Friday, April 29, 2016

Introducing the OMF Blog, and my Q&A post

Today's coffee: Kauai Coffee, Poipu Estate (Just a few more weeks, and I'll be back at Tokumitsu!! And great news: they've opened up a new shop, right next to our church. Praise God...)

Not much blogging going on around here. I've been writing a lot, but mostly my own personal thoughts as I sort out some stuff about going back to Japan--mostly about where we're going to live. Nothing blog-worthy (yet).

One recent "writing assignment" was a Q&A for the OMF blog about arts ministry in Japan. It was helpful to write this, because I was able to summarize my past ministry, my hopes for future ministry, and also opportunities to serve and pray in a pretty concise format. I'll probably post the whole article here later, but for now, I'd love to advertise the OMF blog, so go read it there! The focus this month is Japan, so you may find other articles that interest you from my colleagues.

While we're at it, I also recommend this article on the OMF blog about the importance of theological education in Asia. Our friend and colleague, Dr. How Chuang Chua is quoted, and HBI, where Keith will be teaching (and where How Chuang taught until his death), is also mentioned. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Sabbath means giving my work over to God

I found this today when I opened up my prayer journal (which lives on Google Docs) for the first time in over a month. I thought about sharing this right away, but I kind of didn't want "only had 3 days of rehearsal time" to deter anyone from attending the concerts... :)

Shino arrived safely one day after I wrote this. And the concerts were pretty good!

I hope you find this encouraging.

Tuesday, March 1

Shino was supposed to get here yesterday… but Sapporo winter happened. Now she’s rescheduled to come tomorrow. It’s a good thing it wasn’t today because the flights for today (which was yesterday in Japan) all got cancelled too. Praying for better weather tonight. It looks like the snow is supposed to be lighter today… don’t pull anything stupid, Jetstar.

All this has been very stressful for me. I imagine it has been for Shino as well. We’re losing 2 rehearsal days when we haven’t played together since last May.

But somehow as I was praying and griping to God about Shino getting stuck in Sapporo, I was filled with a sense of peace and the thought that this situation is an opportunity for faith in God’s strength--and I kind of got excited. Three days of rehearsal before a concert doesn’t seem like enough, but we are doing this in God’s strength, so even the impossible can be done.

Then there’s the CD project. I don’t know why I thought releasing the CD at our concert was a good idea, since it meant I got very little sleep last week. I waited to long to order labelled CD’s, so we ended up having to do lightscribe at home. That was really the only option without buying a whole new printer. But it’s old technology… and not compatible with Windows 10 as advertised. Suffice it to say, I spent about 4 hours yesterday trying to get the stupid drive to talk to my laptop. It wouldn’t. Thankfully Dad has Windows 7 on his computer, so he has it working. 2 discs successfully labelled! 98 to go… One of us will be sitting by the computer all day feeding it discs.

But last night when I went to bed, we still hadn’t gotten it working, and in the process of updating settings on my laptop in a vain attempt to get the lightscribe drive to work, the keyboard stopped working for a while, and then some of the buttons got messed up. With the whole project up in the air, I didn’t sleep well.

(Actually, the whole project was not up in the air, just the possibility of having the discs look slightly more professional than writing the title on them with sharpie. My pride was at stake, that’s all.)

Worry crept in again. What if Shino’s flight gets cancelled again? We’d have to cancel the concert. Anger, too, directed at my stupid computer’s inability to talk to the lightscribe drive. Desperate for sleep, I forced myself to pray, repeatedly giving Shino’s flights, our rehearsals, the concert, the CD, the lightscribe drive, and everything else into God’s hands. I repeated Deuteronomy 31:8, which is also the lyrics to one of the songs on the CD, over and over in my head: “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” I reminded myself of the peace I had felt the previous evening.

In the midst of worrying and wakefulness, this thought came into my mind: “Sabbath means giving my work over to God.” Yesterday was Monday, which is usually our day off (Sabbath). I would not have had a day off if Shino had been here, but I was getting one, to my surprise--the silver lining in the cloud. Sabbath is about resting, of course. But I’m not going to be able to rest without allowing God to be Lord over my work, and over the rest of my life too. I can’t do this alone. I lack the strength. I drifted off to sleep as I gradually relinquished control of my various tasks and stresses.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Music and Stories

Today’s coffee: Street Bean Belltown Blend (but right now I’m drinking Burdick’s Hot Chocolate!!)

