Momma and Mike – The Story

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Hello, it’s 4:30 AM over here, but I can’t sleep. I just waved goodbye to my mom and little (big) brother at the bus terminal. It feels like just yesterday that I was waiting on tiptoe at the airport for them to walk through those big double doors.

Watching them go is like a bucketful of tears, and, as with every good thing that must end, it’s hard. But as I was sitting in church on Sunday, thinking about their imminent departure, I realized that my time with them was all the sweeter because I knew it was going to end.

Family is one of those things we take for granted…that we will always have them. Sometimes I abuse them because I know that they’ll always love me, no matter how (ahem) hormonal I am around them. But this trip was simply precious. I’m not sure I can capture all our memories in our blog. If a picture is worth a thousand words, there’s no way I can write it all down, because my iphone is crammed with hundreds of photos (does anyone else hate those pesky your-icloud-is-full messages?).

But, you know, anything’s possible. It’s just before dawn, and I’m feeling a little early-morning magic.

Let me tell you a story.

The golden lights of Korea were beginning to glow as the two weary travelers wove their heavy suitcases through the clammering airport crowd. “The bus is just ahead!” Abby called back, “We’ve got 3 minutes.” Huffing across the street, they sank into the plush bus seats, with just moments to spare. Momma let out a sigh of relief, and reached for Abby’s hand. Or maybe it was Abby who reached for Momma’s. Finally, after 8 months of Skyping, they were together.

Mike grabbed the bag of Dunkin Doughnuts.

Little brothers.

He smiled real big, and his eyebrows jumped up to a higher level. “Nice bus! And look at those huge hotels!”

“They’re apartments.”
But Abby couldn’t make fun of him because she had thought they were factories the first time she saw them, a year and a half ago.

The bus motored south to Gwangju as the sun set, and those first moments together were like the first bites of a cherry cheesecake. Nothing has ever been, or could ever be, sweeter.

Speaking of sweet, I’m eating a tiramisu dusted with choco powder. The math teacher at school baked us nut scones, cream tarts, and tiramisu. The sun is beginning to rise, and I’m sipping some French Red Wine. It’s delectable chilled.

I don’t usually have wine in the refrigerator, but this was a special occasion. Momma and I were cooking an American meal for the teachers at school.

The menu: Chicken Marsala, oven-roasted cayenne potatoes, tossed salad, and Lemon Meringue and Apricot pie.

Mal – sal-la issoyo?” Abby asked the petite lady in the wine section of E-mart. No, there was no Marsala, but this was similar.

And there was no sour cream, but there was whipping cream. And there was no cayenne, but there was Korean gochu. And the butter was the price of gold, but it was worth it (says Momma as she drops it by the tablespoon into the frying pan).

Cooking began at 3:30, and the American chefs were confident. “We can be finished at 5:30, let’s tell the teachers.”

An hour later, teachers receive a hurried text message, “Let’s move the time up to 6:15.” In the kitchen, flour flies, oil sizzles, and there’s not quite enough pans to go around.

“Will this fit into the oven?”
“No! It will not fit into the oven!”
“I’ve got to start the chicken, now.”
“Did you remember the cream?”
“I’m not doing it like that.”
“That’s what the recipe says.”
“I’m going to do it differently.”

Abby faces Momma, sweat dripping, clock ticking. “We’re not working together very well.”

“No, we’re not.”

Abby grits her teeth. Momma says, “You don’t trust me. You’ve got to trust me.”

Wiping her head, Abby realizes that living alone has made her independent. She takes off the oven mitt and concedes the head chef position to Momma. Momma pours the wine and cream like a fairy godmother. The meal comes together, and the ladies (together with Abby’s friend, Jihae – a God-send who can make lettuce salad look like a Vermeer masterpiece – hurry down the stairs with steaming pans of chicken and potatoes just as the teachers arrive. It was a success. Except for the Apricot pie – too Pennsylvania Dutch full of butter and sugar for Korean taste. But the Lemon Meringue was splendid.
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Meanwhile, Mike (at camp with his Korean buddies) was sleeping in a tent somewhere with no blanket, using his shirt for a pillow. I imagine he saw a ladder leading to heaven.

Monday morning, the three decided to go downtown to buy gifts. Public transportation was alien to them (Abby: “You press the bus card, like this” –presses once, firmly. Momma proceeds to press three times, lightly. Red light beeps, door slams shut. Abby rolls her eyes. Until she remembers her first weeks in Korea.)

And Mike, well he never quite grasps Korean bus etiquette.

“Let me tell you about the dream I had last night!” His voice raises with his eyebrows as he tells about being arrested for trespassing in a library, then escaping using powers of persuasion. “And then I ran with my friends, and the sirens started blaring – “

“Mike, speak more quietly.” Abby elbows him. Mike pauses for a second.

The bus is dead silent.

“It’s like a library in here.”


