Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Answers to earnest prayers and pondering the meaning of Hope

So last week I had a breakthrough. Well, more like a sudden fall into a clear space. (see previous post if you are confused.) Either way, it was a good thing. And suddenly I found myself able to pray, REALLY pray for the first time in what seems like ages.

Earnest prayers. I had forgotten what it felt like to pray with passion and conviction from my heart.

Such a blessing.

I prayed the prayer from the last post everyday last week, sometimes more than once a day.

And this week, God answered with some pavement. I prayed for Him to clear the way so that I could meet those I cared about again, and so He did.

I got an e-mail yesterday letting me know that this Saturday the band would come back.

God is awesome.

So just that much information has changed my whole outlook on my week. Before Saturday was a day to remember things that no longer were, a day to wait, and another week gone by. Now Saturday brings joy to my heart, and gives me something to look forward to. Suddenly my week doesn't seem as drab, as routine as before.

So much difference that one piece of information makes.

And it got me thinking. About faith, hope, peace, etc.

What does it all mean?

When I started praying again, I felt a wonderful peace that I hadn't felt for a while. I finally was able to pour out my heart to God, not in fear, but in love. And that brought peace to my heart. But what it didn't bring was hope.
I was able to think about all the possibilities, accept that God may not open the doors for me to see them again, think about what life would be like if that was the outcome... and though I didn't have joy or hope, I had peace. I had God. And He was listening to me. The God Who Hears.
Then my prayer was answered, at least in part.

Suddenly there is joy. Contentment and a feeling of being close to God because He has heard my prayers. And suddenly I'm looking forward eagerly. This is not just another week. There is something at the end of this week! Waiting for me on Saturday. I can already feel the difference in myself, the joy I have while going though this week.

This drastic change made me wonder about things a bit.

Was I not being completely faithful the week before, when I doubted that God would answer my prayers the way I wanted? Or was I just waiting? It's hard to tell.

But I didn't have Hope at that time? But what is Hope? My joy came after I was promised something. When I knew what to look forward to, I had sudden and tangible joy. Is the act of looking forward then Hope? Or is Hope something different?

I know several people who struggle with the meaning of Hope. What are we Hoping for? How does that change our lives? What is True Hope that does not disappoint?

I'm sure my idea of Hope will continue to change and grow as I gain more experience but for now...

I Hope to have the Fullness of Life, both now and in the True Life to come.

And I Hope to find Heaven with no holes, no missing faces, no pieces of my heart absent.

And if I really and truly have Faith in that Hope, this means I should be Loving more people, and giving more pieces of my heart away, so that my Joy in Heaven can be even greater.

Father, strengthen my heart, so I may be blameless and Holy before you on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Father consider me worthy of the Calling You have given me, and do not allow me to be lacking in any spiritual gift, wisdom, knowledge and most especially love. Increase my love to overflowing proportions. Provide what is lacking in my faith, so that I may produce fruit in the work you have given to me. And open my heart to understand how deep and how wide, how long and how high Your Love is. Thank You Father for all You are and all You have given. Your Glory is so great, and yet You would share it with one such as me. Thank You. I can never love You enough. You are my Only Hope. Amen.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Left hangning or just hanging around?

I visited a group of friends this summer in Fukushima. Friends is actually too shallow a word. These are people who are more that co-workers, more than fellow soldiers, more than sisters. We have prayed, worshiped, laughed, cried, ranted, fought, made up, bared our hurts and our fears, and shared our hopes together for many years now. We are connected by the bond of shared experiences and living together in a sometimes hostile spiritual environment. We support, strengthen, wound and pray for each other. I have no appropriate word for what these women mean to me.

While we were sharing with each other, I was explaining what my spiritual life felt like right now.

The image I had was me, connected to a life line - a good strong life line, securely attached to the line - but nothing else. And here I am hanging in this dense fog. I don't know what's around me. I don't know if there is a wall or a building near by. I have no idea how far off the ground I am. I just know that I can feel myself being blown around by the winds of circumstance, by fear, misinformation, whatever. Sometimes I'm just spinning uncontrollably. And I know I'm connected to the life line. But everything else just seems so out of control.

Fast forward.

Tonight was community night in our house. My roommate has been teaching us about the Apostolic prayers. Tonight we read 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13.

9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Suddenly, reading this the fog cleared for a moment, and I realized I've been hovering above the solid rock for who knows how long. It's not the life line I need to cling to... It's the Rock.

Ok, I know you might be confused at this point. Why is this prayer so profound, sweeping away my fog and confusion? Well, without the context of my fog it's difficult to understand.

If you've been reading long enough, you know that there is this band. Not just any band, a band I love. It's a street band that I met 6 years ago. And I firmly believe that one of my callings/responsibilities is for this band and the people who gather around it.

For half a year now the band has been taking a break from it's weekly performances. There has been a drop in the number of fans recently, and so they thought they would spend some time trying to improve their music. At first they were thinking about one month off and then come back. But that has gradually lengthened to a full 6 months.

