Saturday, February 13, 2010


"I will lift up my eyes to the hills--
from whence comes my help?
My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth."
--Psalm 121:1

Sunday night, February 7, I sat on my apartment floor, tears streaming down my bare cheeks. "Oh, Heidi!" the handwritten page in front of me read, "I can't tell you how much I wish you were here right now--I so desperately need a hug!" It was the hardest day for me in Korea to date.

That afternoon saw me high atop a mountain passageway in a truck-stop-like restaurant sitting in an oversized yellow armchair, leaning forward to catch every word from my director's lips and bracing myself for the meaning I knew lay behind them. "Joshua and I talked about what to do with some of our staff," he said matter-of-factly and then looked up at me. "This affects you, actually. We need to find a different place of employment for you." He went on to explain the reason for this new developement, a keen sense of a lack of funds to support me. My heart started to quicken even as the reality sank in; my eyes filled with tears as he detailed the rest of the picture. He suggested that he wanted to keep me, but that the other administrator thought I was the best choice to go because I'm newest. Choosing between Andy or Brandon might be like having to decide which cardiac arrest patient to revive, I suppose.

The entire afternoon, my director was preoccupied with my reaction to the news. He asked me not to go to the bathroom just to cry--which I assured him was not my reason for going. He then asked me to call a friend of mine whom I was supposed to meet to ask if she were busy. If she were and we couldn't, he was prepared to take me somewhere. When I told him I was waiting to call her until I got back to my apartment, he nearly begged me to do it then. He was afraid that if I went home at that moment, all I would do was cry. "Have you been to the east coast?" he asked. Later he suggested, "You might like to buy a book in Seoul." When he finally dropped me off at 6, five hours, two meals, and a long scenic drive later, he said, "I hope I've exhausted you so that you will just go up to your room and sleep."

Clearly, my director wanted just to take my mind off the situation, but events like these necesitate time to process them. I cried for six and a half hours that night--and the tears didn't stop the next morning. I talked with the administration that afternoon to confirm the truth of my director's words. I then marched bravely through the foyer into the dark office to tell my co-worker friends the awful news. I sat crying with them for two hours, muling over events, situations, and opinions; understandably, my mind was not in my work that day. My director approached me after my classes to ask when I would know if I were staying in Korea or not. Hanging my head, visibly beaten, I weakly replied that I'd tell him in a week. Andy, Brandon, and I lingered in a restaurant for an hour after our meal that night trying to absorb the day's events.

I've talked with several people about all this, back home as well as here. My fellow co-workers were the first to see my soggy, shocked reaction. I don't know what kind of witness that was, but I've been able to talk more openly with them about what God would have me do in this. My wonderful, sweet, friendly American teacher-friend Andy even suggested that God is teaching me the consequences of others' mistakes. I've also been able to talk with close friends and family who have encouraged me that this is for a purpose, that my director was used of God to bring me over here, that coming to Korea is still a stepping stone even if it's wobbly, and that I should praise the LORD for His great provision even through this. Scripture says toward the end of Luke that things like this "will turn out as an opportunity for testimony for you" (21:13). I've run the gammit of emotions this week, but I think I'm beginning to see things much more clearly.

It wasn't until Thursday afternoon at work that I really understood my need to have a different reaction. One of my co-workers' and my mutual friends, Matt, called Andy to ask if we'd like to come over Friday night and he said, "Do you know what's been going on? This week has been really bad for us." He handed the phone to me and I was able to explain my end of the story. Matt at first had a very sad reaction to it, but he also gave me some immigration advice and with it, suggestions to stay in Korea if I wanted to. Since then, he's listed some options for me and detailed what my next steps should be before I leave.

Long about Wednesday, I was ready to be done with this whole mess. My heart was braking, my countenance shattered. I had visions of moving into cheap apartments in Schertz, taking a daycare job, and walking to work. "If I had to make a decision today," I kept saying throughout the week, "I just want to go home." Matt gave me hope with his words that day; it was the first time in all of this that I actually thought staying was possible. He also showed me that this couldn't have happened in a better way because my director is willing to work with me: I don't have to leave right-right away and my director is willing to pay both my last month's salary and my flight back home, should I need it. Because of Matt, I'm seriously considering staying.

Today I was reminded of my story from the zipline challenge course that my father and I took last summer. I fell on the Hourglass ropes element because I gave up; it was the easiest thing, but it didn't allow me to finish. In some ways, I feel like going home would be just that: defeat, throwing in the towel, giving up. What I don't really want is to find myself back home at my parents' house next month, my senses reeling, and wake up feeling like, "That's it? You mean I'm back already? What happened? So much for that!" I don't want to look back on my time here and feel like it was a dream. I know I'll have to change schools, addresses, and even cities if I stay. I'm sad that I'll have to leave my new friends and jostle what I just took pains to settle into. But I am also confident that this is not the end. As I said in an email this evening, "I don't want to give up just yet, Dad!"

