Thursday, November 27, 2014

I Am Not Jesus (Thank, God)

There are a lot of things I don't know about spirituality and God and the meaning of life. Endless questions about what's true, what's real, what's important, and what matters most. We could have lengthy conversations about this week's hot-button "issues" like climate change, the ethics of stem-cell research, abortion, marriage equality, Ferguson, and the like, however, all of these questions would end with me saying, "I just don't know." And that would be true. And valid. And worth something. Maybe worth everything simply because it's the truest thing any of us could ever say, "I don't know."

It's so tempting to see the world in black and white. To pretend that there's one "right" answer or one "right" way to look at something. And this makes me really nervous. Because I think that if you look around this world for just a few minutes, from the peacefulness of this room to the chaos in Gaza, from the joy of new life to the grief of a life ended much too short, you have to admit that there aren't any easy answers to any of this. We are all doing our best in this messy life and that's enough.

I can't tell you the "right" answer to these religious/political "issues."
I can't prove to you the existence of God.
And I don't really want to.
I don't care to.

Here's what's been inspiring me lately: Glennon Doyle Melton. Do you know her? If you don't, you should. She's had a blog for awhile, but most recently she wrote a book called Carry On, Warrior. I like her. She says simple things that matter.

She made these two little video clips that I just love and wanted to share them with you because they emphasize two things I know for sure about God lately:
#1. We have endless opportunities in the digital age to form opinions about issues and then Tweet them with little/no consequences. And while it may look really edgy to judge other people's behavior, it's not my job. I may have an opinion, but God never asked me to judge people. All I gotta do is love 'em. So that's what I'm going to do.
And #2. Grace is not a big deal, it's the deal. It's the best thing Christianity's got going for itself and I think it's been grossly under-emphasized. Preach it, folks. It's a beautiful thing!



Here she talks about judgment and how we try to play Jesus by telling other people to "leave your life of sin." We're not Jesus. We're the ones holding the stones.



And here she opens with a Hafiz poem that I. Just. Love. and talks about how refusing grace is like refusing to dance at a party and picking on other people who are dancing. It's no good.




I get that grace thing. I get how she says, "I am a recovering alcoholic and food addict. Grace is the only buzz I have left and they will take it from my cold, dead hands."

If I believe what the Bible says about being forgiven (period!), then I am shameless. Gone are the days of groveling and moping around in my shame and guilt. That doesn't make me holier, that makes me a bad listener.

So, the best thing I can do is let it go.
To choose self-acceptance instead of self-judgement.
To choose to let myself off the hook instead of being myself to a pulp.
To choose grace.


These things I know for sure.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Scarcity and Abundance

Last week, I eavesdropped on a Facebook conversation between two friends who were planning to see each other this week. Awkwardly, I asked, "What's happening next week?" They promptly reminded me that they'd be together because it's Thanksgiving. Of course. It's Thanksgiving.

This week, I've been feeling the weight of scarcity. Of not having enough. Enough friends. Enough family nearby. Enough holiday spirit. Enough joy. Because it doesn't feel like Thanksgiving over here in Korea. And why would it? Thanksgiving is a distinctly American holiday. So, I'm sitting at school as if it's any other Thursday knowing that, right now, my family is driving nearer and nearer to Colorado where they will all be together for the holiday.

And all I'm thinking is: poor me.

My wise cousin, Angela, shared this video through her counseling website.



So, I'm sitting here in Korea trying to fight the scarcity epidemic by being grateful. Because there really is SO much to be grateful for:
-Jeremy
-getting to live in Korea
-wonderful co-workers
-a job that pays me money
-a nice, warm apartment
-food
-health
-no diseases
-all hands, legs, fingers, and toes
-safety
-good friends
-great family
-getting TWO packages this week
-the luxury of travel
-in short, more abundance than I could ever need.

Tomorrow night, we'll celebrate our own version of Thanksgiving with a few friends and yummy food. Chicken will have to do on this side of the world. And that's fine by me.

From holiday seasons in Cambodia, to holiday seasons in Korea, I know that this time really is a gift. Not everyone gets to spend time abroad, particularly during the holidays when you get to see how other cultures do it. And we won't always be so far away.

Happy holidays, everyone!


Sunday, November 23, 2014

On Writing

Recently, a friend said to me, "Heather, you just turned twenty-seven, you have all the time in the world over there in Korea, and you haven't written a second book yet?"

Basically: What's your excuse? 

And I know that he was probably joking and he would feel terrible if he knew how much his comment has stuck with me this past week; but his words still stung. Less because he uttered them and more because I was already thinking them.

