psychodrama / noun /si-ko-dräm-e/
1. a form of psychotherapy in which patients act out events from their past.
Karin Lim sat amongst her classmates with her eyes closed. Her art therapy professor instructed the class to close their eyes for 10 minutes and play their childhood in their heads like a documentary reel. For Karin, this proved difficult. Confusion and hurt clouded her early childhood. And for 27 years, she successfully blocked out any desire to explore her past. But, for this class, she complied.
As she began shoveling up memories of her childhood, one scene nagged at her…
“Ok. Stop,” the teacher announced. “I want you to freeze-frame whatever scene is in your head right now.”
Although hers lacked vividness, she contained pieces to a puzzle that she fearfully avoided reconnecting until now. At two years old, Karin and her younger brother wandered the streets of Seoul, South Korea until a police officer found them. Malnourished and abandoned, Karin weighed 17 pounds, less than her nine-month-old brother.
They had no more information than that.
“I always had questions like why were we there, what really happened, but I never got any answers,” Karin says. “I just had tons and tons of unanswered questions.”
But that wasn’t the end of the assignment. The professor then informed them that they’d be acting out the scene in front of their classmates.
Karin’s stomach dropped. What?
But when Karin’s turn came up, she courageously stood before her classmates with two others at her side. Karin played her two-year-old self, another student played her nine-month-old brother, and another the police officer who found them roaming the streets without parents, food, or shelter.
another student played her nine-month-old brother, and another the police officer who found them roaming the streets without parents, food, or shelter.
She got into position, holding the student playing her brother. She felt a bit awkward. But as the student playing the police officer approached them and said, “C’mon, come with me,” something in Karin broke. Soft-spoken 27-year-old grad student Karin transformed into a hysterical two-year-old child who had just been abandoned. She cried loudly.
“Noooo!” she yelled to the police officer. “You can’t take us!” He tried harder to separate them, to take them to safety, but Karin clung even tighter to her brother, refusing to let him go.
“In that moment...I got in touch with all that grief for the first time,” she remembers. “It was so amazing. And this is why I don’t discredit the power of the arts or other ways to connect to our past because I had held it all even though it was such an early experience in my life, and I think that was the first time I felt such deep emotion in my life…I really felt it.”
And from that moment, Karin discovered a courage within her to explore a part of her life she actively ignored until now.
“I thought more about my birth mother and my adoption for the first time,” Karin says. “For so long, I felt like an accident, a mistake…rejected.”
Karin and her brother were quickly adopted and raised by a loving family in upstate New York, even forming a close bond with her older sister. Yet, she felt like she could trust no one. The idea of being rejected by her own parents intrinsically implanted a deep fear of being rejected by anyone ever again. As a result, Karin became chameleon-like, mastering the ability to adapt to the people around her.
a result, Karin became chameleon-like, mastering the ability to adapt to the people around her.
“In high school, I just followed people,” Karin explains. “I had no identity or true core.”
So when she found herself in abusive relationships, she rationalized that the emotional and physical abuse were better than being left alone.
“That’s how I found that affirmation of being wanted and loved,” Karin says.
When Karin entered college in 1995, she discovered the temporary relief of partying, drugs, and men. In 1996, she got pregnant. When she asked her boyfriend if he wanted to have the baby, he said he didn’t care. She felt like no one cared, so she decided to abort. Karin had no idea that this secret would be a burden of shame for her for the next 16 years.
But the following year, 19-year-old Karin found herself in the same situation: pregnant again with the same guy in the same destructive relationship. While everyone around her recognized this as a significant crisis, Karin—numb to pain and desperate to find happiness—saw this baby as her chance to finally be happy.
“I think at that point, I was just so miserable and empty inside,” she says. “Something in me had this desire to love somebody and to be loved.”
So, in 1998, Karin—just a 20-year-old sophomore in college—gave birth to Xavier. She left her boyfriend, and with the support of her friends and family, Karin graduated from The University at Albany a year later.
“I think I’ve always had that fighting spirit in me,” Karin says. “Even from an early age, because I knew I had to hold on to survive, I’ve always told myself, ‘Just do it. You have to.’”
Upon graduating, Karin worked as a counselor at a treatment center for teens addicted to drugs and alcohol. She, however, still used drugs and partied on the weekends, so she discerns this job as an intervention, of sorts, from God.
“I would attend NA [Narcotics Anonymous] and AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings and hear all these stories from kids to old people who threw their lives away and lost their relationships because of their addictions,” she says. “And I remember just thinking, ‘What am I doing?’”
Because, for Karin, although her drug use never turned into a full-blown addiction, she depended on typical club drugs like ecstasy, cocaine, and even dabbling with meth, to help her party on the weekends.
