Saturday, May 31, 2008

Evidence of God working in my life.

Today is yet another day when God has poured his grace and blessings upon me.

Today is the second day in a row of rain and the third week since I have last seen Trash Box Jam. Last week I was doing well, I had plenty of energy and many exciting things were happening to keep me distracted. This week, my energy started draining. I kinda knew it would be coming. Today I was at the lowest point of the week. I couldn't wake up this morning. Barely made it to work before my students. Didn't bother to eat before work. Not only that, looking back on my week, I felt like I hadn't accomplished anything. There were so many things that I "should have done." Once again I was faced with my true character, my habits of sin, and my need for redemption. Once again, God showed me His true character, the forgiveness for my sin and offered His hand of redemption. (He even prompted a student to bring me food as well.)

So this week has been game week. This year I've decided to help reinforce English by playing word games once a month in my Adult and returnee classes. It also helps out with lesson planning. So we played games this week. It was good, and didn't require too much energy from me. Kids are another story. But this is an example of God's grace.

Today I have two classes of returnees, Kids who have lived in America (or other English speaking country) and want to keep their English. One class is now up to 4 six year olds, and one class is a group of 3, 3rd, 4th and 6th grade. In the younger class we played Candyland. It's been a while since I've seen Candyland, and I wondered if it was really going to be entertaining for the kids. Well, turns out it is. Haha. We had a great time. I never knew Candyland could be so exciting. I encouraged them to talk by making them choose from two or three cards in my hand instead of just drawing the next card from the pile. This also added a bit of excitement to game. But in the end, I know that it was a gift of God. God has given me a gift of being able to play with children. I'm always amazed, because I know I don't deserve such a wonderful gift. But he gave it to me anyway, even on days I'd rather be at home hiding under the covers.

Today in Bible Study one woman was saying again how "kawaii sou" (pitable) the Israelites were because they were always being given such strict punishments from God. I tried to point out how it was really their fault, and show how merciful and patience God was really being. It reminded me of some people I've known. I have a friend here. I've known her for two years. In the begining, I always thought that the people around her were a bit too harsh with her. I would try to defend her and support her. Now I have been here longer, (and know a bit more Japanese) and I can see the frustrations of the people around her. She doesn't change. She continues to act like a child, so the people around her will continue to treat her in that fashion. And they really do care about her. But they can't change her heart. They can't make her mature. That's a lot how Israel was. That's a lot how I am. I can see the person I used to be. I can see how much I've changed. And I can see how far I still have to go. I know I am also a stubborn child. I continue to try to do things my way, and complain when they don't go the way I wanted them to. I try to force my will on God, or try to bribe Him to see things my way. How wonderful He doesn't always listen to me! I've seen the results when God finally gives up and says "Fine, have it your way. Remember, you asked for this." I don't want that. I'm so thankful that God continues to work in my life even when I am a faithless, undisciplined, stubborn child.

By all accounts, today should have been a miserable day. But God redeemed it, and allowed me to learn and open my heart just a fraction wider than before. This is good. I want to mature with my God and Father. This is my prayer.

I guess this was a bit of a strange blog entry, but it's how I'm feeling tonight and I felt like I should write it down. But it's encouraging to see how much God continues to interfere in my life. I know He won't stop until I become what He created me to be. That's wonderful.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bonsai, double-edged swords and ministry

It's been a few days since I have done anything productive on the internet. I've been in a bit of a "communication black-out" for a bit. I've experienced a wide variety of emotions lately, and it has left me feeling drained and lifeless. Usually when I feel like this I shut-down and try to distract and numb myself until I am able to deal with things again. Granted, I did a bit of that lately, but I also decided that I should share some of my thoughts here.

I have been realizing many things from some recent conversations with various friends. One is, it is very difficult for me to share my life here in Japan with people in America. There's this feeling that no one there can understand what it's like here, so it's best if I don't even try. I guess that's a lie from Satan trying to make me isolate myself. It's not fair to the people who care about me, and it deprives me of much needed prayers. I'm sorry. I'll try to do better. But, as I'm sure most people know, communication is not my strong suit. Please feel free to ask me questions. It's hard to know what to tell people, or what they are interested in. And forgive me if I can't answer right away. One, I really am busy most of the time. And two, it takes a lot of emotional energy for me to communicate. I'm trying to get better, I really am.

