Monday, November 30, 2009

Childlike faith

Today I attended my amazing Japan church. We were in Isaiah 7. The king is shaken as he hears that other kingdoms are coming to take them down (that’s me simplifying most of the chapter into one sentence). They were focusing on the things around them rather than focusing on the Lord and knowing that they are ok, because he will take care of them.

As I re-read this in an attempt to begin to work on tonight’s blog, it occurred to me that this is what children do. Something happens and when they aren’t sure how to react, they look to mom or dad. If mom or dad freak out, then they start crying or screaming. If mom or dad are calm, they remain calm.

We’re called to have a childlike faith. So, if we’re supposed to be focusing on the Lord, how should we be reacting to our surroundings? Should we be freaking out? Does the Lord freak out when he hears that someone is coming to “take his chosen down”? No. He knows what’s going to happen. Just as a parent knows whether a kid really needs to cry over the small thing, the Lord knows whether we need to freak out over the things in our life.

We are called to give these things to him and have his peace. He says it over and over and over again in the Word (believe me, I’ve been finding a lot of these references lately – think He’s trying to say something?). But when I actually do what I’m told and look to him, I have more peace than I’ve had in a long time.

He also said (as translated): “Look at God and go to God’s word. Put your heart there. Don’t put your heart where the problem is. That will always bring anxiety. Who can fix a problem by dwelling on it?” It’s time to let go of these things and keep my focus on the Lord. He will provide the answers I need.

One of my favorite worship songs: “Your love is amazing, steady and unchanging, your love is a mountain firm beneath my feet.” I love that. He is unchanging and steady. I just need to hold on to him and he will give me the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

An amazing day!

Today was an amazing day. Here are a few of the highlights: **

Chatting it up with the crazies on skype for a total of about 6 hours. Using Google wave to carry on private conversations, map a route to my house, beginning another quote book, Barats & Bereta theme song.

Getting to talk to my family on the break, in between the two conversations with the crazies. Having dad challenge me to a bowling wii game.

Talking to my friend, K, until I absolutely had to leave for my supervisor’s house, about some good things. Leaving at absolutely the last minute and arriving at my supervisor’s house EXACTLY at 6 (as planned).

Going to my supervisor’s house for dinner with her and her family. Including amazing food – sukiyaki (there was beef, dad!). I was actually able to communicate most of what I wanted to in Japanese and gestures (getting better each day!!!). Good conversation with my supervisor and her family. Their absolutely adorable Toy Poodle. Amazing non-American cheesecake, but this one didn’t have a nasty pie crust and it actually tasted good. Then Wii, which I sucked at the sports, but did amazing at the other game we played. Learning a trick for Wii bowling (maybe I’ll beat you after all, Dad!!). I had a blast.

Arriving home to discover not only the package from my family, but a Thanksgiving card from my aunt. Inside the package? Amazing, exciting things. My sister made me a couple of adorable gifts and wrote me the sweetest letter. Acne stuff that I somehow didn’t bring with me to Japan. Maybe I’ll actually have clear skin now!! Chocolate. Bandaids and Neosporin. I can now handle any cuts that come my way!

A wonderful day. I feel so loved! I wonder what the Lord has in store for me tomorrow?

**Please note my apology for the overuse of fragments and exclamation points. I was quite excited about what an amazing day it was and wanted to share with all of you. The Lord has been bringing me through plenty of hard times lately and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget to share the good too.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Today is the day after Thanksgiving here, but I didn’t really celebrate until today when I got to talk to my extended family on Skype.

So today’s blog is about all the ways the Lord has blessed me, because while it’s hard to be so far away, the Lord has also blessed me in a ton of ways.

In a country where less than 1% of the people are believers, I have a JTE who is not only a believer, but also is willing to bring me along with her to church any Sunday that I’m in town.

Church. Through my JTE I have found an amazing church that has a heart to see people grow in the Lord. Both their own members and to reach out to others in Japan. They also have an American missionary who can translate for me. So I actually understand the message!

Work. I have a job. So many people in the world are struggling to find a job so they can pay bills and support a family. I am able to not only pay my bills, but save and pay down my school debt.

Japanese. I am understanding more and more everyday. With that understanding also comes more ability to communicate with people, which is so exciting.

Friendships here. I have been able to connect with a few of the other teachers in my schools pretty well. They still don’t have the western culture of “hey, want to do something tonight?” but I have been able to have them over and they’ve had me over.

My town. The people here care about me. If I were to voice a problem, they would help me find a solution. They also pay half my ticket home once a year. Which is HUGE.

My supervisor. Her family has adopted me a bit. I get to have dinner with her family tomorrow and she’s taken me with them to Furano several times to shop and go to her son’s baseball games.

Other JETs. I have made some good friendships here and have been able to travel some to see these friends. I haven’t left Hokkaido yet, but there is a whole lot to see even here.

Bible Study. Because of the Christian Jet Fellowship, I was able to get connected with 3 other believers and we have Bible Study every Thursday night. It has been an amazing time to grow in the Lord and build one another up.

My family. I have an incredible family who cares about me a lot.

My home church. Where many of the people not only care enough to pray, but many care enough keep in contact through letters and email.

