“I should be reading!”: A Ciara Story

“Yes, I love to read.”
“I love books!”
“Reading is my favorite hobby.”
“I’ve always got a book with me!”

Maybe I’m being dramatic, but it feels like a lot of my identity is tied up in reading. It’s been my go-to response when asked about hobbies for about 2 decades now. Sometimes I sit and think about books I’ve read, replaying them in my mind like when I’ve got a song stuck in my head. Sometimes a song or movie will be so good that I’ll wish I could enjoy it as a book.

But it isn’t always like that.

As I slog through my reading lists for classes or comps, I sometimes think I feel my love of reading slipping away. Now that I’m deep into my reading lists for comprehensive exams, this feeling is worse than ever.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince took me less than 24 hours. I read Anna Karenina in under a month when I was 11. (I don’t recommend. I don’t think I understood it.) In Japan, I would read roughly one Agatha Christie book a day.

But I’ve been reading The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser for a literal month now, and I’m only a third of the way through.

  • “Is it boring?”
    No! It’s quite good and interesting. Each book (there are 6) has different knight who represents a different virtue. He travels through Faerie Land on a mission, usually battling metaphorical representations of  things antithetical to his particular virtue. Holiness deals with sin and error. Temperance deals with mammon or greed. Chivalry, romance, action, unwieldy metaphors…. It’s right up my alley, TBH.
  • “Is it long?”
    Yes! But that’s never stopped me before. It’s 1025 pages in my copy. This is a poetical work, so each of those pages has 4 stanzas on it. If I focus, I can read a couple pages in 5 minutes.
  • “Do you have to read it?”
    I really should. This is from my major area list and its one of the longest things on there, so I feel like I should give it proper attention. Also, since I’m interested in religious practices of the time, the content is pretty important. It’s also written in Early Modern English, so audiobooking is a no-go.
  • “What are you gonna do?”
    Keep going, I guess. I’ll finish one day. Just like I’ll one day finish my PhD. And if I don’t have the research, writing, thinking, inquisitive skills that my peers seem to just come to grad school already equipped with, oh well.

By the time I get my degree, I’ll have put in what will feel like 1,000,000 man hours, so surely I’ll be at least a little deserving.

Maybe.

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After 4.5 Years, an Update

After nearly a 5 year absence, I’ve decided to pick up my blog again.

Why?

I’m not sure, exactly. I have any number of reasons that each seem pretty plausible.

  1. I associate the blog with Japan. I moved back to America 4.5 years ago and I think of my life in Japan every day. My friends tolerate my constant references to what my life was like in the good old land of the rising sun, of course. But this blog was written in Japan, about my life there. I miss that.
  2. The blog allowed me to describe my life abroad in a platform where people wanted to read it, and I miss that. My life isn’t as interesting over here (in Auburn, again), but on this blog I can re-create that feeling that my life is interesting and worth writing down.
  3. I’m at a weird place in my pursuit of a PhD: reading for my exams. I struggle each day to feel like I’m making progress, that I’m reading with an eye that is critical enough, that I’m not taking too long to do something that should only take a few months. I think accounting for myself on this blog might help.
  4. It might at least keep me or another in a similar situation sane. It’s easy in grad school to give in to imposter syndrome or to compare yourself other “better” students. I believe that this is unhealthy, although I give in a lot. This blog is going to offer a space for me to remind myself while reminding others that competition and degrading comparisons are not the way to go through life.

These are just a few of the plausible reasons I’m coming back to the blog. Each is true in its own way, but the real truth is that I think about the blog all the time, laying dormant and without readers and want to change that.

So. On to the blog itself.

A lot has changed in my life since my most recent post.

