I Wrote My Way Out

You cannot live your life just for someone else. So then what is the purpose of living? What is the purpose of being alive? Why were you even created out of all the possibilities of atoms and genetics that could have been formed? Why were you formed out of the inexhaustible matter of the clouds and stars that make up the universe? What gives you breath and sustenance in order to make it to the next day?

I don’t have any answers to these questions. But I ask them every single day. Especially when Grandpa was dying. He’d had a terrible stroke, something in his brain stem. We were informed that he was lucky to be alive and that his recovery chances were slim but promising due to his progress.

I remember looking at him in his hospital bed and wondering why on earth he was still alive in the first place. He was in his mid to late eighties at this point and my grandma had died almost ten years before. He lived far away from all of his children, he was stuck in a nursing home because he couldn’t care for himself, and now he’d just had a stroke that had paralyzed half of his body. Why was he still fighting? Why did he still live to see each new day?

It’s odd to ponder these things, I’m sure, when you’re at the end of your life, but even stranger to think about when you are just at the beginning and watching someone at their conclusion. My grandfather had lived for his wife, his kids, his grandchildren, his job, his favorite football team, and hunting. He had a lot of reasons to continue, despite nearing the finish line. He had lived through quite a few things. He had lived through the end of the Great Depression, watched many wars pass by, the growth of his children as well as their weddings and babies, the loss of his family, retirement, the loss of his wife, and finally, the loss of his freedom. He had braved it all. He conquered. He completed his mission.

But what was that mission? Sure, there were other people who were dependent on him to keep going and to provide, but if that had been his motivation to live, he would have died right after retirement or right after Grandma passed. Instead, he held on to life for another 8 years. And for the first few of those years, he didn’t just hold on but thrived.

When I look at my life, my accomplishments and achievements, I have not done much in comparison. I finished high school, I got a Bachelor’s degree. These things were expected of me by myself and others throughout my life, so it doesn’t feel like something I should be proud of or feel exceptional for. I spent a year overseas on mission building relationships and learning a new language but now I’m not even sure what value that year has in this point in my life. People tell me to be proud of myself, that I’m smart, pretty, kind, compassionate. But I’m left wondering, what is the point in being myself if there isn’t something in a way to show for it?

Because we live in a world where your life is only measured in certain numbers. The amount of money in your bank account. Your number of followers on social media. The number of children that you have birthed or raised. The hours you work each week. The number of pounds of gravity your body has on the earth. The value of your possessions. It’s all a competition that is measured in your opportunities, your privileges, your advantages.

Let’s do a tally of mine. I have a considerable number of pluses and minuses. I’m white. That’s a plus 5 in most areas of our society. Female, so minus two. College educated, so plus a point, but unemployed like thousands of other twenty-somethings, so take that point away again. I’m Christian, which gets me a lot of perks in many social circles, so that’s probably worth 3 points. I’m bisexual though, so that subtracts 2 points away again. My parents are affluent and I have my own car that I can use so that adds 3 points. But I have depression and anxiety so you can subtract basically all of the points and throw them all out the window because the entire system is shitty anyway.

But this is the way American society works. From a young age, I have been taught that if I can’t compete with other people and don’t have a life as “good” as theirs, then maybe my life needs to change, or worse yet, shouldn’t exist. So when I went to see my grandfather dying in the ICU, all I could think of was why does he stay? What do I have that’s worth staying?

Not what do other people see in me. Not who do I have surrounding me. Not what might my future hold.

What do I have that’s worth staying and living and breathing in the toxicity of this planet that reinforces my violent self-talk just to struggle in so many seconds of the day just to feel like I might be ‘normal’?

I don’t know.

I ask myself about this all the time, but not this directly.

I usually focus on the people around me and how they would hurt if I wasn’t a part of their lives or how much it hurts me to think that they might someday leave mine. Or I focus on the future that I could have with a loving spouse and countless children and dogs in a sunny house out by the beach.

But none of these things give me life.

The things that give me life are music and writing and drawing and pure creating. There’s only one problem with that though.

I don’t believe I have anything to offer.

This certainly has something to do with how the world tells me I have to compare. No point in being a musician because this person from college was a better singer than you and is better looking and is smarter, so give up there. Why be a writer when the world already has Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling and Lin-Manuel Miranda? You’ll never live up to them and everything you create is just a random mashup of their work anyhow. Everyone says you’re good at drawing, but they’re just lying because it’s rude to tell someone that their art isn’t of value.

These thoughts plague me every second of the day. I spend all of my time instead focusing on watching Netflix, eating, taking out my misery on my family, and making plans for the future that will never come to fruition at this rate and with this infuriating debilitating disease clouding my mind and dragging me down.

