Why Korea

Last month, I took a ten-day trip to Korea.

Seoul’s a fantastic city to visit. It’s easy to navigate, welcoming, and relatively clean and safe. It was definitely one of the most enjoyable and restful trips I’ve taken in a while.

In the run-up to the trip, however, as I announced my plans, I was faced with an almost universal question: “Why?”

Why the Why?

I’ve traveled internationally a bit. Most places I go, nobody asks why.

The last few years took me to Scotland, New Zealand, England, and France. People invariably told me to have fun seeing the castles, say hi to the Hobbits, pack an umbrella, enjoy the cheese, and take lots of pictures.

“You’re going to have so much fun,” they told me, and “That sounds amazing.”

I did, and it was.

Practically no one spoke this way about my trip to Korea. Instead, they asked why I was going.

Beneath the Question

As to what’s driving the why question, I have a theory.

As a member of Generation X, I came of age in a school system teaching a version of World History that was basically Euro-centric with a few global frills. Our curriculum did reference Asian or African countries, but only as their timelines intersected with the overarching Western narrative. Most of the mentions were war-related and negative.

Until I started traveling the world, I had no sense of the gaps in my education.

Over the past twenty years, I’ve been playing catch-up. I read where I travel and travel where I read.  Sometimes I forget how wide my gap used to be.

Until I’m asked repeatedly why I’m going to Korea.

There’s More

Someone actually articulated it to me like this, “The only thing I know about Korea is the Korean War.”

If war is all you know about a place, then sure. The why question makes sense.

But Korea’s more than a place where a war happened.

Most places are.


My next post will be a series of vignettes from the Korea trip. Things we did, what we saw, and what happened along the way. I just want to clear everything with my travel partner first. Though she’s responsible for zero of the truly embarrassing incidents, she deserves a say in what goes public.


For now, please enjoy a few snippets from my daily travelogue.

Friday, September 6, 2019

4-hour flight, then 14-hour flight, then 1-hour bus ride.

Whole day was a blur. More like a smear.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

We only got lost(ish) twice!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

We walked the route down to the main road correctly for the first time, but because we’d done it wrong so many times, we thought we were lost because nothing looked familiar.

Monday, September 9, 2019

My overconfidence got us lost.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

There’s a Popeye’s near the DMZ! Didn’t get to check if they have the sandwich.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Ramyun, sweet fried chicken, dumplings, hotteok, bindaetteok, knife-cut noodles. Perfect broth, sublimely chewy! I forgot everything else about today except that I have a huge blister.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

A woman in a public restroom at the park gave us paper towels from her purse to wipe our hands with.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Wasted a bunch of time because I thought we were locked out of a building when really the door was push instead of pull. Still want to die as I think about this.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

We sucessfully hiked Bukhansan! Well, I bit it pretty early.  But I didn’t hurt myself. So that’s a success.


The whole trip was a success, really. Other than the push/pull situation. And all the times we got lost.

Plus two incidents with umbrellas.

But that’s for next time.

Seeing What’s There

Last month, two friends and I took a road trip to Montgomery, Alabama.

Our intent was not simply to eat, drink, and be merry, though we did manage to fit those things in as well. Our main purpose was to fill in some gaps in our knowledge of American history. We’d centered this particular trip around hitting some of the historical stops along the Civil Rights Trail.

I’ve always enjoyed seeing locations I’d previously only read about in books. Inevitably, I come away with lessons that only experience can bring. It’s why I so often read where I travel and travel where I’ve read. The realtime learning cycle makes eureka moments nearly inevitable.

On this trip, my keenest realization came not from anything I read in the museums or saw at the memorials. It arose from a deep sense of place.

The evening we arrived in Montgomery, we walked down to the waterfront. On our way back up Commerce Street, I had the first inkling of what was to become my major takeaway.

You don’t need a tour guide to tell you that the city of Montgomery had originally been centered around a single focal point.

Market Square.

As it appears today, the intersection presents as a wide, innocuous traffic circle with a fountain in the center. The night we first approached, it was relatively free of traffic. Quiet and peaceful.

Historically, Market Square was home to Montgomery’s thriving slave market.

This was once the nexus of the city, and when standing in its center, you’re afforded a clear line of sight down Commerce Street to the waterfront, where still rest the crumbling foundations of city’s enormous cotton slide. Pivoting only slightly grants a view up Dexter Avenue to the state Capitol Building at the top of a hill, looming over all.

Standing there in Market Square, I felt the wheel of history slowly swing around us. Laws and regulations handed down from the capitol, goods and slaves streaming up from the waterfront, cotton flowing down the slide.

Though America’s chattel slavery system has been dismantled, Montgomery’s original design still clearly reflects its legacy.

These things weren’t done in a corner, in Montgomery and beyond. The slavery system wasn’t a footnote. It was a focal point.

And it left its mark.

