Thursday, November 12, 2009

I love Jr High

Sometimes my job can be frustrating. Often it is amazingly boring. But even so, I find that I really like my job lately.

I'm finally figuring out a bit of the balance between discipline and loving the students. I've been able to start developing relationships with some of the students, and it's so great to watch kids who weren't doing anything before, suddenly working hard and doing their best. I want to be a teacher who makes kids feel loved. Who inspires them to be better than they were before. Personally, I don't care if my students ever learn English. But I want them to learn how to be better people. The only way I have to reach them is by teaching them English.

I've been very encouraged these past few weeks with kids who are suddenly working harder than before. Kids who are trying and pushing themselves. I love my kids.

There are several problem kids in our school. Kids that no one really knows what to do with. And there are the "weird" kids too. (the weird kids seem to like me! Go figure.) I want to reach out to them. I want them to know they are loved. I want to love them and encourage them. On days like this, I hate the thought of moving, because I want to stay with these kids a bit longer. If I leave who will take care of these kids in my place? Who will praise them, and tell them that they have worth in this world? My heart is torn.

Today the number one problem student in the first years gave me a calendar he designed. He doesn't do anything in class. He can't get along well with the other students. But recently, I've been praising him every time I see him. I ask him if he'll try to do something in class. He hasn't done anything yet, but the ice seems to be melting. But he likes computers. He designed a graphic and then made it into a calendar. He's been making them for some of his teachers. I was happy when he offered me one today.

I feel so powerless sometimes. All I can do is ask for God to watch over these children.

It goes to show that I can find purpose even when I'm not working in a church. When I was in college I wanted to do Jr. High ministry. Looks like I've found my Jr. High ministry. Nothing what I envisioned it to be, but, it's still so important.

I like kids.

In other random news, I forgot to write the other day that Sensei has stopped smoking! He had given up smoking for one week for the praise service. And on that day, he decided to give up smoking for good. He's so awesome! Once he decides something, he really goes all out. I really respect people who can put so much into stuff.

Anyway... I'm tired. I've had a cold this week. I need to shower and go to bed. But I felt like writing first. That's all. Time to stop rambling.

Still waiting for an answer about Fukushima. But not nearly as stressed anymore.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


I received another comment today on one of my posts. I'm always a bit surprised when I find that people have found my blog and are reading it. I was even more shocked today to discover that I have 7 followers (and only two of them are people I know in person! This is also not counting the people I know read the blog, but who aren't listed at followers.) I guess this means I should update a bit more often. :-)

So recently lot's of things have been happening. (this is a long processing, and I'm starting at the beginning here...) After I finished my job as a missionary, I found a company and started working as an ALT. At that time, it was very important for me to stay here where I had already built up relationships and friendships. As I started working in the secular company, I found that I felt isolated and lonely. I went to work, commuted long hours and came home to an empty house. The only thing that kept me going was seeing the band on Saturday nights. But even that had started to feel a bit hollow.

Slowly I came to the realization that I was stagnating here. I had no purpose, no ministry. I'm originally a lazy person, so when I don't have a program or a ministry to be responsible for, I slack off easily. The band wasn't enough to support me. I also needed to be connected with a Christian community. I still had contacts with former co-workers, but because I didn't have money for transportation, I was rarely able to meet them. The lack of money and community began to take its toll on me.

Then I got the suggestion that I move to Fukushima to live with a former co-worker and do ministry there. I could work as an ALT while she worked at the church. I had been offered chances to move before to Niigata, but I had never felt it was right, so I always refused. This time, I surprised myself by saying I would go.

Circumstances changed a bit, leading to me getting a roommate, and then it being said that a different co-worker would also move to Fukushima. I started to loose my certainty about going. I started worrying about it, and praying about it. (more worrying than praying I confess.) I was torn. Suddenly, I didn't want to leave all the things I had built here. I didn't want to leave the band, I didn't want to leave my students. I didn't want to leave my roommate. But at the same time, I wanted to run away from it all. I wanted new air, fresh adventure and change.

So now the deadline for me to decide one way or another is quickly approaching. This has increased my anxiety quite a bit. Last week I was praying about it. Wed, on the way to work, I suddenly felt an urge to fast. I was a bit surprised, because I had already eaten breakfast. I was wondering "is this really ok?" But the urge didn't go away, so I told the school I wouldn't need lunch that day. (they are getting used to me not eating sometimes now.) So I prayed and journaled, and still wasn't finding any answers.

On my way home, I started listening to my MP3 player. I have some Christian songs, and lots of band songs on the player. The song that came on is one of the band's new songs called "Smile." Part of the chorus is a repetition of "Why don't you smile for me?" in English. As this song was playing, I could feel God speaking to me. Why wasn't I smiling for him? Why did I worry so much? Of course my worry didn't please him. God desires my love and praise. He doesn't need me to figure things out or to have all the answers. He wants my love.

I was humbled, and suddenly felt released from my fast to eat dinner. (Shortest fast ever I tell you.) So somehow I felt a bit more peace, even though I didn't have any more answers.

Last week I had told Sing that I was 99% certain that I was moving to Fukushima. He was a bit shocked. Some other people are also starting to move on with their lives. I told him he's a bit like Peter Pan ruling Neverland. Lost Children come and can live and be loved, but eventually they grow up and leave Neverland. You can only be a Lost Boy for so long.

Yesterday we had a really long conversation about it. I had to tell Sing about what had happened Wed. I really didn't want to, because Sing has been telling me to smile for years, and I hate it when he does. His motivation is totally different. I resist Sing's message so much, because it's hollow and empty. But Sing was of course slightly triumphant when I told him that God used his song to give me a message. He went a bit too far, saying that it was his message and not God's, but I think he knew what I meant.

But then he started asking me a lot of really good questions. Why was I going to Fukushima? I told him I wanted to get stronger. Why can't I do that here? Because I'm lazy and too tied up with things like the band. He kept having so many questions, but it all came back to, why did I have to go away to get stronger? Why couldn't I stay? He told me he needed me. I argued of course that he doesn't need me, there are plenty of people there for him. But he was insistent. In the end, he said that he needed to make me happy, and then maybe I wouldn't go.

Now you have to understand a little about my relationship with Sing. A few years back, I fell in love with the guy. But he was in love with a friend of mine. I gave up on that love. It was a painful time. But he never left my heart. Over the years, I found that I still loved him, but I was no longer in love with him. (I'm instead in love with a different band member, but also probably not a good thing.) I have spent so much time praying and fasting and praying for Sing to become Christian. I tried talking to him about it at first, but found that I couldn't. We argue instead of discussing things. I couldn't understand where he was coming from, and he couldn't understand where I was coming from. We merely frustrated each other. So we eventually talked less and less. Lately, we barely said anything to each other at all. There were new fans to take care of, and I had been around long enough that it wasn't really necessary to talk anymore I guess. But still, I felt very far away from him. I began to wonder what it was I was doing here...

Now suddenly, I tell him I'm leaving, and he tells me things like he needs me and he'll try to make me happy. A couple of years ago, that would have made me very happy. Now... I know they aren't true. They are hollow words. He can't make me happy, no matter what he does. He doesn't understand that happiness is not my goal. I want to be fulfilled. I want to find joy. I can only find those things in God. He can never give them to me.

It was a rather emotional talk, but today I find that I have more peace than ever about Fukushima. Leave it to Sing to argue for me to stay and actually push me closer to going.

I'm still not at 100%, but I think I'm at 99.5 now. I do need to answer the question if I'm running away, or if it's time for me to go. But the more I think about it, the more I can't see myself here next year. I don't want to leave Sing, but maybe it's important that I do. I can't do anything for him. He can't do anything for me. But Fukushima will help me grow and mature as a Christian. (and hopefully get over the one-sided love with the other band member, who fortunately for me hasn't been coming lately...)

I have been in Japan 5 years, and March will mark the end of 5 years in Omiya. It's been a good 5 years. But it might be time for me to move on.