I have talked often to many people about ex-boyfriends, ex-friends, family members, and so many other people who have hurt me throughout my life. But the thing that’s hard to say out loud is that I am the person who has hurt myself the most.

Sometimes, the voice inside of my head that pushes me into failure is the voice of depression or anxiety and comes from a place not within myself but from the very pits of hellish mental illness. There are other times though where I am the one plunging the dagger into my own soul and stopping me from ever reaching true life.

Do I fight back? Do I stand up and find that reason to live and pursue it with everything I have? Is this even the right reason to endure?

I know as well that I live for God. Even when I cannot recognize the goodness or the purpose in myself, God sees it. And not in my effect on others or the things that might happen or the things I might do. But just as I am.

In that way, I suppose God is my patron. In an abundance that I cannot explain, He has certainly blessed me with a wonderful family, an amazing Sherlockian best friend, countless other friends upon whom I can depend, a boyfriend who may not understand but listens anyway, a roof over my head, a sweet yet crazy dog, food that nourishes me, able bodied capabilities, and countless other indescribable things.

While I am grateful, I cannot live for these things. They are not the reason to live because we all are, unfortunately, part of a flawed world that will ultimately, if not constantly, fail and disappoint each other.

So why keep going?

What gives me life?

What wakes me up in the morning?

Right now, the answers aren’t what I want them to be. They’re unreliable answers rooted in a world that promises things it cannot deliver.

But I will change these answers. I will fight the plagues in my brain, I will fight those who say I or other humans don’t matter, I will fight with everything I have to bring something that I value into this world.

I breathe because I still have something left to give and something left to do.

You do too.

 

“Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.” –“Right Hand Man”, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical

“I peaked at the Harvest Festival, Ron. Years from now, people are gonna say, “Remember that woman who came up with the Harvest Festival idea and never came up with another idea again? What happened to her? What was her name? Kim? Anyway, who cares? She’s stupid and she’s dead now.”…I need to keep working, okay, and keep pushing so that my breakthrough will happen and I will be ready for it.” –Leslie Knope, “Parks and Recreation”

Annie: “Hi, I can’t get off the couch. I got fired from my job, I got kicked out of my apartment, I can’t pay any of my bills, my car is a piece of shit, I don’t have any friends…”

Megan: “You know what I find interesting about that, Annie? It’s interesting to me that you have absolutely no friends. Do you know why that’s interesting? Here’s a friend standing directly in front of you, trying to talk to you, and you choose to talk about having no friends… I don’t associate with people that blame the world for their problems. ‘Cause you’re your problem, Annie. And you’re also your solution.” – Bridesmaids

“You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true – anyone can cook… but only the fearless can be great.” – Gusteau, Ratatouille

“The people you love will change you, the things you have learned will guide you, and nothing on Earth can silence the quiet voice still inside you. And when that voice starts to whisper, ‘Moana, you’ve come so far, Moana, listen, do you know who you are?” – Gramma Tala, Moana

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Sometimes I Get Overexcited

This YAV year has been eye-opening in more ways than one. While learning more about the world around me, particularly issues concerning the United States, South Korea, advocacy, and being a co-conspirator, I’ve also been learning more about me. How often do you get a chance to spend time just reflecting on yourself? (A YAV year is a great time for that!)

We all have pasts. Mine isn’t the darkest by far. I grew up in a White, middle-class family. My parents are happily married (and approaching their 25th wedding anniversary) and my family was fortunate enough monetarily that my mom never had to work once I was born. I went to exceptional schools throughout my life, including getting to be a part of the WAVE program and getting to take different classes throughout middle and high school that were way above other children my age. My parents always supported me throughout trying to make decisions about my life, whether it was to be a teacher, to study music at university, or to travel and volunteer in a beautiful country on the other side of the world for a year. I grew up in a wonderful church community at CLPC that always worked hard to foster my knowledge and curiosity of Christianity and granted me life-long friends. I was welcomed so warmly into the SFA Wesley Foundation, where I was granted opportunities for leadership for 4 years. My life has been truly blessed, no matter how you look at it.

Despite all of this and knowing how fortunate I was, there were still problems in my life. I was definitely a weird kid and spent a lot of my childhood listening to other people when they decided I was too much or too weird for them. Once I was old enough to realize that I would always be on the outs, I tried extremely hard to go against the grain. I resisted following any trend to ridiculous points that I know frustrated my parents. I would get angry if anything I did suddenly became mainstream. I ended up remaining friends with some people despite the unhealthy relationships and the fact that the only thing we had in common was wanting to be weird.

In my adulthood, I’ve outgrown some of those things of the past. I am quite fine with following trends around me. I embrace being “normal” at times. I’m still my weird self, but I’d like to hope that I’m healthier than I was when I was younger. I do my best to only surround myself with people who truly love me for who I am and accept me as I am. But having been friends with people who were so unhealthy to me has left its marks.