Friends. I have amazing friends at home who haven’t let the distance get in the way of our friendships.

Skype. I have been able to talk to my family and SEE them despite the fact that I am so far away. It’s hard not to be able to give hugs, but it’s also been wonderful to be able to not only talk to them for free but see them too.

Many of my blogs may be about tough things the Lord has brought me through, but he has also put so many blessings in my life.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Blog

I spent my blog-writing time booking a hotel for the day before I fly home for Christmas and the day I return after.

I'm exhausted and going to bed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gender Identity In Japanese and Western Culture: The Definitive Something or Other*

Today I spent another day with my Junior High School students. It was a good day. But as I stand there often not involved in classes except to read for the students to repeat (human tape recorder, we call it), I get to observe my students. This is always an interesting way to keep my mind occupied.

As I stand there, I frequently notice that the boys in the class have some very “girly” school supplies. Minnie Mouse Folders, pink pencils and plenty of other things. Why is it that guys in the US think that these types of things would make them less “manly”? Why is it that American society deems these things “girly?” Why do we have to separate things and jobs as feminine or masculine?

The differences continue outside the classroom. Construction equipment here is often cute. Elephants, frogs and monkeys hold up bars to keep people seeing the edge of the road. The lifter things that help people reach power lines, painted like giraffes.Why is it that construction equipment at home is never painted in pastel colors? Or pinks? Or any of the colors we deem “feminine?” Or is it because animals are “childish?” If that’s the case, who quit liking animals after they were an adult?

In the states, we also seem to classify jobs this way. How many male elementary teachers have you met? There are usually one or two at any school, clearly outnumbered. How many women do you know going into computer science? I know a handful, but I know way more men. Why is this? Didn’t God give us each unique talents and abilities? Why would women not be able to do some jobs and men not be able to do others?

I may be crazy to share all of these thoughts, but at home I get annoyed when the boys in the classroom think they can’t be good at reading or writing because they’re “girl subjects” (or sometimes even school at all), or when a girl thinks she can’t be good at math or science because they’re “boy subjects.” Students seem to choose this way of thinking all the time (or did when I was subbing).

I’m not trying to say that women should be better than men at everything or vice versa. I just get annoyed with the way we box things into gender. Why are school supplies, colors, school subjects and professions categorized into genders? They have no gender. They’re inanimate objects.

Will we ever be able to disconnect these things from gender? Would lifting these boxes that we have put ourselves and those around us in change anything? I’m not sure. I would hope that it would make everyone help to be themselves. Help them to dress in the colors they want to. Help them to do a job they love rather than shying away from it because it’s not something they should be doing.

*Title thanks to: Elizabeth, author of Futons, Fish, and Ferries and one of my regular blog editors

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Never Look Away

Yet again, I find myself floored at how a song speaks to me. This song, another by KJ-52, is called Never Look Away. KJ-52 is not an artist I would normally listen to, yet the Lord used it.

“I once was lost but then You found me and loved me
And I'm never gonna look away
No I'm never gonna look away
You paid the cost You showed me how You bought me
And I'm never gonna look away
No I'm never gonna look away”
–Never Look Away (KJ-52 featuring Brynn Sanchez)

There are times when life is difficult and it’s hard to be so far away from all the people that I love. But every time this starts to feel overwhelming, the Lord reminds me that I need to keep looking at him and he will provide for me. Whatever it is I think I need, he will provide what I need. And usually that looks like peace. Peace amidst troubles. Peace amidst worry. Peace against all odds.

“I’m never gonna look away.” So easy to say and intend to mean. But most of the time when the distance feels overwhelming it’s because I’ve not realized I’ve looked away. I start to focus on the worries of this world instead of the things the Lord has promised.

I can do all things in Christ – Philippians 4:13
He has good plans for me with a hope and a future. – Jeremiah 29:11
If I trust in Him with all that I am and don’t lean on my own understanding, he will guide my steps. – Proverbs 3:5-6
Cast all my cares on him, he will take care of them because he cares about me – 1 Peter 5:7
Seek him first and he will supply for my needs – Matthew 6:33
His power works best in my weakness – 2 Corinthians 12:9

These are paraphrased by me. They seem that much more real to me when I repeat things that the Lord has spoken to me in the past and recently.

His provision? It’s here. From making some closer friends here, to finding a JTE who goes to an amazing church. It’s not hard to see. I just have to remember to focus on the things the Lord has done in my life and not let go of those things when the storms of life hit.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Today I messaged some friends on the insanely long train on the way back to my apartment. I called it “home.” Does that mean I am becoming more at home here? It took me a while to call college home after moving there for the school year, that town definitely became my home over time. It was hard to leave that “home” for Japan.

“If home is where the heart is
Then my home is where you are” – Relient K

Has the Lord put my heart here? What does he desire me to do while I’m here in this tiny town? In what ways will he use me?

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Russian Restaraunt

This weekend, I am visiting one of the northern cities in Hokkaido. It has many Russian people that come in and out because of fishing. Many of the signs are in Russian as well. My friend who lives here, L, told me the Russian restaraunt was amazing and we should go.

