Roofus

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Roofus when we came home from the doctor’s office

“Alyson, Roofus went home to Jesus.” I stared at Linda in disbelief. It sounded like a really bad joke gone horribly wrong. Walking home from work I had just been talking to Emily about the little ward in our house, a tiny orange kitten that was too sick to move much other than the occasional flop to one side. I had wondered if Linda remembered to reheat the saline packets to keep him warm.

“Are you serious?”

“I’m serious. I’m so sorry, Alyson.” I had him in a cardboard box with some towels on my bed and had spent the previous night sleepless making sure we would hit the 5 feedings in the day, fending off mosquitoes, and making sure he was still breathing.

How did we get here? It also sounds like a bad joke. It started with a truck hitting our house while we were on our final retreat to Yang Yang and Seorak Mountain. It rolled off the hill next to our house and hit our kitchen wall.

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Thankfully no one was hurt. No one was in the truck and no one was in our house, but this prompted a premature farewell to our YAV house and an impromptu move to the house next door.

The house next door is usually used for important guests to stay during a short visit to Hannam, so there aren’t any drawers, but there is nicer furniture. It also had resident kittens who live on the roof of the house. They would cuddle together right on the corner of the roof. They would run away when we got near, but eventually stopped running when they realized we weren’t going to try to eat them. The little one would shove itself under the gutter and sleep. He reminded me of the kids at my site.

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Then two days ago, Emily and Alexis went out only to come back in the evening to the little orange kitten laying in the bush in front of the house not moving. They were sure it was dead, but I went out to check one more time and the little guy tried to lift his head. It had been raining, and his friend kept him company as best as he could while trying to hide from us at the same time. I arranged a shallow box with towels and put the kitten in it. We have strict rules about not feeding the cats and not having any pets in the house, especially the fancy guest house, so at first we kept him under shade from the rain, but still outside. I ran to a convenience store for some cat food, which the little guy did attempt to eat but struggled to keep his head up. I worried he might drown in his food.

Alexis’s coworker helped us find a 24 hour animal hospital, called ahead so they knew to expect us, and Emily and I were off. I held the box close to me in the taxi and checked every couple minutes to see that his little chest was still moving up and down.

The doctors office was clean and bright. There was a small mop headed dog limping around the office to greet us. After some initial forms the doctor looked at the cat and told us it was a boy. He said he would take some x-rays and left. While we waited, Emily and I weighed the merits of naming the kitten. Originally I said no. Naming things makes them mean more. Naming things makes you attached. But here we were and I was already attached. We talked about what we would name him if we were to give him a name. Given his circumstances with the roof, Roofus seemed appropriate. His friend could be Fiddler.

A good long time later the doctor returned and with the help of google translate said that they hadn’t taken x-rays because the kitten was in shock and it was an emergency. The kitten’s blood pressure, glucose, and temperature were extremely low and he could die.

After more waiting he returned with x-rays. No broken bones, but it was likely head trauma. He needed really expensive treatment or he would likely die. We had a friend of ours help translate as we went through the options. He wasn’t a candidate to be put down because he was eating and was alert despite what the doctor had just told us. He gave us some food and saline packets to keep him warm and told us how to care for him.

Here we were with a kitten on death’s door step for us to take home. I volunteered to care for him. I put his box next to me in bed so he wouldn’t be far. He was so frail – all skin and bones, perhaps from being a stray. Just a little baby – he didn’t even have all of his teeth yet. During feedings he couldn’t keep any food down and could hardly move, but in the night he kept trying to jump out of his box so I was hopeful he could make it. During the day while we were apart I felt like a protective mother, making sure he got what he needed and nothing would happen to him especially since we weren’t supposed to keep him in the house. We thought about posting on the local foreigner Facebook group for someone to foster him in case he stuck around and got better. I was looking forward to dealing with what to do with him.

He died in Linda’s arms as she was feeding him while I was at work. He looked just like he was sleeping in the box, but his little chest didn’t move with his breath any longer. We picked a spot in the backyard to bury him. Linda dug the hole. We said some prayers and final words.