  • In May 2014, I left Japan and returned to the US. I planned to start school in Baton Rouge at LSU in August, but spent the summer working at a DME (durable medical equipment) store in the Auburn Area.
  • In August 2014, I moved to Baton Rouge and absolutely hated it. In the US, I’ve never really lived in urban areas or spent much time there. Japan’s urban areas are, by all accounts, cleaner and safer than those in the United States. This was part of the problem. I also missed my friends and my church in Auburn. I eventually made friends at LSU and went to a church near my home, but I was never as comfortable as I’ve been in Auburn.
  • So as I approached the completion of my M.A. (an unnecessary but common step toward the PhD in my program at Baton Rouge), I applied to the PhD program back “home” in Auburn. Returning to Auburn was my primary goal in applying elsewhere, so I only bothered with the one external application. I figured that if God was going to let me go back to Auburn, I’d go, and otherwise I might as well complete my PhD at LSU since I was nearly half done.
  • I got in to Auburn, graduated from LSU and moved back!

For the most part, I love my life here, but I’d be lying if I let y’all believe I’m happy in a PhD program. I think it’s not for me, but I might as well follow through! I’m truly half through now.

I’ll go ahead and end this weird, rambly post by saying what I hope this blog will be:

  1. Cathartic for me to share my fears and failures, hopes and dreams, and maybe even a few successes!
  2. Reassuring for any grad students that make it into the thick of grad school and still not only feel like an imposter but also feel concerned it isn’t what you want to do! You aren’t alone.
  3. Helpful in keeping my eyes on my prize: Jesus. Sometimes I forget, but He’s still the main character of this story!

I’ll update soon. Really.

New Year’s Resolutions and Announcements

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last couple years, it’s that Ciara is apparently a terrible blogger. A part of me protests this assessment. “Tell people what I’ve been up to? I’m great at that. Ask Amelia Maloley. She probably doesn’t care to know half the things I bother to text her every day.” But a more self-critical side of me would point out that in 1.5 years I’ve had only a handful of blog posts. The thing is, I feel like I have to have something to say in these posts. And this one is no different.

By now some of you know this, but to others it will come as a shock: I’m moving back to America this coming Summer. In some ways I’m SOOOO ready, and in others I’m considering changing my mind and staying forever. A lot of things led to this decision, but a few things did not. It’s not that I’m homesick; when I’m in America, I’m homesick for Japan. It’s not the people; I have a wonderful church family, friends, and students who are so bright and full of life that I’m devastated I can’t hang around and just watch them grow up. It’s not the food; I have all of the American food I need and I love the Japanese food.

One of the main factors is my situation, financial and geographic. My situation here is wonderful, and I’m so blessed to have been put here, but a combination of things makes me feel uncomfortable and powerless. I often feel like instead of having opportunities to use the gifts God has given me, I’m just struggling to get by. I have a wonderful, spacious apartment, but it’s too far to often invite people to visit. I make enough money to have a nice life, but not enough to really pay rent, which makes me feel like a drain on this church I want to help. I like to cook for people, invite them over, spend time with them, encourage them, but I live quite far out and it feels wrong to ask people to go through the hassle of coming out here. On the other hand, it gets expensive for me to come to them. At which point do I justify spending all of my money on the trains and buses? Am I really helping and encouraging the people I’m going to visit? Am I just satisfying my own need for companionship? If I had a car, I could drive around and pick people up like I did in America. But if I can’t justify spending the money on the train, I definitely can’t justify a car.

Another important factor is how I feel about teaching. In many ways I LOVE IT. I love learning things, and I really enjoy sharing that love and the knowledge I have with others. But English teaching is really not for me. Especially with kids. I don’t like getting money for this. I feel like I’m obligated to effect a change in these kids’ English ability which is nigh impossible in a child who has no interest in learning these things. I try to make lessons fun, with lots of games. But these lessons somewhat necessarily have less content. The largest of my children’s classes only ever has 3 students, so games are hard. In a different place, in a different situation, I would love to offer free English classes. I would feel less worried if from one day to the next there were less learning and more fun. I wouldn’t feel like I was taking parents’ money so I could play with kids. However, I’m not in a financial position to offer free classes right now. Instead I kind of dread each coming class where I’ll have to either watch children struggle and not enjoy the class, or decide to play games and worry that they aren’t retaining anything at all. Adult’s classes are not bad at all, I just worry that I talk too much and/or don’t encourage my students properly in their own speaking.

