Chance Chanced Upon Us

April was rough. Claire named one of our tough spring events The Devastating Time and by mid-April I decided the title was apt for the whole month. Now near the end of May I can’t remember exactly what made all of April a slog but I do remember one evening at the dining table when the kids suggested a game, we started playing and I was totally blank. I played my turns, but I couldn’t laugh. Inside, I wondered if I’d finally broken something. April was the month I considered revising our four or five year plan to settle this place. Perhaps just one more year. I was sad again we’d missed moving to Kenya. I was tired of the effort of being here.

This weekend I met my friend Erin for coffee. I am so glad we get to be near one another again. That wouldn’t happen if I were in Nairobi. All year Erin has encouraged me with her kindness, listening and wisdom. She has heard me draft versions of my experience here. What happened when we got jobs and planned to move to Korea was Justin and I were certain we belonged in Korea. And when we arrived, we were certain we belonged in Korea. We are still certain this is a good place for us, a right place, and we are glad for the events and people and ideas that brought us here.

At church we just finished a study of the book of Ruth. Through the story of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz, the author illustrates the perfect provision of our God – there’s a phrase used at the beginning of the story to show the happenstance of Ruth gleaning in Boaz’s wheat field. Chance chanced upon her. Reading now, and knowing the lineage of Ruth and Boaz, knowing that so many generations away is King David, and so many generations after is Jesus, we know this is not chance but divine orchestration. After church today we all headed to the Han for a picnic and I sat with an older woman named Els who echoed in her own life the care God has to place us here or there with this person or ready for that event. Els said, God is sovereign. I know that chance chanced upon us in our coming to Korea, a country and region that we had not considered but then recognized as our fit.

But once I arrived, once I had my work and routine, I wasn’t certain why I am here. That is what Erin hears when I talk. That I am glad we are here. That I think we belong here. And that I have no idea what I am doing here. But this weekend when she and I talked, I understood something in a new way.

My position as school is in the Utility department. I am a full-time substitute teacher. Most of the time this is really fun. Some of the time, it’s really difficult. Rarely, it’s terrible. Being a full-time sub means I may wake up one day and teach junior kindergarten and wake up the next day to teach AP Psychology. Sometimes I am in the elementary, middle and high schools in a single day.

One of the reasons I am here is to learn how to be where I am.

Being present is important to me. I try. I really, really try. And in the years since my son was born, I’ve felt less and less a fight to stay with what’s in front of me: marriage, children, work, writing, relationships. In Kuwait, I meditated on Psalm 16:5, 6.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places: Be here, now. Grow here, now. Enjoy here, now. So while I was in Kuwait, I started learning this practice, to be where I am, to be useful and open and ready where I am, to love and desire what is right where I am. And in Kuwait I had the lines I traveled to school, to the Gulf, to coffee, to church, to the Gulf, to the Avenues, to brunch. I had so many little routines, like a coffee order each morning or stretching each evening or running my miles each day or walking a loop around campus between classes. All these little routines I could expect or anticipate just made the day work.

And then I move to Korea where my work day is just not the same from one to the next. Outside of the school day we scrambled for a new routine of walks or games or dinner, a new way of gathering with friends, new transportation. And inside the school day, we made our way too. But instead of enjoying a sense of control or competence in a new classroom, I’d surrendered to this odd, challenging role as a sub. What I love about the work is seeing the school from the unique vantage of stepping into a variety of grade levels and subject areas, appreciating the work of so many of my colleagues, enjoying the fun of so many different student ages and personalities. But the work can feel disjointed. On Friday I conferenced with grade seven writers, but unless I make a point to return to their classroom in another week or two, I won’t read the finished essays. One day I was in the pool encouraging kids to kick with straight legs, put their faces in the water to blow bubbles, while one boy didn’t want to get into the water at all, despite gentle coaxing – and I wonder if he got his body wet by the end of his swimming unit. My first day in junior kindergarten I sat cross-legged with a couple of boys building Lego and one girl walked up to me, put her hands on my cheeks and made a fish face. We laughed. So I really love this job but it’s stretched me to be where I am.