For the first time, I'm daring to hope and be filled with excitement about the prospect of moving.

I want to become a more beautiful bride of Christ.

Son of David, have mercy on me. Hear my prayers. Guide my feet, and fill me with your love.

Praise service

Today we had a special praise service at church. There have been attempts at it in the past, but things never seemed to fall together. But now we have "Sensei." Yang Sensei has been very quick in getting "Sensei" involved in things at church since he was baptized in April. He's been helping in the Sunday School, doing Children's messages once a month and doing a bit of performing after church sometimes. Today he was the worship leader for a praise service. Did I mention he was only baptized in April? God is good.

It was wonderful to see him lead worship. It was not what American's would picture as a praise service. It was more meditative, more Taize style, and just a little bit traditional Japanese thrown in. It was beautiful.

The Japanese was simple, so I could understand almost all of the songs. For the most part, it was very easy to follow.

I feel so blessed to watch Sensei grow like this.

I pray that God will continue to bless Sensei, and strengthen him, that he may also bear fruit someday.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Foreigners in a Foreign land

Usually I'm pretty easy going. I don't stress too easily. I don't often get hit with culture shock. I get along well in Japan. It's a good life. But sometimes, I get reminders that I'm an outsider, and will be for a long time yet...

Before, when I worked in the church English School, I was basically the only teacher. I did just about everything myself. Which meant I wasn't often bored. I was in control. That's always fun. :-D

Now I work in a public school. I live this rather odd half existence there. Half the time, I'm not sure why they bother to pay for someone like me. I rarely have anything to do. I'm not a full teacher, so I don't have teacher responsibilities. But I'm not a part time worker either, so I need to show up when the other teachers show up. I understand some Japanese, but not enough to know all that's going on around me. And of course, everyone is busy. It's not really practical to expect them to translate everything for me. When the teachers actually have time and are not stressed out and running around, they have fun casual conversations. They joke around with each other and tell each other stories. I can rarely join in. I am a staff member, but not really.
Even the students pick up on this. They like me for the most part, but they don't respect me as much as they do the "real" teachers. (although, I suspect that I get more respect than most ALT's because I actually attempt discipline.)

Like I said. Usually this doesn't bother me. But today it kinda made me sad. It feels... lonely.

I am living here, but I don't know if I will ever be fully accepted here, no matter how long I live here or how fluent I become. I love Japan, and that makes me sad.

But I can't just go back home either. I'm not the same person I was before. I have grown, changed my perspective. I don't fit in at home either. I don't see things the same as before. There is a gap in experience between me and my peers. I no longer fit.

I'm a funny shaped peg without a hole.

Well, that's not really new for me. I'm used to not fitting in and being different. Sometimes I embrace that. Sometimes I mourn it. (I'm guessing you can figure out which one I'm doing today.)

But it reminds me once again of a thought that I have often. This is a good reminder of what it means to be Christian. When we become Christian, we leave our old country behind and enter into a new and glorious Kingdom. We gain a new citizenship. But we can't enter it fully yet. We are waiting in our old country with our new passport and certificates, and we don't know when we can go in. But now we don't fully belong.

Sometimes we can hold a duel citizenship. Some countries let you do that. Some don't. But it's never the same. There are choices you have to make. The cultures don't match. You have to choose which to follow. The culture where you are? The culture where you are going?

We are stuck in a land of red tape, trying to live our lives here until our new ones begin.

There was a bigger, grander point to all of this when I started writing, but I've lost it. There's meaning somewhere burired in all this rumination.

But I guess for now, I'm left with a more real experience of what it means to be "in the world, but not of it." I wonder if Jesus felt like this too, living in this sinful world, in but not of it. Always present, but never really fully accepted. If so, then I can rejoice a bit, knowing that Jesus mourns with me, and I have a shared experience with my Lord.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The fresh breath after the storm

Today a typhoon hit Japan. It said in the news that this was something like the first typhoon to directly hit the mainland since 2007. I don't know so much about typhoons. We hear about them every year, but I guess the don't often hit directly. From this far inland, I can't tell much of a difference from when they hit and when they don't. There's lots of wind and rain in both cases.

Anyway, today the school was worried about canceling classes. They were talking about it yesterday, and we were supposed to wait for phone calls in the morning telling us if there was school or not. Problem is that they make the decision at 6:30. I leave my house at 6. :-( So I have to get up and get ready and get most of the way to the bus before they let me know if I have to go or not. Fun.

They called me, and said that school was canceled for the students, but the teachers needed to come in. So I kept walking to the bus stop (30 mins in the rain, in not so comfortable shoes, but the only ones I have that are sufficiently rain proof. I really need some rain shoes.) I get on the bus, and right before the bus takes off, I get an e-mail from my company, telling me that I don't have to go to school. I e-mail back and said that the school told me to come in. Bus starts, and I don't really have much chance to make a decision. I'm on my way to school.

First part of the walk, the long one, didn't get me too wet. There's good sidewalk in my area. But near the school, there are almost no sidewalks. The rain started to fall harder. Fortunately I had thought ahead and brought a skirt to change into, and spare socks. I had planned on getting wet. What I forgot was that the on the road to school, it's very easy to get splashed by passing cars. And there are lots of big trucks on that road. Yeah, I got splashed. Less than a 10 min walk, and I get way more wet than the first walk. Now what I didn't think to bring was a change of underwear. Yeah, I got soaked that much. Great start to my day!

Go to school, change clothes, laugh with some of the teachers about it. I like days when the kids aren't there because the teachers are really relaxed and we can usually eat together and I can talk more with them. It's a nice atmosphere. But when the kids aren't there, I have absolutely NOTHING to do. I brought a book. Been at school less than an hour when my company calls the school and tells them that I don't have to work. (seems to me that it would be common sense. the other part time teachers hadn't been called in. I live freaking far away, and I have to commute either by bus or train. Trains don't run in typhoons.) So they tell me I can go home. After all that. Time to go back out. Fun.

Problem being that my next bus didn't come for an hour and the wind was blowing really hard (rain had stopped though.) I wanted to ride my bike back to the station so I could save money and have it to ride in the morning(I had left the bike at the school the day before because of the rain.) So I decided to see if the wind would die down. I waited about an hour. The time for the bus came, but the wind was still pretty strong. The schedule I had said there would be other bus during the 10 o'clock hour, so I decided to wait a little longer. When I decided that the wind was just not going to get any better any time soon, I decided to walk/ride the bike. I left my wet clothes at work, changed into the better shoes for walking now that the rain stopped, and went out.

Turns out it wasn't so bad riding the bike in the wind. The wind was warm (morning was cold.) so that was nice. Going out, I notice tree branches and leaves littered everywhere from the wind. I actually like wind. Reminds me a bit of Texas, minus the dust. Made it in time to grab breakfast from McDonalds before getting to the bus stop. Only to find the schedule had changed and there was no longer a bus during the 10 o'clock hour. The bus really does run at the most inconvenient times for me. :-( Next bus? 11:35. I have an hour and a half. That's a long wait, so I decide to try the trains.

Get on the trains, which are all delayed or canceled because of the winds. I can actually get home using trains in either direction, so after some deliberation, I decide to take whichever train shows up first. It goes one stop, and then... stops. No trains are moving again. I wait for about half and hour and decide that it would just be better to go back to the bus stop and take the bus. Buses can operate in the wind. Trains don't like wind.

So I exit, (paying for a completely useless train ride.) and walk back to the bus stop, about 30 mins. I make it in time. But now there is a huge line. I'm not kidding. It was long. Everyone else wanted to ride the bus too, since the trains weren't' running. I wondered if we could all fit. Somehow we packed onto the bus. Quite the adventure.

Get back around 12:30ish I guess. I get a little something to eat and drink and head home. Almost 2. 8 hours later, very tired, poorer and accomplished nothing. Yes, adventures in commuting. But walking outside wasn't so bad after the rain stopped. It became a nice day actually. I took a nap.