Perhaps in most circumstances loving someone or something would not have such immediate repercussions, but I feel that the act of reaching out to love someone else is inherently a vulnerable act. To care for someone else is to put yourself at risk. It is to say that something other than yourself is important to you. Everyone without exception will one day die, and unless it is you who dies first then the act of love is also inherently a painful one. Even if they don’t die, their suffering is one that hurts you as well. With Roofus perhaps it was foolish to name him, and perhaps we could have left him in front of our house, or perhaps we could have just made him comfortable and let things happen as they do to strays of the world. It has been painful to experience this the past two days. I cried myself to sleep last night. And I supposed we didn’t have to do what we did, but given the alternative it wasn’t an option we were willing to take. I feel that sacrificial, inherently painful love like this is what I’m called to do with my life. Perhaps what I feel we are all called to do for one another, but also I worry that one day this kind of love will break me – that the suffering of those I love will one day be too great for my heart to handle any longer.

Roofus was just a little kitten that lived on our roof. Rest in peace, little guy.

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Murphy’s Law

 

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“Murphy’s Law doesn’t mean that something bad will happen. What it means is whatever can happen will happen.” Interstellar

Excuse me for using an Interstellar quote, but it is a rather appropriate summary of what our YAV year has been like. That has meant that we got to go to the Philippines, and were here to witness a lot of political change in Korea like Korea and Japan coming to an agreement about the Comfort Women without the comfort women.

It has meant seeing protests in Gang Jeong village come to an end, and the birth of a Peace School as an alternative way to still work towards change amidst political pressure.

But in particular within our house we have had Murphy’s Law hard at work in our day to day lives. We’ve had the opportunity to have the Hannam Festival twice during one year, as well as the reunification run again which I will be participating in in June. Unusual as they are supposed to be once a year events, I guess in that way we’ve been lucky. We’ve also had two separate movies filmed at or near our house here, and a small bush fire.

We’ve definitely had our share of house conflict, something that is not unusual, but also things that completely blind-sided us with their severity. Mid-February we were all contacted by someone trying desperately to contact Alexis. We found out shortly after that her only sister had passed away in a car accident. Alexis was the first of the Korea YAVs to go home. None of us were sure if she was coming back or not, but thankfully she did.

We had the opportunity to continue working on our little community because of that, though intentional community is not easy. And again all at once in the Spring, once our bosses Kurt and Hyeyoung left for their month long US trip, Will and Alexis were in a minor car accident, and Will found out that his uncle had passed away within a two day span.

It was already scheduled that Linda would be going home for her older sister’s wedding, but before she could go, Emily slipped on wet ground and twisted her knee. You can read about this in her own words on her blog here. She had had a history of knee problems already, but this time it required surgery so before Linda left we went with Emily to the airport.

Two days later, Linda left. Soon after she returned Will left for his uncle’s memorial service. He is still currently gone, but scheduled to return at the end of the week. Life in the house in between these moments has been ever changing. I’ve had nearly every combination of roommate, and am still hoping that Emily will be able to come back to Korea.

I sit in a position of privilege having not had my own circumstances that has sent me home, so it is easier for me to say that I have learned a lot this year, but I don’t think that tragedy’s purpose is to teach us or that it even has a purpose other than being a part of life we must live with. I do think that my roommates have taught me a lot whether intentionally or not about how to love people that are not like me and that are going through things I will never understand. I’ve been given a chance to practice what I preach in terms of grace – to give it, but also very importantly to receive it from my roommates as well.

This year we’ve spoken a lot about what it means to have God with us in these times. Many times it doesn’t seem to make sense, and it frequently doesn’t feel like He is with us. I don’t pretend to know the answers or to know God’s role in all of this. Though I invite you to be with us in prayer as we sort through it all.

설날 Lunar New Year

Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”

Laying around in the fluffy purple pajama pants Wooree lent me she began,”What would you write to yourself if you could send a letter to your 80 year old self? You know, if you were going to die?”

“From myself now?” I paused. It seemed like a question of what I would want to be reminded of about life now at the end of mine. Wooree seemed to be grappling with these topics since her mother passed away two years ago. She was on the brink of marriage with her boyfriend of 8 years, and yet she lay pensive about the end of life.

“At the end of my life I would want to remind myself about life now. About the people I care about, and the things that matter to me now. Because maybe I won’t remember that when I’m 80.”

