Monday, December 12, 2011

When the sky clears

It's been rainy and cold lately here. I've been very thankful so far for our new apartment, which is MUCH much warmer than my last house.

Tonight, on my way home from the doctor, I was able to catch the sunset. On clear days you can even see Mt. Fuji. I hurried home to grab my camera, and went to a pedestrian bridge near my house to try get a few shots. Unfortunately, the bridge is right over a major road, so it's not such a spectacular view, but I thought I'd put up some pictures anyway. I've been slacking off in the picture area lately, so here are a few shots of my new neighborhood. :-D

From the bridge looking towards Mt. Fuji, it's small, but you can see it.

The stairs leading up the bridge. Notice the flat area in the middle for bicycles.

In the middle of the buildings to the upper right is where I go for my foot rehabilitation.

A few closer shots of Mt. Fuji.

The dusk sky in the other direction.

There is a park in between the one-way roads. Many people take their dogs there for walks. I've played my guitar there once late at night. :-D

It stretches for quite a ways.

And the last picture is of the skyline opposite from Mt. Fuji. Even north of Tokyo, we have our fair share of skyscrapers.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Celebrating together

It's been a while since I've written a personal update. So here's what's been going on.

A few weeks ago, I was able to take off my walking boot on my broken foot and stop using crutches. This has helped reduce my stress a lot. It's amazing how having an able body changes your ability to deal with things. My legs are getting stronger again, and this week I wasn't as tired as before.

I'm still going to rehabilitation weekly, and I wear a wrap around my foot to keep the ankle stabilized, but it's good to more mobile again.

We are getting used to life minus one roommate. So far, we seem to be making due. My other roommate is getting enough work to meet ends on her side of things, and with a little change in my schedules, I'm managing to manage my finances as well.

I've started cooking to take my lunches for work. This is actually a bit of a production, since I'm at work for about 10 hours a day 4 days a week. (plus about 3 hrs commuting time) So I eat lunch and dinner at work. So I have to make two meals to take with me. This has translated into me coming home from work, making an evening meal for the next day, and then waking up early to make rice balls or sandwiches for lunch. My roommate is happy because I make enough for her too, and this cuts down on the amount of cooking she has to do. I managed one week of it, so we'll see how long I can keep it up.

My headaches have been increasing a bit in intensity, so I finally got my butt in gear and scheduled an appointment with a doctor to get more medication. With the broken foot, it had been difficult for me to make it to the head doctor, so it's been several months with no medication. I'll go tomorrow, so I'm looking forward to have medication again.

Yesterday we celebrated with the band. There were two birthday's, one member had his first daughter born, another member was able to come for the first time in several months, and we saw some old faces we hadn't seen in a while. It was a good evening, with home-made cakes, laughter, and fellowship together. To top it off, we watched the lunar eclipse together.

Many happy memories were made, at least by me.

Today I'm thankful for life progressing on. (and warm fleece!)

Friday, December 09, 2011

Father Abraham

In the Bible classes I'm teaching, we read Genesis 15 this week. (Take a second and read it)

Well that's a simple enough story right? Easy to understand...

riiiiiggght (insert rolling eyes here)

(Ok, enough eye rolling)

(serious face)

I've noticed many times when I read the Bible, I just don't get the point. Why was that even written? What is this trying to teach me? Is this supposed to make me love or understand God better? So confused. (insert confused face here)

I've read this passage before, I've taught about this passage before. But I've never really thought about it before.

I'm like that. I quickly read something, but then don't think about it too deeply. I like things to be spelled out for me. Too much thinking takes too much effort.

OK, I'm just lazy I guess. (I spent more time being frustrated by being made to interpret or find the hidden meaning in English Lit classes than actually thinking about things.)

But if I repeat things enough, sometimes I get it. In this case, I've experienced enough that I finally get it. Let me re-tell the story for you: (some 13 and 14 thrown in for background info...)

Abram is God's friend. God likes Abram a lot. God sent him to a new country, made him rich and powerful, he's got a beautiful wife, powerful friends, a bit of a stupid nephew and stuff like that. Well, his stupid nephew went to live near a rich, but not so "nice" city (Imagine Las Vegas on speed, minus the flashing lights). The king of this city and his four friends went and rebelled against a different king. This causes all kinds of problems and the big king gathers up his three friends and decides to teach them a lesson. A whole lot of people get captured and taken away, including Abram's nephew. One guy escapes and tells Abram, who has no choice but to talk to his two friends, gather up his 318 men (plus friends' men) and go get his nephew back. Abram, who is being backed by God, of course wins with no problems and rescues all the people. Only now the stupid king wants to bribe Abram and get him under his thumb. Abram wisely refuses, and goes back home.