Lately, the tapes in my head have been:
You don't have anything important to say.
You don't have anything important to say.
And...
You don't have anything important to say.
You don't have anything important to say.
You don't have anything important to say.
You don't have anything important to say.
You don't have anything important to say.
You don't have anything important to say.

And after awhile, you begin to believe just about anything you hear on a daily basis.

I've been a writer since I was in first grade. 
I've kept journals ever since I could write. 
I started a blog when I was nineteen. 
I wrote a book when I was twenty. 
I am a writer.

And every once in awhile someone will ask me, "When are you writing your second book?" and usually, I tell them, "As soon as you tell me what I should write about." That first book came easily through the desperate fingers of a desperate girl. It was all she could do to put those things on paper. So, it makes me wonder if I can only write well if I'm falling apart. And, in that case, if writing well is worth it.

I am not falling apart.
But I am not inspired either.
I don't know how to be a good writer.
I don't know how to make money writing.
I only know how to share what I 'm learning about the world.
And people like me are a dime-a-dozen.

Who doesn't know half a dozen melodramatic Millennials who want to be "discovered" simply for being awesome and talking about it online?

Many of the world's greatest writers will tell you that to write is to stretch and challenge a muscle. If you don't, it gets weak and flabby. So I've been working out. Every morning at 6:30am, I've been hitting the keyboard and busting out repetitions like nobodies business. Since November, I've been writing 1,000 words a day, so that by the end of 2014, I'll have roughly 50,000 words. In other words, a novel. It's an area I'm not comfortable in: fiction, nonetheless, science fiction.

When I work out at the gym, I am motivated by seeing results. But what are the results of all this writing? I just have words on a page. And while I hope that, surely, if I write often enough I'll get all the really bad stuff out and strike gold once in awhile, I'm not sure that that's how it works. 

But is it good?
Does it matter?
Would anyone benefit from reading it?

Many mornings I wake up and feel like all this writing is just a waste of time. Realistically, this novel will just sit on my computer for the rest of my life, because I just don't know what to do with it.

And so I wonder: If a writer taps away at a keyboard in the stillness of morning, does it make a difference?





















Thursday, November 20, 2014

A "Lately" Post

I don't always have interesting things to say (a.k.a. like today), but it's been awhile since I gave a good, old-fashioned update on this here blog. So here's what we've been up to lately:

Lately, we finished our fall season in the Korean Ultimate Frisbee league. That kept us busy a lot of weekends the past two months, so we're both sad and happy that that's over! Weekends!

Lately, Jeremy and I celebrated birthdays. He turned thirty and I turned twenty-seven. Woot! Woot! Three cheers for being alive: "Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!" It just never gets old.

Lately, I've been trying to record a little music on my guitar, just to keep myself accountable to practicing and it's been fun. Jeremy's been learning the mandolin, so we've been having nightly jam sessions together. We've gotten darn good at the Lumineers' "Ho, Hey."

Lately, I found out who my Anonymous Commenter is and I feel a lot better. Some of you kindly asked if I was doing all right and I do feel relief knowing. Mental illness is a scary and strangling condition. Prayers for this acquaintance who's fighting this fight. 

Lately, our life in Korea has been more recognizable. We've been here for more than a year, which means that a few things begin to repeat. Like, Oh yeah, it's October, there's that random testing day where they don't let planes fly overhead so they don't disrupt the testers. No biggie! Or it's fifth grade sports day, which I've finally realized means: Come to school. Bring food to share. Eat food together. All day. We're getting the swing of things, if only the second time around!

But just because Korea is "recognizeable" does not make it predictable. Oh no. There are still random moments in taxis and sidewalks that leave us utterly baffled, but I suppose that's what makes life here interesting. For example, did I tell you all the story about the time I had the hiccups in a taxi? By and large, I've been under the impression that taxi drivers fall into one of two categories: I want to practice English with you or I don't give a damn. After we gave our directions to the driver, I wasn't quite sure which camp he fell into. But after my first hiccup at the red light, I knew I needed to create a third category: I don't speak any English, but I think you're funny. We spent the next fifteen minutes trying to communicate get-rid-of-hiccups methods only with hand gestures. Not. Easily. Done. But still a grand 'ol time as he gives me a method to try, I do it, we all wait in silence and then...and then..."hiiicccuuuuupp!"

