Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Seoul Sisters

Seoul. A crowded, bustling city of 10,000,000 people.

My Asian adventures continued as I breathed in the new smells of this foreign country.

With my suitcase trailing behind me, I stepped onto the crowded subway and made my way across the city to have more reunions with friends. Throughout the week I spent in Korea I was able to visit with friends I had met in North Carolina, Hawaii, and at seminary in California.

You know the song, “It’s a small world afterall”? I was humming it all week as I marveled at how small our world truly is. With 8 hours on an airplane, I went from beaches and palm trees to kimchee and ancient Asian temples. Friends whom I thought I would never see again were suddenly sitting across from me.
Exploring Seoul with Eunice
 My journey began by visiting with Eunice, a friend I met in Hawaii in 2010. She showed me some sites in Seoul and introduced me to some amazing food. After 4 years, it was so great to see her!

With Charles, Eunice and Jooha at their church
I made my way down from Dongdaemun to Miguem where my friends Charles and Eunice live. Charles is the English pastor of a large church in the area. I was able to go to his church service and hear him preach. I was in seminary with Charles and Eunice. We spent so much time in classes with each other and studying in the library.

It was a joy to see them in action and see how God is blessing their commitment to serve Him. When we were in seminary, we had no idea where God would lead- but two years later I’m in Hawaii as a missionary and the Kims are serving in South Korea. We exchanged stories over dinner of how God has been at work in our lives- what a blessing!

Coming from a college of 3,000 in a tiny country town in North Carolina, it’s amazing that Juyeon, Mina and Alice ended up there (all the way from Korea!) But I’m so thankful that God brought them there because during those years at Campbell, we became close friends.

With my "Seoul Sistahs" Mina and Juyeon
Five years later, we found ourselves catching up on years past and reminiscing about our memories in North Carolina. Hairstyles had changed and we’d all grown up a bit, but the bond we shared had only deepened. Seeing them in their country and experiencing their culture helped me to know them even better.

Not much has changed since our college days :)
My friend Sylvia was an exchange student in Hawaii in 2012. Her family graciously invited me to stay in their home and boy was that fun! Her parents (who speak very little English) insisted that I call them “Mommy and Daddy.” Hand gestures and smiles were our common language- and of course laughter, which is a universal language! I became a part of their family that week and was sad to say goodbye!

Learning all about Korean culture with Sylvia and Danwoo
You can't go to Korea without going to a water park!
 I'm so thankful for the friendships I have with people all over the world. I love our differences, I love their cultures...and I love how our faith in God binds us all together. Looking forward to the next adventure!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Japan- the joy of rekindling a friendship

For eight years, Yoko lived and studied in Hawaii, an ocean away from her home in Japan. It was during that time that I met Yoko and we instantly became friends. We’d hang out nearly every night- cooking together, watching sunsets, and bonding by watching episodes of Friends. She’s got one of those personalities that is so sweet that you almost wonder if she’s real! She’s one of the most genuine and kind people I’ve ever met.

This group was inseparable when we first met back in 2009
In her first years in Hawaii, Yoko was going through a tough season of life and was battling with depression and loneliness. It was at a shopping mall, of all places, that she saw a worship team from a local church singing praises to God and she was so moved that she showed up at their church the next Sunday. God captured her heart that day and since then, she has become a very committed follower of Christ through the years.

Last year, Yoko moved back to Japan, where she teaches English to freshmen at Utsunomiya University. Yoko’s heart for her students is evident in the way she talks about them. For her, teaching isn’t only her job…it’s her mission field.
The last time I saw Yoko before she left Hawaii for Japan
 Back in May, I traveled to Japan for the sole purpose of reuniting with Yoko and a few other friends I’ve met through the years. I spent most of my time with Yoko. You know, sight-seeing was great, the food was good, and Japan is a lovely country. But my absolute favorite parts of the trip were the hours and hours we spent talking- whether it was on a train or in a teeny tiny hotel room in the wee hours of the night.

Exploring Tokyo with Yoko
Though we’ve kept up with each other through e-mail, there’s just something special about having those face-to-face conversations. It’s totally worth a trip across the world to have such a sweet reunion!

One of the most memorial days of the trip was the day I went to work with Yoko. As a teacher at a public university, she is not allowed to outwardly share her faith with her students. However; since I was visiting as Yoko’s guest, I had complete freedom to do so…so we made the most of the opportunity :)
Some of the girls from Yoko's English class
In all three of her classes that day, I shared with her students about my life in America and then about my faith in God. I also told them that Yoko follows Jesus and they can ask her any questions that they may have.