Now Abram is understandably stressed out. So God, concerned about His friend, comes to comfort him. "Don't sweat the small stuff Abram! I've got your back! You know I'm always gonna be there for you!" But Abram's feeling a bit down, and he's kinda feeling the years. And he thinks back, and realizes he's been in this Caanan for a while now, and all these big promises God gave him 5 or 6 years ago still haven't happened the way he thought they would. So he lets a bit of his frustration show. "What are you talking about God? You promised me that I would be come a "great nation" and all that. But I'm still here living in tents with no land of my own, and no children to populate this great nation. I'm getting old and I don't even have an heir. Heck my servant is going to be the one to inherit everything when I die! I mean he's a nice guy and everything, but he's just not the same thing as a son you know... So what do you want me to make of all this stuff?"

God smiles and says "Don't worry. You won't have to give your servant all your stuff. You will have a child from your own body. I'm gonna give you all this land. Check out the stars. Try to count them. This is what your future descendants look like. Nice huh?"

And Abram believed. God's happy that Abram believes, but notices that Abram is still feeling a little uncertain. Abram see's the present, and can't imagine how it will become such a future. God's got a hidden plan, but Abram can't see all that. All Abram can see is the fact that he's a foreigner in a land full of all these violent tribes, and he has no children to boot. (and he's been pretty patient too...) So, God, in His compassion, decides to show Abram how much He loves him.

"Hey, tell you what. I'll show you how serious I am. Let's do that ceremony, you know the one the leaders do when they promise something big. You go get the animals and get them ready."

So God performs this traditional ceremony (which basically means, "If I break my promise, then may I end up just like these animals, cut up and torn apart") which is kinda like a conditional curse (the big scary ancestor of "cross my heart, hope to die, poke a needle in my eye") and then even tells Abram parts of His secret plan, 400 years in the future. (Your descendants will become slaves in a foreign land, but don't worry, I'll punish the nation, and bring them back rich. Then I'll give them this land here, while punishing the people who live here at the same time. It's a great plan don't you think? All these crazy, violent people here, have 400 years to get their act together, before I punish them. And then I'll give you this land I've been promising you. Just be more patient. Oh but don't worry, you'll die an old man peacefully here.)

Wow. That's pretty awesome. God did all of that for Abram. Abram must have felt very humbled, very loved after that big production. Wow.

And that gave Abram the strength to wait the next 15 years until he could see God's promise, Isaac for the first time.

20 years of waiting. But God was with Abram the whole time. God kept supporting and loving Abram the whole time (even when Abram messed up!)

This has become one of the most awesome stories ever! (super excited happy face here)

I always get excited when I come across revelations like this one. I can look back on my life, and then I can see where God was with me, and all the things He has done for me. When I get frustrated because life doesn't seem to be going the way I thought it would... When I mess up, or loose my confidence.... When I wonder if God even likes me.... It's easy to loose sight of God's love. But if I stop, and really remember.... Yes, there was that time when I felt completely loved by God. And there was the other time when God encouraged me in this way.... There are so many!

And I can calm down, stop thinking only about the way things look now, and remember that God is always with me, and always loves me, even if things don't always happen at my pace.

Although I'm kinda glad God doesn't show me His love by splitting apart animals anymore!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away

Three years ago, God gave me something I didn't really want. I'm an introvert, and becoming more of one as years pass. Too many relationships make me tired. So many of them I have to put so much energy into making them work. So three years ago I was at the point when I didn't want anymore relationships. I was about to leave the missionary program I was working in, so when the new missionaries came in, I didn't want to have anything to do with them.

But God had other plans.

God gave me a new relationship anyway. She was one of the new missionaries, and she chose me. (I think she felt sorry for me, because I complain a lot, and my site was more isolated than other sides, so I was also frustrated at the time...) So she began "shadowing" me. She came to my events, she came to my church, she came with me to the band. She stayed at my (insanely dirty and scary) house sometimes. I started calling her my duckling because she was always walking behind me.

And somewhere, I let my stubborn walls down. And she entered into my heart. Her struggles became important to me. I wanted to fight for her, and help her. She wanted to fight for me and help me. We were "nakama." (friends, comrades)

When her circumstances changed, she moved in with me. We lived together as roommates for two years. I had been praying for a roommate because of how terribly lonely it is to live alone. And God gave.

Then this year we met another girl, and by some strange turn of events (I can only say this was also by God's prompting, since it was out of character for all of us.) we invited her to move in with us. This meant we had to find a new apartment and move.

