Sunday, June 29, 2014

Refined: Spring 2014 in a nutshell.

“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver”
Malachi 3:3a 

“Hey Zara, what’s mah-lee-chee?” He chuckled. The boy in my sophomore English class asked a simple question about the word printed on the back of my letter jacket. 
“It’s Mal-e-kai, it’s a book of the Bible,” I replied, wary, eager to avoid more negative attention. Though the boy asking about my letter jacket was nice enough, 10th grade was not my favorite year. I struggled to fit in with my peers, as most teenagers do. He had asked a seemingly innocent question, but having been teased enough times, I was immediately on the defensive. I probably took a deep breath and proceeded with my reply, “It says ‘He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver,’ which means that God is always with me through hard times.” 
“Oh,” he responded. I relaxed as he walked away. 

It wasn’t uncommon to have a Bible verse printed on your letter jacket in a suburban Bible-belt town, but most of my classmates went with the classic, tried-and-true verses (see: John 3:16, Jer 29:11, Phil 4:13, etc.). Minor prophets just never get much attention do they? Something about this obscure verse from a little-known book stood out to me.

My chosen letter-jacket verse continues about purifying the Levites, though at the time I didn’t know or understand much about Old Testament law, history, or its legacy in light of the New Testament. I had, however, read an article about silver refining the year I ordered my letter jacket.

In the article, a reporter went to a gold and silver refinery while researching the process. The silver refiner sits next to the fire and, with heat and patience, allows something beautiful to come forth. Taking a raw lump of minerals, he places it in the fire, allowing the fire to burn out all impurities. The refiner himself sits in close proximity to the silver during the entire process. Next to the fire, feeling the warmth, and sometimes pain of the heat. When asked how he knows it’s time to remove the silver, he answered, “When I can see my reflection in it.”

“When I can see my reflection in it.” 

That. That sentence hit me powerfully at 14 years old, and it continues to hit me powerfully.

Spring 2014. This semester has been powerful. A refining semester. This spring, I unintentionally took on much more than I could handle. Want to hear about it? Let's chat...

You know by now that I teach English as a Foreign Language at a university in Jeonju. Having a university schedule allows for a ton of free time, as long as I manage my time well during the week (*cough* challenge *cough*). I teach 16 classroom hours, and I can usually pick and choose what other hours to come in to the office to get the administrative side of my job done (lesson planning, records, etc.). There are also committee meetings and duties, which ebb and flow through the semester.

Because of my baller weekly schedule, quite a few people planned to visit Korea this spring! HOORAY! One of my prayers when I chose my (flippin’ awesome) apartment (which I still need to show you on the blog! It took me a year, but I finally did a video tour! I just haven’t put the clips together. Video editing isn’t one of my strengths. Anyway…) of my prayers when I chose my apartment was that people from overseas would come to visit. It was an “if you build it, they will come” type of prayer, if you will. I didn't expect that they would *all* end up visiting in one month, but that’s ok.

Ok so, as of January, I was looking at 16+ hour work weeks with 5 planned visitors, which meant I had an awesome, exciting spring semester ahead of me!

Little did I know…

I had applied for a part-time history position at an international school that’s connected to my university, but I didn’t think I got the position. I found out the 2nd week of February (the week before the semester began) that I did, in fact, get the job! HOORAY!!! I LOVE HISTORY! I LOVE TEACHING HIGH SCHOOL! …whoa this is gonna be intense! Time to start planning!

And so, with two teaching gigs, my nomadic weekend routine, and 5 visitors scheduled in one month on the horizon, spring began.

March came in like a lion. If you’re familiar with the life of a teacher, you know that your first year teaching a new subject takes a lot of planning, and a *lot* of energy. If you want to be a good teacher, you have to put in a good amount of effort. It takes a while to find your stride. History (social studies) was my concentration when I did my student teaching and got my certification through my M.Ed. This is what I have dreamed of!! My own history class at an international school! Dreams come true! I would be teaching a small World History class, and with the primary history teacher to mentor/collaborate with me, I got down to work. Let’s do this!!