Anyway, the main point wasn't to tell you about my day, as fascinating as that was (please insert dripping sarcasm here.) I had a nice little analogy that I thought of while coming home and seeing the after effects of the storm.

The whole week leading up to the typhoon (which happens to be the week of my birthday) was rain. I hate rain. It's troublesome and depressing. And I just don't have the right shoes for commuting in the rain. (I didn't commute so much before, so it hadn't been this big of a problem for me yet.) It's oppressive.

The typhoon comes in, stirs things up. Brings more rain, and then wind. But the wind begins to blow the rain away. After the rain, the sun comes out and the air is fresh. I love the air after a typhoon. It's so clear. The wind is refreshing to me, clearing out my soul. You can see the debris of the storm. Branches and garbage littered about. There will need to be some clean up, but it's easy to see where. Dead branches have been ripped off trees. Weak things torn off. It just feels like a new start.

It feels to me like how God moves through our lives. We get caught up in the dreariness of living in our rainy hearts. The air is humid and oppressive. Skies are cloudy everyday. Not hard rain, just persistent rain. Bringing our spirits down.

Then God brings His Spirit moving among us. Things get a little hectic for a little while, but that's what happen when you have something as powerful as God moving around you. But when it's over, the air is cleared. You can breathe again. You have some cleaning up to do. No one stands before God without realizing the need for "clean-up." But God has done some of the work for you, stripping of dead branches, pruning things that aren't were they belong, or overreaching themselves. Sometimes taking healthy parts too. Now all we have to do is pick up the pieces. Not as hard as pruning ourselves. But there is hope in the air now. Hope left from God's Spirit. The darkness has been chased away. Light shines again. And I smile as the wind frees my spirits.

I am tired and sore from today's adventures in commuting. But when I look back on it, it's not such a bad day after all. My spirit is just a little fresher, my breathing just a little clearer. It's good typhoons don't come everyday. But I do like the air after a typhoon.

Today wasn't a bad day at all. Praise God.

Friday, October 02, 2009

snapshots of my week

I took my camera to school last week and the week before to help some students with a speech contest. (two of the three girls placed and get to go to another speech contest next week!)

I decided to take some pictures to put up here. I have trouble putting up multiple pictures for some reasons, so please just bear with me. Enjoy!

School life

Some pictures from my school.

Starting with the entrance. Teachers and 3 year students go directly to the second floor. The rest of the students use the first floor.

When you enter the school, you have to take off your outdoor shoes and put on indoor shoes.

There's not so much difference. But that's what you do. In my school, all the kids have the same shoes as part of their uniforms. The shoes are white sneakers, but with color coded accents. The colors are red, blue and green, but I've forgotten which colors go with which years.

There is also a locker area for the teachers. We get doors on our lockers. The one picture is my locker with my name on it.

And then there is a picture of the sinks that are everywhere. I don't know why, but they are everywhere. You can wash your hands, get a drink, etc.

a hitchiker and the way home

Here are some pictures of my trip home. First we have sunset from the school entrance.

Next a couple of shots of my bus stop. It's more often dark than not recently. But now I can ride the train home at nights, which get's me home faster. Costs a bit more, but I like saving time too. Makes me less stressed. (and less bored waiting an hour for the silly bus.)

I ride a bike from my school to the train station (where I can catch either a train or the bus). One day I found a hitchhiker! (and I ride the bike for about 20 mins! I'm just impressed!) So cute!

Bibles and manga

I mentioned in the previous post that the Gideon's had come to my school recently. It was fun. I was greeted by some first year students asking me if I was a Christian. I told them yes, and they showed me a Bible they had just received. They weren't quite sure if they were allowed to keep it or if it was a bit too suspicious. I told them it wasn't suspicious, but if they didn't want the Bible I would take it and find it a home. One kid gave me a Bible, and one kid who didn't get one was like, "I want it." I spread word around that I would take any unwanted Bibles. Then one of the kids asked me "Who is Matthew?" I said "Jesus' student." "Who is Jesus?" What a wonderful opportunity! During the morning meeting the Principle made an annoucement about the Bibles. The schools are not allowed to promote religion (yet they were reading about Mother Teresa?) but since the Bibles were handed out before the kids entered school property, they were allowed to keep them (just not read them in class.) I told the teachers too that I would take any Bibles that weren't wanted. I ended up with a nice stack on my desk. I like the Japanese style of Bibles. It feels nice in your hands. One of the teachers seems a bit shocked that I wanted the Bibles. She was like "you will get so many! There will be hundreds!" Turns out, I only got 40 something Bibles. That's pretty good considering there's about 900 students in my school! I gave them away to some missionaries who were happy to get them. It was fun.

The other pictures is of this cool new Manga Messiah book series. They are telling the Bible stories in Manga form. This has been done before I know, but this time they did a good job! It looks professional and nice! It's quite believable. It's wonderful. Comes in English and Japanese. This is one of my Japanese versions of the old Testament. (a new one just came out this month. I can't wait to get that one too!)


This is a picture of the English textbooks we use at my school. Actually, I think all the schools in the city use the same books, but don't quote me on that.

Notice that they are thin and paperback. Not what I remember from jr high. But this is basically what all the textbooks look like. Some are a little more thick. But these are actually given to the students and you don't reuse them like we do with textbooks in the states.

The open page is a reading section for the second years. It's about Mother Teresa. I found that interesting. (same week the Gideon's came to our school handing out Bibles.)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

swirling within the confines of a page...

still on the same page
what do I do?
how do I draw
closer to you?
still on the same page
unable to turn
away from myself
my lessons unlearned
still on the same page
still so far
because my goal
is where you are
still on the same page
what do I do?
how do I draw
my heart to you?
I was looking in my prayer journal today. I don't do well at keeping up with it. I usually write when I'm inspired or distressed, more frequently the latter. But I noticed that the last time I wrote was almost exactly one month ago. I was searching for God.
Today I went to write. And I realized that I had nothing new to say. All the things I was worrying about in my heart, have already been written, many times in the poor little journal. Today was just another repeat of the same litany. And I realized. I haven't left the page yet. A month has passed. My external circumstances have changed. I thought that was what I needed. But my internal circumstances haven't changed at all. I haven't moved forward in the slightest.
I'm ashamed of this. My shame continues to build. My own heart condemns me. And the cycle repeats, adding to my feelings of shame. If I allow myself to be distracted, I can pretend to have a functional heart, but it's only a farce.
I want to break free. I want to escape the cycle. I want to turn the page. I want God's hand to rescue me. So often I feel like my cries fall on unresponsive ears. But after the shame and frustration, I have to remind myself, that God is good. If He is unresponsive, then that is for the best. I should trust Him, even when I don't understand. But the feelings don't change. And the page doesn't turn.
I feel lost in a room of maps. There are so many maps to show me where to go, and how to get there. But not one of them tells me where I am. I can't use the maps if I don't know where I am.
So here I am again. Struggling against the confines of a single page... praying... waiting... crying... hoping... and trying, trying ever so hard, to trust...
Still on the same page...
What do I do?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pharisee cleaning

In my entire life, no one has ever once accused me of being a clean person. I have never been confused with a neat-freak. I am messy. I always have been. Anywhere I go, I just explode. When I was younger, my mom had many terms for my room. "Trash Can." "Pig Sty" are just a few of the examples. I was never able to go and do anything extra, mainly because my room was never clean and I was always grounded.

Yes, I am messy.

I have lived alone now for almost 5 years. Before that I had my own room, and lived in a dorm on campus. I have never really learned how to clean and stay clean.

It shows.

And yet, I now have a roommate. She very bravely moved into my house. Now, I just have to give you a scope of my messiness. It's WAY worse than you are picturing in your head (unless you actually know me and have seen examples of my previous rooms). Picture something like, CPS coming to take away children messy. Humane Society taking away pets messy. Scary messy. I'm not really exaggerating either. :-(

It's amazing what you can get used to living in. When you are alone, it's amazing the kind of conditions you can accept as normal. Well, for me, it has always been this way. Living alone just made it worse. Well, bigger anyway.