On one particular night, she and her friends partied at a nightclub until 9 a.m. the next morning. She noticed a sign on the wall earlier that read, “Buy or sell, we all go to hell.” Karin tried to ignore it but when the club closed and the lights turned on, she looked around and observed that without the people, without the music, and without the drugs, the club became nothing more than just a big, dirty, empty warehouse.
“And I thought to myself, ‘If there was ever a fire in this building, when everyone’s high and clubbing and dancing, there’d be no way out, and it would all just become this giant hell,’” Karin explains. “And that thought haunted me.”
When Karin came down from her highs, when the drugs wore off, when the dopamine stopped pumping through her blood, she found herself in dark, depressing lows. Why am I doing this? she’d asked herself, vowing to never use again.
“That job and those terrible comedowns eventually led me to cut it all out of my life,” Karin says.
of my life,” Karin says. “It was all God’s saving grace.”
By the time Xavier was two, Karin cut out all the drugs from her life. With a fresh perspective, she began noticing just how much her son had grown. Hardly a baby anymore, Xavier could converse and connect with his mom. And she, as a result, fell even deeper in love with him.
“When I started having a relationship with this child, he really brought me into feeling the depths of love and what love means. He showed me in his life,” Karin explains. “And I thought, ‘This love can’t mean we exist for no reason. There’s got to be a reason for this kind of love. And that caused me to delve deeper into figuring out the reason.”
Although, at this point in her life, Karin questioned God’s existence, she remembered one particular passage in the Bible that she heard growing up: God is love. But Karin never felt inclined to ask why or how.
Until she experienced this deep kind of love for the first time in her life.
“So I said to God, ‘You say You’re love, so let’s see what this love really means,” she says.
Reluctantly, she started attending a Christian fellowship, known as Campus Ambassadors. As her heart slowly opened up, Karin saw more and more of God through her son, Xavier. His childlike faith and pure joy and wonder changed the way Karin viewed life. He just got it, and she wanted to get it, too. Once during worship, as they sang “my Jesus, my Savior,” Xavier tapped on his mom’s shoulder and said, “Mommy, mommy, they’re singing my name.”
“It makes sense, you know? God is a father, so He shows His love through His children,” Karin says.
When she reflects on her salvation, she doesn’t remember it as any particular a-ha moment. God didn’t meet her in her dreams or speak audibly to her one afternoon. Rather, He simply showed her the depths of His love through her own love for Xavier. And as she began to understand this, her love for others began to grow as well.
Karin will be the first to admit she lacked direction in her life. She attended college because everyone else did. She stayed close to home for college because her sister did. She simply floated around.
It wasn’t until her work at the treatment center that Karin started discovering her love for working with kids. But even then, she didn’t quite know how to move forward.
Karin applied for grad school and studied art therapy, which developed into a true passion. Her own experience of psychodrama proved to her just how effective it could be in dealing with grief and pain. But it wasn’t until she drew closer to Jesus in the middle of grad school that Karin started understanding her life’s direction. God began revealing desires of her heart she never knew she had.
“He started giving me dreams and a purpose,” Karin says as her eyes light up with excitement.
Between 2005 and 2006, Karin had a thought, albeit fleeting. What if she could go back to the orphanage she was from in Seoul and establish an art therapy program there?
But with a full-time job and a son, she had no idea how it could work. So she quickly forgot about it.
she quickly forgot about it.
Fast forward to the summer of 2007. Working as a school social worker in New York and completely burned out, Karin stood at the brink of a mental breakdown. Work consisted of daily battles with teachers and administrators. Anytime she pulled a student out of class to counsel them through their deep emotional struggles, teachers responded with hostility, distrust, and accusations that she took students out of class “just because.”
On a whim and out of simple curiosity, Karin decided to spend the summer in Korea with her son. Although she never considered moving, she applied for a teaching job with the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education just before she left. When Karin found out she got the job, she and nine-year-old Xavier went home, packed their bags, and moved to Korea for a year.
“I wanted to try this out and reconnect with my roots,” Karin says. “Since I was adopted, I wanted to find out more about my past.”
But one year turned into two, which eventually turned into six. And today, Karin has no plans of leaving anytime soon.
For one, she found Jubilee Church in Seoul.
“Jubilee has been my home base and my saving grace,” Karin says. “I don’t think I would have stayed longer if I didn’t have Jubilee.”
Having a church community gave her the support and constant encouragement she and her son needed. Coming to Korea with nothing, Karin had no choice but to enroll Xavier into a Korean public school despite not speaking any Korean. Thankfully though, he could attend the school Karin taught at. And the school did their best to place Xavier in a class where the teacher spoke a little English.