I’ll be the first to tell you that the history job was a lot more work than I expected it to be. I wouldn’t trade a minute for the lessons I’ve learned. The experience as a whole has been INCREDIBLE and beneficial, but I arrogantly laughed at warnings from friends who had attempted a full load as a professor while simultaneously teaching part-time at the high school. Arrogance, man. It’ll get ya. Pride goes before the fall, am I right? It was hard. Worth it, but hard. I ate a fair portion of humble pie along the way, I tell you what.


I love pressure, I love a challenge, so the thought of 16 gruelling weeks ahead of me was both exhilarating and exhausting. I felt overwhelmed from the first week. I spoke to my good friend Egbert as the semester began and he remarked that it would be a refining semester for us both, as he was embarking on a new life as an intern pastor and seminary student in Seoul.

Refined: Adj. 
1. Free of unwanted substances. Improved to be more precise or intact. Free from impurities 
2. With impurities and unwanted elements removed by processing.
Syn: improved, purified, developed

How true it is! A refining semester indeed. It has not been easy, but it has been good.

I said I love pressure and a good challenge, and it’s absolutely true, but I know my limits. I knew, I knew, that I had been given a fantastic opportunity to learn and develop my skills as a teacher, but I also knew that I would need supernatural help to accomplish everything I needed to accomplish without going mad. I felt that a battle was coming, in some form or fashion. Where can I turn when I know I can’t do everything? Why, to the source of my joy, to my Rock, my Redeemer, of course.

Diving headfirst into scripture and staying there is the best way to fight. I googled The Bible in 90 Days, a program my brother and seester used a few years ago to read the whole Bible, and printed the bookmark reading plan. If I was gonna make it through the hard months ahead, I needed support. I am not strong enough to do everything I was attempting to do, by myself.

“But he said to me,“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 

Maybe I seemed busy enough already, “too busy” to read so much every day, but the decision to read scripture is never a bad one. To read a *lot* of it every day might be daunting, but it was the best thing I could have possibly done with my time. It forced me to manage my time well as the semester began, to wake up early and get. stuff. done. My early mornings with hot coffee and the Bible became so precious to me! I also learned a lot more about Levites this time through, as well as more about Old Testament law, history, and its legacy in light of the New Testament. So, high-school-Zara, you chose a pretty awesome letter jacket scripture verse!

I didn’t finish in exactly 90 days (I’ve given myself grace there; it’s not healthy to beat yourself up about things when you’re trying your best and I never want to be legalistic about my faith), but I’ve never read through any of the books so quickly. It gives a fresh perspective to read the Bible in different ways, through different plans, in different order, at different paces. For the word of God is living and active! Beth Moore always says that you’ll never waste a minute spent in God’s Word and it’s so true. It bears so much fruit! This semester has been marked by God’s grace in a way that I’m sure I wouldn’t have seen had I not been diving in to what He says in the Bible.

“So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Isaiah 55:11 

As the weeks picked up pace, a routine was established and I started to feel like I was balancing all of the work I had taken on. I was even able to take a few good weekends away to visit old friends around the country. Spring in Korea, I tell you!! Spring is the BEST.

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” 
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 98

Late-April kicked off my month of visitors, which was AMAZING and exciting and fun, and BUSY beyond belief! The week after Easter, my students took midterm exams, I sprained my ankle, and my first visitors landed. Nicole and Brad and I had a blast! We ate everything in Korea, went on adventures, bonded: it was everything a visit should be! And the best part was Brad’s narration via email updates (which he kindly shared on my blog here and here and here!). I think it’s so fun to read others’ perspective on adventures that you’ve had together!

The next weekend was a church-wide retreat with New Philadelphia Church (NPC has several campuses: two in Seoul, one in Busan, and one in Sydney, Australia. If you’re in any of those cities, hit them up!!). The retreat was incredible. The theme was the hidden wisdom of God, with all the talks and breakout sessions focusing on different elements of the theme.