Then things started getting worse at Duckling's company. (I had already quit the company and gone back to working for the church.) It was a rough half year. There was also earthquakes, tsunami's, nuclear reactors thrown in there as well.

New roommate moves in, and we begin learning how to live as a community. We tried our best to make it work and affirming for all three of us.

And then the Lord takes away what I didn't want taken away.

Week before last, I had a week off from work. It was perfect timing to spend one last week with Duckling before she went back to America. We went out everyday, doing things together, taking pictures, meeting people, having good-bye parties. Taking care of details.

Last week I had to go back to work. Thursday, Duckling went back to America. We helped walk her to the bus stop with her luggage. (my other roommate, who scorns all the names I try to give her, had to help carry the bags, because I am still on crutches, and therefore useless as a helper) I said good-bye at the bus stop, and left early to go to work.

But I was given good students on Thursdays, and they helped me through a difficult day (even if they don't know it.)

God gives and God takes away. But God is always good.

I have to trust God for my life. I didn't know why God gave me something I didn't think I wanted. I don't know why God took the thing I wanted to keep away. I don't know why we were called to move, and then have one third of our community taken away in less than a year. I don't know what opportunities God has for us. But I can only trust. There is no other option. Trust and pray and be thankful and hope. This is what blind faith is. Even when we don't understand. Even when we don't like it. We never turn away from God.

So I think I should not only be grateful for the things God gives, but also for when He takes away. I'm thankful for the mercy He has shown me, and the time with Duckling. She supported me and helped me greatly. And I pray that this time of "taking away" is a blessing to us both.

In an interesting parallel... I had a horrible migraine yesterday, probably caused by the rain. It starts out bearable in the morning, and then gradually gets worse. By the evening I'm feeling sick and light bothers me. I seem to make it through the kids classes (although yesterday I wasn't very "genki") but then it worsens before my last adult class. Last time I had a headache like this, I threw up in class and had to cancel. I ended up sleeping at the church because it was too difficult for me to go home. (trains are very very bad for movement sensitive headaches.) This time I made it through class (although we had to cancel chapel and we ended 10 mins early). I had been as ready to go as possible before class, so I finished getting ready to go, which means quite a bit of bending over and such, and manage to make it down the stairs before I empty my stomach. I was actually glad I was able to throw up before getting on the trains. Makes less of a mess later. Since it was Friday night and no school the next day, I really just wanted to go home. I figured I would put up with the trains, and then take a taxi home from the last station. So I set off to the station, very slowly. (having to walk on crutches is a great excuse to walk really slowly and not have others get really annoyed with you.) I made it to right outside of the station, when the movement of walking caught up to me and made sure my stomach was really empty. Once again, I was glad to do that BEFORE getting on the train. I get on the first train and find a seat and cover my head. (I'm sure somewhere in all of this I was desperately begging God to help heal me, but I'm not sure if I really believed it or not.) So the train starts moving, and I find it's not making me sick like I thought it would. I figure it's just because I had covered my eyes or something, but then I managed to make the transfer between trains with little problems. On the second train I'm feeling noticeably better. By the third train, there is no more nausea and the headache is down to manageable size. By my destination station, I feel perfectly fine and I am able to walk home as normal. Now, the reason this is so amazing is because I've had these kinds of headaches before. This kind of headache, after it has reached the throw up stage had NEVER gone away in less than 12 hours! And I usually have a left over headache the next day. To have it go away in such a short time, under heavy movement circumstances is nothing short of a Miracle! God also takes away things we need taken away.

As I thought about that on the way home, I felt that it was OK to hope again. God reminded me once again of His goodness and provision. Just a small thing like that was enough to give me strength.

I still have a long way to go, but it's good to remember that I'm not going alone. The people around me might change, come and go, But the ONE I need will always be with me.

The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away. And I shall Praise Him.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Transforming Sarai's heart

15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” 17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”

1 The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord,[e] do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs[f] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

9 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

I can't imagine how hard it was for Abraham and Sarah. Well, maybe it wasn't so bad. I mean, they were rich, good looking, powerful... But they were still waiting for a promise from the Lord. For a REALLY long time.

I feel for Sarah, I really do. She lives in a time where women gain value through giving birth. Even though she is beautiful (beautiful enough for leaders of other countries to take her away), she is childless. She is incomplete as a woman. And even though she has a godly husband, he is a husband who fears her beauty, instead of becoming inspired to protect it. In the end it was God protecting her when she was abandoned by Abram.

Yes, of course her heart would turn bitter and cynical. The thing she must want the most, the thing that has seemly been promised to her years ago, never came. Now she is too old to have children. She is a failure. Dare she even hope for it anymore? How much easier to shut away your heart, and assume that it won't come true.