We decided to go with one of the other ALTs in town, V, and her boyfriend. When we got there, we were seated at a table next to a table of three Russian guys. They said "hello" in English and then we went about talking to our group.

Soon, the first course came. It was a salad that resembled a salad that we would find at home and sharing the plate with it was a purpley potato salad that was really good. With that, a roll thing with beef, egg, and corn inside. They were both really good.

Next thing we know, one of them has come over and has sat right next to V. At first, he was just a friendly guy with very little English. He said hello, asked our names and then where we are all from (normal questions in Japan). We answered and are enjoying talking to someone from another culture (we're here for internationalization, right?). Through out all of this he seems very interested in V. After a few minutes of this, he headed back to his table with his two buddies.

We continued our meal and more courses came. We received some skewers with some amazing meat on them and some yummy borscht. He returned again. He asked us all our names again and told us his. It was voulvog (or something like that). He tried to have us pronounce it, we failed miserably. Then he asked if the guy sitting next to J was her boyfriend. She said yes and made sure it was clear that they were together. He wasn't deterred. He asked L and I. We said no. His next attempt was to get us to dance. We all kindly refused. He returned to his table yet again.

In his absence this time, another yummy dumpling soup came. It was delicious and had some mustard that went on the dumplings.

As we were eating it, he returned. This time to offer for each of us (starting with J and ending with me) if we wanted to smoke. Yet again, we refused. Around this time, his friend commented that he thought I was beautiful and that his friend was crazy. We laughed and went back to our conversation again.

We were nearly finished with our meal when he returned again. This time we were starting to feel like "stop bugging us, J is not interested and neither are we." The restaurant owner must have been able to see this, because she came over and sent him away. His friend, yet again apologized and told me again that I was beautiful.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blessings today

This morning I woke up about half an hour before my alarm went off (supposed to go off at 4:30 am). I had gone to bed late enough last night that even my alarm time was too early. I wasn't able to go back to sleep and didn't have a good attitude about the whole thing.

But the day turned out well. I was able to get ready early and talk to my dad on his lunch break. We had a really good conversation. My walk to the train station in the snow wasn't terrible. I wasn't freezing (I now have enough layers for being outside in the snow).

I made all my connecting trains in all the new cities and stations. The train ride was long, but I had some good time with the Lord and very much enjoyed looking out the window at the beautiful countryside. Snow was falling as we rode past and it just seemed magical.

The best part though, was when I was able to speak Japanese to the lady next to me on the train enough to ask where the bathroom was. She pointed me in the right direction and away I went. When I returned, she tried to share some snacks with me, but I already had the same thing in my bag. Instead I shared a random snack I found at the station with her. She smiled and talked to me more, which I didn't quite understand, but she was so sweet!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rememberance Day

Today is Transgender Remembrance Day. I didn’t have a clue that there even was such a thing until my friend told me about it. She’s transgender and a good friend. She’s so much more though than this title/stigma that people put with that. She’s a real person. She cares about people, she’s a good listener, she loves to create websites.

Yet despite being an amazing person, she was afraid to tell me that she’s transgender. She was afraid of my reaction. And I don’t blame her. I didn’t handle it well at first. I didn’t know what to do or think. I had a zillion questions and I wasn’t sure if she was ok with me asking. I remember having to deal with some of the ugliness inside of me before I could really just be a real friend to her. Why? Because I let a lot of the junk of this world get in the way of realizing that it doesn’t matter, she’s my friend and that’s what’s important.

As we talked about this day, I didn’t quite get it. What were we supposed to be remembering? She informed me that 105 transgender people have died from hate crimes this year. I was blown away.

I refuse to take a stand on whether it’s right or wrong. I don’t think that’s the point. Jesus called me to love people. Behind every controversial issue there are real people. It doesn’t matter if we agree with what they believe or what they are doing. The word calls me to love them.

When we first talked, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about this. It’s such a controversial topic and did I really want to have to deal with people possibly disliking my opinion? After writing the other day about hearing something and acting on it, I realized that I had to write something. If for no other reason than to bring attention to what is really happening, if I were stay quiet, how am I doing anything to stop these hate crimes?

Friday, November 20, 2009

English Class

Wow. So today’s English class was amazing.

The students had looked at the article “A village of 100 people.” They had talked about what it meant in their previous class. I was amazed.

Today in class, the students sang the song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Definitely a song from the 60’s or 70’s, it fits with the types of songs my parents listen to from that era. After the song, they were given some photojournalism magazines. These photos showed real people in real hurt.

What a powerful message. What is the Lord trying to speak to me?

Jesus called us to be the light into the dark places, to let his love shine into the places where people are hurting, in pain and can see their need for him. How am I doing that? He called us to the world. Am I living that out or am I hiding in a safe bubble of light not sharing it with those around me? It’s so easy to make excuses. Maybe I can’t physically go right now, but can I support those that are? In what ways can I be the light into the dark places where I am? I can’t go to all the dark places nor can I fix every problem. But what can I do? I feel more and more the Lord is calling me to action. How does that look? I’m not sure.

