Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Learning to be Selfless

Alright, alright. You might think writing this blog entry is like beating a dead horse. After all, this story has made its way to friends of friends of friends of, you get the picture. But, in order to truly understand the events of our wedding (and a few weeks after)you have to hear it from the horse's mouth (although I don't like being called a horse). So, here's my life as of late- in a not-so-nutshell:

July 9th had finally come! After 18 months of engagement, it was time to tie the knot with my best friend. My phone rang at 7:41am that Friday morning. I saw that it was Dan and I immediately thought "awe, he's calling me to wish me a happy wedding day!" If only that were the case. I answered and immediately heard panic from Dan's voice. "Sarah, you're not going to like this," he said. "I'm in the emergency room and will be going in for an appendectomy soon. They say that I have to stay the night. " WHAT?!?! I was so confused. I was still waking up and wasn't completely coherent to begin with. But now my groom was telling me that basically we wouldn't be getting married that day. I had Dan repeat himself (just to make sure I heard correctly) and then threw the phone down on the bed, ran out to find my mom and started hyperventilating. One of the bridesmaids staying in my room picked up the phone to figure out what was going on when I came back in. "I'll be there in a minute," I told him.

The girls and I got dressed and my sister drove us all to the hospital (which just happened to be about 2 miles away and about .25 miles down the street from the reception site). I ran in to find Dan's best man, another groomsmen and my dad (I still don't know how he got there before me) waiting for us. I was escorted into Dan's room and started crying all over again. There he was, IV inserted, lying in a hospital gown just 8.5 hours before he was supposed to be marrying me. We both sat in silence for a bit, crying while holding hands. "It'll be ok," I said. But I was lying. I had no idea if it would be ok. I'll admit, I had selfish thoughts that entire morning. I was fighting the inclination to feel sorry for myself while wanting Dan to be ok. I didn't know how to balance all the emotions that were swimming around inside of me.

They wheeled Dan into surgery and we were all moved into the family waiting room. By this time, my mom had arrived along with Dan's parents and a few more groomsmen. We began calling all the other family members and wedding party, keeping them updated and asking for their prayers. I don't remember everything that happened, but I remember being force fed by my friends and trying desperately not to bite my manicured nails.

During Dan's surgery, the supervising nurse came in and began to talk about "options". She said that if the doctor doesn't let him go, we could potentially have the wedding at the hospital. She asked how big the guest list was and started brainstorming various locations on the property. The spiritual adviser caught me in the hall outside of the waiting room and talked to me about the same options. The hospital staff was simply amazing! While getting married in a hospital was the LAST thing I wanted to do that day, not getting married was even more terrifying. So, I made an executive decision. If Dan wasn't allowed to leave, we'd get married outside on the hospital grounds. All that intricate planning and decorating of the church would go to waste, but suddenly that didn't seem to matter. All the little details faded away to nothing. I finally started to give up control and the incessant need to have the "perfect wedding". I just wanted my husband.

Dan made it out of surgery and I was allowed to see him after another hour. He was weak and drugged up but was coherent. "Do you still wanna marry me today?" I asked. "You betcha," he replied. With that, I left him to sleep- not knowing whether or not I'd be getting married at a hospital or the church. It wasn't until 11:30 that we left the hospital to take showers at home. We made it to the church around 12:15 and the rest of my bridesmaids and friends were already there, ready to go. They were all so great, supportive and worked really hard to lighten the mood. It was my wedding day, after all, I should have been smiling!!

We did half my hair and then I headed back to the hospital at 1:30 to see how Dan was doing. I got there to find him dressed and sitting up. They were actually going to discharge him! Inside, I was leaping for joy but was a little worried at the fact that they were letting him leave so early. But, the doctor knows best, right?