Everything always takes longer than I think it will. I thought it would be okay to release the CD on the same day as the concert… and ultimately, I managed it. However, it took several very late nights in a row, a lot of frantic emails with friends in Japan who were helping me with translations and such, a lot of fussing around with MS Publisher, even more fussing around trying to make a DVD/lightscribe burner talk to my Windows 10 computer (it wouldn’t), and many visits to kinko’s… followed by frustration that all the italics in the booklet has mysteriously disappeared and the pictures had moved around. At that point, I gave up trying to fix anything else. (It’s a good thing, too. I fixed the pictures and italics before printing the second batch, and it took about 4 hours…) I wouldn’t have gotten it all done if Shino hadn’t been delayed by 2 days due to a snow storm in Sapporo… which was a stress of a whole different magnitude.

But it’s all done now, sort of. The concerts are finished! We did it… despite having only 3 days to rehearse! I handed out a whole bunch of CD’s at the concerts, sent links to download for the tech-savvy, and mailed out a whole bunch more CD’s. I am very nearly recovered and caught up from the month in which nothing got done that wasn’t urgent. Now I just need to translate the booklet into Japanese. That will be an easy task… ha ha.

The concerts were pretty good, despite lack of sleep and short rehearsal time—one of our better performances, I think. It was cool (and encouraging) that a wide variety of friends came to the concerts, including people I hadn’t seen for a long time. Our concerts took on a similar format to what we usually did in Japan: I chose the stories I wanted to tell, then we chose pieces to fit the stories. This time Shino played a solo piece and told her own story, too. I thought she would speak in Japanese with translation, but she decided to speak in English—as she put it, there’s less of a barrier with the audience that way. (Now Shino has a lot of sympathy for what I usually have to do!)

Shino and I had fun being together and playing together—I was reminded again what a blessing our friendship and partnership has been. When it comes to music, two is definitely better than one (unless you’re playing unaccompanied Bach).

After the concerts were over, of course we went and did all the things I never get to do unless we have out of town guests. I’d never been to the Chihuly museum before. Fun times! I had a huge adrenaline letdown during lunch at Ivar’s. After that, I couldn’t eat normally for several days… so tired…

Thanks for praying for us! Things went really well, despite some setbacks, which we managed to overcome. (I didn’t mention that one of the piano’s jacks broke during dress rehearsal…) I’m looking forward to our next steps when we’re back in Japan!

And now, Celia and Shino's crazy Seattle concert photo album! Enjoy!

No time wasted: we started practicing right away! Here we are in my parents' living room, rehearsing with my great grandmother's piano!
How to cure jet-lag: get sprayed in the face by a massive waterfall.
Jingis Khan! Shino brought the sauce.
Concert #1 at Newport Covenant Church. Of course we had to get our signature shot with the two of us sitting on the piano bench. (This was the piano I took lessons on when I was little.)

Shino gets to tell her story!
We also played at church the next morning.
Concert #2: Japanese Presbyterian Church!
Our friend, Satoru Nakanishi is the pastor there. We studied together at Regent. Since it's a Japanese church, we did the whole program bilingually. (Satoru is an awesome translator... I would know.)
This church is so gorgeous. It's so Seattle, and so Japanese. It would fit really well in Hokkaido, I think.
Concerts are over... time to take Shino to our favorite Seattle spots!
Space Needle, as seen from the Chihuly gallery
Lunch at Ivar's, of course!
Standing in line with the rest of the Japanese tourists at the original Starbucks...
Cherry blossom season! Shino was lucky... they were super early this year!
We had to get a family picture, of course.
Last activity before going to the airport: walk in the woods near our house!

Friday, February 26, 2016

February Newsletter

Dear Friends and Family,

We are excited to announce that we have been designated! For those of you who don’t understand OMF-language, that means we have been officially assigned to a church and a job in Japan. We will be back at Wakaba Church, and also doing ministry elsewhere: Keith will teach new pastors at Hokkaido Bible Institute and Celia will start a music and arts ministry. We have each written more about our vision for ministry below.