A part of me wants to live the safe life (American Dream) with the 2.5 kids and a dog (or cat). But is that really something worth working toward? Is it just an illusion? Is that life really so easy or safe or perfect? What happens when something happens to one of the kids, the dog dies, or the perfect spouse loses their job? Is that really something we can hang onto? Is it really the life the Lord has called me to live?

Where does that life make room for the Lord to move? For me to be moved by him? If that’s what my life is supposed to be about, why does the “American Dream” not fit so well with it?

I feel like the Lord has been bringing messages like this into my life a lot lately. How do I help? How do I make a difference? What can I do to bring light into those dark places, into the places of hurt and oppression?

What is the Lord calling me to? What is the calling he has placed on my life? Does he want me to live overseas forever and be a missionary? Does he just want me to live a missional life wherever he’s placed me?

I think what I really want is to live my life passionately following the Lord. Where will he lead? Where will I go next? I don’t know. I want to follow the passions he’s put in me. I want to be where he’s moving. I don’t want to live a passive life, hoping to see him move. I want to live an life actively acting as his hands and feet.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Two years ago

Two years ago, today, my longest standing friend, Cara, died in a car accident. In a lot of ways I’m surprised at how untouched I am, and at the same time I miss her a lot.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget her. She was such a big part of my childhood. Cara’s family was like an extension of mine. We shared Kindergarten, annoyance with our younger sisters, girl scouts, snow days and so much more.

At the same time, I’m amazed at how much time has passed since then. I’ve graduated – we should have graduated together. We would have started school together and finished together, but in one night, one drunk driver took that away.

Cara, you will always be missed, but we had so many good memories.

I remember the last time I saw you, you came in the door on Friday night so proud of your new glasses and that you could see well again. Because of that moment, I had to think very hard when my parents told me what had happened early that Sunday morning. My first thought, “but I saw you last night.” Then realized I was forgetting that Saturday happened in between.

I’ll never forget all the fun times we had as apartment-mates, and all the times you cooked things for our all of us. The cake cookies I learned to cook from you. Or all the crazy things you did – like keeping pizza in the cold oven until you had finished the whole thing (this always made me laugh). Or keeping your bedroom window open when you had the heat on. Or the giant shoe collection (maybe mountain is a better word) that always plagued our entryway. Or Liz & Melissa’s weddings we got all dressed up for and went to together. Or watching you get excited that you were about to be an aunt (and you would have been an amazing one).

It often just feels as though you’ve moved back to Arizona. We didn’t talk often after you moved there, in sixth grade, but when I hear something that makes me think of you, I want to call or email you. I’ll never forget the first time it happened. I was home and I was reading something that mentioned Chandler, and I wanted to call you and ask you about it. As I thought about moving to get my phone (your phone number still in it), I realized I can’t call anymore.

All that to say, I miss you. There are some days when I don’t think of you at all, similar to when you were alive and in Arizona, and other days when I can’t believe that it’s been so long since you’ve been gone. You were an amazing friend and I am thankful to have been a part of your life. Know that you will always be remembered.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Someone needs to do something about that"

Yesterday, I found a link back to this blog I had read a while ago. It’s called Stuff Christians Like. Kind of an odd title and I probably wouldn’t have read it before, except a friend had posted it on facebook and it a funny title, “Thinking you’re naked.” What??? I had to read it. It was an incredible article.

I found myself there again, this time through a completely different website. I remembered the previous article and decided to look at the more recent articles. I wanted to see if this was a rare good article, or one of many (it’s definitely one of many). This time, I found myself on this one: “What if?

The author, Jon, was inspired by his 6-year-old daughter to fundraise for a school in Vietnam. They were reading a book and she saw a photo of a young child somewhere else in the world living in poverty and asked, “That’s not real though. That’s pretend right?” He realized that her question went deeper. People don’t really live like that? Kids my own age? Why isn’t anyone doing something? Why aren’t we doing something? He decided to act on it.

I’m amazed. How many times does the Lord speak things into my life in equally small ways, which I can brush off and I do? Why do I not see something that needs done and do it?

Why don’t I notice the “someone needs to do something about that” moments and realize that they may be the Lord saying, “You need to do something about that”?

Why do I let fear and complacency get in the way of living my live completely for the Lord, especially in the small ways that no one else will know about?

I love . . .

. . . staying warm when it’s cold outside!

My JTE and I went shopping this weekend for things I need for winter. I bought winter boots, warmer pants, sweaters, a hat and nice-warm pants (wear to work).

I walked to work today and though slightly cold (I should have worn layers on my legs), I wasn’t freezing. I didn’t feel the need to run into the nearest house to get out of the cold (like I did before).

While I was terrified of winter and am still not so sure about driving in it (I have yet to drive in the snow/ice), I now know I have the clothes to stay warm (which makes it way less terrifying).

We were at, but not below freezing today. See how I feel when we’re -20° C.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Today, the pastor at church chose to speak on Numbers 28-29. I wasn’t particularly excited. At first glance, this is one of the chapters where the Lord is telling the Israelites how to do sacrifices and various ceremonies. BORING! Or so I thought.

