Sunday, February 27, 2011

At the end of a long day...

I've known about today for a while, and I knew it would be a long day, in the middle of a long month (Funny how Feb feels like such a long month every year...) I take a look at my calendar and like to freak out. It's fun. (That last statement was not dripping with sarcasm at all...)


Anyway, I knew it was coming. And I've been dreading today, like I've been dreading all the other things that are keeping me busier than I like to be.

Today was the closing ceremony for the VYM missionary program that I came to Japan with. (I left the program two years ago, but the program is shutting down this year, so it was a commemorative service.) I wasn't sure I wanted to go. Well, for a long time I didn't want to go at all. I'm not always the best people person. (What! I'm not a people person, you ask? So why did I become a missionary? >>> It seemed like a good idea at the time...) But eventually, I managed to shift my negative thinking, just enough to let me see that I might WANT to go, instead of feeling like it was just another obligation to stress me out with. So, I made my plans to go to the service.

So a few weeks ago, I decided that I would go into Tokyo with a friend from church, who was also a former missionary. She wanted to go, but was worried about traveling there with a young baby by herself. I was more than happy to help her out (AKA kidnap baby for a day!) So we made plans to meet at 11:30 so we could have plenty of time to get there with no stress. (Service stated at 1:30, trains take about an hour.)

Then I get an e-mail from a former Bible Study student, who wanted an urgent lesson to help prepare for an interview she had today. She wanted to know if I could meet her in the afternoon. I really wanted to help her out, so I asked her if she could meet in the morning. (Me, being the exact opposite of a morning person by nature, this is a small miracle. Don't ask me why I'm volunteering these things...) So we decide to meet at 10 at the same station where I was going to meet the friend from church.

Then I get an e-mail from my friend who lives in a different prefecture. We haven't seen each other in a while, and it would be nice to catch up. She's coming for the service and wanted to know if I had any time to meet. (deliberately NOT looking at Calendar at this point.) Why, yes, I would love to meet up with you. Let's see... How's 8:30 ish sound? (Did I mention I'm not a morning person? Oh yeah, this is my day off, my only day to sleep in... Why am I doing this again???)

So with full knowledge of what I was doing, I went against my very (current) anti-people nature and set up 3 meetings back to back today, starting in the morning. (I didn't make the first meeting until 9 actually... The time was kinda flexible.) And I also stayed up until 12 the night before finishing the birthday present I was supposed to have finished last week.

Yeah, I think I'm crazy too.

Yet somewhere in all of this, while I am calmly making decisions that will take away chances for sleep and rest (I am a huge fan of sleep, and am currently low on it at the moment) and possibly add to my stress levels, there is a sense of peace each time I add to my "too-do-list." No panic, no stress, just... Yeah, it'll be ok. It'll all work out.

So I prepared myself for a long day.

And I was Blessed.

Breakfast with my friend, who always shares her excitement for what God is going to do in this country, and gives me new perspectives to think about. (And is always generally excited to see people in "good" places of pain, growth, etc...) *waves* (Yeah, she reads my blog too... Love you!!!) ;-)

It was a blessing to me.

She walks with me to the meeting place with my student, and I feel like I am literally passed off from one person to the other. Baton pass. :-) I finish giving her directions for the trains, and then go to a coffee shop with my student.

My student and I have a good lesson, catch up a bit, and she wants to know if it might be possible to go to Bible Studies at my new job next year...

I was blessed.

She walks me to the meeting place where my friend from church is waiting with her precious baby girl. She coos over the baby, and passes me off to the next person. Baton pass 2. :-) We do a few errands and find our train. I get to take over the baby holding job (I practically wrestled the baby from her hands!) and play with the baby on the trains. Didn't take her long to just drop to sleep. I make a comfortable bed. Seriously. Ask any dog, cat or kid. Afternoon nap is a success! :-) We make it to the church in Tokyo just as she wakes up. That kid has some good timing I tell you.

I get to walk around shocking people who want to know where this baby suddenly came from. Hehe. I like shocking people.

