reminiscing: 2019 recap

by Grace Ko

I blinked and it’s now mid-April.

So much has happened: J turned two, we went on a ski trip to Pyeongchang and took a vacation to Thailand with my parents, my brother and his fiance A visited, there were playdates with friends, dates with girlfriends, dates with my husband and all the moments in between.

But as much as there has been a lot of activity in my life in 2019, there’s been maybe even more going on internally. In 2019, I decided to receive counseling/life-coaching. It required digging deep inside myself, being still in the quiet places, visiting the dark places.

Recently, I read Rupi Kaur’s the sun and her flowers. Her poems spoke to my heart, brought healing in places I didn’t even know I needed and this one in particular pretty much sums up this year, at least thus far.

it has been one of the greatest and most difficult years of my life. i learned everything is temporary. moments. feelings. people. flowers. i learned love is about giving. Everything. And letting it hurt. I learned vulnerability is always the right choice because it is easy to be cold in a world that makes it so very difficult to remain soft. i learned all things come in twos. life and death. pain and joy. salt and sugar. me and you. it is the balance of the universe. it has been the year of hurting so bad but living so good. making friends out of strangers. making strangers out of friends. learning mint chocolate chip ice cream will fix just about everything. and for the pains it can’t there will always be my mother’s arms. we must learn to focus on warm energy. always. soak our limbs in it and become better loves to the world. for if we can’t learn to be kind to each other how will we ever learn to be kind to the most desperate parts of ourselves.

-rupi kaur “the sun and her flowers”

Motherhood: SAHM life

by Grace Ko in

I’ve been “stay-at-home” even before I became a “stay-at-home mom” (SAHM). I moved here to Korea at the end of 2014, leaving behind my “dream job”, a supportive work community, a loving church family, my brother, our pets (Laila- a pitbull/boxer mix, Emmy- the queen of the household: a cat of what kind I do not know), relatives, and dear friends. Before I left, I felt like everyone I spoke to was telling me not to rush in finding a job but to embrace the season, to explore the city, to try out new hobbies. And I quickly daydreamed of the life I would create: a couples’ cooking class, strolls along streets lined with cherry blossoms with a cup of coffee in hand, visits to museums to explore my roots.

But the reality looked far from it. The novelty of “free time” quickly dissipated as I constantly was reminded of everything I wasn’t doing: wasn’t making money, wasn’t putting my graduate degrees to use, wasn’t exploring the city and all it had to offer because I didn’t have anyone to do it with because everyone else had a job and I didn’t, wasn’t making friends because “Why should I make friends when I have friends back home and I’m only here for two years?”

Making friends was especially hard in that season when every time I met someone new, the small-talk that ensued would lead to pangs of shame and swallowing of pride:

“Uh… I’m a housewife? I’m looking for a job? I’m unemployed?” It would pain me every time I felt like everything I am, everything I do was watered down to these one-liner response to the omnipresent question: “So, what do you do?”

Truth be told, what I really did those first few months was sleep in, watch K-dramas, read, count the hours and minutes down until my husband would come home.

The irony is, my life now doesn’t look all that different from what it did back then. Now that J (26 months) goes to daycare for most of the day, I’m left at home with a flexible schedule.

A typical day for me (recently) looks like:

  • 8:00: wake up with J and morning snuggles

  • 8:00-8:30: Feed J breakfast

  • 8:30-9:00: Get J washed up, changed, dressed and fit in some play time

  • 9:05: J gets picked up by bus for daycare

  • 9:10: Clean up after breakfast, vacuum, tidy up the house, make coffee and sit down to do “my morning routine”

  • 10:00-12:00: Work

  • 12:00-1:00: Lunch with husband

  • 1:00-2:00 Work

  • 2:00 Head to gym, shower, prep dinner

  • 4:15: J gets dropped off by bus!

  • 4:30-5:00: snack time/play time

  • 5:15: Daddy comes home!

  • 5:30-6:30: Family time and prep dinner

  • 6:30: Dinner

  • 7:30: Bath time for J

  • 8:30: Bedtime routine for J

  • 9:30 Free time for Mommy & Daddy! (Usually consists of watching a show. Currently: Mr. Sunshine)


In the name of vulnerability, I’ll admit I feel guilty even calling myself a SAHM anymore. I fear judgment from real SAHM's. I spent the first 18 months of J’s life as a SAHM but now? I feel like I have too much free time to be considered a true “SAHM”.