She said (well it was translated) that the Lord wanted to teach the Israelites to have a rhythm. She gave the example of a rhythm of going to bed early and getting up early, which she established as a child. Something may happen to cause her to stay up late or sleep in occasionally, but life is better when she has a rhythm.

In this passage, the Lord was trying to teach them to have rhythms that took place daily, weekly (Sabbath), monthly and festivals. Each had its purpose. Daily, to connect with the Lord and hear his purpose for our lives. Weekly, to have fellowship with other believers. Festivals to remember what he has done in our lives.

In what ways do I have rhythms that take place daily, weekly and less frequently? I can easily look at the way I spend my time and see that the daily and weekly rhythms are in my life (devotions, church and a skype Bible study are easy to see).

What about less frequently (monthly). How do I make a rhythm in my life for remembering what the Lord has done in my life? How does that look in your life? How can I build that into my life in a real way, so it actually grows me and helps me realize more and more how amazing the Lord is?

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Today I had another epic skype conversation with a friend. She and I talked for a total of 6 hours (we got disconnected once). Last week we talked for five. How do we do it? Where does the time go? Neither of us really knows. We talk about everything from social justice (something that’s big on both of our hearts), to boys (duh, we’re girls), to our faith, to every and anything else.

She and I have decided to do a blog once a day for the month of November (now that I’ve admitted it publicly I’m going to have to hold myself to it). We didn’t start until the third, so it may be a little less than the full month.

She mentioned tonight as we were getting off (at 4 am, her time) that she had intended to write today about To Write Love On Her Arms*, something we both decided to do and according to the facebook invite, it was to be celebrated today (her time) or yesterday (mine). Anyways, because of the late time, when we stopped talking, she just wrote a short blurb and went to bed.

Did she really miss celebrating it by not writing about it? I think she chose to live it instead. She spent the day totally loving on the middle school students in her youth group. Then she spent the time to talk to me for an insane amount of time. Sounds like living it to me.

For me, my biggest love language is quality time, time when I really get to talk to someone and hear their heart and open mine to them. It can take the shape of real conversation, texts, crazy facebook notes, letters, instant messenger, or tons of other ways. For me, it can’t be forced into a short conversation in a few minutes. I don’t open up about deeper things in short amounts of time.

Being so far away from everyone and everything I know has been hard for that reason. It’s hard to spend quality time with people, when there are only a few odd hours when your free (non-work/sleep time) matches up and weekends for both ends are spent doing things that are not around the computer. That makes me feel the distance more. I feel more distant from friends when I don’t talk to them regularly.

Anyways, she showed me this website and I realized I needed to share some of the things it was talking about with her. I needed someone to know some of the deeper things that were going on with me, so that I would truly be known and so that someone could lift me up in prayer. After sharing with her, I didn’t feel like I was really so far away from everyone. Also, being a verbal processor, some of the problems that I thought seemed so huge, seemed so much smaller.**

This particular friend showed me true friendship by willing to sit and listen, to share her heart. I am so thankful.


*Please note, that while this site is aimed at people “struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide,” those are not things I’m dealing with. However, I have been dealing with the distance from home (some homesickness) and making friends in a new place. It has not been easy, but the Lord has been holding me up and providing new friendships in unexpected places.
**Also, please note that this is not a cry for help, but a way to say thank you to a friend, a chance to reflect on the way I spent my day.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

English Class today

Today I got to visit what is probably my favorite school, mostly because when I go, I get to spend the entire day at the school and really get to know the kids (which is incredible). The students are one sixth-grade boy, two third graders (girl and boy), three third graders (2 boys and one girl), two second grade girls, and two first-grade girls. They are an insanely fun group.

I was informed about the English lesson moments before going into the classroom. The teacher wanted me to pronounce the cards with the animals on them and then read the story. That got my brain going. If I was going to read this story, which the students weren’t likely to understand all the words to, how was I going to keep them engaged? (Keeping students engaged is always a big question for me, because it cuts down on management problems).

We got into the classroom and I asked, “How are you?”, “How’s the weather?”, “What’s the date today?” (the regular set of questions). As usual, most of the students do not know the month to be able to say the date. I have one third grader who seems to be particularly gifted in English who can almost always answer the question (maybe he studies at home?).

Then we pronounced the words, kids repeated (pretty standard way to start). After some questioning of students on the words, we moved on and played karuta. Karuta is a game I was introduced to in my high school Japanese class. The teacher calls a word and the first kid to slap the flash card wins it. The kid with the most cards at the end wins. We played a few rounds, with me being silly at the end and calling random non-animals (like carrot) when there was only one card left, to see if they were really listening.

After Karuta, came the story. It was about animal noises. To solve my earlier problem, I decided to pass out the cards with the animals. Each student was responsible to hold up her/his card when she/he heard the animal’s noise.

Please remember that as they were being asked to do this, most of the animal noises that we use in English are different than the ones that Japanese people use for animal noises. So as we went through the story, a few of the students held their animal up for every noise, until they got it right, and a few actually tried hard. They stayed engaged the whole time though. That was the best part; I didn’t lose any students while reading a story which most students didn’t understand.