There are many dynamics involved between the three members, but this weekend I started getting the feeling that maybe they wouldn't be coming back.

And I panicked. Begin crazy swinging/spinning on my life line.

In my fear, I thought of how much time and prayer and love I have put into these people. I thought of how much I want them in my life, how much I want to see them. And I came to the conclusion that I must not be enough. I'm not enough to keep them here. I'm not enough to call them back. I'm not enough to teach them about God.

That's all. There's nothing more I can do. Maybe all this time was really wasted. Maybe I didn't love the right way. I didn't use my time well enough. I didn't pray enough. I allowed myself to become too distracted and focused too much on myself. And I lost them.

I cried out to God, "teach me how to pray. What can I do for these people I love? You love them right? I know you must! What is Your will for them? What will become of this treasure that I love so much?"

And so in the midst of all this spinning and swinging and praying and crying... God answered.

9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

Oh yeah. That's right. These are the people who gave me joy in the presence of God. Have I been thankful for them lately? Nope, too afraid of loosing them to be thankful. Just stop a moment, Amber, and Remember. Remember the joy. Remember the presence of God. And be Thankful, not fearful.

Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

Hey, I've been praying all kinds of things, questions, second guessing God, blaming myself, feeling miserable. I totally forgot to pray for the chance to see them again. And more than that, a chance to supply what is lacking in their faith. Maybe I haven't done a great job to this point, but there is still so much to give them. This is a good prayer....

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you.

Yes, rather than relying on my own scheming, my Father should be the one to clear the way for me to come to them. I suddenly feel a little less motion sick. Hey, my spinning is starting to slow down!

12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.

I remember how I fell in love with their love for each other. When was the last time I marveled in their love? Have I EVER prayed for their love to increase, overflow? How wonderful that would be! Hey look! That looks suspiciously like the ground below me!

May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Of course. This is it. This is my true purpose, right? I want them to be blameless and holy before God. I want to share my eternity with these people. When was the last time I prayed for their hearts? When was the last time I desired their salvation?


I think I just landed hard on the Rock. I think that's gonna leave a bruise. But bruises will help me to Remember. And a bruise is nothing compared to the hole in heaven where the people I love might not be.

Ah. It's good to be on the Rock.

And now it's time for me to get on my knees... (well, I would if I didn't have a broken foot...)

I've missed my Rock. God is gracious.

I feel like maybe my heart has done just a little bit of healing tonight. And at least the motion sickness has stopped for now.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

I'd rather have a healed heart...

I've been reading some of my comments lately, and I noticed how many people were concerned about my foot. Actually, most people I meet tell me they hope I get better soon. Most people look at me and say "oh, that looks like it hurts!"

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate people's concern. I have said similar things before myself. It's an easy, genuine thing to say. And I don't doubt that people mean it.

But sometimes...

I feel like it's a symptom of how people can only see the surface. Isn't it sad? How little we know about the people who are around us. How little we can see their circumstances and understand what their lives are like. It makes me sad. It makes me feel very very lonely.

(disclaimer! I am currently under the influence of what I have started calling PMSC - per-menstrual spiritual crisis. It happens monthly I promise. Just ask my poor roommates. That being said, if I am overly negative, my PMSC is 90% to blame... If I'm inspiring on the other hand, that's all me. :-D J/K)

This weekend has been filled with highs and lows, laughter and tears (the tears weren't mine, they were a 1 year old's, but that doesn't mean I haven't felt like crying...) The extremes highlighting the hollowness of my stone heart.

And it dawned on me. I'm happy when people hope my foot get's better soon...


I'd rather have a healed heart.

My foot is external. I can function with it the way it is. It might be inconvenient, but life goes on. There are much worse disabilities out there. A whole, healthy body is wonderful, but I'd rather have a whole, healthy heart.

A heart that lives, truly lives. A heart secure in Truth. A heart that can reject lies. A heart that seeks and loves God above all the external things that try to distract it. A heart willing to love and bleed for others. A heart not wrapped in the stones of selfishness.

Is that being unthankful?

Maybe just hormonal?

But right now, that's the cry of my heart.

I wonder if it will ever be whole on this side of heaven...

My God is the God of Miracles and Love, and the God of my heart.

So this is my hope for now. And maybe someday I'll know what real Hope looks like.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Encouragement while left hanging...

I've been waiting a lot lately. These past two days I've been waiting for this "really strong" typhoon to hit. Everyday the weather forecast is predicting non-stop rain. And the next day comes... little to no rain. I made it to work and home both Thurs and Friday with no rain. I even went out to meet a friend today and no rain.

Then again, I'm happy when my fears don't come to pass. (in case you don't know... I hate rain!)

But it's strange to brace yourself for something, and then just be left hanging...

But in the midst of all this hanging around I've been doing, God has been encouraging and helping me.

For one, I now get the "crutches" effect. People offer to carry things for me, I always get seats on the train now, and random old ladies like to smile at me. I'm getting rather spoiled.

Actually, it's a little embarrassing. I'm used to doing things for myself and trying to not cause problems for others, so it feels like I'm just being this large pain for everyone....