I grant that my friends and I were all immature when I was allowing them to have power over my life and how I felt about myself. There were things though that should not have happened and have left scars. I had “friends” who would tease me until I cried because they “enjoyed seeing my reactions”. I had “friends” who would be angry at me for days without telling me what was wrong and then would explode all at once without warning about something entirely unrelated. I had “friends” who would push me beyond my limits or boundaries, even when I asked them to stop.

This has changed how I am with my friends, even now, even with new friends who don’t do these things and want to treat me well. I get uncomfortable when people tease me because they say it’s out of love, but that line can still be blurry for me. I “check in” with people all of the time that we’re still okay. I’m always “just checking”. I’m stubborn to a fault because I don’t want to give way to other people’s wishes anymore, even if I know that they’re right or that they want what’s best for me.

I worry on a lot of days, and especially on my days where depression really hits me, that I won’t ever be able to stop these things, that I’ll never feel secure in a relationship with anyone because of the fear of pain and that something will absolutely go wrong. But many of you, my friends and family, go above and beyond to show to me that I can trust people. Just yesterday, one of my Korean friends encouraged me to stop “checking in” and to do my best to trust. I’m trying. To all of those of you who have loved me over the years or are learning even now how to love me while I am still scarred in this way, thank you. Your support and love is what keeps me going.

This is still a journey that I’m traveling. I question everything everyday all of the time. There are still going to be times where my walls will be up, where I will still “check in”. I’m going to make mistakes and I’m going to react in the wrong ways sometimes. But as I learn how to truly let other people in and see this vulnerable person in my shell, hopefully I can learn to trust and love myself as well. Because no matter what, that’s one person who I’m always going to be stuck with, and I truly do want to learn how to love myself as God created me. Perhaps when I can do that, the rest of the world will follow suit, and I can drop these chains. I don’t really know. But I’m not going to give up and I’m not going to surrender to the things that have held me back for so long. I’m going to fight, I’m going to change, and I’m going to love. I hope you can do the same ❤️

Recent photo of me when I ran into a friend from my Korean class on the bus

“Oh am I talking too loud? Sometimes I get overexcited, shoot off at the mouth, I’ve never had a group of friends before, I promise that I’ll make y’all proud” -“My Shot”, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical

Leslie: “It’s not cool. It’s trespassing, and that is breaking the rules. Cool people make the rules. They don’t break the rules. And if those kids want you to break the rules then they’re not really your friends.”

April: “Whoa, who are you even talking about?” -“Parks and Recreation”

“Your quiet support means the world to me, as well as your tacit endorsement of all my behaviors.” -Leslie Knope, “Parks and Recreation”

“Scott, just listen to me. You’re not no one. Scott, you’re my best friend, okay, and I need you.” -Stiles, “Teen Wolf”

“You’ve got a choice to make and your mind is what’s at stake

So before we build this love please believe that you’re good enough

You don’t have to believe me

But you sure better believe me when I tell you you’re due for love” -“You Don’t Have to Believe Me”, Eric Hutchinson

They Are Going Through the Unimaginable

Today, April 16, 2017, is Easter, arguably the most important event in the church calendar. Easter this year also happens to fall on the third anniversary of the Sewol Ferry Incident. The YAV’s were fortunate enough to be invited to attend an event of remembrance of the senseless tragedy that also had a church service tied into it today. Needless to say, grief was a major part of the day.

It was incredibly strange to go from a morning of celebrating the resurrection into an afternoon of mourning other innocent lives lost. Jesus’s story at least gets to finish on a high note of sorts after his death with his resurrection. The story of the Sewol Ferry Incident does not have such a reassuring ending.

At the Christian service in remembrance of the victims of the Sewol Ferry Incident.



Argue with me if you will, but Christ’s death makes sense on some level. Certainly, Jesus was blameless and sinless and perfection in human form, making him an innocent victim for the sins of mankind, but he was still given a choice to accept his fate, not to mention that his death had been foreseen for centuries. Christ’s death also is more bearable in that his suffering and pain is at least rewarded through the resurrection and the salvation of all people (to quote the sermon this morning: “without suffering, there is no victory; without suffering, there is no resurrection”). Christ did what he was made to do and in the end, that makes sense.

The Sewol Ferry Incident and the events that have occurred in the years following do not make sense no matter how you look at it. Even though three years have passed since the unimaginable event, almost no answers have been figured out. In fact, there are still nine people whose bodies or whereabouts in any shape or form are still unknown. Worse yet, deposed president Park Geun Hye actively worked to keep the events in the dark. Within a week of Park’s impeachment, the Sewol Ferry was finally brought again to the surface. This should have happened years ago, if not to find justice then to at least provide peace to the families of the victims.

