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. ;-)