That's right - I'm home. My first couple of days here felt like I was floating through a dream. Mostly because I've had countless dreams about this place, so it would make sense for it to be a figment of the hopes that once filled my sleep.
When I came home from Japan last year, there was an indescribable hurt, a longing, that filled every part of me. I went through such a dark period for a long time, and I don't think I was ever really clear of it. Things didn't seem right where I was. I kept telling myself that God wanted me to be home for a reason - but why? What reason could He have had for me being home? I wanted to go back. I wanted to go back so badly! It hurt me so deeply. I've never been in a relationship, but I think I can say with certainty that I experienced my first feeling of a broken heart. (I explained this to one of my friends later as a "geographical breakup.") I had countless dreams of me going back. I woke up sad each time.
I was bitter and angry. No one understood what I was going through. How could they? Especially after all that had happened while I was gone. No one had experienced an earthquake like that! No one knew! But that was because I didn't tell anyone. I didn't open up. I locked myself up inside, putting barriers all around. I was full of anger, bitterness, and hurt, yes - but also pride. I didn't want anyone to know. I assumed all they would try to do would be to sympathize with me, so why bother? I didn't want sympathy!
After months upon months of these feelings, there came a time where I mentioned something to a large group of people about Japan. Someone made a remark about the earthquake, and I suddenly found myself pouring out my heart about the whole experience. I felt a giant weight lifting off of me as I talked. Afterwards, a few of my friends approached me individually and told me how meaningful it was for them to hear that and how much it impacted them. I stopped in my tracks and realized how self-absorbed I had been prior to that day. I kept thinking of how it would affect me to tell people these things - how it would make me feel. I never once stopped to think of how it would affect others because of the experience God put me through. It's all for HIM! His name be praised! "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." - 2 Corinthians 12:9
A little while later, God landed an absolutely incredible passage of scripture in my lap.
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of
compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our
troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort
we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the
sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we
are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are
comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient
endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is
firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also
you share in our comfort." - 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
There were two occasions where I sent this passage to friends who were hurting, and when I did, it affected me so powerfully. God put me through the pain of leaving the land I loved so I could comfort others later on who would experience similar hurts. God shares in my sufferings. He shares in my comforts.
This summer, I really feel like I grew so much closer to a lot of my friends - many of whom I had grown up with my whole life. In the past few months I feel like I really came to know them better than I had in the past 5, 10, 15+ years. I think it was because my being gone from them for six months made me appreciate so many things about them that I never stopped to take the time to notice before. I have such amazing, beautiful, wonderful friends. They are such blessings to me. And that worried me.
As the time drew closer for me to return to Japan, I became sad. I felt like I had just gotten to know everyone so incredibly well, and then I was leaving. I didn't want to leave them behind - I loved these people!
Last time I went to Japan, I couldn't get out of America fast enough. I was beyond excited and was throwing myself full steam ahead. I had just graduated high school, and I think I had that feeling of, "I need to find myself," along with the fact that I loved everything I knew about Japan. Two weeks after my 18th birthday, I moved to Japan. (Nothing like graduating into adulthood by moving to the other side of the world.)
This time, I was sort of oblivious to the fact that I was going to Japan. I mean, I knew I was going, it just didn't hit me that I was going. I figured that until it did hit me, I would just assume that my feelings and emotions would be the exact same as last time. So, while I waited, I acted super excited (which I was in a way,) and kept telling people I couldn't wait to go.
One week before my plane was set to leave - it hit me. But this time, instead of throwing myself as hard as I could against the reigns to go, I dug my heels into the dirt with such intense vigor. I was having an internal war with myself. "How can I leave?! I can't leave! I'm just getting so close to everyone here! I love these people! How can I leave this?! And for a year? Impossible. But no, I miss my students in Japan so much. No! I want to stay!" It was mayhem.
But then I had a talk with one of my dearest friends, who knew exactly how I was feeling. After talking to them, I felt so encouraged and comforted. I was excited to go back. Sure, it wasn't with the same intensity as last time, but I was excited.
The day I left, I was at the airport surrounded by my family and a few friends who braved the early morning hours to see me off. I felt loved. As I was sitting there with them, I felt at peace. Peace with the relationships I had, peace about leaving, peace about what God had in store for me.