But reality is, I work part-time from home, too. I know I’m blessed to have the “best of both worlds” being able to work and be home with J. But often, I’m bombarded with feelings of inadequacy that I’m not doing either well. That I “could be” doing more. I think about the ideas and dreams that are untapped, unexplored. I think about what I “should’ve” been able to accomplish (since I’m home all day) but didn’t accomplish because I feel pulled in a thousand directions. I feel like a complete and utter failure when I don’t have a house that’s spic-and-span with a home-cooked nutritious meal ready for my husband and son when they both come home, because “What were you doing if you’ve been home all day?” I hear in my head.

So I lied. That “typical day” schedule is far from the truth. That would be what my day would look like if everything went swimmingly, in an ideal world.

What my typically day actually looks like:

I wake up to J stroking my face, saying, “엄마, 밥…” (“Mommy, food…”) “Man, what time is it?” I look up at the clock on the wall. 8:15… My intention had been to be up at 6:30 so that I could have a bit of me-time and a head start to the day. Well, so much for that…

I make the bed, open the curtains and make my way to the kitchen to “make” breakfast. I can hardly call it “making” anything because more often than not, breakfast for J is yogurt, some nuts, a smoothie and maybe some fruit, if he’s up for it. I get him dressed and off to daycare.

I breathe a big sigh as I walk back into a quiet, still house. I take a moment to relish this moment. Then I go into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee to sit down and start my day. Halfway through my morning routine, I remember I didn’t even use the bathroom yet because J woke up late and I was in a mad rush to get him ready and on the bus. “Did I even wash his face…? I should wash my face…”

I come out of the bathroom and remember I should load the laundry so it’s running while I do my work. So I go to the bedroom to grab our hamper and load the laundry.

“Oh yeah… my coffee!” It’s gone cold.

I heat up my coffee and sit down, finally, and open up my computer to start work. But I check my email while my work programs are loading and I see an email from Ebates and it reminds me, “J needs some clothes for spring. I should place an order soon…”

I start my work and then I hear the laundry machine’s little tune go off, signaling its complete cycle. I get up and throw the laundry into the dryer. On my way through the kitchen, I see the sink full of dishes. I do the dishes. While I’m at it, I clean the counters. The crumbs from the counters fall to the floor. “I should vacuum.” I put out the vacuum to tidy up the kitchen, but while I’m at it, I should just vacuum the whole house.

I sit back down at my dining table turned “work station” and get back to work when my phone rings. Y wants to know if I want to meet him for lunch. I tell him I’ll meet him after getting dressed (because yes, it’s lunchtime and I’m still in PJ’s…). I throw on my work-out clothes because the plan is to hit the gym after meeting the husband for lunch. I hurry back after my gym session and throw together a protein shake, gulp it down and desperately try to finish my work before J gets home, because Lord knows I can’t get work done with a toddler clinging to my leg.

Yup, that’s more like it. That’s probably a more realistic picture of what my typical day looks like, although if I’m really honest, I don’t have a “typical” day. Every day looks different. Every day is a new day.

Now that I look back, my SAH life before I became a SAHM taught me about “identity”. That I’m not what I make, that I’m not what I produce, that I’m not a title.

Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others.
But in Genesis we see God as a gardener, and in the New Testament we see him as a carpenter. No task is too small a vessel to hold the immense dignity of work given by God.
— Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work

God is writing His grand story of redemption is interwoven into the everyday, mundane and ordinary details of our lives. He’s there in my loading laundry, He’s with me as I journal, read, or rest. He’s with me as I change the 2,541st diaper. He sees me as I kiss a boo-boo, give snuggles, read the same book for the fifteenth time. He sees me as I contemplate what it means to be a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, an employee, a writer, a dreamer. And He gently reminds me that He sees it all: my efforts, my struggles and pain, my joys and victories. But mostly, He reminds me that He sees me.

Motherhood: Why write about it

by Grace Ko in

I have spent a lot of time contemplating about whether to write more extensively and more specifically about mommy life. But for fears and anxieties that would creep up and take hold, I have avoided it.

My word for 2019 has been “unapologetic”. I’m learning to be “free to be me”. And after recently receiving life-coaching, I realized something so simple but profound- this is who I am: I’m a mom. “Mom” isn’t all of who I am, but it is a big part of who I am.

So, why now? Why write about it?

