Saturday, October 11, 2014

St. Margo of the Cherry Hills

"You're a good girl, Maggie." She'd tell me.
"Gram, how old do you feel today?" The answer always varied: "Three." "Twenty-five." "Fifty." (That was on bad days.) If you told her her real age, she'd respond in disbelief, "98! That's almost a hundred!" If you kissed her on one cheek, she'd offer the other one, saying, "Balance me out."

Gram passed away almost two months ago.

I lived beside her for 8 years, after she moved in with us in 2002, and before I moved to Korea in 2010. When I was home for visits, I loved to snuggle beside her, repeating the same lines of conversation over and over again.
"Morning, Lady."
"How are you, Maggie?"
"I'm pretty good, Gram."
"What did you say you do?"
"I'm an English teacher."
"Where do you live?"
"I live in Korea, Gram."
"Korea! That's a long walk."
"Yeah, it's a long airplane ride, too."
"Do you have a boyfriend, Maggie?"
"Nope, not yet. You?"
"Nope. We should go out there and find ourselves some nice boys. ... So, how are you, Maggie?"

Gram loved to sing. An experienced church alto, she didn't need words or music to ring out the (gradually out of tune) alto part in hymns. Sometimes, she was fixated on songs, Easter songs, old radio jingles, even an old nonsense tune her Italian brother-in-law taught her long ago. It was Chinese, he'd told her. My sister's Chinese students denied it.

She was Dutch. The daughter of a nurseryman (who raised roses and azaleas, in particular) in central Holland, she immigrated with her mother, sister, and brother to join her father in America in 1925. She was ten at the time. She taught us that the cheese names were pronounced hauda and aedahm, never gauda  and eedem, and certainly never goda or gooda. She also coached us to properly greet someone in Dutch, and how to pronounce her family name, Kersbergen, (Cherry Hills) in the true Dutch way. If you asked her, "Do you speak Dutch?" She would tell you, "No." But when students from the Netherlands Antilles spoke to her in Dutch, she'd reply in kind. They loved it, and so did she.

She knew Spanish, too. She and Grandpa Jack were pioneer missionaries to Paraguay with New Tribes Missions, and they'd spent two years in Mexico before going to Paraguay, learning fluent Spanish. Mom said that she learned Spanish from hearing her parents tell secrets in Spanish, as well as listening to her mom teach Spanish Sunday School. Even in her last year, Gram enjoyed accompanying Mom to a local church's Spanish service.

Sure, she was old, and the last time I was home, it took her awhile to recall who I was, but she rarely acted old. She was nearly a 5th sister, occasionally tattling, "Ma! They're pickin' on me!" while blowing raspberries at us (and let me tell you, she could blow some serious raspberries). If she wanted to steady herself on your arm, she might ask, "You like chicken? I'll take a wing." If you told her she might want to go to bed, she'd retort, "Pig's tail. Twirly." Gram Taking Pills was a one-woman theater production, if she knew she had an audience. I use a lot of the dramatic expression I learned from her while I teach squirmy elementary students across a language barrier. Sometimes, she'd interject a well-timed crack into the conversation flowing around her. If you were sitting by her, and your bare feet were on the couch beside you, she would get a gleam of mischief in her eye, and slowly reach over to tickle the exposed targets. Mom would say, "Kids, this is not the woman I grew up with."

Gram was a romantic. She would tell us about her old boyfriend, Bob Cressy, Grace Livingston Hill's secretary (Yes, the Christian author. "She was a very gracious lady." Gram said of meeting her.). She also enjoyed reminiscing about meeting Grandpa Jack: "That night, I went home, and I called all my girlfriends, and told them, 'Girls, I've met the man I'm going to marry!'" A long-time widow (Grandpa Jack died soon after Mom and Dad were married.), Gram often entertained aloud the idea of finding a boy, and, when the mood struck, shamelessly flirted with boys 75 to 95 years younger than her. She also occasionally picked out dime-store romance novels (which, if caught in time, we would return) because she loved a good love story.