In other exciting news, Shino Inoue, Celia’s friend and pianist, is coming to Seattle! Celia and Shino will present concerts on March 5 and 6, giving our supporters here a chance to meet one of our ministry colleagues and experience our music ministry firsthand. Celia is also planning to release an album of music from our first term, titled Music and Stories, concurrently with the concert. Please let us know if you would like one!

Celia's new album
Thank you for praying for our travels and family times over the last few months. We were able to spend Thanksgiving with Keith’s family--we met 2 new nieces for the first time and caught up with all the rest of the nieces and nephews too! Then we spent Christmas with Celia’s family for the first time since 2007. The next day we were off for 6 days in St. Louis at the Urbana student missions conference where we talked about missions and OMF and Japan with lots of college students who stopped by the OMF booth.

With our oldest niece/goddaughter, Elizabeth
Back in Seattle, two New Year feasts, mochitsuki party… and then the last of the exciting news: our nephew was born January 7, the first on Celia’s side of the family: Calvin Chen Wilson! We got to visit him when he was only a few hours old.


Prayer Points

  • We are thankful that our designation is finalized! Please pray for us as we begin to think about how to balance our responsibilities between church and other ministry. 
  • Please pray for Keith’s classes at Regent College (major paper due March 4) and his preparations to teach at Hokkaido Bible Institute. Teaching theological concepts in Japanese will entail a steep learning curve. 
  • Please pray for Celia and Shino’s concerts, March 5 and 6. Shino arrives February 29. Please pray for effective rehearsals (we only have 5 days!), encouraging time together, good health, and that our concerts will be a blessing to those attending.
  • Please pray for our meetings with individual supporters and for 100% pledged support by our deadline on March 23 (we are currently at 92%).
  • Keith will be visiting his family March 18-26. Please pray for a good time together.
  • Please pray for the students we talked to at Urbana as they take their next steps towards missions involvement. Please also pray for our OMF US colleagues as they continue with follow-up.


Tea Bowl: We have 92%!

We’re coming up on our deadline: one month left! We need 100% pledged monthly support for our second term. If you plan to continue your support from our first term into our second term, thank you! If you haven’t told us yet, please be sure to let us know again in person, by email, or through the OMF website  (select “update information,” and enter “re-pledging” in the comments). Our deadline for 100% pledged monthly support is March 23, 2016.

Celia’s Vision: A Restful Space

The contents of my arts thesis box at the library
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the Regent College Library in Vancouver. Keith was busy studying for one of his classes (he’s taking classes to prepare for his new ministry); I was with him for MissionsFest and a concert. I glanced up and saw a sign for the arts thesis (IPIAT) projects on a nearby bookshelf; I went and found mine: Praise the LORD with Stringed Instruments: Instrumental Music as Participation and Contemplation. Although I once had had great ambitions of continuing my project and maybe turning it into a blog or a book, it had been years since I even looked at it. (Japan happened. Surprise!)

I felt nostalgic, looking through the pictures, programs, CDs and other items in the box—even a paper star from the prayer-origami I had everyone do. I thought back to all the people who collaborated with me on this project and all the work that went into it. But until I opened the 3-ring binder containing my thesis, I couldn’t remember what I had written.

I thought I had given up on this project when I went to Japan. But it turns out, the things I studied, agonized over, wrote about, and put into practice back in the 2008-2009 academic year were still swirling around in my head as I agonized over the rut into which I had fallen with the bait-and-switch-style concert ministry that was expected of me in Japan. (Come to a concert! You’re also going to hear a sermon, but I’m not going to tell you that.) Here are a few highlights from my thesis:
“Words, even edifying and truthful words, can be busy and noisy. They crowd the airwaves and our brainwaves. We need the wordless space that can be offered by instrumental music, time to listen quietly, waiting to hear a still, small voice.” 
“I am aware that I need more than anything to pray, to listen, and to be still before God. Studying theology is like drinking from a fire hose.” So is Japanese study and missionary work. “There is so much to learn in such a short time that reflecting on what I have learned is an unknown luxury. The feedback I received after the first three worship services [the practical component of my project] convinced me that I was not alone; we all need to gather deliberately to be silent before God.” 
“Even though this stage of my project is complete, I consider it only a foundation for work that will last the rest of my life. The stillness and rest offered by instrumental music is a great need. Wherever I go, I will continue to offer this restful place to those around me.”
Reading my thesis again, I am encouraged that it’s okay to re-think my music ministry, because the quiet space I want to offer is necessary to the souls of over-worked businessmen and women, students, pastors, and missionaries. Busy people forget about God—or they don’t think about him in the first place. Therefore, providing quiet space for contemplation is a vital part of evangelism.

