On Top Of The World (Mountain)

Me at the top of the mountain. The marker that shows the
height of the peak, 423 meters.

A few years ago, I went on a hiking trip with some random people I met to Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was the first time I had been hiking since I hiked Diamond Head in Hawaii with my sister, and I was excited. It was an easy hike and I was having a great time with my friends, UNTIL…

Someone had the bright idea to get off the marked trail to take a picture.
We climbed down, off the trail (all 20 something of us) to get a picture of all of us with the lake in the background. As we were climbing back up, I followed the rest of the group along the same path they had just taken. As I stepped, the ground gave out, resulting in me falling, rolling down the hill a few times and hitting my head on a rock that ended up keeping me from falling further into the lake at the bottom.
The fall only produces a few marks and bruises but I would later learn that the mental scars were far worse than the physical ones. 
In March, I decided to try hiking again. Korea is surrounded by beautiful mountains and I was anxious to get back out there and hike some of them. With my backpack and camel pack ready to go, I braved the mountain on a beautiful Saturday morning. I was doing well until we got to a point where we reached a steep uphill climb and all I could see were rocks. Anxiety and fear crippled me and I lost it. I couldn’t do it. I had come so far but I just couldn’t bring myself to go any further. 
I was so disappointed, I desperately wanted to get to the top of the mountain but despite my attempts to calm myself and push forward. The spirit of fear won and I went back down the direction I had just come. I attempted a second hike when I was in Jeonju and yet again found myself giving control to the spirit of fear. 
Frustration and disappointment mounted as I so desperately wanted to be able to hike again without having flashbacks of the accident and fear that I would fall again. 
Well friends. Today was that day!! I set out to hike yet again, determined to succeed and reach the top of the mountain. With Romans 8:38-39 and 2 Timothy 1:7 tucked away in my brain this time, I stepped foot after foot, sweat pouring down and quoted the scripture every time I felt fearful. I hiked all the way up to the top of Mount Gyejoksan, all 423 meters (1388 feet) of it. It was a wonderful adventure and a great reminder that my God is far bigger than any evil trick Satan has up his sleeve.
Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
Red Clay Soil trail. In Korea people come and walk
this trail barefoot allowing the clay to wrap around their
feet and provide some sort of healing treatment.
Burial tomb. It’s very common in Korea to see burial tombs
in many of the mountains.
Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day but here is my view
of the city from the peak of the mountain.
On the way back down I found this gem. If you look closely,
you can see the mountain I hiked in the far left corner.

Life Through The Lens Of A Camera

As I was prepping my students for their test today, we reviewed the vocabulary words we recently learned. I told the kids they had to give me a new sentence; one they hadn’t used before. I asked one of my students to give me a sentence for the word America and this is what he said… “America gives guns to children.” I asked the student where he heard that and he said “On the internet.” It sparked my curiosity so I went around the room and asked the kids to tell me something they know about America and where they learned it. Here are their responses, 

“American people have many guns.”
“People boom boom and die.”
“People gun to building and people die and Obama angry.”
“Many, many terror.” 
Each response was followed by an explanation they had seen or read something on the TV or Internet that gave them this impression. Their words reminded me of the array of questions I’ve gotten every time someone hears I am from Texas. Such as; “Do they really ride down the streets on horses? Is it true everyone has a gun? Is Texas Chainsaw massacre real?” Each question spurred by something the asker of the question had seen on TV or in a movie. 
Just as my kids and the other foreigners and Korean’s I’ve met make assumptions based on things they’ve seen through TV and Movies, the same can be happening in regards to my time in Korea. 
Since I’ve been here, I’ve heard the following phrase over and over again, “Looks like you’re doing great over there.” I used to get really annoyed when I heard those words, thinking to myself “Stop making an assumption based on what you are seeing in my pictures and FB status’ and ask me how I’m doing.” It’s really easy to smile for the camera, but the smile doesn’t tell you the story in the picture. But the truth is, I am the one responsible for what people are thinking about my life. I am the one posting pictures, FB status’, and blogs. 
It hasn’t been easy figuring out how to keep my friends and family updated while trying not to allow Facebook and social media to become an idol in my life. I’m not going to lie, it’s been a challenge. There have been times when I’ve waited to post pictures and such (due to the time difference) aware of when you might actually see it.
When the internet is the only way you communicate with most of the people in your life sometimes it’s the first thing you turn to in the morning. It’s been an area I have had to guard my heart in. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit has been close, convicting and speaking to me when I need to check myself, my pride and my attitude but living life through the lens of the camera isn’t an easy thing to do. 