And a final factor I’ll just mention is that I feel like I’m not using my brain. I miss learning, and speaking somewhat intellectually with people. And while I have several friends over here that I can discuss things with, it can’t compare to the enjoyment I found in college courses where I felt like I was really immersed in knowledge. Consequently, I’m planning to go to graduate school (for English Literature) when I come back. I considered going over here, but I’m really not interested in studying anything but English lit. There are a few options here, but the English ones I can’t afford, and while my Japanese is pretty good, it’s not graduate-level-course good. So to America I go.

I’ve applied to 6 graduate schools and have only heard from one so far. I got in! But this particular program has no guaranteed funding, and so I will wait to hear from the others. I have all these plans and ideas for what my life might be like from here (including a wonderful possibility where I come back to Japan and teach Lit at a university or international school here). However, I know that I don’t know yet where God will lead me and I just pray that I can feel his direction and trust in the path even when it goes somewhere I’d not expected.

For those of you that read this far, thank you. I’ll just say a couple more things and finish. The first is a prayer request that when you think of me, you’ll pray that I’ll understand and see God’s direction as He sends me wherever He sees fit. That I won’t let my own disappointment or elation at different possibilities cloud my vision.

Finally, I want to make a new years resolution at spending the remaining months in Japan properly blogging about ridiculous bits of everyday life. If anyone has a particular request about some aspect of living over here, feel free to post and ask. Otherwise, just enjoy the little stories as they come! (Or pester me about it when they don’t.)

Oh! Almost forgot, as I won’t be staying here, I’m taking the “Donate” button off my page. But if anyone is interested in personally investing in missions in Japan and has questions, please feel free to ask me!!

Christmas in Japan, 2 Months After the Fact


Back in early (okay, late) January, I started this blog post to update everyone about Christmas. Decided to go ahead and prioritize it. I’ll eventually tell y’all all about Disney and my trip to the biggest city in the world! There’s no pictures. But I just wasn’t up to pictures today. So your choices were no pictures or no blog. Enjoy!

 

So the problem with me and a blog is this: as I’m going through interesting things, I mentally write an awesome blog post to go with it. And then my brain tells me it’s no priority to actually put it online. Because it’s already written, right? And then I forget most of it or just never get around to it and you, fine people, are the ones who miss out on the adventures. Honestly, I’m not sure why as many of you put up with me as you do, but in this New Year, I’ll try to be better. I think that’s the closest I’ve come to making a New Year Resolution. They don’t really have those here. But talking about New Year is skipping Christmas, so let me back up just a bit.

Christmas here is visually stunning. The Japanese people are really onboard with decorating and are good at it. Every mall had a Christmas tree and it wasn’t uncommon to see a house or apartment really decked out! Alot of people have small trees in their home, sometimes with presents under it, and other times just for show. In most families, the children get gifts; in a few, everyone does. Japan even has their own tradition of getting Christmas cakes, which, oddly, usually have strawberries and fresh whipped cream on them. However, Christmas isn’t a holiday here. It’s a weird American trend that involves decorating and getting gifts, so people join in. It was weirder than I can explain to hear that some of my students had school on Christmas. Others had doctors appointments or similar engagements that would just NEVER happen in America.

Our church had several parties and events during the season: a children’s event, a youth party, a Christmas themed English Cafe, we hosted an English circle that normally meets nearby, a Christmas Eve service that we invited the general community and many of the English student mothers to, and the Christmas party for our church members. For each of these events we provided refreshment, mostly in the form of Christmas cookies. I think for the rest of my life, Christmas in Japan will mean cookies! They were fun, and yummy to eat, but there were so many! (I also learned that apparently all of the midwest makes a cookie called pepper nuts. Meanwhile the South, literally the capital of almost all good American food, especially sweets and cakes and cookies, has never introduced me to this spicy little cookie!)

