Thursday, October 21, 2010


Today I received my new visa without a hitch. I was also able to update my alien registration card and re-instate my health insurance at the city office. I did a lot of bicycle riding in the rain. For some reason, I have yet to go to either the immigration office or the city office on official business without it raining. It rains a lot in this country.

I am very grateful for God's grace in all of this. God has been very wonderful to me lately, calming my fears and teaching me new things. There is nothing like two weeks of major uncertainty to help you put things in perspective and learn to really appreciate what you have.

Two weeks ago, the message in church was given by a church member since the Pastor was in Korea at the time. The text was from Luke where Jesus healed 10 lepers, but only one came back to thank and praise Him. His response was "Where are the other 9?" The message (from what I understood) was about learning how to be thankful for what we have, and praise God, so we don't become one of the faithless nine.

I'm learning how much I am like the faithless nine, who take their healing for granted. I have so many blessings, yet I complain so much. I have so many opportunities, yet I sit at home lazy. I have so many talents, and wonderful things to take care of, but I let them sit in neglect. I am not thankful enough. If I was thankful, I would be taking better care of these things. I would be singing praises to God all the time. I wouldn't care if it was raining, or if I was tired.

Well, maybe it's a little bit of exaggeration, but I have learned that I should be more thankful for what I have. I hope this this not a lesson I easily forget.

Father, thank you so much for all you have given me. I don't deserve it, but you delight to give me such wonderful blessings. Help me to be thankful at all times, help me to have a heart that rejoices in your blessings, and cherishes them. Draw me closer to you.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Somewhere in the middle...

I'm on a blogging roll. Don't worry, it won't last. ;-)

Tonight was the first night back to Saturday night band nights. Sing went on a month long trip, and this was the first regular street live back. He was the only one playing though, but it was nice.

After he had finished, we were all hanging out talking when a couple of foreigners came over. They were two young college guys (one from Germany and one from Croatia.) Sing had fun talking to them, he loves meeting new people, especially foreigners. The guys were bored and looking for something to do. (I'm pretty sure they only came over because me and my roommate were there and they were looking for someone to go out with.) So in the course of introductions and such, they looked at me and said "You aren't Japanese. Where are you from?" To which Sing replied, "No, she's Japanese."

This is not the first time my friends have said this about me. I get comments like this frequently enough. But everyone knows it's not true. I'm not Japanese. But I'm enough Japanese now that I'm not quite fully American any more either.

My pastor pointed this out to me today. I was talking about how I should be OK either way things go, if my visa is accepted, or if I go back to America. I've been thinking of all the good points of going back to America. It would be exciting to be literate again, to be able to understand all my choices. It would be exciting to learn to ride a motorcycle, or go shooting with my dad and my brother. There's lots of things I would be able to do in America.

My pastor right now is actually Korean and has been in Japan for more than 20 years. She pointed out to me that when you have been in Japan long enough, something in you changes, and even though you go back, and can understand all the words and read all the letters, there's a gap. You have become partly Japanese and can never quite fit back in the mold you left.

I know I'm not Japanese. I can't read half of what I see. I still have many things I don't understand in the conversations around me. I don't have the cultural background that others do. But now I'm not a regular American either. Does this make me a Super American? Haha.

In any case, I've realized again that I now live as a foreigner in a foreign land. And if I return to America? I think I'll become a foreigner in a familiar land. Well come to think of it, I might be that now... In any case, it's much easier to understand when Jesus tells us we are no longer of this world. We are foreigners. I have been a foreigner long before I came to Japan. I've been one as long as I can remember. Because I became a member of God's kingdom.

ah, at one point there was a great deep profound point to all of this, but now it's 3AM and I'm not sure anything is coming out correctly anymore. It's time for bed.

(The boys left somewhat dissapointed that we wouldn't go out with them. They stayed talking with Sing for a really long time, until way past the time we normally go home, until finally Sing decided it was time to go. They were planning on staying out all night and invited us to go out with them. They are cute, but I think I'm too old for college boys now. Of course they didn't know that. ;-) At least they are less forward than some other foreigners I've met. But I digress.)

