Monday, June 30, 2008

The joys of creating!

So about two months ago the art bug bit me. Mako, one of the members of Trash Box Jam, the band I listen to, also writes solo songs. He's an amazing song writer too. Once I've translated the songs, and he's explained them to me, I can usually get a really clear visual image of his songs. He just wrote a new song, and the image was so strong and beautiful, that I broke down and bought some art supplies. It's been a really long time since I've been able to draw a picture on this scale. (it's really quite big.) So this is the picture, in pastel, of Mako's new song. The title of the picture is "Shadow of a prayer - the last dream of Hope." Sorry, I don't think I'd be able to explain the song very well. But enjoy the pictures of my latest art project!

The thing I really like about art is when you start with a completely white sheet of paper, and in the end, you have something beautiful. I love the whole process. And the satisfaction I get, kinda gives me a glimpse of what God might have felt when he was creating the world and such. It's a wonderful blessing from God! I'm really happy to be able to share this with God.

Anyway, this weekend I gave the finished picture to Mako. I'll miss it though. Haha

Friday, June 20, 2008

Realizing definitions.

So, one of the most important things I've gained from teaching English as a foreign language is to really understand the definitions of words for myself. So many times, I take words for granted. It's when a student asks me, "What does this word mean?" that I really have to sit down and find the answer for myself. This has been esp helpful when I teach the Bible. I can see a Bible verse in a whole new light, because I can understand the meaning of a word better.

Once a week, I have a Japanese/English Bible study with the deaconess of our church. I teach her the English, and she teaches me the Japanese. It's a good language study for both of us. A few weeks back I had one of my "word" revelations. In Matthew 6 it talks about not worrying about the future, but instead trusting in God to provide. One verse is rather famous. "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Mat 6:33) I've heard this verse so many times, I don't even bother to pay attention to it anymore. It's too familiar. I think I know it all ready. This is a problem for me sometimes. I have a student who does the same thing. She used to live in America (she's 6th grade now) and her English is much better than most people around her. But she thinks this means she doesn't have to pay attention in English class. So now, because she knows too much, she misses out on important Grammar things or meanings of words that she would have caught otherwise. I do the same thing with the Bible. I think I understand it, and since I can read it in English, it seems easy enough. But sometimes, I realize I can always listen more.

So, the case in point. We are reading this verse, so Yang Sensei (the deaconess) askes me, "What does 'seek' mean? Does it mean hoshi (the Japanese word for want)?" I immediately told her no, that's not really what it meant, and we eventually managed to find the correct Japanese word to express seek. But during that process, I realized how often we treat the word in that verse as "want" instead of "seek." What is the difference? Want is merely a feeling. Oh yeah, I want God's kingdom and his righteousness. And I want a new bicycle. But, I can want something for a long time, and never DO anything about it. Seek is different. Seek is an action. There's a big difference between only wanting a new bicycle and saving up enough money and going to find a place to buy a new bicycle. I can sit around wanting all day. It does nothing. Seek is something that takes effort.

Now I realize that this might just be an English word choice problem, so we decided to look it up in Japanese and in Greek. All three languages point out an action word. Seek. Exert yourself. Get up off your butt and do something about it. Don't sit around waiting and wanting something to happen. Seek it!

I think this is an important thing to remember. So many people I know think that wanting the kingdom of God is the same thing as seeking it. It's not. If we wait for the Kingdom of God to come to us, it's gonna be too late. You have to seek after it. How's that for a little motivation?

Monday, June 09, 2008

The curse of the Tower

I just finished reading the latest book in my favorite fantasy series, Wheel of Time. It's a very long, complicated story. Usually I read for fun. Well, I used to at least. Lately it seems I can find a life lesson, or something new to think about in anything I read. Well, almost anything.

So I really like this series. It's this long, complicated story about your basic Light vs Dark. But this story is actually very realistic in many ways. I am amazed at the intelligence of the author who made so many and complicated plot twists. The thing that strikes me about this book is the vast number of plotting that happens. Even people who should be on the same side can't be trusted, because everyone has their own agenda. The end of the world is coming, so you think they should be working together to save people. But everyone has a different idea of how to do that. Some just want power for themselves. Some think their way is the only way. Other's are just ignorant. But everyone is moving independently. The actions of "not exactly enemies" are often just as damaging, or even more so than those of the actual enemies. Of course, the good news is that the enemy camp also has the same problem, only bigger. But somehow, by some greater power, things are falling into place anyway. What will eventually happen? I have to wait for the next book. Haha.

