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

I’m #1

A friend told me that it sounds like I’m experiencing classic culture shock… “Typically with culture shock there is a honeymoon, then a low period where all you can see is the bad, then a period of embracing both the good and the bad.

I think I’m in the period of embracing both. Last week was three months for me! Woo hoo!!

Three months in but I’m still pretty helpless. For starters, I’m so grateful for my incredible apartment and the grace of my landlord. Money has been pretty tight so when I asked if I could split up September’s rent payment, he obliged.

I was supposed to pay the remainder last Friday, but as my day progressed, I didn’t find myself near a proper ATM. So, he gave me more grace… and I tried again to make the deposit on Saturday, but I arrived to the bank as they were closing. So when I realized there was no one to help, I spent about 10 minutes at the ATM pushing random buttons hoping I would miraculously make the deposit.

atm

But, I didn’t… so then I went to a restaurant near my apartment where I met more language barriers but this time, a very kind stranger having lunch in the restaurant met me outside and offered his help. He was from a country I had never heard of… Kyrgyzstan have you?

Anywho, he shared how he has been living in Japan for eight years so obviously knew the language very well. I shared that I had decided on other lunch plans but asked if he could help with my ATM deposit. To which, he kindly obliged.

Unfortunately, I was still unable to make the deposit. But he totally went out of his way and tried!! And I made a new friend and learned about a new country I was not aware of!!

So on this Monday, I went to the bank and in true Japanese customer service, I was welcomed with the most gracious kindness, but then anxiety set in when I started speaking in English… yet in her anxiety, the dear woman who greeted me helped me. It took her awhile to figure out just how, but she did and the remaining amount of rent due was deposited! Yipee!! Check that off the to-do list.

I walked home feeling so accomplished and so grateful for the kindness of the people here…

Only to learn that the worst case scenario for my job had played out… as I mentioned in a previous post, I HATE being evaluated, which is the case for my current job. I hate the pressure to perform and there is a scale of one to five stars. Five being the best. One being the worst…

I got a one.

one

And upon first discovery, I didn’t care, which was good. But after five minutes… things changed.

Oh my. The crazy talk started… I’m terrible at teaching English… and what am I doing in Japan, anyway? It’s time to pack it up and go home. I suck… and so does this job…

But then, my dearest friend came in just in time to put an end to the crazy talk… reminding me that Jesus’ evaluation NEVER changes…

And I recalled His Word(s)…

God told them, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love! Jeremiah 31:3

Keep me as the apple of your eye; Psalms 17:8

Bottom line: He loves me and evaluates me with a one… because I’m His #1.

And yes, I’m teaching English. And yes, my clients are paying for the best of English lessons. So I will learn what I did wrong and do my best to make the necessary adjustments.

But at the end of the day, I know I am loved and I rest in His evaluation. An evaluation that never changes.

The Cross proves that.

So I stood at the foot of the Cross, and taught more lessons this evening with the assurance of His love upholding me in the midst of this evaluation… and for an overachiever and people-pleaser like me, that, my friends, is nothing short of a miracle.

And that is what True Love does. I’m so grateful to be loved.

In the eye of the Beholder

I had such a rich experience in Bangkok. And I’m pretty sure I’m in the midst of a post-Bkk depression…

And as the blues lift, I plan to write more about my journey… but for now, I want to share an unexpected gift I received during my time there. A photo therapy session from a new, beautiful and precious… and insanely talented friend. Though, the photos speak for themselves…

truth

asiamorphosis

honey brown

And this is what I wrote in response to her work:

Fearfully and wonderfully made. Yes, my soul knows this well.

I have been on an incredible journey over the last year. Lies have been exposed and the truth has set me free.

Growing up as an Asian-American, I did a better job of embracing the identity of the world around me instead of the identity within. Having friends who had blonde hair and blue eyes, and who the boys always seemed to gravitate towards, fed the lie that I wasn’t pretty enough, nor was I ever going to be…

Instances of the world around me rejecting my identity through racial slurs and even well-meaning comments made by friends didn’t help my cause.

And within my family, I’m the “smart” one. Second in birth order to the “beautiful” one.

Beauty runs skin deep. Yes. But there is freedom and healing in embracing all that you were created to be… inside and out.

I am embracing me. I am beautiful. I am smart. I have a heart that beats with deep compassion.

But above all, I am loved in spite of my beauty, intelligence and compassion. And this, my soul is beginning to know so well.

Please click here to hear Lucia’s heart and see all the photos. I am so stinking blessed.

My insanely beautiful and talented sister from another mister.