But now I'm not alone. Now, I have another person who needs her own space, and has rights to live in a clean house.

This week was called "Silver Week" in Japan. We had a nice 5 day holiday. Many friends are traveling or had fun plans.

Me and my roommate? We are cleaning.

I hate cleaning.

But it's interesting sometimes.

My roommate, she's quite the industrious person. I have to work really hard to keep up. She is still working and going strong, so I find that I work way past the points I would have usually given up. (I'm also lazy btw)

She works without complaining. She cleans up my messes, and works hard. She is amazing.

I can see huge differences between her and me. I am usually of the opinion, if it looks clean enough, that's good enough for me. After all, it's an improvement of what I have been living in, right? Too clean kinda stresses me out.

But she started cleaning the shower this week. She worked very hard. Now there is a slight mold problem in Japan. (Slight being an overstatement.) Now, I had already cleaned the shower before this summer, so it has been cleaned somewhat recently. (I actually have no idea how often one should clean showers... As long as it's not too gross for me, I'll shower in it.) But the mold was starting to come back, so we decided it should be cleaned again. So she started cleaning. She used the regular cleaning and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. She worked really hard. But there was still mold stains. So we went on an adventure to buy special mold cleaner. She scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed some more. A little bit more mold came off. But that wasn't good enough. Today we bought MORE mold cleaner. And she scrubbed and scrubbed again.

I probably would have given up after the regular cleaner. I have no problem living with stains.

But then I realized that my way of thinking is very much like the Pharisee way. Clean the outside of the cup, without cleaning the inside. I always thought that was a stupid analogy, because when I wash dishes, I would think the opposite would be more logical. Clean the inside, but don't worry about the outside. But that's neither here nor there.

I guess all this rambling means that I have taken a good look at myself. I am messy. My outlook is messy. My heart is messy. And I'm lazy. I don't care about cleaning the whole cup. As long as it looks good enough, I'll give up.

But that's not what Jesus wants from us. He want's us to be clean. To have clean lives. He wants us to fight the mold that gets into our very souls. To go back time after time after time to fight the stains. He doesn't want us to settle for what's good enough. He doesn't want us to give up.

The Pharisee's had good enough. They didn't care about the reality of their situation. They were used to things the way it was. But they couldn't follow Jesus.

When I look at my own weaknesses. The fears and doubts. My inabilities. I know that this is because of my lazy, messy heart. But once again, God has shown me grace. He has given me more blessings than I deserve.

He sent me a beautiful girl with a servant's heart, who was willing to accept me as I was, messiness and all. She came into live with me, in a house most sane people wouldn't visit. But she didn't leave it that way. She is helping me clean. She is working and helping me change the conditions of my house. She models how to persevere and how to clean. She challenges me to a new standard. And she does it with no condemnation or criticism. She has accepted me, but is willing to help me change.

How amazing is that?

And the funny thing is, I think she would have tolerated me, even if I didn't change (or clean.) She didn't initiate the cleaning. I knew we needed to clean. I suggested it, and planned for it. But she's the one who silently starts before me, and works after I'm past my limits. She helps because I am willing to change, even when I'm unable to change by myself.

And so, I've seen a little bit "cleaner" picture of Jesus today. The One who loves us no matter how messy we are. And will love us even if we continue being messy. But who, when we say we want to be clean, will roll up His sleeves, and work beside us, cleaning the stains of our hearts.

There is still a long way to go for my poor house. We have one more cleaning day left, and I'm afraid there is still a mountain of cleaning left to do. Sometimes I fear the task will never end. I become completely overwhelmed by the size of the task.

But then I watch as she silently starts cleaning, and I am humbled, and I have the strength to push myself just a little bit farther.

I'm tired, frustrated and confused.

But just a little bit cleaner.

There is hope yet I'll become a disciple and leave these Pharisee robes behind. One cup at a time...

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Just one headache after another...

Well, I like dramatic titles. ;-)

I don't know how much I've written about this topic here, but today I felt like writing about it.

I get headaches. Actually, I get a lot of headaches. I don't remember having all that many headaches before, but since coming to Japan, they have been dramatically increasing. (mostly in the past 2 or 3 years) At first I thought they were possibly sinus headaches, since they seemed to occur more often when the weather was changing. But I went to the doctor, had lots of fun tests (fortunately there is good health insurance here, so the tests did not cost me an arm and a leg like they would have in America. Closer to a manicure and pedicure...) and it was determined I have "beautiful sinuses." Well, that's good to know. (I even got a brain scan, so I can't claim that there's something wrong in my head anymore...) So we decided I have migraines.


Let me tell you.

For a while I got some medicine, but it costs nearly 100 bucks a month (for about 14 doses) and having recently changed jobs, I haven't been able to afford it. So I've just gone back to tolerating the headaches. Usually they don't interfere with things too much. But recently they seem to be getting worse. :-( Some months I can have as few as 5 or 6, but bad months leave me with 15-17.

When I get bad headaches, they almost always come with nausea. This is good for saving money and loosing weight, but rather annoying. Recently I just pretty much feel nauseated all the time. Yuck. I was hoping it was just the summer heat, so we'll see if that goes down soon. But the headaches have started increasing in intensity too. I've had three now that, although they didn't knock me off my feet (I've had only two do that, but fortunately on days when I was able to spend all day in bed and not miss anything important) were pretty dang bad. The last one being yesterday. And they also cause me to vomit. Again, not fun.

Yesterday just wasn't a fun day at all... :-( (I had been asked to stay after school to help students with speeches, which I don't mind, but I had had a headache all day long, and it caused me to miss my bus. Which meant I had to wait an hour for the next one and got home pretty late. Riding the bicycles and the bus didn't help so much either. By the time I got home, I was just miserable, threw up and went to bed. 9 hours of sleep was nice though. :-) )

Anyway, I'm not sure what to make of these headaches. I'm (kinda) trying to find out what causes them, but there are SO many things that might cause headaches that trying to find the triggers is very difficult and time consuming. There might even be several. They can be triggered by weather, food, stress, tension, light, noise etc. Basically living causes these headaches. Haha. It's also hard trying to figure out if these headaches are spiritual in nature or not. There's a lot of spiritual warfare in Japan, and I know of a couple of people who have experienced headaches as a form of spiritual attack. But praying doesn't seem to relieve me of mine.

So, usually I'm left at square one. With another headache.

(Prayers and/or advice appreciated.)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

あたしの可愛いの生徒達。。。(My cute students)

So it's been a really long time since I've actually given a factual update for my situation here (for those who don't know me personally and might have been wondering...)

I am now working at a Jr. High School as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher.) It's not a hard job, and I don' t have to do so much prep work or anything annoying like that. It was a bit of a "second" culture shock to see Japanese schools, but I'm getting used to it now. Hopefully in the future I might write a bit about that.

In Japan, Education is mandatory until the end of Jr. High. (most still go to High School after that, but it's not required.) Jr. High is the equivalent of seventh, eighth and ninth grades in the states. In Japan they are called first year, second year and third year of Jr. High. Pretty simple.

I teach at just one school, and I help teach all of the students. There are three first year classes, two second year classes and three third year classes. First years tend to be cute still, and more eager to learn English. We get along well together and I seem to be popular. Second years are becoming more bratty, and dislike doing work. But they are still cute, and when they put their minds to it, they do pretty well. The third years at this school are insane. Most of them don't like school and don't want to study. There are the really good students, and then everyone else. I think English might be the most hated subject among the third years. Haha. But there is still cuteness to be found. ;-)

The classes are actually primarily taught by the Japanese English teacher (in Japanese.) So many times I have no active role in class. So I end up patroling the classroom trying to enforce discipline. (this has given me a few kids who hate me.) Fortunately, I have overcome the need to be liked by my students. I of course like them regardless of whether they like me or not. I've developed a tough enough skin that there's not much these kids can say that's going to upset me. Hehe. I have fun with that. They don't really know what to do with me most of the time. :-D Just the way I like it.

