the way azaleas grow

Every year around Jase’s birthday, I find myself writing about azaleas. Here’s a poem I scratched out last week in the notes app on my phone:

the way azaleas grow

after a skinned knee
he climbs on my lap

arms and legs tucked in close
to my chest
like the azalea buds
yet to loosen
on their reaching stems

this is the posture of a son
a bundle of petals
collecting sun
they unfurl

every year I consider
the way azalea’s grow
the dormant sticks
wake up and rise

pronged leaves turn green
and part to make
way for a bud
that will become a blaring
trumpet of beauty
an announcement of
defiant life: spring

when he feels better
he unlocks his arms
like the petals as they release
into a new season

he leaves my side
knowing there is always
a place for him close
to my heart

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit*

A thin layer of frost
covers January leaves—
the ones swept into piles
months ago and left on
either side of the path

I pick up a single leaf and bring it
close, zooming in on the
detail. I’m amazed by the tiny crystals
formed so intricately overnight.

Was it a delicate process like
sugar falling on a pastry or did
the frost appear suddenly, cracking
like the frozen edges of the river?

Perhaps we are like these leaves
and this is one way we
encounter God’s glory.
Fragile, bare, forgotten

until one morning when the frost
and what was meant to kill us off for good
highlights our veins and edges.

Blessed are the poor in spirit
the ones who have fallen off display,
the ones who feel discarded.
For theirs,
in dependency
in beauty
in surrender,

is the Kingdom

*This is the first poem in a series based on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10)

sheet cake

In October, as we drive
through the country, golden rice fields
on either side of the highway
appear to be
yellow sheet cakes
resting on cooling racks.

A glaze of misty rain,
sweet and slick,
falls evenly on
cars and roads and mountains.
I watch through the bouncing raindrops on the passenger side
at fields of
lemony and full,
glowing through the fog.


Water on a Lotus Leaf

I watch as tiny beads of water
form and roll to the center of a giant
lotus leaf,
amazed by the way each droplet holds its shape,
smooth and firm like a rounded piece of rising dough
or oil poured into a cup of water.

I think of the time my cheap necklace broke
all over the floor,
glass beads rolling into the air vent,
bouncing off the baseboard,
hiding between tufts of the carpet.

But this is different.

Spheres skim the surface of the green.
They gather together and morph into one shiny thing.
They gain momentum
and look so happy zooming like marbles around the rim of the waxy basket until at last they join together, settling in a pool at the center of the leaf, collecting
and reflecting green.

Colors from
giant flower petals, the bold strokes of ancient paintings,
wait for a thoughtful gaze or a gasping admirer or the
quiet meditation of grandfathers with their hands gently clasped behind their backs.
Thoughts move through the air as water circles the leaf.

Instead of absence there is an abundance
of clarity. The kind that turns heads and hearts.
The kind that changes minds.
The kind that covers a pond and holds tiny drops of water.

The kind of beauty that comes after rain.


The Summer Before Kindergarten

Loose white sheets from an entire ream of paper
find their way onto the living room floor,
carelessly left scattered wherever they fall.

Pens and pencils, markers with no lids, stubby
crayons of various lengths all wait next to forgotten lines
and deliberate sketches of horses with flowing manes and brave cowgirls,
of details like stopwatches and barrels and horse eye-masks.

she draws horse murals using various shades of Crayola’s tickle me pink,
rubs until the hard wax of the crayon shrinks and we have to rip its paper at the seam.

The horse’s mane and tail are always flowing,
layers of swoops and stylized sections stacked
and sorted on top of its hourglass head.

In one recent picture she drew the top half of the rider
hidden behind one dramatic swoop of the mane.

She tells me that some horses are too beautiful
and famous to be drawn on paper.

Some are too fast to be captured with color and taped to the wall.

Teach me to Pray: Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer

This is a series of poems I wrote this spring reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer through the lens of my everyday life in Korea. It was a powerful spiritual exercise for me. To consciously pray through the details of the world around me and to see the glory of God again and again. (I posted the first one, Our Father in Heaven, here).


eunni, oppa, dongsaeng, seonsaengnim, halmoni

No one needs a name tag here. We walk the streets as family,
connected in a way that makes me want to stoop down
and pick up the wallet you dropped and hand it back to you.

You have a name.
I’ve heard it through the television, through the telephone, through
the formal introductions never separate from your relationship to me.

I wouldn’t say it out loud.