Morning light
My view a couple of mornings ago.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Confessions of a Janken player

“You’re a strong Janken player” is what one of my students said about me (as translated by the English teacher). The funny thing is I have learned how to win or lose at Janken in Japan on purpose.

Janken, for those of you not in Japan, is Rock, Paper Scissors. Japanese people have an incredible chant that goes with it, I don’t completely have it down and I’m pretty sure I’m mis-pronouncing the words when I do say them.

Different from home though, is the fact that EVERYTHING can be decided by Janken here. Which team are you on for a sports game? Janken. Who just won the card in the game we’re playing as a class? Janken. I’ve even heard rumors that it’s used in Japanese business meetings (obviously I’m not present, so I’m not so sure).

Anyways, I figured out that I can decide whether to win or lose when I was first playing with students shortly after arriving. It was about a week after school started and all the elementary students from my four small schools came together at Shimokanayama Elementary, for a grand total of 29 students.

On this day, we had a big tournament where each time you won, people hooked onto your back and you kept going with this train of people behind you. Well the first few times I didn’t really have the chant down and I didn’t know when to show my symbol. So somehow, I ended up with paper. Then I realized I was winning each time. My elementary students were always playing rock first.

I thought, there’s no way, someone has to play something different. But can I win the whole thing only playing paper? Sure enough, who was the winner? Me. So in a battle against teachers and students, the foreigner who was playing for the first time in Japan won. Awesome!

Today, we played a game that used it as well. It was a game where we had flash cards laid out and the two teams were starting at either end of the line, when they met they had to say “Dom!” then Janken (used as a verb here). The loser went back, their team started from the beginning, and the other team continued. The goal was to get to the other end.

I based what I played on where we were in the line. If I was less than half way through, I would play paper and win, if more than that, I would play scissors and lose, giving the students who aren’t native English speakers a fair chance. Most of the time this theory worked. My team never did get to the other end, but I did find a few students who played something else and won or lost when I wasn’t expecting to.

At the end of class, students share their impressions. One girl commented that I am a “strong Janken player.” I had to laugh on the inside because she must have just met me each time when I was “winning” rather than “losing.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

First snow troubles

Today we had our first real snow. Last week we had some, but it didn’t even stick to the streets.

It started to snow last night before I went to choir practice. It continued though the night and today, when I left for school it was a few inches deep (probably about ankle deep). My first thought “oh no, I haven’t actually purchased snow boots yet.” So I left in my tennis shoes. My shoes were quite wet by the time I arrived at school, but my feet hadn’t actually gotten wet.

I throughout the day I watched it continue to snow. I spent a large amount of my day with my back turned to my desk and my eyes on the window watching the snow fall. It was so beautiful.

When it was time to go home, I arrived back at my shoe locker to find that my shoes had not dried. They were still wet. Since they were still my best choice for snow I put them on and set out for home. By the time I was half way home my feet were cold. They weren’t too wet, but they were cold.

After the half hour-ish walk home in the dark, my feet were still warm, thanks to 3 layers on my feet, one of them being wool socks. But they were wet (ick!). Can I make it through to the weekend (when I can shop with my JTE) with my tennis shoes? Would my rain boots (which don’t fit tight) be a better option?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Should vs. Had Better

Today, my JTE asked me the difference between these two ways to say the same thing. At first my response was they’re exactly the same. They do mean basically the same thing, but then I continued to ponder this. If they’re exactly the same, why does the students’ use of “had better” sometimes strike me as strange?

My thinking continued. Where do I hear “had better?” It seemed that I usually hear had better from older people. I was thinking like grandmother types. I continued to ponder. Does that mean it’s English that older people would use? Or does that make it English that you use to someone who is younger than you?

When do I use it? It seems like I would usually use it with someone if it were something that was super important for them to do or there would be bad consequences. For example, “you had better take your coat” (on a cold day). Except, I think I would still use should. Where would I use this phrase? In what contexts would I use this phrase? I’m still not even sure.

The eventual explanation I decided on, was that you’d use had better with people younger than you and should with your peers and for older people, I’d usually stick on an “I think” (i.e. I think you should . . .). Even that, seems a little funny, because I rarely choose to use “had better” and would use should almost across the board, with a few exceptions.

What do you think? Was my explanation right? Are my thoughts crazy? (probably!) Is there something I’m missing or an official explanation somewhere?


Last weekend I put my iPod on shuffle while on the train to visit a friend. Right before getting off, I found this song:

“I know some things that might bring your life stress.
And you're concerned about what's coming next,
Feeling so worried 'cause your whole life's a mess.
I want to tell you, you can make it through all this.
He'll never fail you, that's what he promised us
And even when things don't seem to make sense
That's the time when you hang on now you just trust.”
(He is All by KJ-52)

I was amazed, because it was like the Lord was speaking to me though these lyrics. I was having a tough time with the idea of being so far away from family, friends and my church for a whole year. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to be here anymore. But more than that, I didn’t want to let homesickness/fear get in the way of trusting the Lord. He directed my steps. He has me right where he wants me for his purposes.

In hearing those words, I was reminded that it may be hard, but he will be with me through it all. He is my strength. In the tough “just send me home now” moments and in the “I love this I could stay here for 5 years no problem” moments, he’s with me. He’ll provide what I need. Whether it’s deep friendships or encouragement in him. He’ll provide.