Wooree has worked with our program as a buddy. I was staying with Wooree and her brother for the Lunar New Years home stay. Lunar New Years is a time in the year where family gets together and celebrates the new year. It’s a holiday full of tradition – bowing and money for children. Earlier that day we had visited her grandmother who is recovering from hip surgery in the hospital. They spent a good amount of time discussing her upcoming marriage with much urgency to do it soon so she could attend the wedding. Then we drove over an hour to her family’s cemetery on the side of a mountain where her mother and grandfather were buried. There her and her brother had laid out a picnic mat and food for the deceased. The wind was strong so I was laid out on the mat to hold it down while they paid their respects. Wooree had brought her mother’s favorite coffee from Starbucks for her and offered me a sip. I like her mother’s taste in coffee.

“If my mother were here I think she would say you were smart and beautiful, Alyson!” We would have stayed longer had it not been for the wind which threatened to blow everything from the mat to the shoes taken off to stand on the mat off the mountain.

As a child I remember my grandparents lighting incense to deceased relatives, but it was never relevant to my life – not in the way that this was relevant to Wooree and her brother.  I could see the love they had for their mother, and the love they had been shown from her. The holiday was an endless food fest (which many celebrations tend to be) with cut fruit and prepared meals and good conversation. There were visits to see friends and so much cooking.

We went to see Kung Fu Panda 3 in theaters, and I got to try spicy squid stir fry and ask all the questions I wanted about the Korean language. I didn’t have to worry about anything. In many ways it seemed that their mother was still there with them sharing that love. I could see that love through the ways Wooree took care of me and her brother throughout the weekend.

With this Ash Wednesday it’s good to be reminded that life is unpredictable and short. When the day comes that I leave this world I hope I’ll have lived a life that reflects the love of those I love and have loved. I already know I’ll have many wonderful people to remember at the end.

The Book of Daniel

Two Sundays ago, after a weekend trip to NoGunRi Peace Park, I was in charge of leading devotions for our weekly YAV meeting. I’ve never come up with my own devotion so I decided to reread my childhood favorite in search of a scripture I could use for a devotion: The book of Daniel. I ended up rereading the whole book (all 12 chapters) and taking a nap before deciding on some verses, but rereading Daniel was a valuable experience for me. So far removed am I from when I was in junior high reading the Bible for the first time.

Part of the reason I think I liked Daniel when I was young was because he does no wrong. He’s smart, handsome, and has a connection with God who allows him to interpret dreams. He has adventure as well, like his friends being thrown in a furnace, or that time he gets thrown in a lions’ den. There’s lots of politics and also a kooky King who is kind of arrogant and does some crazy stuff. What’s not to like?

The verses I selected were from the first dream that is revealed to him from God. He asks for it to be revealed to him so King Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t execute all the wise men in the land for not being able to tell him his own dream and interpret it.

Daniel 2:17-23

17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
    wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
    he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what lies in darkness,
    and light dwells with him.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
    You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
    you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

It is praise worthy to praise God when he reveals great things to us. What was interesting to me, however, was how his reaction to the revelations change throughout the Book of Daniel. The dreams he interprets reveal terrible fates and difficult futures.

Daniel 4:19

19 Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.”

Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!

It continues to escalate until the end of the book where Daniel is then having Revelations-esque dreams that are being interpreted to him by Angels. At that point he knows the dreams and they have been interpreted to him, but they still don’t make sense. (I may have joked that he reached Ph.D. levels of prophecy. All jokes aside, I recommend giving it a read!)

This to me closely parallels our experiences in Korea, and in light of the current circumstances around the world in Paris, Lebanon, Syria, and places I do not know. God has revealed to us many things. To bring us to a program like the YAV program, you generally need to have love for others. In Korea we’ve had the joy and honor of getting to know the people here. Our classmates, buddies, kids at our sites – people from church. I rejoice in that just as Daniel rejoiced in God answering his prayer. But we continue in that journey. At JaeAmRi (제암리), we learned of a massacre committed by the Japanese in retaliation against the Koreans for killing a Japanese police officer during Japanese occupation. The day prior to my devotion we visited NoGunRi (노근리) Peace Park where the US Military massacred Korean men, women, and children for nearly no reason during the Korean war. With both of these events, they were nearly completely unknown if it wasn’t for (in both cases) one person who fought to carry the story to the rest of the world. Kurt has explained the concept of Han (한) which (I’m paraphrasing) is a feeling of deep prolonged suffering. I feel as though Han is being revealed to us.