We go to the service, and I notice how blessed I am. All 3 of my directors were present, the pastor I served with, and the pastor I'm going to serve with are all there. To my left is my friend and her baby. To my right is Sensei, the one person that I can hold up and say "This person was led to Christ because I was in Japan. I didn't do anything, but because I was here, he is now a member of my church(he was actually just sworn in as a new Elder for our church week before last!)" All that was missing were the two girls from my orientation group.

So much history. So much present. So much future.

And I was blessed.

We spend time talking to people who have been touched by the missionary program here until it's time to go.

My friend and I leave at exactly the time I knew I would need to leave to get back to the band. The future activities of the band had been declared "Undecided" a few weeks ago. There was today, and a concert next week. After that it's all "undecided." What does that mean? Is today possibly the last time I'll meet them at the station on a Saturday night? Maybe. It's undecided after all.

So I'm not really sure what to expect, or how much of the situation I understand. I just know it's important for me to cherish every moment. Because after all, life in general is "undecided."

And my friend walks me to the spot where one member is setting up his piano keyboard for the evening. He looks at me in surprise and wants to know when I had a baby. (I am obviously still kidnapping the baby.) We find her bus, and she goes home to her husband. Baton touch. :-)

Not very long after that, my roommate shows up, and then the rest of the band shows up. The performance begins. Music fills the air. And I notice Peace in my heart. Peace that has been there all day. Sustaining me. Giving me strength. Blessing me. A former student from last year's Jr. High school is at the station with his friends (he's a High Schooler now.) He see's me, and despite being embarrassed in front of his friends, waits until I notice him and can say hi. Then he quickly walks away embarrassed once again. I smile. And go back to the music with another blessing added to the ponderings in my heart. And I feel a touch on my shoulder from behind. Another student, this one from my time at the church, a woman close to my age, with her son who was born on my birthday, waving to me as they are on their way home. "Yeah, it's just been that kind of day" I smile to my roommate.

And I am blessed.

It doesn't look like "undecided" will mean a stop to the Saturday night street lives. It might mean a different format, or not as often. I don't know for certain yet. But they will continue. So I am thankful for that.

It's been a long day. Much much longer than I had thought it would be when I was dreading it as just a note in my calendar. But so much better than I could have imagined.

So much Blessing packed into one day.

This is my kind of long day. :-D

<~~~~~ (a picture of "sensei")

On a random note... I smell like baby. :-D

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Too Much, and Not Enough

For many years now I've been reading various books by John Eldridge. He focuses a lot on the Heart. He wrote a book with his wife Staci called Captivating that addresses women in particular. They talk about The Message of the Arrows that is used to wound our hearts and keep us powerless. One of the Arrows for women is the idea that you are too much and yet somehow not enough. This idea has stuck with me for several years now, giving shape to a hurt so deep I wish it could have just stayed buried. But I cannot treat buried wounds, so the pain must be dealt with.

Too Much and Not Enough.

Like an angry toddler unable to comprehend anything outside himself, the words accuse me and claw at me. And I am unable to fight back. There are too many places where there is truth. And I've made the mistake of listening and believing.

I say too much. And those who hear misunderstand what I try to say. My words aren't enough to convey what I want too share. And the misunderstanding tells me that I am a failure and have no value or I would have been understood.

So if I can't control my words to share my heart then what's the point of trying? The wound drains my strength and I shut down. I don't want to fight to make myself heard just to be misheard. And I retreat to lick my wounds in my fortress of silence.

And that is also Too Much and Not Enough.

When I first read the description of Too Much and Not Enough, my heart immediately recognized it as the cause of many wounds on my heart. And there was a certain feeling of affirmation and relief found with knowing the Name of the Arrows. It made the pain valid to know there was a real weapon. I wasn't just making it up, or just naturally broken. There was a cause.

But that's where I stopped. I saw the Arrow, there is now a shape to what was only pain before. But I've gone no further...

And I realized today that I failed to find anyway to fight against, or protect myself from this weapon aimed at my vital heart. No defense. No counterattack. Even when you know what it is and that it's coming, there is nothing you can do without those things.


