Free Spirit

I’ve been back in the good ol’ U S of A for one month now. WOW. Where did a month go?

Two things that immediately come to mind are Conrad and cruising.

My nephew continues to light up my world like no child has ever done before. Gosh, there are no words to express the joy of being an aunt. No. Words.

conrad collage1

conrad collage2

And as for cruising goes, having given my car away before I left for Japan, I had to borrow my sister’s wheels.

cruising

And during my cruising, I made some friends along the way. One of them was incredibly perceptive and affirmed what I know to be more and more true, “You keep being the free spirit you are. Don’t ever make plans.”

Thanks, Obie! I’m taking that one to heart.

obie

So after much Conrad and cruising, the plans that I made to visit my old desert home didn’t go as I had planned, but the good news is, they came a little earlier than planned. (Go figure. Thanks again, Obie!)

So I’m back in Arizona, where I moved to after college and spent 12 years of my life. 12 years full of lots of planning, striving, fretting and longing to be anywhere but here.

Yet during the familiar and normally dreadfully long drive from L.A. to Phoenix, I was overly expectant and full of gratitude for how He has redeemed this place (Revelation 21:5). I get to see some of the best people I know.

And I don’t believe it’s where I’m going to settle, but I’m pretty sure it’s a resting place in between where I came from and where I’m going… sigh.

rest area

Again, redemption at its finest.

But of course only He knows, and what I do know is that this once lost soul is found, and embracing the free spirit she was created to be.

I love my Filipino roots, I love the Japanese culture, and I love the country that serves as the birthplace and launching pad for this free spirit.

And I know I’ve been talking non-stop about Japan, but I love you, too, America. There is no place like you and I’m beyond grateful for you. Yesterday, I celebrated your independence and mine, too!

Thanks for the freedom you offer but above all, Jesus, thanks for setting me free.

In the Land of Opportunity, living life in Your Spirit is the best choice I ever made.

sparkler

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. Galatians 5:1

Finding My Way

I have so much to say. And the best part I’m not going to save for last. Last month, I held this little guy in my arms.

connie

My most precious nephew. He’s the best. THE. BEST. My heart has reached a new capacity to love and in turn my heart has extended its capacity for more of my Father’s love. And life just never ever gets better than that.

So I could stop right here… but there’s so much more to share.

I spent three weeks in the States and returned back to Japan at the beginning of the month. A friend who spent three and half years as a missionary here warned me that readjusting could take double the time I was away. So doing the math, that would be six weeks. I’m on week four, and it doesn’t help that I have been living in a new city since I returned. And it’s a beautiful one in which I’ve traded convenience and isolation for living on a mountaintop in community. Definitely a trade-up, but it is taking some adjusting.

And in the last four weeks, I’ve had quite a few firsts…

First time striking up an acquaintance with a stray cat. I call him Graceson and he’s about the friendliest feline I ever did see. And for the record, I’m not sure that he’s actually a he.

Graceson

First time eating matcha soba, which is a spectacular first for someone as obsessed with matcha as me. Oishi! (Delicious!)

matcha soba

First time in a hospital in Japan and first time meeting a precious one within less than 24 hours of arrival! Kawaii! (Cute!)

baby

First time eating robata with chicken intestine and kidneys as a main highlight. I’m still trying to digest this one. Pun intended. I don’t know, maybe just one day this experience will come in handy… like when the Travel Channel looks to replace Anthony Bourdain?!

chickenguts

First time filing taxes in Japan. God bless you, Kenji, my tax angel and non-English speaking friend!

kenji

And this is by no means an exhaustive list!

One big first that I’ll add is that last week I booked a one-way ticket from Osaka to Los Angeles. That was a first.

Yep, you heard me right. One-way. I’m coming home.

A year to the day I left, I’ll be on a jet plane back to the good ol’ U.S. of A.

It’s crazy, and hasn’t fully set in. And did I  mention I have NO IDEA what I’m going to do and where I’ll live? But, I am so at peace. I mean, beyond at peace… and we know where that peace that passes all understanding comes from. Thank you, Jesus.