I feel for Sarah, because my heart is the same. Only I'm not even near 90 yet.

I wonder if her heart was able to laugh with joy after Issac was born, instead of bitterness...

It's so easy for me to get caught up in what I don't have yet. It's easy for me to look at the past records and think it will always be that way. My heart turns bitter, and when someone suggests hope for me, the laughter contains no joy.

How many times have I shot down other's encouraging words, because my bitter heart did not want to be tortured by "false" hope?

It's hard for me, because I can't say that I have "heard" a direct promise from God to me about my life. Maybe if I had one, then I would be able to cling to that and believe. But then again, I would probably doubt it over and over.

My faith is not enough. I do not trust God with my heart. I do not trust God with my future. I look at my past, and my present, and I distrust what God has planned for me. I resign myself to following God, knowing that of course it will be "good," but what is "good" for me is not always "fun" or what I want. I follow because there is nothing else for me to do. But I do not follow with joy or hope.

How sad.

When I teach, I love it when kids are learning because they like learning. They are having fun, they experiment with the things they are learning. Class is a joy for me too. But many kids are there because they have to be. Those classes are not so fun. It's like pulling teeth. No matter how hard I try to make class fun and interesting, if the kid is only doing it because they have to, it's no fun. There is no joy, only frustratingly slow progress.

Both kinds of kids learn, but only one kind enjoys it. The teacher is the same. Only the children's attitudes are different.

When God changed Sarai's name, He gave her a symbolic new start. My notes in my Bible say that both names mean "princess." When I think about it, I guess there are two kinds of princesses. The first, is the spoiled rich-girl kind. You know, the ones that only think of themselves. The second is the elegant, kind, responsible princesses. The ones who are rescued and live happily ever after. Did the transformation of Sarai's name to Sarah also give her a transformation of heart?

I also want to transform my heart. I want to find hope in the future instead of bitter laughter. I want to believe in the possibilities, instead of giving up, believing that I am not worthy of receiving such things. But most of all, I want to be a person who believes without doubting the Goodness of God's heart and intentions toward me. When God tells us to "be joyful always" maybe He is telling us the secret to having "life to the full."

So now, I'm trying to remind myself of these things when the doubts and the negative voices assail me.

Maybe someday I'll get a new name too.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What do you do when God doesn't rescue the way you want Him to?

When you live in a foreign country, you are at the mercy of a lot of things outside of your control.

And you are very aware of how life is not fair.

I'm sure I've mentioned before my less than ideal former company. One of my roommates was also employed by the same company. I say was because she's going to give her notice tomorrow and quit. Because the company lied to immigration, to her, and probably did a whole lot of other illegal things, thus leading to her visa not being renewed. She could fight it, but it would involve continuing to do less than legal things.

Sometimes life really sucks.

In less than a month I will be deprived of a roommate, thanks to a dishonest company. I feel... cheated, betrayed... empty... defeated.

And attacked.

After being hit with a blow that is going to change my living conditions drastically, the Enemy attacks, whispering, insinuating.

sssoooo.... (Imagine a slithering voice here, for dramatic purposes only.) Where is God now? Why didn't he rescue your friend? Why is He allowing yet another person to be taken down in this country? Doesn't He love you? Why didn't He answer your prayers? HE'S HOLDING OUT ON YOU.

I'm not good a arguing the point. In fact, I generally loose any argument that requires persuasion. I could never make a living as a salesman. So, I know better than to try to argue back against the voices. I can't quote scriptures to save my life.

But I can turn my back. Refuse to let the voices take me down more. Even if I don't know why, I know God does. God loves us. God has a plan for us. And God rescues us. Even if it's not the way we had planned out.

My ideas of what would be good did not pan out. But God remains God. He remains in control. I must believe this, or I have nothing.

My community I had wanted is going to be gone soon. I will be left with one roommate and an uncertain future. The results I feared have come to pass.

But my roommate is determined to not go back to America defeated. She will go back with her head high, clinging to her God.

So I must also not be defeated here. I pray that we may praise and honor God through this, to the very final moments of our community.

God did not answer the way we wanted Him to.

So what.

Life is not fair.

Yeah. So what.

It could be much worse.

I may not have the hope part of things down yet, but I am thankful for the rock that supports me with truth and faith when I don't have the answers.

And I'm thankful for a God who is compassionate when I cry when I loose things dear to me.

Maybe someday I'll see and understand His grace in this situation.

But even if I don't.

I'll stand on this rock.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Another lesson learned from Children.