Oh yeah, on a different digression, God really blessed me tonight. I thought about what I could give to those around me, and of course nothing really came to mind, but I did try to be less needy. God really blessed me. We ran into one old friend and some old students of mine and Sing sang many of my favorite songs (including "Don't Go Away" which is an English song, and funny because I haven't told him about the visa problem yet.) It was a good night to be reminded that that is really my place, and God has blessed me so much there. I can't express how thankful I am for all the time that has been given to me. I hope I can carry that thankfulness with me wherever I go...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Always Fall

" So what do I do when my life's a mess?
My wrongs compound this I confess
And I know it's all 'cuz I just can't see
Past this idol that I call me

You tell me I should honor You
but no matter what I try or what I do
I try to love but I can't at all
and in the end I always fall
always fall
always fall

So what do I do with this hollow life?
This broken heart and internal strife?
You are the only One I know
apart from You where can I go?

You tell me I should honor You
but no matter what I try or what I do
I try to love but I can't at all
and in the end I always fall
always fall
always fall

All I desire is your Divine Light
but when my god is me do I have that right?
I know my sins you forgive them all
so through my shame to You I call

You tell me I should honor You
and ever always Your love is true
So to the cross I heed Your Call
and at Your Feet is where I fall
where I fall
always fall

Praise the Father, praise the Son
With the Spirit, Three in One
Join the body, voices raise
Evidence of endless praise
Evidence of endless praise
endless praise

You say that we should honor You
and ever always Your love is true
So worship we your Faithful Name
until our hearts become the same
and when we gather in Your Hall
within Your Grace is where we'll fall
where we'll fall
always fall
always fall
always fall"

This is a song I wrote at the end of August. I've been working on it for a while and finally got brave enough to try to record it today. This is mainly for the people who don't get a chance to see me in person and hear it. So for those of you who are brave enough to listen to it (it's about 5 mins long) feel free. I don't claim to be a song writer, or a guitar player, or even a singer for that matter. But it is one way to express the things I feel, and I know that God at least is listening.
Click here to watch the video.
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Friday, October 15, 2010

Dealing with uncertainty

"Dream as if you'll live forever, Live as if you'll die tomorrow." ~James Dean

This is the quote on Sing's blog right now. Well it's been there for a while. I'm not even sure if I'm quoting it right or not. It just came to mind a few minutes ago.

Suddenly it has a lot of meaning for me.

You see I'm living in a sea of uncertainty right now. I'm waiting for word if I will be able to get a new visa or not. I've been waiting for a week now. Let me tell you, it's very unsettling to not know what country you will be living in in the near future.

I've been having lot's of talks with God, and surprisingly enough, I think I will be OK no matter what the outcome is. If it's time for me to go back to America, I'll go, and do my best to go with a thankful heart. Heck, I have already been thinking of all the things I'll be able to do if I go back. (oh to be literate again!) I've left my future in God's hands, and I trust that He will be with me no matter the outcome. So that's not really the problem.

The problem is the not knowing. I can't do anything right now. I can't plan ahead. I can't prepare my heart. I can't pack or go on spending binges for things I'll only have access to for a short time because I don't know if it's true or not.

I actually get tired of this game, because it seems to happen a lot. I'm regularly faced with situations where I might be "sent home" for some reason or another (usually money.) The people around me are probably thinking I cry "wolf" a lot. Almost every time things work out the way I want them to. All from the Grace of God.

Again, I digress.

What struck me just now as I was pondering the uncertainty again was this: what is my reaction to uncertainty?

I'm ashamed to say, my reaction to uncertainty is always on the selfish side of things. When I'm faced with an uncertain situation, I immediately go into "hoarding" mode. I want to gather as many memories and "memorabilia" as possible, in case I can't go back again. So I've been spending this past week with thoughts like "I should do this while I have the chance." or "I can't waste this time, because I don't know how long I have." I have indeed become very thankful for my time in Japan (which is good, because it's easy to get buried under the daily complaints of life.)

