Spring In Seoul

    It should be considered a travesty that I can title a post “Spring in Seoul” and not include a single picture of cherry blossoms.  About a week ago every patch of dirt peeking through the concrete was suddenly filled with flowers.  Pear trees and azaleas in every shade from white to red, forsythia, lilac, clematis, orchids outside of every restaurant, and exotic-looking bleeding hearts and columbines enchant the city like rainbow will-o-the-whisps appearing around every corner and peeking out from the most unexpected places. There are no daffodils- no Bradford pear trees (and no one mourns,) and its colder that we are used, so we can still be found wrapped in our coats and huddling in the sun, but in every place that grass triumphs over concrete there are kids, pulling off their shoes, picking dandelions, splashing in puddles and climbing up every vertical surface.

DSC02377Every Korean kid has his own umbrella and when I have taken my little ones out without umbrellas other adults will actually hold their umbrellas over my kids heads as they walk along with us.  Here David is walking home from the library holding the new sketch book which the librarians gave to every child to celebrate library week.

Elliana at Blute

Elliana at Blute

On Thursdays we join a group of our neighbors for a hike around Seoul.  Our first hike took place in a drenching, cold rain, (one of those times when strangers felt the need to hold their umbrellas over my boys.)  To hide from the rain our guide brought us into a hybrid coffee shop/florist called Blute.

Choco mint latte

Choco mint latte

The kids were soaked and freezing, (a trend I am noticing about our time in Korea.  Maybe it is time to invest in rain coats.)  Wanting to reward them for their courageous attitudes I bought them a 6000W ($6) Choco Mint Latte (mint hot chocolate.)  I thought I would be smart and read the name in Korean.  After about five minutes of sounding out the Hangul characters I realized they were pronounced  “choco mint latte.”

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With every tray a bouquet!

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Entering Blute is like stepping into a pre raphaelite painting.  There were so many neat details that I let the kids take turns wandering the store with my camera and practicing their photography skills.  Leave it to David to break into some kind of class happening in the basement and snap this priceless shot that just shows what it is like to be David.

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If rainy days are flower shops and fancy hot chocolate, sunny days are compost and the community garden.  We were blessed to meet a family who brought us on board with this start up venture.  This week we interrupted our school day to gather green waste and stuff pallets for lasagne gardening.  Saturday the men managed to somehow find a wheel barrow which they pushed off into the furthermost reaches of Hannam village and magically returned filled with dirt.  The kids helped transport the dirt over the chain link fence and spread it on our garden.

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We call this creative gardening- yes, those are mixing bowls.

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No garden is complete without a fairy house.

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Haughty Eyes

This week I began to meet people- insistently initiating conversations on the playground, forcibly inserting myself into face book conversations, doggedly hounding those poor people who had given me their phone numbers into becoming a part of my social circle and trying to impress everyone with how great I am.  Yeah, you read that last part right.  See, I had planned on blogging a tour of my new apartment this week, but it turns out God wanted to take me on a tour of my heart instead- and it stinks.  Proverbs 21:4 says “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, The lamp of the wicked, is sin.”  A lamp shines outward, spreading the light it contains to those around.  So, if haughty eyes and a proud heart are the lamp of the wicked, maybe they are the visible manifestations, or output of wickedness.   If so, what does that say about me?  I have been looking around myself at the residents of my new home with haughty eyes.  I have pride-fully considered others as less than myself- “ I bet they still have boxes to unpack.”  “I bet they aren’t having as nutritious a dinner as us tonight since I have already cooked this morning and they are just running to the commissary at 6 pm.”  “I would never treat my kids like that.”  I am a show-off, eager to present my “togetherness” to others.  The truth is that every good thing in my life- the blessings I enjoy in my family life, my beloved husband, my relationship with Christ- are all gifts from God, and not only do I do nothing to bring them about, I am almost constantly a terrible steward of them.  If you got 30 seconds to glimpse into my heart you would be sickened by the inclinations and thoughts from silly to violent, from unwise to pornographic, that are laced through my nature.  If you could know this real me- the base and ugly adulteress, ill-tempered and lustful, then you could see just how much God does for me every day.  If you could see how He intervenes to protect me from myself and how He festoons me gifts of righteousness- a moment of patience here, a glistening drop of compassion there, a sparkle of faith piece by piece remaking me- then you would know that He is undeniably gracious and mighty and good!  If you could see how bad I really am than you would know just how incredible He is.  Yet, I spend all day every day trying to create the opposite effect.  Rather than letting you see how great is the work He has done in my life, I spend a ton of energy trying to make it seem as if I don’t really need Him.  I hide His signature on my life by making it look like I have it all together.  I hide Him and that is wickedness.  Proverbs 21:10 says “The soul of the wicked desires evil; His neighbor finds no favor in his eyes.”  1 Corinthians 13:4 says “Love… does not boast, it is not proud.”  Proverbs 6:16 says that God hates and despises haughty eyes.  My haughty eyes need to be cut out.  Ugly scars would be a better reflection of the real me and blindness would give others a chance to watch God’s gentleness and romance in leading me.

