Sunday, January 29, 2012


"Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak." - 1 Cor 8:9

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away, one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
John 8:2-11

When I was a child, I learned the lesson "We do not throw rocks." This is an important lesson when one has a little brother (who you often fight with) and when every inch of West Texas is covered in potential ammunition. Rocks are dangerous. Never throw rocks, especially at other people.

Yet for some reason, I really liked rocks. I liked to search for pretty rocks and sometimes I would keep them. Sometimes I liked rocks for their shape or color, but sometimes I liked the rocks for their weight. A nice smooth rock, with a nice weight to it: just perfect for throwing. I liked to hold rocks like that, just feeling the weight in my palm, bouncing it a few times, testing it. Such a satisfying feeling, carrying that rock. A feeling of power and confidence. Imagining that rock flying, the feeling as it leaves my hand, and the ever so satisfying "thud" as it lands. Indeed, some rocks seem made for throwing.

But throwing rocks wasn't allowed, so I often just carried them around, feeling the weight and thinking about throwing.

Even now, as an adult, I still like rocks. I like the texture and shape of rocks and things built with rocks. When I take pictures, they are usually of flowers or rocks. Great joy is found when I can take pictures of both!

Unfortunately, I noticed something else this week. I like stones as well. Not stones as in the physical, synonym to rocks kind, but as in the "let he who has no sin..." kind. (see above Bible passage) The judgments, condemnations, jealousy against others, the desire to somehow punish the other person for living in a way I don't approve of. Petty, judgmental stones of condemnation.

Oh yes, I like these. I have quite the collection. I gather them up and look at them with pride, self-righteousness and the knowledge that I am "right" in my views. But somehow I've intuitively remembered that long ago rule "we do not throw rocks." given to me as a child. So I rarely throw these stones at the person in question. Sometimes I throw them in a tirade of self-righteous opinionating, but they are pretty heavy and don't go too far. So after I've had my bout of complaining and feel satisfied with the many "thuds" of my stones, I bend down and gather them all up again. After all, they are too nice to waste. I might want to use them again.

So I walk around in daily life with my heart full of stones I don't want to put down. And I wonder why I feel so heavy inside. Why is love so elusive?




This week, while I was examining some of my precious stones I was struck with a gentle rebuke from a trusted friend (who also happens to be my roommate, which gives her better opportunities for such things as encouraging and rebuking.) The stone in my hand suddenly falls to the ground with a resounding "thud." But this time it is not the thud of satisfaction, it is instead a thud of shock and shame.

Reality comes pouring in. The Voices of Reproach stumble over each other in their eagerness to make their accusations heard.

"What have I been doing all this time? Why in the world have I been carrying around such STUPID things?!? Who do I think I am, judging people as if I were better than them?!?! How arrogant can you get?"

(yes, the Voices of Reproach tend to lean on the dramatic side... They can also be called Drama Queens.)

Suddenly I can understand the people in John 8 a little better now. I wonder how many of those men walked away in anger, frustrated because they weren't able to throw their beloved stone? How many took their stones home and buried them in their hearts? How many heard Jesus' words, really heard them, and put down their stones right then and there, leaving them behind and embracing repentance?

The hearts of those men are only known to God, but the stone free heart of Jesus has been made open to us.

If only we would notice.

I'm thankful for a roommate who can challenge me with questions like "Why is it your responsibility to judge or punish that person for their lifestyle choices? What right do you have to do that?" I'm thankful for accountability in a world where conservative Christianity is associated with hate, judgment and unforgiveness. I'm thankful for a Jesus who says "then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin."

And I'm thankful to be burdened with one less stone in my heart today.

In the Old Testament, back in the days of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, altars were made with natural, uncut stones. You gathered up a bunch of big ones, then made a big pile that was flat on top. Then you offered your sacrifice upon it.

I think I'd like to make an altar of the accumulated stones in my heart, and then use it to sacrifice my pride and self-righteousness that I have been holding so dear.

Maybe that would help me not pick them back up again.