I was able to help quite a bit with making cookies, bagging them up to give to people, etc., and it felt really good. I was in on the planning and execution of the youth party, and I think everyone involved had a lot of fun! I wasn’t able to be here for the children’s event (which made me sad, because there were puppets telling bible stories in Japanese) and missed the singing and message for Christmas Eve at my church. Both of these times found me in a church called Kobe Ichibaku Church. Once for teaching, and the other to join their Christmas Eve service. The pastor and his wife there are very sweet, driving me home almost every night that I teach there. So when they asked me to visit their church that night, I said yes.

Then for Christmas, I was really blessed to be invited to two different houses for Christmas! So I spent the morning and early afternoon with the Trims, then made my way to the Seelens for the night. All in all, it was a fantastic Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong, I missed all sorts of things about America. I missed helping Savanna decorate our weird black tree. I missed opening presents at Grammaw’s with the cousins on Christmas Eve. I missed Christmas morning at Dad’s with the dinky tree that he probably wouldn’t put out if I didn’t make him. I missed a stocking at Mom’s stuffed with all sorts of goodies that I can never get all back into the stocking properly! I missed Christmas night at the Singletary house in Meridian — with dirty santa, family games, and pecan divinity. I missed my family and my friends terribly, but I’m so blessed to not only have people that care about me here, but also am reminded all the time of people who still care about me back home. Love you all!

 

From now, I would love it if everyone would pray for my church here to grow and thrive. For us to be a body, united by Christ. Willing to invite others in. I’ve already planned 2 youth parties, and they both went pretty well. I pray that these girls who are coming, would be able to find peace here, enough to seek more of it. I pray that we would be a church with a desire to know more about God, a place that would be welcoming and loving to seekers who might cross our paths. And I pray that in any way I can help with this, that I would do my best. Please join me in praying these things for me and my church! Thank you!

Walking in Circles and Learning to Love It!

Shout! for the LORD has given you the city!  Joshua 6:17

I decided to be a little different today and actually post something. But even more differently, I decided to tell about something other than my adventures! I decided to just talk about a way that God has of encouraging me with just one specific part of the Bible!

Like everyone (at least, I assume this is normal), I sometimes feel a little down, like I’m just walking this path that leads nowhere. Admittedly, that path lead me to an exciting country with a whole realm of adventures, opportunities, and experiences. But still, I sometimes feel down. I worry about money. I worry about whether I’m actually making a difference. I worry that I’m not even supposed to be here.

There are days when my Japanese is pretty fantastic, but those are the days when my English is…. we’ll just say less than perfect. So I’m not sure how good of a teacher I can possibly be. Then there are days when my English is fantastic, and for the first time since high school I can actually understand present participles and infinitives and when to use them. But those are the days when I have trouble saying things like “I am Ciara. This is a pen,” in, literally, 3 year old level Japanese. So I worry that I’m never gonna appropriately communicate with people.

I have many friends, and I’m thankful for them. But most of them are already Christians and it takes money I don’t have to go and visit them and I whine about the futility of those trips. Other times I just whine about the sheer amount of walking involved in absolutely any trip I undertake.

And then God whispers to me, “Shout! for the LORD has given you the city!” And I think of how the Israelites must’ve felt, walking endless circles around Jericho. From a human perspective, the directions didn’t make sense, but they did it on faith. And the walls crumbled. 

And I can learn many things from this passage, not least of which is this: the actions of the Israelites didn’t cause the walls to crumble. God brought those walls down! So when I feel as if I’m going in endless circles, getting nowhere, it doesn’t mean that I should immediately assume nothing good can happen. By walking in faith, God can send many good opportunities my way and there may be NO OBVIOUS CONNECTION. I may not be able to see that I’m actively working towards something, but my God is so amazing that I don’t have to be able to see a desirable end result along my path in order for God to put it there. His ways are mysterious and perfect.