I love children. I feel most myself when I'm taking care of children or playing with animals. The ideal would be doing both at the same time. :-D

I like watching children, and learning more about God through them.

Kids can be fun, but they can be difficult too.

I have a difficult student.

We've been having problems with this student for a while, trying different tactics etc to promote a good environment in our classroom. Sometimes nothing you do works.

And then there is an explosion.

The kid was acting out. Usually this is done verbally. Last week it was done physically. The first victim was the classroom table, scratched up by a metal pencil extender. I calmly took away the pencil extender and gave a short lecture on the importance of valuing other people's property and mentioning that I would have to speak to his mother, again. I'm not sure how much of the speech got though, since it was in Japanese. But he stopped scratching up the table. Then he stopped participating in class. He was shut down for the rest of class. Then his mother comes. And suddenly he's having a fit. Knocking things over, kicking, banging. Then he hides until we've finished talking and it's time to go. I've never seen a kid put up such a fuss for leaving a classroom he doesn't like!

And I was thinking about why kids do things like that? Doesn't he know that there are consequences for his actions? If he didn't destroy things, there wouldn't be a problem. If he participated in class, we could have more fun. The rules aren't difficult to follow, so why is it so difficult?

Then God graciously reminded me of of the temper tantrums I've thrown. (recently!)

Among my friends, we sometimes say that we have been "yelling" at God. And we say this because of course God is big enough to take it. He of course wants our honest feelings right?

But this week, I've been wondering about that. The little boy, yelling at his mother, didn't accomplish anything. Even the most patient mother is going to get worn down by that. Of course, God is not a human mother, bound by human limits. But when I think of how silly the boy was yelling for something that was his fault, and if he would just sit down and listen, things would be better...

I see myself.

Lately, there are a lot of things I feel like yelling at God about. I read books and do Bible studies that tell me to live from my heart, and follow what my heart's desire is because that's what God created me to do, and then I sit back and watch my heart's desire crumbling little by little, powerless to stop it. I desire to serve God and do His will, but working in a church feels like I've been put in chains, and I begin to despise it. I long for a physical community to support and be supported by, and the future is uncertain thanks to corrupt companies and visa issues. I want to be a better person and help and teach others, but I shut down at the first signs of stress. I spend more and more nights laying awake with disabling pain in my head that causes me to throw up with enough movement (turning over in bed is enough movement these days...)

I don't know what it means.

And Doubt tries to knock me over. "Is this a God who loves you? What happened to all that peace He promised you? Where's the strength? What happened to 'my burden is light?" hmmm? He's holding out on you..."

So I stop, and take a deep breath, and remember: I'm not in prison, I'm not in the Holocaust. I'm not starving or persecuted. There have been those with far more difficult lives who have praised God through it all.

Throwing a temper tantrum, yelling at God for all my problems, is not going to solve anything. It doesn't draw me closer to God. It doesn't enable me to hear Him more. It doesn't make my troubles go away. I can't manipulate God with my tantrums (yes, I've tried. Guilt tripping God doesn't work.)

(Disclaimer: I'm not saying this doesn't work for some people, the yelling at God part... I'm saying, this isn't working for me...)

I'm tired of being a petulant child. God is not to blame for my life circumstances. He is not holding out on me. Just because I don't know what is going on doesn't mean He doesn't.

So I'm going to take a few deep breaths, calm down, and maybe give myself some time out to think about it.

And be very, very, VERY thankful that God puts up with all these temper tantrums.

Maybe when I yell less, and listen more, I will find God talking to me...

Thursday, October 06, 2011

~~years ago...

Four score minus some years ago (even if I was awake enough to do math, I'm not sure what a four score is...) I was born into this world. Apparently on the day more Americans are born on than any other. (this is sad...)

I've reached the age where I don't like to think about age. When I was younger, I thought women who did that were stupid. Now I'm one of them. Sad.

Today was a rainy day, which is my least favorite kind of day. But other than that things went well. Many of my students remembered my birthday, and a surprising number of them kids. I have lots of erasers now, some stickers (love stickers) and some notepads of my favorite character. I even ended up with two calendars of the same design from two different people. I also got a English/Japanese praise CD with a song book with Chords included. Way nice. And some of my students drew pictures for me.

Here's a super cute version of me! I look much younger when drawn like this! 6th graders are awesome.

It's nice to be celebrated.

I hope this year is better than the last one!

Oh, and the great thing about living in Japan is: I live in the future. This means I can start celebrating on the 5th here, because it's the 5th, but my actual birthday isn't until the 5th in America, so I can keep celebrating an extra day! So awesome. :-D