Her students were so kind and even sent me a scrapbook after with sweet little notes of appreciation.
Eating Utsunomiya's famous "gyozo" on my last night in Japan
My time in Japan was wonderful because it gave me time to deepen a friendship with a sweet sister in Christ. I think I needed it as much as she did. Her encouragement ministered to me deeply, and I thank God for a friendship that knows no bounds…not even continental ones!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The two worlds I live in

A “parallel universe” is a fictional idea that two realities co-exist. When the television show Lost was on, I found myself so intrigued by the alternate universes that characters weaved themselves in and out of. One moment they were on a deserted island and in the blink of an eye, they had a family and kids in Australia.

Sometimes I feel like I’m one of those characters, hopping between two different worlds. I moved away from North Carolina five years ago and have had many adventures and life changing experiences since then. Hawaii has become my home away from home. I have a job, a great community of friends, and have started to lay down some roots here. Life in Hawaii is so different from life in NC. Not bad…just totally different. The culture, the food, the people, the landscape; It’s almost a different universe.

Yet within 15 hours in a time machine (known as an airplane), I can find myself back in my comfortable life on the East Coast. It’s almost as if I never left. I thought about this over the weekend as I traveled home for a friend’s wedding. I brought my bags up to the room I grew up in which hasn’t changed at all. The closet is still full of my clothes and looks as if I never left. I went to my childhood church and reconnected with folks who have been going on with their lives and it felt like I had just been away for a few months.

I love being home. There’s something so comforting about waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and walking down the stairs to greet my parents, who are now empty-nesters. Walks around the neighborhood, sitting on the back deck drinking sweet tea…the simplicity of Carolina life is what I miss the most.

Yet I’m not the same person I was when I lived there. I’ve grown in ways that no one there can completely understand. They will ask me about my life and genuinely care…but years of experiences are impossible to fully communicate, even to my closest friends.

But then on the flip side, my community in Hawaii has known me for only three short years of my 27. They don’t know my roots. They can’t fully understand who I am or where I came from. I can tell them stories and show pictures, but it doesn’t even come close to fully explaining who I am. I often wish I could merge my two lives together. Instead of traveling back and forth twice a year, I wish the two universes could collide and my past could converge with the present.

Then again, maybe that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

I was raised in a family where I received more love than most. The faith of my parents and grandparents was deeply engrained in me. My life in Carolina taught me to be confident and independent. And I think it was that faith and love and confidence that compelled me to go out into the world and share it with others. Maybe God was in all of this. What if He used my experiences in NC to mold me into the kind of girl who would be willing to drop everything to start a new life somewhere else?

I could have easily decided to stay in NC forever, but from the time I was in middle school, God put this passion in my heart to do whatever it takes to make disciples of the nations. And sometimes a calling like that involves uprooting and starting a new life in a distant land.

I’ll be honest, some days I get homesick and I wish I had never left the comforts of home. I want to be closer to my family and not face the worries of living on my own so far away from them. But then I’m reminded of the people I’ve met here that I never would have met had I stayed in one place. I think of the students I interact with on a daily basis who are hungry for the Gospel. And I think of the lessons I’ve learned that I simply wouldn’t have if I wasn’t living on my own, far away from home.

And what if my life in Hawaii can somehow be connected to those I know and love back in NC? Maybe the experiences I’ve gained here are meant to encourage those in NC who still support and pray for me. Some of my biggest prayer warriors are ladies at my home church who are unable to “go” themselves, but they send me handmade cards every month and add me to their prayer calendar and send me packages with ingredients for cookies so I can make them with international students. They are a part of God’s work here, whether they realize it or not.

After the long flights and sleepless nights, it can be easy to grumble about having two seemingly distinct lives that are SO far away from each other. But I’m starting to wonder if it’s another way God is blessing me. He could be using my Hawaii world and my Carolina would to simultaneously work together for His Kingdom in ways I never could have imagined. I don’t need to choose one over the other. God has used my roots from NC to take me to the Pacific Ocean and is now equipping me with experiences here that can in turn bless and encourage those who are still on the East Coast.

Praise God that even when I feel overwhelmed with keeping up with both lives, He is working in BOTH of them for His glory! So wherever I go, I will embrace that place, knowing that God led me there and HE is in control. Wherever You lead, Lord, I will go!
Photos taken just days apart. Top: NC with family; Bottom: Hawaii with friends

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Little Blue Pillow

Tears stained the little blue pillow on my couch. The outlines of tears past and tears present created a jumbled up blob of sad stories.