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NoGunRi – the white paint indicates evidence of artillery fire

For God to reveal things to you is a gift, but perhaps it can be a responsibility as it was to Daniel to be a prophet. To open your heart and your mind to compassion and loving of people means that you can also feel their pain. Perhaps directly for us, this is the history of the people we are getting to know and love here in Korea. And perhaps like Daniel the more that is revealed the more confusing and terrifying the world becomes. In light of the terror attacks around the world with multitudes of casualties I feel this relevance more than ever. Perhaps we are not prophets as Daniel was, but I do feel that to know is both a gift and a heavy responsibility. And perhaps also in the end we are all left to wonder what it all means.

(And also that Alyson isn’t one for cheerful devotions…)

~~~

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Commissioning

Orientation week has been a whirlwind of information and meeting new people. My perspective has been changed, and I got to know the community that is launching on this adventure with me.

On the last day we were all sent to various churches to share in their Sunday worship, and so that they could commission us before we left on our year of service. Truthfully before this I’d never really heard of commissioning, but it seemed like a sweet send off that we were given by the church. I had the privilege of going to the Huguenot Memorial Church for my commissioning with two other YAVs. It is a beautiful church with many very kind people.

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They were very welcoming and involved us in their service (I read Psalm 45 – an Ode to a Royal Wedding at the lecturn).

The commissioning service involved a lot more commitment on our end than I realized. There was an entire section for “Call for Discipleship”

“You had been called by God to this service, and we ask that you now publicly affirm your commitment to this work”

Most answers for the questions posed was “I will, with God’s help.” There was a laying on of hands tasting of salt. It was comforting to know there was a greater community supporting us than just the people we knew personally.

But the people we knew personally also sent us off. There was a communion service our last night with the YAV staff and alumni at Stony Point that was really quite beautiful. During communion we formed one united circle and sang:

“Once we were no people, but now we belong to each other and to God”

This week really drove home the point that I am not alone in this journey. Even arriving the first couple days I realized that I wasn’t alone in the way that I felt about leaving home. Personally shifting my point of view is and will be an adjustment, but I think it is a wonderful thing to be on this journey with a larger extended network that starts with the greater Christian community, and comes down to the four other YAVs that I am now living with in DaeJeon, South Korea.

But with being a part of an intentional Christian community (one of the tenants of the YAV program) it isn’t just the warm fuzzy we’re all in this together parts, but also the messy complicated parts of living together and the hard work that goes into making it work. I feel much like with the commissioning service that I have made a commitment to not only the Church and the YAV program, but very concretely to the people I am living with. For better or for worse we are committed to each other for the next year.

So to Linda, Will, Emily, and Alexis: This year, I commit to leaning into the discomfort of each of our lives. I commit to being your family for the next year – taking care of each of you when you are homesick, sick, or sick of us. I commit to showing up and being as loving as I can, as respectful as I can, and as honest as I can. In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will, with God’s help. Because once we were no people, but now we belong to each other and to God.

As cheesy as that is, I will do my best. I will also not be perfect, and I bring all of my own messy parts of my life, and I will fail. I will fail at the very thing I have committed to. I hope you have patience with me in my imperfection and personal quirks. I look forward to being a part of all of our messy lives as we navigate Korea together.

~~~

I am still in need of funds for my trip. Will you help me?

Discernment

I am incredibly excited for the coming year. The discernment event was a roller coaster of emotions. For me it was coming in feeling certain about South Korea as my first choice, but finding that decision was not as easy as I thought.

My second choice, and my second interview was to be the Northern Ireland/Scotland site. When I arrived at Ferncliff, I discovered that nearly every single person was interviewing for Northern Ireland/Scotland. Not that that in itself was a reason to reconsider, but I thought perhaps I should at least look at my third option a little more closely – the Philippines. We had informational sessions the first morning to help us with our discernment.  Because I came in knowing Kurt and Hyeyoung, the site coordinators for South Korea, and had been following their story over the past two years I got permission to go to the informational sessions for the second and third choices.

While Northern Ireland/Scotland sounded great, the Philippines presented something I could not refuse: public health placements. There were placements to work at a clean water facility or with hurricane Hainan relief efforts. This is the type of work I envision myself doing in the future. It is a topic I feel passionate about and simultaneously lack experience in. My first thought was, “Oh no…” This was no longer an easy choice. I switched my interview from Northern Ireland/Scotland to the Philippines that day.

