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Almost

13 Jun

Jiwon, I, and Yunju. AKA my roomies.

It is JUNE! 

어떻게?! 

This means I’ve made it ten months away from home. Except that statement feels somewhat false, since Chuncheon has also become my home. To put the strange mixed feelings I have into one simple phrase: I feel like the longest year of my life is flying by. I’m excited to see everyone I miss in Canada, but I’m overwhelmed by how little time I have left here. Not to mention all the goodbyes I have to say before that. Last night I couldn’t fall asleep, because it hit me: one more month. I am almost done here.

Anecdotes & updates from the last few weeks: Continue reading

Rested

7 May

A few months ago I was struggling with insomnia and anxiety. The two cycled, a chicken-and-egg scenario where I wasn’t sure which came first. And it was only at bedtime. My days were fine, happy, totally carefree. But then it came time to roll into bed and dread would take me. I wondered if I should get on some medication (for sleep or anxiety, I wasn’t sure), but I wanted that to be a last resort. My first resorts were evenings of herbal tea, lamp light, good sleep hygiene, and lots of prayer. I asked everyone close to me to pray about it, because, try as I might, I could not think myself out of it. Yes, that’s right. Me, a psych major and lay mental health awareness-freak was still thinking “if I try harder, if I do something right, this will go away.” The exact type of thinking I’ve always believed our society needs to abolish, because that’s the approach to mental illness that’s probably least effective.

Objectively I knew how a behavioural therapist might approach my problem. I knew what questions to ask myself, and I knew what good behaviours and thinking patterns to apply. Except, news flash, playing therapist to yourself is also pretty ineffective. Normally at this point, I’d have already consulted a doctor. But finding someone in Chuncheon was unlikely, plus there’s always the added negative of everyone suddenly knowing my health status (and I mean everyone). That’s just the sort of thing that happens when you have health issues in a different country. You need help and translation for every little thing. People tend to worry more about you.

The upshot: time would have to tell. I played my psych games, I drank my ginger tea. I still lay wide awake in bed, exhausted, shaking for no reason, heart racing as if I were about to go bungee  jumping, and pleading with God to give me rest. Sometimes He did, and there was a short respite. But it inevitably happened again.

Then, a few days ago, it dawned on me. I’ve been sleeping normally! I only noticed because I had another mediocre night (not terrible), and that was the break from normality that drew my attention. That’s when something else dawned on me: how true it is that we most turn to God in the bad, and not as much during the good. It’s easy to pray about stuff that’s making us feel bad, and we can be thankful when good things are being added to our lives. But when the bad gets subtracted? We no longer have to think about it, and therefore tend not to notice. Like when you take a painkiller, waiting those minutes before it kicks in: horrible. But before you know it, it’s like, “where’d my headache go?” Such as it was in the case of Deborah’s anxsomnia! Every night I was hitting  a brick wall, wondering when God would take compassion on me. Then when He did, I didn’t so much as thank Him, because I didn’t even notice.

I have a post-it by my bed, the prayer leftover from my sleepless nights:

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. – Psalm 94:19. Lord, that it may be so with me. Deliver me, that I may rest in you.

What it means to rest in the Lord is a lesson I’m still learning. I can use every pat textbook cure until the cows come home, but it’s not till I realize that God is the only thing I should lean on for consolation that I’ll actually find it. And when I do, the impulse shouldn’t be toward neutrality, ambivalence, or forgetfulness. It should be toward joy! Thankfulness! Praise!

This isn’t me saying I’m cured. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have a problem like this again in the future. But until that happens, and/or when that happens, I’m going to remind myself that God already brought me through it before. He is faithful and He will do it – again and again, I believe my God will bring me through until I learn not just to praise Him in the storm, but also the sun and the drizzle. He always has compassion, we just have to train ourselves to see it.

Life is Beautiful

8 Apr

Forget traditions and focus on meaning. That’s the goal here, whenever another holiday creeps up and I realize I can’t celebrate the way I traditionally do. This Easter was challenging on a few different levels. Emotionally and socially, I felt a little bereft. But I quickly realized that’s exactly where my heart needed to be, in order for me to focus on meaning, and be filled spiritually.

First things first; Good Friday. The day traditionally reserved as the day Jesus dies. I was almost able to put myself in the shoes of the disciples who, in the very simplest of terms, had to say goodbye to a friend. This year, I did the very same. I lived with Doogii for seven months, knowing the whole time that she’d be leaving back to Mongolia come February or March. Unlike the disciples, who never understood Jesus’ warnings, I was able to prepare for it – but darned if it still struck me as incredibly difficult!