I think that’s why I’m here. One of the whys of Korea is for me to better learn how to be where I am. Love and serve where I am. Surrender to the moment, the work, the conversation. Chance chanced upon us and we are here in Korea, nearing the end of our first school year and it is good we are here and I am glad we will return.

(1094 words)

Finding Form

Finding Form

I still want to figure out the lyric essay so I am practicing with baby essays. I don’t think the following is quite a lyric essay. But it’s a chunk I can work with, developing the strands of settling a new home, being a substitute teacher and running along the river. Maybe I’m too hung up on the idea of writing lyric essays and what I really need to do is write so prolifically I find my own form.

(Which I still hope is lyric essay).


Yesterday I subbed the last block before the weekend, a middle school strings class. About twenty kids came in the room, opened their instruments and started tuning. A few didn’t know how to tune their cellos or violins. One told me the teacher helps them, could I help them? I don’t know how, I said. To the class I asked anyone having trouble tuning to raise their hand and someone nearby would help and that’s what happened. Kids got up, stepped around open cases and music stands, plucked strings, drew a bow across. Heads bent to listen. The first violin played a note for everyone else to tune to. For the first minutes after, everyone practiced their own part of a song. I was standing where the conductor would stand but not on the box. I watched. I thought it was a mess but I liked it so I got out my phone and started to record.

Parts of this transition to Korea are easy. Running outside is easy, even in the rain, even in the humidity, because it feels like my whole body is lifting when I look up and see green hills or heavy clouds. There is so much rain that the river is muddy from runoff. Grasses on the banks and along the paths are flattened by sudden floods. One morning the river licked the path I raced. It was adventure.

Walking across the street for groceries is easy. I shop here the way I shop when we are traveling. I go into a store for milk and carrots and think it’d be nice to buy a zucchini too. I stop at the wines and pick one that doesn’t sound too sweet. I wander back across the street and cook something unremarkable which we eat at our big table before playing Uno or drifting to end the day.

Right now our apartment might be one we booked for a summer out of Kuwait. We learned places in the neighborhood, like where to get kimbap or fried chicken; we found a bike loop and ventured on a few longer rides with promises of a treat midway. I walk a little farther to get a latte served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and that feels like a holiday. Right now our apartment looks transient. One woman told me her boys referred to their apartment as the hotel, for two years. When I couldn’t find the colander to drain pasta, Justin didn’t know where it was either because we haven’t divided our cupboards much beyond where the plates go, where the flatware goes. My dresser drawers are full of winter running gear and the soap, shampoo, toothpaste and powder deodorant I wasn’t sure I’d find here (most of it is here) while the top of my dresser is a mound of clothes. I may as well have a suitcase open on the floor.

We have lived in Korea for one month. We just got our Alien Registration Cards (ARCs). We just got phone numbers and data plans. At school we are all learning something new. I told Justin my brain is full. My brain is like all those middle school strings students practicing their parts. If you listen you’ll pull measures of music from the cacophony. This is why I am so glad I have a river path to run in the morning.

When I run outside, I meditate imagine wander pray draft. The morning run is a gift. I return to the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t mind the repetition. I ask the same provision again and again. I want the Gospel in my heart. I count my sin, seek forgiveness, think how to repent this day. Such promise in the Lord’s Prayer. Give us this day our daily bread: because my daughter announced she doesn’t want to eat rice anymore and I miss cauliflower and I still haven’t figured out our oven. And lead us

I like to break there. I like to think about what it means to choose, what it means to follow.

not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Such mercy.

When I ask for God’s kingdom to come here, for his will to be done here, what I am asking is for the love of our Father and his righteousness to work in and through us. I think what our apartment is when God’s kingdom is present, when his will is at work in each of us individually and together. I want that so I ask again and again. What do we become, in love?

What cacophonous practice. God works our hearts in different ways so we are what the people near us need.

This is what happened yesterday: the middle schoolers finished practicing their parts and one boy counted the tempo, the rest of the students readied their bows and they started to play. It held together and then started to come undone. The boy looked around, nodding at his classmates to tell them faster or slower or it’s your part now. I only watched. They all continued to play. A couple of students spoke aloud, directions to one another. For a moment it seemed the song would quit. Then the melody found itself and the students were at the same measure at the same tempo and it sounded like music I would close my eyes to hear better.