Some rising words

We are halfway through our 4th full day here in Japan and my how much we have already done, encountered, enjoyed, (and endured…that too).  I have wanted for time to write but we have spent our fumbling attempt at rest time, thanks to jet lag, reading and drawing and once accidentally falling asleep for 4 hours in a heap on the floor to the sound of the Black Beauty audio book.  That was our first full day here.  Jet lag recovery is certainly underway, and quite the beast when you’re suffering it alongside 3 small children.  We’ve been rising with the sun around 4:15 and setting with it around 7:45.  I try desperately to stay up even a little past the kids to spend time with mom, but I think I’m still recovering from those 28 sleepless travel hours.  My body is begging me to reclaim those lost hours wherever I can. I’m hopeful in the next 3 days I will feel normal again and not as though my face is going to explode if I don’t shut my eyes and collapse.

These early mornings have been so lovely, it’s our exclusive time with my mom in which we drink coffee, read and write quietly, with the occasional interruption from an eager grandchild, I’ll go for a run while the kids snuggle with their Baba, then we have our eggs and veggies and fruit and my mom’s homemade granola with yogurt.  My mom leaves for work with the 5 interns living in and next to her house at 7 am, at which time the kids and I will fold up our futons, dress and prep for the day, then head outside for a walk through the neighborhood, past the rice fields and gardens to the lake and woody park, while the cool from the night lingers in the morning glow.  I keep waiting for the kids to notice some major differences between the Japanese landscape and that of Virginia; the streets, cars, flora, urban design choices, etc.  Alec has certainly noticed all the trains, coming and going every 3.5 minutes.  It’s the greatest show on earth as far as he is concerned.  And no matter what we are doing, he interrupts it to holler “Look Ma!  Train!  Train! Train Ma!  Hi Train!  Bye Train!  Train, Ma!”  3.5 later we do it all over again.  Anyhow, what I’ve noticed is that their enthusiasm about life, this world wherever we happen to be in it, is steadily curious, consistently observant.  Certainly they notice the difference in language and look momentarily confused when someone speaks to them in Japanese, but they don’t mind not understanding everything right away.  After all, they’ve spent their entire lives thus far in just such a state and are comfortably accustomed and even thrilled to watch the unknown and mysterious become familiar and understood.

Everywhere we have gone, Simone is eager to wave at kids that look remotely close to her age, and rattle off all the Japanese lines in her pocket that she’s been waiting to use.  The kids at the park have clearly understood her, but in shyness they whisper and giggle among themselves and run away.  Then she retreats to me to confirm that what she said was said properly and if there was any failure on her part that merited such a response.  Of course I was sad to explain that they likely ran away because they just weren’t willing yet to get to know someone new and clearly quite different from them. We had just read the book “The Other Side” by Jacqueline Woodson, randomly picked from my mom’s beautiful collection of children’s books.  Fresh on our minds was that tragic idea of human’s all too frequent  unwillingness to reach across arbitrary social and cultural barriers in order to experience the riches of unconditional relationship.  The following day we had a strikingly different experience.

Instead of hanging back and doing our own thing around the house and neighborhood, we joined my mom at the international school where she is the head mistress.  There are about 60 kids, k-12th grade, that represent a variety of cultural origins.  Kids started trickling in around 8 am, speaking English, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog or combinations thereof.  Unscathed by the previous days events, Simone ran up to a young girl, tried her Japanese on her, and was graciously received and invited to run off and play.  Her name is Homare, she doesn’t speak English yet, but that didn’t keep her from making a new friend.  We stayed for morning worship, sang familiar songs and read scriptures in English and Japanese.  It was such a gift to see my kids experience such welcoming kindness from these young kids, to be invited into their little community with all of our language and cultural differences.  Simone and Evelyn ended up sticking around for the day, going to class and recess with the lower elementary kids.  Meanwhile Alec and I went grocery shopping and I was able to stock up on a few of my favourites.  It was all I could do not to rip open and devour the nato onigiri right there in the grocery store, I had at least enough self control to wait until we go to the car.  I inhaled it and pleasantly licked my slimy lips.

I am deeply thankful for the chance to be here with my kids, for their chance to see and experience God in a new way, through the eyes of brothers and sisters they never knew before.