Sunday, February 7, 2010

One of the Guys

Saturday, February 6, 2010, saw me as "one of the guys." My Korean friend, Jay, had mentioned the night before that one of his out-of-town friends was coming in for the weekend and he wanted me to meet him. Jay said they'd be getting together sometime the next day. I asked Andy what Jay's game plan was and he invited me to play soccer and football with them in the afternoon. Events were added to the night like side dishes tacked onto a Korean meal until it saw us happily walking home well past midnight, content with our time together.

That afternoon I was the only girl on the soccer field: It's an oddity for a woman to be playing sports in Korea, for sure. I was a tag-along that day and I knew it, but this time no heels came with me. Andy commented that he would have made fun of me if I had worn them. Brandon glanced at my footwear of choice, lace-up leather "sneakers," and quipped, "She's fine." I still felt a bit out of place playing with the boys in my fuzzy purple winter hat, matching fuzzy gloves, and V-neck wool sweater. Oddly clad as I was, I managed to block a few goals, make contact with the ball a few times, and even score my very first soccer goal. I was quite proud of my efforts, even though we lost the three games we played. It was satisfying to get outside, breathe fresh air, and get in a little physical exercise.

As the sun started to set, I bid adieu to the boys and headed home for some needed apartment-cleaning. I got an hour into it when Andy and his friend Allen caught me cleaning up Frankie's litter box. He saw me in my plastic gloves and asked, "You're cooking?" Embarrassed, I hid my hands behind my back and replied, "Uhm, sort of." "We're going to get some dak-galbi in about twenty, twenty-five minutes if you want to come," he said. I wasn't done with my chores yet, but savory (yet searing-hot spicy) Korean cuisine was too much to pass up.

It's my most memorable and most photographed meal in Korea. Brandon and Andy took me to it after my first day at work as a way to introduce me to the finer sides of Chungju. Each month since, Andy has had a craving for it at least once--and it's impossible to finish by one's self. The dish is also one of the spiciest, if not the foremost spicy meal for me to date. The second time Andy and I ordered it, I guzzled two-and-a-half liters of water by myself. When we went out for it again, he suggested to eat a bowl of rice alng with the meal as way to give my taste buds a rest. He said they were adjusting to the heat and the next time we'd get it, it wouldn't be so bad.

With these faintly unpleasant memories in mind, I thought about Andy's plan that night. "I don't know if I'm ready for this," I told him. Twenty minutes later, however, I walked out of my apartment to join them. Surprisingly, I held my own that meal. I remembered to order rice--alternating one bite of it with one bite of galbi--and downed probably an entire liter of water. But I didn't complain once and Andy mentioned he was proud of the way I handled it. Afterwards, the two guys had plans to meet Brandon and Jay at the PC bang for some Star Craft and later go for some friendly dart rounds. I had the full intention of walking them to the room, checking my email, and calling it a night--a fifteen minute run. Three hours later, pool stick and paper cup of coffee in hand, I hadn't done it yet.

We stayed at the PC bang another forty-five minutes, just long enough for Allen's girlfriend to arrive, then headed to throw a few darts. The six of us formed three competing teams and I alternated between being with Brandon and with Allen's girlfriend. Though my hand-eye coordination is somewhat out of practice, I managed to keep afloat in our matches, surprising myself on my final scores--even scoring a triple twenty in one match, which earned me 60 points one round. Brandon and I were sadly second place the first go-round and I watched his score skyrocket with Andy as his partner the next. He commented that to have such disparing scores so close together proves that the game isn't really based on consistent talent. I looked at him and smiled, "Either that or it's your partner."

After darts, someone (probably myself) suggested that we could play a little pool to finish out the night. Both Allen and his girlfriend proved to be quite adept at this game of angles, with Allen winning every game he played. We started with two teams of three--Brandon, Allen, and myself on one and Andy, Jay, and Allen's girlfriend on the other. Andy kept telling himself that he was the worst player among us and his record for the night could attest, as he was without even one pocketed ball after two or three rounds of pool. I wasn't much better, having only made two or three of my dozens of shots. Brandon sat down next to me during someone else's shot and agreed that Brandon and I were both horrendous. We were all so bad that at one point we played with Allen on one team and the five remaining of us against him, an event Allen admitted wouldn't be hard.

It wasn't until the game of Cut-Throat that things started to turn around for any of us. For this game, we needed three teams of two. Brandon and Jay formed one team, while Allen's girlfriend and I made up another one. Andy confessed that he wanted to be with Allen, if only to absorb Allen's glorious win and not be responsible for sinking any balls. The game was fairly even for more than half of it: None of us could seem to knock enough of the other balls into the pockets to make progress. Andy stepped up to his shot towards the end of the game and let the cue ball fly. It was a long shot and bounced around on the table some, but slowly his ball made its mark, knocking another ball into a pocket besides.

As his opponents' balls crept to their target, Andy's face elongated in slow motion with a silent "O" stretched nose to chest, mimicking a small boy in his surprise and amazement. As it was still his turn, he took aim again, this time clearing four more. After that upset, no other team stood a chance and Allen and Andy went on to win this final match. Brandon and I thought about it later and concluded that Andy had beated both of our scores for the whole night in that one turn. He schooled us all that night with his record six pocketed balls. So much for him thinking himself the worst player in the group. Here's to you, Andy. Cheers!