Here's to a future of putting down stones and building altars instead of carrying them around.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Prayers for us porcupines

I just finished a long overdue conversation with a dear friend. She is the only person who I have really known and connected with my entire time in Japan. We started out on AIM chat before I came to Japan, and we have seen many different aspects of our relationship. She has seen and shared almost all my struggles in Japan. It's easy to take people for granted and forget how important they should be to you. And I'm thankful that tonight I remembered that she is one of my "important people."

In the course of our conversation, I was struck again at our condition. I have a group of very dear friends here in Japan. We are all battle scarred by our time here. We have struggled and fought and gotten lost together. We get confused, and go off track together. And we laugh and cry and fall down together. And many times we do the same things apart. Half the time we aren't sure if we even like each other. But we always, always come back to each other. We are spiritual sisters, tied with bonds of love and grace and faith and pain that probably couldn't be cut even if we tried.

We love God, we love Japan, and we love each other. We often don't know how to express our love, and sometimes we allow it to get warped, but we do love.

It's good to remember sometimes.

But in all of this, we all struggle with our human condition. We each have our own personal struggles, the pitfalls unique to each of us. We are each attacked at the very core of who we are with deadly precision by our common Enemy, who wants nothing more than to tear us down, demean us and render us in-effective. We each have our Arrows, designed to wound us so we are unable to Live.

As we are struggling with our own Arrows, it's easy to forget that the ones we love also have Arrows of their own. I know I forget all the time. I assume I'm the only one who doesn't have my act together, I'm the only one who falls down like this and I'm the only one with this pain inside that I can't get rid of. And so I get frustrated when my community isn't there to help me, or doesn't have the answers or can't support me. It's easy for me to think "forget it." and cut off my lines of communication. Or question whether I'm actually part of the "group" or not. I devalue myself, and my sisters. And the Enemy smiles in triumph.

But tonight I have been graced with a small window of clarity. A vision of our reality.

I see a battlefield, and my and my sisters are on it. It's the aftermath of a battle. We have survived, but not without wounds. In fact, we all look like porcupines, we have Arrows sticking out of us in many directions. A couple of us are walking, holding on to someone who can support us just a little. A couple of us are down on our knees, unable to move because of the wounds we can't reach ourselves. And we are all unable to really help each other. Any attempt we could make to remove each others Arrows would only end in the Arrow being moved around and causing a greater wound. Those on the ground can see those walking, and feel the jealousy or feelings of betrayal. "Why can you walk? Why can't you help me? What did I do to deserve this?" Those walking can see those on the ground and feel fear and frustration and hurt. "There's nothing I can do for you. Why can't I help you? I'm barely standing. Why can't you see that I'm injured too? What do I do when I can walk but you can't?" Only none of us realize that our vision is clouded, or even if we do, we can't change our feelings.

It's frustrating. It's painful. It's full of questions we don't have answers to. We all scream out at one point or another "Why God?"

And in the midst of this vision, I see a prayer for my sisters and I (and for others who live in the same reality.) I see the gentle figure of Jesus, walking among us. And He stops beside each of us, and places His hands gently upon our heads. And He offers us healing, and helps us to stand. Beside Him is the Spirit, who has come with new armor (to replace our battered ones, or to give us new were we had none at all.) Our tears flow again, but this time with joy. Our wounds have been addressed, and we have been filled with life. And being filled with Life, we can become Life givers to those around us. Restored, we can finally be who we were meant to be. Instead of porcupine pin-cushions, we are realized as Brides of Christ. And we can embrace each other fully and joyfully for the first time, because there are no longer Arrows in the way. This is Life. This is my prayer.

I debated a bit if I should post this or not. This is a deeply personal image, not only for me, but for my sisters, who I know will read this. And careless words can wound deeper.

But this is a needed prayer. We need healing. We need deeply personal images. We need hope.

So in hope I will post this, more vulnerable than usual. And in hope I will pray, that someday this vision will become reality. I pray for the healing of my sisters. I pray for the future of Japan. I pray for our wounded hearts desperately seeking life to the fullest.

I pray from my heart, for the first time in a long time. I pray with passion for those I love. I pray to hear the voice of Jesus asking "What is it you want? Do you wish to be healed?" And I pray for a season of Joy to refresh us all and the arm of Blessing stretched out over us, for we too are children of Abraham.

