Marchin’ On Baby

I turn 30 on Friday. I’ve said that a few times out loud, and it never quite sinks in. The words just hang there in the air, waiting almost it seems, for something to drop. Like certain parts of me that are losing the battle with gravity. What is it Dolly Parton said in Steel Magnolias? “Time marches on, and pretty soon you realize it’s marchin’ across your face!” While my face is pretty much mostly spared still, I’m beginning to feel more aches and pains, and noticing weight sitting differently than it used to. Marchin’ on.

In my last post, I said that for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m really living. And even as I typed those words, I found myself perplexed, questioning, “Is this the first time I feel like I’ve ever truly lived?” I caught myself drifting back to another lifetime ago, the anniversary of that lifetime’s end which came up last week.

Four years ago, I was with a man I thought would become my husband and the father of my children. We took a weekend trip to Austin to watch my cousin’s car race team at the Formula 1 track, and then took a trip to the Salt Lick with his friends. He rented a cute little AirBNB, and we went to brunch at my favorite brunch spot on Sunday morning after church. It was a perfect birthday weekend. We’d been together for a good while, and we did life together. We loved each other. But the crux of our problem was that I could never be who he needed me to be until he showed me how committed he was, and he could never commit to me fully unless I could be who he needed me to be. It ended tragically, and for years I felt like it was all my fault; I was never good enough. But the question I should have been asking myself the whole time was: Is he the man I need him to be? The answer to that lies in the answer to his question regarding us, which was, no. Marchin’ on.

So three years ago last week, he called it. I yelled and threw things and drank and fell asleep on his couch. He cried and sat and waited for someone to come get me. We were supposed to go to a wedding that day. I remember I was so angry that day and said all sorts of horrible things that today I’d probably apologize for if we came face to face, not because they aren’t true, but because I hurt his feelings. Probably. At one point, he tried to wake me up in my stupor, and I noticed he was crying. I was too out of sorts to really do anything, but I remember asking, “Why are you crying?” and he couldn’t answer me. He just cried some more and sat down next to me on the couch. I curled up with him, and said very sleepily, but peacefully and assuredly, “It’s going to be okay.” I had no idea at the time just what that meant, and I was so hurt, but I knew it was true, and I believed it even then. Eventually, my friend came to pick me up and took me to her house to stay for a few days before I moved in with her. I slept in her bed with her and her dog.

I remember in the days that followed, I realized I was 26, about to be 27. When we’d started dating when I was 23, I thought we would have been married by that point. So suffice it to say, my 27th birthday was a hard birthday. I knew I’d be okay, but the immediate hurt and losses impeded my peace. I had thought, up until that point, that being with him meant I was really living. And indeed, I was in love, which is definitely a big part of life. But the way I was living life with him, wasn’t living. I had friends who celebrated it with me, and prayed blessings for my life in the years to come, but I was still sore. That year turned out to be the hardest year of my life. Mom died. He started dating someone new, to whom he’s now married. My grandmother died. My father was hospitalized for severe depression. I moved four times that year. It was a year where I clung to God because that was all I could trust.

But one day, in those early days after he and I parted ways, I woke up in my friend’s bed, and she asked me how I’d slept. I’d had a dream just before waking. I told her, I had the strangest dream that it was years from now and I was living and working in Korea and I was really single and really happy. She asked me how I felt about that, and I think my response was to burst into tears. I didn’t remember it at all until shortly before I left; I’d had a deja vu moment in my friend’s apartment where I stayed in the upcoming weeks, and I remembered that dream during that time. It’s funny how we forget dreams like this until we see them starting to take place in our waking lives.