“The fact that Xavier could be at my school and he was placed in a class with an English-speaking teacher shows just how much of God’s grace was over our lives,” Karin says.
Almost a year after stepping foot in Korea, God reminded Karin of her vision. When she first arrived, Karin visited her orphanage for the first time. Almost a year later, in May 2008, she visited the orphanage again, this time expressing an interest in volunteering. Perhaps on the weekends. A little here, a little there.
The following weekend, however, God called Karin to serve not just a little here and a little there, but rather as a full-time volunteer at the orphanage. Never once did Karin consider full-time ministry...ever. But she listened, regardless of the thousand questions running through her head. How will I live? How can this all work financially? How will I provide for my family?
But God just told her to trust. So she did.
In 2010, when Karin and Xavier went back to the States for her brother’s wedding, she received a petition in the mail to appear in family court. Xavier’s father summoned them to court, assuming they wouldn’t show up because they were in Korea. But Karin did show up. And he didn’t.
One of Karin’s friends, a lawyer who helped her in the custody battle early on, advised her to try and settle this outside of the court. Because if the judge happened to order joint custody, Karin and Xavier wouldn’t be able to go back to Korea.
Karin knew exactly what God was doing. He was telling her to forgive the dad. But not just with words. With his debt, too. Xavier’s dad failed to pay for child support for years, equating to tens of thousands of dollars. She understood that this probably made it difficult for him to find a job, thus, explaining his reason for summoning them to court.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Karin remembers. “I sat outside of the courthouse in my car with the petition in my hand, thinking, ‘God, this is a lot of money.’ But God spoke back, ‘Xavier is My beloved son. He’s mine…what need in your life do you think is too great for me? I’m his Father. I can provide so much more.’”
Karin also felt that if forgiving this small debt could, in some small way, show him the greater debt Jesus paid by giving His life for the world’s sins, then she was in. She walked into the courthouse and submitted the petition.
Karin still can’t believe all that has happened since then. In 2011, she received a full-ride government scholarship to earn her PhD in social work at Ewha University in Seoul. With this degree, she hopes to influence government policy to increase the support for orphans after they leave the children’s homes. As the Vice President of Field Operations for Jerusalem Ministry, a Christian nonprofit that works with orphanages in Seoul, she is implementing an art therapy program at her orphanage, just as she once dreamt. Though it’s still developing, she hopes her education will provide more opportunities to establish it even further.
Also, in September 2011, Xavier got accepted to Yongsan International School of Seoul (YISS), one of the best schools in South Korea. And if that’s not enough, months later, an anonymous donor paid off all of Karin’s student loans, which equaled close to $25,000.
“God’s financial provision is no joke,” Karin says. “God is so beyond…anything.”
He is so beyond anything, in fact, that when Karin confessed her abortion during an inner-healing prayer time in 2012—a secret so full of shame, she could never forgive herself for—God told her to stop. To stop tormenting herself.
herself. To stop feeling ashamed. He forgave her, so it was time she finally forgave herself.
“When I brought this to light, which I had kept hidden and in darkness for so many years, this is when I got to experience freedom like I never knew before,” Karin says in front of hundreds of people, publicly sharing about her abortion for the first time. “And just like that, I got rid of years lies, and I felt a deeper intimacy with Him because this sin was no longer blocking me from Him.”
She pauses, tears falling from her face, as she tries to compose herself.
“And I know that I’m going to meet my baby again in heaven...I’m gonna meet my baby again.”
For a year, one particular girl at Karin’s orphanage always stood out to her. She hardly smiled, and Karin recognized just how broken the girl was. So Karin made it a point to always say “hi,” giving her a little extra attention and love. Yet, the girl showed no emotion.
Until one day, when Karin prepared to go to the U.S. for a month in the summer. As she said her “goodbye”s to the other children, she noticed the girl waving from her window. Karin said, “Bye! See you next time,” and the girl responded, “Bye. See you next time.” Karin said it back. And the girl repeated until Karin was out of sight. “See you next time.” “See you next time.” “See you next time.”
Years ago, Karin discovered the love of Jesus through her own love for her son. God spoke to her through Xavier. And now God speaks to His children through Karin. He wants them to know the same thing He told Karin long ago: that even though their parents left, He will never leave them.
children through Karin. He wants them to know the same thing He told Karin long ago: that even though their parents left, He will never leave them.
And it hit Karin just how powerful that moment was.
“See you next time” meant Karin was coming back. “See you next time” meant that the girl trusted Karin.
“See you next time” meant that Karin wasn’t going to leave her.
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