I felt protective of Gram. Sometimes people would fawn over her or tell me, "You take such good care of your gram." Well, of course. She's my gram, and I love her. Aye, I loved her, and the better I knew her, the more I loved her. She loved me, too.

Even when I didn't know her well, I still knew she was a good Grandma - not only would she send us a present at Christmas, and two presents on our birthdays, she'd also include a present for each of us on a sibling's birthday. While visiting her home in IL, she taught me to make white sauce and Eggs Goldenrod, and I, mindful at 11 that I may not have long with this old lady, made a point to hug her, spoofing McDonalds by asking "Have you had your hug today?". On one visit to our home in Pittsburgh, soon before she moved in with our family permanently, she entertained us by tossing out a 'yinz', claiming, "I'm a fast study."

Gram loved God. That was about the most defining feature of her life. All silliness fell away if a spiritual matter came up. She knew the Bible well, and her theology was sound. On mornings I needed to board a plane to return to my Eastern hemisphere, knowing this may be my last chance to see her in this world, I would crawl in bed beside her to tell her goodbye and I love her and ask her to pray with me and for me. She was always ready to pray, and her prayers on our behalf were fervent.

The morning after her funeral, I walked into her room to wake a sister in the other bed, and was slammed with grief when I saw her empty bed. It was time for me to fly out, but she wasn't there to say goodbye. I sobbed, bereft.

Gram played a big role in my life, a much bigger role than I would have expected when I sassed her at the age of five, and her influence in me will emerge, I'm sure, in various ways throughout the rest of my life.

"There's a part of her that will always be with me." I told my mom. "That's right." She answered thoughtfully. "Particularly my nose." I grinned. I'll be proud to pass this Dutch nose on to my own grandchildren, and tell them tales of my grandma, the determined, clever saint from Holland.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The War for Manseul

Sel swaggered into the Dragon's Teeth, joining his men in their celebration. "You fought well, today, lads! Long have we struggled against the Army of Lohst at Ahie Gate, but today marked a turning point. We struck the enemy strong and fast, and they ran, whipped, with their tails between their legs! It will be a long time, indeed, before the Pretender's Army dares attack again!" Rousing cheers met his declarations, for all were drunken on their victory and confidence. Indeed, this was a victory to be savored. Long had the Army of Lohst prevailed at Ahie Gate, and terrible was the guilt and wreckage left in that army's path. Perhaps the change had come. With one victory, more could follow, as long as the troops held fast.

"Captain, there's talk of spies in Manseul, creeping in through the gates. Just yesterday, Mie spotted one coming through Iere Gate. He gave chase, but lost him at the market." Maheen reported.

"Hah. Spies. They'll find no welcome here. This is Manseul! We just defeated an army. What spies would be foolish enough to challenge such a city as ours?"

"Sir, something is amiss. There is talk of strange things seen in the backways. Women and children being frightened by terrible creatures."

"Maheen, we can send some troops to investigate tomorrow. This is a day of victory, not fear. Now, return to your post."

Maheen relaxed, striding confidently back to his sector near Fiel Gate. Soon, however, his steps rang out as he charged back to the Dragon's Teeth. "To arms! To arms!" He cried. "The enemy is within!"

Civilians raced, screaming, from the scene of massacre in the streets. "Monsters! Foul beasts in the city!" Gross, misshapen dogs, the size of horses charged after them, determined to break through Mahth Gate and crooked lizards slithered their poisonous tongues, tasting for more innocents to devour.

Alarms were sounded at Iere, Fiel, and Mahth Gates. Troops in the barracks stumbled from their victorious slumber into a dreadful battle. Within and without, the full brunt of Ahngr, Bitdernis, and Jelassi Armies bore down on Manseul. The battle raged through the next days, finally calming as the enemy forces within were subdued. The city was devastated. No celebration marked this tenuous victory.