Our designation is finalized: we’re going back to the Sapporo area, to Wakaba Church in Ishikari. As for me, I’ve been given a blank slate to start a new arts ministry. Now is the time to pick up that dream of offering a restful place to those around me: a collaborative arts ministry involving my own disciplines of music and tea ceremony as well as the gifts brought by like-minded colleagues. What will this look like practically? Who knows? What I do know is that it will start slowly: 一歩一歩 (ippo ippo)—one step at a time.

I surrendered my dreams at the foot of the cross… and now I’m picking them up again. Wow. This is really happening. I’m so incredibly thankful.

Keith’s Vision: God Gives the Growth 

Blast from the past: Keith studies in the Regent library for his comprehensive exams in April 2009
While I was taking classes at Regent College 10 years ago, I struggled with my vocation. I had no idea where or what God had in store for me, but one option I seriously considered was teaching at a Christian school, and I knew how I would do it. I imagined myself teaching students, who were struggling with the Bible like I had, all the exegetical tidbits I wished I'd known.  I even looked at job possibilities in California. Fortunately, God brought us to Japan instead, and like Celia with her thesis, I shelved my idea of teaching.

10 years later, I am taking a couple of classes back at Regent College, again struggling with my vocation. This time I know where (Hokkaido Bible Institute) and more or less what (teaching exegesis, Isaiah, and perhaps more), but I'm not exactly sure how.  As I commute from Seattle to Vancouver, I often wonder how to contextualize what I am learning for a Japanese school. The classes I'm taking have already gone a long way to recondition my theological muscles, but reconciling the critical English approach with the top-down Japanese teaching style is impossible. Not that I think teaching Bible in any context would be easy, but like the times I preached, led discussions, held events, or even any time I answered the phone, if I have any success in Japanese, it is only by God's grace and his enabling.

I originally intended to write about the problem of aging pastors and the rise of pastorless churches and to discuss the need for the younger generation of Japanese Christians to step into full time ministry positions. And I do trust that I will be able to support HBI in its mission to train pastors, evangelists, and lay leaders, but I don’t see my ministry as filling a need as much as being filled myself.  I have mentioned not in so many words before, but I go to Japan for a very personal reason: to grow closer to God. I do long to see Japan grow closer to God too, and in some inexplicable way, God has shown me that my life and the life of Japanese people I encounter are bound together. I grow with them; I don't grow them. When I think of the times I’ve opened the word of God with Japanese people, I both witness and am witnessed to at the same time.

This is a long way of saying that although I am intimidated and humbled, I am excited to have the opportunity to share life with pastors, evangelists, and lay leaders, and to grow with them in any way that God gives growth.

Only three months left until we return to Japan--May 23! Let us know if you want to meet up before we go back. Thanks for your continued prayers.

Love in Christ,
Keith and Celia

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Recording project: Music and Stories

I've been really busy lately with projects. One of them is obvious: there's a concert in 2 weeks, so I'd better practice my cello... and of course there were invitations to make and generally getting the word out. I think practice is going rather well.

The other project is one Keith and I dreamed up last year in January when we were at Pre-Home Assignment Workshop: a CD (or set of mp3 downloads) to give to our supporters to give them a taste of my music ministry and thank them for their support. It was supposed to be a Christmas present. Oops.

Now there's a new deadline: have the CD ready to release on the day of the concert. (Not to mention, Shino, my collaborator for the upcoming concert and a major collaborator for the CD, is eager to have one.) Release date is March 5! Lots to do...