So tonight I was thinking again of the many things I wanted, just in case, and I remembered the quote from Sing's page. As I thought about this, I wondered, is this really the right way? Granted, we really don't know what tomorrow holds. We really should live each day and value it for the treasure it is. I am terrible at this. But the way I've been going about it was to think about what I needed to get while I still had the time. I'm gathering treasures, or doing my best to.

But what did Jesus do when His time was limited. I remember studying the Last Supper a bit last year. That was Jesus' last night with his disciples. What did He do? Was he trying to get as much time with his favorite people as possible? Was He trying to make as many good memories as possible? Maybe, but that certainly wasn't His main objective. Instead He wanted to spend the time sharing as much as He could with his beloved disciples and friends before they would be separated. He spent His time giving.


Completely opposite of what I have been doing...

How would you spend your time if you knew you were going to die tomorrow? What would you do for your loved ones?

I have a little more time, but even if I get a visa next week, I'm aware now more than ever that my existence in Japan is always a fragile thing, and can change at any moment. This is the lot of a foreigner. Maybe I will live here for another year, or ten. Maybe I'll be on a plane in less than a month to see people who wish I hadn't been gone for 6 years.

But now I'm here. And tomorrow I have a choice. How will I spend my time here? Will I chase after empty things to "fill" my rather unreliable memory? Will I try to eat as much Japanese food as possible? Will I request all my favorite songs because I might not get to hear them again? Will I really be happy if I only think of myself?

God has been nice to me this week. Every time I feel like I could give up, He reminds me He is here with me. He loves me, and His timing is perfect. Like the disciples in the storm battered boat, there really is nothing to be afraid of. But when I panic, He wakes up and calms the storm for me. He has given me many wonderful reminders of His love this week. I'm grateful.

I hope this reminder stays with me, and my heart changes a little. Tomorrow it would be nice if I was thinking of what I can do for those who are important to me, instead of demanding things from them to satisfy my uncertainty.

Father, give me wisdom and love, and eyes to see.


Aisatsu: 1. a greeting; a salutation; a salute....

Today I got off a little early from work. My train pass expired last week, and because of circumstances, I'm waiting to renew it for a bit. The weather had just cleared up so this made for a perfect chance to try a new way home! So as I was leaving, the students were still having their club time. Since I was trying a new way home, I was going to leave the school by a different gate. This was the first time I had left school by this gate. This required walking the entire length of the school along the field where the sports teams were practicing.

After being mobbed by the first year girls from the basketball team (they were very fascinated by my cell phone, and surprised for some reason that I liked it in English mode.) I continued on my way past the field. The softball and soccer teams were too busy and far away to really notice me. The last club to pass was the baseball team.

As I was walking, I was playing with the GPS system on my cell phone to make sure I didn't get lost on my little "adventure" so at first I didn't realize that the boys were yelling at me trying to get my attention. Finally it registered that they were yelling "Amber, stop" in English. When I stopped, somewhat confused, the captain of the team turns to the club members and calls them to attention. Then the entire team stopped in the middle of their practice and bowed while screaming "aisatsu" in Japanese.

I was a bit shocked. I am used to the students calling to me individually as I go home past their clubs, but I'm not used to them stopping the entire practice to bow as a team. I have now just upped my opinion of the baseball team. They are cute.

There are 5 more definitions of "aisatsu" in my handy dandy electronic dictionary... Aisatsu is huge in Japan, and even more important when you are in school. Not only is aisatsu used when you see someone (as in a greeting) it is also used when parting. This is a huge part of daily life in Japan.

When I first started working in the schools, I thought they were a bit too focused on this whole idea of aisatsu. I mean really, how important is it to say "hello" or "good-morning" every time you see someone? Especially if it is forced. Teachers regularly tell students how important aisatsu is. For the longest time I just didn't get it.

