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.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Urbana and New Year's (and monkeys)

Today’s coffee: some beans my mom got for Christmas

Happy New Year! It’s the year of the monkey, or it is in Japan, anyway. It’s still the year of the sheep for a few more weeks in the rest of Asia.

Wild monkeys on a roof near Lake Kawaguchi, last July. We saw them crossing the street on the power lines... and kept our hotel room window closed  after that...
We’ve just finished a week in St. Louis at Urbana 2015. I felt kind of bad for leaving our colleagues behind at the busiest part of the conference, but as wave after wave of tiredness hit me on the way to the airport, I think I made the right decision. I slept in my own bed last night and woke up in time to watch the first sunrise of the year (that’s a Japanese tradition), as the sun peeked through the familiar trees in the forest surrounding the house where I grew up.

This is the view from my parents' front porch. I could finally see the sun 40 minutes after it came up.
But I was so overstimulated from Urbana that I think it will take weeks to get un-wired…

I already look a little strained, and this was the first night...
A lot of good stuff happened, and a lot of hard stuff too. It’s not easy being an introvert at a conference with 16,000 college students, lots of flashing lights and loud music, and 6 hours each day of talking to students whom I was meeting for the first time, engaging them about missions and Japan and explaining over and over what I do and why I do it. I wonder how many of them noticed the deer-in-the-headlights expression or the slurred speech as I grew more and more tired and wired at the same time. I pray that God can smoothe over all my mistakes.

And yet it was a privilege to pray with probably 20 students and young adults who have a passion to show God’s love to the Japanese. I cried with a young Chinese woman as we talked about the way God has been using our Chinese missionary colleagues to bring reconciliation with Christians in Japan, overcoming a lot of painful history. Yesterday morning, we had coffee with Jeff, who was one of our InterVarsity leaders in Boston. It was so good to catch up, encourage each other, and fill him in on just how much he and his wife, Tara had equipped us for the work we’re doing in Japan. We also met Andrea, a new colleague, for the first time—she will be in Japan from February! Exciting!

Ironically, another wonderful thing that happened was finding a book called Introverts in the Church in the Urbana bookstore. (I felt like I should tell the people at the register to pray for anyone buying this book at Urbana, because they are probably struggling.) More about this book later, after I finish reading it...