I wheeled out my groom at 2:30, just 2 hours before the wedding was set to start. On the way out, the hospital receptionist said, "wow, you seem so calm! how are you doing it?" I thought about it for a second and replied, "you know, everything else doesn't matter in the long run. The little details I was stressing about last night don't matter at all now. I have my guy!" We got to the church and his groomsmen took over. They even washed Dan's hair in the kitchen sink since he didn't get a chance to shower that day. His pants wouldn't fit because of the swelling in his abdomen so a handy safety pin did the trick. I finished getting my hair done, got in my dress and hurried through some preliminary pictures with my girls. All the while, I still had apprehension inside. How does someone shake off the events of that morning? How was I going to calm down and enjoy ever second of the day?

It was finally go time. We were missing a ring bearer and usher but my amazing cousin Kara and coordinator friends Sally and Virginia kept that information carefully hidden from me- I had dealt with enough already. They showed up and we started the wedding a 4:45. Everything went perfectly. Dan was able to stand for the first part of the ceremony and then we sat on a beautiful bench that was found in the women's bathroom- thanks, God! He made it through the ceremony, even though my dad had to cut a bit of his talk after seeing Dan's eyes glaze over a bit- percocet was cutting the pain, but making him a bit sleepy.

We made it through more pictures, including ones on location at very hospital Dan had surgery at (he couldn't travel to the original location because it was too far but this was on the same street as the reception!). Then came the reception- Dan was able to sway back and forth for our first dance and even though he couldn't eat any of the great food or drink anything besides water, he was THERE! It may not have gone as I expected or planned, but that didn't matter. The point was, we were married!

The next day, we traveled to Minnesota where I unloaded our car full of gifts in the rain while Dan helplessly watched. I packed his suitcase for the honeymoon and the next day, we headed to the airport. He sat in uncomfortable pain on the airplane all the way to Boston. Good thing we splurged for the nonstop flight! We got to Boston, took a shuttle to the rental car place and I drove us up to Kennebunkport, Maine. What an amazing place! We were so thankful that we had planned on staying in the States because if we had planned to go to Mexico, there was no way Dan would have made it! We spent 4 relaxing days at a little cottage there, eating tons of crab cakes and enjoying some well deserved down time. Then came Boston...

We arrived in Boston on Thursday afternoon and walked around the city for a little bit. But that night, Dan developed a fever and was in a lot more pain than before. Friday, he was feeling a little better but was unable to walk. So, I borrowed a wheelchair from the hotel and pushed him around the city a bit (which, by the way, wasn't as fun as I thought I would be).

That night, I was woken up at 1am by Dan yelling my name from the bathroom. I ran there to find his incision site seeping fluid. I looked at him and saw his eyes roll back as he slumped to the floor and began to shake. I started panicking (I had never seen anyone pass out like that before!) and I called the front desk for help. They set up security and also called an ambulance. The EMTs came and were able to calm Dan down a bit. They said that the drainage was normal and he had nothing to worry about.

So, we spent our last day in Boston changing Dan's gauze periodically as it filled up with fluid (that's a nicer word than puss...). We got back to Minnesota on Sunday and that Monday, we went to the doctor. Sure enough, he had an infection below the surface of his skin (thanks, Boston EMTs). The surgeon opened Dan's incision back up with a q-tip (apparently that's a sure sign of infection) and drained it a bit. She sent him home with instructions for me on how to change his gauze twice a day (as in, I had to stuff gauze strips into his open wound so that it closed up from the inside out). I spent the rest of the week organizing our house, cooking, cleaning and feeling generally exhausted. Dan was too weak to help and really needed to rest anyway.

After a week of gauze packing, we went back for another check-up. More bad news. The infection was deeper than the doctor initially thought. She said the only way to get rid of it would be to admit him to the hospital and basically redo the entire appendectomy surgery. This time, however, they would be removing bacteria instead of an appendix. He went in for surgery and again, I waited patiently for news. There was a difference this time. This time, I was his wife.

The surgery went well but he was kept in the hospital overnight for observation. So, we spent the 18th night of our marriage in a hospital room- romantic indeed. They discharged him on Tuesday and I had to continue to pack his wound with gauze. This time, the wound was about 2 inches deep and I had to pack about 3 feet of a continuous gauze strip in it twice a day (this was so the skin didn't close up over any bacteria, leading to another infection). I had never even heard of this kind of treatment before! But I soon became an expert. The hole slowly closed from the inside out and on August 10th, two weeks after his final surgery, his hole closed up completely. Now, he's running at about 80%, still taking it easy as his incision site is still tender and developing scar tissue.