Then I entered dreamland. I was on a plane to Japan. But was I really? There was a close call at LAX (my connecting flight) where I was told I wouldn't be allowed to go to Japan because I didn't have a return-home ticket. After countless prayers and what seemed like ages, things worked out just fine and I was allowed to go to my gate. I was ecstatic. It hit me then that there was absolutely nothing that could get in the way of me and Japan if that was where God wanted me to be! I was so confident as I boarded my flight. I knew I would have to go through immigration when I got there and that I had had issues with that last time, but I didn't care. I knew that if God wanted me there, I was getting in!
As the plane drew close to Tokyo, I peeked out the window to see if I could catch a glimpse of the city. We weren't close enough to see it yet, but I did get an eyeful of the gorgeous star-strewn night sky! It was absolutely beautiful. The moon was shining brightly on the ocean and made such a beautiful image. I stared at it for about 10 minutes... and then the city came in view. I can't remember the last time I smiled so big. There it was - the place that caused so many tear-filled nights and my broken heart. It was there. It was waiting for me! The lights of the city were shining so brilliantly. I could feel God's love for me in the lights of a city. I almost burst into tears as the plane hit the airfield. I was back. I was home. (I almost screamed this in Japanese, but thought better of it as I looked around at my fellow sleepy passengers.)
I got off the plane and bolted to the bathroom. There it was - a Japanese toilet! Yes, this may sound odd, but that was the first thing I saw that really made me aware that I was in Japan! The insane amount of buttons on the side, the strange stream noise that goes off as soon as you sit down so as to drown out any "embarrassing sounds." Yeah, it's weird - but it's Japan!
After that, I walked to immigration. There were so many people there, so it took a really long time. There was a lady going through the crowd checking everyone's passports and forms to make sure everything was filled out correctly. She came to me and I was able to use a little bit of Japanese, which was awesome. When it was my turn, I walked up and confidently gave the person there my passport. 2 minutes later, I was walking through customs with all my luggage (PRAISE GOD, MY LUGGAGE WAS THERE!!) and a huge smile on my face! But... no one was there waiting for me. Uh-oh. That was unexpected. I meandered about for a couple of minutes, but found no one there. I pulled aside for a second and tried to figure out what my next step should be. I was just convincing myself to exchange the few dollars I had into yen to I could make a phone call when I spotted my ride. Apparently, my flight was a little early. My host mom and my roommate from last time (she's studying at a university in Tokyo this semester and came to visit) came to pick me up.
As we started driving, I realized how normal I felt. Yes, I was excited to be back in Japan and to see the two of them, but at the same time things felt completely normal. Last time I couldn't keep my eyes off of the street signs and buildings and cars and everything. This time, it felt like it was a normal day in my normal life and I was driving to my normal home. It was good to be back.
We got to the house and I sat down with the rest of my host family and we all caught each other up on the goings-on in our lives. After that, I unpacked all of my bags (into the same room I had before, so I knew exactly where to put everything) and then plopped down on my Japanese futon. I had missed that so much.
Just like last time, I had no jetlag. What a blessing! I woke up the next morning and was ready to conquer the day! Carol (my host mom) and I drove to the school where I will be working again. I spent most of the day going over the curriculum I will be using for English class. I got to see the other teachers and a couple of the students as well! It was so good to see everyone again.
That evening, Jenna (my roommate) and I went to the city to get one of the greatest Japanese foods of all time - ramen. We took the bus there, and I had my first stupid foreigner moment. I was getting off the bus and paying, but apparently I was putting my
money in the wrong slot. Every time I put a coin in, it shot out a ton
of coins, and I was SO confused! Apparently there was a place to pay,
and a place to make change for yourself. Ugh, the poor bus driver - he
was so nice and patient as he told me how it worked. I felt like such an
idiot, though. The embarrassing part was that there was a line of people
behind me waiting to get off, and they were probably thinking, "stupid
foreigner." Oh well, we learn from our mistakes! And I was due for a moment of humbling.
We walked to the ramen shop, which is owned by one of my very good friend's dad. He was very welcoming and excited to see us. He kept thanking me, because his daughter had come and stayed with me in America last month. (He ended up not charging us for the ramen. The only thing better than ramen is free ramen!) One of the other members (who is also my neighbor here) of the team I'm working with just happened to be at the ramen shop as well. It was fun being there with people I know and laughing together.