I used to model for figure drawing classes in college. I try to keep that on the down low because I’m a teacher and I don’t want to cause scandal or anything ridiculous, but I think the thing about turning 30 is you gradually stop caring so much what other people think and are willing to take more risks. You start to really live. The art teacher at school is teaching a PG version of figure drawing (read: clothed) and she expressed in the lounge that she was having a hard time finding people to come and pose for her. I naturally volunteered. While I was sitting there, in front of my students, with my most colorful and patterned dress, an overwhelming sense of familiarity came over me. I smiled watching her go around, making suggestions. I thought of all the years and different times I’d posed before, and how such an unexpected and curious skill has come in handy, even in a small Christian private school in Korea. And it hit me: Everything in life has led up to this life here, in Korea.

I turn 30 on Friday, and I’ve never felt better about my age. I’m exactly where I should be. A friend of mine and I are going to Wonju, a town southeast of Seoul to try some Texas style BBQ (supposedly the best in all of Korea, or Asia, maybe) and I’m throwing a Chili Bar Party on Saturday. I would so love to have a good man by my side to celebrate this big milestone birthday, but only if he can keep up. I’m fortunate enough to have my friends (and chosen family) here instead. I guess I’ll keep on marchin’ on.

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Real Living

This past Friday, I celebrated seven months of living in Korea. And oh, if I could write a book.

My first seven months’ time has been eventful, and some would even say borderline insane. This post is long overdue, and will not suffice in any way.

Here’s the gist: I started working at the hagwon and for various reasons, immediately hated it. Through friends at church, I found a middle school English position at a small Christian international school, and turned in my letter of resignation at the hagwon. This is a very precarious and delicate issue in Korea. My resignation was not well-received by my hiring director, but somehow, after explaining to my hagwon owners my unhappiness at the school, and the hiring director’s clear unhappiness, they agreed to give me a letter of release which would release me from my visa sponsorship with them. However, it came with numerous provisions. I needed to give them 45 working days, return my airfare fee, return my recruiter’s fee (which I later found out is illegal for them to require per my contract), continue to “do a good job” and complete a Kindergarten Open House with my kindy class.

I did all of that. They withheld my last monthly paycheck to cover my returned monies, even though we agreed to divide up the payments. My hiring director became vindictive and passive aggressive at one point, criticizing every little thing that would not have been criticized a week prior, claiming I wasn’t doing a “good job,” in an effort to tally against giving me a letter of release, making me powerless in the scenario. In the end, it was the hagwon owner who gave me the letter. It was never her call to make, fortunately.

I moved one cool November morning after saying my goodbyes to my students and fellow colleagues. A friend of mine came to help out, and my international school sent a driver with a school bus to help me move. He was a good-faced Korean avuncular type, with a stubbly greying beard, black rimmed glasses and a tweed driving cap. He knew a little English, and insisted on carrying everything. I liked him immediately. When we finished packing up, as we drove away into Seoul, I felt lighter. Friends came and greeted me at my new place and helped me move in. Internet was installed. Furniture arrived. It was a good day. This was all the week before Thanksgiving.

And then I started work. The school I moved to was going through a divorce of sorts. There was some funny money handling from the Korean owners, and it was causing disruption with the school location. This of course, effected the teachers and the students. The parents stepped in, and began making plans to start a new school that would begin in January. All this was underway when I came on (finally) in November.

There’s more to this story that I’m not at liberty to discuss in a public forum, but there have been many tears. There have been many cries out to God about what I’m doing here. But in past couple of weeks, I really am beginning to feel like I’ve turned a corner. I’m settling into my neighborhood well, making more friends, learning how to use Korea’s version of Amazon. I joined my church, I bought a coffee grinder, and am working on getting my third party mailer finalized. The pharmacist I use and her husband look out for me; they’re always happy when I come in, even if just for vitamins or allergy medicine, and they were worried about me when I came down with bronchitis. They wave at me from the window when I walk by. I wave back and smile.

It’s safe to say Korea is starting to grow on me. I honestly cannot remember a time when I was ever this happy. I never could put into words to everyone why I was moving to Korea other than I just knew it was what God had for me. I feel like for the first time in my life, I’m really living, and I think that’s something God wants for us all. That alone is reason enough to sell all your belongings and move halfway around the world.