Thursday, April 21, 2011

Acknowledging Grace

Recently things have been pretty busy. There's so much information for me to deal with in my head that I get overwhelmed easily. And when I get overwhelmed, I just need a mental break to deal with all the information. When I come back, I'm usually more clear headed.

So I ended up finding a nice short book series to read. When I was younger one of my favorite Christian authors was Janette Oke. (I have many friends who read non-fiction to relax, but I'm a big fan of fiction to help me get rid of stress.) I found a short series by her about a the wife of a Canadian Mountie and her struggles living in the wild, untamed North.

It was a nice short read, and a simple enough story for me to not get too involved, but enough to help me "rest" my mind for a bit.

And reading the book and the character's struggles gave me another reminder of how blessed I am. The main character was a fashionable young woman raised in the East, and then she suddenly went West, and then North, and each move taught her more about life and struggle and sacrifice and love.

The last book dealt with them moving to a remote Indian village who had little contact with white people. She was shunned for almost an entire year because they feared contact with her would bring the wrath of their gods. Then a wild fire destroyed the village and she was the only one with the presence of mind to organize and save the people, thus breaking her from her exile of loneliness.

When I look at my own life, I realize how bless I am.

It's so easy for me to think about my life and be negative. When I am lonely, I feel like I don't have any friends or no one understands. I see that I am single, and that must mean I am unloved, and there must be something wrong with me or someone would love me and want me. I see that I have gained weight, and I look at myself in the mirror, disgusted with what I see and my lack of control or ability to change. I hear the words that come from my mouth that criticize and put down the people around me. I complain easily about anything that inconveniences me.

How graceless of me.

It's such a display of thanklessness.

So ugly.

But then I check my twitter page and find encouraging comments from three of my Japanese friends, who consider me as a friend and not as a foreigner. I receive an e-mail from a dear friend, who has somehow moved from a person I respected and related to as a person in authority over me to a sister and sharer of life and hardships here, and the e-mail is an affirmation of this relationship that changed without me even knowing it. And I realize how blessed I am. She trusts me enough to share. And I am left astonished.


This person sitting here in front of her computer when she should be sleeping? This person who I look at skeptically, knowing all my faults and short-comings?

Even when I reject myself, and my own value, there are people who affirm me.

And I remember all the times...

I am accepted. I think many of my friends forget that I am a foreigner. I am respected. I have no idea why, but people listen to what I have to say. I am trusted. There are no words to express the wonder I feel when I understand that.


Wow. And I know that it all comes not from anything I've done. It's all a blessing from God.

Negative, ugly, broken me. And God provides community, acceptance and an abundance of friends for me.

Tonight I am reminded again of all I have been given. And I am so very grateful.

Tonight I share with you a little of the wonder, a portion of my worship for these treasures bestowed, and my repentance for not valuing it more.

Tonight I remember, repent and rejoice. Tomorrow I may forget. But tonight I remember.

Thank you Father. Thank you for all you have given me. People who call me friend, even when it's difficult to speak the same language together, you have given me things that surpass language until we forget we don't speak the same mother tongue. People who speak the same tongue and share the same faith, who encourage and challenge me. Students who accept me. Children who run to climb all over me. Roommates who are willing to live with me, and even place themselves in a position of trust, trusting me to communicate for them, and to "lead" a household of sorts. Even when things don't look like I want them to, I have so much. Thank you for everything. Please, keep my heart in a place that always looks for You and Your blessings. A heart that recognizes and praises You constantly. I'm so grateful for Your fingerprints on my life. I pray that my heart becomes one that overflows with thankfulness and joy instead of self-doubt and thanklessness. You are good, and You have been good to me.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Now it's time for me to go to bed with a grateful heart, praying that tomorrow morning I will still remember enough to gratefully get up and live in a way that shows my appreciation for all I have been given.

