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.