"Milords," Captain Sel reported, "We were fools. We were so focused on the Army of Lohst, then pleased at our triumph at Ahie Gate, that we failed mark the spies from the Pretender's other armies taking root in Manseul. When they struck, we were utterly unprepared for the severity of their onslaught. Their monsters were nurtured within our gates. Ours. What foulness haunts our city! Even now, we suspect there are many still within the city, biding their time for our next moment of weakness. We must charge those at the gates to be vigilant, and to thoroughly inspect each one allowed through. Regardless, we shall prepare for the next attack. It is not a question of 'if', but of 'when'. Good day, sirs."

Why yes, I did borrow from John Bunyan. (Not Paul Bunyan, though I do tend to mix the two up.) If you recognized the 'vibe' or the 'sense' of John Bunyan's The Holy War, awesome points to you. If not, I highly recommend you read the original story in its entirety. (Be aware, there are 2 parts, just 'cause the battle is won, doesn't mean Diabolus is done.) This was inspired by the war and battles in my own soul, as well as insight from my Heavenly Father. Some of our spiritual battles are obvious, and we know quickly whether we have won or lost, but others are far more insidious. When these battles erupt, they come from the insurgency within us, which is far more frightening and monstrous, because I am my own enemy.

The battle is long, and you are weary, but the armor is light, and the cause will prevail. And someday, we don't know when, we can stop fighting, lay down our arms, and rest for eternity. Fight on, friends. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Walk by Faith

As a teenager, I worked summers at Pinebrook, a place of varying degrees of mystery, wonder, pain, excitement, boredom, smiles, and tears. I had been a camper there for years, which accounts for a lot of the mystery and wonder. I'm getting sidetracked. Girls working summers at Pinebrook mostly stayed in Pine Lodge (I stayed in the new incarnation of it, though legend said the old one was awesome.), which was in the campground. Now, there were two main ways to get to Pine Lodge, and a third shortcut up some steep terrain. I liked the shortcut. At night, it was unlit, but I'd climbed it enough times in the light that all I needed was a careful step. I referred to it as 'walking by faith, and not by sight.' I didn't get that knowing the path left out the faith part.

These days, I'm learning better what it means to walk by faith. It means not seeing beyond the next step in life. Trusting that my Father knows the path, despite my blindness. Believing that there is a purpose in my seemingly meaningless task. Taking the next step. It's painful and healing, frightening and reassuring. I feel the coward and look the brave, think of escape while fighting in battle. I prayed 'Lord, save me from my righteous self. Show me my own ugliness.' Boy, I am ugly. I am filthy, craven, hard, bitter, and twisted. But I am redeemed. I am loved, forgiven, protected, guided, and molded. I am on the anvil, going through heat and pain to be forged a tool that is stronger, purer, wiser. Oh, it hurts. But in the times I lie awake, protesting my burden, He reminds me that I am His, that He is good, and that He is on my side, and I drift off, secure in my Father's arms.

We walk by faith, and not by sight.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Ps. 119:105 (Thanks, Pioneer Girls, circa 1997)

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Big Ones

I saw them. Their faces, familiar, yet strange in changing hairstyles and growing maturity. It had been over 6 months since I'd last seen most of them. Their greetings, still cheerful, their enthusiasm, undimmed. They were my children, for a long, potent year. Their names lingered in the corners of my mind, faded like a near-forgotten tongue, overwritten with new, younger faces. My heart swelled to see them, yearning for more chances to strengthen our rapport. Their ebb and flow as they struggled to remember words they hadn't practiced. My arms opened instinctively for greeting hugs, forgetting that these were not my hugging wee bairns. Their juniors, confused at the now rare sight of a foreign face and the eager cries of their seniors. Oh, how I'd missed them, but now, my love for them burned only as strong as my love for their counterparts, my little ones (Do the mothers who claim multiplied, not divided, love have one thousand claims?). Their backs, fading quickly away, as they ignore the commotion by the door. Was it already nearly a school year since I was theirs? Yet, they are still mine. The others, already at new schools, scattered, nearly beyond reach. The others, preparing for new schools, leaving even fewer behind. Their smiles, grinning at a familiar face, eager at the promise of food. Their focus, as the long-awaited food rewards their patience. Their promises, likely hollow, of more chances to meet.