Because it’s that important.

Because it’s what I’ve been called to.

Because it has changed me, to the core.

Because birthing a child has birthed a new me, too.

Because not writing about it would feel like not being true to all of who I am.

Because people have asked.

Because I want to share, not because I’ve got it all figured out (because I sure don’t) but because it’s in the sharing where we grow and learn and love.


I’ve personally grown the most when people around me who “don’t have it all figured out” have been vulnerable with me, in their mess, and have graciously extended an invitation me into the mess. In the sharing, the processing, the rawness and vulnerability, I have changed.

This “Motherhood: “ series isn’t about giving advice, because God knows I’m still figuring it all out and in the mess. But it’s just my journey, sharing my experience. Vulnerability begets vulnerability. Vulnerability also births opportunities for validation, brings forth connection and community. And I know I need that.

Simple pleasures

by Grace Ko

It has been eight months since we’ve moved out of Seoul to the “countryside”.

And life here has been of a much slower, quieter, contemplative kind. We conclude our evening rush winding down, putting J to sleep and then lots of stretching, reading or sometimes we pull out a bottle of wine and fit in a movie.

The best part of life in the 시골 (“country”) has been the scenery. The summer presented sunsets with a kaleidoscope of colors, hues of pink and purple and orange. Autumn brought warm, earthy tones and neighborhood farmers out to the fields. Winter felt long in its shades of gray but it called for much “hygge” and cozying-up indoors.

Wide open space and fields of grass were hard to come by in the chaos of the city but such landscape here beckons you to sit and breathe it in for a while. It calls out to me and tells me to slow down, to indulge in the simple pleasures.

Here are some of my recent simple pleasures:

  • fresh flowers

  • visits from friends

  • a cup of tea and a good book (currently reading:

  • evening Zumba classes

  • lunch dates with husband

  • J’s eskimo kisses

  • my bullet journal

  • keeping in touch with friends via Marco Polo

  • morning green juice

  • family quality time

Remembering Kim Bok-dong halmuni

by Grace Ko

Friday morning started earlier than usual. I woke up immediately at the sound of my alarm.
I felt the weight of what today would be.

It began like any typical day. Mommy duties called: cuddles with J, diaper change, breakfast, wash-up and outfit change.

Then we packed into the car. I was the first of today’s drop-offs. First stop: train station.
With a few minutes to spare and to warm my fingertips, I got an Americano on my way to the train. The lull of the train ride felt oddly contradictory to the jittery anticipation I felt for the ensuing day’s events.
I pulled my phone out to see a message from my husband: today’s devotional titled “Deeper Love”.

I ran out of the train, and hopped into a cab, the driver navigating the busy streets of Central Seoul, skirting traffic for me. He turned on the radio, a Whitney Houston marathon. The first song? “The Greatest Love of All.”

Then I saw the crowd. I became one among hundreds, maybe even a thousand in front of the Japanese Embassy.


My toes and fingers became numb in the bitter cold but I didn’t dare complain at the thought of how Kim Bok-dong halmuni stood in that very spot every week for Wednesday rallies for over 25 years.

Inspired and challenged, by the stories shared, but also by the people gathered, I made a promise in my heart… to remember Kim Bok-dong halmuni forever.

But that day, my heart was broken, shattered by the stories. Stories from those who were closest to her. Stories of who Kim Bok-dong was, not just as a justice fighter, an activist, but who she was as a human, a woman, a daughter.

How she was but 14 years old when she was taken from her family at the mercy of the Japanese army.

How at 93 years old, battling cancer, she called out “엄마” (“Mom”) in pain.

How she longed for a family of her own but that dream was ripped away from her.

How she cared for justice everywhere, how she started a foundation to help other victims of sex slavery, how she apologized for Korea’s wrongdoings towards Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War.

How she gave every last won she had to help others.

How she wanted to fly like a butterfly… how she wanted us to wave a hand to say goodbye to her when she left this earth… a thousand waving hands gathered, a pool of tears left behind.


 “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”


Your life was worth far more than these stories, these anecdotes, these words.

You have taught us that despite evil, injustice and violence, we yearn for peace.

You showed us that suffering and hardship can strengthen our hope.

You fought relentlessly until the very end to give hope to future generations.

You displayed light even in darkness. Maybe your light shone brighter because of darkness.

Your sacrifice, your love will be remembered.

You will be remembered.