Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Learning to fall... gracefully if possible.

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but I really like to beat myself up, tear myself down, and then kick myself while I'm down for good measure.

I guess we should be thankful I'm my main victim.

But recently God has been whispering to my poor heart, who is so terribly afraid to just be... me.

In chapel at work, our new theme is "Love." I'm going through some of the most famous passages about love from the Bible. And you know what, there's a reason they are famous. They are really powerful.

1 Corinthians 13? Don't roll your eyes and think you know what it says. Read it again. REALLY read it again.

Now translate that into your daily life. Love is patient, with your family, your friends, your co-workers, that guy who cut you off, the store clerk, the person who just doesn't get it, the person who hurt you. Love is kind, to the people you see every day, the people you take for granted, to people who are jerks, to the people hiding pain behind their fake smiles. Love does not envy, when all your friends are getting married and you are just getting older, when your friend gets the exact thing you wanted, when that girl over there looks good in ANYTHING, when someone has an amazing voice and is a talented singer and that's been your dream since you were little, but you can't carry a tune in a bucket. Love isn't about me. It's not about what I did today. It's not proving I'm better or I'm right. It's not tooting my own horn or seeking my own glory. It's not about setting people up to compliment me. Love doesn't tear down others, it doesn't call people names, or point out flaws in a crowd. Love doesn't laugh when people fall down, or get hurt or embarrassed. Love doesn't demand to be loved back. It's not conditional. It's not about "getting" something. It's not about what I get. It's not about me. Love looks at the other persons circumstances and leaves a HUGE learning curve before getting angry. Love accepts that we are all flawed and gives second chances. And thirds, and 77ths. Love doesn't keep a list of all the times you hurt me, like that time in the second grade.... Love doesn't get happy with violence, or others pain. Love doesn't approve of hate. Love supports and seeks after truth and justice. Love protects those around you, your children, others children, the old, the weak, the wounded, the confused, the backwards, the lost... Love trusts, in those you love, in God's control. Even when there is no evidence, love hopes. For the future, for others to find love, for Home. Love keeps going. When you are dead tired and have nothing left to give, when you are hurt and bleeding, when it seems like nothing ever changes, when everything's going good, when times are tough.

That's a big order to fill. Not just a big order, this is a feakin mountain! This is like trying to climb Mt. Everest with no supplies or training!

This is about the point where I look at myself and say, "might as well just crawl up in a ball and stay there because there's no way you are going to get this at all. Even if you get some of it today, you're gonna screw up tomorrow for sure. This is too hard. You are never going to make it."

Oh wait, Love trusts and hopes...


This doesn't just apply to others.

I need to Trust God. I need to have hope. Hope, huh? How I've hated that word. I hate hoping for things, because I'm usually disappointed. I hoped for a mum and a date for homecoming. I hoped for boyfriends. I hoped for surprise birthday parties and ice cream cakes. I hoped for a single red rose and holding hands with someone I like on a star lit night. And I was disappointed.

Opps. Wait a second. Love is not self-seeking... I guess the hope was a bit misplaced huh? It was all about me... And I became afraid to hope, assuming I wasn't worthy of having any of the things I hoped for. I placed my value on external things.

So I should Hope. For others, for the Life God covets for us all. For star lit nights with God. For chances to Love. Real Love.

But Love does not dishonor. Hmmm... When I beat myself up, I'm beating up someone God loves dearly. Ouch. Love is patient, even with yourself. Love is kind, even when you fall down. Love does not easily anger, even when you make the same mistake over and over again. Love is not self-seeking, but it's not self-defeating either.

I've heard that in gymnastics, learning how to be a stunt man, martial arts etc, the first thing you learn how to do is fall. Because you are guaranteed to fall. No matter how talented you are, YOU WILL FALL. And there are two ways to fall. You can fall correctly, relaxing, rolling into the fall, minimizing the damage. Or you call fall wrong, tensing up, twisting and turning so that you break bones or cause more damage than necessary.

We all fall. All the time. I like working with young kids, and I've learned when a kid falls down and hits his head or whatever, most of the time if you just help them up, they just get right back up and keep going. Half the time the fall doesn't faze them at all. And if I don't react negatively to their fall, they don't realize it's bad. You let them fall. And eventually they figure out how that whole balance thing works.

I'm still a kid. I'm still learning what love looks like. And I'm still falling. But I'm hoping to learn how to fall a little more gracefully.

And stop keeping records of the falls...