I know I promised you a summer blog series, and here we are at the end of August. It’s not that I forgot. It’s just that my summer took some unexpected turns and disrupted my best-laid plans.

You know how life does.

But look! We’re all still here, and I’m just as happy with the prospect of a fall series as a summer one. My current schedule is much more coherent than my summer one was, and I look forward to leveraging that cohesiveness for our mutual advantage.

Catch you on the flippity flip!

COVER REVEAL: Unseasonable

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Coming in December 2019 from Pelican Book Group!

Unseasonable: A Novel of Sisterhood, Storms, Sunblock, and the Occasional Christmas Celebration

Ann Cooper does not panic. From her demanding job training horses to her family role of keeping tabs on her high-maintenance sister, Ann remains cool, calm, and collected at all times. This holiday season, however, Ann’s fortitude will be tested like never before. Not only is she pondering a potential shift in an important relationship, but she’s also facing the prospect of riding out an unseasonable hurricane with the doubtful help of her sister Rachel. This December, Ann’s patience and faith will both be stretched. Will the risks involved in taking a leap of faith outweigh the possible rewards?

For more information, see here.

To be among the first to know when the book goes up for pre-order, see here!

Florida Summer Is Your Winter

The evidence is undeniable.

Holing Up Indoors

Those who spend winter huddling under a pile of blankets truly appreciate the arrival of the summer sun. As one of my Midwestern friends is fond of saying, “Sun’s out, guns out!” (She’s referring to her arms. She lifts. She’s crazy strong and enjoys sporting tank tops.)

Down here, however, we have a different summer motto. “Flee the sun lest it boil your face.” While November through March are nearly idyllic, drawing visitors from around the globe, April through October cause us to question why anyone ever settled here. 

Most of us prefer to spend summer inside huddled under air conditioning vents.

Extreme Storms

For most of you, winter is the time to brace yourself. You dress for extreme cold and fortify your homes and vehicles against major storms. For us, the opposite is true. Extreme temperatures and damaging storms arrive during summer.

In addition to soaring temperatures, Florida summer heralds the arrival of rainy season.

These aren’t just cute little rain showers, either. They’re tropical deluges. Towering thunderheads build quickly, unleashing torrential downpours accompanied by electrical storms. Personally, during summer I plan to run errands in the morning or evening to avoid getting caught in them.

In addition to near-daily storms, summer heralds the threat of named tropical storms and full-blown hurricanes

Is it any wonder our seasonal residents abandon ship every spring?

Complaining on Social Media

Northern friends spend the winter posting pictures of the snowfall accumulating on their back porches and Tweeting low temps. They bemoan the wind, decry a lack of sunlight, and wish for winter to end.

Meanwhile, during Florida summer, we post that it’s still 90 degrees after sunset (seriously, how??) and complain that we broke into a sweat while walking toward the gym at 6:00am.

Conclusion

I’m not trying to turn this into a contest about whose seasonal issues are worse.

I think we can all agree Siberia has us beat.

All places have ups and downs. All things considered, Florida’s pretty great. Once winter rolls around, I’m sure plenty of you would be happy to trade places. 

Bear in mind, however, that we do have other problems.

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Note: An early version of this post appeared in June of 2016 on my former blogging site. With record highs hitting the northeastern United States this weekend, it seemed like an opportune moment to dust it off and trot it back out. Keep cool, check on your neighbors, and take care of each other!

Publication Announcement

New Book

You asked. I listened.

Coming in December 2019 from Pelican Book Group:

Unseasonable: A Novel of Sisterhood, Storms, Sunblock, and the Occasional Christmas Celebration

Ann Cooper does not panic. From her demanding job training horses to her family role of keeping tabs on her high-maintenance sister, Ann remains cool, calm, and collected at all times. This holiday season, however, Ann’s fortitude will be tested like never before. Not only is she pondering a potential shift in an important relationship, but she’s also facing the prospect of riding out an unseasonable hurricane with the doubtful help of her sister Rachel. This December, Ann’s patience and faith will both be stretched. Will the risks involved in taking a leap of faith outweigh the possible rewards?

Fans of the Collapsible trilogy can look forward to meeting plenty of old friends in these pages, as well as some fresh faces; but since this is a straight-up spin-off, new readers will have no trouble quickly orienting themselves in Ann’s world. (Ann’s world is extremely oriented.)

This book was an absolute treat to write, and I can’t wait to get it in front of your beady little eyes.

More info when I have it!

(Tip: Subscribers always know first.)


You’ve all been very patient as my blogging frequency dropped during the first half of 2019. Now that you know why I trust you’ll forgive me.

Because NEW BOOK!

I look forward to posting some reflections from my recent trip to Montgomery and a short series before the summer is over.

Happy Friday, everybody! Until we meet again, may your A/C be cool, your coffee hot, and your hearts warm.

