Today I was thinking about my first trip to Korea and how hard it was. I was 22 and had just graduated from college and moved to South Korea on a whim to teach English in a tiny town called Munmak. I was literally the only foreigner in the town. When I would walk down the street, kids would run ahead of me yelling, “Meeguk saram! Meeguk saram!” Which meant, “American! American!” Once, I got on an elevator and a kid just burst into tears because he was so terrified of me and he couldn’t escape. They could not fathom that my eyes were blue and my hair was curly without the help of a perm. Anyway, I spoke no Korean and no one really spoke English and the “school” I worked for turned out to be a joke and the director, Mrs. Cha was taking advantage of me (which took me a while to figure out.) She used to withhold my mail and packages that came from America and use them to manipulate me. I was legally supposed to only work at her school, but by the time I quit I was working at five different schools and I had over 500 students. I was working a ton of overtime every week with no extra pay. I had no idea what was happening and every day was full of (mostly) unpleasant surprises.
One day after I had been there for about a week, the director told me to go on the school bus to a new school that I would be teaching at. No one had told me I would be teaching at a new school that day (after I had already taught at my school all day) but what was I supposed to do? So the Korean bus driver takes me to this Korean High School and drops me off with no advice on what to do (obviously, since he didn’t speak a word of English.) A teacher at the school leads me in and directs me to a classroom full of teenagers. So there I am, standing in front of a room full of kids with no teaching material, nothing planned, and no idea how long the class even lasted. It turned out to be the first of 3 classes I had to teach that evening. Then they just put me on a city bus expecting me to know how to get home. Also, while I was at the High School I had one of my first experiences with the traditional Korean toilet, which is basically just a hole in the ground. I decided to wait until I got back to my apartment to use the bathroom. Well, I had no idea I would be riding on a city bus that stopped ten thousand times before I got back to my apartment. I literally almost peed my pants on that bus in front of all those Koreans staring at me. I think that was the first time in my life I REALLY learned how to pray. Those kinds of experiences happened almost every day. Now, looking back, it seems hilarious and kind of wonderful, but at the time it was terrifying and unnerving.
When I finally quit that job I had to go to Japan to get a different visa so I could return to Korea and work for a different school. I had two American friends who were in the army and they decided to go with me and make a fun trip of it. They made all the arrangements, booked our flights, found hotels and planned where we were going to go. As we were getting on the plane, my two army friends were stopped and pulled aside for questioning. We realized that they hadn’t gotten the right signatures from their commanding officers saying they could leave the country. They weren’t allowed to board the plane. Suddenly, I was on an airplane to Japan all alone and I had no idea what to do or where to go once I got there. I was terrified. It was the craziest trip ever and basically I was lost in Japan for three days and two nights. I even tried to make friends once with the homeless Japanese guys in Tokyo, hoping they would let me hang out with them (they had very neat and clean cardboard boxes that looked very inviting at the time.) They rejected me, especially when I started trying to speak Korean to them- not sure what I was hoping for there. Luckily I ran into some Nigerians who were very helpful (and my African background helped.) They showed me where the embassy was in Osaka where I could get my new visa and helped me get where I was going. Here are my visa pictures that were taken that day. I look calm, but I was freaking out on the inside.
I eventually made it back to the airport just in time for my return flight back to Korea, but I didn’t have any of my luggage with me (long story.) Everything turned out ok and I am alive today to tell the story. Even my luggage arrived in the mail one day several weeks later! One of the Nigerian guys had spent $100 to mail me my luggage (I’m still not sure how he got my address in Korea.)
I have so many stories like that from my first trip to Korea. Every day I would wake up and have no idea what ridiculous thing was going to happen. I always felt like I had the choice to completely freak out and stress over all of the terrible things that could happen that day, or I could trust God to be with me and be my confidence. I found this verse and I loved it so much. It became my theme while I was there.
Deuteronomy 31:8 The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you, He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged.
I loved the idea of God going before me in my day. I pictured the day laid out ahead of me, sunrise to sunset. Then I pictured God walking into the future day and standing there, waiting for me. He stands there and looks back at me and says, “Come on. I’m here waiting for you.” He was there already, wherever “there” was, and that made me feel safe. He wasn’t surprised when I was suddenly lost in Japan for three days. He was not surprised when my boss, Mrs. Cha, started acting like a crazy lady. He was not surprised by any of it. He was there waiting for me already.
When Josh decided to go to grad school it was a big decision because we knew it would mean me working every day and him being gone most of the time. It was a big transition for our family. We also knew that it would be very hard to get through a pregnancy during that time (I get really sick for the first 4 months and can’t cook or clean and can barely care for the boys.) But, we wanted another baby so bad and the age gap was opening up between Asher and the next baby (we like them close, although Asher was only 1, which makes me laugh now.) So we took the plunge and decided to try for baby #3. We got pregnant right after Josh started grad school. It was so hard to work and take care of the boys all alone and be so sick. And that was BEFORE we even knew Lucy was in danger. It got so much harder when we had weekly doctor’s appointments and the stress of wondering if our baby would be ok. We thought we were going to have another baby, so we moved out of our little apartment in January right before Lucy died. It was so chaotic. Then we lost her and the grief hit like a tsunami. Things are settling down a little bit, finally, but Josh graduates in the spring and we don’t know where he will get a job. We will move wherever he gets a job. He’s looking in Tuscaloosa AL, Birmingham AL, Columbia SC, Memphis TN, South Korea and United Arab Emirates. Who knows where we will be next year.
Now, instead of feeling anxious about my day ahead of me, I feel that way about the rest of my life. I feel like anything could happen. It’s very likely that I will lose another baby, possibly even go through another stillbirth. I don’t know how to get through all the days, the holidays, the transitions, the new babies being born and new pregnancy announcements and all the rest of my years carrying my heavy grief instead of my baby girl. That is a daunting task, but I remember when I was in Korea and He took care of me. Even though that was a really hard time, I look back on it now with fondness. It was the adventure of a lifetime and I learned so much and He did what He said He would do. I ended up loving Korea so much that I went back two years later with my new husband and taught English there for two more years. God goes before me now, wherever that is and He waits for me there. Whether it’s in Alabama or South Carolina or South Korea or somewhere in the Middle East, or a place of more tragedy or a place of joy and abundance- He is there already. That is what gives me the strength to keep going and to take risks and be brave. He will never leave me or forsake me.