Oh, my dear, sweet ones. I'll see you again, very soon, but then, what? Will we meet again, as you transition to high school, then college? Will I yet be here, caring for each new year of tiny ones? Will I remember you as I raise my own babes, in foggy future years? Will you remember me? And yet, there is work at hand. There are little huggers with their now-familiar names. There are big little ones, almost off to middle school. This love, slower-growing as it may be, must multiply.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

On the Shores of Babylon

There is a song I've heard before now, but only recently listened to carefully. It speaks to me, putting into words feelings I've had since I settled in here in Korea: "Until I die, I'll sing this song, on the shores of Babylon. Still looking for a home in a world where I belong." (Where I Belong - Switchfoot) I live in Babylon. I am a stranger in this land. Even when I am 'home', in the USA, I don't quite belong. Home is here, in Korea, but it isn't. I'm a 3rd culture person.

The Israelites experienced something similar - they lived in exile in Babylon for 70 years. Children were born and parents died, but they did not belong there. They were waiting for the time when God would allow them to return to their true home, Israel. If there's one thing life in Korea teaches me, it's that I don't belong on this earth. My ultimate citizenship is in Heaven.

Since moving here, I have found myself underlining every verse I read about foreigners or aliens (My ID card states that I am an alien.). There are quite a few of them, verses about foreigners. In the Old Testament law, God made special provisions for widows, orphans, and aliens. I recently read a booklet which summed the three up as being prone to "relational poverty", lacking a family or support network to sustain them. (The Jubilee Roadmap by Guy Brandon - It's "worthwhile reading", to borrow my dad's turn of phrase.) I agree. Here, as an alien, I can't call on someone my dad knows from seminary who knows someone who can help with something (for example). My network is small, partly because I'm not a 'networker', but also because my early networks, from family, church, college, and school, are irrelevant to my life in Korea, being an ocean away. Nonetheless, God has provided in every circumstance.

Whether my fair, foreign face (complete with "strange" blue eyes), or my relational poverty, it is easy here to remember that I am not of this world. I don't belong here, in Korea, or there, in America. I'm living in Babylon, awaiting the time when I may go to the world where I belong.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Honeymoon's Over

A year and a half ago, another foreign teacher I had met told me she was leaving Korea 'while the going was good'. She didn't want to wait until after the glow had worn off, for the rust to show. I was confounded by her opinion - What did she mean, that life in Korea would someday sour? Despite my previous challenges, I still loved being in Korea, and couldn't imagine living elsewhere. Now, I know.

Korea certainly has lost its glossy finish for me - one too many ahjummas (pushy middle-aged women), one too many times being battered by an unforgiving language barrier (after a certain amount of Korean, my brain can and will shut off its 'foreign language function'), one too many differences of opinion with those I need to cooperate with (acting like a grown-up takes a ridiculous amount of effort), one too many plates of food that just doesn't quite appeal to me, one too many bouts of aphasia or Konglish. Yes, the gloss is gone. The honeymoon is over.

Now for the waking up with Korea, and continuing with Korea, and the loving it despite its myriad flaws. Now for the choosing to love Korea for affectionate little children who marvel that other countries have books and can read (no lie, that happened today), for caring bigger children who will devour massive amounts of ice cream while playing card games with me, for providential grandfathers who tell me, whether the weather is growing too hot or too cold, to "take care of your health", for new friends who think I'm fascinating, for fresh chances to bridge chasms between me and old friends, for foreign friends who know exactly what I'm going through, for a dad who proudly tells strangers that I live in Korea, though it seems an unremarkable feat, for little ones who beg for a big, tight hug, then wiggle and cry out, then ask for another.

Yes, the honeymoon is over, but my time here is not. And so, for every time a student compares me to an elephant (today, and, yes, she was old enough to know better), I have the opportunity to slough it off, remember I am ultimately here to serve God, and keep going.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Christ is Risen!