These past 7 weeks have brought so many tears, moments of frustration and times of uncertainty. Dan suffered painful physical trials while dealing with the emotional ramifications of not being able to lead his wife or help out with pretty much anything. I spent 7 weeks as an acting nurse to my husband while running a house and trying to combine two separate lives. At one point, I called my mom in tears asking if marriage would ever get better. All I had known of marriage was that it was incredibly hard with barely any perks. My mom replied "you guys have been through more than some couples face in several years worth of marriage," and she reassured me that things would get better.

Well, things have gotten better. These trials have pointed out how selfish I am and how thankful I should be just to be able to spend so much time with Dan, whether or not he's sick or healthy. We've learned to find joy in the little things and not dwell so much on our misfortune. I've had to fight bitterness and anger towards God for allowing all of this to happen to us. But then he reminds me again and again that he will never give me more than I can handle. Apparently, the Lord thought we could handle a lot!

One of the RAs here at Crown illustrated our situation in this great story. She said:

"I hate roller coasters with a passion. But this summer, I went to an amusement park with some friends and the very first thing I did was go on the highest, fastest, most scary roller coaster. After that, all the other rides didn't seem so scary because of what I had already achieved."

I'm not so naive to think that this will be the only trial we face in our marriage- we've been husband and wife for 7 weeks now. But perhaps when those trials come, they won't seem so bad after enduring this one. We've already endured quiet a bit and have only really seen a few days of what marriage can be like when we're both in health. We're learning to embrace the joys of each day, to not stress out about small details (that's more for me) and to consider each others' needs before our own.

It's quite a story, to say the least. But maybe, just maybe, we'll look back and laugh at it all. But one thing's for sure- we've learned more about marriage, the Lord and each other these past 7 months than we ever imagined. For that, we're thankful.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Great Expectations

Ever since I entered college, I've wanted to be a Resident Director. I moved to South Korea after graduation because that's what the Lord wanted me to do (and it was a great way to still be involved in student development but overseas). After two years there, here I am. I've finally "arrived" as an RD. But what happens when what you've dreamed and prayed about for so long isn't what you expected?

Expected. What a strange word. Why do we as humans generate these typically unfulfillable thoughts in our minds? Why do we set ourselves up for mostly assured disappointment time and time again?

I remember having a meeting with my RA staff my junior year of college. One of the girls posed the question: What do you hope to be doing 5 years from now? "Of course, I want to be an RA at Black Forest Academy in Germany and be working with MKs OR an RD somewhere." Well, I'm one year away from that 5 year mark and I've done close to both. I did the overseas RA thing. I'm doing the RD thing now. But what's strange to me is that I'm not magically content just because I'm doing something I always dreamed of.

Why, you ask? Because I'm finally to a point in my life where I'm not letting myself be defined by what I do. Wow. That was a tough sentence to write. In college, I became the "Res Life, worship leading, gig-playing, poster-child on a Billboard, has is all-together" girl (although my friends knew me as the girl who couldn't say no to anyone and needed to please everyone). I LOVED college. Then, I moved overseas and I was the "crazy one who moved to Korea" (or to my friends in Korea, I labeled myself the "musical one who was dating Dan Gurley". I LOVED Korea. Then, I was plopped down in St. Bonifacius, MN without a single friend in a 300 mile radius and I'm now the "new RD", plain and simple. I don't LOVE it here. What has changed? Why such a disconnect when I'm doing something that I'm called to? (learning that just because the Lord has called you to do something doesn't mean you'll love it is another lesson altogether)

Looking back at my time in Korea, around the middle of September during my first year, I began to hate it. I was feeling pain of community lost (from college friends) and the harsh reality of rebuilding a life for myself. People didn't know me in Korea. They didn't know my talents, passions or story. I was ready to leave. But community started to kick in. I started to really get to know my fellow RAs and discovered a deep sense of belonging that I didn't think I would ever feel after college. When I moved away, a huge piece of my heart was broken as I pried myself from the community I had grown to depend on and love.

