimes, but now I see so many fun loving and strong personalities.  I have loved getting to know them, and was incredibly sad at semester when I lost a large portion of my students to other classes.  Of course that now means breaking the ice with a new group, which I hope will prove to be similarly engaged, positive, and open in time.  I also have made some wonderful and precious friends - strong women and men of God that I am so thankful to know.  And since the fall was beautiful and winter has brought cold temperatures and even some snow, I have even felt at home in the climate.

The everyday-ness of life becoming comfortable and natural also brings with it another, harder to cope with reality.  That is that any excuse put on "settling in" or "busyness" or "getting the hang of it" has now gone by the wayside.  Excuses like not eating healthily because I can't read nutrition labels or know exactly what I'm eating.  Like not working out because I didn't have time between trying to figure out life and teaching.  Like not finding a church or going to church because I felt overwhelmed by the time Sunday came around and needed to work or sleep or Skype instead.  Like not getting work done early or on time......or like watching too much TV on hulu or Amazon......like staying up late (I know what every family member of mine will say to this - I know! I am trying to change my ways!).....the list could go on.

The guilt and weight of things that I have always struggled with were things that I perhaps ran away from when I came here, wanting for them to change.  Is that normal?  Do people outside of the ones in movies make drastic physical change hoping that it will bring internal change as well?  I think it was something that I secretly hoped.  It actually sounds incredibly stupid to say that or admit that to anyone - because I think many people probably thought that of me before I left, and I probably denied it.  I knew in my head that location does not change who we are, but I think I wanted so badly to change that I still hoped it would help.  Discipline has never been the thing I excelled at.  I'm not sure what I have excelled at, actually - not in words that would fit into the same category as discipline.  And the minute we think we excel, I think it can become the place were the devil attacks us - so perhaps it is better to think of the things we trust that God is working on us in.  For a long time I have wanted discipline to be an area in which I was excellent.  And it is easy to make 'plans' to be disciplined.  It is easy to desire to be disciplined, tomorrow.  To get up early, tomorrow.  To work out, tomorrow.  But the war that happens daily between my mind and my will plays itself out in a way that only leaves me with the dead weight of guilt hanging around my shoulders.

I don't know exactly how long I have felt this guilt envelop me.  Years, I think.  It was not always as it is now - it crept up on me slowly.  And the longer I felt its shadowy presence on my back, whispering constantly of how I am unworthy, the more I believed it.  The more I believed it, the more discouraged I became and the more entrenched all of the things that I want to be different.

At different times in the last few years, people or songs or stories or sermons or Words have pierced through the shroud around me enough to bring me true hope through my Savior's love and grace.  One was a kayak trip and conversation with my younger and often wiser cousin a couple of Thanksgivings ago.  One was a Christmas sermon given by our pastor.  One was through The Story, a collection of Bible stories written into song. One was a series of CDs on guilt loaned me by a friend.  One was a sermon heard a week ago, here in Suwon.  A few days ago, a blog post by my sister became yet another way that God was telling me to trust in His Grace over my own guilt.  I always seem to run back to my fear eventually - fear that the devil's words about me are true.  It didn't seem to matter what I knew to be true in God's Word - the lie made me feel disgraced and unable to see anything but the condemnation I knew I deserved.  The lie also reminded me that no one could know how I felt, because then whatever witness I had given or lived over the years would be destroyed.  

I think that may have been one of the most dangerous parts about this lie.  Not sharing with anyone meant that I couldn't hear the truth from the people I trust most in my life.  But that did not stop Jesus from pursuing me with the truth anyway.  He has never stopped pursuing me with the truth - and I can see that now through all the pierced holes in this shroud.  I long to be wrapped in the grace God wants to wrap me in ~ and to live within His promise of grace for the sinner and strength for the weary.  These words from my sister Colleen's blog touched me deeply a few days ago.   It was the reminder that I cannot please Him on my own and never could - even when I did not feel this way, I could never have pleased Him apart from relinquishing my life and trusting in His. 
I think that if I can only be more organized, more disciplined, then I will be able to somehow do it all perfectly and make Him proud of me.   I forget that apart from His grace, apart from faith in His Son, I cannot please Him. 
That is so powerful to me.  Becoming disciplined is not and never could be the answer to my hard heart that wants to be soft, or to ridding myself of shadows that surround and trail behind and whisper lies.  Surrender to and reliance on and trust in my Savior whose love covers me - this is my desire.  To stop striving to make myself worthy when it can't be done.  To become like Mary, sitting at Jesus feet and understanding what is important.  To allow Him to fill me so full of His Truth that there is no room to believe the lies.
What would it look like, I wonder, to live full of grace?  Not as one striving to succeed, but as one resting in the One who already has? 
What does it look like? Jesus, set me free from guilt and wrap me in your Truth so I may begin to know.
His grace is enough for us.  His record is ours.  His grace, His kindness, His sovereignty, covers all of our mess. 
 And if I believe that – won’t I walk in it?
Will you pray with me that this will be so?

This is how Love wins, every single time
Climbing high upon the tree where someone else should die.
This is how Love heals the deepest part of you
Letting Himself bleed into the middle of your wounds.
This is what Love says, standing at the door:
You don't have to be who you've been before!
Silenced by His voice, death can't speak again
This is how Love wins.
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood, nothing the blood!
What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood, nothing but the blood!
This is what Love says, standing at the door: 
You don't have to be who you've been before! 
Silenced by His voice, death can't speak again
This is how Love wins.