And today I rejoice, because today I have a prayer to pray and a God who hears.

And I Remember that I have already been blessed, with such beautiful sisters, whom I love.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Conveying Love

Happy New Year!

Usually my New Year's is busy, full of meeting people and doing things. This year I welcomed the new year alone for the first time, maybe ever.

I actually had a good mix of being able to go out and see many people, do karaoke, and feel blessed by the people who wanted to be with me. Then I had about 5 days or so where I was completely alone, not bothering to leave the house except to get food. (being completely alone reverts me back to my "original state" of complete sloth and messiness. I accomplish far less when I have infinite free time than when I am busy and stressed. But it was nice to be able to do nothing for a while. I am however tired of it now.)

With so much free time on my hands, I did what any lazy, unmotivated person would do: caught up on watching my anime. :-D (Japanese study???)

The course of the week showed me how terrible some anime are out there, that 90% of anime seems to be school dramas, unrealistic and after a while, boring and tedious to watch. But then again, anime is a medium and not a genre, so I could say similar things about American TV and movies (except America isn't quite so obsessed with High School.) I spent quite a lot of time trying to find a new anime to watch that wasn't about boobs, harems or just plain violence. I did find a few. ;-)

The best one so far has been "Kimi ni Todoke." (I would also credit a blog commenter of mine for mentioning this on her blog, I read the manga and loved it.) This is a bit of a difficult title to translate. I've seen "Reaching You" or even "From Me to You."

The whole point of this story is about trying to convey your feelings to another person. It's a very sweet, innocent love story. The great thing about this story is that I find myself grinning like an idiot every time I read/watch it. It's deep, but not too deep, funny, sad, real, but fairytail-like in it's simple innocence. It has all the great elements that make "Cinderella" such a compelling story.

It's a classic, out-cast girl meets popular boy story. The boy, who has the greatest smile ever, is popular with everyone. He doesn't judge people based on their looks, or status. He accepts them for who they are. And he's known for the fact that he cares about the weak, or the downtrodden. He goes out of his way to include everyone.

Then we have the girl. She is easily misunderstood. She looks like the really creepy character from the movie "The Ring." She has poor social skills, because no one will talk to her. Yet, she is actually a very sweet girl, who only wants to help people. She is so innocent, that she never even resents the fact that people don't speak to her, or seem afraid of her. She merely accepts it as normal, and does her best to not upset people. (Only she is rather lacking in social skills and is rather shy, which just makes her seem more scary to the kids around her.)

They meet on the way to school on the first day. The boy is a little lost, so the girl points out the correct path. The boy, smiles naturally and says "Thank You." The girl is surprised because this is the first time someone has actually thanked her for trying to help. The usual reaction is fear and an apology. Her usually tense, scary looking face, relaxes for a moment, and she smiles a true smile.

The boy becomes intrigued by this quiet girl. At school she is nervous and unable to communicate well with her classmates. There are many rumors of how she can see ghosts and curses people around her. She is difficult to approach, and everyone just assumes she wants to be left alone. The boy also begins to come to the conclusion that she doesn't like him, because she is always so stiff and runs away from him when he tries to talk to her or include her.

But really, she just doesn't know how to convey herself to those around her.

Eventually, they both learn how to communicate. The boy learns how to think about the other person and their feelings, instead of just his own. He learns how to face his own jealousy and possessiveness and tries his best to deal with the frustrations of loving a very dense girl.

The girl learns that it is not "natural" for her to be alone. She is not worth less than other people, and she should have more confidence in herself. If she tries, she finds she is able to communicate with others, and they can understand her. She finds friends and learns how to become open to the world around her. She learns about joy and love and friendship. And finally, she learns how to accept love from others, something she always believed was never possible for someone like herself.

Both of them liked each other the whole time, but because they couldn't communicate so that the other could understand, there were many misunderstandings and frustrations.

