Friday, January 28, 2005

Train Delay

Tonight Alina, Ian and I were going to Omika by train to have dinner with a friend. When we arrived at the train station, we found out that a few stops away (between Katsuta and Mito for those of you who know these parts), a person had thrown themselves in front of the train and committed suicide. Although I cannot verify the fact, a friend told me once that a person kills themself by train everyday somewhere in Japan. How tragic.
Japan is known to have a high suicide rate. It's not for me to judge how or why, but that makes me all the more dedicated to making everyone I come in contact with feel like they are special. I know that sounds incredibly cheesey and Pollyanna-ish, but it's true. I think that's how Jesus effected people; everyone felt like they were special in His presence. They felt fulfilled. I can't fill those needs in people, but I can reflect the grace and love that God has shown me to everyone else. Who knows what difference you could make in a life.
Please pray today that God will grant the hopeless a measure of hope to make it through. Maybe you will be a giver of hope that God sends someone's way.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

This week was brought to you by...

I know we've been over this on my blog, but seriously folks-- Christian music is such an amazing ministry and blessing. I don't know if I would have made it through the past couple of weeks without Mr. Steven Curtis Chapman. I have been listening to his albums, Speechless, Greatest Hits, and All About Love (perhaps the best love song CD ever) over and over on my little Windows Media player. Tonight I bought and downloaded All Things New, his latest CD. I have already listened to it and am sure I will grow just as attached to it as I am to his other work. Don't tell Chris Rice, but it looks like SCC is sneaking up to snatch away the position of my favorite singer/songwriter. No worries... I don't think Steven will ever surpass Chris (don't you like how I'm on a first name basis with these guys?), but they may have to share the spot.
I leave you with this, although I had a struggle over which song to post (I have 20 songs marked with 5 stars {the highest rating}), this one always touches me.

The Invitation

In the Palace in the land of mercy
The King looked out from His throne
He saw the sick and the homeless and hungry
He saw me lost and without hope
And moved with compassion
He sent out His only Son
With the invitation
to come

This is your invitation
Come just the way you are
Come find what your soul has been longing for
Come find your peace
Come join the feast
Come in
This is your invitation

So I stood outside the gates and trembled
In my rags of unworthiness
Afraid to even stand at a distance
In the presence of Holiness
But just as I turned to go
The gates swung open wide
And the King and His only Son
They invited me inside

This is your invitation
Come just the way you are
Come find what your soul has been longing for
Come find your peace
Come join the feast
Come in
This is your invitation

So now will you come with me
To where the gates swing open wide
The King and His only Son
Are inviting us inside

This is our invitation
Come sinner as you are
Come find what your soul has been longing for
Come find your peace
Come join the feast
Come in
This is your invitation
This is our invitation
This is the invitation

And there was much rejoicing!

Today I was alerted to a service that I was previously unaware of... Music Downloads. You can go to the Walmart web site and buy and dowload a huge selection of songs! Do you know how happy this makes me? I am literally on the verge of tears because now I can buy and download those CDs and songs that I forgot to buy while I was at home. They even have a fantastic selection of Christian music! Praise the Lord! And thank you Walmart! Even 6000 miles away you're still making life easier. :)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

All Things New

Bloggers are such funny people. I think we're all vain in some sense, posting our meandering thoughts out there on the world wide web with the idea that someone would actually be interested in reading them. On that note, on to the blog!