Grace really is amazing.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ugly hearts

I meant to write about my first week of work at the new school. I meant to celebrate finding 50 followers on my blog. I meant to write about the first month after a major disaster. I meant to write about receiving paper flowers on the first day of class from little girls, and cute old men boldly declaring "I have a wife. I love her very much" in English class (in a country where men don't say such things.)

But today, I'm writing about something different.

I've heard it said that it takes 10 times the amount of positive words to offset one negative word, and children often hear 7 times the amount of negative words than positive ones.

But why do we have so many negative words?

I believe negative words are born from ugly hearts.

Yesterday was a dear friend's birthday. I was happily getting ready to go to her birthday party. I was checking the internet as I often do, when I found a new blog post from one of the band members. I was happy to see that they had had their meeting on Saturday night. This means they might be closer to coming back and performing regularly again. But then he suddenly switched topics. Apparently someone had written something not very nice on the band's bulletin board. I don't often check there because it's not very active. The band member seemed rather angry about it. Immediately I checked the bulletin board.

Instead of the post that made the band member angry, I found a different post by an anonymous person. This post said something along the lines of (I'm sorry, my translation here is very bad.) "I've been to lives many times, but because the vocalist and the staff are occupied with a person (people?) from a foreign country, I've lost the desire to go to lives. Good-bye." This post had been replied to by one of the staff members, who apologized for "carelessly deleting" a previous post (which I haven't read.) (There has been a reply to that by the same anonymous person who angrily objected to her used of the word "careless" because deleting a post must be very deliberate.)

I have no idea was was written before, but it was bad enough to make one member angry, and to prompt it being deleted. I'm sure the first post had nothing to do with me.

But the one that was left deleted does. I am after all a person from a foreign country. I am present at virtually every event concerning the band. My roommate often accompanies me. And I have now been told that because we are foreigners, and we talk with the vocalist and the staff, someone doesn't want to go to the band's lives?

Being a white American woman, I don't often experience discrimination. So it's easy to brush it off when others complain about being discriminated against or about prejudice. Maybe if this had been in any other setting, it would also have not bothered me. But this is where my heart is. This is the band.

Careless, ugly words hurt.

My first reaction was anger. How dare they? And to top it off, it's a complete lie! When I go to lives, I very rarely get to talk to the members or the staff. They are busy with other things. They have to talk to people who don't come as often or new customers. They are thinking about a ton of other things than talking and entertaining me. So I know they will greet me by name, and then maybe they'll ask how it was and I give my opinion before they quickly move on to others who need to talk to them more. It's very easy for me to feel left out and out of place. So I am constantly reminding myself that it's ok. They know that I will be there again the next time. I am one of the people that is just assumed to be present. They know I love them, so it's safe for them to put energy into other people.

I complained about it to my roommate, who was not quite so upset as me. I re-checked the Japanese, wondering if I misread it. I cursed my lack of ability to understand all the nuances of Japanese and understand what was really being said. And I felt more and more offended. For myself, and for the band.

Why should they be penalized if they have a foreigner who is their fan? What does it matter than I am a foreigner? Would it really make a difference if I was just another Japanese person "monopolizing" their time?

The illogicality of it all frustrates me.

But then you start to put together some other pieces. There was another post on Sing's blog about him only talking to the same people. Well quite possibly this has nothing to do with foreigners at all. A person feels hurt because they don't get the attention they think they deserve.

Ah, these are the screams of a hurt heart.

There is nothing wrong with a hurt heart, well other than the fact that it is hurt. Hurting hearts are everywhere in this world of sin. Sometimes they are hurt by circumstances, usually they are hurt by people. Other people with hurt hearts.

But it's what we do with the hurt that changes the nature of our hearts. My first reaction to being hurt was anger. I was mad at the unknown person for saying such hateful things. I wanted to write back, with equally ugly words, because I wanted to hurt them the way they hurt me. Fortunately I have a calm roommate, who balanced me out. (and a lack of confidence in my Japanese writing skills.)