So this is what I’m going to try to do, instead of complain, whine, feel like I’m going nowhere, I’m going to (attempt to patiently) wait for the time when I can shout and rejoice for what God has done for me. In the meantime, I can rest and know that the time is coming!

Hope you all can get the same encouragement from these words! Love you all!

Everything in the Garden is Rosy… Literally!

I’ve again been terribly remiss in updating my blog these last few weeks. Those of you who know me may scoff, but I fully intend to post several times in the next few days. This one will be rather short for two reasons. First, it’s main story concerns only one short day trip. Second, I took this trip almost a solid month ago, so some of the details aren’t as clear to me as they were a few weeks ago. I’m so sorry!

First topic: My day trip.
I say trip, but really I only went about 10 minutes from my house to Suma Rikyu Koen for the annual Rose Festival. I was so surprised to find this lovely place so close to home! From what I understand, this park is built on the grounds of a member of the royal family’s summer house that is no longer in use. (If anyone just happens to know better, please correct me!) and it is beautiful! There are mountains in the background and the park is spacious and very European in design. From a higher, plaza-like area you can see the ocean in the distance.

 

The picture quality is not so great from my phone, but you can see the ocean in the distance.

The picture quality is not so great from my phone, but you can see the ocean in the distance.

These are some Japanese pines. The needles are a bit shorter than yellow pines and they grow in kind of meandering ways.

These are some Japanese pines. The needles are a bit shorter than yellow pines and they grow in kind of meandering ways.

 

I went with a sweet group of ladies that I teach on Tuesday afternoon. So this week, instead of a lesson, we just went to the park. The ladies brought obento for us, and they were delicious. We had lunch overlooking the beautiful roses. Afterwards, we walked down around the roses, occasionally stopping to read the names of a particularly pretty one.

 

 

We walked on and saw this really cool slide. It was some steps in the middle, and they were quite an intimidating set of steps. But the special thing was that on either side of them was 2 tiered slide. It was really fun and I’ll definitely be visiting again just for that!

 

 

 

 

 

This one was called Blue Bayou. It's the only one who's name I remember

This one was called Blue Bayou. It’s the only one who’s name I remember

 

I can't decide if this is the prettiest.

I can’t decide if this is the prettiest.

 

Or this one!

Or this one!

 

Fountains in the background!

Fountains in the background!

There was also a hot house. Inside was very tropical and I couldn’t help thinking that it was very reminiscent of Jurassic Park! But I’m happy to report the apparent absence of T-Rex and Velociraptors. Instead, there were Trumpet flowers as big as my head, and tiny brightly colored ones as small as my thumb. There were some color combinations that were too bright and pretty to really believe they were real, but I think they were!!!

Jurassic Park, right?!

Jurassic Park, right?!

 

I don't even understand how these aren't made of wax.

I don’t even understand how these aren’t made of wax.

The hot house also has a cafe. Because of the Rose Festival, they were pushing the rose flavored soft serve ice cream. Japan has a pretty stellar variety of soft cream flavors, (on one memorable occasion, I was offered a double scoop cone with tomato and asparagus flavors. I tried the tomato, and I fully believe that if I liked tomatoes, I would have liked it!), but I’ve never seen rose flavored before. I’ve had rose flavored sweets in the past in the form of Turkish delight. And I just felt like I was eating a block of perfume. However, because it was a special flavor, that’s what we all decided on, and it was lovely. Truly, I’m rethinking my whole stance on rose flavored things.

 

After this, we made our way back to the rose area and looked a bit more before we headed home.