Never born, never going to die.
This is the eternal song of the One whose name doesn’t change.
He calls us (all) Friend
His name is everything we need:

I am


On the corner, four-foot popsicles cover the old convenience shop windows.
Discount ice cream signs are installed quickly,
the store is cleared out, swept out, shelves replaced by freezers.

We can’t walk by without going in.

This is the world in it’s place
with variety and color and every flavor of ice cream.
I’ll have chocolate and vanilla. Would you like sweet potato? Green tea mochi?

We lean over freezers, trying to decide which ice cream bar we should buy.
All is right.


On the playground near the fire station, three girls
play kindly together.
“Gongjunim, bbali wa!” (princess, come quick!)
These girls are not petty.
Not careful in their dresses and tights and buckled shoes.
They run through the sand, turn on the water fountain,
spray the front of their clothes.
Their hands are filthy, but they are not concerned
with cleanliness or perfection.
They are not interested in a show.

They play and play and play

until their mothers come with scolding faces and bicycles
with extra seats on the back,
ending their playdate in the castle,
ending their time in the sand.

Bamboo is propped up to the right of the playground,
standing tall with the help of wooden braces.
The drain by the fountain swirls with water ready to escape.

Across the way firefighters train for their next rescue.
They start the motor of the safety raft in the
parking lot behind the station.
They lift the tallest ladder and start to climb.


My husband taught me to divide freshly cooked rice into four sections
before scooping it into bowls.
To mindfully make the sign of the cross
in gratitude and remembrance.

My mother always did this, he tells me.

I imagine her hands today,
decades of nourishment raking through murky rice-water,
rinsing ssal until the liquid runs clear.

There were times her family went without,
when the rice was low but she found a way to
fill the bellies of her children anyway.
She combined the rice with barley or another
stretching grain, and suddenly there was enough.

There is always just enough.

It is foreign to my framework of abundance,
but I prayerfully copy the motion:
give us this day our daily bread.


At the subway elevator, elderly men and women shuffle
past my double stroller
to make their way inside.
Occasionally they look back sympathetically
at my arms holding a baby and pushing two big kids
at the same time.
It must be hard, they say to each other as the doors close
swiftly, like a window screen sliding into place,
keeping all the bugs and bees and birds
out of the house.


On Sunday Morning

I sit in first service
under the mid-morning sun as it glistens
through tiny buds and new leaves,
through the breeze still chilly.

I watch my son ladle sand into his dump truck and toy stock pot,
alternating containers as he
scoops through damp piles.
A tile mural fills a short wall behind him like
stained glass in a sanctuary, depicting flowers
and butterflies in a colorful mosaic,
jewel tone squares reflecting light.

Sitting next to my sleeping baby in the stroller,
I feel the satisfaction of the worship chorus.
Of slamming car doors, fire alarms beeping,
the scraping metal of the apartment
construction site next door.
I hear tiny tennis shoes brushing along
the brick walkway, slowly scraping flecks of sand
beneath them.

An offering of gratitude pools in my hands
as I wash them in the water fountain.
The mystery of being loved and known
cleanses off the dirt of obligation.
I sense the baby’s breathing even though
it’s much too soft to hear over the birds gently
chirping and the traffic zooming by.

The playground chorus repeats as Sunday cars
rush stuffy families with their giant Bibles
all the way
to church.


Gray clouds smear across the stormy sky like dark fingerprints
smudged on a dull piece of paper.
Outside the window it’s raining pollution.

Umbrellas bob with footsteps, disks rounded down over morning-heads walking to work.

There is so much work to do.

We step out into the gloom and dark,
underneath a makeshift shelter.

A thin piece of nylon covers our heads.


My daughter asks at the dinner table
what it means to have authority.

In the back room the kids retell famous stories:
“I am Goliath! Who is going to kill me?”

This is our place in the world, as darkness slayers, as healers,
recognizing evil and committing to its defeat.

As sons and daughters of the King,
there is never any doubt in tiny minds that we are

inhabitants of another Kingdom.


Speak the truth in love and you will find
love is the only way to speak.
Maybe you want to hear yourself say something profound, but there is no
profundity in spring.
We’ve seen it before. Last year and the year before.
We know the pace of women running umbrella-less in the rain.
We stand with mouths open like trap doors, thinking universal words of pleasure:
Beautiful! Magnificent! Lovely!
It is exactly what we need.
In all the beauty of its repetition
we bow down.


And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. Isaiah 40:5

When the time comes, each delicate cherry blossom is set in motion.
Soft hues of pink and sharp white petals stand out against an ice blue sky.