Then I moved to this new school. When I arrived at this school, the first day, even without having being introduced yet, almost all of the students who I met in the hallways greeted me very energetically and with smiles. Wow. That instantly created an atmosphere of warmth and welcome. I was very impressed with these students who greeted me so warmly. Once we had been introduced and I started going to classes, the aisatsu increased, and even started coming in English (this is the only English some of the kids know. If you ask "How are you?" after the "Hello" some of them freeze and freak out, despite this being asked before every lesson. Then again, I remember the same thing when I was learning Spanish in High School. We would see people in the halls and say "Hola!" and the teacher would remark that that was the only word the students actually used... This must be a universal problem.)

Compared to my former school (where the students only gave aisatsu when addressed first or when forced.) this was a huge difference. I felt welcomed and liked. I smiled so much easier, and working was more fun. Compared to riding the trains and commuting in the silence of strangers, just recognizing a former student and greeting them makes my day. Or seeing the same people while I walk to school. People who were once afraid or suspicious of me, relax and smile if I say "Good morning" to them. Then after that, they are waiting for me, and they say "Good morning" first.

There is an old man who stands outside every morning on my way to work. He waits for me to pass by so he can greet me. He has such a huge smile every time he sees me. He even occasionally gives me gifts.

Ah, the power of aisatsu.

It really is amazing how simple greetings or traditions can change your entire day and outlook. A day that was dreary and gray, is suddenly brightened by the faces of people who greet you and are glad to see you.

Try greeting the people around you this week. And watch the reactions from something so simple, yet so profound. The first step to building relationships is "aisatsu." And along the way, helping to keep the road smooth along the way of the relationships is... "aisatsu."

Just a little something I've learned this year and have become grateful for.

Aisatsu is a beautiful thing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Sensei of my own...

I have lots of things to think about lately. This makes for good blogging. ;-)

I've been practicing my guitar lately. I've tried for year and year and years to learn to play the guitar. The problem is, I'm not so good at self study. According to my mother, I did in fact teach myself how to read when I was very young, but I have no idea how I did that. Since I've become older, I've seem to lost whatever it was that enabled me to intuitively learn.

So I get stuck a lot.

When I started the guitar, I knew nothing about it. It just looked fun. I liked music, and I wanted to be able to play my own music. I even had visions of being able to lead some campfire music for youth groups and such.

So I took my guitar with me to college.

Problem number one surfaced very quickly. I have lofty goals, and little motivation. I give up quickly. First time I hit a wall, I quit. I repeated this step for about 10 years or so, always looking for someone or someway to learn guitar. (and other things for that matter, art, piano, voice lessons, etc) I do well when I am in a class. There are things to learn and a method to learn it. This worked well for art and voice lessons. But for some reason I didn't do well when I tried to take a guitar class. This probably had something to do with the fact that my teacher was a classical guitarist, and I didn't want to play classical guitar.

So I quit.

I took my guitar (the first one I got from my mother, a small 3/4 size guitar) with me to my one summer as a counselor at summer camp. I thought, there should be someone there who would help me learn to play guitar. I quickly found out that camp was a bit busy and there was no time to really learn how to play the guitar. I never learned anything there.

When I came to Japan, I still wanted to learn to play guitar. So I looked for a hard case for my little guitar and my uncle bought me a new(used), bigger guitar from a pawn shop for me to bring over. (ended up using the soft case anyway, haha) I was going through immigration for the first time with my guitar and case and the officer in Japan looked at me and asked "Do you play guitar." and I didn't skip a beat, looked right back at him and said "No, I don't." He told me to have a nice day and let me though. I worried a bit about the immigration procedures in Japan... Haha

Once I moved to my site, I looked for people to teach me guitar. There were several people here who played guitar, and played it well enough, but there was really no time to get together and learn. I was too far behind them, and they didn't know how to teach from the very beginning like I needed. So because I couldn't find a teacher, I would often give up.

I also had the problem that the guitar my uncle bought me was not meant for beginners. The strings were too high and hurt my fingers anytime I tried to play. (I even had both guitarists from the band try to play that guitar and both, while liking the sound, said that it hurt too much to play.) So with a lesson here and there, I did not progress very far in my goal of being able to play guitar.

Then, for my birthday about two years ago, Sing gave me one of his old guitars that he didn't need anymore. He knew I was trying to learn, and my guitar wasn't so good. I was really excited to get such a great present.

