On friends and islands.

“This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we’re most sure that love can’t conquer all, it seems to anyway. It goes down into the rat hole with us, in the guise of our friends, and there it swells and comforts. It gives us second winds, third winds, hundredth winds.”
-Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

Remember that time I blogged about all the cool things I got to do during April? Well, now it’s June. I apologize for the fact that each time I sit down to write a new blog post, the FIRST thing that comes out of my brainbox is something along the lines of

“IT’S ALREADY CHRISTMAS?!” “CHRISTMAS IS OVER?!” “WOW! IT’S FEBRUARY!!” “HOW IS IT SPRING ALREADY???”

Friends. Family. Strangers reading my blog. It is summertime.

My first week in Korea, arguably one of the worst weeks of my life, I sat down to dinner with a group of people who were total strangers to me. We were making small talk, and I remember asking these people how long each of them had been in Korea.

Caleb and Martha had been here for over 4 years.

Hannah and Traylor had been here for 3 years.

Elani had been here for 3 years.

But it wasn’t these years that stuck out to me most. I remember my friend Jonelle nonchalantly replied,

“9 months.”

In my head I thought, “I swear. If I can make it 9 months living in Korea and look as calm, cool, and collected – hell, still in one piece – and not shrivel up and die, I will have truly accomplished something great.”

I absolutely longed for the day I could say “I have lived here for 9 months,” but since then, I intentionally lost track of time. I didn’t like the way it was altering my vision, making me lose myself in the “not yet” instead of being present in the “now.” So, it was a really profound moment when I was climbing a mountain with 4 of my friends and we started talking about how long we’ve been in Korea, and when my friend Elise asked how long I’ve lived here, and I nonchalantly replied,

“9 months.”

Today, I started my last semester at Jasaeng Academy. I was handed a syllabus journal that is 12 weeks long, and I know when I cross off each week completed, I’m 7 days closer to home.

UM. TERRIFYING.

I feel a little bit foolish for spending so much time being so excited to go home, that now when departure is just on the cusp of the horizon I want to run in the opposite direction. I’ve resolved to spend my last weeks in total and complete enjoyment of the life I’ve been given in South Korea.

I’m still struck with small pangs of ready-to-go. Such as: I am so excited to go grocery shopping and not navigate around piles of kimchi and live fish, or to pay less than 5000W for a coffee, or to sit on a sofa or to walk on carpet, or to not be stared at on the sidewalk, or to be able to talk to whoever I want with words that we all will understand, or to hug my family, or to drink coffee with my Mom, or to sit on our back porch under the trees.

At the same time, I’m equally as struck with pangs of beauty and not-ready-to-leave. Such as: the ability to walk or bike or bus to wherever I need to be, finding a new coffee shop to enjoy whenever I want, total independence, a plethora of international restaurants surrounding me, my cozy apartment, being neighbors with all my friends, sleepovers with Courtney, free “service” at restaurants or the sweet old man who snuck extra peppers in my bag at the market, constantly receiving gifts from teachers and students, my STUDENTS, and without a doubt, my friends. My community. The people I prayed so fervently for and hoped so deeply for.

You may have heard me mention on the blog before how thankful I am to have the good friends God gave me in Korea, but I’ve never really elaborated on who they are, or what they mean to me. Let me say now, without this group of people, I would probably have checked myself into a mental hospital of loneliness. That’s slightly dramatic. But my year would not have been the wildly transformative time of growth it’s been without community. Giving me

“second winds, third winds, hundredth winds.”

The last week of May, when Andrew was here and we were just a little slightly high on life, we all went to retreat on Namhae Island. Do you know how much I love the word “retreat?”

Retreat. Noun. An act of moving back or withdrawing.

11202649_10155553682325591_525912676248723794_nI packed a backpack with some shorts, a hoodie and my chacos, and Andrew and I boarded a 7:50 am bus that drove us through beautiful woods, over bridges, along the coast, until we stumbled out onto the beach. There we met some of my favorite people on this continent at what we in Korea call a “pension” (equivalent of a beach house), a block from the beach and right beside a mountain covered in gardens. I sat on the beach and chatted with friends and ate too many Korean corn dogs while Andrew immediately became bff’s with all the rest of my friends and I didn’t see him for hours because he was playing volleyball and football and ultimate frisbee. When we all regrouped later, he had more inside jokes with half my friends than I’ve probably made all year. Typical, and I love him for that.