But it got me thinking. This is basically the situation the world finds itself in. There is the Light and the Dark. The end of the world is coming closer (because naturally that is the only direction it can go). Naturally you would think that Christians should be working together to save as many people as possible. But we have fallen under what I've decided is the curse of the Tower.

Of course I'm talking about the Tower of Bable. Here was a case when the people of the earth set out to rebel against God. Who needs God when we can make a tower directly to heaven ourselves? Well, it's impossible, but it's the pride that's important. In face of direct rebellion, God was a cunning General. If He attacked the tower directly, people might band together even more, thinking "ah, see, God was mad. Must mean we are on to something!" Instead He spared the lives of the rebels, instead, turning them against each other merely by confusing their languages. With their pride, no one could bend enough to learn the other languages, so work stopped, and the people separated. (now, please understand, these are all my own thoughts. I have no authority on this subject...) This seems to me the root of the problem. The curse we brought upon ourselves by rebellion. Factions.

Now we are divided. We can neither do too much good, or too much evil. We can't work well with others anymore. This is of course because I am right, and everyone else refuses to see that. So why should I change? After all, I'm right.

But this is the curse. The unbending need to be right. The pride that tells us this is the most important thing. Never back down. Never give an inch. Of course it may not be that full blown, but I believe we all carry this curse with us to some extent, about something. (I have a rather large portion of it myself.)

So like fools, children who can't see the bigger picture, we all hang on to our "rightness." I discovered recently that I have this terrible need to be right. And to have other people acknowledge me as right. It doesn't help that I am often right. But that doesn't mean people listen to me. Oh how it burns when I know I am right and tell people that, and they don't listen. Then they are proven I was right. But still no acknowledgment. Yes, it's one of my biggest hang ups. I have a lot of pride centered about being right.

But slowly I am beginning to see. Being right is not always most important. Being righteous is. This means you sometimes take the humiliation, the punishment, whatever, even though you are right. Turn your cheek. Walk the extra mile. Love your enemies. Ah, how I wish Jesus had never said those words sometimes! They are so hard. So painful. So right. Yeah, I have to admit. When it comes to being Right, Jesus wins. He was always Right. But still, He allowed himself to be humiliated, beaten, and crucified like a common criminal. Why? Because He was right! It wasn't fair. Life's not fair. Never was. If life was fair, it would have ended with Adam and Eve.

So here I am, trying to have the courage to give up my "rightness" for the sake of righteousness. Trying to be willing to be humble. And wishing that others could see this too. When we fight among political parties. Among denominations. Among clicks. Among families. Among nations. Why? Because each one thinks they are right. Not seeing the picture past themselves. Not completely informed. Not thinking of the welfare of others. It makes my heart weep to see it.

But I can't change the world. But I can begin to change me. Not be so quick to Judge. I can't know what's in a person's heart. I can't know all of their circumstances. Not so quick to be right. I can't see all the possibilities. I'm not God. I should know my place.

Slowly, I'm am tearing down my own personal tower I had been building. My rebellion against God. My need to be right. Thinking I have a right to be informed about everything. Demanding God's answers right away. My tower had been pretty high. It hurts to fall from there. Good thing it didn't go much higher. God is gracious. He continues to give me second chances. He confuses me enough until I can find the "right" path. His path. Not my rightness. His.

It's a humbling process. But it's better to be humbled than "wrong."

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Small joys of teaching

Today was a good day in one of my classes. The class ended with a 6 year old boy crying. Now I'm sure you are confused. How can this be a good thing? But really, it is.

So I know I've mentioned before but I have several classes of kids who used to live in America. This year I was able to split them up into three classes arranged closer to age and ability. So I have a nice class of 6 year olds who used to live in America. Their English is good, but not perfect. I have two who have recently moved back from America. They speak well and have a good vocabulary. They are also very good at doing worksheets etc. One is a bit shy if he has to talk in front of everyone, but as soon as you take the pressure off he will chat away to himself in English. The other girl just talks happily away. The other two don't talk as much. The one boy was younger when he was in America and did not attend school in America. So he has pretty good listening, but he has trouble talking and writing. But usually he's ok with that. I usually find him in his own little world, and have difficulties getting him to do his work. He's usually not interested. Before this year, he was too young for the combined returnee class, but too good for a class his own age. So we had put him in a regular class with older boys. (they had gotten along surprisingly well) but it wasn't the best solution.

