It was a pregnancy of movement.
When I handed my husband a small box in November of that year — a “Thanksgiving gift,” tied with sage green ribbon — I thought I was prepared for change, and that I had enough mettle to meet it.
Yongwon lifted the box lid to find a pair of tiny crocheted shoes nestled in tissue paper. Scanning the accompanying note, he looked up at me with wonder. “Really?”
I nodded. He repeated the question a few more times, as if quadruple-checking might yield a different answer, and then we laughed like two children on Christmas morning. A few minutes later I returned to the living room to find him walking the shoes across the arm of the couch. Caught up in a fresh wave of amazement, he repeated the words he’d been saying ever since a door shut within his graduate program a few months prior: “I need to get a job.”
In December we drove eight hundred miles from our apartment in Virginia to a missions conference in St. Louis. While there, my morning sickness became more than an incessant hum in the background, and we found a relatively quiet nook on the second floor of the convention center where I could lay my head on his knee to try to nap between sessions.
We returned home to a job offer in Yongwon’s inbox. He flew out to Colorado in the new year for the interview, and the day before his return, an unrelenting blizzard began to bury both our streets and half of the country in snow. The next morning, he called to tell me his return flight had been canceled. I tried to concentrate on reading. Hours later a sudden hush fell, and it took me a minute to realize the heater had stopped; the power had gone out across the city. In a surreal whirlwind of events, that evening I shared a dinner of civilian MREs with friends at an emergency shelter, and spent the night on a chaise by the wood-burning stove in their home.
When the snow finally abated, Yongwon made it home with videos he had recorded of the Rocky Mountains and of neighborhoods clustered together along the highway — neighborhoods I now know like the back of my hand, though they looked strangely stuccoed and impossibly distant to me then. In March we finished packing up our little apartment, left the close-knit community we knew, and traveled to Colorado, ending our trip on the doorstep of a house I recognized only through the photos of a rental listing.
Sometimes, when I recount these events in quick succession, they sound like someone else’s history — someone more amenable to change than I am. Some of the elements remind me faintly of other stories I’ve heard. My mother was only two weeks away from delivering me when she boarded her first international flight, landing in Virginia as the wife of a graduate student. My grandmother’s own firstborn was in diapers when she and her family joined masses of people fleeing south on the Korean peninsula during the Korean War. She had married into a line of yangban and university officials, but she found a way to grow bean sprouts in disposable cups, which she sold in the marketplace of the port city where she found refuge. The cloth diapers were draped on a bare light bulb to dry after washing.
Their experiences embody courage to me, and I marvel at them, trying to grasp the bravery it took to continue putting one foot in front of the other and learn a new language or skills to survive. Is my story — though hardly comparable to international immigration or war — also a tale of courage? Perhaps it was on a personal scale, though I readily admit it didn’t feel like one at the time. I felt I was only doing the next thing that had to be done. In the moments from my life that appear intimidating in retrospect, I find I rarely had a full grasp of what I was going through as I was going through it — and this, more often than not, has been a mercy.
Is this how courage works? How often does one stop to count the cost before plunging into a daunting or threatening situation? My children and I have recently had conversations about Stephen the martyr and the conductors of the Underground Railroad. When they’re older — perhaps when I can tell them the stories without stumbling over the knot in my throat — we’ll talk about United Airlines Flight 93, Dr. Liviu Librescu, and the women who have chosen to share their stories with Exodus Cry, among many others.
Meanwhile, as I revisit these accounts myself, I find that one pattern keeps surfacing. The deeds I consider courageous are not isolated, spur-of-the-moment events. They always seem to be preceded by a commitment of some kind, a foundation that is laid long before the act itself is carried out. A man becomes convinced of the necessity of upholding truth; a family grounds itself in the knowledge that every human life bears inherent dignity and worth. In such moments, a trajectory is set for future situations, be they external attacks or internal battles.
In our case, we moved to Colorado because Yongwon had found a job, and I wasn’t about to let him move anywhere without me. (He would have said the same.) But looking further back, we had spent a weekend on a personal retreat and our time at the missions conference renewing our intent to listen to a living Lord as we took our steps together. And I know I can go further back still, to the spring afternoon when we decided to start dating, when Yongwon felt that in all fairness he should warn me about the direction he had chosen.
“I’ve promised to go wherever God tells me to go,” he said, turning to look at me from the driver’s seat. We were waiting to make a right turn out of a parking lot; a few sedans and coupes swooshed by as I absorbed his words.