A choir composed of the victims’ family members that sang at the Christian service.



Walking around today and bearing witness to people’s grief was unbelievable. The pain was practically palpable. I watched as people greeted each other and would break into tears in each other’s arms. Three years might have passed but the pain felt among these families is still heavy and present. One part of the remembrance was to walk through a massive structure of a tent and to place a white flower before the massive wall of hundreds of faces gazing back. People of different ages died on the ferry, but a large majority of the victims were high school students. We all looked at the assembled gifts and drawings in dedication to lost children, classmates, and friends. To feel this pain and loss, only empathically, was unbearable. I cannot even imagine what it feels like to still be walking around with questions and overwhelming grief.

At the Christian service we attended, sadness was still heavily present and felt. Members of the victims’ families led prayers or gave performances. The church was able to gather together universally despite denominations to join in a sermon, offering, and even Communion as a part of the service. It was incredible to witness people with possibly nothing in common except belief in Christ join together in solidarity and mourning and engage in celebration of God’s goodness despite the pain. Despite the fear and the hurt, there was still serenity and hope. Despite the anger and confusion, there was still belief and strength.

Although this was not a typical Easter Sunday for me, it is infinitely one of the most important ones of my life. As we join together across denominations this Easter and every Easter to come, I pray that we can remember the light that overcomes the darkness, the love that overcomes sin, and the truth that overcomes all understandings.

In the midst of everything that happened today, words flowed into my mind and wouldn’t leave or stop until they were written out and formed this poem. Enjoy and remember to not lost hope in the unimaginable.

Unimaginable

Grief is limitless

When lives lost are innocent

When the question is why

Why did these children die

When there is no answer

When the government gives no chance for

Victims’ families to find peace

For the injustices to cease

When 9 people still are missing

After three years in an abyss, this

Vessel is still lost

Recovered only just

Now that corruption has been pushed aside

Although for years these people have cried

And cry they still will

On and on until

Light shines down on the lost

Until someone has paid the cost

Once the truth is out and free

Perhaps the Sewol Ferry

Will no longer be cause

To only think of loss

But to think instead of strength

Of how what people can do together is great

Of a memory that will never fade

Of debts that shall be repaid

Of a hope that will never die

Of the lost souls which will fly

Never shall these wrongs be right

And we all shall continue to fight

And finally, at last, darkness will be overcome by light

The Story of Tonight

I am the type of person who is often unwilling to admit when I am slow about things, but if you know me, I don’t even have to tell you that I am very slow at understanding myself. You see, self exploration in recent years has been a little bit dangerous for me because too much of it would lead to depression and self-loathing and put me further into the deep dark cyclical pit that I was trapped in. So I avoid trying to learn too much about myself as much as I can, in all honesty, at least when it comes to serious things.

This being said, one of my roommates this evening asked me why I felt these things about myself and it definitely led to a lot of tears because I don’t have answers that can explain why I can’t love myself. But as I’m laying here in bed, musing over these things and texting my mom and best friend back home, the two people who know me better than anyone else in the world and who I love more than anyone else in the world, I have realized that perhaps I have been asking the wrong questions. Perhaps I’ve been looking at this wrong. I’m not blaming this on anyone at home, but I truly feel I needed this. I needed to leave home and be surrounded by an unfamiliar city, language, and people because without that, how can your perspective ever change and grow?

I remember when we were having our senior brunch at my home church of Clear Lake Presbyterian to sort of send off all of the young people who had just graduated from high school (including myself) and I’ve never forgotten what our pastor said. Pastor Steve was there both as our lead pastor and as Luke’s dad and somehow he spoke as both when he told all of these goofy 18-year-olds that when we went to church in college to specifically not go to a Presbyterian church. I remember this shocking everyone in the room and Pastor Steve explaining that there was no way to know what we believed if we didn’t ask questions and explore and that even if we went to a Presbyterian church, we wouldn’t find CLPC there. The profoundness of that has always stayed with me and is in fact one of the major reasons why I started going to the Wesley Foundation at SFA (so Tom Teekell, if you’re reading this, you owe Steve Oglesbee a coffee or something).

I only bring up my journey to Wesley because in these past 4 years, I’ve forgotten how terrifying that first year there was. I’ve forgotten how scared I was going to this weird red brick building to decorate cupcakes and searching for approval from all these upper class men designing Sesame Street and Tarzan designed cupcakes. I’ve forgotten what being a part of that rather chaotic and unhealthy freshmen class was like and how that made me ask questions over and over again. I’d forgotten what it even means to be truly vulnerable. I had become dependent.