He already has. I just have to look back in my journal in the time since I got here to see that he is moving in me. He has provided me with encouragement through several friends here. My Japanese is improving. He has given me a church, which was beyond my expectations.

It doesn’t matter how I feel. “He’ll never fail you, that’s what he promised us.” I just have to hang on to the things I know when I feel unsure about what is going on around me or what I can handle and he will get me through.

So when I feel like I’m in over my head and I can’t make it for however long the Lord wants me here, “That's the time when you hang on now you just trust.” He’ll pull me through the tough times.

Hear the song

See the lyrics

And a new photo:
A temple that the Lord used to remind me how great he is. To read more, click the photo.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Learning is hard

This evening I worked on the Japanese course that, as a JET, I can take for free. It seems to be good so far, but the material is way over my head.

As a teacher, I taught my students the five finger rule. As you read, you put a finger up for each word you don’t know. If you have no fingers down by the end of the page, it’s too easy. If you have all 5 down before you get to the end of the page it’s too hard. These books are far enough above my head that I don’t have enough fingers (or toes) to use this rule.

The teacher in me says, you wouldn’t give a student a book which is this far over their head because it would be way too hard for them, why aren’t you setting these aside and coming back to them when your Japanese level is more up to speed? The part of me that knows there’s a test that goes with them and really wants to be able to take the advanced level next year says, get it done and don’t get behind!

As of the moment, neither one of them is winning completely, I’m behind but I’m struggling through each lesson. Which is better for my learning? I’m not sure. I’m going to have to learn a lot if I’m going to keep up with these every day.

The good news is I’m missing the vocab, not the grammar. This means I can look up most of the words in the passage and still make sense of the sentences. I was able to understand all of the grammar except for the teaching point. I thought I was missing the grammar and so I texted my friend Heather, who is basically fluent in Japanese (though she wouldn’t admit it). She gave me a great explanation via skype . . .

Then I continued the lesson . . . and found the explanation of what Heather had just said. I felt a little silly, but I’m good at doing silly things and later realizing that I didn’t need to do them.

In the end, I finished the lesson. How much of it will I retain when everything is new and a little difficult? I’m not sure, but I’m going to continue and try to learn as much as I can from these books. Hopefully my Japanese will improve quickly and I be able to use what I know.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Subscribe to my blog via email

So at the encouragement of a friend, you can now subscribe to my blog via email.

How you ask? Just look up. Below my name and fun photo, it says "HOME" next to that is "SUBSCRIBE." Just type in your email and the silly set of characters you always have to type in and then you're subscribed. So easy! :)

Note: You must be on my actual blog to do this, not facebook. Facebook has a link below that says "View Original Post." Do that, then follow the instructions above.

This may have been the easiest writing day ever! :)

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Natto, something no foreigner can stand. Natto, something that smells like puke. Natto, something Japanese people love, but no foreigner can get within ten feet of.

I have heard all of those things and more about natto, fermented soybeans. It has a reputation not just for being something that foreigners don’t like, but for something we can’t stand.

I’ve been asked several times if I liked natto or not by my students and various teachers. Every time it was an easy answer. I haven’t tried it, I don’t know if I do or not. Apparently, the teacher who is always giving me ideas for cooking got wind of this.

When she came over for dinner on Tuesday evening, she brought a small container of Natto for me to try. Maybe the fact that she was going to try something new that night (quesadillas) inspired her to think that I should try something new as well. Maybe she just knew I hadn’t tried this dish that so many foreigners hate with a passion. I don’t know.

So after very thankfully and nervously receiving this gift, I asked if I should eat with dinner. With the thought of do it now, get it over with and move on to the food I know I like and don’t have the taste of it left in my mouth. Her answer? No, save it for breakfast.

What I didn’t tell her was that I don’t do strange foods for breakfast. I’m an American breakfast food girl all the way. Japanese people seem to love rice and miso soup for breakfast, but I stick with yogurt or milk and cereal, eggs or oatmeal. I even went so far as to buy a couple of huge costco (yes, they have them in Japan) boxes of cereal to eat so that I wouldn’t be stuck with the ones I don’t like as much.

So I decided I would try it at dinnertime on Wednesday. But Wednesday night my stomach was doing weird things and I barely ate anything. Now, Friday, the natto has been sitting in my fridge for three days. Have I touched it? No. Why? I’m not even really sure. Evidently, it’s easy for me to be fearless when it comes to trying new foods when people are present. I just have to get over the small fear of “this doesn’t sound so good” and try it. Using this, I’ve discovered tons of things I didn’t think I’d like, but I do.

When there aren’t people around, it’s a whole different story. I can talk myself out of trying them and no one knows the difference. It’s why I no longer claim to be a picky eater. I will try anything you put in front of me. However, I will not make or order food in a restaurant that I don’t like a lot.

Today, I find myself alone in my house with this natto staring at me every time I open the fridge. I’m so tired I don’t really care to do be brave and try it (planning to go to bed as soon as I’m done with this). I have to try it at some point, because I’m sure I’ll be asked about it.