So I've been wanting to get him more comfortable in English. In the past few months he has been getting more comfortable in the class, and the kids get along well with each other. Today for the first time, he really really tried to do his worksheet. The first page I was able to help him out and give him the hints he needed to do the work. But the second page was much harder. I was distracted by helping the other little girl do her work (she's new). But I was surprised when I suddenly found him in frustrated tears. Even while crying he kept trying to finish the sheet. Even though he couldn't understand what he was supposed to do. It's the first time I've seen him really WANT to learn, WANT to achieve something. It was wonderful! We worked together to finish the sheet (ignoring the parts he had done wrong...) and then went to see his mom so he could finish crying. I think she was a bit surprised, but also happy because it meant he cared. He quickly recovered and was smiling by the time his brothers class was finished.

I love watching kids grow! (good thing tears don't bother me so much, haha)

On a random note. I bought some workbooks for some of the older kids in America. I have a class with a 3rd grader, a 4th grader and a 6th grader. So I bought level appropriate books in America. (well, I did make a mistake and ordered a 4th grade book and a 5th grade book by accident, but it's ok, because both the 3rd grader and 4th grader are able to do work beyond their grade level) Today while they are doing their workbooks, I keep thinking that the 4th grade book is really hard for this kid. The 5th grade book seems too easy, and the 6th grade book is hard. So I was being asked lots of questions from the one boy, because his words were really hard. Finally (after about half the class) we noticed, two pages in his book were the exact same as the pages in the 6th grade book! Exactly! How strange is that? It must have been a printing error, but still. That's insane! This poor kid was trying to do these super hard words that were giving the 6th grader trouble! When I noticed, I told him he didn't have to finish the page. I instead made copies from the 5th grade book, which he was able to complete with no problems! How messed up is this? Since when are 5th grade books easier than 4th grade ones??? Good thing is, he's a good sport. I hope it starts to even out soon in those silly books...

Ah... I think I've become like a "real" teacher if this is what I come home and write about. Haha. But I really was happy about the crying boy today. It's exciting! I like watching students get into what they are studying. It's wonderful

Friday, June 06, 2008

Mourning the future not taken

So I got a call from my mom this week. After waking up enough to figure out what was going on, I ended up with a bit of a shock. Not really bad, just sad.

So when I was young, my mom gave me a Hope Chest. This was a tradition in her family for girls to help prepare them for marriage (or single life recently). Every year on birthday's or Christmas you get one gift for the Hope Chest. This might be dishes, or pots and pans, etc. Essential things that you buy a little at a time so it's ready for you when you move out. I had accumulated quite a bit. Lots of dishes, pans, silverware, glasses. Now, I am also a bit of a pack-rat. I keep almost everything. It's crazy. So before I came to Japan I boxed up everything I was leaving behind and put it in an unused room in my parents house. Yeah, there's a lot of stuff.

So I got the call from my mom. Turns out my brother and his family are moving back into my parents house and they need that room. As no one is sure when I'm ever going to return to America, the solution was, it's time to get rid of the stuff.

So my mom called me to find out what I had to keep. This is a hard question at 3AM. I finally settled that I needed to keep my books and my art supplies and pictures. I guess everything else I can live without. And it's true, I don't really need any of that stuff. I guess it was just a representation of my past, and of a possible future.

So now I have lost one more thing that tied me to my home in America (as well as a house to move back into) and a future that I grew up assuming I would have. But it's funny how things change. I don't really regret not having that future. But there's still a sense of mourning. I don't know how you really mourn something you never had, but still, it's there.

But on the up side, it feels like I've been freed to continue looking forward to a future in Japan. Recently there is much less uncertainty in my conversations. Before I was always "if I can stay in Japan" and now it's more like "when".

So this week has been a strange mixture of emotions; relief, sorrow, anger, hope. But never fear. I'll forget about the whole thing soon enough. Haha

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


You know, I like presents! Today I ended up with a lot of presents! And it's not even my birthday! It's great! Here are some pictures.

They were all given to me by students. One student went to a famous place in Tokyo and bought some presents for the whole class. the long piece of fabric is from that. It's a beatiful cotton "hand towel" but this is more like art actually. I'll probably hang it up in my house somewhere. She also gave me a small paper umbrella. I think this is supposed to be displayed on a wall. The flowers on both are cherry blossoms. They are beautiful.
Then in my night class one student gave me the Hello Kitty dolls. Actually his co-worker gave them to him and he didn't really want them, so he gave them to me. I was happy to take them off his hands! They are really cute! I really love the wide variety of art and stuff that can be found in Japan. Most are perfect for my tastes!
I was also "given" a nice homemade meal tonight. It was really good! Sorry, didn't take a picture.