It's such a good story, with so many things to think about. Like why we try to confess our feelings. Are we trying to manipulate the person into loving us back? Or do we just want to be understood. Why don't we confess our feelings? Are we afraid of being rejected, embarrassed, or feel like we don't deserved to be loved and we have no chance, so what's the point? How often do we think of the other person's feelings or circumstances? I mean REALLY think about them? Do we just assume things and never think past them? "Of course he can't like someone like me. So what's the point?" "I'm the only one that's suited for that person." etc. How often do we really allow the other person to choose for themselves? If we don't convey our feelings how can they choose? If we only assume things for that person, is anything really accomplished?

They are all really good questions for me. I struggle a lot with how to communicate. I don't want to become a nuisance to others. Or rather, I don't want them to think of me badly, or irritate them. I often feel like my affections would be unwanted or out of place. I don't want to "overstep my station" or become too arrogant. So I hide in false humility, devaluing myself in fear or uncertainty.

When I was young, in school, I often heard that boys liked it when girls confessed to them. So, being the slightly oblivious child I was, I confessed several times to boys I liked. This of course resulted in rather uncomfortable situations, where the boy was embarrassed that someone like me confessed. I fortunately have good taste in boys, so none of them were mean to me, but none of them wanted to go out with me either. The boys probably didn't know what to do, and I put them in an awkward position. Eventually I learned that confessing just made things awkward. (I was a bit slow, it took me a while.)

But in the story, at one point the popular boy is confessed to, and he gently tries to reject the girl (since he likes a different girl). The girl knew she was going to be rejected, but still wanted him to know her feelings. In the end, through her tears, she asks, "Were you even a little happy when I confessed to you?" And he says, "Yes, it made me happy. Thank you."

This was a new idea for me. Before whenever I thought back to my past and how I just confessed obliviously, I became very embarrassed for being such a clueless dork. I assumed that I only created an awkward situation, and the boy was just troubled. Of course having me confess didn't make him happy at all. But when you think about it... Even when someone you don't have romantic feelings for, confesses to you, you feel a little happy, don't you? Somewhere you get a little puffed up from knowing you are loved, even if you don't return the love, and it makes you feel a little uncomfortable.

I hope the boys in my past felt that way, if only a little.

Looking back at things now, I can see a little more clearly. Before, I thought that my confessing was stupid, because I was stepping outside of my appointed station. I was an outcast, in the lower social rankings, so all the boys I liked were outside of my range. Of course I had no chance. That's why it was silly for me to confess. Until recently, this is what I believed, and it is a belief that still shapes how I interact with those around me today.

And it is a lie.

I still think I was clueless, but now I can see the real area I was clueless in. I was trying to manipulate people into loving me back. If I confess, then maybe he will love me too. This is how I thought. It's how I still think sometimes. I was confessing for my own convenience. Trying to manipulate the situation in my favor. Trying to "get" the prize, the perfect boyfriend that would make my life better.

But that's not what love is.

Love is thinking about the other person. Love is wanting happiness for someone else. Love doesn't put down people, (yourself included.) Love isn't about making the other person love me back. When I confess, my goal should not be to convince the other person to love me back. The goal should be to let the other person know how I feel. Communication. I love you. I don't need anything in return. I just love you.

Isn't this how God shows us His love? He isn't trying to manipulate us with His love. He doesn't show His love to only the "good" people or the "Christians." He loves everyone. He loves even when He knows He'll be rejected. He tells us He loves us in the languages of our hearts; in the beauty of a sunset, in a moving piece of music, in the quietness of a clear night, the majesty of the mountains or the charisma of the sea. We each have our own way of receiving love, and God speaks to us personally though that. But we, often don't hear, or refuse to understand. (Like the girl who no matter how hard the poor boy tried to convey his feelings, remained convinced she was unlovable.)

I think that learning how to love, is learning how to communicate. Learning how to think about the other person instead of assuming things about them. Learning to listen and understand what the other person is really saying. Learning to receive in honesty.

"I love you" should be a way to build up and support another person, not manipulate them into fulfilling you.

I'm very thankful for stories that help me learn more about myself and life.

If you ever get a chance to watch or read "Kimi ni Todoke" I highly recommend it. (I recommend having two completely empty days if you want a marathon watching though.)

I feel like I have a little bit of a head start on the new year now.