The rest of my post today is going to just talk about how I’m doing. The short answer is well. The longer answer is that every day I get a little more confident about teaching. I also get more confident in my Japanese, but that’s not necessarily a good thing! The church I go to is very small, but I’m happy to feel like I’m fitting in. Recently, the pastor’s wife had to return to America for awhile, so I’ve been running children’s church. At most, this is about 3 children, usually only one. But I’m happy to have a place. We read a bible story and answer questions about it. Which is great because the story and the questions are just about the perfect level of Japanese for me! We also practice a bible verse. Then we do origami! I like origami, and I’m kind of good at it. But the book is in Japanese, so it’s not that rare that we find one that’s just way above our level. Generally, though, we manage to do ok!

For those of you praying for me, thank you. Please be praying specifically for a couple things.

1. More students. This life is hardly about making the money, but I don’t have enough right now. Besides, more students means more people at least aware of churches in the community. I’m so happy that my very presence can give the church more opportunities to connect with the community. However, students are on the slim side and I need a few more. So please be praying.

2. More opportunities to meet with and witness to those friends I already have. Conflicting schedules means that I know some people in the area that I’d really like to encourage and nurture. I’d like to share with constantly and be a friend. But I’ve not been able to lately and I’m hoping to change that soon! Please pray for me to find these opportnities and for boldness to make the most of them!

I suppose that’s all I have for this update. In the next few days, expect one about a few more of my adventures. Coming soon: an entire post about food!

We Went to the Lake!

So, in my continuing quest to not get too far behind, I can now move on to September!

Classes started back, but with the Trims back in town, my work load got MUCH smaller. I now have all of Monday free, most of Wednesday, and most of Friday. Really, only Thursday is ever almost too much to handle. And it’s really not. It just seems that way, relative to the other days.

This is also when I began to get probably the most homesick I’ve ever been in Japan. This is the time of year when I’m usually back in Auburn, catching up from the summer, getting into classes, getting into trouble. Typical college student things. So, for the first time for me, it seemed hard to be here. Not a terribly terrible homesick feeling, but a small weight on my chest that made it just a little harder to breathe. But my lovely friend Anita invited me to the Singles Retreat with her church Crossroads.

Crossroads is an international church in Nishinomiya (about halfway between here and Osaka). I’ve been to Crossroads several times. Sometimes it’s nice to hear a message in English or just a nice place to go and be with a larger group of believers. But I’d really only been to worship, not gotten involved with a group.

I don’t think there will ever be words for me to express to Anita how grateful I am for her invitation that weekend. I made so many good friends and just felt so at home with a large group of believers. We always hear that we’re part of God’s family, but it’s times like this, being accepted by strangers, that really drives it home. Nothing can really replace any of the things from my life in Alabama. But I found a similar fit that just makes me breathe easier and smile more. I still miss Auburn, but now I don’t really need to be homesick. Home is here!

Apparently, Crossroads has a Fall Retreat each year for the Singles group. (For those of you Parkway-ers reading this, think Beach Retreat, but not always the beach.) This year we went to Biwako, a huge lake north of Kyoto. (On the train it takes about 2 hours for me.)

We slept 8 people to a room, and altogether we took up 5 rooms – 3 for women, 2 for men. Being an adult is a new step for me. It was strange to find myself, at 23 years old, the youngest person in a group. But really cool as well!

The first night, we had a campfire. We sang worship songs, roasted marshmallows, did fireworks, and just hung out. I never thought I would like the smell of smoke getting caught all in my hair and clothes, but it really brought me back to waking up Saturday morning after Friday night Bible study and fellowship at Brian’s place.

The next morning started with a quiet time and small group setting. Although many of the Japanese people at Crossroads can speak quite a bit of English, it was nice that they put all 7 of the English speakers together. The rest of the day was meant to be spent with canoeing, but when the waves proved too big, we gave up and swam in the lake then played with water balloons!

That evening, the pastor from Crossroads came and talked for us. Our theme for the weekend was attitudes of the heart. Fumi’s lesson had lots of points that I would have thought too much except it was great for a retreat, having so many things to focus on. Afterward, we all hung out down in our meeting room for awhile, playing card games. I’m happy to say that I learned to play Hearts. I’ve been “playing” it on the computer for years, but we all know that that’s really just pressing buttons and hoping for the best.