That evening I came home and took my host family's dog, Rusty, for a walk because he was whining a lot. While I was walking him, someone pulled up and parked their car right by me on the road. It was the wife of the man who owns the ramen shop I had just come from! It was such a random encounter, but it was so good to see her!! One thing I love about Japan is that I feel like I'm always running into someone I know.
The next day I went to the school again for more lesson planning and saw even more of the students! They never fail to bring a smile to my face. :) I had to go to the post office to get some money out of the ATM, so I decided to walk there from the school. I was asked, "Do you remember how to get there?" I don't think I could forget. I walked around so much last time I was here. I loved walking along the familiar road, stopping to get one of my favorite drinks out of what would be a randomly placed vending machine by America's standards, but here is completely normal.
That evening, some of my Japanese friends dropped by to say hello. They brought me delicious Asian pears and Japanese snacks!
On Sunday morning, I awoke to the familiar smell of coffee cake for breakfast. I had forgotten - every Sunday morning, this was what was eaten in this house. I am so excited to be a part of this routine again.
After breakfast, we went to church in the building right next to our school. I joined in on an adults' Sunday School before the church service. It was in English, which I was thankful for, because the church service is entirely in Japanese. Right now they are talking about Romans in SS. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that out. It's been a desire of mine for maybe two years to be a part of a Sunday School or Bible Study focusing on Romans. It's so cool that God has given me that opportunity, even if it has been two years since that desire of mine began.
During the church service, we sang well-known worship music in Japanese. I can't tell you how much I had missed this. I have such an attachment to Japanese worship songs, because that's how I taught myself one of the Japanese alphabets last time I was here. It was so cool being able to sing and actually understand a lot of the words this time, though. I even understood a good amount of the sermon, which was also in Japanese!
After church, so many people came up to me and welcomed me back. I got to see more of my students from last time, as well!
God also answered another huge prayer of mine that day! Last time I was in Japan, I feel like I spent a lot of time hanging out with the other interns - going to do lots of fun things together. This wasn't exactly a bad thing, but I knew a little bit then and think back strongly on it now about how much I wished I could have spent more time with my students and the Japanese people. Last time I would work hard at the school during the day, but at the end of the day and on the weekends, the interns and I would go out to eat or go to Tokyo or whatever. I realize how much of my free time was spent doing fun touristy stuff, instead of getting to know the people here more. This time around, I've been praying that God would provide opportunities for me to spend time with more people. Well, after the service on Sunday, I had multiple people come up to me, people I didn't really see much last time, and they said how much they wanted to hang out with me! I was blown away and so excited! God is answering my prayers in such unbelievable ways!!
I went home on Sunday afternoon, and got the urge to go on a photographic extravaganza. The rice paddies right by my house were in bloom and looked absolutely beautiful! So, I packed up my camera and my iPod and went on a walk. As soon as I stepped outside, I was amazed at how cool it was. The weather has been in the 90's since I got here with so much humidity, but a breeze had rolled in and made it feel wonderful out! I decided to walk to the park about 5 minutes away by foot. I found a little grassy spot in the middle of this pond area that was secluded and beautiful, and just sat there for about half an hour, enjoying the day. (I couldn't help but think of Winnie the Pooh and his "thinking spot" as I sat there.)
That evening, I asked Jenna if she wanted to come with me to the Starbucks just down the road. It's a favorite spot of ours, so we walked there together. It was fun ordering my usual drink in Japanese again. Last time I didn't speak much Japanese, but man, did I know how to order my Starbucks!
I spent most of the day today setting up and organizing one of (yes, this implies more than one) my classrooms at the school. Today I focused on the middle school room, where I'll be teaching pre-algebra, language arts, Bible, and tutoring someone in English. It was fun organizing desks and shelves how I wanted them organized. :D
The rest of this week, I will be lesson planning in preparation of school starting next week. There is lots to do, so please be praying!
Also, I seem to have come down with a nasty cough. I absolutely detest coughs more than any other illness, so obviously it makes sense for that to be the first sickness I catch in Japan. Please, please be praying for my health! I would hate to not have a voice the first week of school, and it's just not fun being sick!
I am about to keel over from exhaustion, so I'd better go. I apologize for the length of this blog. I really didn't expect it to be this long! If you read it all the way through, you are a champ!!
Thank you for your prayers and messages and comments and all of the wonderful things people have been messaging me. I am one blessed girl. :)