So going back to the mountaintop I’m currently living on. For the last month, probably 90% of the time I have walked up and down the mountain to get to and from the station. And it’s been a precious time for me to slow down, while speeding up my metabolism!! Kidding aside, inconvenience can make room for much patience and clarity… if you’ll let it.

Last night, walking up the mountain… this really spoke to me.

signpost

I can’t read any of it, except the obvious.

And so it was as I sought Him for my next step. Only one thing was clear… the still small voice in my heart that said, “come home.”

But this came just when some of the things near and dear to my heart have started to happen. Last week, I met with five others who have hearts for those working in the sex industry.

And last Friday, this happened.

yoga

Technically, I didn’t lead a  Holy Yoga class. But a friend wanted to host a yoga event and asked if I would help. So I opened and ended the class sharing some of His heart and prayer, while my friend handled all the yoga instruction. And I also had the opportunity to distract two precious ones during the class so their Mom could be free from distraction. And I would say that that’s all pretty holy.

outdooryoga

So how can I leave now?

And that’s where His peace enters along with some new perspective. These things that I’ve been making the end goal, I’m now understanding to serve as guideposts. They’ve helped guide my steps, and confirm that I’m right where I should be.

The end goal is always Him, and always His. That’s what I’m beginning to see.

This was also taken on my walk home last night.

highway

When I reached what you see at the end of this photo, I met a woman walking down the mountain with her two dogs. She asked me if I passed any wild pigs. I assured her I hadn’t.

Apparently, boars are pretty prevalent but so far, I’ve been in the clear. Just as I should be…

There will be a highway
    called the Holy Road.
No one rude or rebellious
    is permitted on this road.
It’s for God’s people exclusively—
    impossible to get lost on this road.
    Not even fools can get lost on it.
No lions on this road,
    no dangerous wild animals—
Nothing and no one dangerous or threatening.
    Only the redeemed will walk on it.
The people God has ransomed
    will come back on this road.
They’ll sing as they make their way home to Zion,
    unfading halos of joy encircling their heads,
Welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness
    as all sorrows and sighs scurry into the night. Isaiah 35:8-10MSG

I’m going home, and it’s definitely bittersweet. Yet what seems like the end for me in Japan, could very well just be the beginning…

I’m not really sure but I’m all the more sure that Jesus is really crazy about me. And I may not know what’s around the bend, but I know it’s going to be so, so good.

bend

“Set up signposts to mark your trip home.
    Get a good map.
Study the road conditions.
    The road out is the road back.
Come back, dear virgin Israel,
    come back to your hometowns.
How long will you flit here and there, indecisive?
    How long before you make up your fickle mind?
God will create a new thing in this land:
    A transformed woman will embrace the transforming God!” Jeremiah 31:21-22MSG

Comfort Food

Tempura. Get in my belly.

tempurasoba

Actually, all Japanese food, you are so welcome with me… well, except maybe tako aka. octopus. It’s a bit too chewy and doesn’t do much in the way of flavor as far as I’m concerned. (Can you spot it below?)

tako

Though I discovered it’s quite nice battered and fried. But of course, what doesn’t taste good fried?!?

Much to my liking, Japanese food is beautiful and fresh.

sushi

And healthy.

healthy

And exotic.

okinawa

And clean and simple.

chaie

And altogether wonderful.

onigiri

If the way to my heart is through my stomach, then Japan, you have my heart!

In fact, I am visiting the States next month and instead of looking forward to food back home, I’m wondering what I’ll do without Japanese food at my fingertips… or shall I say, chopsticks!

Last week during a worship gathering, someone shared the image of the banquet table God has prepared for us. She encouraged us to close our eyes and meditate on that to see what He might reveal.

And when I did just that, what did I see???

tempura

This image is exactly what came to my mind. This was an ever so scrumptious tempura and rice bowl that I enjoyed last month in Tokyo.