Ta-da! The cover will look something like this, only better, when I get used to the stamps. The Japanese writing on the right is my friend's calligraphy. The red stamp is my doodling... isn't it cool that you can get custom made stamps on the internet?
On the CD will be cello and piano music by Debussy, Rachmaninoff, and Brahms; Japanese folk songs accompanied by shamisen; my own hymn arrangements for viola da gamba and voice (in Japanese); and 2 Japanese worship songs composed by friends of ours and performed by the Sambi Reihai band at our church. Other friends contributed art for the cover, recording expertise, design help... and moral support.

The recording itself was completed before we left Japan. I just needed to figure out web hosting, CD printing (as in getting art printed on the back side of the CD rather than using a permanent marker to write the title, as I have usually done in the past), design for the cover and booklet, actually writing the material for the booklet... etc. I only came up with the title about a week ago, but things are coming together, I think. I hope.

If you are praying for us, then we invite you to order a CD (or mp3's to download). Click on the link; it will take you to an order form. This offer is also open to those of you who follow our blog and aren't on our email list. If we don't know you, please be sure to leave an answer in the box labelled "would you like to introduce yourself?" Please introduce yourself, and tell me why you want a CD, because I'm only giving this to friends... so let's be friends. We're looking forward to "meeting" you. :)

One more thing: if you want an actual CD rather than mp3 downloads, please order by February 28. Otherwise you might have to wait until May if I don't have any extras.

Okay, back to work on writing liner notes...

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Concerts in Seattle

It's official! Shino is coming to visit... and we're playing two concerts! For those of you in the Seattle area, this is your opportunity to meet someone who has been both a dear friend and a valuable colleague to us. We'll give you a firsthand glimpse of what our music ministry looks like. Please come, and stay to chat afterwards! 


Concert 1: Saturday, March 5, 7:30 p.m. at Newport Covenant Church, 12800 Coal Creek Parkway SE, Bellevue

Concert 2: Sunday, March 6, 5:30 p.m. at Japanese Presbyterian Church, 1801 24th Ave S, Seattle

The program will include music by Brahms, Schumann, Schubert, Debussy, and more. As we usually do in our concerts in Japan, we'll intersperse stories into the concert. In this case, we will tell stories about how we have seen God at work as we engaged in music ministry in Japan.

Here is an invitation. Please come!

If you are wondering who we are and why you would want to come hear us, I have also included our profiles below.
A native of Sapporo, Japan, Shino Inoue (井上志乃) started playing piano at age five. She studied music education at Sapporo Otani University, after which she established her own piano studio. Shino is involved in music and youth ministry at Toei Church, where she has attended since childhood. 
Celia Olson grew up in Newcastle and has attended Newport Covenant Church since birth. She started cello at age 10 and then played in the Seattle Youth Symphony during high school before studying music at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Boston University. Celia’s life took an unexpected turn when she started theological studies at Regent College, leading her to become a missionary with OMF International in Sapporo, Japan.
Introduced by a mutual friend, Celia and Shino met in Sapporo in November 2009 and played together for the first time at Christmas 2009. Since then, they have presented concerts at churches all over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Story for Valentine's Day

Today's coffee: meh.

Mom and I went out for sushi a few weeks ago with some people who are special to us: my cousins’ grandparents. Not the grandparents I share with them—the grandparents on their mom’s side. I’ve lost all my grandparents now, so I’m glad I have these two.

My cousins call them Ba (short for Obaasan) and Pa. He calls her “darling,” and she calls him “honey;” they are devoted to each other even after more than 60 years together.

I’ve always admired Vic and Yasuko, but now that I’ve been living in Japan, I especially admire Yasuko’s courage as she left her family and her home in Japan and made a new home in the US with her husband. Like me, she lives between two very different worlds.

Over lunch, we got the two of them talking about how they met. I don’t actually know my own grandparents’ love stories, so that motivated me to write their story down.

During Yasuko’s childhood in pre-war Japan, one of her relatives studied abroad in the US. When he came home to Japan, he brought clothes for her as a present. The style and quality impressed her, and she began to wonder what sort of place America was.