It's now November of my first year as an RD at Crown and those pains that were so real to me in the beginning of my time in Korea are even more intense. Because unlike the pains from Korea, these pains haven't subsided. They have only intensified. The harsh reality is that I'm not surrounded by a community that will automatically take the time to get to know me, my talents, my passions, my story. Nobody here knows my fiance. One of my co-workers today just found out I was engaged. I've gone from being known to being unknown and that is a painful transition. A transition that I've experienced before but lasted only a moment. This one, I fear, is a long-haul, spiritual make-over and I'm not sure that I'm ready.

But back to the whole "not being defined by what I do" thing. I have to hand it to the Lord, He knows how to break 'em. And He's breaking me hardcore. All the things in my life that used to define me have been stripped away. Now I have only my career to define me and if that's the case, I just won't survive here. So where does that definition come from? Christ? Well sure, great Sunday school answer, it always comes from Christ but...then I realized. For me, it hasn't come from Christ. I don't even know what finding your identity in Christ looks like. It's such an ambiguous thought. All my life, I've been looking for others to place their definition on me and I've lived through that to the fullest. But now that "others" aren't present in my life, I'm lost. This isn't to say that I go the whole day without talking to anyone, because that's not the case. I have a couple co-workers that I would consider friends and RAs that I oversee but for the most part, once work is over, it's me, my empty apartment and my rattling thoughts. No fiance, no parties, no large group outings...just me.

So, does the fact that I don't know how to find identity in Christ make me a heathen? Well, I'm daring to say "no". I would even be so bold to say that a LOT of Christians don't know what that looks like or how to grasp it. It's more than just speaking the trendy words, reading the latest book or citing Scriptures. It's an intense denial of self so much so that "Christ-follower" becomes the only label that resonates within. If I'm a "Christ-follower" first and foremost, then being a worship-leading, gig-playing, poster-child will look minuscule and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

I'm not there yet. At the risk of sounding pathetic, I still curl up in bed some nights, weeping in loneliness and brokenness. I am mourning the death of "IWU Sarah" and "Korea Sarah" and struggling to embrace "God's child-Sarah". One who isn't defined by others or jobs- for those are temporal definitions that will lead to a never ending-cycle of self-mourning. But "God's child-Sarah" will never need to be mourned. For while my community, friends and job may change, my status as "God's child" is one of permanence and that's an expectation that can afford to be "great".

In closing, I want to clarify that people need community. It's how God has wired us. I NEED people in my life to encourage me, to uplift me and to just spend time with me (and do the same for them in return). But while that community is temporarily lacking (and I'm trusting the Lord that it is only temporary) I've been able to truly examine myself and uncover issues that I didn't know existed. The absence of community has lent itself to the presence of inner vulnerability. And for that, I am learning to be grateful.

Friday, September 04, 2009

I Left My Heart in South Korea

I didn't fully realize how hard this would be. Moving back to America was going to be hard enough but moving to a new town and community while adapting to the US has been more difficult than I ever imagined. I'm starting over for the second time in three years and it hasn't gotten any easier. When I was in college, I had automatic community around me. TCIS was the same deal. Being here, there is a community all around me but it's not mine. It's that of 18-year olds who are embarking on their college experience.

This isn't some sob story, I'm a big girl and I'll be ok. But one thing has really surprised me. I miss Korea more and more each day. I've been listening to Korean pop songs, watching Korean tv on youtube and looking at my pictures from the two years I spent there. My heart has a longing to return (for more than just a visit). I miss the food, the people, the culture, the neon signs, the crazy taxi drivers and even the outrageous smells! I know that Dan and I will be living in the States for a while after marriage, but my heart will always long for international living.