Another revelation is what it means to do ministry in Japan. I shared this analogy with some people, and I'd like to share it again here.

Last year for my birthday my good friend gave me a bonsai tree. Now, I am terrible with plants. They don't talk, they don't move, they don't let me know when they need something, so they are very easy to forget about and let die. (this is why I prefer dogs, cats and small children. They let you know when they need something, not to mention they are interesting and entertaining. Also explains why I'm not so fond of fish or birds.) So this wouldn't seem like the best gift to give me. (Especially considering that this friend of mine loves bonsai, and she had grown this tree from a seed herself. It's like taking care of one of her children.) But I had shared with her before that I thought I really needed to learn more about perserverence. I am not a patient person at all when it comes to anything long term. So especially in my prayers, when I want to pray for Japan and the people I love here, it's easy to quit when I don't see results right away. So I decided I needed something more to teach me about perservering. The ideal solution seemed to be bonsai. Needs patience, a symbol of Japan, not something I'm good at. So my friend graciously gave me one of her precious tress for this "lesson."

Well my birthday is in October, so this is fall. Most plants don't grow much in fall, and this tiny pine tree was no exception. In fact, it didn't do much of anything for a little while. And then, the needles seemed to get darker, and some died off. I was worried for a while about the little thing, but I kept watering it. All winter I was rather worried about the poor little tree. Nothing seemed to change it's condition, and I was wondering if it was dead. Then my friend wrote about the condition of her tree on her blog. For the first time I knew what kind of tree I had. And it inspired me to look up information on the internet about this tree. I found some very interesting information. It told me things like you shouldn't do anything to the tree other than water it for two years. Then you can start slowly wiring it and changing it's shape. You can also cut and prune it little by little. But you should be careful, because all these things are injuries to the tree. You have to make sure to give it time to heal etc. And all the while, you must continue to give it water.

Suddenly, I had hope once again for my little tree. And sure enough this spring I was rewarded with new growth. This of course made me think about my life here in Japan. For the first two years or so I felt the same. I was "watering" my relationships with people, but not much seemed to be happening. I was wondering if I was doing enough, or even anything productive. Believe me "watering" is not a glamorous job. Many times I doubted if my ministry was even "alive." (it's interesting to note that I also arrived in Japan in fall/winter) After my second year, I began to see "green" in my relationships. Suddenly my Japanese was good enough to take relationships to the next step. I could see the growth and it was encouraging. But of course spring doesn't last forever. There is a time to grow, a time to cut, a time to wait, but through it all, you must water. You have to keep investing in the relationships, being present, praying, etc. and above all keep the faith that spring will come again. This is the part where I get the most discouraged.

I look at what I do, and wonder "Is it enough? Am I really doing anything here?" It's hard to see results here. I can get excited about small things, but they never seem to grow into big ones. I can be please with the growth of my Japanese ability, only to be frustrated by all the things I still can't understand or do. I can rejoice when my students react well in a Bible study but mourn when none of them seem any closer than before to accepting Jesus. Or be happy with a well done event, but wondering if they actually touch anyone. Most of the time I am happy and satisfied with my life here. I love the people here. I have no desire to return to life in America. Or anywhere else for that matter. I love Japan.

But I'm at one of those points again where I can't see any change, any movement. I get frustrated with my life of routine. I become discouraged to realize that I am alone. I'm 28 and single. Usually I'm ok with this, but sometimes I wonder what's wrong with me. I worry about money. I wish I didn't have to worry about money, about the prospect of spending the next 20 years of my life paying school loans. Worrying about my parents worrying about my money. Wondering what's going to happen in my future. Will I have a meaningful job? Will I have a family? Will I find myself single the rest of my life? Will I ever grow up? I both desire change and fear it. You see, I'm a bonsai too. I grow slowly and my roots are fragile. Sometimes I wonder if my heart is even still alive.