Yasuko’s older sister had an arranged marriage—she already had a boyfriend, but she had to break up with him and marry the man her parents had chosen for her. Yasuko suspected that she would follow the same path as her sister. She left home and found work as a telephone operator at an American air force base (Misawa, in Aomori prefecture) after the war.

Vic was stationed at Misawa from 1951-1952. Once when he was making a phone call, Yasuko connected his call. She has a cute voice, Vic thought to himself. He started asking around to find out who the cute voice belonged to. Eventually he found out, and asked Yasuko to meet him.

Yasuko didn’t know Vic at all, so she hesitated. A mutual friend reassured her: “He’s nice. And his family is nice, too. He always gets good packages from home.” So they met up in the “usual” way: “I’ll be the one wearing such and such.”

I interrupted the story at this point. “So what were you wearing?”

“A dress, one that was fashionable at the time, and a little bolero jacket.”

“And what was your first impression? Was it love at first sight?”

“Well, no… I certainly thought he was handsome, but there were lots of handsome young men at the air base. I knew that a good heart is much more important than good looks, so of course I didn’t know right away.”

(She was quite mature for age 18, I thought to myself.)

Vic chimed in between mouthfuls of edamame, describing one of their first dates. Vic loved soba, but strict rules forbade servicemen from eating local food—there were concerns about contamination from the practice of fertilizing fields with “night soil” as was done at that time. (No need to be worried, they don’t do that anymore…)

“Yasuko and I were sitting in a soba restaurant, and I was really hungry. We ordered our food, and out it came, and I was just about to take my first bite… when a big Texan officer threw open the door and started shouting at me. He dragged me back to base, leaving Yasuko crying her eyes out, thinking I was going to be executed or thrown in prison.”

“Did your parents oppose?” I asked Yasuko. It was right after the war, after all.

“They did at first… but then God intervened, and I got appendicitis.”

I looked at her blankly. She continued. “My mother came to Misawa to take care of me after I was discharged from the hospital, and Vic came every day to visit. He brought lots of flowers and presents. His kindness and care for me won her over. Then she convinced my father.”

There you have it. It's been a blessing to have these two as a part of our family.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Which world do you see?

Today’s coffee: peppermint mocha from The Well. Yay! (We’re in Vancouver for Missions Fest)

Last week there was no post. I was busy writing other things… a sermon, in fact. It was a big sermon. I chose Isaiah 6 for my text, and started researching and writing back in October. It really was the culmination of everything I’ve been thinking about during those three months… so yeah, a big sermon, but somehow, surprisingly, I fit it into about 35 minutes, which is a reasonable length.

I said some crazy stuff and challenged everyone to take a leap of faith with me—to say “here I am, send me” with conviction. I’m praying that God will continue to work in the lives of those who listened, just as he worked in my life as I wrote.

One thing that went into my sermon that has continued to stick with me this week was this bit: “Which world do you see—a world full of the intoxicating nearness of God’s glory, or a dark and empty world in which everything is left to chance? Do you see God, and can you hear his voice?”

When I preach, I am preaching first of all to myself. I think most people who preach are like this. Keith certainly is. Although I wrote the part I quoted above, it continues to challenge me—especially as I was hit hard by adrenaline letdown after the sermon was over, and as I continue to struggle with not-being-in-Japan-right-now. Unfortunately, it has not been a great week…

My temptation at such times is to turn inward, like a pillbug, into a self-protective ball, but then I’m really not in a posture of listening or observing. If I’m going to thrive during these remaining four months in America, then even when I’m in my pillbug-like state, I need to be listening to God and looking for signs of his nearness. And then I need to get out of my funk and be present here and now, with the people who are part of my here and now—because God speaks to us in community.

If you’re interested, here are links to recordings of my sermon: you can listen or you can watch. (If you need any more incentive, I had the fabulous Mel McIntyre read an excerpt from The Princess and the Goblin by George McDonald… complete with rolled r’s. Awesome book, awesome reader.)