For now, I'm in Minnesota doing something that I absolutely love. I feel equipped and called to the ministry of a Resident Director and I look forward to each day. One month in and I'm grateful to be in this place at this time. I anticipate being here for a while, especially once my fiance joins me! Thank you for all your prayers and support!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Minnesota, Here I Come

The car is loaded, my laundry is almost complete and I'm spending my last night at home by watching So You Think You Can Dance and the Disney channel. Am I ready to embark on a new journey? That depends on what you mean by "ready". I am apprehensive about making friends, finding community, learning the ropes of the job and figuring out how to best ministry. But I'm excited for all those things too. For now, I'm most anxious about the insurmountable task of organizing an apartment filled with two car loads and a Penske truck worth of stuff. The five hour drive to Crown College will be filled with phone calls, music and major processing of the last two years of my life. Two years in Korea, finding my future husband and now moving into a different ministry. I'm still dealing with reverse culture shock and I pray that goes away soon.

Tomorrow is a big day. Not only am I moving to Minnesota, but Dan is going back to Korea. My mind hasn't fully wrapped itself around the fact that I'm NOT going back and once Dan is across the Pacific in my old community with my friends and former students, it will hit me all the more.

This post has been random in every sense of the word. I have put to page all the thoughts floating through my mind and if it doesn't make sense, I promise the next one will...maybe.

Until then...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Back to the Future

It's been a while since I've posted anything and as a result, there's plenty to report. Going back to the topic of the future, I finally know where I will be for the next few years (how ever many the Lord deems). I was blessed enough to receive a couple of RD job offers and after much prayer and consideration (and tons of talks with the fiance), I accepted Crown College's invitation to join them next year. I will be one of two Resident Directors for the Christian bible college west of Minneapolis, MN. While I am overjoyed and excited for this opportunity and so grateful that the Lord has once again provided, I am not assuming that the transition will be easy. There will be plenty of ropes to learn in the job and even more culture shock to cope with after living abroad for two years. But I am up for the challenge and I know the Lord will be with me. In June, I return to the States or a super busy two months before I start my new job and ministry in August. There will be many posts about that, I'm sure.

I have just three weeks left in Korea. Wow, that's hard to type. I love this country. I love these people. I love my kids. I am leaving behind so much (including my future husband). After two years of growing up and learning who I am, it is time to return home and grow up some more, as an individual before I am joined with someone else.

This semester has reminded me of the many ways that the Lord teaches us. His endless creativity in our lives never ceases to astound me. In my case, I have been put through the fire in order to be refined again and again. I haven't always come out purer, as intended, but then Lord just puts me right back in (usually to my dismay). I am thankful for the lessons learned in the past few months and apprehensively look forward to the lessons to come.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fleeting Moments and Uncertainty

This is not what I pictured my life would look like at 25. If you were to ask 6-year-old Sarah, I'd have a multi-platinum selling album under my belt and be touring around with world singing for sold-out shows. Of course, Amy Grant would be opening for me. I was supposed to be a singer. But when God weaned me of that dream through a series of disappointments in college, I moved on. At least I can look back and say that I tried.

So, instead of becoming a singer, I became a missionary- much less glamorous but better fitting- God knew what was best (as He always does). Now I find myself at the crossroads once again. I'm leaving Korea in June and now I'm in the process of trying to find a job in the States. After two rejection letters, my heart is beginning to sink. What if the Lord doesn't want me to pursue this particular path? What if He wants me to move back to the States, live with some friends and work at Starbucks for a year? No, He couldn't possibly want THAT. Not for this super planner. I need a plan!

Two years after college graduation and I find myself in the exact same position. I don't want to leave the place that I am in but the Lord is calling me out. Uncertainty is all I can see in front of me.

As I read the above paragraph, the Lord is tugging at my heart. Wow, I really am in the same position I was two years ago. And you know what, the Lord provided then too. What makes me think that this time will be any different? Am I so thick-headed that He has to teach me the same lessons over and over and over? No, I am human and this is what we do. There's a reason Paul instructed us not to be worried about anything. Just bring it to Abba.