My dad, mom, brother, and best friend (aka sister, let’s be real) are the people I love most in this world (no offense to anyone else, these are just my people). I wouldn’t trade any of them or any of their positives or negatives for anything because they make each of them the beautiful beings that I love so much. But because I know them so well and they know me so well, there often aren’t surprises or challenges that arise between us that we either have to battle out or encourage in each other. This isn’t to say that being as close with them as I am is a bad thing, but rather that I know for the most part what to expect from them. I expect their love and their compassion and their ability to accept me because it’s who I am as a person they love and don’t really want to change me. I was so comfortable. It was the shiniest bubble that surrounded us in that little distance between Houston and Nacogdoches along the 59 that connected me to everyone I held dear. But I left that bubble. The bubble has either popped or expanded to encompass the entire Pacific Ocean since that is now what separates us. Some days, it is far too much to bear and I nearly march downstairs into the basement of our house to grab my suitcases and head on home. Some days the words exchanged in messages or FaceTimes are enough. But now I am unsure.

Because I have realized this evening that home wasn’t challenging. It was far too comfortable. I could say what I wanted and be what I wanted, even if it wasn’t a good thing. I was seeing the same people and living the same stories and it all was dripping in this sap of familiarity that I have only just this evening realized was there. I love my home and my hometown and I want to live there for the rest of my life if I can, but I know now that I can’t let that happen (at least not in the way I used to dream of).

Because as uncomfortable as it is, God doesn’t live in the places where we are comfortable (this is not to deny His presence in every asset of our lives, He is very much there, you’ll see what I mean). God is not sitting up in Heaven watching us saying, “yes, just keep doing that thing, that’ll be great, you can grow from that.” The definition of craziness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, right? I think I have been crazy for most of my life then because I’ve been doing the same stuff over and over again. I’ve been living into my comfort zone and allowing poisonous people to enter my life and refusing to be brace and bold because I believed that the only way change could happen was if God did it Himself. What a fool I’ve been!

Change is caused by catalysts. If you don’t introduce a catalyst into your life, how can you ever expect to grow and change (into the person God has made you to be or not)? How can you heal and become a better person if you allow the same awful, venomous voices to have a stand in your life? How can you see change in the world if you don’t work as the tool and weapon that God equipped and created you to be?

So I ask you (and myself) again, how can your perspective ever change and grow if you don’t leave that damned comfort zone? How can I expect to heal and love myself if I don’t find new ways to ask the questions of why I don’t love myself and try new things to bring that love like a shower on me? How can I expect to come home changed and hopefully more the beautiful creature I know in my heart I was designed to be if I don’t listen to these voices around me that want to nurture me and learn me and eventually love me?

It took me until these evening why I was called to be here in Korea. Unfortunately, home and all its comforts couldn’t grow me anymore. I was a little flower in an even tinier pot and there just wasn’t room left. As we know, flowers must be moved to bigger pots to keep growing. Korea and these new people who I care for so deeply are my new flower pot. As this evening showed me, I have a lot I can learn here, whether from the Koreans, my site directors, or my fellow YAVs. This isn’t my last flower pot either. I’m going to need another when I get home, and I am more than certain that this time it will be a bit of my comfort zone mixed in with the discomfort of seeing the world and my hometown more truly. But I am not afraid. This year is terrifying, the rest of my life is terrifying, but there’s another thing that I learned (really and truly) this evening. God is always present and when you’re willing to listen, He has quite a lot to say.

Listen closely my friends to the words of the One who is far wiser than our comprehension. Embrace your comfort zones and then let them go. Be the weapon and instrument and tool of Christ that you were meant to be. I’m not there yet, but I can promise you, it’ll be worth it.
(Side note: my family is a great blessing to me and I do not want to diminish the love that we all share for each other, nor am I trying to say that they are bad at giving advice. I just truly know that this is a season of life where I am very much meant to learn from others and not just my loved ones. Okay cool.)

“Hold me close and hold me fast, this magic spell you cast, this is La Vie En Rose…when you press me to your heart, I’m in a world apart, a world where roses bloom…” -“La Vie En Rose”

“Joey, Joey, Joey; Joey, Joey, Joey, Joe, You’ve been too long, in one place, and it’s time to go, time to go” -“Joey, Joey, Joey”, The Most Happy Fella

“Listen, what I said before John, I meant it. I don’t have friends; I’ve just got one.” -Sherlock, BBC’s Sherlock

“I need you to text me every 30 seconds saying that everything is gonna be okay.” “Hey Leslie, it’s Leslie. Hang in there. I love you. Bye.” “I love you and I like you.” -Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation

“Maybe I just wanted to look in the mirror and see someone worthwhile. But I was wrong. I see nothing.” “I cannot hide who I am, though I’ve tried. When will my reflection show who I am inside?” “You don’t meet a girl like that every dynasty.” “How ’bout a girl whose got a brain? Who always speaks her mind?” “Maybe all I really wanted to do was to prove I could do things right.” “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.” –Mulan

Helpless

I know it has been a while since I have written anything on my blog! I apologize. I originally wanted to write a blog post every week but I don’t know if that will be possible. If I can get to that point, I will not be doing as much work as I should be!