Anyway, I do have plenty of kids who like me.

Today I went to a dance recital that many of my students were in. I think I recognized 5 girls from different grades. It was a nice recital. {Much less shocking than the first one I went to several years ago with completely inappropriate music for kids to be dancing to.} When I got there, I saw some of my favorite second year boys. They are nice kids, but they like to goof off in class a bit too much. They are a handful sometimes, but they are cute. So I went to say hi. They actually invited me to sit with them! I was very happy that they didn't chase me off. ;-) It turns out that they had already watched the (more than two hour long) dance recital in the morning, and were back to watch the second performance! I was told that at least one of the boys must like one of the girls in the recital. And his buddies came along. Talk about impressive. That's dedication. I mean, these kids have trouble sitting through class without talking and they sat through TWO dance recitals. Ah, the power of young love. haha.

After the recital it was fun finding the students in the recital and congratulating them. Most of them didn't know I had come, so it was fun to shock them. I was also invited to another dance recital of a different set of students in November. That was nice. My students are cute.

I really like meeting my students outside of school. For one thing, it's kinda fun to see them in street clothes. (they have to wear uniforms at school.) But I just like connecting with them.

Going all the way to school made my Sunday a bit long (it's about an hour commute plus 30 mins walking) but was worth it. I smiled a lot today, and got to see my students being cute and could praise them. On the bus ride home, God treated me with a soft sunset and some beautiful scenery including multiple baseball games, boats on the river, white cranes, and burning rice fields (after they have been harvested.)

I like having students. I think it's official. I'm a teacher at heart. <3

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Lessons learned from my guitar...

Last year I was given a guitar for my birthday by Sing. This wasn't the first time I've been given a guitar, but it was the most meaningful for me. I've tried to learn guitar several times, but never got very far.

This time seemed like it would be a similar failure for me. But this summer I decided to try once more. This time I've seen results. I can mostly play two songs now, and I'm working on a couple more. I've still got a long way to go, but I don't feel as hopeless anymore. Each time I pick up the guitar, I feel like I get just a little better...

But I've learned some interesting things from this little endeavor of mine. The two songs I can play are "They'll know we are Christians" and "Humble Thyself." These were pretty good choices for me, the first one I can play with only two chords, and both of them are in E minor, which is the easiest chord for me to play, and quite possibly my favorite chord ever. (I really love minor keys...) But this means, I have been repeating these songs over and over again trying to be able to play them decently. I've had lot's of time to meditate on them...

Recently I haven't been posting much. I've been in kinda a spiritual slump lately. I'm tired and easily discouraged by my financial and lack of time situations. It's easy to feel all alone, and get caught up in myself. That's always a bad thing. I don't necessarily like myself all that much, so it becomes problematic when I only think about myself. (haha) But God really blessed me this summer. He gave me lots of good quality time with my fellow Christians. And time with my guitar.

Sometimes it's so easy to look at the "church," the established, organized political bodies and get so frustrated. When people get involved, things usually turn messy. I don't know any church body that doesn't have its share of annoying and sometimes nasty politics and administrative problems. But it's so easy for me to get angry and frustrated with the church. I want to scream out, "where is the love?" "How exactly is this following Jesus???" "No wonder you can't get people to join, I don't want to be here!!!" type things at the top of my lungs. But lately something has been causing me to hesitate, and reflect again.

How am I different from the church? These very organizations that I am so angry and frustrated with are no different from how I treat people in my own life. I was playing the song "they'll know we are Christians" over and over again, and the words really began to convict me. They are so simple, yet so difficult to do.

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand... yet we fight among ourselves, and shun our fellow members, not to mention the very people we are supposed to be ministering to...
And together we'll spread the news that God is in our land... How much this land needs to hear that God is present and active here!!!
We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
We will guard each man's dignity and save each man's pride... I can't even begin to express the places where I see this not happening, in my own life and in the church...

And they'll know we are Christians, by our love, by our Love, They'll know we are Christians by our love... Maybe that's why so many don't know God... They can't see our love. I can't see our love. I can't see my own love...

There have been several people I've been talking with lately. People that I don't always think highly of or always respect the way I should. And every time I leave feeling humbled and shamed. Where is my love? There are so many people hurting, yet I only love those who are easy to love. The people I like, my friends. And even then, how many of my friends do I talk to about God? Am I really loving them??? How many people have I blocked my heart away from, and become cold to, using the excuse that I'm just not good socially at that kind of thing. Or they make me uncomfortable, so I just ignore their pain... Yet I get full of so called "righteous anger" when I see the church doing similar things. Congregations don't reach out to the lost and the hurting. They sometimes barely tolerate each other... But they are no different from me. Why should I expect them to do things I can't do? The plank in my eye is piercing my heart...

I long to rid myself of this critical spirit that sees only the negative in all situations. I want to stop complaining about petty things. I want to still my acid tongue that all too often spews forth unnecessary and uncomplimentary things. Yet, I feel out of control, unable to stop. My brakes seem to have been cut. Satan didn't even have to try so hard. Just start me going and cut the brakes. I'll take care of the rest myself.

But the second song provides soothing for my caustic soul... "Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord... Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord... And He will lift you up..." Those words, reminding me that when I give up my pride, and bow before my Lord, and acknowledge my weakness and my inability to change myself, He Himself will lift me up, offering me forgiveness and the grace and mercy that I cannot seem to offer to others.

Little by little my anger fades. I feel hope for change in myself. I pray that I can become a person who others around me know I am Christian because of my love. Little by little, I trust that God will refine me... But it's a somewhat painful and humbling process... rightly so.

In other lessons... My practicing has also become prayers for Sing, who gave me the guitar. My heart aches to see him. He is searching for something, missing something essential, but he doesn't know what it is. Or he doesn't want to acknowledge it. He has heard about God, but refuses to humble himself before Him. So I also pray for Sing when I play "Humble Thyself." I long for Sing to be made whole before God. Especially since Sing is so much better than me at loving people. Sing is on another trip for the whole month of September. If you feel so moved, please pray for him. That he might find God, and admit his need for salvation.

Anyway, this is my new blog entry. (I had really really wanted to go to bed and go to sleep, but it seems like it's not meant to be...) It feels disjointed and confusing (but then again, my mind is past the functioning correctly stage...) but most people tell me my posts make sense even when I'm not sure. I hope this one does as well.

Things are not as dark as they seem to be. I really am blessed, and God continues to bless me during difficult times. I'm humbled even more by God's faithfulness and kindness to me. Maybe I'll eventually be able to learn some chords that let me praise God more!

Now it's time to try to go to bed once again. Tomorrow might be another long day... haha. Might as well get used to it. ;-)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Random inspiration on the way home

This doesn't really happen to have so much deep meaning, just something that popped into my head as I was walking home today... I'm not really a poet, but sometimes I like to pretend I am. ;-)

If I were to sing a song
of my love for you
it would be painted
in the colors of the sunset
brightly singing the joy
of knowing you
amidst the knowledge
that every day
must fade
into night.

(note: these pictures weren't taken today. They are just pictures of sunsets I had on my computer...)

Friday, May 08, 2009

I love Sensei!

The longer I know Sensei, the more I like the guy. Of course, this kinda rings true for most of my relationships of late. Most of the meaningful relationships I have kept for a long time, usually started the same way mine did with Sensei, either strange indifference, or sometimes even mild hostility. Eventually God whacks me upside the head and I decide that I do in fact, like and appreciate the people He brings into my life, even when they are not my choosing.

But I digress...