I think I am experiencing a mid-mid-life crisis. Soon after I first moved to Japan, I was talking to a friend of mine who arrived several months before me. I was talking to her about culture stress, and she said, "Wait until you don't even know who you are anymore." I called that friend last night to let her know I was there.
Before you start worrying about my emotional well being, let me start by saying that this experience is not nearly as disturbing or traumatic as I thought it might be. Mostly I find it interesting and a little confusing.
I think I can trace this phenomenon to the fact that so many things I defined myself by have changed drastically in my life in the past several months. I'm no longer a student receiving good grades to measure myself by. I am an obsessive communicator in a land where I can't communicate with most of the people I come into contact with daily. As I predicted from the beginning, all my relationships with my friends have changed. I'm not saying they've changed for the worse, but they have changed in their natures.
In America I had embraced those contrived qualities that identified me, but in Japan I am quick to step away from what the culture tries to define me as- a gaijin (foreigner). So when I am disrobed of what I liked to be branded by and refuse my newfound appellation, I am left with the essence of my true identity- my identity in God.
I think I have already likened this experience (in Japan) before as being similar to a boot camp of sorts. Of course I don't know from experience, but I've heard it said that the military uses boot camp to break you down of who you are so they can rebuild you into what they want you to be. I see myself being broken down of who I thought I was and being rebuilt into who God wants me to be. Not always pleasant, at times downright painful, but ultimately a blessing. There's no one else I would trust with my life.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: "Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the Lord. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. "
---Jeremiah 18:1-6

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Congrats Barneches! :)

This morning I woke up with a smile on my face, because I knew at that time, 8am here and 5pm in OKC, a wonderful girl was walking down the aisle to marry a great guy. I wish so much that I could have been at Mark and Kelly's wedding, but I am just thrilled to know that those two are beginning a new phase of their lives that will dedicated to serving God and each other. I am so excited for them to move to Japan in a few months and look forward to getting to know them better. May God bless them with many years of joy together in His service. :) Love you guys!

Saturday, January 22, 2005

My dear girls

Today I was fortunate enough to eat lunch with several lovely ladies (and one lovely lady's lovely husband) who were a major part in my decision to come to Japan. They are, as pictured about left to right: (me), Chisato, Tomoko, Chie, and Izumi. These four have been some of my best friends for several years now, and truly made my OC experience a lot of what it was. In America I admired their courage to be able to step out of their culture and experience a new place and new people for all it was worth, and here I appreciate so much their help and empathy as I am struggling to the same as they did years ago. They have taught me so much about friendship and fun, and I am grateful to God for putting them in my life. I think anyone who knows them would agree.
Posted by Hello

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

One down

Well I managed to conquer one of my new year's resolutions... I memorized a poem! However, the journey is not complete, because I am going to try to memorize several this year. Here is the one I have so far.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
--Robert Frost

Monday, January 17, 2005

What a difference a day makes

I am always fascinated by the fact that we wake up each day not knowing what it will hold and how it will change our lives. Sure there are the big days... the September 11ths and December 26ths... but there are also those days in individual lives. The day you get in a car wreck. The day you're told that you're sick. The day that you meet the person you're going to marry. The day you find out about the job you were meant for. The day you decide to go where God is guiding you or the day you make that mistake you can't take back.
CS Lewis says, "When the most important things in our life happen, we quite often do not know, at the moment, what is going on." We can only see them in hindsight. That thought makes me want to put more thought and wisdom into my day to day dealings. Live life to the fullest. Live without regrets. Live daily with the knowledge and trust that my life is being held and guided by the Lord over all creation and time and circumstance.
I know this is a little deep for a Monday, but it's been on my mind all day. Some days are just deeper like that.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Martin Luther King Jr.

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.

From "Letter from Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Dec. 10, 1964

I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live.

Speech in Detroit, June 23, 1963

I just want to do God's will. And he’s allowed me to go to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.

From an address given in Memphis the night before his assassination, April 3, 1968

It is my prayer that the good people of the world won't rest until all people are acknowledged as equally deserving opportunity, respsect, and justice. So on this day, let's take some time to honor and reflect on the lives of those people who have taken a stand for truth in the face of opposition.

PS- Kudos to my alma mater for honoring Dr. King on the website.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Sunday, aka Nichiyobi

Sundays are an interesting paradox. On the one had they are a great day because I get the chance to spend time with my Christian brothers and sisters fellowshipping and worshipping God. I also get to share the message of Christ to those who don't know Him. So it's a great day. Sunday is also a hard day. They're hard because they're a huge time (9am-6pm usually) and energy investment that can be more of a drain than edification. I now understand what I've heard ministers say for years about Sunday being more of a "work day" than anything. That seems sad to me. I don't know how to change it.
I was talking to a friend tonight about the responsibilties foreigners can carry at church. I have mixed feelings on the subject. On one hand I recall the words of Peter Parker: "With great power comes great responsibility." I have been given the gift of growing up in a Christian environment and being exposed to all kinds of teaching and wisdom in my short little life. I also had the great great privilege of going to a Christian school and getting a degree in Bible. So I do have a lot of knowledge that I should be ready and willing to pass along to others. On the other hand, when too much responsibility is put on gaijin, the church ceases to be Japanese and instead becomes a foreigner's church with Japanese members. Am I making sense? I don't claim to have extensive international experience, but I have seen churches abroad that seem to be little Americas. The culture and worship style and personality (and sometimes language) have been transplanted from America to a foreign field. That makes me uncomfortable.
I attend the Hitachi-Taga church, so that's really the only place I can speak on with any authority. I think our congregation has struck a wonderful balance of these two worlds. We have fabulous Japanese leadership at the church that I cannot speak highly enough of. Instead of placing the locus of responsibility in the hands of gaijin, instead we, like any other member, are simply asked to use our gifts in the ways in which God would have us do so. So through this some lead a bi-lingual Sunday school class, and some conduct English conversation classes on Sunday nights, and in general act as part of the body of believers as we would in our home countries. What I love about Taga is that I see Paul's declaration of unity lived out within the body. We're not "the foreigners" and "the Japanese" as we sit together every week, we are brothers and sisters.
Hmm, I seem to have started talking about one thing in this post but ended in a completely other thing. Although it did end more positively than it started, so I shouldn't complain.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Ungrateful Servant

Matthew 18:23-35

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Blog Bits

Here are some random bits that probably don't individually deserve their own post.

  • I just finished watching the "Return of the King." Wow. I am not ashamed to say that there was weeping. :)
  • It is pretty cold. When I woke up this morning it was 42 degrees in my apartment. I was warm (thanks to the electric blanket!) but my face was about to freeze off. So I have now learned to sleep with my face under the blanket. And tonight I will also be wearing my new pink hat to bed (thanks Aunt Myra!).
  • On a weather upnote, the winter solstice occured while I was in the states, which means that the days are no longer getting shorter, but in fact growing longer! Whoopie!!!
  • Tomorrow's the first day back to school! I'm looking forward to seeing my kids, but then again this is also going back to work after a 4 week vacation. I'm sure I'll real cute hauling 48 twinkies on the bus tomorrow morning (see previous post). :)
On that note, I should rest up for my big day tomorrow. Oyasumi!

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Cultural obligations-- omiyage

Here's a little cultural somethin' somethin' for you all.

One of the great banes of my trip back was the overhanging knowledge that I would have to find and bring back to Japan omiyage. Omiyage is a small gift (souvenir) that one brings to their co-workers or family or friends upon return from a trip (also when you start a new job, but they are forgiving of gaijin). Oftentimes it is a food, such as a cake or crackers or candy. Omiyage is also given to neighbors when one moves into a new place.

Now I'm not opposed to gift giving. I like giving gifts, but I hate giving gifts under pressure. I had 44 teachers at my school and 10 office co-workers, plus a church to bring back omiyage for. That is a lot o' stuff. Jared (my co-worker) had forewarned me that last year when he went home he apparently didn't bring back good enough omiyage and was somewhat shunned at school for it. Peter told me that his school actually gave him $100 to bring back good omiyage for his English teachers. So all this to say that I was feeling some pressure to perform.

As I was at home I walked around the great halls of Sams, where I figured I would be able to find 60+ omiyage items fairly easily. I ultimately setled on Twinkies, my favorite American snack cake. So I bought 3 24-packs of Twinkies.

Yep... I will never do that again. First of all, they took up way too much room in my bags. Second of all, I had several that didn't survive the trip back to Japan (easily smooshible). You live you learn. I think my teachers will like them. I also brought back a bag of candy bar miniatures for church and Bath and Bodyworks antibacterial hand lotions for my English teachers. I think that should have me covered.

While I think gift giving is a well and nice, I don't like when it is mandated. Too much pressure! However it is nice when you're on the receiving end. ;) Just another example of cultural demands and conformity when living and working in Japan.

Straddlin' the fence

I owe y'all a blog. I owe a lot of people emails. I owe one dear friend a phone call or a gigantic email or just a lot of communicative effort. However, I also owe this country and this country and these people my attention.
This morning in church I was thinking about how I am leading a double life. I have my "here and now" life here in Japan. I also have my "home" life consisting of people and places scattered throughout the planet, but mostly a hemisphere away. It's hard to live with one foot planted in each, which I think I've been trying to do since I got here, through mostly lots of emailing and also through the blog.
I'm not going to say that's completely bad. I don't regret keeping in touch with people through emailing. I am, however, now starting to believe that I have depended too much on it to keep me afloat, rather than working on deeping relationships with people here. That is unhealthy, I think.
So here is my abstract new year's resolution (everyone needs one of those, right): I will make an effort to be more of the world God has put me in. That means that I will not invest myself only in those people with whom I already have established relationships, but I will also work to build relationships with people I encounter day to day or week to week. That also involves not just focusing on gaijin or English speakers here, but also making a concentrated effort to learn and use Japanese.
This is not to say that I am turning my back on anyone. Hopefully you know I couldn't (and moreover wouldn't) do that. As says the immortal Girl Scout song, "Make new friends and keep the old; one is silver and the other's gold." :) So many of you are more precious than gold to me.
So if I owe you an email, I'm am truly sorry. I will do my best. Tomorrow's a holiday, so hopefully I will catch up some then. Thanks to all of you who are still actually reading the blog. I am getting back into the blogging groove after my weeks of travel. I'm storing up little blogging topics in my mind already.
Love you all so dearly. I thank God for the blessing each of you is to me. Thank you for sticking by me.

Happy Birthday Peter-san!

Yesterday I had the honor and privilege of spending the day with one of my dear friends celebrating his 24th birthday. Peter has been such a blessing to me since I have been in Japan. That first month here, his comfort, advice, and empathy are most of what kept me from boarding a plane out of this crazy country back to the US. As a fellow "child of Bailey" he has been a great companion and conversationalist, stretching my mind and vocabulary through our time together. So Peter-san, my blog salutes you. May this year bring you all kinds of adventure and enriching experiences. And hopefully a trip to Singapore. :)

PS- It is the tradition of this blog to post a picture of the birthday celebrator, but somehow I have no pictures of Pete. :-O Submissions welcome. If only I had a copy of that picture of you in the sombrero to put on here! :)

Thursday, January 06, 2005

"Well... I'm back."

Just a quick note to let you know that I made it back to Japan. I'll write more later, but now I really need to sleep. Love you all so much.

*Gold star if you can identify the quote from the title

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Happy New Shannah!

Hope everyone had a safe and happy new years. I got to spend it with several people I love very dearly. My time in Edmond was well spent and I will treasure the memories I made there with so many of my friends.
Thought I would share with you guys my two whole new year's resolutions. First, I want to pass the Level 4 Japanese Proficiency Exam. Also, I want to memorize a good poem. So many times I read poems and I'm like, "Man! I wish I knew that by heart so I could have it with me all the time!" So I'm going to try that. If I'm feeling ambitious I might go for The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot. If less ambitious I may go for The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. I think we all know which one is more likely to actually happen. But hey, you have to aim high. :)
Hope you all set some goals for yourself. May God grant each of you out there with grace and peace in this new year.