~written by Nichole Nordeman, sung by Steven Curtis Chapman

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Garden of Morning Calm

Since returning from Chuseok break at the beginning of October, I have been busy pretty much every weekend.  Mostly its been Friday and Saturday volleyball games that seem to fill up the time, with Sundays reserved for catching up on work and groceries and laundry.   But I have been able to do a few fun activities outside of school and volleyball that have been wonderful additions to my experience here.  One was an outing to a garden up in the mountains about an hour and a half away from Suwon, northeast of Seoul.  It was beautiful and amazing to walk around amidst the fall colors, with mountain slopes on all sides covered with reds and yellows and all different shades of green. 

 The garden had several areas to explore - a section based on a traditional Korean village, one full of flowers meant to represent the longing for unity between the north and south of Korea, one surrounding a tiny 4 seat chapel, one of open meadow and one calm forest, several of small streams with beautiful pools where leaves floated peacefully.  It was so nice to get out and be surrounded by what God created - away from the unending towering apartment buildings and constant traffic that is Seoul and Suwon.  (They're really not that bad - just in comparison to the tranquility of the garden). :)  The garden was far from empty though - tons of people walking around exploring, picnicking, taking pictures, having a grand time.

 At one point I did manage to find a way out of the crowd, along an old forest road that went up the hill behind the garden.  It was the first time since leaving Oregon that I have really felt completely alone - in the best way possible.  I could hear the noise from all the people down below, but was surrounded by trees, grass, birds, rocks, and mountains.  It was lovely - just for a few minutes to be alone.

As we left, around noon, there was a line of cars at least a mile long - no joke.  Just waiting to get into the parking lot, let alone explore the garden.  We decided it definitely earned its name - morning calm - and were so glad we went early!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Volleyball ~ Season's End

The past three months, much of my time has been dominated by this beautiful group of people.  Volleyball season has been one of my favorite parts about teaching here.  The girls are simply wonderful!  Athletics and fitness in general are not huge here, especially for girls - so having a group that really works hard and enjoys being pushed is awesome.

We started our season in August, playing a couple of games before I went back to the states for Ryan and Emily's wedding in September.  My assistant coach, Jack, took care of them while I was gone.  He is such an asset.  He's been here a year already, and is also the head of the PE department.  He knows all the kids pretty well and has been a huge support to me through this new endeavor of living and teaching overseas.

We have had a pretty good season - 7-5 in conference play, 13-7 overall.  Last weekend, we won our conference tournament!  It is basically the equivalent of a district or conference tournament in the states - 7 teams.  We came in ranked 3rd for the season, and won 4 straight games over Friday and Saturday to win the tournament.  We ended up having to play the host team (who came in ranked 2nd) twice - in the 2nd round and again in the finals.  They were hard fought games - but we won 3-2 the first game and 3-1 in the championship.  Our girls played so well!  Their defense was awesome - perfect serve receives and great passing in general.  Our hitting was also really strong, and my senior setter did a great job without having any breaks for all 7 sets on Saturday. 
 We were awarded several individual awards for the girls.  These were my top 4 players, who all got all-tournament.  Diane (left) was the Best Server (and also an incredible right side with great passing, hitting, and back-up setting skills), Kris was the Best Setter (a unanimous vote actually), Angela was MVP (middle blocker with great net play, passes, and hits), and Seoyoung was my vote for best passer but ended up just with All-Tournament.  I thought she deserved more - she played incredibly well - second only really to Angela, and then only because of hitting errors really.   The three other players who also had a lot of time deserved recognition as well - Janice and Jenny, two seniors, were both stellar OHs during the whole tournament, and Jenny's serves and Janice's passing helped us out of many tight spots.  Jaime was my first sub and in many ways should have been a starter - she's the best all-around player we have, good at everything.  In this tournament she played both setter and OH, as well as a defense and serve sub.  She's also subbed for middle when we needed it.  She is amazing.  I wish I could have used her more.
 We also received the Sportsmanship Award - this one caught me completely off-guard.  I think the girls are great and handled themselves really well, but the winner doesn't usually get this vote.  I also told Jack before our games on Saturday that there was no way we could get the sportsmanship award, because I yell too much during games.  So does he.  :)  But the other coaches all agreed our girls deserved it - which was awesome. 

To make our win even sweeter, the boys volleyball team also won their tournament!  They were expected to, as they have blasted every other conference team out of the water and won almost all of their games against the other division's teams as well.  But it was still awesome that they came through.  The boys JV team also won their tournament the same day, so it was a great day for the GSIS Knights.  Unfortunately, all of us played our final game against the KIS teams - so it was not a good day for them. :)  I have enjoyed having guys volleyball around - makes me wish we had it in Oregon as well!  The St. Paul girls would have eaten it up and loved our boys team. :)  The two seniors on the guys team are great people as well as athletes - I will miss them along with our four seniors.
Here are the girls with all their hardware - I'm so happy for them, and so proud of them!  I will very much miss being their coach and miss coaching in general.  Not having a team to work with for the rest of the year will be very hard.  I have never yet faced a school season without coaching at least one team, so this will be a challenging time for me.  Everyone here thinks I'm crazy to be sad about the season being over - but they just don't know yet how ingrained this is into my being.  I have been given many suggestions of things I could do with my time - from grading other people's papers, to exploring more of Seoul and Suwon, to helping coach cheerleading.  We'll see. :)  Right now I am going to try to enjoy the time to relax, and hopefully work on getting back in shape.  But I will miss these girls!  They brought me so much joy, laughter, and light.  I am blessed to have had this season and this time to share faith, volleyball, and life with some beautiful young women.