“Good,” I replied simply. Reflectively. Unbeknownst to him, I had decided that if I ever got married, it would be to a man who wanted to live with abandon for Christ. The car merged onto the main road then, launching us on a route that would wind through countless twists and bends to this point in the present.
Like the establishment of that principle in our marriage, the cornerstone of the word “courage” itself is cor: “heart,” in Latin. The shaping of the heart is what determines our actions and reactions, and thus we have the charge to “above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Prov. 4:23, NIV). The core of my being, if I would be courageous, must be secured to something greater than a wistful expectation that life will stay calm; it requires refuge in a rock and a fortress, a shield and stronghold mightier than itself.[i]
Sometimes doors shut. Sometimes weather and world events reach into our homes and prod us out onto uncharted pathways. If the unfamiliar and predictable are bound to come, perhaps the best way to meet them is to check the anchor of our hearts before they come to the crisis point — to lash ourselves to a solid mast and prepare to stay the course.
In March we unlocked the red front door and stepped into a new space. We slept on two unzipped sleeping bags on the floor until a mattress set could be delivered. We browsed yard sales and set up a small nursery for the jubilantly anticipated baby.
But the journey of change wasn’t over yet. As I washed and folded soft muslin blankets and wee white onesies, I couldn’t see the time of breaking that would arrive in the autumn, when a wave of postpartum depression would sweep away everything I had ever depended on to feel stable — everything except a slim tether to the barely-perceivable God who had “brought me safe thus far.”[ii]
That tether alone held firm through those blurry months, and not because of the strength of the grasp on my end. If I hadn’t known what courage was before, this time I knew keenly that it was required of me every morning, when I got up to greet and sing to my infant daughter, and every afternoon, when the exhaustion of fighting despair tooth and nail promised another gray dawn. I gathered up every last shred of boldness I had to call a list of counselors — one of whom barked angrily that she didn’t “do women’s issues” — and watched God with leaden limbs to see if He would answer my prayers.
In a series of stepping stones, He did. The counselor I finally saw listened to my rundown of the past year, and said, “I don’t think you need medication; I think you need people.” Something in me crumbled with relief when she said those words. I had been trying so hard to keep my head above the deep waters of fear and bleak thinking that it was hard to believe the solution could be something as straightforward as community and friendship. As it was, “people” didn’t come instantaneously, but new rootlets of connection began to grow in tandem with my ongoing prayers. I reconnected with old friends on social media and set up video calls with much-missed faces. While the baby napped, I read stories by older and wiser mothers. Yongwon and I struck up conversations over Bible studies and blueberry muffins with families in our neighborhood and small group. Like a house built phase by phase in a hail-and-high-wind climate, I learned slowly what it meant to wait on my Father for a fair-weather window of hope, one day at a time.
I knew I was changed by this remaking at the end of that year, when I wrote an update to friends. “It peeled away years and layers of self-consciousness: I knew I needed help, I knew I had nothing left in my resources, I knew I needed God like never before… and for the first time in my life, I cared not a whit who knew it.” As strength trickled back into my weak hands and feeble knees,[iii] I found that the courage born of Christ isn’t a badge of achievement or a brand upon the brow that sets one above one’s peers. It is a journey of one motion at a time, a gradually unfolding outcome of foregone surrender.
Courage is a steadfast step forward, through prayers whispered before sitting up in the morning, through a private struggle entrusted to a friend in conversation — all because the immovable, blessedly unchanging Immanuel is at the heart of our lives of movement. Courage is the willingness to embrace our transformation and His faithfulness on this road of change, knowing that no matter how many seasons and landscapes we pass through, we remain within the reclaimed, eternally established country of our King. And as countless forebears of our faith have found, this is a truth worth leaving home to discover.
[i] Ps. 18:2, ESV
[ii] John Newton, “Amazing Grace.”
[iii] Isaiah 35:3, ESV
The featured image of the delicate dandelion seed head – ready to courageously go where ever it is carried by the wind – is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and used with her permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Amy Baik Lee writes from a desk looking out on a cottage garden, usually surrounded by children’s drawings, teacups, and stacks of patient books. She is a former scholar of medieval and Renaissance literature at the University of Virginia, a sometime author of devotional short stories, and a current member artist of the Anselm Society. Ever seeking to “press on to [her] true country and to help others to do the same” (C.S. Lewis), she posts essays and stories about Homeward longing at Amy Baik Lee.