 

Florida Summer: The Ultimate Bummer (A Poem by Me)

When thunderclouds rise in the deep Western skies

And the air is as heavy as lead –

When fat Bufo toads squat right there by our toes

And the snakes topple down on our heads –

When we feel ourselves frown as the sweat trickles down

From our necks to the smalls of our backs –

Then we know without doubt that our luck has run out

And the summer’s arrived right on track.

Oh, this Florida summer–it’s really a bummer.

The sunshine’s so bright we go blind!

It’s hot and it’s muggy, and outside it’s buggy.

That heat index? Simply unkind.

The gators are gloating, the fire ants floating,

The snowbirds have all fled up North.

On the Fourth of July, we’ll sit inside and cry

As the A/C once more proves its worth.

By fall, you may find that we’ve all lost our minds.

But there’s a good reason, remember.

(The number one reason is Hurricane Season,

Which stretches from June to November.)

So let’s hang down our heads for the season we dread –

It’s summer down here in SoFlo.

Sure, we know how to deal, just don’t ask how we feel

Unless you–in fact–want to know.


Despite the tone of the poem above, I’m actually doing pretty well today, both mentally and physically. After nearly two years of almost strictly running, I’ve rejoined a gym. My arms are remembering what weights feel like. It’s a whole scene. So that’s how things are going here.

It’s true I’ve been slacking on the blogging front. There are reasons. I hope you’ll accept this little post to tide you over until my next personal essay is ready.

Speaking of which, I am planning a short series this summer that’s going to blow everybody’s hair back – including, probably, mine. Actually, if you wouldn’t mind praying for me as I prepare it, I’d appreciate that. It’s sort of a doozy and a has proven a stretch for me to write. But I can’t not write it. It’s basically boiling a hole in my brain!

In the comments below, be sure to check in and let me know how you are. Critique the poem if you like, and feel free to write a few lines about summer in your own hometown! I’d love that.

Happy Wednesday, everybody!

May your coffee be hot, your A/C cool, and your hearts warm with joy!

S.O.S. (Support Our Singles)

My book on singleness and the church released in November of 2017, and since then, I’ve had increased opportunity to discuss my single life.

I was able to write such a book because I’m supported by my community. My family, friends, and church family do really well at rallying round to ensure that I’m well cared for. This is partly true because I’m vocal with my needs. It’s also true that when I reach out, they reach back.

Here are a few things they do for me. Consider whether or not these practical steps would also work for the single adults in your lives.

Feed Us

In my book, I discuss why I don’t like to eat alone and how my community helps ensure that it doesn’t happen very often. I won’t cover that ground again in this post. Instead, I’ll highlight ways in which others go above and beyond when it comes to keeping me fed.

In addition to not liking to eat alone, I also don’t like cooking for one. (Who does?) It’s not rare for me get a text saying there’s a Tupperware of lasagna or a crock of soup in someone’s fridge with my name on it. All I need to do is pick it up or (depending on my schedule) wait for it to be dropped off. Honestly, few things make me feel more cared for.

Second, I have friends with whom I exchange fresh fruits and vegetables. I mean, there’s no way I’m going to eat an entire bag of tangerines by myself before some of them spoil, and most people won’t miss parting with a few shoots of green onion, a handful of carrots, or a single stalk of celery. Sometimes the exchange rate works in my favor; sometimes in theirs. That’s just how these things go! At least fresh fruits and veggies aren’t going to waste.

Surround Us

There’s a difference between inviting someone along and inviting them in. The former makes sure we’re not alone. The latter ensures we’re not lonely.

Don’t just seek to “hang out.” Surround your singles, physically as well as emotionally. Don’t just spend time with us. Invite us fully into your lives.

Pray for Us

The best way to know how to pray for your single friends is to ask individually.

If someone were to ask me today, here’s what I’d say.

  • Pray that I walk in the will of God.
  • Pray that I can maintain a chaste life.
  • Pray that my life shows off God’s glory.
  • Pray that the Word dwells richly in me.
  • Pray that God blesses my work both inside and outside the church.
  • Pray that God grants ongoing grace as certain aspects of my life run counter to my expectations and desires.

Press Love In

A friend and I were talking last week about how in the Old Testament Book of Ruth, Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi didn’t just need to be loved. Naomi needed love pressed into her, and Ruth spends much of the book doing just that.

What a wonderful picture of Christ, not to mention a perfect description of how we’re to express Christian love. Love isn’t just a passive emotion. It’s a continual, active response.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

When you press love in, it’s not possible for people to be with you and walk away feeling neglected.

Exactly what this looks like will depend a lot on your personality and how you naturally express yourself. Pressing love into someone can be tiring. It’s work. But it’s worth it.


For more information on caring for singles in your church, please see The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles: How Pastors, Marrieds, and Church Leaders Effectively Support Solo Members.

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