A Great Sense of Humor

Before we moved to Korea my father gave us a piece of lighthearted advice. “There are two things you need to enjoy your time in Korea: a great sense of humor, and no sense of smell.” We knew the second was true the minute we landed, but it has taken experience to understand exactly what my father meant by saying we needed a great sense of humor. It may be true of life in any foreign country, but our last few weeks have been full of moments where we had to chose between frustration and laughter. Whether it was trying to transport five people, five suitcases, three bags, a box of groceries, and a guitar in one taxi or walking three miles with the kids to the hospital for more asthma medication only to have our appointment rescheduled for six hours later. Or maybe the time we got settled in the booth for a nice American meal at Outback, only to have our eyes pop out of heads when the menu revealed the prices were nearly double what they are in the states. Oh, and not forgetting the time the automatic gate broke and it was raining and dark and we had to walk the entire perimeter of the village along the back alleys of Seoul. Yes, we are learning to rename disasters as “adventures,” but our greatest test yet came yesterday.
The buds are beginning to open on the cherry trees, and in Seoul that means city wide picnicking. So, we packed up a bag of sandwiches, fruit, dip, and water bottles and hopped on the subway for the Seoul Children’s Grand Park. (Which, by the way, is about the most amazing free attraction for families in Seoul!) We planned to spend the day at the free zoo, riding a few cheap rides, and picnicking, then watch the musical water show and ride the subway home. We pictured a day of family fun and Korean culture and the Park is defiantly a great place for that, but, well…. First we learned that one of our children gets claustrophobic in the tight packed Korean body crowds. He coped pretty well until he tried to curl up on the floor in the middle of the bird house. So we broke away from the crowd, lost two kids on the playground and eventually regrouped. When we caught our breath we realized we were in the middle of a series of beautiful water features: fountains, waterfalls, tranquil pools, all strung together over rocks and under bridges to form a man made stream. In that stream, with rolled-up pant legs and bare feet Korean children were wading. Coats (still needed in the windy 50 degree temperature,) were laid on the river bank, homemade boats floated down the current, older siblings helped younger ones keep their footing in the gentle flow- the more adventurous children were even climbing the low limbed trees that over hung the water. In short it was idyllic- a paradise of peace and play- or at least it was until three loud America children stampeded into the water in a cloud of splashes and shrieks. While every other child enjoyed the water quietly without even splashing their shirt sleeves, in a manner of minutes our three were completely soaked from fleece pullovers to sneaker-ed feet. (How did they even get their shoes wet when we had taken them off before they entered the water?) They had a few minutes of bliss racing up fountains and down waterfalls and ruining the tranquility of the peaceful ponds before the temperature suddenly froze them in their tracks. Then, there we were standing in the middle of Seoul Children’s Park in the middle of a crowd of silent, staring Koreans, with three dripping, freezing, crying children. (Dallas here insists I interject that he was only half soaked, and freezing and was not crying, so I guess you can change that to two freezing, dripping, crying children, and one who was just cold.) What could we do? We had at least an hour walking and riding the subway in order to get home and we were quickly realizing it was way too cold to make the kids suffer the consequences of their actions. We attracted actual pointing and staring from the Koreans with their kids in coats and hats as we carried our shivering, crying troop through the park in search of a restroom. There we split our forces and rung out the kids clothes. Alone in a bathroom stall holding my shaking, crying little girl, who was trying to form possible solutions between her blue lips- “Maybe Daddy could go home and get us clothes and we could wait here?”- I had a decision to make. Elliana was soaked, and it was getting colder, we had a long ride home, and I was wearing a cami and a cardigan, no extra jacket, what could I do? I took Elliana’s pants and dried them in the hand drier as best I could, then I wrapped her in my cardigan. The neck line was too low so I turned it around backwards, and used my earrings to hold it closed. I stuffed her wet clothes in the massively heavy picnic basket, that it was becoming apparent I had carried needlessly all day, I hoisted Elliana up and walked out of the stall- in my spaghetti strap camisole. Given the choice between my daughter’s health and my modestly what else could I do? Outside I found Kenny had similarly clothed our wet boy. So we walked out of the park: Kenny and Dallas followed by David, still crying and blue wearing his daddy’s pullover which reached his shins with the sleeves dragging shapelessly off the ends of his arms. Then me, wearing a cami, carrying a picnic bag, and a crying girl in red cardigan fastened with robin’s nest earrings. And if we thought people were staring before, well, you just have to picture a crowd of Asians in winter coats, parting like the red sea before the family of soaked, half naked Americans. Once we got to the subway I huddled in a corner, trying to hide behind Elliana, and warm up David at my side. Here we decided to do some clothing shuffling. David had mostly dried (or at least stopped dripping) under Kenny’s hoodie, so we decided to give the hoodie to Elliana and get me back my cardigan- and on a side note, if you are ever an America considering wearing a tank top in Korea, don’t! They can wear skirts that are only six inches long and its fine but let an American show her arms and the mothers will cover their kid’s eyes and turn them away in horror. So, we were in the middle of trying to shirt swap surreptitiously- I had Elliana half out of my cardigan and mostly into Kenny’s pullover- when a random Korean man decided Kenny would be a good place to practice his English. “Hi! What your country?” Umm… how do you say we’re Americans and would you excuse us while my wife gets dressed in the subway? Then another friendly Korean sat down next to David. Seriously, we ride in ignored silence every other time but when we are wet, naked, and miserable, everybody wants to be our friend. This Korean actually put his arm around David and started taking pictures of him and talking about how cute and friendly he was… until he felt the wetness from David’s still soaked cargo pants soaking through his own jean leg. Then delight turned to horrified confusion and we had no idea how to tell him it was water not pee. Eventually we got home, and got baths and hot soup and bed, and our day of family fun and Korean culture was behind us. That’s when Kenny and I sat down on the couch and cracked up. I will never forget my Hester Prine walk through Seoul Children’s Park, or Elliana shivering in her designer outfit, or David wetting on a man on the subway. We all have those experiences that we know we will laugh about later, but to really enjoy your time in Seoul you have to learn to laugh about them as they are happening. My dad was right, you need a great sense of humor- and possibly the Korean words for “water, not pee.”