In The Eyes Of A Child

On a weekly basis, I get called Grandma teacher, fat, ugly and still get the occasional Korean curse word thrown my way. My new kids are far from angels. Lately, I feel like I spend most of my days yelling at the kids both in English, and sometimes in the little bit of Korean I have learned. “Sit down,” “Be quiet,” “Focus,” “Get off the table!” “Put the umbrella down,” “Stop hitting him!” I could go on but I think you get the point.

Most of the time, I feel like my title should be “Glorified Babysitter,” instead of “Teacher.” I try my best to make sure something, anything, is sticking but most days, it doesn’t seem like they are listening to anything I am saying. 

Today, one of my students proved that to be the furthest thing from the truth.
I have a class of 10 year olds, 4 boys and 2 girls. One of the kids is so smart and so respectful, and he’s the only one who doesn’t talk over me and continually interrupt me in class. Unlike most of my classes these kids actually understand me and speak pretty good English. Today, we learned about past hero’s and discussed the word biography. To keep the kids quiet and give myself a little bit of a break, I gave the kids an assignment to write their own biography.  
One of my kids, Dean, didn’t want to write his own biography. He told me he didn’t want the other children to know the brilliant invention he would one day be known for. Dean asked if he could write my biography instead. Super hesitant, and fully prepared for a violent death and/or lots of insults, I told him yes. 
Here is what Dean wrote about me. 
“Brandy teacher was very young when she died. She was a great teacher, 
kind to her students and kids liked her. She liked to play tennis, 
she was good but not good enough to be on TV. She made a lot of 
money and gave her money to the poor, then she was poor. 
Then the poor got rich and gave her money and she was rich again. 
Brandy teacher prayed to God and she went upstairs when she died.”
I was completely blown away and taken aback that this child, who I thought never listened to me, listens to everything I say, even the minor details of my life like the fact that I play tennis and I pray to God. It’s good to know that even when you can’t tell how you are impacting people or in my case, children, your words and actions are making a difference. 