But even then, it was hard to practice. I just didn't know what to do.

Then one of my friends told me that instead of trying to learn to play chords and stuff first, I should just choose a song and try to play it. She helped me pick out a song with very easy chords (Em and Am) and I could start practicing. I learned a strum pattern from her, and then I had at least one song I could try to play.

I'm not really sure when, but little by little I gradually started getting the hang of things. I learned how to change chords, how to sing while strumming, how to get my fingers used to the strings etc. I grew brave enough to try a new song, one with three chords. For the longest time, I could only play (or rather play at) two songs. I found one more song and my grand total was three.

From that point, it was a problem of finding time to practice. I had a few more lessons here and there. (One from the previously mentioned Sensei, but he is busy and can't really teach me so often.) But for the most part, I had to do things on my own.

Yesterday I was asking one of the band members about how to study rhythm. I really have no rhythm. I have one strum pattern I can play songs to, and when it doesn't work, I just really have no idea what to do. As I would also like to learn to play the bass someday, I really want to learn about rhythm. So he taught me two rhythm patters for songs I'm trying to play, but that's all.

It's helpful every time I get help from someone, and I appreciate it. I can grow and suddenly I am able to play more than before. But it's a very frustrating process for me.

I want a Teacher. Someone who is interested in investing in me, and helping me learn how to solve my problems. A lesson here, or a hint there only helps so much. I feel like people just expect me to learn it on my own. The problem is I can't. There is only so much I can learn by playing around on my own. I need someone to help me. There is only so much I can learn by searching on the internet. I want someone to tailor the teaching to my needs. I want a Sensei.

Of course, this isn't just about my guitar. This is in general for life. I feel like I'm wandering around so often without a clue. I don't know what to do next or how to do it. There are expectations and consequences I don't understand. And lot's of little teachers a long the way, but no Sensei to be my own.

Now when I say Sensei, imagine Karate Kid, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Someone who mentors you, and meets with you, and pushes you beyond your limits.

Imagine Jesus with his disciples.

Yeah, that's a Sensei.

Today I found myself praying for a Sensei. Maybe because I want things laid out for me in an easy to understand format. Maybe I just want everything spelled out for me. I could just be lazy. But there's more to it than that. I want someone to help me grow. I want to be invested in. I want a relationship with someone who is helping me grow closer to God. I want someone who has time for me and who I don't have to beg to teach me. I want someone who cares if I learn or fail and rejoices and gets mad at me. Maybe I just want Jesus in my life. How awesome it would have been to be one of the disciples. To follow your Sensei, and learn at His feet. To eat dinner with him, and go on trips with him. I think this is at the core of my desire for a Sensei.

There are so many things I want to learn. I'm greedy. But I would really like to learn how to play the guitar. I'm thankful for all the people who have helped me on my way. Maybe I'll learn to play better without a Sensei to help me. But that's my prayer for today. I want a Sensei of my own....

Maybe I should pray instead for contentment and thanksgiving and perseverance (although prayers for learning perseverance is dangerous to plant life around me...)

Or I need to learn how to learn at the feet of My Sensei who is already in me, and Who loves me and watches over me continually.

A Sensei of my own...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The sin of Neglect

I've been neglecting my blog lately. To be honest, I've been neglecting many things lately. The list is a rather long one.

For long time readers of my blog, you might be somewhat familiar with my little bonsai tree Paga-chan. Paga-chan was given to me for my birthday several years ago from a dear friend. This said dear friend loves bonsai very much, and likes to grow her trees from seeds. She had just separated two seedlings she had been growing, and she gave one to me. I however, do not have much of a green thumb. I'm not good with plants. Or fish. Or small things that require a lot of attention, but don't demand it and remind me constantly. I'm good with small children, dogs and cats that remind you when they have needs (and make you pay the consequences rather quickly when you don't meet those needs.) But there was a reason I wanted the bonsai. I wanted to learn perseverance.

Paga-chan has been nice enough to teach me many things about my relationship with God, and recently is helping teach me a more sobering lesson. One I need to learn over and over. The lesson of neglect.

