Monday, February 11, 2008

Most Stressful Month of the Year Award

If you read this blog regularly, you have noticed that I haven't posted in a long time (11 days), and even then, my posts were pretty sparse, mostly limited to the sermons. There is a good reason for that.
The last month has been the most stressful month of the past year for us. It seems like every year events coalesce to make one month far and away more stressful than all the rest. One year ago, the month was March with the following stressful events:
- My unexpected ordination on the Korea National District
- The hurry-up "organization" (a Nazarene term for official formation) of our church as a church on the Korea National District of the Church of the Nazarene. (Before this event, we were semi-independent and semi-Nazarene and, by some standards, not fully a church.)
- Setting the policy for taking in members as a church (before being organized we never had any official membership since there was nothing official to join) and taking in our first members.
- Holy Week, with the accompanying special services.
- A one month visit by my parents, in which they spent much of their sleeping on our bed or in our living room. (As always, it was great having them here, but it still adds stress.)
- Making some big decisions as a church advisory council for the first time with a truly multicultural leadership team (and amid the stress, I managed this process pretty poorly).
So that was March of 2007, one of the most stressful months of my life.

Late January and early February of 2008 have not been as stressful as that month, not by a long shot. However, the combination of several small or moderately stressful events all in a short time has added up to a whole lot of stress for Sarah and I. Here's a list of the events in basically chronological order.
1. We began the adoption process. I posted on this earlier. This has been stressful for several reasons. We have had to gather and/or order lots of documents like birth certificates, bank statements, and criminal background clearances. We have to do some online adoption education, and we found out that the two agencies we are working with demand different education programs. We had to choose a country to adopt from. (We are now leaning heavily toward Russia, which means we may finally be able to visit our good friends Davide and Tanya Cantarella in Moscow.) Some of these documents had specific time requirements, so that was stressful for Sarah. We also realized that this will cost more than we thought, so that has caused stress as we have been sending out the first few thousand dollars and preparing for (and worrying about) the other tens of thousands of dollars.
2. Sarah signed up to be a long-term substitute at KNU's "English Village" (an English immersion program here in Cheonan). This was not so stressful in itself, but it kept Sarah out of the house about 40 hours a week, far far more than the 15 hours or so she was gone for the middle school.
3. Sarah was completing the hiring process to start working at KNU as an English professor. This is great, but characteristically, the information was slow in coming. We did not know for a long time what would be required for her to change her visa to KNU, which added another stressor later. We still don't know where Sarah's office will be, so my office is stacking up with stuff she eventually wants to put in her office.
4. My parents arrived for a one month stay. This was great. We love having my parents here. It's especially good for Emma, and she was really excited for them to come. But it adds stress, nonetheless, especially because I always wish I had more time to spend with them. It also adds stress because I usually try to take some extra time off while they are here. That means I need to get my normal work done in less time or do less work.
5. Sarah, Mom, and Dad taught at the KNU's English Camp (like a church youth camp with an educational focus instead of a focus on spirituality and fun). The English Camp was very well run this year, reducing stress, however, the extra work and time away from home still added stress.
6. Sarah taught 3 more days at the English Village - maybe not the best idea in retrospect.
7. We found out with 2 weeks notice that we would have to move. KNU leases our apartment, and apparently the owners would not renew the lease. We moved to an identical apartment a few buildings over. The move itself was fairly painless by American standards. At 8:30 am, we had nothing packed. The movers came in, packed everything, moved it to our new place (using a nifty crane elevator - pictures to come later), and unpacked everything. All we had to do was clean up both places and organize the stuff which was put into our cabinets and wardrobes fairly randomly.
8. On the day of our move (Monday), KNU notified us that the entire campus of KNU would be without electricity the following Sunday, due to major construction on campus. Too bad so sad for the two churches who meet on campus. This wouldn't have been so stressful except that we only had 6 days notice. To make matters worse, since our attenders are so transient, we don't even have phone numbers or emails for lots and lots of people. We organized an impromptu location change to a building 200 meters away with a beautiful dining room on the top floor with a huge glass ceiling. This would provide natural lighting, and the room was small enough that we could operate without sound equipment. Later on Sunday, 20+ people turned up to help arrange tables and to carry hymn books, candles, and more up and down stairs between the two buildings (no electricity also means no elevators!). I was really encouraged by the way the people from church really pulled together to make a difficult situation turn out really good. I think this event actually strengthened our church. Thankfully, Jackie was already scheduled to preach this Sunday. Having to prepare a sermon amid all of this might have sent me off the edge! She did a great job, and it was wonderful to just focus on making sure the unusual day went off OK.
9. Lent began last week, so we celebrated with our Third Annual Fat Tuesday Pancake Supper. Our Fellowship Team, led by JiHwan, did a great job planning this and organizing the cooking, so all I had to do was show up. The next night, I organized the Ash Wednesday service with some extra late-notice help from Young-Min, Chris, Matt, and So-Young. I did such a poor job planning that I forgot to ask these people for help until Monday! That wasn't the way I would have wanted it to go, but it worked out pretty well in the end.
10. Thursday was Lunar New Years Day (Sul-Nal). That doesn't mean all that much to us, but it does mean that several people wanted to stop by to see us and drop off some gifts (including, pears, dried seaweed paper - to be eaten with rice, ddok - a rice pasta, beef, tuna fish, grape seed oil, and more pears). All stores and many businesses and restaurants were closed Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, especially Thursday. This created some problems getting our bulletins and sermons copied for Sunday - bulletins made the cut, sermons didn't.
11. We had a social worker come to our house on Friday for our adoption home study. This is to make sure that we are fit parents and that our home is adequate for an additional child. This went pretty well over all. The social worker was actually a graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University, so that was pretty cool. The big stressor here was not the home study itself but the great pressure Sarah felt to make our house perfect before the social worker arrived. She spent a LOT of time cleaning and organizing between Monday and Friday. The house did look great by the time she was finished.
12. The last big thing on our agenda is that Sarah has to go to Japan. In fact, she is in Japan right now. Korea's immigration system requires people to leave the country if they change their employer. Then, the people file for a new visa through the new employer at a Korean consulate in another country. Since Japan is the closest and easiest country for this, Japan is the site of countless "visa runs" for foreigners teaching English here in Korea. Sarah left at 5 a.m. this morning, and she will return Wednesday night. Thankfully, our good friend and "pillar of the church," Patricia Clark, has a son who lives in Fukuoka, Japan, the most visited city for visa runs. Patricia organized everything for Sarah and is even going with her to see her son at the same time. That helped a lot, but in the meantime, I'm learning how it feels to be a single parent. Tonight as we returned from buying groceries, Emma peed her pants while we were waiting for the elevator. She's now taking a long bath. I plan to let her stay in there as long as she wants!

Throughout this stress marathon, we've each had a few bad days and many more bad moments, especially in the last week or so. But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, and that helps a lot just in itself. When Sarah gets back on Wednesday, our marathon of stressful little events will hopefully be over. Then, we will have a few days or maybe a few weeks to get ourselves ready for the beginning of the semester in March. If you think about it, maybe you can pray that the time between Japan and the start of the semester will be relaxing and refreshing for us. We'll need it!
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