So what is my defense? The fortress of silence, the become shut down to bare minimum functions approach doesn't work too terribly well. It's rather cowardly, actually. How do you counterattack? I make a pitiful attempt and then promptly loose all courage when my attacks lack power, have poor aim, and fall short of anything resembling effective.

I am not well equipped. And never before thought to train nor to equip myself. This is called suck in the victim mentality.


So now I'm trying to find the Ways to fight. I'm tired of shutting down. I'm tired of feeling sorry for myself. I'm tired of cowering in fear...

I'm doing a Bible Study by Beth Moore right now that's called "Believing God." Not "Believing IN God." Believing God. Believing what He says, and Who He is. And who I am...

One of the sections in the study says "I believe I am who God says I am." This is where I get stuck. It's easy to believe God. I believe He is Mighty and Powerful. I believe He is Just and Good. I believe and accept these things about God easily. But I somehow never manage to believe the parts that tell me who I am, as a Child of God. The words never really penetrate my heart.

I am who God says I am.

I am Too Much, and Not Enough.

I am who God says I am.

hmmm... Maybe this is the weapon I was looking for. I think I need to go back and review that section again....

Let the training begin!


Random digression:

I've made some wonderful friends here in Japan. As fellow missionaries, we've been through a lot together. We've fought with, for and against each other often. Wielding clumsy swords, fighting life's battles together (unprepared though we are), we've been injured by friendly fire just as often as enemy fire. But we stick together with bonds that transcend distance and wounds.

I got an e-mail from one of these friends of mine. (does this count as a reply???) I've known her the entire time I've been in Japan. We usually get along well because we both share an appreciation of analogies, usually the kind that make other people squirm. And we both take the Point-And-Shoot approach with Truth. We have a lot in common.

She's been in America visiting some of her sisters who were giving birth. so it was no surprise that she e-mailed me to tell me she's been reading my blogs and wanted to "encourage" me by telling me how my struggles reminded her of childbirth. (She even offered pictured if I wanted some visual help with the analogy. Very kind of her.) I have awesome friends. ;-)

I'm not sure if this is a time of childbirth or perhaps instead a time of skin molting, or cocoon shedding... (changing myself vs producing new life) But in any case, welcome to my hospital room!

Please excuse me if I don't get up right away...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Let's call it a "Moses Moment"...

Moses wasn't the only guy in the Bible with stress, but he often comes to mind when I think about my own stress.

I can see it now: Moses freaking out when the interesting phenomenon he went to investigate turns out to be the God of his forefathers demanding him to go back to the place he ran away from and "set his people free." Yeah, I would argue with God too.

I can just imagine poor Moses as he's walking up the steps to Pharaoh's place for the first time, muttering to himself. "This is crazy. Why am I doing this again? This is not going to be fun at all. Why am I doing this again? This is crazy..." He looks over to Aaron. "Why are we doing this again?"

Then I can see him walking up the stairs for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th times as well. Staff in hand, message from God prepared. Past proofs of God's might and power behind him... "Why am I doing this again? Can I get a new career plan please? *deep sigh*" And he takes another step along side Aaron.

Before the Passover. Before the Red Sea. Faced with a people on the verge of revolt, wanting to run back to the hated Egypt at the first sign of hardship. "Why am I doing this again? *sigh* I miss my sheep... Maybe I could slip away in the night... When do I get to retire again???" And he looks at these same people, and from somewhere he is filled with a compassion that causes him to stand up to God again and argue, this time to prevent God from killing them in His anger... "Oh yeah. This must be why I'm doing this..."

And He ever moved forward.

I think Moses could win most stress contests, hands down.

So on days like today, when I just want to hide in my bed and wait for Feb and March to be over with and just start over in April, when I go to school in the rain (that of course stops as soon as I get to school), when I hide in the bathroom crying because I just can't deal with anything well today, when I look at my calendar and see no days of rest for a very long time, when I feel like a failure, when I cry out over and over "Why am I doing this again?"....

I try to remember perspective. My stress is small. I'm not being asked to lead an entire nation. It's not anything big or powerful.

