Finishing firsts

If we are going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.
Anne Lamott.

This same writer also once said of prayer that there are really only three essential ones. Help. Thanks. Wow. Never before in my life have I known this to be more true.

Four months ago- almost to the day, I moved to Korea.

Tonight, I have finished my first semester of teaching!

It’s been a pretty anticlimactic week. With classes only on Monday and Tuesday, I had most of my final classes last week. It’s not a really big deal to the kids because winter break is nothing compared to the hype we put into our Christmas school breaks, and I will have all of them again next semester. So even though my last classes were mostly just like any other class, I tried to savor them as deeply as I could and make them meaningful for my students as well. In my older classes I tried to explain that this was their last class with me for the semester, but they all misunderstood and thought I was finished teaching and moving back to the states. Those little sweeties literally gasped and started freaking out: “TEACHER NO! Don’t leave! Don’t go back to New York!!” (No they will never understand that I come from South Carolina… it’s either California or New York and nowhere else ;) ) I finished their textbook materials early so I could spend all my final classes doing fun things like playing games or writing Christmas cards. Just trying to make it exciting and special.

I’m so thankful for these last few days. My school finishes finals during the first week of December, and at first I thought that was a little strange, but with how long it takes to collect all their grades and scores and decide who moves up to the next level and who should repeat the past level, three weeks fly by and each day was packed with tasks. I’m more than ok with being on the opposite side of finals- the distributor vs. the receiver, but there were so many responsibilities to finish, including preparing all of the books and materials for next semester. December was a full, full month, and here we are at its closure. Tomorrow, all my students are coming to school for “Big Market Day,” where they get to trade in their good behavior stamps given by teachers throughout the semester for paper dollar bills. Each classroom will be transformed into a different shop, and the students can use their money to buy a whole load of things- pencils, candy, headbands, etc. I’m in charge of the snack shop, and I get to distribute the topokki, the best snack in the world. Pictures are promised! It’s going to be a sweet celebration- the kids are going to freak out, and the whole night will probably be a long exhausting whirlwind. Then, I’ll head off to church for a late Christmas Eve service, and then, me and four friends are off to the coast for a Christmas extravaganza in a little house by the sea where we will cook loads of makeshift American food and probably just sprawl out on the heated floors in between meals. It’s going to be epic. Classes are over, but there will be a few things to finish up and a multi-branch meeting…

then,

then, 

THEN….

On December 30th, I get to hug Andrew. 

I am grateful beyond words!!!

Today i woke up and made breakfast and listened to Christmas music and spent some time reflecting on the past 4 months. Sometimes it feels like I just landed here, blinked three times, and suddenly I’m one third of the way through my contract! Other times, when I look back on my first few weeks of fumbling around this brand new life, it feels like an eternity ago. I stood by my window and looked out over the city. Big, wet, messy tears started streaming down my face when I realized just how far God has brought me here…. 4 months ago i was standing by the same window, looking out at the same view, yet I was a completely different person. I prayed aloud that day over my students and I prayed out of fear and uncertainty. I prayed, “What am I doing??” I didn’t know the first thing about teaching, let alone teaching to kids who don’t know what I’m saying. My tears this morning were really good tears, because God is a God of really good things, and He has been up to something really good all this time. In a conversation with my mom this weekend it struck me: God has not only answered every single one of my prayers and desires of my heart before I moved here, He has planted me here and He has prospered me. I’m so undeserving, but my heart swells with gratefulness. This morning, I prayed again for my students, but now I know them each by their English names, and I know their personalities and I know some of their stories and I’ve met some of their families. I’m in awe of how far I’ve been taken, of just how much the Lord has done in this little tiny hagwon with this frazzled, unorganized foreign teacher.

A few people told me when I moved here that they were praying for “the little things.” At first I had no idea what that really meant. I would sometimes silently refute that, questioning what significance “the little things” have when I obviously moved here to have a BIG life and to experience the grandeur of this vast globe and new culture! Why should I care about the little things when I came here to enlarge my life? Ah. I’ve been so humbled in that thought these past few months. Yes, I will always chase after a big life, but hello- I teach phonics. One of the biggest changes that has come over me this year is how much the little things really do matter. They matter because they are the pieces of this mosaic of life, and life can only be “big” when all of the “small” has been acknowledge, gathered, and thanked for. When it comes to the little things, I have found myself continually praying through cycles of help + thanks + wow. I have prayed “help” when I’m tired and don’t feel like speaking in broken english for 6 hours. Or when I’m lost. Or when I have to watch my students cry from stress on speaking test days. I have prayed “thanks” when my principal offers me some mandu on a Tuesday just because, or when some of my littlest students pop in my office with their hands open saying, “Teeeacher have some cheeeeps!” Or when my co-teachers forgive my countless mistakes. I have also prayed “wow” when I see my students think of and write creative sentences in their essays. Or when it snows. Or when I’m laughing with new friends. Or when I realize a full semester has been completed. All of these are little things, yes? What then do we say when even the mundane becomes beautiful and magnified by gratitude?

All is grace.

So ruined. So loved. In charge of so little. I gladly accept this as true of my life and days here, and for the days to come in Korea, and for the days to come wherever I may be.

If He keeps this up, finishing my last semester will probably have me sobbing the whole flight home.

Even so, good tears. Good things. Good days. A good God.

{Pictures to come of what Christmas in Korea looks like. Thank you, thank you for following me on this journey and for hemming me in the presence of Jesus by your prayers. Again, undeserving, but grateful. You’re loved.}

Kamsahamnida! 

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One thought on “Finishing firsts

  1. Sniff sniff! Once I found a journal that Jeannette started keeping the first time she went to France. She got there at the beginning of the summer just as her friends were finishing a semester. There were tears and agony when they left a week or so later and more tears and agony when she left iat the end of the summer. Those were the good tears! I am delighted that you get this experience and thank you so much for sharing. Teaching is a delightful, humbling task.

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