I like this video because it shows how love preservers. Even if you aren't a fan of Garth Brooks, the video is good.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Faith and Community

I'm winding down at the end of a marathon weekend. Trying to make deliberate efforts to create community in our house, dragging my poor roommates along to my second event (in which I had WAY more very young children than even imagined!!!), a surprise meeting with my friend I hadn't seen in about 2 years and her new husband, searching in bookstores and not finding what we wanted, swimming through a sea of crazy Arashi (super popular idol group) fans near Tokyo Dome trying to find a place to eat, riding crowded trains to get home, surprise house guests the night before planned house guests, church, processing, lots of walking, and trying to love the people important to me.

I learned a lot this weekend.

I have been blessed with an amazing amount of people to love.

And loving people takes a lot of energy.

We survived the weekend, and I would even venture to say it was successful in most areas.

So one would think today I would be basking in the glory of my successes.

Only I didn't.

Somehow, all I could think of was all the ways I was still not measuring up. All the places I still haven't gotten to yet. All the victories I saw, were apparently not enough for me.

I had just finished telling my friend to not allow the Spirit of Discouragement beat her down.

I think it heard me and decided to remind me how hard that is.

So what does this have to do with Hebrews Chapter 11 you ask? It's a reminder to Remember.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

I was talking before about the umiboshi on people's backs, and not being able to see your own.

Faith is accepting it when your friends tell you you have one... even when you can't see it.
Faith is accepting what is not said, but rather believing the history you have with the people in your life.
Faith is accepting that God loves me, and has a plan for me, even if I don't know what it is, and even if it's not what I imagine.
Faith is choosing God's plan over mine.
Hope is looking forward to what God has planned and not what I think I want.
Faith is confidence, not insecurity.

Faith grounded in love...

I hope you read the whole chapter... But here's a section to read again:

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Faith is not always receiving the things promised in the time you assume. Faith is welcoming them even from a distance. Faith is knowing you are a foreigner and a stranger. Faith is discontent with the imperfect countries of this earth, and longing for a country of their own. Faith is not desiring to return to the imperfect countries of our past.

Faith is when God is not ashamed to be called my God...

Maybe this is so easy for me to understand. I understand being a foreigner and a stranger. I understand the longing for something better. A longing for a "country" of my own.

Usually the longing disappoints me. I want it now. But Faith is patient. Faith believes when the clock continues to tick. Faith Remembers, and Believes.

Today I was not so faithful. But in my weakness, I learned a little more about Faith, so I am thankful for the times when I fall.

I am Thankful for marathons of community.

I am Thankful for the Blessings in human form that God has put in my life.

And now I am trying to Remember to translate Thankful into Faithful.

How wonderful it would be to live a Faithful life. Even in the trials, Faith ever moves forward. Even when there is nothing to see, no evidence of a future you are hoping for, Faith fights the discouragement, and keeps believing.

How do you fight?

With Faith.

How do you build a community that can withstand storms?

With Faith and Love.

How do you learn to Love, when it's so hard.

Faith in God's character.

If God is Good, then there is nothing to fear.

Trust, even when I cannot see. Even when everything around me offers no hope.

Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

I am blessed with people who are not ashamed to be called my friend (even though there are many reasons why they could be.) And I am blessed with a God who is not ashamed to be called my God.

I cling to these, believing in Faith that they are True.

And tiny seeds of courage are planted.

Tomorrow will find Joy, because My God is waiting for me there. And He is not ashamed to be called my God.

(I did originally intend to write more about the lessons about community I've learned, but somehow this is what I came up with. They are in there, but more subtle than I thought, but I'll leave the title stand. Because this is what I learned in community.)

Now I'm off to bed with some Holy Warm Fuzzy thoughts. :-D

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Do not forget

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. (Deut. 4:9)

Israel was a very blessed people. They were chosen by God. They were saved from the depths of slavery. They were shown awesome miracles. They were allowed to make a covenant with a powerful God who loved them and pursued them. Sometimes I feel jealous of the personal attention God lavished upon them.

And then to top it all off, they forgot!

When things got tough, they forgot. When times got comfortable, they forgot. Just because time was passing, they forgot.

Seriously, how do you forget spectacular plagues, and walls of water, and walls tumbling down?

But they forgot.

As we all do.

The above passage was directed to Israel to remind them of their relationship with God. Their duty; their loyalty. Remember all God has done for you, and remember to LOVE Him.

God knows how weak we are. This is why He so often reminds us.

It's so easy to forget.

It's easy for me to forget all the wonderful things that have been done for me, or said to me by my close friends. The longer I know them, the more I forget. The more I take for granted, and the less I treat them with deliberate love and respect. "The closer things are, the harder they are to see..."