You see trees don't react quickly. If a tree is sick, it takes a while to show up. There are no immediate reactions to motivate. If you haven't guessed by now, I've been neglecting Paga-chan recently. I was supposed to re-pot her a long time ago and check her roots. But since I had never done that before, and didn't really have a clue as to how to do it, I'd been putting it off. This job also makes it more difficult for me to water her and look after her. So there's lot's of "I'll do it later." About a month or so ago, I finally got around to re-potting poor Paga. She had a few brown needles, but I thought she was doing ok. I didn't really do anything with the roots, just put her in a slightly bigger pot, hoping she would survive.

Then all her needles started getting brown. Poor Paga looks rather sad. You know the pine tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas? Imagine smaller and all the needles are brown instead of green. With less needles. She's a sad sight. It'll probably take until next spring to know for certain if she is dead or not. My dear friend gave me some instructions about roots and such, so I have re-re-potted her, and hopefully she will survive.

Right now there are a lot of circumstances coming to a head right now. Many things are happening because of neglect on my part. When so many things happen at the same time, it's easy to feel lost in a storm. It's easy to feel crushed and just want to give up. After all, for many of them, it's my fault.

Sorry for the vagueness, but there's a lot that I can't go into detail here.

But this has got me thinking a lot. (funny how trouble does that.) It suddenly dawned on me the seriousness of the sin of neglect. Neglect is something that is so easy to do. It's easy to think that you are tired, or that you have plenty of time later. It's easy to rationalize it away. So many little little steps. And you never think they will have major repercussions. After all, who really thinks of neglect as a sin? I mean really, it's not so bad right?

That's the danger isn't it? People die from neglect. It's a crime to neglect children or pets. What was the order God gave Adam and Eve? Take care of the earth. Neglect goes directly against God. It's so easy to do, because there's rarely instant consequences. It's easy to let it build up over days, months, years, until everything just falls apart, rotten from the inside out. I neglect my blog, my house, my family, my friends, my health, my spiritual life, my relationships.... All this neglect is degrading my life away. And now the signs are showing. And when the signs start showing, that means there is little time left. The consequences have come due. Oh yeah, it's not a pretty sight.

Fortunately, I have a God who loves me. He has watched my neglecting ways. He has forgiven my neglecting ways. He has even seen fit to open my eyes to the seriousness of my actions. And now, I wait. I wait to see what the verdict is for the charges against me. I will have to pay the consequences soon. I don't know what they are yet, but I know that they will be just, and maybe there will be some grace thrown in the mix. But the good news is, God never neglects me. I often neglect Him, but He will never neglect me.

Wow. I can't even imagine. Neglect is such a horrible thing. Can you imagine what it feels like to be the one neglected? It's got to be worse than being hated. You just don't matter. You have become nothing. Not worth my time or my energy. I can't imagine much worse.

And I did that to God. I've done it to many people I love. I can't believe how terrible that is. But what amazes me is that I am still loved. God still loves me and promises to provide for me. My friends and family still love me and want the best for me. There is still hope for Paga-chan.

I'm not sure what the point of this is, other than the need to reflect and confess my own sin. The need to put into words, what is so easy to (for lack of a better word...) neglect. I'm not trying to imply that this sin is more terrible than any other sin. I'm just trying to remind myself that it is the same as any other sin. And that it is a real sin, and a prominent one in my life.

There are a lot of things that need to be worked out. Strongholds to break down, relationships to build, lessons to learn, prayers to pray. But I feel hope for the future. I have a God who does not neglect me. And I can grow and change. There is hope for Paga-chan, but more importantly, there is hope for me. There is hope for Japan, a land full of neglect. So I wait. I wait to see if Paga will survive. I wait to see if I will be living in Japan next month. I wait to see if my relationships will be given new life. I wait to see if I will learn the lesson better this time. And I pray.

I want to build up, not tear down. I want to share life, not neglect.

Sorry, the blog posts are all kinda dark recently. I have some fun pictures that I've been meaning to put up and I hope to do that sometime. Thanks so much for your comments and your support. I really do appreciate it.