Finally, for those of you who like books and such, here are some resources that have shaped my thinking over the past several months as I have been working on this sermon:

  • I Once Was Lost: excellent book on evangelism to people of my generation. It’s not a method or anything like that, but rather gives a roadmap for how many postmodern people come to Christ… with lots of helpful suggestions for those who are walking with them. I wrote a lot about this one here
  • The Listening Life: about listening, mostly listening to God through the many ways in which he reveals himself. More about this one later, I think, since I’m still reading it. 
  • Introverts in the Church: I wrote about this one a lot in my last blog post. This book has been very helpful as I make sense of what I should and should not expect of myself and why. I also took the suggestion that I “lead as myself” when thinking about how I would put the sermon together. 
  • The Message Solo: This is a devotional book I’ve been using in order to learn Lectio Divina—an ancient discipline of praying and listening through the scriptures. 
  • The Princess and the Goblin: One of my favorite children’s books. It deals with the concept of faith in a way that was very helpful in illustrating what was happening in Isaiah 6. And it’s just a great story. And you can get it free for kindle! 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Forgiving Myself for Being an Introvert

Today’s coffee: Tully’s

If you read our blog and follow our lives, you will probably know that we went to Urbana last month. It was this completely wild event—16,000 Christian college students and pastors and missionaries gathered together for worship, Bible study, prayer, networking… and if I had wanted to, I could have been at workshops and seminars and gatherings and whatnot from 7 a.m. until past midnight.

Keith and I were approached by our leaders to represent OMF Japan at Urbana, since at past Urbana conferences, there has been a lot of interest in Japan. I waffled as to whether I wanted to go, or whether we should go. 16,000 people… long hours of meeting total strangers… awkward social situations… very little time to rest. But, Urbana got a rave review from my brother and others who had gone. They spoke of challenging messages and spiritual growth. What ultimately tipped the scale in favor of my going was the discovery that Jeff, one of our IVCF leaders from grad school in Boston, was going to be there. (And out of 16,000 people, we ran into him right at the front door. Awesome!)

But as the time grew nearer, I got more and more nervous. “God, I can’t do this. Please make me an extrovert,” I prayed.

This wasn’t just my plea for Urbana. It seemed that the longer I spent in North America, the more exhausted I got… and I was beginning to think that there was something seriously wrong with me. I had been spending delightful, thought-provoking, inspiring times with friends, family, and supporters. I was constantly aware of how loved I was and how well supported, and perhaps that made the feeling that I “wasn’t getting anything done” even more frustrating—that I was letting down the people who loved and supported me. The sheer amount of rest I needed to recover from the previously mentioned delightful times with people seemed far more than what was “fair.”

It was at Urbana, in a moment of quiet respite from the OMF booth, where I had been meeting students and answering questions about OMF and Japan, that I was browsing the bookstore. A title caught my eye: The Listening Life by Adam McHugh. What I found even more intriguing was that this Adam McHugh was also author of a book called Introverts in the Church. So, I went looking for Introverts in the Church and found it elsewhere in the bookstore. Hiding in my room after dinner that night, I read the first chapter… it was like he had been reading my thoughts. Observe:
For several years, my introverted friend, Emily participated in a Christian community where extroversion was normal. Hailing from Japan, Emily was accustomed to a culture where deference to others and servanthood were considered highly desirable qualities, and she felt displaced in an American culture that valued self-promotion and aggressiveness. She had positive relationships with people in the community, but she was always considered to be on the fringe because she spent a lot of time to herself (McHugh, Introverts in the Church, 17-18).
And the lightbulb came on in my head. That’s what it is. That’s the source of my exhaustion and reverse culture shock this time around. I had been thriving in life and ministry in Japan, where introverted characteristics are valued, and deep, loyal friendships are formed slowly over time and through shared experiences. Social interactions tend to have more silent spaces in them, and that’s okay—just being together or doing something together is considered to be a valuable experience. I’ve written about this before, but I didn’t realize at the time why I felt so comfortable with my Japanese friends.

Then I came “home” to my hometown, where I thought I would be less tired, since I was using my native language. But I struggled with American-style social interactions, where there is little silence in which to collect my thoughts—if I stop to think, the conversation has already moved on. To make things even more difficult, of course we are dealing with an absence of four years. It’s not easy to catch up with each of the hundreds of friends and acquaintances we left behind when we went to Japan. There have also been faux pas, such as
Me: Nice to see you!
Acquaintance: Yeah, it’s been a long time. Were you really gone for four years?
Me: Yeah, four years. It seemed really fast though. How’s your husband?
Acquaintance: Actually, he left me…
Me: (gasp) I’m so sorry, I didn’t hear!
I really had that conversation. Stress.