The reason I love Sensei so much today, is yet another exciting example of a new Christian in bloom. I walk to the big train station every morning to catch my bus, and it's the same station that Sensei also uses. As we both work for public schools now, our schedules are a bit more similar. I leave a bit earlier than he has to because of the distance of my school and the bus times. But recently, he'll leave earlier and walk with me part of the way to the station. My face lights up everytime I get to walk with him. I met him today, and even though it was raining (which I hate) I could still smile with joy to see him. It's a good way to start a day.

As we were walking, he told me that he went to a Christian bookstore in Tokyo, (CCL in Ochanomizu for those reading who know what I'm talking about). He was interested in going because for his baptism, some co-workers and I gave him manga versions of the Bible. There's this really good set that is being developed right now. I'm studying it right now to help my Japanese actually. Anyway, he loved them and he wanted to know where he could get more. (the next book comes out in September, which also happens to be when his birthday is, so guess what his birthday present will be, hehe) So I told him about the shop I knew about, and he looked it up on the internet. This past week was Golden Week, which is a series of national holidays in Japan. For the last day of Golden Week, he decided he was going to go to that bookstore, by bicycle. Now, I don't live in Tokyo. I live a bit north of Tokyo in a neighboring prefecture. So (being from Texas, where the next town over is still quite a long ways away...) I was a bit shocked to discover that apparently it's possible to bike to the heart of Tokyo in 2 1/2 hours! If you are Sensei anyway (he has a really high rank in martial arts, so he's a really fit guy.) Amazing I tell you. AND to top it off, he did it in the rain. Granted he thought it was going to stop raining, or at least not rain so much, but still. So he rides over 2 1/2 hrs one way in the rain to go to a Christian bookstore. Nice.

There he found a picture book telling the story of Gideon, which is his baptisimal name. He also was excited to find a large Bible in ancient Japanese. He likes ancient Japanese. So he was happy. And I was happy to hear the story. He's a great guy.

I just get excited watching other people get excited and learning. I guess I'm becoming more and more of a teacher all the time. (as long as I don't have to grade papers or lesson plan I'm fine... Love my new job!!!)

Please remember to pray for Sensei as he grows as a Christian!!!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

What's wrong with America?

So recently, I have been asked twice, by two different people, "What's wrong with America?" My family and my friends in America seem troubled by my lack of desire to return to my homeland. Well, I guess that's normal.

But I think the question is a bit off. I don't think it should be "What's wrong with America?" (although there are quite a few things I could think of...) I'm not sure what exactly the question should be, but a better one would be "Why not America?"

Of course when my friends and family are asking this question, what they are really asking is, "What's wrong with us? Why don't you want to be with us?"

Of course, this is very difficult to answer. Of course, there is nothing so wrong with any of my friends or family that would drive me to another country to take refuge. This is not a question of what's wrong with what I left behind. It's a question of where is my heart.

My heart doesn't reject my family and my friends. I don't even think it rejects America. But my heart loves Japan. There are not enough words to explain my love for this place, these people. This has to be something like getting married. You leave your family and your friends to be with the person your heart loves most. You don't reject them. But you do have to make a choice.

I don't know if I will ever be able to make my family and friends understand. I can see the hurt in their eyes, the confusion and the non-comprehension. I love Japan. I want to live here for as long as I am able. If God calls me back to America, I will go, but I'm sure it will be with many tears and a heavy heart. But for now my soul rejoices that I can live here. God loves these people, more than I ever can. But I want to watch Him move in their lives. I want to be a Christian presence in a dark country. I want my family and friends to understand that.

I don't love them less... but I might love Japan more...

Is that wrong? Is that an answer anyone wants to hear?

I can only give my heart to God in response. Only God can judge what is right in this case. And I pray that those who love me, and desire me to be in the same country with them can forgive me for wanting to be elsewhere...

My heart is here... If I left now, I would leave it behind. Who can live without a heart?

What's wrong with America? Nothing more than any other country. Why do I love Japan? I can't answer that question either. But I do. One of the few things I know with absolute certainty.

But on days like this, I regret having to give somethings up for something that I love...


Sorry it's been such a long time coming. Seems like I'm either too busy, or too free.

After quite a bit of waiting, I was finally granted a new job. The money is less than I was hoping for, but I am ever so thankful to have a job at this point. It was truly a miracle to get the job. It would take a while to explain, so I'll just leave it at that.

I currently have a job as an ALT or Assistant Language Teacher. I am working in a Jr High School about an hour away by bus. I spend a lot of my time commuting right now, but that's ok.

I was wondering if I would like the new job, because I've heard stories about ALT's and Jr High kids, but it turns out this job seems to suit me just fine. There's not a lot of prep work that I have to do, and the kids aren't so bad at all. Sometimes they are downright cute. They are getting used to me, and I think I'll be able to have fun with them.

Mostly I've been adjusting to my new life. It takes a lot more trust I've found, to work for a secular company than for a church. Before, I was assured that the church would take care of me if anything happened. That is not the case with secular companies. I have to fend for myself. It's a bit scary if I think about it too much. So I spend a lot of time depending on God. More so than ever before. It is very frightening to walk forward on your own, knowing full well that your own power is not enough to sustain you. But God has been gracious to me, and all my needs are being met. I've had to sacrifice some of the expectations I had for my new life (mainly the idea of having a little extra spending money per month...) but I'm looking forward to the ways that God will use this next year to help me grow. I think I can become a stronger person through this experience.

In many ways, I feel like I've graduated. These 4 years as a "missionary" gave me the training and the strength I will need to move forward without that title anymore. But just because I am no longer a missionary by title, doesn't mean anything. I love Japan. I love God. So it is only natural that my life in Japan will continue to combine the two in all things I do. It will just be harder now, because I don't have the "easy-in" any more. I have to truly live my faith in all aspects of my life. It will be a great challenge for someone as lazy as myself.

I'm very grateful for the 4 years I've lived in Japan already. I don't think I would have been able to do a job like this without this prior experience. I already have a working knowledge of Japanese, and I know how to find my way around the transportation system. I would have been completely lost without that. God's timing is truly amazing.

In other news, this year's Easter was a wonderful affair. I've heard from so many different people this year that they felt God's presence this year at Easter. It was such a blessing.

In my case, two people who are very dear to me were baptized. There have of course been baptisms at my church before, but this was the first time the people were connected to me. One was Sensei, from Trash Box Jam, and the other was my student, we'll call her Y. It was a wonderful, emotional day for me, and I can't tell you how blessed I was to be able to see it happen. God is so kind to me. I know many people who go back to the states without seeing something as encouraging as this.

And I know it was not my doing. I was just here to observe God working in their lives. So amazing.

There's still a lot of adjusting for me to do. I swing between joy and contentment, and fear and complaining. I still have a long way to mature, and I am constantly reminded of my own sin and ugliness.

Watching dear sisters return to America has also been hard. Hearing about their struggles as they try to re-adjust to America and process all the things that have happened here in Japan. I understand their pain, because I fear it.

On a side note, the next time you welcome a returned missionary to your church... Try to imagine what they have been through. Not everyone who returns to America have done so gladly. When you go to another country, and pour out your heart and soul for it and its people, you leave something of yourself behind. When you return to America, part of yourself has been ripped away. You have become a stranger in your own home. Everything is strange, yet similar. You get hit by reverse culture shock. It's a huge re-adjustment, possibly harder than leaving was. Well meaning "Welcome Home"'s might just be pouring salt on their wounds. Of course everyone is different. But the best thing you can do for someone who has been a missionary for several years in a different country, is listen to them. You will probably never be able to understand all the things that they have gone through, but you can listen. Listen with love, don't judge, rejoice and weep with them. There will probably be wounds that only time and God can heal, but we all want to be understood, even if just a little... Ok, that's my sermon for now, from one who hasn't returned yet. But I want to protect my sisters, if only a little.

So that's my update for now. Hopefully later I'll put up some pictures from my new school and some more fun details.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The meaning of a rose...

Well. It's finished. I need to clean out my classroom, but I'm done teaching now. I've received my last paycheck. I've said my goodbyes.