And not only have I come to realize that tempura is my go-to comfort food, but this was a special meal. You see, I had been craving tempura the night before I was getting ready to leave for Tokyo. Unfortunately, there was no tempura at the station for me to eat.

So the next day I began to enjoy the amazing city of Tokyo thanks to my super generous and thoughtful friend. She had all our plans laid out and it was on the agenda to have lunch at a pizza place in a ritzy shopping area of town. But knowing my craving for tempura the night before, she suggested a special tempura restaurant in the area where we were doing some sightseeing. Apparently, it’s unique because it’s fried in sesame oil.

I just know it was really good and really comforting, and quite popular! We happened to arrive just as it opened and the line was beginning to grow. We waited but five minutes…

So this was my banquet table where I was reminded that:

His timing is perfect.
He fulfills the desires of my heart.
He exceeds my expectations.
He knows what I need.
He is such an intimate God.

And that’s why I love Him so much. He is in every detail… fried food and rice.

Nothing is too big or too small for Him because He cares for me that much. He knows me, He sees me and He loooooooooooooooves me.

And that’s the Good News.

Seems so simple.

Yet, there is nothing simple about a love SO EXTRAVAGANT.

Oh Jesus, you’re the best. xoxo

He escorts me to the banquet hall; it’s obvious how much he loves me. -Song of Solomon 2:4

Living My Story

This week marked six months of living in Osaka, Japan.

osaka

WOW. Seems like all I can say…

Thank you, Father, for your grace. There is no other way… is what comes next…

Most times, I’ve been flying high. But I’ve had my share of moments where I’m curled up in fetal position, bawling my eyes out.

But that couldn’t be further from me. I feel everything. Deeply. So if there is joy, I’m the happiest of them all, but when there is sadness, I’m the one with the biggest pile of snot rags.

snot rag pile

And I don’t want to live my life any other way. I am most alive when I’m feeling deeply. And I’m so grateful that I’m becoming more and more free in this.

This morning, I woke with the news alert on my phone of the death of Nelson Mandela. And this part of the article really spoke to me:

“One of the most difficult things is not to change society — but to change yourself,” Mandela said in 1999 at a tribute to billionaire businessman Douw Steyn who had made his Johannesburg residence available to Mandela as a retreat after his prison release in 1990. (http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/05/opinion/battersby-nelson-mandela/)

The writer went on to say:

To this day, Mandela’s weaknesses, his turbulent youth and his sometimes tempestuous relationships with women can still detract from the iconic status that Mandela achieved in his own lifetime.

But, the responsible airing of his weaknesses — including his own acknowledgment — in fact humanized Mandela and focused on his extraordinary strength of character and commitment in overcoming both his weaknesses and adversity in his own lifetime. It augmented Mandela’s greatness.

Shortly after God continued to speak to me through this:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:17

Earlier this week, my CNN app alerted me of the tragic news of Paul Walker’s death, which happened on his way to an event for Typhoon Haiyan hosted by the non-profit organization he founded. I read more articles in the days that followed and was touched by how he lived his life fully.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. – John 10:10

Indeed, there is no other way to live than with a heart wide open to receive the fullness of life He offers. And in receiving this, to embrace the shifts and changes that come in the process.

The last six months have stretched and grown me in ways beyond measure. Yet, much of the time, it’s like I’ve regressed. Because if I had to sum up how I’ve felt, what comes to mind is: helpless. dependent. inefficient. inept. frustrated. exhausted.

But with surrender comes so much joy and peace, plus an infinite supply of love and grace.  And that’s what makes it all worth it. This life is all mine and all for me.

While I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be a blockbuster movie star or the president of a nation, I’m living my life completely and authentically. I’m sure of the way I’m walking and I trust the One who is by my side with each step.

And I say this, not because my current status involves living in a foreign land. This experience just happens to be a part of my story as does everything that came before… and it’s all much different than the story I was writing!