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Seoul Children’s Grand Park

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The Musical Fountain

The Wading Creek

Part of the Wading Creek

The Moment Before Disaster Struck

The Moment Before Disaster Struck

Comfort Idols

My associate pastor, Tim Gwin, once taught a Sunday school class on idolatry.  He said that you know you worship something when you are cut off from it and can no longer be happy or satisfied.  He also said that an idol is anything you look to for your self worth other than Christ.  We are currently living without most of our worldly possessions, in a country where we know no one, without a church home, and I am convicted.  When I think about all the things I miss: cooking, talking to friends, painting, taking care of the house, our activities at church, I am aware that I might as well be listing my idols.  I am proud that I cook homemade meals for my family.  I feel a mite superior when the house is tidy and organized.  Even my friends and activities at church (while essential towards my growth in righteousness,) can be used by my twisted heart as an easier path to comfort or happiness.  Now, separated from all these things, I find myself discontent, dissatisfied, missing out on chances to enjoy my children or my husband because I want the things that make my life more comfortable.  I want my comfort idols!  I say the joy of the Lord is my strength and that I rejoice in the Lord but this time is showing me that in practice I actually use a lot of other things to make myself feel good and I call it rejoicing in the Lord.  Really I am rejoicing in the things the Lord has given me, which is fine, until I become so dependent on them that I can’t serve Him without them.  I see now that all the times I let myself become moody or overwhelmed what I am really saying to God is “I can’t enjoy You until You make this other thing the way I like it!”   I am not glad that I still haven’t figured out international grocery shopping, or that it has been nearly two months since my last social encounter, and certainly not that we are currently without a church home, but I am delighted and honored that when I wake up tomorrow I will be complete, and whole, and content, solely because Christ is with me and I know He has a plan for me.  I am hopeful that the next time disappointment and discouragement strike I will be quicker to fall into Christ and less emotionally ruled by my circumstances.  I’m honored that the Holy Spirit is teaching me what it really means to need Christ alone.

The verse I picked for Elliana when she was born in Philipians 4:4-8 ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice,” it begins and then it goes on to describe the various ways you should control your thoughts so that you can achieve this constant joy in the Lord. 

I hope as a daughter of God she learns to discipline her heart to find joy above all in her Savior. I hope she learns the lessons God is teaching me now.