Lately, I have a new mantra when I am on the street in Korea: "I am not entitled to personal space." It's a hard one to practice and a hard one to admit that I need. My super-chill husband, Jeremy, seems unfazed by being cut-off on the sidewalk or near collisions, but for some reason, this feels like such an easy fix, if we could just ALL AGREE!....(see where this is headed?). Whew. Deep breaths. Long story short, I liked Korea a lot more before I started riding my bike here. It's a jungle out there. And instead of suiting up for war every morning and growing more upset with every block. I'm just taking it slow, looking both ways (twice), and reminding myself that--though I may want it--I am not entitled to personal space.

Lately, I've been drinking soju with my principal. This is not a daily occurrence (especially since I really hate the taste of soju), however, when the teachers at school have dinner together it is customary that people pour a drink for the principal. It is a sign of respect. I am not expected to do so as it is usually the responsibility of the head of each department, but I leaned over to my co-teacher over ginseng-chicken soup and said, "Hypothetically, what would happen if I offered to pour a drink for the principal?"

Her eyes got real big and excited and I knew there was no turning back. She said, "Oh, you have to do it!" The principal is kinda, sorta the "king of the castle," so understandably, I got real nervous and sweaty. I asked a lot of questions. I double-checked my Korean pronunciation, but then, I went for it.

I got down on my knees.
I didn't make too much eye contact.
I held the soju bottle with two hands.
I covered my mouth to smile.
I turned my head to laugh.
I asked (in Korean) if he wanted a drink.
I poured the drink with two hands.
I accepted his offer to pour me a drink.
I turned my head to drink it.
Everyone laughed.
I wanted to hide.
But he seemed impressed.







Lately, I've found a particular joy in teaching the difference between words. Some sounds/letters just don't exist in the Korean language, so many Korean English speakers make the same predictable mistakes. For example, confusing "L" and "R", which inevitably means my kids say, "I eat lice." And once I explain it, they think it is hilarious! Or the difference between "Z" and "J" most frequently confused with the words "zoo" and "Jew." But hands down, my favorite word confusion is "chicken" and "kitchen." It's a good one. So good, that someone made this video that I always use in class. 





Lately, I realized that the holiday season is coming. It's easy to forget over here because Thanksgiving is an American holiday and Christmas in Korea is not a big deal. But hopefully, we can do small things to make it special and not feel too far away. We won't be here forever. Some day, we'll sit around a Thanksgiving dinner back home and think of our memories here.

Ebbing and flowing.
Pushing and pulling.
Here and there.
Grateful.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Show // Lenka (cover)

I'm not great at guitar. I know about five chords. But I do enjoy it and want to get better, so posting videos to share is just the motivation I need.

I recorded Lenka's "The Show" for my sister-in-law, Kendra's, 30th birthday.

Enjoy!







Song requests are always welcome!
HB

The World of Ultimate (that you probably had no idea even existed...)

Today is our Korean anniversary and we're celebrating one year and three months over here yonder.

Fifteen months of kimchi.
Fifteen months of bus transportation.
Fifteen months of being the last person to get the joke.

But our lives in Korea have changed dramatically with the introduction of one little thing...

ROK-Uthe Republic of Korea Ultimate Frisbee league

After a year or so in Korea, you start to get the hang of things. You start to believe that you've experienced a good chunk of things Korea has to offer, but upon joining the league I realized how much I'd missed out on by not joining sooner. The Ultimate community is a fun one, full of good people from all over the world and, suddenly, you begin to feel a lot less alone. There are twenty-four teams in Korea. And what you may not know about Ultimate is that it is a self-regulated sport. Meaning, there are no referees. So each team is responsible for knowing the rules and working out conflicts that happen on the field. This creates some good conversation and compromise on the field, which is always cool to see. 

But beyond that, written into the rules is the basic idea that you shouldn't be a jerk. It's called the Spirit of the Game. These behaviors are as follows:
1. Treat others as you want to be treated.
2. Control yourself even under pressure.
3. Heckling is fun, taunting is wrong.
4. You can be competitive and kind.
5. If you are wronged, don't hit back. Be better.
6. Breathe. Take a step back.
7. Be generous with praise.
8. Impressions linger, your interactions matter.
9. Have fun.

If these aren't also guidelines for life, I don't know what is.

Photo by David Toft

I love playing with people who have agreed to these principles as well. It means, introducing yourself to your defender on the field and applauding her defense. It means, helping someone up off the ground. It means--as I witnessed from the sidelines once--a captain calling his own assistant captain for a Spirit Foul because he felt like he was acting out of line. Whoa.