But boy oh boy, is it a beautiful one… here’s a recap of the last chapter:

friendshhip_1friendship_2friendship_3

THANK YOU, FATHER. Thank you for life entrusted to you that is beyond my wildest dreams. Thank you for writing the best stories.

~Your favorite daughter~

xoxo

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; -Hebrews 12:2

Going off the deep end…

Earlier this week I had an unexpected conversation with my Mom that included questions and statements I assumed she might be thinking but chose to hope for the best.  In this case, the good ol’ saying didn’t apply and my lack of not assuming made an ass out of me.

The following day, I opened a Facebook message from a friend I made some years ago who popped back into my life about a month ago, only to quickly pop back out. Before de-friending me on Facebook, he sent me this:

“How far we travel, only to find we have not moved at all. Good bye michele, I hope you find what your looking for.”

One is a friend I had during a season of my life and one is who gave me life. Two completely different relationships, but the judgement I felt was the same…

I know my life doesn’t make sense, and I know that most people don’t get me. So I’m grateful for the ones in my life who do and I’m also grateful for the ones who don’t but keep their questions and opinions to themselves.

While some may think I’m looking for something and others may think I’m acting foolishly and irresponsibly, it is neither.

And I can say this because I know what it’s like to be searching and behaving irresponsibly.

Eleven years ago, I broke up with my college boyfriend in order to experience life on my own. Freedom came in the form of going out on the weekends and drinking until I lost all inhibition, which often led to really poor choices…

This time ten years ago, I was signing the papers on my first home. I had achieved the American dream and the financial success I hoped for as I was making nearly $100,000 and enjoying perks like a company car.

But when that wasn’t enough, I pursued my dream of being a doctor and gave it all of me: financially, emotionally, and physically. And it got all of me… but I was left empty-handed.

Emptiness is what characterized all of this. I was so empty inside. Indeed, I was searching…

And indeed, He was there.

He was ALWAYS there.

And I always knew about Him. I believed in Him. I never stopped going to church on Sunday and if I remembered I would pray before going to bed.

Boy was I missing out…

Along the way, a shift began to take place. A shift from knowing and believing in Him to experiencing life with Him.

And things have never ever been the same…

You could say I found what I was looking for… but it was more simple, I just had to open my eyes to what was in my midst the whole time… better yet, Who was in my midst.

Because He was there. He was ALWAYS there.

Those nights when I lost all inhibition and made really foolish decisions… His back wasn’t turned, He was there.

When I was quickly advancing in my career in pharmaceutical sales, yet feeling unfulfilled and looking for the next best thing, He was there.

And when my eyes began to open, I was thrilled to serve Him by being a doctor… becoming a doctor would be pleasing to God, my parents and others! This was a no-brainer…

Yet in the end, I lost my house, I lost my 401k, I lost a lot of time… and I didn’t get into medical school.

But what I gained in return was everything.

He is everything to me.

And He’s showing me that I don’t have to do anything for Him. I don’t have to please or serve Him, or anyone for that matter.

I don’t have to do anything but be loved by Him.

And the by-product of that is what you see. It’s me. It’s my life.

I may seem lost, foolish, and/or searching. And given my history, my life as it stands is par for the course.

So judge me if you must, and know it will hurt my feelings if you do it to my face… and like a little baby I’ll go crying to my Father for comfort, because He’s always waiting and ready to receive me.

He was there then. He is here now. He promises to never leave me. And His Son has already done everything for me.

And when you’re as sensitive and needy as me, any fear of heights or depths is trumped by love and the desire to be with Him… wherever that may be…

‘I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.’ –Four-Chambered Heart, Anais Nin

Destination or Journey?