This Incesent Battle

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”  Anne Lammott, Bird By Bird

I wish I had started letting this sink in a long time ago.  The truth about why I have for so long neglected writing is absolutely what Anne says it is; I’m afraid.  I’m afraid of mis-illustrating my day.  When you’re painting a picture with words, there’s absolutely no limit to the details you could include.  I will never capture it all, but if I want to at least capture the spirit of it all, I’m going to need a lot more practice than what I have had.  I also really need to keep my eyes on my own path.  I lose my footing, I lose my love of the journey, when I spend too much time looking around at what others are doing.  I suppose I must, at least for a time, insist on a level of removal from others that is necessary in order for me to be free from comparison, free from the distraction, free to find out what I need to say, give, make. What’s true to me exclusively and not me in relation to what I perceive about others. I hate that sometimes it’s so hard for me to appreciate what others are doing, to become genuinely inspired, and then to move on without insecurities flaring up and immobilizing me, or feeling like my raw ideas are somehow adulterated by the influence of others.  I so want to be in the habit of putting all that behind me and having a willingness of heart to find rest in God, to every fiber of my being to surrender to how He plans to shape me in his hands for works he has planned.

Compassion + Courage

We were sitting at the lunch table carrying on as usual. Simone and Evelyn in their chairs, Alec in his booster, and I was at the head of the table.  We were talking, laughing, and I didn’t notice when Evelyn got up from her seat and for some reason approached Alec and bit one of his dangling feet.  He let out a wail that released a gush of tears and sobs as if he’d been betrayed. The atmosphere of the moment changed dramatically.  I exclaimed, mostly in shock, and Evelyn too realized what she had done and started crying.  We talked it over, she recognized she was too rough with Alec, and that she really hurt her brother (who was still struggling to recover from the surprise attack).  As is the custom in our home, when you choose to do something that’s dangerous to someone else or yourself, you get a consequential spank with the rice paddle on the bum.  I reminded Evelyn of this and she cried even harder and started swing at me and throwing herself to the floor.  Simone was quietly watching this transpire and as I was about to remove Evelyn from the room, I caught a glimpse of Simone’s face staring intently at me.  There were tears beading up at the base of her eyelashes.  Her unusually serious expression stopped me in my tracks and I looked to her for an explanation.  “Mom, I don’t want Evelyn to get a spanking. I’ll take her spanking so she doesn’t have to get one.”  She looked a little shocked at the words that came out of her own mouth, but stared at me with genuine resolve that she would follow through.  I looked at her, feeling my own emotions welling up to produce tears of wonder at the compassion and courage of this 4 year old before me.  I asked Simone to repeat herself to make sure I understood her correctly.  She wiped her eyes and with a quivering voice once again said, “I’ll take my sister’s spanking.”  I searched her eyes for anything that would betray the sincerity of her words and body, but she was serious and unwavering.  Evelyn interrupted the moment of silence, trying to make sense of what was happening.  Regaining my attention she said “Mom, I don’t want Simone to spank me!  She’s not allowed to spank me, you spank me!”  Clearly, she didn’t understand the negotiations and sacrifice Simone was willing to make on her behalf.  I tried to explain it, still so moved by this glimpse into Simone’s tender heart and a bit humored at Evelyn’s misunderstanding.  I tried to explain the brave kindness that Simone was showing her,  but Evelyn just cried harder begging that I please not let Simone spank her.  I was so unsure about what to do.  Should I honor Simone’s request, let her show her love for her sister in this way, or remain consistent with Evelyn so that she would continue to learn that she must think about and act on what is good and kind? In the end, Evelyn got her consequence and the three of us had a really sweet talk about her willingness to take upon herself the consequence that was due to Evelyn.

I often pray for myself, for my husband, and for my children, that in inevitable moments of darkness, sadness, and injustice God would give our hearts an uninhibited and even reckless love.  A love that swells with compassion, compassion that strengthens our hearts toward courage, and courage that takes incalculable risks in order to right the wrong, spare the innocent, and scatter the darkness.  I know I’m praying for nothing short of a miracle, knowing my own cowardly heart that too often evaluates every situation first according to how it might threaten my own comfort, safety, and sense of convenience.  Sadly I passed this shameful trait on to my own children and see how we all suffer for it. But today I got a glimpse of God’s miraculous work in Simone’s heart.  And that gives me courage to keep praying these prayers. I hope we  wouldn’t simply talk about what is good, what is just, what is merciful, and what is true, but that we would let God display these attributes of himself in us by stepping forward in courage.

The Dawn and Doorways

We love our mornings around here, especially as the sun is drawing us out into activity and hopeful attitudes earlier and earlier every day.  On the more temperate Spring days that we’ve been experiencing lately, I’ve been opening the back door off the kitchen first thing in the morning.  I leave the screen door locked only because Evelyn does her version of a sprint to it as soon as it’s open, to which Simone dramatically declares “She’s trying to exape!”  Open windows and doors are close enough to the outside where we all want to be while I’m prepping breakfast and we go about our morning routine.  I can’t help but frequently pause mid-task, hungry as we all are, and turn to take in the sight of our pajama-ed girls playing on the floor in streams of morning light.  They have no idea how incredibly rich their lives are, though their contentment, at least for a time, expresses what they can’t articulate.  So many thoughts go through my head.  I think how I want to burn these memories into my brain and return to it long after we outgrow the ritual. I think about how much I love having two kids.  I pray that God would give us more, there’s still plenty of room, and I know there always will be, wherever we go.   I think of my own deep bond with my sisters, wrought in moments like this one when we were young and growing into the thickest of companions.  I think of my mom and my mother in law and marvel at their love that I’m beginning to understand.  I’m reminded of that special grace that comes with the newness of a day; everything about my being needs that dependable sun to set in the evening so that it can rise again in the morning and make things new.