A joyful moment with my favourite Mongolian!

A joyful moment with my favourite Mongolian!

Momentarily stuck in a state of surreal disbelief, I hugged my friend goodbye, and watched her be driven off. I was able to fight off the tears, but that’s only because I sometimes have nerves of steel. What made this so difficult? There’s the glaring possibility that I may never have the opportunity to visit Mongolia as we both wish. I’m determined to make it happen, but you really never know what curve balls life could throw your way. But then Doogii chose her last words to us before leaving, and they were “see you again.” Not only does this sum up her eternal optimism, but it’s also the God’s-honest truth. Whether it be on this earth or the next, I will see her again. Continue reading

When We Talk About “Church”

28 Mar

Recently, my church situation here in Korea has changed. Being the native English-speaker closest to the situation, I was asked to write a report about it, for anyone who may be curious. I’ll share it below. Hopefully it will also shine some light on the Korean church as a whole, as it stands today.

Before I do that, though, I want to preface it with a few thoughts that have been swimming around in my head lately. Living abroad teaches you things. For me, the biggest learning curve has been the realization – not just the knowledge, but the actual witnessing of the fact – that church is personal. How we “do” church is so intertwined with how we approach God. And that’s something that differs from one Christian to another. I always knew this, of course, but this is the year I’ve been forced to confront, and then make peace with that (an on-going struggle). My preferences for how to do music, prayer, any sort of learning/preaching; the number of people I most enjoy worshiping alongside; style of communion; focus on Jesus versus the Holy Spirit – all these things are incredibly personal to me and my preferences. As humans we really like to put labels on that, and as Christians we’ve argued tooth and nail about which is most holy in the sight of God. Well…that’s futile. I’m so past arguing what’s the “right” way to follow Christ. Everything I’ve just listed is peripheral. We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God – and we’ve all been bought back, too. As Christians, we need to recognize that that is all we need to have everything in common with the Mennonite, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, non-denominational, emergent, whatever Christian standing beside us. Let’s accept that those who don’t do it “our” way are still under God’s care. Let’s trust that He alone knows how to deal with those “doing it wrong”. And let’s pray for our brothers and sisters in the faith, no matter how they’re labelled. They are, after all, God’s people.

***

Korean house churches a response to the ‘mega church problem’

March 20, 2013

On March 10, 2013, Jesus Village Church (JVC) of Chuncheon, South Korea, had a last “sending service” with all one hundred of its members. As of March 17, those individuals officially comprised two separate churches: JVC and a new, smaller house church called Jesus Heart (JHC). However, thinking of this as a church “split” in the traditional sense is misinforming. Continue reading

How Psy Misled Me…And Other Adventures from Life’s Path

31 Dec

So, about Christmas. I got the whole week off, which meant lots of free time! Christmas eve day was spent relaxing, watching A Christmas Carol, and attending church. The service was oddly similar to the smorgasbord of free-wheeling praise and entertainment I’m used to at home. There was the children’s song and dance which participants took on in varying levels of seriousness (ranging from the keener who knows every action to the kid who does nothing more than to stand right were their parent plunked them). There was the requisite touching song sung in sign language, made interesting since this was Korean Sign Language. There was the church choir with lovely harmonies (low on men, which I take it is the worldwide standard). There were skits put on by middle- and high-schoolers, full of laughs and confusion (mostly on my part). There was the black light and neon dance portion…wait – that’s not typical, is it? And neither was the Christmas dinner that followed: ordered-in pizza, bucket chicken and dokboki (globby smoushed-together rice in a spicy/sweet sauce). Oh well; ho ho ho!

Continue reading

My Awesome Trip Part 2: Shanghai

8 Dec

This is Part 2 of a trio. Click here to read Part 1 (Beijing).

I'm in Shanghai!

I’m in Shanghai!

The train to Shanghai moved at a speed of no less than 400km/h. Lo and behold, the man sitting next to me knew English, and we were able to chat about this and that on the way. He was mad at Canada for rejecting him a visa twice – and that was about all he had to say about my country of origin. What could I do but apologize on behalf of my country? I fully agree with him that the system is flawed, and becoming even more so now. But that’s another story. Other than that, this man was very friendly, and it made me feel more confident about travelling alone.