But giving into the anger, lashing out in retaliation changes my heart. It's not longer "hurt." It has now become "ugly."

Wait. That's exactly the kind of heart that said hurtful words in the first place. Ugly words breed pain and anger. Pain and anger wound hearts. Wounded hearts which retaliate become ugly hearts. Ugly hearts give birth to ugly words.

It's like a mutant virus that infects everyone in the area.

And it dawns on me, this is another symptom of sin. This is the ugly world we live in. Sin, everywhere, trying to separate us from God and from each other. This person is carrying the virus of Sin, but has no God with which to fight it. And so the hurting, wounded heart has become ugly.

And I see how quickly my heart also became ugly.

I'm so thankful for forgiveness and love that will wash my heart clean. I hate my ugly heart. I hate the words of anger that I wanted to say. I hate knowing that ugly feelings are still being felt in people I love.

Suddenly it's not about what words that were said. It's no longer important that the word "foreigner" was said. My heart is no longer angry.

It's sad.

So sad.

Sad because there are hearts that don't know how to do anything besides lash out at others. Sad because people I care about were lashed out at. Sad because of the way this society deals with confrontation. Sad because I don't know what to do to help.

We all have ugly hearts. We all hurt others. We are all hurting. This is what it means to live apart from God. This is the consequences of sin.

But God came among us, so that we might have clean hearts.

This week was my first week of English school. At my new school we have chapel times. I've never led chapel before, and I wasn't able to see how they led chapel there in the past. So I just kinda made up my own style of chapel.

I brought my guitar, and picked a song that I can play reasonably well. And I added in one song that I wrote as a prayer for myself. These would be this month's Chapel songs.

The song I wrote is called Teach Me. It's very simple and repetitive. The words are:

Teach me Your Love
Teach me to sing
Teach me to love
Teach me.

The last word in the second line can be changed, to pray, the second time you sing it. I've also experimented with changing that word according to my moods. But the point of the song is in the first and third lines.

First I want God to teach me about His love. I need to know Love. I need to understand and experience love. So I pray that God will teach me more and more about His love. Then I need to learn how to love. I'm terrible at loving others. So after having received God's Love, I need to learn how to share it with others.

This is my prayer.

The second song we are singing is "Create in Me." I chose it for it's playability and because Confession of Sins is the first thing we do in Lutheran worship. I wanted Students to understand that any sins can be forgiven, and God will give us clean hearts. We are also reading Psalm 51 that David wrote after he committed adultery and murder.

I think the chapel times are mostly for my benefit. Because these are the messages I needed to hear this weekend.

All hearts are ugly. Only God can cleanse our hearts. I need God's love. I need to learn how to love other people with ugly hearts, the way God loves me with my ugly heart.

Father, Teach me.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Because it's Japan... ?

I've noticed a trend in my conversations with my roommate lately. We'll be trying to do something, usually something that would be effortless in America, and in the process we'll come across some strange way of doing things, or some logic that we just can't wrap our minds around, and one of us will shrug and say... "Oh well, it's Japan." We nod our heads in agreement and keep going on, because that statement explains away all the confusion.


Not really.

This is my 6 and 1/2 year in Japan. I lived in one place for 6 years. The first time moving in Japan was 6 months after my arrival. My Japanese wasn't so great and I had very little clue what was going on. It's kinda like trying to drive in a thick fog, or maybe a bad dust storm. You aren't really sure where you are, or what you are supposed to be doing, but somehow you manage to get to where you are going and things work out for the most part. But it takes WAY more effort to get anything done than the same activity in your own culture. I spent some time exploring, on foot, my first 6 months or so in my new place. Found many 100 yen stores (think Dollar Store, but WAY WAY better. I mean, quality goods, all for 100 yen! I love 100 yen stores.) But exploring when you don't know what anything is, isn't so terribly enlightening.