We’re down to 30 days until closing on the sale of our house.  Ian and my feelings on this pending sale oscillate between relief and mourning.  It’s just a house, an old house, with ugly siding, a creepy cellar, toilets that bubble when another one is flushed.  As we worked tirelessly during those weeks leading up to its market debut,  we thought, and even said out loud, many times a day how much we were looking forward to the problems needing fixing becoming someone else’s problems for fixing.  Well, Lord willing, we’re passing that baton May 13.  But I can’t help but feel waves of reluctance as I anticipate that day.

We’ve been in this house for a relatively brief time, unevenly straddled around a year and half of renting the house out to some dear friends while were away living in a glorified storage unit in Northern Va.  So I guess by the time we leave we will have only lived here for 2 and a half years, which is apparently long enough for me to have gotten very attached. More attached than I ever thought possible when were trying to figure out for MONTHS where that sewer smell was coming from, more attached than I ever thought possible when I’d all but lose my toes to the freezing cold draft coming up through the floor and poorly sealed seams by the kitchen sink.  This poor house has been cursed under my visible breath during many a wintry dish washing session.

And really, compared to Ian I know nothing of the toil of working and maintaining an old house; he’s put in an immeasurable amount of time and skill into making this house as comfortable and beautiful as it is now.  This house is marked with his efforts to make this house a home for his family.

Since we accepted the offer on the house, an irresistible one that came three days after the house hit the market, I started to look at these rooms, hallways, bathrooms, and garden beds with very different eyes.  The relief of being done with the house showing process was quickly replaced with nostalgia, mourning, and savoring.  I realize that I’m not losing the memories that were born under this roof, but I think I am losing a closeness to them that I may never experience again.

I know where all the squeaking boards are throughout the house, particularly in the nursery.  I can avoid them perfectly on my way in to and out from checking on the girls. During the day when everyone’s awake and I go about the room with less care, I can anticipate the distinct chord each board will play under my foot.  And every time I hear a certain one, I remember how it was that I became so aware of them in the first place: trying to keep our 3 week old Simone asleep after laying her down in that big bare bed in that awkwardly huge nursery that just felt so foreign to her 7 pound self.  At the time, she’d only ever known and preferred the square footage of a womb.  One little creak would’ve alerted her to this very vulnerable situation, to which she would respond with immediate hysterics.

On warm afternoons that we’re stubbornly braving without the AC, the heat gets trapped on the landing on the second floor and releases a smell from the plaster walls and the wood floors and the time that’s had it’s way with them both.  It’s not our family smell, it’s the smell that belongs to this house and this house alone, and every time a waft of it hits me I am  instantly back to the first time Ian and I walked these halls and inspected these walls and wondered if they would ever be our home.  There was a lot going on in our lives at the time, we’d just found out we were pregnant and then weeks later found out the baby didn’t live past 8 weeks; and somehow that smell, that I unexpectedly encounter on certain days as I ascend our stairs, takes me back to the hardship and sweetness of that poignant time.  In leaving this house, I’m afraid of never getting that closeness back.  It’s the next best thing to reliving life since past.

Anyway, as usual I’ve said a lot more than I’ve intended, and still managed not to say what I came here to say in the first place, which is these 4 things: that I need to be more disciplined about writing, that there’s never a better time than the present, that I love this house and the life that’s filled it during our time in it, and that I want to commit to putting my parting reflections down on a daily basis until May 13. We’ll see what comes of it.



 Proof that I can successfully cross the mine field of squeaky floor boards

Would that I could clip the wings of time

I totally forgot to post this the other day almost a month ago.  The days are full and long, so how they fly by so fast is a complete mystery to me. Rocking Simone before bedtime tonight, I could hardly believe that she’s the same tiny thing that was once so little I felt like she would slip through my grasp.  The difficulty with holding her now is that she’s so long, and heavy, and before I can start singing to and rocking her, it takes us a good few minutes for us to find a situation that’s comfortable.  This business of growing up is bittersweet.  I love every minute, but ache a bit at the sight of them passing by.

Before any more time goes by; here’s a belated little update on Evelyn.  We’re all so in love with her.  She’s nothing but an absolute delight. It’s a constant joy to discover the person she is, on her own and by our influence.