They congregate, and when the slightest wind blows, they fall.

This is also how we are: beautiful and fragile, vulnerable to the wind and rain.

This is how we interact, how we move as a unit
or get swept away.

This is our hearts collected. Grouped together.

Popping into the open air,
no longer able to stay tucked away in seclusion,
we behold the unstoppable glory of God.


There is no goodbye
may it be so
there is no ending to this conversation.
Your eyes will never close.

Our Father in Heaven

This spring I wrote a series of poems based on the Lord’s Prayer through the lens of our Korean neighborhood. It was a really fun challenge. Here is the first one:

Our Father in Heaven

Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!           Psalm 116:2 (NLT)

Look for colored masking tape that sticks semi-permanently
to papers with tabs full of phone numbers blowing below the details of
the place for rent.

“one room”
“very clean”
“roommate needed”

Even the tape that held papers since removed leaves confetti residue
stuck forever like a chewing gum installation on temporary construction walls,
telephone poles, and abandoned shop windows near the road.

Most of the papers politely call for attention, but sometimes the images shout:
this is exactly what you need.

If you already have a home, there is something for you, too:

“piano teacher”
“guitar for sale”
“new department store”

like answers to prayer they wait, confident you’ll read them.

Meanwhile the same street is wrapped in forsythia. New blooms
arrive as cheerful greetings. They are not shy in reaching,
not careful in bending,
in every direction they shout:

“yellow!” and “hello!”

There is no way to walk by without sensing the pleasure in a
string of tiny glowing flowers
as they cling close to haphazard sticks.

Their petals mirror the flapping phone numbers,
providing the specific details of that one thing you need.

Find the rest of the poems here.

Summer Magazine

Occasionally my mom tucks
old magazines into the
oversize packages she
mails to Korea.
Between the rattly pantry items
and bulky toys for the kids
a Martha Stewart Living will appear.

The glossy floral cover promises “sheet cakes that wow,”
“mini room makeovers,” and “melt-in-your-mouth meringues.”

While flipping through the pages I’m fanned with a breeze of
nostalgic summers in America.
Filed between a feature on roses and animal-shaped cakes is an
article explaining how to decorate your home like a popsicle.

I am not particularly interested in the décor of page 120,
in the orange accented bed or the coordinating shower curtain stacked with teal, hot pink, and orange,
but sitting on my living room floor, listening to afternoon
traffic and summer birds,
I feel the predictability of a cooling
fan as it pivots and homesickness as it blows heavy on my face.
I want to turn two-dimensional and slip
into the scene like a paper doll.

A wind of desire, of jealousy, of longing
grabs my attention
and I turn the page quickly as if it were that easy to skip over the difficult parts
of a life simply by closing a magazine

Potato Starch

Potato starch

Creamy film coats the outside of a peeled potato.
Turns it brown if you leave it on the counter.
Stays behind if you wait too long to wash the used knife.

It leaves a map on the blade. 
Creates faint white lines on the resting cutting board.
Turns to chalk if left to dry.

Scribbles of starch mimic the layers of earth that
once buried the growing, golden thing.

It hides beneath thick skin until exposed,
coating my fingertips as I slide the pieces
of potato from the knife into the frying pan.

Each one pops in oil as the outside heats up.
And as the cubes flip and crisp,
the starch sticks.

Milk Tea as a Metaphor

Summer heat blows in like a sadness.
I feel it against my skin.
I turn my head to resist it like the first gust of
hot air that escapes from an oven.

It helps to remember that this feeling comes every year.
It’s inevitable: I will feel sad in June.

I feel tiny and insignificant, flying around like a bug
caught in the path of a giant windshield on summer vacation.
I am in danger of being squashed by the heaviness.

It’s been 5 years since we moved to Korea, and it seems to be
getting harder. I look at my kids who barely speak the language,
watch their huge eyes as I try myself to communicate with some
small intelligence.

I am ignorant and unaware.

This is the humbling thing: I live a beautiful life
in the middle of difficult circumstances.

We walk to the big box store
four subway stops from home.
We pass the milk tea stand on our way to the bookstore.
An oasis.

Nearby a lady cradles her older daughter. She looks like she’s cradling arms and legs as she
swings her around and smiles.

When she sets her down,
her white T-shirt shouts across the aisle as
bold black letters bleed in all capital letters:

In an instant I don’t. I stand up straighter as I push my boys
toward the sticker books.

The choices we make when we feel a sudden sadness
find us stripped down and thirsty,
and if we’re lucky, sipping milk tea on the way home.