6 years later, I speak a lot more Japanese, read more Japanese (although my reading skills aren't so great.) and I live in a slightly less dense fog than before. Kinda like a mist really. Sometimes you forget it's there, you become so used to the cloud of confusion and not quite understanding that envelops you... Until you do something silly like move. ;-) Then suddenly you are quite aware of the cloud and barriers again.

But this time around moving was more interesting. One, this time we had to arrange for everything ourselves. (Before everything was arranged by the program, and I just did what I was told when I was told to do it. Simple, easy to follow.) And this time, we didn't have a pre-furnished place. We did however have permission to take whatever we wanted from our house and several other apartments where people were moving out.

But there are still things you need to buy when moving. So we discovered the joys of home interior stores.

Now, let me tell you about shopping in Japan. It's difficult. It's amazingly hard to find something you are looking for. First you have to try to guess what kind of store would sell the item. Then you have to hope it's affordable. (and usually after you have solved the problem in a less than ideal manner, you find the easy option later.) There are very few stores like Wal-mart that sell everything you need all in one convient place. You have to go searching and searching and searching. If I want to do a craft project, I have to try to figure out what kind of store is going to have the materials I want/need. If I want a lampshade (current item being searched for) I either have to pay insanely high prices for a piece of plastic, or I have to settle for a design I don't like. (I've been on the lampshade hunt for almost a week now. I'm probably going to have to settle for cheap(er) but plain and then try to decorate myself... Maybe.) Then you have to figure out where the shop is. It can become very complicated.

My new roommate came to visit last weekend. So we wanted to go shopping with her. The only home interior store we knew was a 15 min bike ride from the old house. But from the new house it was quite a long walk. (an hour to an hour and a half?) We walked there because we didn't know what buses went there or how to find that out. We finally got there and spent lots of money. Thankfully they have shipping options, so we only carried a few things home. Going home we decided on a taxi. We thought it was close enough, so it shouldn't be too expensive split three ways. Wrong. Should have tried a bus. But we learned about some interesting places because of that.

While we were walking we saw a big yellow sign that said "Big Foot." I mentioned that a friend of ours should try shopping for shoes there, since he has large feet. Roommate replies back, "Are you sure it sells shoes?" I look at her oddly and say, "Well, with a sign like that, one would hope." She gives me a doubtful look and says, "Yes, but this is Japan, and that is English." Oh yeah. She has a point. But one still hopes the world might make sense.

We continue walking and find the shop, and get a better view of the sign:

Oh yeah... This is Japan... And that is English...

10 points for Roommate.

Why didn't I see that coming???

So during the moving process we have come across many "because it's Japan" moments. Probably mostly during the shopping process.

Oh yeah, the next day, on our way to church, we found two of the same store much more accessible by train. :-/ We also found out that Ikea was much closer than I thought. :-/ And I discovered that other people's definition of cheap and my definition of cheap are often different. We also have yet to find any good second-hand shops near our new apartment. The search continues. We did find a good deal on a fridge and a sofa, a kitchen shelf and a desk for my room at one of the second hand stores near our old house.

Shopping in Japan is often trial and error. At least until I learn to read more Kanji... :-/ (I hate kanji!)

But the weekend was very nice. Had a good time with our new roommate. She'll move in in May, which gives us enough time to unpack our rooms enough so we can stop sleeping in her room! Here is a picture of all three of our futon's in her room...

We had lot's of fun with her here. We discovered there is much more laughter when the three of us try to do things together. (although that isn't to say there are not frustrating moments.) We also discovered that three white girls get a lot more stares than just two white girls.

This is the first time for me to live in a residential area in Japan. It's going to be interesting to figure out what's different. Before I lived on a big main street with a hospital on one side and the church on the other. Not so many neighbors. Easy to be anonymous. I liked it. :-D

This time the streets are quiet. No loud cars, or ambulances. No street lights shining through my widow late at night. It's very peaceful.