Last spring, we started playing Ultimate Frisbee with some people around Cheongju and by mid-summer time, we were hungry for more. So we joined the ROK-U league which has two seasons: one in the fall and one in the spring. Somehow we managed to bribe ask enough people to play so we could form a legit team and Cheongju's first: the Cheongju Chewbaccas.


And for all of our excitement and team spirit, we were actually pretty bad. And I say that with all kinds of love and respect for the people I played with. We just didn't have the experience and know-how as the other twenty-three teams in the league. We quickly realized that we were only baby Chewies and had a lot to learn. Things like "offensive strategy" and "rules" and stuff. Sheesh!

Photo by David Toft

Our team was compiled of good folks from nine different countries: Korea, India, South Africa, Namibia, Scotland, Ireland, England, Canada, and the US of A. 


Together, we rented a bus and traveled to Suwon to play.
We journeyed several weekends to Daejeon where we met even more teams.
We stayed in love motels together.
We shared food together. 
We took at 6am bus to Ulsan to join in on the championship weekend fun.
We danced together.
We shared way too much alcohol together...
And then, we showed up Monday morning to teach English and do it all over again the next weekend.

Photo by Ron









And a lot of good people in the league took us in and showed us the ropes every step of the way. They made us their friends and we were so thrilled to have them. What good people. Well, except for Gannett, who is successfully squishing me out of this nineteen person-selfie with our sister-city, Daegu Tsunami!

Photo by Koko

Because while we might've lost more games than we won, we had a lot of fun doing it. By the time it was all said and done, we played fifteen games and our record was 1-14. You read that right (yes, the wins come first). But numbers only tell a small percentage of the story. At season's end, our team reached its greatest accomplishment: winning the league's Spirit Award. 

And that certainly counts for...well, everything.

Now that the season is over, I'm certainly sad, but also ready.
Ready for chill weekends.
And pajamas.
And Skype dates with people we love.
And French-press coffee.
And healing my eternal foot blisters from those 12 year-old soccer cleats.
And no more bus tickets.
And car sick patches.
And dilated eyes as a result of said patches.
And blurry-eyed Monday mornings at school.
And when my co-workers ask what I'm doing this weekend,
I'll be ready to say, "Nothing at all!"





Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Person

There's this predictable time of day around 2pm where the world drops away.

Monday through Friday the internet world buzzes with activity. But only for half of my day, because that's the half of my day when America is awake. When BuzzFeed posts videos, and Ellen DeGeneres makes jokes, and my friends are active online.

Morning.
Mid-morning.
Lunch.
And then...
drop.

The activity ceases.
The posts online are less frequent.
The emails stop entirely.
And it feels like the world goes to sleep.

Except for me.
I'm still here.
It's such an odd, lonesome feeling.
To know that--at this distance--the internet is my only connectivity to the rest of the world.
And then, it just stops.
And I'm here.
In Korea.

And then around 2:30pm, an email will pop into my inbox. And it's from Jeremy. He's just finished his classes and just wanted to check in. Because he's my person. He's the only one awake over here with me. And throughout the afternoon, we're the only ones around. The only ones saying anything.

It's like we're walking down an abandoned street at 2am.
And there's no one around.
But that's okay.
Because he's the best friend a girl could ever want.




Thursday, November 6, 2014

Wooden Box

Looking back always made him anxious. Like willfully walking into a haunted house, waiting to be terrified. Like nothing good could come of it. It's a trap every time.

It had been a bad year for Mark. A bad decade, more accurately. Not much to look back for. Nothing worth remembering. And thinking about the past only highlighted the despair. Why bother? His parents had passed away within months of each other, leaving no plans in place to settle the arrangements. Those damn wooden boxes cost more than his first car and he hated himself for thinking it.

The bad decade had started with his father's death and ended with the collapse of his marriage. Somewhere in the middle was that one DUI charge that he could never seem to hear the end of. One stinking ticket. God.

"Things will come around," his co-worker/only friend had told him. As if he knew.

"Yeah," Mark replied half-heartedly, "maybe you're right." Knowing full-well that he wasn't right. The things we say to get people off our back.

They both sat and stared at some horrible piece of "art" in the company break room. The kind you could pick up for twenty bucks at Office Depot in the back with the bulk Red Hot candies. The kind of picture that "inspires" people to give you over half their lives to sit at a desk and input data into a computer. That's some "art."

Breaking the silence, "What is that supposed to be anyway?" his co-worker ventured, motioning toward the picture. But no one answered because they both knew it wasn't really a question. Just words to fill the empty space. Were there any other kind of words?