When I cry out in fear, because I know my weaknesses, and all I can see is me making messes and not being able to clean them up. When I remember the fact that I am NOT a good missionary, and wonder "why in the world was I called to do this job again???" When I'm afraid of people and relationships and messiness. When I stand at the base of the stairs, looking up, and all strength drains from my legs...

When I get a call telling me that the Jr High School I'm working for is requesting me for another year because they like me, and would I re-consider quitting the company? And my heart aches, because I have already committed to the church, but I had been wanting to be able to stay at the same school for more than just one year, to watch the kids grow and change. To be with them longer. To love them more...


I remember.

It doesn't matter how small I am. God is bigger. It doesn't matter how weak I am. God is stronger. It doesn't matter how many mistakes I make. God's grace covers them. It doesn't matter how stupid or inadequate I feel, God has a plan. It doesn't matter how painful or difficult or stressful it is now. God is calling the shots.

All I can do is trust. And move forward. And stop looking back...

Today was a bad day. There were good things in it. But over all, it was just one of those days. I'm sure Moses could empathize. I pray tomorrow I can stop looking at all the obstacles and just move forward in trust. I pray for the strength to make it til April. I pray for the grace to have a heart that reacts in trust and not in "murmurings."

"Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Mat 11:28-30

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Another broken mirror

When I was a kid I loved snow. It's got to be a requirement of being a kid. Of course being from Texas snow had super powers like canceling school and getting us un-grounded.

When you are a kid you are content taking things at face value. Snow is for play. Snow is pretty.

But I'm not a kid anymore. And somewhere along the road to adulthood I've traded my childhood love of snow for a deep dread and scorn. Yes. I hate snow. This makes many of my friends very sad.

It's true that I dislike snow for some superficial reasons. It's annoying to travel in especially when you don't have a car. It's cold and wet. It's dangerous. It's only pretty undisturbed. The little annoyances pile up into a wall of dread. My friends pray for snow. I pray against it.

But those aren't really why I hate snow. I hate what it represents to me. Snow is the perfect reflection of Japan.

In Japan it's rare to actually clean or fix anything. Just slap on a fresh coat of paint or wipe the counter with a rag and cold water. Who cares about soap? Why fix the problem when you can cover it up? As long as it looks nice right?


This is the condition of hearts in Japan. The Winter landscaped hearts, broken, lifeless, dried out and malnourished. Or waterlogged and rotting. So many different combination's of brokenness and hollowness. And take all those pitiful hearts, all the ugliness of Winter and cover it with a pure white blanket of snow.

At first I associated it with redemption, covering our sins and brokenness with righteousness. But then I saw it instead as our own feeble attempts to hide our ugliness. Oh and lets numb the pain while we're at it. Oh yes, just look at the beautiful world we have now! The cold numbs and preserves our hearts for us. The snow makes us beautiful. Like exquisite kimono or works of art or brand names. Now we can ignore the truth right? Just pretend everything is OK because we can't see it any more.

And it's beautiful. Until we move. Our footprints leave dirty marks and puddles revealing things hidden. Our cars rip ragged ribbons from the fabric. The sun and heat from our not quite dead hearts melt from both sides.

Then we become aware of the dangers. We slip and fall from unseen ice and holes and obstacles we've forgotten. Everything takes more energy. People die.

And the beauty becomes marred.

And I long for the bare starkness of the truth. I long to see the reality and not guess at what's hidden. I want to walk without fear.

I would trade hollow beauty for truth any day.

So this is why I hate snow because I see the pathetic human condition reflected back at me and it makes my heart heavy with the weight of it.

And I find I am no different from those I have Judged for trying to vainly cover their naked woundedness. I too try to cover my reality with a comfortable blanket, until the snow takes it away. And I want to ignore what I don't like or that which is uncomfortable.

So maybe I should accept the snow instead of hating it. It's yet another truth of our broken world.

(the pictures are taken from the Elementary School I worked at today. Going to school wasn't fun at all, but fortunately it melted by the time I needed to go home. Yay!)