I can’t believe that it’s been nearly two months since I left home to come here as a YAV to Korea. It feels like a lot less time and also a lot more. I have never gone this long without seeing my parents or my brother in my entire life and I’ve honestly been majorly homesick and crying almost every day for some reason or another. The difficulties of this year are hard to explain in a blog post or a conversation and I’m sure when I come home at the beginning of next August I will be unpacking all of my emotions and experiences for months if not years afterwards.

I also understand now how difficult it can be to explain to someone what being a YAV is like when YAV alums have tried to explain it to me. This year challenges you in ways that you couldn’t have prepared for or expected and is definitely a time where God is constantly telling you, “okay, it’s time to grow now!” There have already been many moments of stretching and pulling and discomfort that have surrounded me at every turn and I know there are many many more to come.

One of the biggest discomforts has definitely been going to Korean class every day. It’s a good class and I’m learning a lot, but at least once every hour, I think to myself “I already have a degree, I don’t want to be in school anymore!” People who return to university for any additional schooling past their bachelor’s degree deserve a lot more credit than I’ve been giving them! I cannot even imagine what willingly committing to more classes would even feel like.

Another big struggle has been going to my worksite on Mondays through Wednesdays. I am trying to help and teach English at a children’s after school center called Beopdong after the district it’s located in. I enjoy everyone who I work with there, but no one who is there regularly speaks English. This has made understanding what my worksite even expects from me extremely difficult, and everyday I am there has been a constant battle in my mind to try and figure out how to be a good teacher and an actual helper there.

Learning a new city and how to use public transportation has been both a joy and a huge pain in my butt. I can honestly say that I love the city of Daejeon, but trying to understand where I am when I can’t understand any street signs is next to impossible. The bus system has been very helpful and has certainly saved me and the YAV program money while I have been here but it’s very difficult to figure out how the routes work and how exactly the schedule works.

In all of this, I have been extremely helpless. I have definitely described myself as a baby to many people since arriving due to my illiteracy and general lack of understanding who to be here and how to act. In it all though, God has sent me as many resources and help as He can, and I can feel His presence through each of these people that have been willing to help me and change me and my perceptions.

For instance, I was coming home from E-mart (a major grocery store located in a mall; think if Kroger was in a mall) this evening and was laden down with numerous groceries and as I rushed through the rain to the bus stop, I missed my bus back to Hannam. I figured this was fine, there would always be another bus, but as I watched the scrolling bus routes and times, my route (105) was not listed. I instantly was filled with a panic and stared at the screen in disbelief for a couple minutes as the list repeated over and over without the route I needed. I then glanced around helplessly at all the other people mingled around the stop in disarray. I looked up and down the busy street wondering if maybe there was another stop nearby that was my real stop, because this certainly wasn’t it. But as I recognized landmarks around me, I realized that this was my stop and somehow the bus I needed didn’t appear to be coming. It was right about then that an older gentleman who smelled strongly of alcohol stepped up and covered me with his umbrella and spoke to me in quick Korean while gesturing at the screen with the bus routes. I was very uncomfortable because I didn’t know what to do and he was standing uncomfortably close to me, but I did my best to respond and told him the route number I was looking for. As we watched the screen, route 105 suddenly appeared and this man told me how long it would be until the bus would arrive. It would be at least 10 minutes and so I expected that this would be the end of our conversation, particularly because I wasn’t sure that I wanted to keep talking to this nice but buzzed man. However, this kind man kept speaking with me and told me what his route number was and said a lot of things I couldn’t understand in fast and slightly slurred Korean. During this time, he rested his hand that was holding up the umbrella covering us both on my shoulder. Every part of my body said “move away, he must have ulterior motives, this isn’t safe, you have to be safe”. (I will be honest, friends. I don’t have much experience around people who have been drinking, let alone strangers who have been drinking, so I don’t know if how I felt in this situation was necessarily how I should have been feeling, but just go with my inexperience for the time being). I also felt that I could not trust this person because he was a man and it was dark and night time (even though I was surrounded by big city lights) and I have been taught to not let myself get into those situations because I have been taught that I can’t trust strange men. The minutes ticked by with my discomfort still bubbling under the surface as I pushed it down. The man continued to try to speak to me so I tried to respond and told him I was learning Korean at Hannam University. He laughed and would inform me how many minutes were left until my bus would arrive every time route 105 showed up on the helpful little screen. When it got down to 3 minutes before the bus would arrive, I started to move towards the street so I wouldn’t miss the bus and to my dismay, the man followed me slightly. I squashed my fears and reminded myself that he had been nothing but helpful to me in the entire time that we had been speaking, even if he had been touching me in ways that I would normally not allow from a stranger. When bus 105 pulled up, I tried to turn back to my helper and thank him for his help, but he urgently shuffled me towards the bus and wouldn’t allow me to pause for even a second. As I sat down on the bus, I breathed a little lighter and then was frustrated that I had been so judgmental and mistrusting. This man that I didn’t even know was so concerned to get me onto my bus that he hadn’t even allowed me to thank him properly before I’d gotten on. He had shared his umbrella with a stranger and foreigner. He had kept me informed of the timing of my bus route constantly and had made more than sure that I was getting on my bus. I would even bet that if I had somehow managed to miss my bus a second time that he would have waited with me even after his bus had come and gone.