Sigh…

It’s August 1 and what a month July was…

1. I kicked it off with my Residence Card in hand from the Japanese Government

2. And the following week, I woke to an email with the news that someone who I loved with all my heart is in the arms of Jesus

3. That same week I boarded a train that ended up being a ‘rapid service’ one and not a ‘local’ so I ended up rapidly flying past my stop and arriving 45 minutes late for my engagement

train

4. The following week I began training for my job as an English Instructor which proved to be more challenging than I anticipated

5. The week that followed I woke to an email with a sonogram attached of my nephew!!! Yes, I’m going to be an aunt!!!

6. And then in that same week, I taught my first set of one-on-one English lessons and also decided to stretch myself just a little further outside my comfort zone by committing to teach a weekly English class to a group of adults ranging from 50 – 83. After teaching that class, I boarded a train that was a ‘local’ one instead of ‘rapid service’ so I stopped at every station along the way and arrived home 45 minutes later than I should have

No doubt I’m living and learning… in so many ways…

7. Finally, to end this month, earlier this week I was introduced to someone who has a heart for women in the sex industry and when he pulled out his iPhone to share the scripture that was laid on his heart around it, I braced myself because I knew it would hit me and sure enough tears began to flow as he read:

“But then I will win her back once again.
    I will lead her into the desert
    and speak tenderly to her there.
 I will return her vineyards to her
    and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.
She will give herself to me there,
    as she did long ago when she was young,
    when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt.
 When that day comes,” says the Lord,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’
    instead of ‘my master.’ ~Hosea 2:14-16

God highlighted these verses to me about two years ago before the week-long retreat I was off to attend to complete my Holy Yoga Instructor Training. And He has used them over and over since then…

His Word is so active. It breathes life into me when I need it most…

hosea 2

I still can’t believe I’m in Japan… obviously, the last month has been full. And I’m not sure what all is to come…

But that’s where the biggest lesson is for me…

I learned awhile ago that it’s not about the destination, but the journey… but now, I’m learning that it’s not really about the journey, either…

It’s all about the One who is by my side through it all…

And I’m discovering that that right there is the abundance of life that He promised.

train couple

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  John 10:10

Christmas Cake in July

I hate being evaluated, being watched. I detest it. I also do not like role-playing.

Role-playing isn’t natural, and being evaluated and watched makes it hard for me to be natural… to be free.

Last week, I began training for my job as a one-to-one English Teacher. And this may sound over-dramatic (probably is), but in the role-playing and evaluation portion, I felt like I was in a lion’s den. Seriously, the level of anxiety I felt was so intense and so horribly uncomfortable.

And what I’ve heard in times past was heard again, “Just relax, Michele. You’re too hard on yourself. You’re over-thinking.”

And maybe I am.

But I don’t know anything else.

At the same time, I’m embracing the ambition in me. I don’t want to reject it because it’s how He created me, to seek excellence in what I do and that’s not a bad thing.

What I’m finding is that in seeking excellence, I am seeking Him because I can’t do it on my own.

A short summary of my time in Japan: I can’t do ANYTHING on my own.

I have never been more aware of my need for Him in every aspect of my life as now.

When I’m at the grocery trying to make sense of things, when I’m in the midst of training for my new position trying to make sense of things, when my building manager stops me on my way out and goes on and on in Japanese and I’m trying to make sense of things…

Jesus, help!

I need Him… every hour I need Him.

During training, we were advised on several topics that should not be discussed during lessons. And age was one with the disclaimer of how especially sensitive this topic can be regarding women…

According to Wikipedia: In Japan, women had traditionally been expected to marry at a young age and those who were unmarried after the age of 25 were sometimes scornfully referred to as Christmas cakes (unsold after the 25th).

So shortly after realizing I was a Christmas cake, I went to the restroom and looked in the mirror to see a gray hair sticking out plain as day.

Really???

It  was actually quite funny to me… so I hope you are laughing about it, too.

And the bottom line is that I so want to be a strong and patient little Christmas cake.

But I’m not going to lie. It’s been really hard lately.

And this one I don’t even attempt to make sense of…

In this case, I rest. I rest in His goodness. I rest in what my Father spoke to me months ago in Mozambique as I tried to make sense of it:

I’m not holding out on you. I’m just not ready to share you… I am jealous for you.

Oh Jesus, thank you. I need you. Every second of every day. I need you.