I passed the train ride reading (finishing!) my mystery book, and looking out the window. I also tried to ignore – and failed – the dawning reality that my body was taking arms against me in the form of a rapidly streaming nose. Despite the fact that my symptoms never got beyond a sore throat, a runny nose and sneezing, I later decided it had to be the plague because, in a country where I couldn’t read the medicine labels and nothing looked like Nyquil, there was no cure. I put up with that feeling of near-death-by-streaming-nostrils until my last day, when I finally broke down, went to a drug store, found the first person that could speak English, and trusted her about these mysterious yellow tablets that would apparently take care of everything. Whether they actually did anything or not is curious, since the conditions were perfect for a placebo effect – and that remains my only experience with Chinese medicine thus far.

Not hostile at all!Once in Shanghai, already dark with night, I braved the subway system, making three transfers in order to find my hostel. I have no idea how I made it, but somehow I lucked out (or God was leading me) by randomly choosing to exit the subway in the direction of the biggest, nearest road. There before me was the billboard that pointed the way to the Utels Shanghai City Central Youth Hostel!

Well don't that look inviting!

The hostel was very warm and welcoming, what with flag-streamers hanging in the lobby, African and Asian art hanging on the walls, and book shelves sectioning off a big, comfy-looking reading area! I was home!

My room was a four-bed female dorm; plain but comfortable and secure. In my three nights there, I met women travelling from Germany, New Zealand, Latvia and Macau. Towels, I learned the hard way, were not. I didn’t know that hostel travel requires you to bring your own, so the first day there I ended up using a t-shirt. A trip to the nearby mall dollar store (yuan store?) remedied that quickly: a face cloth it would have to be.

So started the chapter of my travels called “MCC isn’t paying for this”. Continue reading

Peace That Passes Understanding

11 Jun

This week has been a lesson in trusting God. He has presented Philippians 4:6-7 to me almost every day this week, in one form or another (usually in song, two of which I’ve stuck to the bottom of this post, for your enjoyment!). This famous verse says: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The promise is clear: when we present our worries and prayers to God, he will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. This week I have been the beneficiary of that peace…

This morning I had the privilege of speaking about my Korea Adventure in my church. Normally me and public speaking don’t mix. If I’m not prepared, the result is usually a nervous babble that makes my listeners feel sorry for me. What doesn’t help is when I actually step outside of myself and start to hear the simultaneous rebuke that goes on in my head, on top of the words I’m already trying to say. Usually they’re something like this: don’t say that – no, why did you just say that! Okay, stop it with the excessive detail. Stop waving your hands. For once in your life, Deborah, be cool! This happened to me last Sunday, when I got the opportunity to share to a smaller group of church people about how I decided to go to Korea. Beforehand I thought it was no big deal, but then I was caught completely off guard when I got up to speak and my heart started hammering so forcefully I thought I’d fall over. Yikes! Luckily what came out of my mouth got progressively better near the end, and I got some good encouragement afterwards. But let me tell you, it was not fun.

So back to today – with that horrid feeling from last week weighing on me, I walked to the front of a room that held considerably more people waiting to hear what I had to say. Was I feeling good about it? Of course not. But then something happened. My prayers about this morning were suddenly answered, and in a discernibly pin-pointable moment, the nervousness seemed to melt out of my mind, out of my wildly beating heart, out of my shaking fingers and wobbly knees, and on to the ground. A peace I’ve rarely known in public speaking flowed over me and I can say that, without a doubt, this was the true spirit of Christ Jesus guarding my heart and mind with a peace that totally transcended any understanding I have about my body’s reaction to this particular type of torture. And there’s the key: this was not about me. I am merely a vessel for the things God is trying to do through me. I was just there to tell people about it.

The peace of God guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, which means we should be able to attribute that strange, sudden peace in our lives to Him. The fact that it transcends understanding is also important – it goes to show that the Spirit of God is constantly shaping us into something stronger than we think we are.

This truth continues to speak itself louder in my life, ever since that evening four months ago when I stood in front of a mailbox, SALT application in hand, practically begging God to make me ready for this mission by the time it rolled around. And you know what? He already has. I am already equipped, because I have the desire to serve God, to do the work he’s set out in advance for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). He would never plant in me a desire to do something for Him, only to say “so there it is, Deb, it’s all up to you now!” No – another one of his AMAZING promises is that he will carry on the work he’s started in us to completion (Philippians 1:6). For me, that started with His giving me the courage to finish and mail off my application. It continued when I made the decision for Korea. Then it continued with His peace, guarding my heart and mind against my own hang-ups and insecurities when I had to speak in front of a bunch of people. And it will continue as I pack up my room, dust off the suitcases, and head out for places and experiences unknown. I am 100% sure, when I’m in Korea, that there will be  times when my heart beats so quickly it wants to bowl me over. But I am also 100% sure God will be there, whispering his unmatched peace into my heart, overpowering my inner monologue of self-doubt.