This man, this 아버지 (abeoji), was a simple but significant person in my story of being here in Korea. I do not even know this man’s name, but he has changed a lot in those 10-15 minutes that we stood together under his umbrella. I am very grateful to him and am grateful to God for sending me such a helper who was able to guide me in something as simple as finding my bus but was also able to show me and teach me a lot about Christ’s love and how to show it, which is a language that I hope can one day be mutual among as many people as possible.

So whoever you are and however you have helped me in these past months, years, or the entirety of my life, thank you for the lessons you have taught me and the lessons we can learn from each other in the coming time.

(Special shout out to some special helpers I’ve had since arriving here: 지혜 (Jihye, my dear friend <3), 정운 (Jeongun, my dear sister who hosted me at Chuseok and has watched out for me ever since!), and 서윤 (Seoyun, one of the girls I work with who has worked very hard to make me feel at home at Beopdong))

“If you focus on what you left behind you will never see what lies ahead!” -Gusteau, Ratatouille

“You will also find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

“When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured” – “Help!”, The Beatles

“I cannot be everywhere at once, people
I’m in dire need of assistance…” – “Right Hand Man”, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

What’d I Miss?

Hi there friends and family. Thank you for patiently awaiting my next blog post. The past couple weeks have been just a bit different and busy, but I’ll try and cover all of that in this post.

So what has happened in the short form? I arrived with over 60 other Young Adult Volunteers in Newark, New Jersey on August 22nd and began (dis)Orientation. I made lots of friends who were going to all different sites to serve Christ all over the world. On August 29th, we all went our separate ways and began our travels to our unique placements. My team arrived in Seoul and rode on a bus to Daejeon in the late evening of August 30th. We then began to experience all sorts of new and exciting foods, people, and surroundings.

That’s the chipper version of what has happened so far. The reality is a bit more complicated. This isn’t to say that what I wrote above is false. But what has transpired is so much more than can be summarized in a few flimsy sentences. I don’t mean to sound negative, but the fact is is that these past few weeks have changed my perspective permanently and I can’t hide in my world of privilege anymore. I don’t have the right or permission. There’s a responsibility now. But the thing is, it’s always been there and I just missed it.

All of the YAV’s jokingly refer to our Orientation now as DisOrientation because of how completely changed each of us have felt in some way or another. We spent a week all together basically being told that each of us had probably been living with some sort of privilege our entire lives and to embrace the discomfort that comes with it. The hardest and worst part of this was that everyone who spoke to us was not wrong.

There have certainly been instances where I have been discriminated against or where jokes have been made about some part of my identity, but I am someone who has been exceedingly fortunate as a white, middle-class American. I was not the only one in the room either who had the revelation that life was not hard for me by most, if any, standards. None of us are excused from our privilege and our responsibility to set aside our privilege as often as we can if it is for the benefit of those who are have nots.

One clarification on that though that was made often and highly appropriately: as a person of privilege, you should speak out against injustice and inequality, but only to make a space for those who can’t speak to speak. Let me say it again: having privilege does not give you the right to speak for those who are marginalized. As privileged people, we cannot possibly know what it looks like and feels like to be on the outside looking in at the wealth and imbalance of life. It is important however to provide a courageous space for those who need to speak (i.e. when Ben gives Leslie a platform to speak about feminism in season 7 of Parks and Rec) (yes, this blog will be full of references, the title of this post is, if you hadn’t caught it yet!)

So what is the point of all this? Why did all of the YAV’s get told over and over again throughout the week that we were from a group of highly favored individuals? Because it’s the truth.