Monday, February 14, 2011

The God Who Hears - reprisal

"My God is a God who Hears."

"My God is a God who Hears."

I've been repeating this to myself today. God has good timing, to teach us something right before we need to believe it.

It's easy when things don't go the way we think they should, or our lives aren't where we think they should be at to get frustrated with God. We wonder what we aren't doing right. Maybe if I try a different tactic... Maybe I'm not praying the right way... Maybe I'm just not good enough... The Maybes build a wall to form my prison.

When I get frustrated, I remember the record of Hannah. A woman who had her husband's love, but wanted a child. She wanted the affirmation of being a woman. To become a mother. Such an important thing for her society.

Sometimes I berate myself for my perceived weakness. The ache of my heart is to be loved. To find a partner. To be appreciated as a woman. To be married. And so often, I try to tell myself that it's a selfish desire. I should love God more instead. I should be content with what I have. I try to convince myself how much I would loose from my current lifestyle if I were married. I try to beat it down and stop causing me pain. But it never stays down. Sometimes I can ignore it for a while. But it always comes back. No matter how much I try to reason, or guilt trip it away, it never listens to me.

And I remember Hannah. She wanted a child. This desire too could be seen as selfish. For her own sake, she wanted a child. Her husband already had children. But she wanted her own. Flesh of her flesh. She wanted the proof that she was a whole woman.

So she cried, with a broken, longing heart. And she prayed. She pleaded to her God.

And God listened. He had compassion on the barren woman, and gave her children. How comforting. God cared about this woman's heart. He cared about her. And He provided for her.

So today, when my heart cries out from loneliness, I remember. My God Hears. My God Cares. I may not get the answer that I want, but I know that He Cares. He sees the pain in my heart. And He Listens to my cries.

And suddenly the pain is less. The desire remains, but just knowing that God has heard me, and He cares, has soothed my heart. I can wait again, remembering to trust my God with my life and my heart. And when my heart falters again, He will surely Hear me once more.

Thank you Father for Hearing me in all situations. Thank you for caring about my heart. Thank you for reminding me of Your love. Thank you for hope. Please bestow upon me wisdom, patience and a heart that aches after you. Amen

Saturday, February 12, 2011

In the quiet heartbeat of midnight...

Night has long since fallen. My roommate asleep for hours now. But I am yet awake.

In the wee hours of the morning, just before the birth of a new day, sitting watch while the night takes the dying breaths of my today, I listen, captivated by song.

The music stirs my soul, and moves me to reach for God.

In the dark, I read the musings of a love story being written on a woman's heart. Small pieces of her journey with her husband. The jewels of wisdom she shares from her romance with God. Two lovers. One story.

And I weep. To know that love is true. To feel connected to another's story. To feel my soul stir with longing.

And I listen to the music of a piano. And think this must be just a small glimpse of the beauty of heaven. And I feel connected to my God through the beauty of music.

And I close my eyes, and worship my God, who gives us words and music, things to connect us, and pull us back to Him. Things that are meaningless without those to share them with.

At 2:30 in the morning, is the day dying, or just begun? The only answer I receive is a heartbeat. It has neither died, nor been born. It is. He is. and I am.

And I too feel the need to share words. Put shapes to abstract thoughts and feelings. It is now when I feel most alive. Here in the grey between today, tomorrow and yesterday. Somehow I find a certain freedom in the place where the lines of definition have been removed.

Some beauty is best appreciated in the stillness of night.

A teachable spirit.

Change is coming. Closer and closer. Yet at the same time, it feels like time is frozen. I'm still doing the same job as before. Nothing has changed yet. But still it comes.

There is preparation to do, yet for most it is still too early.

So I think. I ponder the future. I rebuke the fear. I reflect on the image that my warped mirror shows me, and I wonder. What will happen? What is God doing? Where is He moving? I have no answers yet. But I have realized how important the time of preparation is.

I'm thankful for this time for me to prepare my heart for the next stage of my journey.

I have been teaching and living in Japan for 6 years now. I have done 4 years of work teaching English conversation in a church, and am about to finish my 2nd year of working in Japanese public schools. No certifications, no awards. Just experience. Yet the thing about experience is that it puffs us up.