Words stopped accomplishing anything useful years ago when no amount of them could smooth out the disjointed past with his wife. Nothing could please her. Nothing made her happy. She would scream, "You are not hearing me!" And he would scream back, "I can hear you just fine!" And then, they would retreat to their corners and wait for the courage to file for divorce. It came sooner for her than it did for him, and still, he was legitimately surprised that she'd actually followed through with it. He knew they had their problems, but he didn't realize the problem was him. All those papers. All that money. What a waste.

Every Sunday, he'd pull his red four-runner out of the garage and into the sunlit driveway. He'd spray it down with the hose and give it a good scrub. Something that always went well. Something he looked forward to. Something that didn't require talking or empty words or remembering. He'd busy himself with a detailed buffing of his front grill. It was the only thing that brought him any pleasure any more.

And he had so many things to be despondent about, "How could he ever be happy again?" Or that's the story he told himself for the final decades of his life until someone else paid for his damn wooden box.




Monday, November 3, 2014

Twenty-Seven

When I was about eight years-old, I remember sitting in our kitchen with a bowl of Cheerios. Noticing the constant, yet somehow imperceptible rhythm of the clock ticking away on the wall. It's a sound that's always there, but only important/obnoxious once you become aware of it. Once you hear the ticking, you can't unhear it. And then if feels louder than it was before.

Time: ten-something in the morning. The jagged tick-tock pattern of the second-hand and the impossibly slow journey of the hour-hand. I remember crawling up on one of the kitchen bar stools to get a closer look at that minute hand. Peering only inches away, clock face to little-girl face and seeing--for the first time---that: That things moving! Always. All the time. Whoa. 

It's slow and hardly noticeable from far away, but when you get real close, you realize that those seconds flow into a slow pattern of minutes. And those minutes obviously make hours. And those hours make days. And days turn into weeks. And weeks turn into years. And almost twenty-years later, the same obvious truth still surprises me:

Time is always passing.
We can't stop it or delay it.

And yet we try. Hard.

We lie about our age.
Some people never turn thirty.
There's this apologetic tone in our voices when we tell people our age.
We mourn the loss of time.
We wish for the "good 'ol days."
Every movie seems to feature some young, sexy thing in his/her twenties.
We try to appear "youthful".
We use anti-aging creams.
We get cosmetic procedures to make it appear as though those years never happened.
There's something so "pathetic" about growing older.
About aging. About losing hair. And physical ability.

Time is something most of us think about, but, really don't want to talk about. We have such a strained relationship with time. Like it's your slightly-racist uncle. As if time is the problem we all have to live with but try to ignore as much as possible

And I get it, because I've felt it.
But I also hate it, because I think we can do better.



And this all might sound especially naive coming from a twenty-something whose skin is mostly in the same place where it started, but as I grow older, I don't want to resent each passing year. I don't want to dread the future. To feel only hatred for the coming of age. Because, in my mind, dreading another birthday is the same as dreading the continuation of life.

If you don't want another birthday, doesn't it mean you don't want another year of life? Which means you are done with this one. Enough is enough. It means that the idea of continuing to exist is just too embarrassing. Too hard. Too much.

I think we have to make some peace with the truth that is happening to all of us.
Every day.
Every where.

We are all growing up.
All the time.

And I think half of our battle with "the aging process" is less about the physical ramifications and more about what we think that means. Because--believe it or not--there's really not much difference between being 24 and being 54:
You can still party.
You can still have meaningful relationships.
You can still run marathons.
You can still not give a damn what people think.
You can still get speeding tickets.
You can still have great sex.
You can still travel the world.
You can still be attractive.
You can still be free.

Age only means what you think it means.




And today, I'm turning twenty-seven years-old. So I've decided that, for me, being twenty-seven means:
-Living in Korea with my husband.
-Sleeping in on the weekends.
-Snuggling on the coach to watch Scandal.
-Dancing in the kitchen.
-Playing Ultimate Frisbee on the weekends.
-Playing more guitar.
-Devouring books like chocolate.
-Devouring chocolate like books.
-Doing this NaNoWriMo thing during the month of November. I'm writing a novel, people!
-Lacking a solid career, but looking for one. Eventually.
-Feeling downright beautiful in my own body.
-Feeling optimistic about this ever unpredictable future.

Twenty-seven will come and go.
As will thirty-three.
And forty-one.
And fifty-six.
And sixty-two.

And being another year older, being alive, being here, means whatever you want it to.


To many more years of being here,
HB