But at the same time it's nice to be spoiled. :-D

One of my recent spoilings was when the grandmother of one of my students decided she was going to drive me home after work on Friday. I was worried a while about the student in question, he's young, just starting school, and seemed to have some trouble expressing himself and just seemed upset a lot. His grandmother seems a little off at times, but I think it's just how she expresses herself. She likes to bring me gifts lately.

On the way home we had a long conversation. During that conversation, God gave me one of those affirmations you always want to hear. It's so easy to get caught up in the idea that your job is meaningless. I mean really, how do you change people's lives with English class? And it's easy to get discouraged. But this woman told me about how much her grandson loves my class, and instead of crying and saying he doesn't want to go, he's telling her to hurry so they won't be late. He's still awkward and has trouble expressing himself, but he has a place where he can be encouraged. And his grandmother is so thankful that he has that place.

It's really good to be told that you have impacted someone's life and that your work matters.

So encouraging.

Today I got to meet with the wife of one of the band members. It was really nice to be able to sit and talk with her and get to know her. She brought me gifts from her honeymoon trip to Turkey, and she gave me pictures of the other band members in their suits from when they went to her wedding. (I've always wanted to see them in suits! So great!) I had a lot of fun getting to know her.

But it reminded me that the band's future is still uncertain. The three members are still not all on the same page, and I'm sure this leads to a lot of frustration. They have been "on break" for 6 months now.

I'm still left hanging....

It's easy for me to get frustrated myself when I can't see an end in sight. I need landmarks, or short goals or anything to encourage myself and let myself know there has been progress. I've heard it might be a characteristic of ADD... Even when I'm walking home, the walk is so long, if I don't look ahead and find the next landmark, it's hard for me to continue. I'm always searching for that next mark...

So it's frustrating to feel like you are hanging in place.

I often have to remind myself that God works like this as well. God makes promises, and then waits lifetimes to fulfill them. Sometimes generations. Ages even. But God always keeps His promises.

So I have to calm my anxiety, enjoy the encouragement and wait eagerly for the next "landmark."

I hope I have enough oil in my lamp....

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Goodbye Summer... Hello... Typhoon???

Summer has drawn to a close.

It was a good summer.

I've stayed busy since returning from America. I went to the doctor, and he said I could use the boot we bought in America. I have to go back every 2-3 weeks to get X-rays, but other than that there isn't much in the way of treatment. Just lots and lots of waiting. He said if it doesn't heal at the end of 6 months, then we'll have to do surgery. I'm hoping for the non-surgery option.

Right after returning to Japan I went to visit some friends of mine in Fukushima. Yeah, the place with all the radiation. I have 4 friends who live in the area, so there was a gathering there this summer. It was a wonderful time of prayer, fellowship, the sharing of sufferings, learning how we have all changed and where we are now. It was a wonderful time with the exception of the fact that Fukushima is kinda countryside... And the thing that is easy to forget about the countryside until you get there is... there is a serious lack of western style toilets! Now normally I can just grin and bear it. But this time I have a broken foot. Let me tell you, broken feet and squatty potties don't mix well together. The church we were staying at of course also had no western toilet. Two days with no western toilet was... lets just say interesting. I'm thankful to have friends who aren't embarrassed to help me out trying to find a way to use a squatty potty with a broken foot. We did finally figure out a way that worked, involving a folding chair and interesting contortions. Going to the bathroom made me really tired...

Came back to my home on Saturday and then went to see the Band's Live. It was really good, and it was nice to see old faces.

I've been blessed to have so many different "homes."

Then it was a few days of rest at home before I made my first trek to work for a make-up class. The commute is much longer, but it's do-able. I might just be really tired for the next 5 months...

After that was Church Camp part 2- The Revenge. I broke my foot at the children's camp. The Adult camp was in the same place! So I got to go back for a second try. This time I managed to not break anything. Adult camp was nice with lots of music. I got to hang out with some guitar players, and that was fun. Maybe someday I can improve my guitar playing...

This past week was some resting, shopping for things like new futon and a new fan, some community time at our house, doing some fireworks in the park, and I even finally started cleaning at the disaster area that I call my room. (My door can shut now!)

And today is the first day back to work officially!

I'm hoping with having to walk to work everyday I'll be able to loose some of this weight I've packed on recently. If the temps stay low, then it might be possible. If only the humidity would go down!

But back to work is also the start of Typhoon season. It's been a rainy summer here, which does not go well with a walking boot made primarily of felt! I've had to make myself a rain cover for my boot (which already needs to be re-made...) and I can't use an umbrella, so all I have is a poncho to wear while I walk to work. Fortunately I didn't have to walk to work in the rain today, but a typhoon is coming, so I'll have to walk home in it and come to work tomorrow in it. This reminds me of the ever pressing need for good rain shoes that can be walked in...

But it's good to see September. I feel like I've been waiting in an extended Advent and it feels like September is the beginning of...... Not sure what, but something. So I'm eagerly awaiting the next phase of God's plan... Hoping there's more than typhoons waiting.