The dream sequence proceeds, a little more hushed. Until we get to the subway. Then it continues full volume to its climatic conclusion.
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A Korean man walks by and stares at us. He turns around and walks by us again, slowly. Then again. Momma smiles sweetly at him. “Hello!”
“Mom! You can’t be like that to people here. They’ll think it’s weird, or that you’re interested.”

Later, another man strikes up a conversation about how her children have beautiful faces. Momma nods along agreeably, while Abby surfs on her iphone. She realizes with a pang that she’s lost some of her American sweetness (maybe in all that Kimchi). She decides to let Mom be as Americanly sweet to strangers as she wants to be. With Mike along, no one would dare do anything.

Sweet Momma with Darling Heidi

Sweet Momma with Darling Heidi

It’s after 6:00 now. Usually, I’d be waking up about now, getting ready to go into school. The first day I brought Mike to school (Momma stayed in bed – jet lag lingered for over 2 weeks, but was especially difficult the first few days), it was like Captain America had entered the premises. The kids took one glance and stepped back.

Words like, “Long!” “Tall!” “Handsome!” “Wow!” jumped around like fireflies.

He stood next to the tallest teacher and prevailed.

“Can you touch the ceiling?” came a hushed query. Mike’s hand shot up. Forever, his thumbprint will be etched on the ceiling of Daniel Wisdom School.

That first morning, I called him “Sam” at least 30 times. Maybe it’s because his nose is bigger, his shoulders broader, and his adam’s apple (called a “neck nipple” in Korean) more pronounced than the picture of the little brother I’d ingrained in my head. But Mike proved that he could fit into his own shoes (although not any of the slippers at the school – we had to make a trip to the store to buy him a larger size).

Summer semester, I planned to have English book time with the kids. Momma and Mike helped me tremendously by talking one-on-one with the students about the books they were reading. I heard one little girl whisper to her friend (in Korean, which I can now understand a little) that it was fun to talk with Abby’s mom.

Wednesday, Mike and I stayed after school for an English Storybook class.

The topic: “5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.”

The teacher: unprepared.

Abby hurriedly traced monkey puppet templates onto felt as Mike handed out popcorn for snacks.

The crunching dwindled, and Abby began to sweat.

“Ok, class,” she groped around for an idea…Wala! “Now it’s time to play Rock, Scissors, Paper with Mike!

A roar of hurrahs erupted from the class. Abby was saved.

As the monkey puppets were being made, Abby realized that she was one sock short. She looked at the solemn little girl and was about to suggest that she take of her sock to use as the monkey’s mouth.
“Wait a second,” Mike said, “Are you short?”
Mike grabbed Abby’s monkey puppet, Marvin, and tore off his ears and eyes . He handed it to the girl. “Here you go.”
“You killed Marvin,” Abby whispered. “She’s going to be traumatized.”
“She’s going to have a puppet.”

The next day, the class asked were Marvin was. I told them to ask Mike.
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Well, I’m beginning to get sleepy. The cars outside are rumbling by. Mike and Mom are probably almost to Seoul by now. I wonder if they’ll ever come again, or if I’ll ever come again after this year. One thing I realized, is that being with my family made Korea feel like home.

I know that one day, I’ll be living overseas as a missionary. Sometimes this thought scares me, because I miss America so much. But now I see that if I’m with my family, no matter where I am, it is home.

I’m so thankful for the family that God has given me. And I trust Him to always be with me, and I expect His beautiful blessings wherever He leads me. He is so good.

4 months ago, I was in tears because I heard that my trip to America (planned for July) was indefinitely postponed. I decided to trust God. Now I see that if the trip hadn’t been postponed, my mom and brother wouldn’t have decided to come to visit. And it looks like I’ll still be able to visit America with my students in the fall!
Aren’t His ways marvelous?

And I couldn’t finish this blog without saying thanks to all my friends here in Korea who made our stay so rich with memories and love. Nearly every day, one of my dear friends took us to dinner, or shopping, or took my mother to a massage (or a Korean hospital – check out her back when you see her, it’s covered with circular bruises from the acupuncture “cupping”- very normal over here). We traveled with my dear friend Heidi to Jeju island (the Hawaii of Korea), with Heyoung and Sophia’s family to a mud beach, and with Jihae and Kim Kyung (Vince’s mother, an artist) to a Korean pottery-making village. We ate enough beef and pork ribs to celebrate 5 birthdays, and then some.

All I can say is, we are blessed. Thank you, dear Korean friends – you know who you are!

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To all my friends, may you be blessed this week ~ treasure your family, wherever they are. Know that all this is a gift from our Heavenly Father.

Love to you all,


Out of Christ’s fullness, we have all received one grace after another
And spiritual blessing
And even favor upon favor
And gift heaped upon gift!
(John 1:16)

Every good and perfect gift is from above,
Coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights
Who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17


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