It's easy for me to listen to negative things, to see the discouraging parts of life, Forgetting all I have have done and come through.

It's easy to look ahead, and see the long, rough road, and give up hope.

So very very easy.

So God reminds us. Do not forget. Write on your hearts the things you have seen and heard. Keep them alive there. Re-live them over and over. They will strengthen and sustain you.

This applies of course to our relationship with God. The first commandment is to Love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.

But the second is Love others as yourself.

This applies to our relationships with others as well. When you forget why you are friends, or why you love someone, it is easy to hurt them, take them for granted.


And with Remembering returns Love.

And did you notice? I just did now. God said love others as you love yourself. We aren't supposed to hate ourselves either. God loves us. We can love ourselves too. We can remember the times we were loved and the times we loved. We can love who we are, because God loves who we are.

Today I am remembering old relationships. Why I love these people. All they have done for me. I want to appreciate them for their love for me and others. And I want to restore the places were we have been broken.

I'm not so good at this love thing. But I do know one thing:

One important thing I need to do is: Don't forget.

Who God is.

Who I am.

And who they are.

We are....


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Seeing the umiboshi on your own back...

(Another Fruits Basket reference post - see previous post, Overcoming the Curse of Human nature if you are confused)

This Father's Day I had a wonderful gift from my Father. Even though I had woken up with a sore throat and almost no voice, I went to church. I got to play with my one year old friend, listen to a church concert (when I wasn't chasing said one year old friend around outside) and watch "Sensei" at his best as he performed at the concert.

Then it was home for a wardrobe change to get ready for the Band's concert. Now I hadn't seen the band for over three months. This is a big deal. Much bigger than normal. Much thought had to be put into what I was going to wear. (In the end, I ended up casual in just a T-shirt and jeans. Took about 45 mins and lots of help from a roommate to get to that point.) I was complimented however, but that's probably just because my new haircut is rather cute.

I had tried to mentally prepare myself for the band, after not seeing them for so long, it's easy to get really high expectations and then be disappointed. But I wasn't disappointed at all. It was another day where I was reminded how much I love them and am loved by them (this includes the fan culture as well.) Seeing people after what felt like such a long time was wonderful. And they played my favorite song. And I was even given a present (the coveted staff pass worn by band members and staff members) by one of the band members. I didn't even ask for it! :-D

It was a good day of affirmation for me. My Father blesses me greatly.

But it kinda makes you wonder, what do you give God for Father's day?

Unfortunately due to my lack of voice I wasn't able to call my own father on Father's day. I will however get to see him in person soon. I'm in the process of getting my tickets for a long overdue trip to America to visit my family. (It's been 3 years I'm guessing) I'm really looking forward to that.

So in spite of all this affirmation, why do I still need to battle feelings of not being good enough?

I like how the issue was addressed in the aforementioned Fruits Basket.

The main character Tohru was teased as a child. When all the other children played the game Fruit Basket they would tell her she was an onigiri "rice ball." This of course means she can't play the game, since onigiri would not be a fruit. So she would wait to be called so she could play, but was never included in the game. In the series she is often represented as a rice ball.

In Japan one of the most common rice ball types is umiboshi (pickled plum). I'm not a fan, but it is quite popular. You just make a ball (or triangle) of white rice, with the red pickled plum in the center. It's a nice simple design.

So Tohru was distressed because the other two main characters seemed to be jealous of each other, each seeing the others good points, and his own bad points. So they were constantly fighting. One day, it dawned on her that they were unable to see their own good points, so all they had was jealousy. And so she thought about how rice balls have the umiboshi in them. But if the rice ball (aka person) looks at himself, and only see's white rice, he will think he is nothing but rice. Not special at all. And everywhere he looks around him, he can see other rice balls with wonderful umiboshi's on them. And so he believes himself to be inferior. But she wonders, what if the umiboshi is on the back? Then then rice ball is unable to see his own wonderful umiboshi. (Umiboshi represents the person's good points) Each person has a different shape, size, flavor, color, but they all have one. But you can't see your own because it's on your back.

I really like how she came to that conclusion. It's easy for me to fall prey to low self-esteem. It's easy to believe that I am nothing but white rice. Somewhat useful, but not terribly appealing. (They do sell only white rice onigiri, they are the cheapest you can buy.) And it's even easier to believe, because it feels like I'm still sitting on the shelf, waiting to be bought.

I struggle with being single. I know I'm not the only one. And I know that my self-worth should not be based on if I am in a relationship or not. But knowing in my head, and knowing in my heart are as far away as the east is from the west. My heart can't hear what my head is saying. It doesn't believe.