I certainly don’t mean to imply that Japan is good and America is bad, or that all Japanese are introverts and all Americans are extroverts. That is not the case at all… not to mention that I have committed my fair share of faux pas in Japan.

But I have to say that in recognizing this cultural difference, I have also recognized God’s grace in putting me in a place where I would thrive in friendship and in ministry. I have begun to realize that God made me the way he did so that I could be a blessing to others. It wasn't a mistake. No more pleading for a personality change... just a change of heart.

While I am eager to return to my friends and work in Japan, I am also eager to accept God’s grace where I am now, even, or perhaps especially, when God’s grace means spending more time in prayer and reflection and less time “getting stuff done.” I trust that God will give me the grace (and the energy) to bless my friends here in North America and be blessed by them as well.

I still have times when I am frustratingly exhausted, but I think my prayer now is “God, thank you for making me the way you did. May my life bring glory to you.”

I went back to the bookstore the next day to buy The Listening Life too. Thanks, Adam McHugh, unmet friend.

(By the way, Introverts in the Church is not a whiny book about how we introverts are being exploited by extroverts. Not at all. I wouldn’t have liked it if that were the case. I found it to be empowering, practical, and filled with great suggestions for introverts to be involved in the life of the church. Perhaps that is a subject for another post.)

Friday, January 08, 2016

めでたし、めでたし (Joyous, joyous)

Today’s coffee: Belltown blend from Street Bean coffee (So delicious! Sometime I want to visit their café… too bad it’s a bit too far from home to be my regular spot…)

Well! I have a new nephew, born yesterday (January 7). Nephew #3, but the first on my side of the family. (Way to go, little brother, passing on our genes to the next generation…) He’s also the first of our nieces and nephews we were able to see right away. Break out the red-bean-rice!

No, we are not his parents. His parents were exhausted. Family photos later.
He's a cute little guy!
The most important news out of the way, let’s go back a few days.

Since we spent the week before New Year’s at Urbana, I wasn’t able to make a full-blown osechi this year. Thankfully our friend, Hiromi did, so we ate New Year’s Day osechi lunch at her house.

Hiromi-san's Osechi
Traditional music... お正月の感じです。
I felt a bit sheepish turning up at Uwajimaya on January 2 to do my own osechi shopping. A bit late, but not too late for a January 3 mochitsuki party! I made ozōni, nimono, kuromame, and kurikinton. Friends brought some other dishes, too.

Of course, the purpose of a mochitsuki party is to pound (and eat) mochi. 5 years ago I had a delightful surprise when my dad and brother made me an usu and kine (hollowed out log “mortar” and gigantic hammer for pounding mochi), so we decided to put them to use since we were home this year. I think we made a total of 18 rice-cooker cups of rice into mochi. That’s a lot.

This party was the easiest party ever from the host’s perspective. I was delighted to discover that the two Japanese families I invited knew each other! I just got out the food and kept it coming, and the guests amused themselves with mochi pounding, karuta, and the various musical instruments that live in our house. That’s not to say that I wasn’t amusing myself too.

Keith leads the kids in Totoro Karuta. The English-speaking kids found it to be pretty difficult...
The day of the mochitsuki was also Jiayun’s due date. We thought perhaps a little exercise would be good for her… heh heh heh.

Jiayun and Colin got first crack at mochi-pounding while the family watches. Colin kneads and wets the mochi to keep it from sticking while Jiayun pounds. Jiayun's whole family was able to be here for New Year's, but unfortunately her dad and brother had to go back to Texas while she was in labor. Sad face. Her mom is here for a month, though. Happy face!
Family time, familiar foods, friends… all of this helped cure my homesickness a bit. I’ve been pretty homesick for Japan the last couple of months, although I rarely experienced homesickness while we were in Japan. That’s just one of the many odd parts of our crazy cross-cultural life.