Until you hear the political campaign cars blaring their ways through the neighborhood. There's another "because it's Japan" example. Here apparently politicians don't attack your TV viewing time with their adds, they bring the barrage directly to your home. (I'm not sure about the TV thing actually, since we don't have one...) But I guess it's normal in Japan for the politicians to have their volunteers drive around in cars with huge loudspeakers shouting at all the people to get their name out. (painfully loud at times.) Before I lived on a huge road, so I guess the cars didn't spend so much time there. Now I get to listen to lot's of annoying politicians. They camp out at train stations too, giving speeches. Well, there has GOT to be a better, less annoying way to do things. But... It's Japan. What can you do. But I know one thing, I'm not voting for anyone who uses one of those trucks, when voting day comes around! (ahem, being unable to vote and everything...) I hate American politics. Japanese politics are even more difficult to understand and make much less sense. :-/

Also my roommate is having problems with the company. The new contract they are having her sign is just causing more problems. I think they are trying to become a better company, but they are not doing such a good job about it. Makes me very thankful that I have quit. But she's stuck with them for now, and has another year of frustrating dealings with them. (Prayers for her appreciated. The company keeps trying to give her less money, telling her it's "better.") It's hard when you don't understand all the rules to be able to stand up for yourself. Sometimes something you think should be completely wrong turns out to be fine, so you doubt yourself. (We were made to change our bank last year by the company, and now they are making her change it again. Apparently, this is not strange in Japan.) So we are having fun being frustrated right now.

So what's the point? If there are so many frustrations, why don't I just pick up and leave? Why doesn't my roommate call it quits and go back to America where she knows what is going on and what her rights are and where lampshades can be found at reasonable prices with a variety of affordable options? (Oh wait, she doesn't need the lampshade...)


that's easy...

Because it's Japan! :-D

Fogs of confusion and only partial understandings can be grown accustomed to. Shopping can be accomplished eventually with trial and error. Politics can be ignored. Lampshades can eventually be found. Companies can be tolerated. Kanji can be learned. (probably)

Frustration is a part of life wherever you are. There are bumps and problems anywhere you live. We just get more entertaining bumps than before. :-D

And we are content even in the midst of our frustrations.

Because it's Japan.

And we laugh at ourselves a lot for our mistakes in the process. :-D

Friday, April 01, 2011

And thus a chapter has ended.

I write my first blog post from my new apartment tonight. Tonight we have officially moved in. We have spent the first week of Spring Break packing, moving, and meeting people. Wednesday was the Farewell ceremony for the teachers who were leaving the school, so I went back to school for the last time. I got my flowers, and gave a little speech. The second year English teacher and I had worked well together, and we both cried just a little saying good-bye.

Thursday we packed and cleaned (I packed my enormous amount of stuff and my poor roommate cleaned and packed the kitchen.) and in the evening we went to my friends house to celebrate her daughter's one year birthday. It was fun, and we spent the night. This morning we made 4 car trips with all the stuff. The same church member helped us today, and treated us to lunch again. She even bought us microwave rice! And then on the last load, she managed to convince the neighborhood boys playing outside to help carry the last of our stuff to our house!

Today we finally started seeing neighbors and signs of life in our apartment complex. I met a lady with 4 toy poodles who was very friendly.

So here we are. My roommate is out tonight meeting one of the teachers she got along well with at her old school. I have taken a shower and a bath (Japanese bath's are the best! It's so wonderful. Our old house had a western style bathtub which I hate.) and eaten my first meal here. Tomorrow morning we meet up with our other roommate who is coming up for a weekend visit. She will get to see the apartment for the first time. Then we go to the old house to get the washing machine moved and (hopefully) the little stuff that still there waiting to be brought over.

It's all somewhat unreal. It's hard to believe I will be living here from now on. A week from today I will start teaching at my new job.

Good-byes have been said. Utilities have been canceled and started. A vast amount of stuff has been moved (why do I need so much stuff???) A chapter has ended.

Time to start looking forward to the new chapter.