The Letter Writer

Preparing to leave for Korea, I was given two very special gifts that have been extremely important to my emotional well being. The first was a stack of letters my stepmother wrote for me. She took the time to sit down and thoughtfully pray through every letter she wrote. She spoke to the Lord and asked him to give her things to pray about each month. In each letter, she has written telling me exactly what she is praying for each month. In January, I received a letter telling me she would be praying for safety and discernment. In February, I opened a letter telling me she would be praying for the man who would one day hold my heart, and in March I read that she would be praying for my testimony. I anxiously await the first day of each month knowing I will soon be able to open her next letter. Each month, the words she has written have pulled on my heart and spoken to me in such a special way.  
It has been such an encouragement to know she is praying for me each day that I am here. The second gift I have cherished, is similar to the one I just described. My former roommate, and beautiful friend Vanessa took the time to write out notes for me to open on certain occasions. I got a card to open on the airplane, a card to open on Christmas, one for my birthday and two that I didn’t realize would be so important. The first was a card to open when I was feeling sad, depressed or alone and the second to open when I was feeling angry, frustrated or annoyed. Everyone warned me I would hit a bump in the road when I felt overwhelmed with homesickness. That moment came sooner than I expected and in one of my moments of feeling completely alone and abandoned by so many people I thought were my friends, I opened the card indented for moments of feeling sad, alone or depressed. When I opened her card she had included a silly joke about an Elephant stepping on grapes that literally made me laugh out loud and was just what I needed. 
For months, I have been staring at the angry, frustrated and annoyed card wondering when I would reach a point when I needed to open it and today was that day. Today, I experienced every emotion possible. The chain of emotions I was feeling ended in frustration and anger as I was ripping up the very sacred words I had taken the time to write for someone very special to me. I realized today the words I had written and cherished would never be read and I was overwhelmed with hurt and pain. As I was leaving to go back to school I saw the words “Do not open unless feeling: angry, frustrated or annoyed.” I hoped there would never be another moment when I felt this mad, so I opened Vanessa’s card to find exactly the words I needed to hear. 
Her words reminded me of how blessed I am to have people in my life who know my heart and know me enough to speak to my emotional needs. Vanessa and I haven’t spoken every day, not even every month since I’ve been here, but her discernment when writing this letter to me was spot on and it really helped put things in perspective. 
I once watched a movie called “The Letter Writer,” about an old man who randomly picked names from the phone book and wrote encouraging words as they came to his mind. Ever since I saw that movie, I have been inspired an encouraged to write to people as they are laid on my heart. I hope by writing this blog, it will encourage more people to be like the Letter Writer’s I have mentioned in my blog, and the man in the movie. There is power in the words of others. Your words can move someone, they can help lift them up, they can put a smile on their angry face and they can bring tears of joy as their face floods with tears from hurt and pain. If as you read this, you are thinking of someone who could use some encouragement in their life, take the time to write them a note and help make their day a little brighter. 

1 Year Sober

5 months ago I went through the process of being matched with girls who would be in community with me. I met so many amazing girls through the process. I met girls who were solid in their faith, I met baby Christians who were hungry for the word and who’s passion inspired me and I met 4 amazingly beautiful girls who would soon be part of the community group God chose me to lead.
Throughout that entire process, I prayed heavily for the girls who would be in my group. I had no idea who God would choose but I knew He had a plan, He always has a plan! I prayed the Lord would soften my heart to whatever struggles they had. I prayed He would equip me with compassion, love, empathy, insight, and wisdom to help them through their struggles. I prayed that with all the flaws written all over me, they would see through the flaws and trust I was serving our creator and I would lead them well. I prayed God would remove my insecurities and self doubt and replace it with confidence in knowing that He equipped me to lead them well. I prayed the Lord would move, that He would speak to us and we would hear Him and He would change our hearts.
As I got the news of who would be in my group I was so excited but also overwhelmed. Through the process of sharing life maps, these girls revealed struggles I had never dealt with and I doubted my ability to empathize and encourage them through what they were going through. God quickly minimized my fears and doubt as I got to know these girls. The relationships I began to form with them completely opened my eyes and changed my heart. During one of our times of sharing, my friend who is celebrating 1 year of sobriety today, shared these words… “Some days after I get home from work, I would love to have a glass of wine, just one glass… But I know I can’t have just one glass.” Those words resonated with me so much that night. In the midst of my struggle with food God used her words to help me realize I had an addiction, a dependence on something I could not control and He completely broke me. Her words stirred inside my heart that night and still ring in my head today.
You see, all the time I was praying about how I was going to impact these girls and shine light into their lives, I completely forgot about how God would be using them to shine light into mine. I am so blessed to be allowed to be part of their lives and part of their story and I am so thankful for the encouragement, accountability and truth they have spoken and continue to speak into my life.
S, I am so incredibly proud of you, your dedication and drive are such an inspiration. Your journey has helped give me the confidence that I can fight my addiction as well.
M, your love and compassion for others brings joy to my life. I love how big your heart is!
J, the insight and wisdom you bring to every conversation we have inspires me. I love the boldness you have when you speak truth into my life.
B, you have been my rock! You have encouraged me and held me accountable even when I didn’t want it and you’ve done it in such a loving way.
I am so blessed by all of you! I love you girls!