Some tears came from grieving with friends who had lost loved ones. Some were cried out during prayers begging God for the salvation of my lost friends. Many tears came from being hurt, or facing my own regrets and failures. And some tears came from nights where my heart felt as if it was being ripped out of my chest from heartache.  

That little blue pillow has had its fair share of tears. When I’m sad, or afraid, or just plain bleh, it’s all I can do to squeeze that little blue pillow as tight as I can and somehow find the ability to release whatever emotion is welling up inside of me.

Ecclesiastes says that there is “a time to laugh, and a time to cry.” For most of my life, I’ve experienced seasons of laughter and joy. But sometimes the Lord allows us to go through seasons of sadness.

Months ago, I clung to my little blue pillow as I wept after hearing the news that my dear friend’s mother had lost a long fight with breast cancer. My heart ached for her and questions swarmed through my mind. Why, God? How? What now?

I received a message from another friend who is volunteering in Africa about the conditions there. Thousands of children roam the streets, begging for money. Women and infants are dying in labor due to the lack of medical knowledge and equipment. Again, I wept over the sad conditions that so much of the world faces every day. Why, God? How? What now?

Recently, I said goodbye to one of the best friends I’ve ever known and cried and cried until I woke up the next morning. The loss was too much to bear. Again, I asked the Lord the same questions. Why? How? What now?

Though my questions were unanswered, I knew that God hears the cries of his children and he won’t turn a deaf ear to them.

Sometimes we think we must have done something wrong if we are going through a season of sadness. If we’re following God, we should be happy, right? Or could it be that the thousands of tears that were spilled onto my little blue pillow could be watering a seed that will one day turn into a beautiful flower?

Maybe God allows us to go through trials and hard times, not to punish us, but to increase our dependence on him and strengthen us. Maybe he burdens our souls in order to pray for his people and to spur us into action. Maybe if life was all butterflies and rainbows, we wouldn’t understand our need for Jesus.

Scripture is filled with God’s promises for the heavy-hearted:
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” Psalm 55:22
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”    1 Peter 5:10
 “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” Psalm 126:5
 “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Look at these amazing promises that spring forth after a season of trouble and sadness: He saves us, He sustains us, He will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us. And we.will.reap.with.JOY!

As I’m nearing the end of my twenties, I think I have a more realistic view of life. I recognize that there are many troubles. People will always disappoint and let you down. The world is filled with evil and horrible things happen. We lose loved ones. We experience heart-break. But there is no problem that God does not care about. There is no tear that has stained my little blue pillow that the Lord has not seen.

He sees us. He weeps with us. Sadness is a reality; How we respond to it is a choice. Will you cast your burdens on the Lord? Only He can mend our broken hearts.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Firefighter, My Hero

400 pairs of feet marched mechanically through the silent room. Their faces were solemn. Each firefighter’s badge was covered with a black band, representing that one of them had fallen.  A young hero came to his death tragically and unexpectedly and well over a thousand people had gathered to commemorate his life.

I watched their faces as they passed his coffin and paid tribute to their friend, their co-worker, their brother. Their eyes were filled with sorrow.

After the pass and review, Buddhist monks lined up around the coffin and set up for the ceremony. The strong smell of incense drifted through the air. Men in long cloaks hit metal gongs and other instruments as they chanted and groaned, creating a disturbing cacophony.

My heart went out to the crowd around me. Though I didn’t know Mitchell personally, I could tell he had deeply invested his life in so many people. Most of all, I grieved for his parents who had lost their only child.

As the low, droning chants of the monks continued, I closed my eyes and prayed for the presence of the Holy Spirit to enter this dark feeling place. In a room full of mourning, hopeless people, I prayed that God would be the one who would comfort their weary souls. No amount of chanting to Buddha could ever do that.

Friends and co-workers of Mitch then went forward to share stories about him in remembrance of his life. The stories made us laugh and cry. He truly seemed to have lived a life of love and excitement.

The very last person to share a word was my favorite firefighter in the world. He slipped out from the seat next to me, walked to the front, unfolded a piece of paper from his pocket, and looked out at the crowd. His deep brown eyes were full of compassion, kindness, and confidence.