Another memorable Easter is coming to a close in Seoul. Today was early, to be sure, but enjoyable. My alarm rang at a rare 5:45, since I needed to catch the train that left at 6:45. I even arrived early for the 7:30 Sunrise Service, though the sun (blessedly) rose over an hour earlier. (I'm so thankful for the lengthening days. It's more cheerful to not wake up to darkness, and to enjoy the extended evenings.) Why, though, would I make the extra effort at least this one Sunday out of the year? I started thinking about it, and wanted to share what I realized...

Easters have always been special for me. As a girl growing up in a parsonage (or manse, as others call it), Sunday School, Morning Services, and Evening Services (Don't forget Wednesday night prayer meeting!) were the norm. Easter, however, we would be woken and ready to go in the dark to go to the Sunrise Service. Every other year, our church traded off with our sister church across town for Sunrise Services. This meant that not only did we get to be out of bed super early (which was fun, back then), but we also got to see people we sort of knew, but didn't see regularly, and certainly not every week, like the folks at our own church. There was also breakfast, far more substantial than the usual coffee and doughnuts, and the whole experience (kudos to Mom and Dad for making it so) was nearly magical. I don't know if we fully understood why, exactly, we met at sunrise on Easter until later, but it was special, nonetheless. One extra-memorable Easter Sunday, some in our family were devastated to learn that they couldn't go to the Sunrise Service - Mom found chicken pox. Those of us without were relieved that we'd escaped... Until the telltale signs appeared on us 2 weeks later.

I don't recall that we had Sunrise Services at our next church, but as I grew older, I was better able to understand and appreciate the significance of Easter, including sunrise at Easter, the time when Jesus returned to life, complete with an earthquake and a stone that angels rolled away. (There were also other dead people who left their graves at the earthquake and walked around the city. Bet you didn't notice that in Sunday School... I sure didn't notice that until later, but how crazy-awesome is that?!?!?)

Another memorable Easter was in my freshman year of college - I'd visited New York City with a school trip over Spring Break, and was fascinated by the place. It didn't take too much work to convince my older brother that we should go back at the next possible chance - Easter Break. That Easter, we were with a pastor's family that we knew by various ways and means. (Okay, my dad was friends with their dad, and we knew the family from summer camp.) We went to their 8:30ish chilly outdoor sunrise service, long after sunrise, and enjoyed breakfast afterward with a variety of New Yorkers. Other things happened that day, including spending time with good friends and making memories, but that was a trip to remember, for certain.

Easter in Paris was exceptional. My older sister and I escaped our unsatisfying tour group (with permission!) to meet up with missionary friends for their Easter services in the Parisian suburbs. (We didn't make it to their Sunrise Service, but 3 church plants were together for a joint service.) Worshiping and fellowshipping with the missionary family and with French brothers and sisters in Christ was thrilling. Couple the morning fellowship with an afternoon and evening of the Louvre, L'Arc de Triumphe, et Le Tour d'Eiffel, and it was one of the best days of my life. (Apart from that run-in with the weird older guy trying to proposition us... I'd rather forget that part.)

And that brings us to Korea. My first Easter here was spent at a Korean church where I was meeting up with the guest speaker, a pastor who knew my dad from England (Why, yes, pastors' kids do have pretty impressive networks, especially when their dad is as impressive as mine. ^_^). We had a nice time meeting and conversing about life in Korea, and other diverse and sundry subjects.

While I don't have particular memories about last Easter, this Easter was pretty neat. The Sunrise Service (my attendance, I realized, was inspired by memories of childhood Sunrise Services) was good, and the following breakfast was delicious and filling, with plenty of food and fellowship. I may have been drinking more coffee than usual today, but it's been a good day of fellowship, learning, and resting.

May your Easters also be filled with awareness of the great gift, sacrifice, and miracle that is Christ's death and resurrection.

He is risen, indeed.

-Miss Chatters