How long will it take me to just sit down and try the darn stuff? I think tomorrow will have to be the first (and possibly last) time I try natto. Who knows, maybe it’ll be one of those things I don’t expect to like and actually do.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Laughter saves English Teacher from Imminent Doom

(Ok, the title’s a bit dramatic, but it made me laugh when I thought of it, so I had to share)

This morning I was riding my bike to school. It was raining and I had forgotten to tighten down my hood. My face began to get wet, so I decided to attempt to hold my hood with one hand and hold the handlebars with the other. I was surprised at how well this worked. My coordination must be increasing with riding my bike every day. There’s no way I would have been able to do this before.

As I continue in the direction of work, I look up and another bicyclist is coming from the opposite direction, but on the same side of the road. He is holding his umbrella just a few inches in front of his face, making it impossible for him to see what is coming. I begin to giggle quietly because one would only see this in Japan. Or maybe just anywhere besides the Northwest (I think Washington people would grab a rain jacket too).

As I’m giggling to myself, I realize he can’t see me. This gets me laughing aloud. I don’t want to have to explain that I had an accident with another bicyclist when I’m late to work (which I totally would have been if we had collided) and I have no idea what to say in Japanese to get his attention. As I’m considering my options and realizing I should pull into the road, he swerves in the same direction.

My laugh gets even louder. He moves the umbrella and just as we get close enough to collide.

This whole situation makes me continue to giggle all the way to work. I have been told by so many people that I have a great laugh and that it stands out. What should save my life today? My laugh. I love the Lord’s sense of humor.

Kanayama Fall Colors

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Going green in the classroom

Going green in the classroom

We have been reading and talking about recycling in my third-year English class. It has been really interesting and has gotten me thinking.

Reading from my third-year high school textbook:
“Aluminum cans are very easy to recycle. But, every three months, we throw away enough aluminum to rebuild all the commercial airplanes in the country. Please think of that the next time you throw away a soda can.
We throw away enough iron and steel to supply all our car makers. If we recycled more metal, our car makers would never need any new iron and steel.
Every week, more than five hundred thousand trees are used to make newspapers. Imagine five hundred thousand trees. And two-thirds of those newspapers are thrown away.
This year, we’ll throw away enough office and writing paper to build a wall twelve feet high – that’s three and a half meters. And that wall would be so long it would go from Los Angeles to New York.
Every year, we throw away twenty-four million tons of leaves and grass clippings. They could be composted, allowed to rot or decay so that they could become fertilizer for soil.
We throw away enough glass bottles to fill two skyscrapers every two weeks. Think of it. Those bottles could be recycled.
We throw away two and a half million plastic bottles every hour. Very few plastic bottles are ever recycled – what a waste!”

Pair that with the photos I shared with my class:

One million plastic cups, the number used in the US every six hours.

Two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the US every five minutes.

1.14 million Brown paper supermarket bags, the number used in the US every hour.

106,000 Aluminum cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds.

60,000 plastic bags, the number used in the US every five seconds.

As I learn this and see these photos, it strikes me how wasteful we are, as Americans. This makes me think lots of things. I’ll try to collect my thoughts into something coherent.

It makes me wonder how I can personally affect change in this area. What am I doing that I can change? Plastic cups on the airline. Can I bring my own? Would that be too weird? Or am I already too weird, when I carry my groceries because I can and that means I don’t have to use a bag? I definitely am planning to bring a cup or beverage container of some kind on my next flight. Can I bring a sippy cup? Or a hot beverage cup? How else am I buying/creating waste that I don’t need to? What can I do to change that?

What do I use that is made of iron? Apparently I’m helping throw away tons and tons of it, but what’s made of iron?

Also makes me wonder, how can I affect change in the world? Besides just what I’m doing, since I recycle most of those things. In Japan, they practically triple package everything (grr!!), but they have a recycling program in my town that I think is pretty great (with the exception of paper – which is burnable). Recycling is FREE. Why wouldn’t people recycle? Garbage is what costs them money. That would encourage everyone. It wouldn’t matter if they were poor or rich. Why would anyone choose to spend money to throw something away that they could recycle for free? Maybe it’s not the answer to every problem, but it seems like a really good way to encourage people to recycle.

Now it’s time to get off the soap box and back to normal life. Hope you enjoyed and don’t forget your reusable bag the next time you grocery shop.

If you’re interested in seeing more detail of any of the photos, the photos should all link you to the site where they’re originally posted.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Strong in my weakness

Today I had my iTunes on shuffle and came across the song “Here’s for the Years” by Remedy Drive.

These lines came up “I was awake when you were sleeping, when you are weak I still am strong,
don’t despair child, you’d think I can hold you up when you fall, if I can hold up the stars I can answer your call”

“If I can hold up the stars I can answer your call.” Duh. Why do I choose to hold on to worry about the things in the world, when the Lord who is bigger than all the worry asks me to give it to him? “Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7). He’s asked me to put them on him because he’s so much bigger than all of them and will take care of them. Why do I hold on?

I am not sure, but I am going to aim to put the worries into His hands and focus on what he has me doing right now.