20150523_194310We watched the most beautiful sunset from the porch on our pension while Jonathan grilled endless amounts of meat and vegetables. I went inside to get something, and an hour later I was sitting on the floor with my friend Simone, who I had just met, story telling and tearing up and reveling in the good and the bad of living in Korea, and how God is faithful always and in between. That night, the girls gathered in our room and shared with one another two of my absolute favorite parts to know of a person: scripture that is meaningful to them, and their story. It was rich and beautiful to see the same, constant thread through every different person’s life: God’s ever-present faithfulness, His always-perfect guidance. 

The next morning, after coffee and breakfast on the porch, all 20 or so of us gathered in one of the bedrooms for “Church.” We sat on chairs, on the couch, on the floor. We sang, we worshipped, we prayed. My friend Caleb shared a message on abiding in Christ, on living out of the Gospel and the eternal importance on setting our hearts on the anchor that is in Christ. I couldn’t think of a more perfect truth to meditate on while retreating.

11045468_10155553702560591_7613251753029545520_nAfter packing our backpacks full of snacks, me, Andrew, Johnny, Jonathan, Caleb, and Warren (l – r) set out to hike the mountain behind our pension. Straight up the mountain, no switchbacks. Absolutely exhilarating and exhausting and awesome all at the same time. In-between gasping for breath and taking water breaks and catching the view through the trees, we talked and we listened.

The rest of the trip was a good kind of blur. More good food. More laughter. Another sunset. More rest. Everything a retreat should be.

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This retreat was the first time Andrew got to meet a lot of my friends. It was amazing to see so many of my favorite people get to know him, and it was amazing to get to retreat with him. I get giddy-happy when I think about all my friends being friends with each other in general, and this trip was no exception. BUT. Better than just watching my friends become friends with my fiancé, they poured into us. They didn’t just play volleyball and make inside jokes with Andrew or I. They truly befriended us.

I got to hear my friend Jonathan asked Andrew some of the most to-the-point questions about his work on Guam. Questions that require thought and answers that require reflection. On our hike, I got to hear Caleb share ideas and thoughts directing us towards our unknown future that I’d never even considered before. We got to pray with our friends about needs we have, and desires to be met. It has been a long, long, time since Andrew and I both felt connected to people the way these people connected with us. It has been a long, long time since we got to participate in a sliver of life with people together. It has been a long, long time since we both felt intentionally loved and cared for by a community on purpose.

So friends, if any of you read this- please know that I am on word #1424 of this blog post and I hardly feel like I’ve articulated the depth of thanks in my heart. A whole lot of good was done on Namhae Island in our hearts, and we are so thankful for you all. The folks at Redeemer ICC love well, and I’m grateful. 20150524_184529

Retreating and spending time with Andrew was a perfect way to transition into my last 3 months. Andrew is the world’s greatest listener, and I got to process and unravel and unload heaps and heaps and heaps of what I’ve suppressed and kept inside and locked down in my heart over too much time. When we had to say good bye right outside of my school minutes before he would bus to the airport and I would start teaching, I felt a sure and swelling peace. We’re really doing this. This long, massive amount of time between this month last summer and where we stand now is actually underway.The long distance days are literally numbered, and shrinking every day. We’re gonna make it.

9 months, guys. The milestone I thought I’d never reach, and had I tried to go it alone I wouldn’t have made it. Yet here I am. Stretched and worn, yes. Probably a little thinner than when I started out. But well, and good, thanks to the people God placed around me. Far more happy. Far more better at being able to cook! Far more better at loving and learning to be loved well. Far more better at listening. Far better at giving and receiving gifts from others. Far better at trusting. Far better at hoping.

Far more in love with the God who has brought me so far, far more sure of His promises kept. 

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2 thoughts on “On friends and islands.

  1. Great post. Maybe someday you will publish a book! There are certain experiences in life I wish I could hang on to, or do again next year or next month…. and it never happens. They just go into the treasure chest of glories.

    1. kgstover

      “the treasure chest of glories” …i like that! I’m glad I can articulate my experiences as a way of remembering them :) also I’d looooove to write a book someday, or at least participate in the process somehow

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