This is when God graciously shows me the bigger picture. He shows me His faithfulness. I trust in God. I believe that He is good. So even when I can't see results, I must keep moving forward, keep "watering" because I believe eventually spring will come again. I've come to realize that ministry, and even loving God, is like a double-edged sword. I can change the world around me with God's help, but in the process I am also changed. And because God is gracious, the process is slow.

I remember reading in one of my classes about God talking to the Israelites as they were about to enter the Promised land. He promised them that He would defeat all their enemies, but He was going to do it slowly, so that the land would not become completely desolate in the process. God has the power to change everything at once. But He doesn't do that very often. He understands the needs of growing and changing. Give time to heal, time to be changed, time to rest, time to wait. These are all important things. God loves us. He loves Japan, more than I do. He loves me. And He is way smarter than any of us can imagine. His way is best. So it's times like this that I have to remember this. I have to remember, gather my perserverence, and pick up my watering can again. It's quite possible I'll be watering for the rest of my life. And I may never see the results of my watering. But I trust that God is working. This is the only truth that keeps me through the long times.

I know I'm just a little baby bonsai tree right now. But maybe, after a lifetime of watering, I'll become a beautiful, valuable bonsai that God delights in. I'm glad God's a better gardener than I am. Please pray for me as I water and am watered in this place. I appreciate your prayers and support so much.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Good times!

I was lucky enough to have this whole week off! It was very nice to have some time to relax and just take it easy. I'm very happy so far. Tuesday I got to spend the day with one of my friends. She came out, and we walked around. We never made any of our destinations, but we did manage to go to a small zoo. Then we went to the band. It was a nice day.

Wed. I was able to just take it slow. I did decide on a whim to start practicing the piano again. No, I don't really play piano. I took about two semesters of classes back in Jr. College. I still have the books, so I decided to pull them out and play around. It was fun. I've managed to "play" piano now for the past 3 days! My hands are a little tired. Haha. The sad thing is Yang Sensei heard me playing (I have to play at the church) and is convinced I should play for church. Yeah right. I'm definitely not that good.

Thurs I went to a baseball game. I think I got discount tickets from our director (who got them from somewhere, not sure where...). It was fun. It was pro teams and at the Tokyo Dome. It was my first Major League experience. It was really interesting. There were cheering sections, that closer resembled high school football than baseball. There were cheerleaders too. It was a wonderful experience. I also got free stuff. I got a free towel and a magnet and some stickers. Along with a book of all the names of all the pro players for all the teams in Japan. Nice.

The food was pretty expensive, as to be expected. But what is fun is, you can bring your own food into the stadium! How cool is that? I didn't find that out until I had already entered the stadium though. A little too late. haha. We had pretty decent seats, close to the field. The only downside was we were way out in left field. It was kinda hard to see the infield action.

Unfortunately the home team (the Giants) were really bad. Seriously. The other team (the Carps) shut them out, 6-0. I thought that the Carps was a pretty lame name for a baseball team, but that doesn't seem to effect their playing at all. Haha. They got a double first at bat, and had 6 men on base the first inning! I couldn't tell if they were a good team, or if the Giants were just really bad. But it is a bit hard to get excited when you don't really care about either team so much. Haha. I went with a friend, and it was fun anyway. I made a video to share the experience with you.

Today I went out with some of my students. We went Karaoke. I love Karaoke. It was good, because when I practiced piano today, I also did some vocal exercises on a whim. It really improved my singing! I was happy. After Karaoke, two students and I went to get dessert. It was really good. One student is new (the same girl who went to the live with me) and we were teaching her different things about the school. The conversation quickly turned to church too. So she's going to come to church on Sunday to see what it's like! She seems really excited about it too. She's a fun addition to the class! And in other fun news, since tomorrow is a holiday, the same two students are going to come and see the band tomorrow! How fun is that! Let's pray it doesn't rain in the evening. Haha.

Next few days are going to be pretty full, and then classes will start again all too soon. Anyway, that's the update for now!