I know more now than I did when I first came here. I know more about Japan now than when I was only teaching in a church. So sometimes, it's easy to think I know it all. Of course my opinions are right. The way I want to do things is best. I have the best view.

And then I look in my warped mirror again. This time all I see are my faults. Wow. Why was I asked to do this job again? Why did they choose me? Why did I say yes? I might be a decent teacher, but I'm certainly not a good relationship builder. I'm inconsistent. I don't communicate well. I complain a lot. Drag my feet. Hate meetings.

Am I inflated, or deflated? I can't tell.

So this week it occurred to me that I should be seeking God's will, and not my own. I mentioned in my previous post that I was going to pray and fast one day this week for God's guidance. I'm not good at listening to God. I don't have a close relationship like others I know. But I long for it. I long to throw off the chains of "knowledge" that often fill me with pride. I wish to instead be blessed with wisdom, and eyes that see as God does.

I pray that I will continue to be humbled, and that God will bless me with a teachable spirit welcoming the Spirit Who Teaches.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The God Who Hears

When those in ancient times encountered God, they gave Him a Title to define Who He was, or What He did. They were big into naming things. I remember the story of Hagar. When she encountered God in the desert, and He saw her, and rescued her and her son, she declared that He was "The God Who Sees me." That must be pretty significant for a slave.

So while I am not being saved from starvation in the desert with my discarded son, I too feel the urge to adorn my creator with a title. Not original by any means. But coming from a thankful heart, I don't think God gives originality points.

Today I was riding the morning train, thinking about time, or rather, the lack of it. I do that often lately. Last night as I was coming home past my bedtime I was pondering why it is so difficult for us humans to manage time. God created the world to give us the right amount of time. We have seasons, night and day, and they are all meant to bless us, not confine us. This must mean we end up confining ourselves.

Well, this is all random ponderings from someone who has a lot going on, and doesn't like working so much. Haha. I'm just lazy, and complain when I don't get to be lazy.

So this morning I wished for more time. I tweeted it to be exact. Not even a prayer really. Just an abstract wish for something I had resigned myself not to have.

But God is bigger than my expectations. And kinder than I deserve.

Today God heard me.

There was something going on at school (have no clue what) but we only had 4 periods today, and all the teachers were going to be doing something. So I got sent home after lunch.

Wow. How wonderful.

I was able to enjoy the sunshine as I walked leisurely to the bus. At the bus stop, I had some time before the next bus, and I was able to just sit, enjoying the clear air and sunshine on my face. I was able to do a little bit of shopping, then buy a tapioca drink (bubble tea) and a matcha taiyaki. Then a nice slow trip home, with nothing pressing to do. Hopes of maybe playing the guitar a bit tonight, or taking a shower. Maybe do the dishes. Maybe just listen to some music. I sang while my roommate wasn't home yet.

Such a peaceful, restful afternoon.

What an amazing present, from a God who is active and cares about even the small things in my life. A surprise gift, from a God who loves me, and just wanted to give me something I wanted.

Today is a blessed day.

My God hears me, even when I wasn't asking Him directly.

That's awesome.

Tomorrow I hope to humble myself so that I can hear my God in turn. I am praying and fasting for my up coming job at the new church. I often want to do things my way. I have my own judgments and opinions of things. I come in, and pass judgment. My own arrogance astounds me. (I could blame American culture for this, but that would just be passing the buck. I just happen to think I'm right all the time. It's amazing anyone puts up with me.) So instead of me trying to do things my way this time, I hope to know what it is that God wants done at this church in this time. God has called me to this place once again. Maybe He will be working in me. Maybe He will be working in the church. Quite possibly He'll be doing both. In any case, I would rather be lead by Him than just go charging in making a mess and breaking things as I go along.

But that's for tomorrow. Today, I'm enjoying my surprise from my God who hears me. One day I want to be a Child who hears God. That would really be awesome. :-D

A snapshot of the bus stop I enjoyed sunbathing at. :-D