I can't tell you how much I learned, how much I'm still learning from those 4 days! So much spiritual food!! It also really built on something that God had already been establishing without me noticing.

You see, this busy busy semester received an added punch of LOVE and COMMUNITY with an unexpected deeper connection to New Philly.
I’d been visiting New Philly’s Itaewon campus since last summer, once or twice a month, just whenever I happened to be in Seoul for the weekend. I already loved it. I’d met great people, begun new friendships, learned a lot, etc. As I have grown in fellowship with these awesome people, I’ve been challenged and encouraged and, well, refined

So, without me even paying close attention, God had placed me into a new community of people who LOVE God and LOVE me, a place where the Holy Spirit nudges my heart to respond, a home. The retreat confirmed it and. I. love. it. Brian, a brother in Jeonju, called it my ‘upper room,’ a special place to meet with God and be refreshed, to grow. Especially fitting because Seoul is about 2.5 hours north of Jeonju, so, it’s “upper.” ;)

And so, a few days after the retreat, my third visitor came to Korea! JoLeah, a friend from Texas A&M, backpacked through Asia for 4 months this spring. You know those friends with whom you can go months without talking or years without seeing and it doesn’t make a difference? It’s the best. It was so great to spend time with her and catch up, to hear about her travels, to show her around Jeonju, eat American brunch and Korean dinner, and just hang out.

JoLeah and I went up to Seoul for the weekend, where we got to go to a big Friday night prayer service. So refreshing, so good. She also got to meet up with another friend in Seoul AND THEN ON SUNDAY I went to the airport to pick up MY MOM AND AUNT SARA!!!!

Honest-to-goodness, I was so concerned about their trip. I love (LOVE) being a good hostess, but with ALL THE VISITORS and JOBS and RETREAT and GENERAL BUSY LIFE, I was *drained* by the time they landed. It was the latter half of a busy semester and the very end of a very busy month. I didn’t see how I would have enough energy to be Typical Enthusiastic Zara by the time they got here.

Let’s be real: Having company is awesome, and exhausting.
Let’s be even more real: I love being a teacher, but teaching is exhausting. Teaching classes that are unenthusiastic is even *more* exhausting.
My Monday afternoon through Wednesday afternoon English classes were not the most enthusiastic bunch, so my weeks basically went like this: Monday-Wednesday I was a busy, frustrated zombie, then Thursday was pretty restful and Friday was always really fun, with energetic classes! You know how stage actors receive energy from the audience? Teachers receive energy from the class. It’s exactly the same performance feeling. Teachers are in the infotainment business.

So Mom and Aunt Sara landed on a Sunday afternoon, and even though I was a walking stress-ball from Monday-Wednesday, we had fun in and around Jeonju. I got to share my day-to-day life in Korea with them. They got to see my new normal!! Believe it or not, life as an expat isn’t always flashy. Don’t let the instagram filters fool you. No one wants to see instagrammed pics of my sink full of dishes or my laundry hanging up for lack of a dryer, but the reality is that we go to normal jobs, meet with friends to do normal hang-out things, do normal apartment chores, deal with normal grocery store stuff. It was so fun to share the basic “normal-ness” of my life with my family, and especially great to have them meet many of my friends that they’ve heard so much about!

By God’s good grace, I was able to take Thursday-Friday off (praise the Lord) and we spent a long weekend of awesomeness in Seoul! We went to see the musical Ghost (in Korean, no less!!), we went to Unhyeongung Palace, tried on Hanbok (so fun!), saw the changing of the guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace, hit up a few museums, and ate everything we possibly could. They also got to join me at a friend’s birthday party and Joint Prayer Meeting where churches pray specifically for Korea, and then we went to church at New Philly on Sunday. In a word: perfect.

Monday and Tuesday were busy and normal again, then the goodbyes… goodbyes are never easy. I sent them off on their bus to the airport and ugly-cried my way home in a taxi.