I’ve already seen some of what we were taught at DisOrientation coming into play here in Daejeon. In general if Koreans speak another language, it’s English (this also goes for signage, menus, you name it). A man on the train insisted that I sit down when a seat opened up despite the fact that the train was packed full of other people who might have needed it more. The Korean word for “USA” is 미국 (mi-guk, approximately), which means ‘beautiful’ in some translations. I have felt so uncomfortable in so many ways since touching down here in Korea that it’s almost indescribable (and those listed above are just to name a few). Without going through the week-long discomfort that was discussing my own advantages and privileges in this world, I never would have been made aware of how much I am given simply because of how I look or who I am. I am highly thankful that I went through Orientation in order to learn what I’ve missed in this world and how I could be a better steward of Christ in a world where I need to listen more and talk less.

It may have been highly uncomfortable but I am glad that I am not allowed to pretend I am naive anymore. I am glad that I have been told that I am responsible for how I carry my privilege in our world and that I always was. I am glad that we were taught to live into the discomfort and take it at face value and with the idea that we are not as important as we are in our own heads.

There are other moments from this introduction into the next year of my life that I’d like to share as well. But I do not want these to take away from the lessons I’ve stated above that I have learned!!!

At Orientation, I met so many other lovely YAV’s and would love to give them shout-outs briefly. First, I was enormously blessed with a beautiful, kind, and generous roommate for the week named Elizabeth Reid who helped me get through the week and to whom I will always be grateful for her insights! I also had a fantastic small group led by YAVAlum Kaley. You guys taught me a lot about who I am outside of my immediate group of friends and truly encouraged me to live into my YAV year and grow! Thank you for being so understanding and concerned for me. I also have to extend a very grateful and special thanks to my group that performed with me at the talent show at the end of the week! A group of six other YAV’s and I performed “Alexander Hamilton” and that team is talented and wonderful beyond words (especially Laura Todd who stepped in and learned the song last minute so we would have enough people to perform it!)(there’s a video that may someday get posted to Facebook or on this blog so keep your eyes peeled!). I enjoyed every practice we had and can’t wait to get together again at the Transition retreat and jam out. I also just want to thank everyone who was there for me in some way or another that week and will name each of you because you made it possible for me to say sane and open up to you: our chaplain Alonzo, Elizabeth, Sarah, Ainsley, Rachel, Becca, Jillian, Kim, John, Ben, Zach, Mary, Akilah, Julia, Briana, Blake, Lydia, and Bridgette. Thank you.

I’ll write more about what is happening in Daejeon but right now I need to go! First day of Korean church and I am so excited! Stay golden, my lovelies!

“Head first into a political abyss!” -Thomas Jefferson, “What’d I Miss?”, Hamilton: An American Musical

(Wanted to post more quotes, but coming up empty!)

People I Love

This is the post excerpt.

There’s been one thing I’ve often not understood as I’ve grown up and gotten more out into the world and that is why people treat each other the way that they do. They tear each other down with words or deny other people things for their own benefit or are sometimes just plain malicious. I’m not saying that I haven’t done these things, but I’ve always tried to be aware of how I treat others and have tried to act in love. Because for whatever reason, I love just about everybody I meet.

I know that sounds horribly braggy or like I’m trying to make myself sound better than I am, but it’s the truth, honest to goodness. It got to the point in high school where I could look at another person who I found completely unattractive and then my brain would argue with me until I found one thing attractive about them. This has been true in other areas of life as well, where as long as I found something to connect with someone about, I could see myself as their friend.

This does not mean that I like everybody. There are some people on this earth that I don’t want to see again in this life, but no matter how much I might dislike them, I still can’t deny in my heart that they’re God’s child too and that they deserve the same magnificent love that I have received. Everyone deserves it, but that’s a long post I can write later in this journey.

So what is the point of what I’m saying? Well, I have a terrible cold right now and it makes me a bit loopy, but I was scrolling through Facebook and saw pictures of some of my friends from college who haven’t been on my mind all summer except other times I’ve seen pictures of them. And my heart broke a little bit. These people aren’t my best friends, or even my close friends necessarily, but I can say without a doubt that I love every single one of them and seeing their happy faces filled me with joy that they were happy and sadness that I couldn’t see it in person.

So to anyone who might be reading this: if you’re one of my friends from home, I love you deeply and immensely and I will miss you so much while I am gone no matter who you are and you are such a beautiful soul who I am so blessed to have met (yes, I really can make this blanket statement, because I believe it!). If you are a friend I have yet to meet: I love you already, but more importantly, so does God (and His love is so much better!).

It breaks my heart to leave my lovelies and dears and honeys and sweethearts here in the U.S. in about two and a half weeks, but I can’t wait to love even more people on the other side of the world. Coming soon with love for you, Korea!

Love to each one of you, Lauren

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