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

Matthew 6:6 MSG

This is not Christmas cake, but it is the dessert I enjoyed with this beautiful friend to end my week!
Obviously, not Christmas cake but next best thing… delicious desserts enjoyed with beautiful friends to end my week!!

Knight in Shining Armor

Nearly five years ago, he arrived on the scene. And not too early, nor too late, but just in time. He saved the day, helping me navigate the decisions that had to be made and rescuing me from the mess I was in.

I first met his wife while we were both volunteering in the nursery at church and I knew from the moment that I met her that her love was pure and limitless.

So, as a couple, that made for a whole lot of that love.

God totally brought us together in His perfect timing and this precious couple became a steady, loving presence in my life.

gparents

Man, I love how God works. How He intersects our lives just when they need to cross. And I truly don’t know what I would have done over the last five years without them.

I even call them Grandpa and Grandma. What an honor and privilege that went beyond the title. They filled this role in my life, but more importantly, my heart, where there was a definite void.

He is so faithful to fulfill our every need.

And in a land far from home, I received an email yesterday morning with the news that Grandpa is no longer with us.

He went home. He is with Jesus.

As I mourn this loss, it uncovers the depths of my gratitude for Grandpa. I learned so much about God’s grace through his heart. He poured out his love and concern over me in a way that had me constantly wondering what I did to deserve it and also trying to figure out how on earth I could pay him back time and time again…

But grace doesn’t expect anything in return, nor did he. Grace simply gives… and gives… and never stops… because that’s what grace does. Grace doesn’t know anything else.

And Grandpa knew no other way.

He was my knight in shining armor. The grace he came armed with rescued me. And from that point on, my heart was never the same. I will forever be grateful for the love he expressed to me in countless ways on this side of heaven.

And I’m grateful that Grace always rescue me.

gpa

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. -2 Corinthians 5:6-8

The joy of a sandwich

As I get caught up in doubt, anxiety, and fear… it’s just like my Heavenly Father to pour out His grace on me and bless me in every way imaginable.

When I doubted that I would receive the financial support for my trip and missions school in Mozambique, within four days, the amount I was lacking was fulfilled!!!

Big sigh… and really?

But, OF COURSE!!!! Oh me of little faith!!!

The checks I received and words of encouragement that came with them blessed my heart in ways I cannot even put into words. I’m just humbled, so very humbled by God’s love for me through the people He has placed in my life.

And while I will return to Colorado on December 8, it’s unclear how long I will be here, so I want to make sure I make the best of the time I have in this great state.

This past weekend I climbed my first 14er – a mountain that is 14,000 or more feet high and Colorado boasts 58 of these peaks in six different ranges – Mount Bierstadt 14,065ft.

The climb was tough, but I was so grateful to have a dear friend to keep me going!  At the beginning of the hike, she casually stated, “We’ve got this, we’ve so got this.” And she continued to encourage me along the way, as did many others we passed!

Sarah and I basked in the beauty and vastness of God’s creation the entire day, while also sharing the parallels of our hike and faith. Good stuff and great times.

And just when I thought the summit was in sight and I gave everything I had to get to it, I collapsed on this boulder when I realized I still had a little further to go… poor pathetic me!!!

I saw the following quote after the fact that seemed so fitting for this picture: The moment you’re ready to quit is usually the moment right before the miracle happens. Don’t give up.

Though exhausted and feeling defeated, I pressed on and was soon sitting on the mountain top enjoying an egg salad sandwich. And life in that moment could not have been better. My profound words to Sarah were, “I’m sooooooooo happy right now eating this sandwich and sitting on top of the world!!!”

I love Jesus so much. No doubt all things are from Him through Him and to Him.

So as I am completely overwhelmed by the wonder and amazement of His love and provision…

And His creation and glory…

I don’t EVER want to take anything in this life for granted… I want to be in awe of Him in all things… to experience the fullness of life He promised…

So an egg salad sandwich enjoyed in His presence with gratefulness makes me the most blessed of all.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:36