And then I slept, for like, a week.
Not really because I had to work the next morning at 9 am. But I really wanted to sleep for a week.

Let’s be real some more: trying to balance doing your job well and being a good hostess is incredibly difficult. I came out of the month-o-visitors feeling like a failure as a teacher, which isn’t exactly true, but I struggled with it nonetheless. I love teaching. It’s the perfect profession for me in this season of life. I love imparting knowledge about things that I love (language and history are two things I LOVE A LOT) to students, especially to teenagers. (Teaching high schoolers and university freshmen and sophomores means that I teach almost all teenagers and they are SO MUCH FUN!) Unfortunately, I wasn’t super organized for that month, because I just couldn’t be, so I felt frazzled and frantic and stressed about not being the best teacher or department committee member I could be. I really had to sit back and pray, focus and take a deep breath, and rest in grace. All my visitors were delightful. I wouldn't have traded a day of their visits. I lived each day to the fullest and did my very best (which isn’t half bad, most of the time ;) )

Things slowly worked themselves out, back to a normal routine, a typical mix of weekend events in both Jeonju and Seoul. As things settled, I finally managed to find time to do all the chores that had been put off while company came, and then ALLOFASUDDEN it was time to prepare final exam reviews and the exams themselves. Wait. WHAT?? It felt like midterm exams had been, like, yesterday, but NOPE the end was upon us!


Final exams have come and gone. Grading and admin at the end of the semester takes for freaking ever (I’m currently taking short breaks to write out this novel of a blog post, over the week-long grading process)(Did I mention I’m still working on my time management skills?). My students surprised me, as they often do, with what a fantastic job they did. All that feeling like a failure as a teacher? Pointless. My world history kiddos all passed their final exam, showing a broad range of knowledge, comprehension, analysis, and application over roughly 15,000 years of history that we covered (EXTREMELY PROUD TEACHER!!!)! My university EFL kiddos (mostly) impressed me, giving themselves a diverse semester grade curve (the highest grade in my most difficult class was a 105, the lowest was a 21. A twenty-one. So. The old phrase “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink” comes to mind…). The conversation class final exam projects were also really fun to watch. I love giving projects! I love to let them stretch their English skills in creative ways. Sometimes they fall flat… sometimes they blow me away! And though I worried that I hadn’t been “present” enough as an educator this semester, though I worried that I “should” have done such-and-such differently, I worried for nothing. I got sweet messages from several students about how much they loved my class and wanted to sign up for my classes again in the fall. Heart. Melt! If that isn’t confirmation, I don’t know what is. I love teaching. I love students. Love.

The University: 

Campus on a cold and rainy day.

Spring means the occasional outside class! 

Student presentations to advertise their favorite music videos using comparatives and superlatives 

Feeling especially teacher-y and professional that day  
#awesomeclass #airquotes 

Another beautiful springtime outside class! 

Noraebang with my students. One of the perks of teaching at a Korean university! 

Conversation partner work 

Final exam review week 

Final projects! This skit was about seasons and festivals, so they dressed up and had props and WERE SO CUTE!! 

Written exams. These were a beast to grade. 

The High School: 

Campus on a gorgeous spring day! 
First weeks of school. Notes notes notes. 

Ancient History is so fun
Midterm exam projects! They did so well! 
Last day of school. Make good choices, my precious youths! 

This semester has grown me, challenged, trained, equipped, motivated me, proved me wrong, developed me, freed me, pushed me past the point that I thought I might break, yet I have come out on the other side a stronger teacher, a stronger person, a stronger believer with more knowledge of the Word, more dependent on the Father than ever.

As hard as this semester was, and it was hard, I wouldn’t trade a minute. Hard can be good. Jimmy Dugan says it this way: “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

Refining fire. The heat is real. Jesus is more. I am weak, He is very, very strong. “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver…” 

Refined. Impurities and unwanted elements removed by processing. Improved to be more precise or intact. 


When asked how he knows it’s time to remove the silver, he answered, 
“When I can see my reflection in it.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment