There has been a strange quiet ever since I returned from Japan, and it is unsettling. Every time I travel, whether locally or abroad, I return from great adventures to a life that feels quite ordinary. One day I am eating caught-that-morning scallops and exploring Shinto shrines, the next I am stuck in a cubicle and staring at a computer screen, eating a pb&j. Life has felt the same for a while now, and suddenly eight years have passed since I first moved to Los Angeles.
I am restless.
I went to church twice today. After knowing Jesus for so many years, I am less surprised and more delighted at how his truth for me finds me no matter where I am. (Sometimes, it is less delightful and more “Okay, God, I get it!” There were many times in college when what was shared in chapel was the same topic we’d discuss in my life-changing New Testament class [taught by the wonderful Dr. John Wright] which would then be the same message preached by the pastor in church that weekend.)
This morning at Hope Christian Fellowship, Pastor Mike spoke about generational bondage and strongholds, and how sin has a ripple effect through generations. In Matthew 23:29-39, the Pharisees (those hypocrites) tried to make the excuse that they would not have done as their ancestors did, but Jesus called them out and said that they have done exactly as their ancestors did, murdering prophets and sages and teachers. The Pharisees were exactly the same as their ancestors, and deceiving themselves and others by claiming they were different. But then we heard testimony how with Christ we can break free from these strongholds, that we do not have continue the family line and be who our ancestors were.
Stronghold: a place dominated by a particular group or marked by a particular characteristic; a place of security or survival.
I have two strongholds in my family: divorce and broken families, and God’s enduring faithfulness. I will break free from one, and cling to the other.
Jesus says to the Pharisees “look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say ‘blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'” (Matthew 23:38-39). The fourth commandment reminds us that God is a jealous God and that he punishes “the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Deuteronomy 5:9b). This is almost too much to comprehend. It’s overwhelming to think that Sin has such an effect not only on my life but on the lives of so many others. And then there is anger and bitterness that my life is affected by the sins of my ancestors.
But the very next verse holds a great promise, one that my family has experienced personally for nearly 400 years. Deuteronomy 5:10 says that God, though he be a jealous one, shows “love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” My ancestor John Robinson was the pastor of the “Pilgrim Fathers,” and even though he sent his congregation to the New World in 1619, my family is still only 16 generations in to the thousand that God promised. Whew, how exciting! I feel the blessing of this promise, and the privilege to be a part of continuing that promise to future generations.
This evening at Fellowship Monrovia, Pastor Becky spoke about faith in action, citing Hebrews 11 as examples of people who lived their life in faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah. The list could go on. These were not just people who lived faith in action, but they lived in the hope and promises of what God had yet to do. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth,” (vs. 13). They all lived not for the promises on earth, but for the promises of God’s heavenly kingdom.
It is so easy, especially as a sinner in a fallen world, to remember the failures and forget the faithfulness. And this sinful, human flesh of mine wants to see promises delivered here on earth: the perfect job, the perfect husband, the perfect family, the perfect retirement plan (complete with a little bookshop in England with a flat above where my perfect husband and I can spend the last of our days, cozy in front of a fire, drinking tea, and reading to our hearts’ content). “Well done, good and faithful servant,” but I want my reward here on earth, too.
Becky challenged me tonight. I don’t serve Jesus for my reward here on earth. (That actually sounds gross, writing “reward.” I think I have claim to a reward??) Living for the heavenly kingdom means letting go of the earthly one. How, then, does my faith change? How does the way I hope for things change, if God’s promises to me extend beyond my earthly life? Is living for God’s promises truly enough?
There are things I need to stop; there are things I need to start. I feel I am on the cusp of a new season, and I am restless. After hearing from God today, I feel that restlessness turning into renewed hope and excitement. I long for a better a heavenly kingdom, one God has prepared for us.
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” – C.S. Lewis
On Sunday we joined the Be One team (a mix of missionaries from different churches/denominations) at The Rock for church. One of the Be One members, Joey Millard, preached on Acts 16:25-34 and how Paul and Silas worshipped God in spite of their circumstances. He talked about what it takes to turn our words from grumbling to praise and that it is a change of attitude. This is a choice we are free to make in every circumstance – grumble, or praise; moaning or praise; crying or praise.
He ended the sermon by recalling an old gospel song he loves (the irony, he said, is that he only listens to gospel music once a year and that’s at the annual gospel festival which just happened on Saturday), “Hallelujah Anyhow.”
No matter what comes my way,
I’ll lift my voice and say,
Oh, yes Lord, me, too. Though I am sore from sleeping on the floor and am perpetually perspiring on account of the humidity and can never seem to get enough coffee, hallelujah anyhow. I only have wifi in the evenings back at the house and the shower is too short (though maybe I am too tall – I have to duck everywhere!) and I have not had sushi yet, but hallelujah anyhow.
Monday morning found us bright and early with a 40-minute drive to a nearby costal village. We joined up with another L.A. church (whose leader teaches at APU and whom I’ve met before – small world) and we were dropped off at different job sites around the village for a day of work alongside local farmers and fishermen.
My group’s task for the day was to shuck barnacles from lead weights used by the fishermen to keep their nets taut and in one place in the water. Little by little, we learned about the fisherman we were helping. He used to be the fire chief, and used to have workers who would help him with his scallops business. We also learned that this little garage-sized hut that housed the “factory” we’d been working at all day stands on the site where his house used to stand.
Everyone here remembers where they were on March 11, 2011. We have yet to meet someone who can talk about it without tearing up and getting lost in vivid memories. Some have not yet been able to clean up and repair the damage to their homes. We have been told many times by both the missionaries here and by the locals that lots of people helped immediately after the tsunami, but that it is the Christians who keep coming.
Culturally, the Japanese people are very polite, kind, and reserved. It takes relationships to win them over, not just gifts or acts of service – it takes time. The missionaries here emphasize and prioritize relationships over any task or chore we may do while we are here. Prayers are full of pleading for soft hearts, wisdom for discernment, and time to spend with the people of Ishinomaki. Servant leadership is on full display here with the Be One group, and they give most freely of their time.
Selfishly, this is why I do short-term missions – perspective. My “hallelujah anyhow” is a lot different from Paul’s. It is a lot different from the Be One group and the Christians here in Ishinomaki. But my “hallelujah anyhow” has value, too, when used wisely. Go ahead and roll your eyes at me for the things I mentioned above – I certainly did as I wrote them. Yes, they are “hallelujah anyhow” moments for me, but honestly? I know better than that.
But there are seasons in life when it seems too hard to do anything but put one foot in front of the other, times when I worry if God has forgotten about me, times when I feel like I am on my own. We all have unknown battles we are fighting, and it is in these battles that we cry out “hallelujah anyhow.” There is a lot of pain and fear in these cries, but cry out I must. My battles are not insignificant compared to the battles of Ishinomaki; my battles are different. And I thank God with all my heart that He is bigger than everything. Just as he provides and cares for the birds (see? they’re everywhere!), so he provides for me, the Be One team, and the people of Ishinomaki.
It is a strange thing to be in another country where they do not speak English and they also do not speak Spanish. I found myself trying to default to Spanish upon hearing a language that was not English and that I did not understand. “Gracias” does not mean “thank you” in Japan; “arrigato” means “thank you” in Japan. Spanish is my comfort zone, my security blanket, for when I am hearing unfamiliar language, and here it does me no good. There is still unspoken language, however, and that has served me well. My eyes wide open, accompanied by a big grin, and constant bowing seem to get across how grateful I am for all the assistance I have received.
Tokyo itself, what I’ve seen of it in the past 12 hours so far, is for the most part exactly what one would expect. My expectations are a little off, but this is most likely due to my recent viewing of “The Last Samauri.” (Japan, as it turns out, is not still in the late 1800s.) There are lots of people, but polite people. Busy people. Lots going on here in Tokyo, even at 9:30pm. The weather is humid, but it is not too hot yet so the humidity is bearable in shorts and a tank top. I literally forgot to bring pants on this trip, but think I will manage just fine with only shorts and one skirt. Lots of bright lights, smells of savory food, and sounds of busy traffic. I will be ending my trip with two days of sightseeing in Tokyo, so I will have lots more to share in a week.
Figuring out the trains – where to buy tickets, how to buy tickets, which platform to wait on – is tricky. Most of the signs also have English on them, but not all. And did I mention the busy people? They are patient when you get in their way, but barely. We had been told that Americans are given quite a lot of grace here in Japan, and I have definitely seen that. Whenever I travel, I try to not be the stereotypical “dumb American.” I try to be respectful of local customs, traditions, behaviors, etc., participating in the culture here and trying new foods and drinks (instead of sticking to McDonalds and Starbucks, both of which are right outside the train station), and I like to think that generally I succeed. Even so, there is not a lot I can do to hide my blue eyes, blonde hair, and freckles.
I definitely would have been overwhelmed coming here on my own for the first time. But now, even after less than a day here, I know I would be fine to navigate around on my own.
I have often said that my experience living abroad opened my heart and soul to foreign experiences, that it keeps wanderlust close to the surface, and that it has made me ready for whatever adventure God has next in store for me. This current adventure has been an exciting one so far, and I look forward to the days ahead!
Keep praying for me, the team, and the missionaries we are partnering with here. Everyone is in good health and good spirits so far, but I suspect jet lag has yet to catch up to us…
A friend of mine (who is a great writer – check out his blog here!) asked me the other day when was the last time I blogged. I was shocked to discover how long it’s been. It’s been over a year since my last blog post. I’m going to go ahead and blame grad school for that (more on that in a bit).
I started a blog post on October 22, 2014 (which would’ve been 6 months after the previous post and 9 months before this one), but never published it. That entry was to be about a new hero of mine – Sir Nicholas Winton. Apt timing, I suppose, for me to find this draft, as he just passed away on July 1 at the age of 106. Winton organized the rescue of 669 children during World War II, most of them Jewish, and he never told anyone of his involvement. He didn’t even tell his wife, so she (and the world) only learned of his actions when she stumbled across an old scrapbook of his in 1988 – over 40 years after the end of the war. For a brief video of an incredible reunion with Winton and some of the children he rescued, check out this video from the BBC.
The last non-Instragram entry on my blog was written on April 30, 2014. It was about birds, and how I see God’s faithfulness and care in birds. It’s one of my favorite posts (that feels weird to write), mostly because I need that reminder every day. If God cares that much for birds, to provide for their every want and need, how much more does he care and provide for me?
So what have I been up to since April 30th, 2014? A lot, as my many Instagram posts have illustrated. But here are some highlights:
- Grad school. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! I’m on track to graduate in December, with only a summer course and my thesis left to complete. It has been an incredible experience for me and I am so blessed to have met the people I have through this program. There are the ones who have moved away (I’m looking at you, Dr. Visser!), the ones who have graduated, the ones who have partnered with me in many classes… Every book, paper, project, presentation, discussion, and field trip has been worth every dollar, tear, and minute. What I’m going to do after graduation, I have no idea. But I’m excited!
- My home. In July 2013 I moved from a condo in Glendale, CA to a house in Temple City, CA. My house mate/landlord was a good friend of mine I knew from church and the two of us lived with 3 other women in a 5-bedroom, 3.5 bathroom house. After a year living at the Jaylee house, my introvert soul decided it was time to find a quieter place to live. And so, in April this year I moved into a condo in Monrovia, CA. I’ve noticed a trend in my abodes since I first moved to Los Angeles back in 2007(!). I keep moving further and further east. It makes sense, I guess, especially since I work for Azusa Pacific University in an office in San Dimas – of course I’d be moving closer to work. I’m getting a little too close to the San Bernardino County border though…
- New car. In November I finally said goodbye to my 20-year-old Honda Accord and got a new Buick Encore with the help of some friends at Thorson Buick. I’ve never had a new car before and I’m still kinda overwhelmed with all the bells and whistles. I mean, it has air conditioning, speakers that work, all its mirrors, and a sunroof! Most importantly, I feel safe in my car.
- New job. In March of last year I transitioned from my program representative role to a position in the Registrar’s office doing transfer evaluations at University College at Azusa Pacific University (yes, it’s a mouthful). In November 2014, an opportunity came up and I was encouraged by many to apply for the position of Enrollment Supervisor at University College. I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave the position I was in, especially after only having been there for 8 months, but one of my co-workers reminded me that I was studying for a master of arts in leadership and here I was being given an opportunity to lead. I had to do it. It’s been 8 months and I’m still standing. Lots of life lessons learned, and I’ve even learned a little bit more about enrollment. So, anyone interested in starting classes in the fall? I know a place…
- Adventures! Last summer I took my first vacation in years and spent 5 days in Seattle visiting old friends from college and my cousins. I’d been to the city once before, but over 15 years ago, so it felt like I was visiting for the very first time. I loved it. So much, in fact, that I can see myself living there someday. And it was so great to reconnect with the Achesons and their boys, and to spend time with my cousins. I also have had the opportunity to go to Mexico with my church twice this past year. The last time I’d gone to Mexico was before 9/11, when my friends and I would park at the border, walk across, and spend the day there with nothing more on us than $20 and our drivers licenses. I’d nearly forgotten how much I love Mexico and speaking Spanish. My Andalusian accent came back quickly, and we laughed at the different idioms and slang.
What’s coming up for me in the next year?
- Japan! I leave for Japan on Thursday and will be gone for two weeks on a mission trip with my church. I am excited to cross off a bucket list item (to visit every continent; this trip brings my number to 3) and to see where the missionaries from my church live and work.
- Homecoming! This year is my 10-year reunion at PLNU. Can’t believe it’s been 10 years already since I graduated. I am really looking forward to being back on campus and seeing old friends again.
- Graduation! I’ll be graduating in December from Azusa Pacific University with a Master of Arts in Leadership. I’m gonna be a leader!
- Free time! Once I graduate, I’ll have time to read for fun again! I cheated along the way, mostly to read Game of Thrones, but always in the back of my head there is this thought of “You should really be doing homework instead…”
- More blogs! Going along with the previous, once I graduate I’ll have more time (and motivation) to write for fun.
- Maybe I’ll get a cat.
That’s it! That’s the news from the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in my little town of Monrovia. I’m excited for what this next year holds in store for me and I’m ready for the adventure.
Sorry it took so long.