I'm still in a bit of a transition period. Since I'm not leaving Japan, it's rather strange for me. I'm waiting to see what my next job will be. (I've put out several applications but I haven't heard anything back yet.) The good news is I don't have to move, I will be able to continue living in the house next to the church for at least a year. (Very good news, this saves me lots and lots of money. God is very very nice to me.)

I was busy right after finishing so today was my first down day. I rested a lot.

I also had some time to think. And remember.

One interesting thing kept coming back to me. On Wed, at the good-bye lunch with one of my classes, one of my adult students gave me some flowers picked from her garden. There was one rose bud among the bunch. She told me, "It's the last rose of winter. Or maybe the first rose of spring."

How fitting. I feel very much like that rose right now, wondering, am I the last rose of winter? Is this a symbol of an ending? Or am I the first rose of spring? Is it a symbol of the new future ahead of me? And the answer is... yes. Both. That is the beauty of seasons. Even if it's the last rose of the winter, this doesn't mean that all is finished. Seasons will come again. Roses will bloom again. And of course spring is the symbol of new beginnings and growth.

So here I bloom. The last rose of winter, the first rose of spring. Remembering the seasons I have spent here. Looking forward to the seasons I will spend in a new situation.

It's a very comforting thought for me right now.

Thank you for all your support.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The things words cannot express...

Today was the big "Hello/Goodbye Party." This is the party designed to send off the old missionary (me) and welcome the new ones. But like most parties of it's kind, the focus is mostly on the person leaving.

Usually one would not be in charge of one's own goodbye party, but I tend to do things my way, so I took control of this last event. This was my last big event. We had a huge pot luck lunch after church. There was so much food! So many people came. There was standing room only. There were kids running around, students, church members, families and random people from the band all there. It was wonderful.

And in the middle of it all, I'm trying to eat while talking to everyone who wants to talk to me. Needless to say, I was kept very busy. Kids wanted to play with me, there were tons of people I needed to talk to, plus I was "in charge." haha.

There was a short presentation time from the church, giving gifts to me and the three new teachers. It was very nice. Then more mingling, eating time (with more people trickling in every minute.) By this time church members are trickling out. Haha.

We moved upstairs eventually where there was a kind of "speech" time. I gave a short speech and made a poor church member translate for me on the spot with very little warning. I still need work on my Japanese. I can do simple things, but something complicated like trying to express your feelings about 4 years of working someplace I just can't do in Japanese just yet. Then the new teachers gave a short introduction to themselves (we also made the same woman translate for them too! She get's the good sport award for the day.) There was a chance for anyone else to talk, but no one did. Instead it turned into a chance for the kids to give me homemade presents and take pictures. I got some beautiful keepsakes from the kids and their moms. And also a huge bouquet of flowers. After a few more presents, we played a game.

The game was a bit hard to follow I think, but we had a list of 40 facts (10 for each person) of me and the three new teachers, and the students had to guess which facts were for which person. There were two teams and they raced to put sticky notes with the facts on each person. It was a bit confusing, but we managed to finish it.

Then the highlight of the day (at least for me) was that Trash Box Jam came to play. I had actually asked them come to two events before this, but they had been busy and unable to come. When they found out this was my last event, they promised they would come no matter what. I was very thankful for that.

It was really a beautiful performance. I just finished reading one of the comments from one of the fans that came. She said that it was such a warm feeling, like God was watching over us. For them not being Christian, it was an amazing effect. I felt God's love for me during that time. All my stress and worries about the party melted away. I was free to be enveloped in the music and atmosphere. I don't know if I have ever felt more loved in my life. I was in a room, surrounded by people who were brought together because of their connection to me. It was humbling, that God would allow such a thing to happen to me. I'm so thankful. I just can't express.

I can't believe how lucky I am. I know that no other fan has had the experience of the Band coming to an event and playing there. I'm so blessed.

My favorite part was watching the room transform from restless children and people to being mesmerized by the band. The children gathered up front to listened, and for the most part sat through the whole thing. The grumpy baby stopped crying when the music played. And what I believe is a wonderful gift from God is how wonderful they played.

Of course, I think Trash Box Jam is wonderful, but they aren't pro's yet. They still make lot's of mistakes and such, but they make up for it with charisma. But today was their best performance, ever. Even Sing said so after it was finished. It was like God's present to me. Well, that's what it felt like anyway. The room just felt full of warm light, and the music seemed to surround me, and the love felt tangible.

I hope that I will be able to remember that feeling for the rest of my life. But sadly, it's already fading away...

But I have many mementos and pictures that won't fade away (as fast). I'm so thankful for my time here. I'm so thankful for the people who came today. I can't ever express my thanks enough. I'm so thankful for God who orchestrated all of this. And I'm so thankful that he gave me a seat of honor in the midst of it.

And now is the bitter-sweet time to move on to the next part of my life. I pass the baton to three new people, and I hope that they are able to receive even greater things than I did. (I do really hope that, but I must confess that I'm still jealous that they get my students... It's a mixed feeling of wishing them the best, and wishing I could keep doing it...) So hopefully I can watch them as they succeed, and rejoice with them (instead of being jealous. haha) That's my dream.

All in all, it was a stressful day, but a wonderful day. During the party, I thought it was a pretty crazy event (crazy busy, out of control feeling) but then afterward I thought about it a little bit and realized that most of the other people were probably pretty relaxed. I was just in the middle of it all, trying to juggle too much. But that's my style...

After cleaning up and organizing all my presents, I was able to hang out with two of my friends, and that was really helpful to let me ease my way down from the event. But now I'm just tired. Physically. Emotionally. Everything. But satisfied. The world is not a perfect place. And I know that I received today more than I deserve.

Ok, I've entered into "ramble mode." I think it's about time to wrap this up now. I just wanted to write it down while it was all fresh in my mind.

Tomorrow I go to the doctor for more migrane medication, and I have to continue my job search after that. (prayers greatly appreciated for finding a new job before April.) Then I have my last two days of work. Three more days. The end of 4 years is coming to a close...

I wonder what the next adventure will bring...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Last Week of classes

Today is the beginning of my last week of classes. Yeah, it's strange to start on a Thursday, but that's how it worked out.

I start saying goodbye this week. This prolonged departure thing is rather difficult. And to make things even more strange, I will continue to live in this house next to the church so it doesn't really feel like I'm leaving anything. So I'm saying goodbye, but not really.

ahhh, the vagueness of it all. haha.

Since Saturday, I've been having a pretty good week, God really blessed me. We'll see how I hold up starting today. As of right now, I still feel fine. I wonder if I'll cry today. haha.

Ok, here goes. Last Day of Class number one....

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Leaving something of yourself behind...

Today was the last day of "site training week." This is the week where I "trained" the new teachers that will be taking over my job come April. There have been a lot of changes lately. The biggest one is that starting in April, there will be three missionaries/English Teachers who will be working at my church/school. They will all come on different days and they all live in Tokyo. (I guess I should find it flattering that they need three people to do the job that I did alone. hahaha, just kidding, I'm not that egotistical.)

It's been insanely busy here. I've been going to work early every day this week, meeting with the new teachers, trying to remember everything I need to tell them, and juggle new schedules, help make a new calendar and new fliers for the English School. Trying to figure out what all needs to be done to prepare for the change is a big challenge for me. I'm used to doing most everything myself, and now we have to juggle three people and figure out how things are going to get done now.

I've been under a bit of stress.

But usually the business is good, it keeps me from thinking. But several times this week I've been suddenly hit by the fact that I'm leaving this job. I will be talking, or making plans for next year and I will suddenly stop and realize "These are not my students anymore." I'm so used to planning and such than this is coming as a huge shock to my system. I'm finding that it's much harder letting go than I thought it would be. Several times this week, I've had to fight the feelings of not wanting to let go, not wanting to trust the fate of "my" students to the new teachers, and ultimately God. But I know my time here is finished. And I'm quite aware that God's hands are a much better place for them to be in than in mine. They are not "mine." They are "His." It's good to remember that.