If the current past I'm trying to take doesn't work out, at least I can say that I tried. The Lord's plans are so much bigger than mine. Not my standard of bigger (because in my 6-year-old eyes, being a singer is much bigger than a missionary) but His. May I stop fretting long enough to let go of my own ideals and listen to the Creator of the Heavens...He may have a thing or two to say.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Roma, Roma, Roma

Last week, I went to Italy on a spontaneous trip with some friends. I won't get into all the details leading up to the trip (why we went, the events that transpired during the planning and the like-that's a post in an of itself) but I will share a few reflections after my time there.

First of all, I LOVE Rome. Everything about it is almost surreal. Some people don't like the crowds and the pick-pockets can be a bother, but that didn't phase me. There were five of us staying in an apartment right in central Rome for four days. We saw everything you could possibly see in just four days (all the typical sights) and ate some terrific food. If you ever go to Rome (or any European city for that matter) bring along a Rick Steves' travel guide. The man led us to some of the most hidden, hole-in-the-wall, mom and pap restaurants that were absolutely wonderful. My favorite was a place hidden around the corner from a busy street and away from the tourist attractions. We walked in an an old, plump Italian woman with a scarf tied around her head saw us with the Rick Steves' book and greeted me with a hug and kiss. She led us to a table and the meal began. No menus, they just fed us whatever they were cooking. Five courses (including homemade pasta, of course) and I ate almost everything (c'mon, I AM after all a picky eater).

We saw grand cathedrals and Bible character grave sites; an artful display of 4,000 monk skulls from centuries ago (really creepy) and plenty of ruins. So, what was my favorite? While it's hard to pick just one, the Sistine Chapel really struck me. This beautiful masterpiece is viewed by thousands of people every single day- atheists and Christians alike. One entire wall is a depiction of the last judgement where some will end up in hell and some will join Christ in heaven- it's not implied, it's a self-explanatory painting. So much work was put into not only the Sistine Chapel but all of the cathedrals in Rome (and all over Europe, for that matter). And yet Europe is a largely secular and atheistic continent. It amazes me how lost these countries have become after having such a strong foundation and root in Christianity. Sure, there is a lot of history there, lots of corruption and mistakes, but the fact still remains. Christianity was once a huge presence in Europe and now has fading to little more than tourist attractions and postcard photos. I know that revival is starting, slowly but surely in some countries and I am so excited to see what the Lord has in store.

After Rome, we took a scenic train ride to Venice. My thoughts? If you're in Italy, you must go if only to see the canals and character of the city. But after 1.5 days, I was done. You can walk from one end of Venice to the other in well under an hour, which is awesome. We never had to take the super expensive water taxis or vaporettos (water buses) out of necessity. We did take one trip down the grand canal on a vaporetto, which I highly recommend. But other than the beautiful St. Mark's Square, a few other churches, some apparently amazing islands that we didn't get to and plenty of picturesque alleys and canals, there's nothing to do in Venice but shop and eat. It almost felt like I was at Epcot Center. Tiny streets were lined with store after store and grossly price-inflated eateries. You ran into few Italians other than the ones working. Everyone seemed to be carrying a map or tour book...and we were there in the low tourist season! I did love walking into the countless squares and hearing an accordion or opera singer belting out Italian tunes. I felt like a little kid wandering through a maze as I turned each corner to encounter yet another bridge or small alley. At the end of our trip, we had to leave our quaint, amazingly cute Venice apartment at 5am to catch our bus to the airport. We walked through the streets on the 15 minute hike and saw next to no one. Fog hiding the paths and the gentle rush of canals created a Bronte-esque scene. The walk through the cobblestone streets lined with closed cafes and shops may have been one of my favorite walks during my time in Italy. If you ever make it to Venice, take a walk before the sun comes up, it's magical.

So, those are my thoughts of Italy. It was the #1 country on my list of places to visit and now I can cross it off. If you go, spend more time in Rome and unless you're a shopaholic and like shoveling out tons of cash for touristy versions of Italian food, only spend a couple of days in Venice. But Italy, oh Italy- wondeful.

Next on the list? Egypt, Greece, the UK, India, Australia/New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Ecuador...My name is Sarah and I'm a travel-holic.