The next few days I was torn between where my heart wanted me to go and envisioned me being and where my mind said was good for me. The Philippines would be good for my future, and though it was more isolated (I’d be living on an island living with a host family and the closest YAV would be a boat ride away) I knew I would fall in love with the work and I would grow immensely. (Grow immensely is also another way to say I would be really uncomfortable, but learn a lot from it) I’ve had my heart set on South Korea for perhaps less practical reasons. South Korea is where Kurt and his family is, and honestly the one who coaxed me into applying for the YAV program at all. Even at the discernment event I clicked really well with a few of the other people applying for Korea. It was my community versus my future – my heart versus my mind. I knew come decision time it wouldn’t be easy.

I waited until after the labyrinth to submit my ratings. I rated them both as 1’s (I would be happy and excited to go there) and left the decision up to the site coordinators and God. All that was left was to calm down and wait.

The night we all knew we would find out was upon us. There was worship song after worship song. Este momento (the song) came and went, and the moment didn’t come. The site coordinators snuck in. Finally they announced they would be handing out the envelopes. We would have half an hour to open it, call our families, spend time alone – whatever we needed. I sat next to another YAV, Emily who also applied for Korea. I didn’t know what to do with myself. She asked if we could open it together, and I replied, “I don’t know!” still super nervous. What would I do? I felt either way choice would make me cry. I would be happy either way, but not getting Korea would require a mourning period.

Richard, Kurt’s predecessor for the Agape House, and now the one handing me my envelope with my future inside. I asked him to sit beside me. There was a lot of commotion around the room as people opened their envelopes. I flipped the envelope open, and someone passed by “Did you open it yet?” “I opened it but I haven’t looked yet!” My hands were shaking. I think Emily looked at hers already. I pulled the paper out and found my name. I pulled the trifolded paper open and read “Korea.” I felt a kind of gasp of  relief before the tears started. I covered my mouth and looked up at Kurt. Emily was going to Korea too! I gave her a hug, and then sat with my emotions for a minute before getting up to give Kurt a hug.

Dessa came over (the site coordinator for the Philippines) and said, “We went with the heart.” I gave her a hug and said thank you. Someone handed me a paper towel for my tears. I blew my nose and it came away red. Embarrassed, I ran to the bathroom. I told Kurt when I came back, and he said, “This will be your story when you are an Alum.” And so it will.

So begins my journey to Daejeon, South Korea. I hope you’ll join me!

~~~

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The Labyrinth

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“In colloquial English, labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze, but many contemporary scholars observe a distinction between the two: maze refers to a complex branching (multicursal) puzzle with choices of path and direction; while a single-path (unicursal) labyrinth has only a single path to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and is not difficult to navigate.[3]Wikipedia

One can think of labyrinths as symbolic of pilgrimage; people can walk the path, ascending toward salvation or enlightenment. Many people could not afford to travel to holy sites and lands, so labyrinths and prayer substituted for such travel. Later, the religious significance of labyrinths faded, and they served primarily for entertainment, though recently their spiritual aspect has seen a resurgence.[citation needed]

Many newly made labyrinths exist today, in churches and parks. Modern mystics use labyrinths to help them achieve a contemplative state.[citation needed] Walking among the turnings, one loses track of direction and of the outside world, and thus quiets the mind.” Wikipedia

There is a labyrinth at Ferncliff, the camp we stayed at for the discernment event. Below were my journalled thoughts following my experience walking it.

This walk through was not alone. This time it was with other YAVs (Young Adult Volunteers) like it will be for the year. We all walk alone but we do it together. Sometimes our paths will cross, but much of it is a journey with you and God. We all follow in someone’s footsteps though – currently and those who are long gone.

The path was created as part of healing for those children who were in school shootings. Stones from those areas were all places in the center of the labyrinth. As I entered it filled me with profound sadness that in the heart where we find God there is immense suffering in the healing process. There is so much suffering in love.

While other YAVs may not have been going through the same journey I was in the symbolism of the labyrinth it was comforting and unnerving to be in it together. I was self-conscious of my tears and anxious about the space between us all. It was an effort to put that aside in prayers and just be thankful for the mutual experience.

I came in hoping that it would give me peace for whatever decision is made tonight. While there is still apprehension, to know God will guide the decision is comforting. I shall go where I am called to go. My life is God’s and I shall not forget.

We walk through the labyrinth alone, together.

~~~

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