But I find that even in letting go... I'm leaving something of myself behind.

It's hard to move forward sometimes...

Thank you for the times I have had with these students for the past four years. Thank you for giving me the time with them. Please continue to be with them and watch over them. Bless their relationships with the new teachers. And teach me to love and let go without being taken over by jealousy. Your Grace amazes me every day. Thank you for everything.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Broken branches and fruit.

I guess I've been in an overly reflective state lately. Very likely due to the fact that I will be saying goodbye to this program in less than three months.

Today I was thinking, how awesome God really is. I mean, look at all He does for me. I mean, if you take a good look at me, what will you find? Maybe at the first look, I might look like a healthy tree (plant analogy, bear with me. haha yeah, pun intended.) But looking closer you can see that I'm covered in broken branches. I'm a mess. Literally. (seriously, I create messes wherever I go. It just kinda explodes everywhere.) But God hasn't started ripping off my branches, or pulling me out of the ground. Instead, he helps me bear fruit, on the broken branches.

I think it's really cool. Like showing off the work of a master. Just think, if someone gave you a sick, broken little bonsai tree, most people would give up and just let it die. But God, like a true bonsai master, can take that tree, examine it, and create something beautiful from that broken tree. Of course it might take years upon years, But it can happen. The transformation. It's like a miracle.

I kinda wrote some about this before, but I wanted to write more in detail again about the fruit that God has blessed me with.

So, I think most everyone knows how I am a fan of a local street band here. They play every weekend on the street and sometimes in live houses. I'm there as often as I can be. It's one place where I can just be me. I've learned so much and grown so much there.

But the whole time, I've always kinda wondered. "is this OK? Isn't this weird?" I've always doubted that it was a valid place for me to be and to spend my time and energy on. But I've never been able to leave it.

That was three years ago. Somewhere in the second year, this strange man showed up, listening to the music. It was in the summer, and it was lightly raining that day. At first he just listened from the back of the crowd. Then, after a few songs, he pulled out some maracas from his bag and started to play along with the music. Eventually, he talked some with the members and such.

The next day he was waiting for us at the "usual" spot. He began playing with the band up next to them. From that point on, the members just kinda accepted him. In the beginning, the fans kinda wondered about this strange man. He was at least 10 years older than the rest of the members, and he seemed a little... off.

I found out later that he was a teacher of Japanese at a Jr. High, but he had recently been suspended because of an anger problem. So soon everyone was calling him "sensei."

Eventually we began to get to know him, and we found out, he was a nice guy. He became an official member of the band. But he was still having problems at home in his marriage etc. Eventually he was allowed to return to work.

I didn't get to talk to him much, because of my bad Japanese, but I discovered that I liked this strange man who had just shown up out of the blue. He gave me some nun-chucks and even taught me a bit how to use them (he studies martial arts too!). Sometimes we would walk home after band together because we live in the same general area. We would be able to have good discussions then.

But while I really like Sensei, I never developed a deep connection with him. Then the next summer, something unexpected happened. I was helping a church member with an English camp she puts on every year. She of course knew about my insane love of the band. On the last day, we were talking a lot about it, and she decided she would like to visit the band. So she came with me one day. She fell in love with it as well. And she made friends with Sensei.

While she is far busier than I am, she still kept in contact with Sensei. They exchanged books (both having published one book each) and talked deeply on many subjects. She started giving him advice for his marriage.

Many things happened, and Sensei decided to leave the band. We did a lot of praying for him, and he decided that he would still keep in touch with the people he met there.

Recently things seem to be looking up for Sensei. His marriage is improving. etc. He seems a completely different person than when I first met him.

But the amazing thing was this Christmas. The church member also loves music. She decided to translate some English songs into Japanese and sing them in church. She asked Sensei to help her with the arrangement and playing. So they spent a lot of time with these songs. I also ended up asking him to play all the Christmas carols for my English School party. So this meant he attended 3 church services and my Christmas party. I had given a message in Japanese at the Christmas party, and he listened to it, and the next day told it to his students at school! (in much better Japanese, I'm sure.) He also started studding on his own so he would be able to understand the messages at church.

Two weeks ago, I just randomly found him in church. That day was a baptism. The next Friday I get an excited phone call from the church member telling me that he is thinking about being baptized! It all happened so fast!

There are a few things that have to be sorted out (he is the oldest son of his family, and has obligations to his mother that need to be worked out etc.) but he told me that he has already decided in his heart. So now it's just a matter of time. (I'll ask again for prayers for him during this time!)

But it's just amazing the whole process of events. Because really, I didn't do anything at all. I just did something I loved. I went to a street band. I loved them. I told other people I loved them. Everything else, was out of my control and influence. But it's clear that this would have never happened if I hadn't been at the band. So God was able to use my mere presence, to work change in a man's life. How's that for fruit? And the best thing is, it's so perfect, so beyond me, that I can't claim to have any hand in it at all. It's clearly God's working.

I'm so thankful that God used my presence here. It makes these past 4 years of my life meaningful. I mean I have loved my time here, but it's so wonderful to see what you worked for. I am content with knowing that God used me here.

God took a broken tree, and on one of those broken branches, you can now miraculously find fruit.


Friday, January 16, 2009


I remember being back in America, visiting, and someone would ask me, "so what is it you do exactly?" Even after working, and working hard, for two or three years I would have trouble answering that question. I would just kinda stand there and gape. "um, teach English mainly." was always the lame reply. But that's not what I came to Japan to do. I came for the church. I came to share Jesus with people who don't know Him. Well, that's what I thought.

Yesterday, we started an exciting new event. We are "borrowing" another missionary who has free time on Thursdays. She's going to come and teach an outreach focused class. It's free and half of it is a Bible study on the topic of the day. Yesterday we talked about "Future."

It was exciting turn out for me. Two of the moms came. They had both lived in America, and wanted a chance to use their English. It's amazing the difference you can see in people. I see both these women every week. Both have two elementary age children. And every Friday they both look like "moms," - tired, a little stressed, just trying to make it through the last day of the week. Yesterday I got to see them kid-free for the first time. What a difference. They were both so beautiful and happy being able to do something for themselves for once. I was glad to be able to see that.

But that's just a side note. The exciting stuff happened during the Bible study. After hearing one of the questions, one woman told us her story.

When she lived in America (Maryland) it was of course difficult. But her family was invited to a church there. The congregation helped them out, helped teach her how to drive in America, and were generally very kind. They never pressured this family to join the church, or accept their faith. The congregation merely loved this family.

Now the family has returned to Japan, but the kids still attend Sunday school, and the oldest girl is very interested in going to a mission school. Both kids seem to "love Jesus" as the little girl told me one day.

I was listening to this, and thinking how wonderful that church in Maryland is. THAT is the way mission should be. I've noticed that many of my students who are open to Christianity have been exposed to it before. So, I thought I was here planting seeds. Turns out, I'm just helping care for already planted seeds. (I'm back to watering again!) So this church, the members just loved their neighbors. Literally. This love spoke more than anything else could have, and now that mother is sitting in my classroom learning more about this God who loves her and her family.

This my friends is true mission. I'm not the "missionary" in this situation. The true missionaries are the people who reached out and gave love to this family. Look around you. How can you love someone today? Those are the seeds that people like me can tend later.

It's encouragement for me, especially at a time when I'm doing a lot of looking backwards, trying to figure out what I've done here for four years of my life. It's a bright ray of light, that my time, my effort, my watering, wasn't all in vain.

In other words please pray for "Showa." He's a former member of the band who has made a connection with one of my church members. I think he might be interested in learning more seriously. I really appreciate your prayers for him. He's a wonderful man. Pray for protection from any spiritual attack during this time and opening of his heart and mind.

God is good. I'm so blessed to see the evidence of that.