When I see my friends getting married, getting engaged, having children, I'm happy for them. I really am. But there's always that small voice inside... crying because I'm still on the shelf. They have entered a world that I don't know about. I can no longer relate to their struggles or their joys. When I hear or see the wonderful men in my wonderful friend's lives say something terribly sweet, like "I'm a better man because of her." I smile, because it's wonderful to hear such loving words and have hope, and I cry, because I look down and see only plain rice, and can't imagine being enough to change a man so he would say the same of me. I see my friend's umiboshi, but not my own.

And I feel shame for making everything about me again.

But God never leaves me or forsakes me. Fortunately He reminds me that I have value, even when I am single. He provides people for me to love, and a place for me to love and be loved. There are children to throw up in the air, there are people who smile with joy when they see me after a long absence. There are people who can see my umiboshi. And even if I can't see it myself, I can believe that it is there. And maybe one day there will be someone who can tell me what it looks like.

So I treasure up the affirmations in my heart, using them as a shield against the fears that want me to believe I am not enough. My Father blesses me. Therefore I am greatly blessed.

Remembering helps conquer the fears. My Father helps comfort my soul.

And my friends help me remember that we often act like two year olds watching God hand out candy, waiting for our piece, not really understanding what patience really is.

So maybe I can be patient just a little longer. Until my poor two year-old like brain short circuits again and God has to patiently remind me to Trust Him.

"My grace is sufficient for you. And you know this because I love you."

One more treasure for my heart. One more sparkle for the umiboshi hidden on my back.

God is good even when I cannot see.

So today I smile in faith, choosing to believe and not doubt.

(Tomorrow is always a different story. Two year old brain and all that...) ;-)

But today is... Good.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sometimes you just feel like a first grader...

Teaching English conversation gives me a great perspective of different stages of learning development. I teach from 2 years old, up to 80 something.

And you have to treat each age a little differently.

6th graders who cry in class are crying for different reasons than 1st graders crying in class. So you have to adapt and roll with them.

Some ages are easier than others.

But sometimes, you recognize fragments of yourself in your students.

It's like looking in a mirror. Sometimes it's how you used to be. Sometimes it's how you are.

Today, I feel like a first grader.

You know, when you keep trying to do things, but your coordination just isn't up to it. You are trying to play with the big kids, but you can't keep up. The toys fall. The pencil just doesn't want to work the way you want it to. All the little things add up, and then finally you just sit down and cry in frustration.

Yeah, this is one of those times. Not really profound or anything, just frustrated.

I think I need a nap.

This first grader is getting grumpy.

(sorry if you were expecting something deep and enlightening. Sometimes first graders say profound things, but not this first grader, not today.)

Maybe tomorrow I'll be able to play with the big kids...

Thursday, June 09, 2011

longing for familiar faces...

There's a line in a song that I've heard recently (in Japanese) that goes something like this: "The closer you are to something, the harder it is to see."

I've been thinking some about the truth in that statement, how when we get too close to people it's easy to take them for granted. When we live in a certain situation or way, it's easy to forget how lucky and fortunate we are. I live in a country full of people literally so close to each other (very densely populated here, try riding a rush hour train sometime.) yet so unable to see what their lives really are, or what they really have.

"The closer you are to something, the harder it is to see."

But recently, I've been noticing that when we are far away, it is also difficult to see.

Maybe the problem is we are just not remembering to look.

A forgetful people we are.

Last Sunday I went to the church I worked at previously for the first time in about a month. It felt like I had been gone forever. But just seeing the familiar faces brought me such peace.

Last week and this week I was visited by old friends and shared breakfast with them. How good it was to see their faces. You sometimes don't even realize how much you miss seeing them until they are in front of you.

It makes me sad not being able to see my roommate for most of the week because our schedules are so different. It makes me sad that I haven't see the band or my friends from there for three months...

I never realized the power familiar faces had.

Tonight as I was commuting home, I was walking through one of the stations I transfer through. As I was looking at the faces walking all around me, my eyes would play tricks on me, and I would think, "Hey, that's~ no wait, he doesn't live around here. He's no longer my student. And he looks like~. Yet again, there's no way Jr. High school students would be this far from home..." I kept seeing familiar faces in strangers.

And I missed those faces, longing to see them again. Longing to know how their lives are going. Longing to share parts of their lives with them.

And it made me think of how many people I'm separated from.

I'm very fortunate to have the opportunity to return home to America for a while this summer. I'm really looking forward to it. It's been 3 or 4 years, and there are so many faces I'm longing to see. Family, friends, church members. There are so many faces I still won't be able to see due to distance and cost... But I'm anticipating how much joy there will be just seeing familiar faces for the first time in years.