He began by offering condolences to those who had been close to Mitch. Then he so eloquently and graciously presented the Gospel of Jesus to this crowd of lost people. He didn’t shy away from the truth. He saw the opportunity and used it to offer HOPE. His words were spoken out of love, not of condemnation.

From my seat, I looked at my sweet boyfriend while my eyes filled with tears. I had never been so proud of anyone. I was so proud of his strength and his willingness to shine for Jesus in the darkest of places. Carmi and I have very different “mission fields,” but I’m convinced his is the hardest. Even though he isn’t a vocational missionary like I am, the way he lives his life every day points the souls of those men to Jesus. They see a difference in the way he treats others, the way he serves without being asked, his faithful commitment to me, and even through the things he refrains from saying and doing. The battle is tough, but he is doing so well.

God calls us to be wise in the way we act toward outsiders and to make the most of every opportunity. My sweet Carmi lives up to that calling every day.

“Jesus wept with Mary and Martha. And He is weeping with us now. He’s here to offer us hope when we place our trust in him.”

His words gave hope and spoke life into a desperate and sad situation. When life is hard and I face difficulties, I pray I will have the same strength I see in Carmi.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Lessons through Relationship

At the age of 25, I had still never been on a real date. I was certain that I was a weirdo, but I was perfectly okay with my single state. I even wrote a blog about how being single was a blessing.

But then on January 15th, I met this local boy with a backwards cap and a friendly smile and I was smitten. We began a friendship and before I knew it, I was in a relationship for the first time! The emotions and experiences that most of the world faces at the age of 16 were suddenly hitting me in my mid-twenties.

Childish excitement kept me from sleeping as I re-played the sweet moments of getting to know this special young man. I had NO idea what I was doing. He didn’t exactly know what he was doing either, but it was fun to figure it out together :)

Months passed and our relationship continued to blossom. What I didn’t anticipate was all of the lessons I would learn through sharing life so closely with another person. The parts of myself that I had usually kept hidden from others were now exposed as my heart had been opened.

This process was painful! My sinful nature (pride, jealously, selfishness, etc.) came to the surface. It’s never fun to have someone see your faults and especially to admit your own faults. This year has brought me to my knees in repentance more than ever before. While this was extremely challenging at times and brought on so much stress, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a deep appreciation for the cross and what Jesus did for me. In the past, I always felt like a pretty “good” person. I may say a little white lie here and there but I couldn’t really pinpoint my sins. But after being in a relationship and dealing with these new emotions, I realized the weight of my sins. It brought me to the feet of Jesus and I could finally grasp what it meant for his blood to wash over my sins and make me white as snow.

Being in a relationship is teaching me to be more like Jesus. No longer am I living for myself. I no longer do whatever I want, whenever I want. I have another person to consider when I make decisions. His needs and wants come before my own. Laying down my selfishness has been a refining process in itself. It’s been a challenge to let go of some of my independence. In my single days, it was common for me to go on walks at midnight to pray and spend time with God. However; knowing that this makes my boyfriend extremely worried has caused me to give up what I want to do in order to keep him from worrying. I’ve had to lay down my pride and ask for forgiveness many times when I’ve failed him.   

Loving another person and being loved by him has taught me so much about God’s love for me. Even on the days when I am moody, emotional, and I sin against him, he is patient, forgiving and loving. I feel so unworthy, yet he loves me anyway! And to think that God’s love is even better than that! His love for us is PERFECT and holy. It’s also been a great joy to love God by loving him. I want to always be there for him to encourage him, support him and pray for him. I’m not perfect at it, but I strive to love him in the same way that Christ loves me.

The theme verse through our relationship has been “Love endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13: 7). Even though we come from vastly different cultures and upbringings; Even though we disagree on some things and each have our own quirks; Even when our eyes are swollen from crying and we just want to give up- we strive to glorify the Lord together.

Being in a relationship is harder than I expected. If Satan has his way, a relationship has the potential to distract you from God. We have to constantly strive to love Christ first, then love each other. Some days are hard and it isn’t always a magical fairytale, but the JOY that comes through striving to give of myself and love another person; the BLESSING of being loved no matter how unloveable I am…this has made this year one of the most teachable years of my life. I’ve grown up a lot. I’ve matured as I pray daily to seek the LORD for his favor and direction for the future.

I’ve learned that no matter which season of life I am in, God is still the same. He teaches me different things in different seasons. Whether I’m single, or whether I’m in a relationship with a godly man, or whether I’m married one day- I want my life’s purpose to be to glorify the LORD and exalt his name forever.