And while this is mostly the ramblings of a slightly sleep deprived blogger, there is one small connection I'd like to make.

Why do I long so much for familiar faces? Is it because we are made for fellowship? Is it just because it's familiar?

I think it's deeper than that.

Because these familiar faces have all shown me a different side of God. We are all made in His Image, we all bear the imprints of His own likeness. So every familiar face carries some part of a reflection of my God, who is the ultimate longing of my heart. I have learned so much about God from the people He has blessed me with.

And isn't it nice to know that my life is so much more blessed with more familiar faces than I can recall?

And there will be more familiar faces in the future!

I'm looking forward to the days when I can see you again, and remember your personal, unique likeness of my God.

This is a "Life is awesome moment."


Monday, June 06, 2011

Drugs or Jesus

After a long day "off" (spent calling three numbers and talking to a variety of people in Japanese and English to get our wireless finally set up, and doing my laundry which had reached the status of a small mountain thanks to rainy days...) I spent some time tonight re-visiting some of the songs I grew up with, the country songs that speak to what's simple in life. Not all of them do I agree with, but they all present an aspect of humanity that I identify with as "home."

Tonight a feeling of melancholy has come to remind me how far I am from Home. Not just the home I grew up with, the country values, the working men and the boots... But also the Home yet to come, the one waiting for me...

Anyway, I stumbled across this song, and it sums up what I'm feeling tonight. This was the first time I saw it, but it's really true.

Finding Worship in the shallow end

Today (technically yesterday, but I think it doesn't count as yesterday until I go to sleep.) was Sunday. Sunday means church.

I was able to go to my old, comfortable church for the first time in about a month. It was refreshing to have the familiar liturgy and see people I hadn't seen in a while. I saw some of my old students, and played with children. I prefer that to "adult" conversations most days anyway. Service was spent sitting next to my friend with the most adorable one year old little girl. I get to help "entertain" her when I can go. But mostly I just watched her, finding little bits of God in the wonder of a child.

Afterward we went to a park for a semi-pick nick lunch. Comfortable conversations, helping the baby slide, watching my roommate run and play with the baby... A wonderful peaceful afternoon. Resting and giving rest in the fellowship of the Body of Christ.

Coming home I read a blog from another friend of mine, where she had a link to a song she was doing in class. It was a country song I had never heard before, but it awoke a longing in my soul for things of the past, of when I was young and grew up on country music. I spent some time surfing YouTube for old (being a relative term) country songs from my childhood. And a strange peace, and yet an unspeakable longing engulfed me. Country songs that speak of love, and longing. Pieces of my past that reflect the future I dream of. The chords remind me that I'm still a country girl at heart. And the peace whispers that what I'm really missing is the intimacy we had with God in Eden. And my heart worships in a way I couldn't do in a church.

Is it weird to worship while listening to country music? Or while watching a child play with rocks?

Not so far into my journey into the past, I check my cell phone and realize that my friend has e-mailed me. She wants to know if I'm free. There's a place she want's to go in Tokyo and doesn't want to go alone. I think of how I should be more responsible with my money, I should rest and I reply back, "sure, I'll go with you." After all, she is more important than money.

We ride the trains in comfortable chatter. I'm happy to know my Japanese is good enough now to talk like this. We dream of her being able to come and visit America with me this summer. Or being able to visit another friend in Osaka in the Fall. Just being together. It's fun. I go with her so she can buy stuff for the latest Korean pop idol. I think she's slightly crazy, but I'm crazy about different things, so we all have our "idols."

We wander around Shibuya after she makes her purchases. We run across a small cafe called "amber." So what else is there to do other than try it out. It was a cute little place, unfortunately smelling of cigarette smoke, but the food was good. (I had a quite tasty avocado gratin made with a soy based cream sauce with plenty of garlic) Easy conversation in a novel place. I got to keep a coaster, and the employees got a kick out of the fact that I had the same name as the restaurant. Maybe I'll go back on my birthday and get a dessert set.

More wandering and we find some game centers to play around in. We manage to find a nice employee who "arranged" some prizes for us so we could win them easily. I got a nice stuffed animal. A really cute otter.

Coming home in the rain, the peace stays with me. I shouldn't feel rested, but yet I do. I feel content in a day of unusual worship and blessings and fellowship.

And now I'm listening to some more country music and longing for heaven.

Maybe not your idea of worship and rest, but I feel closer to God today than I have in a while.

A good Sunday. Finding Worship even in the shallow end. :-D