The next morning was our last. The wind was picking up and it looked like a storm was coming in, so it was really cool to have quiet time on the beach and just listen! After that it was time to go home. The lake trip seemed all too short, but God knew just how much I needed. And that lake trip was just enough! The weight is gone and I can breathe free and clear, just in time for my favorite season: FALL!

August – Apologies and Adventures

Sorry for the 2 month radio silence. The month of August was one where I didn’t do anything worth it’s own post. But I wasn’t sure how to cram the few small things into one post. Then August was gone and fun things were happening in September, but I couldn’t post out of order. Before I knew it, a couple weeks of inactivity had snowballed into more than 2 months! Today I realized that if I don’t start back now, I may never post again. So for this post, I’ll try to hit the high points from the month of August.

First, I moved into my apartment above the church. You can see a little bit of it from the pictures. If you feel as if you aren’t really seeing it, that’s because I’ve tried to not really photograph the messy parts. It will come as a surprise only to those who don’t know me that the apartment is not exactly what anyone would call clean/organized/neat. Maybe one day.

This is my kitchen! From left to right you can see my dish shelf, my apron (thanks Kristin), my American style oven and range, my hot water pot, the edge of my sing, and my fridge with it’s large calendar!

Here you can get a general idea of the high ceilings in my living room. The stairs here are going up to my loft-like second floor where there is my room, a study I don’t use, and a second bedroom I don’t need!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, was the Obon holiday week. Obon is a buddhist holiday and isn’t technically recognized by the government as a national holiday. Despite this, the world kind of shuts down for at least 3 days. Everyone goes back to their home towns, there are no lessons, etc. Kinda like the Wed/Thurs/Fri of our Thanksgiving week.
Since I had no plans and no lessons, my friend Yuya and his wife Kayo asked if I could go somewhere with them. So I did. We went to a nearby town for grape-picking. It was really cool! I paid 700 yen, which is less than $10. For that price, I could stay as long as I wanted, sitting on a mat underneath the vines, eating as many grapes as I could. And they were delicions. For days after I would find myself looking around kind of hoping for a nice bunch to have just appeared in my living room. No such luck.

Aren’t they lovely? Plus, it was shady and breezy beneath them, which is nice on a hot August day!

Close-up of the grapes. Also, you can kind of see how people were hanging out under here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I visited a BIG recycle shop. Usually, recycle shops (resale shops) are kind of small, local jobs with a hit-or-miss selection. They’re always fun, but not always filled with things you want to buy. However, at this one I had to stop myself from spending lots of money I don’t have!

The best places were the electronics and appliances sections. I ended up buying the small ice cream maker (which has worked fine the 3 times I’ve used it. It really is very small, but it was only about $12 and it’s so convenient! I also bought the scale. But I still have no real concept of kg, so I’m constantly using my phone to convert my weight to lbs.!

You’re seeing this correctly. It’s a pink playstation2. This was arguably the hardest to not buy. Especially since a part of me whispers that it would at least be useful as a DVD player.

This adorable item is a Disney themed DVD/VCR combo. It’s made for children which is obvious from the (not pictured) remote control, a palm-sized, mickey-shaped block of plastic with literally about 4 buttons on it.

This is a tiny Hello Kitty (or Hello Kitty Friends) iceless ice cream maker. The bottom goes in the freezer until it is frozen all the way through. Then you pour the cream and flavors right in, attach the top, and start it up. It’s fast too!

This is a coffee cup that comes with a tiny hot plate. That way, if you’re a slow coffee drinker in the morning (like me) you don’t have to worry. Your drink will stay warm!

This is a PSX, a playstation-based digital video recorder. It wasn’t super popular because of it’s high price (almost $1000), and was subsequently never released outside of Japan. However, it was a fully functioning console with both ps1 and ps2 capabilities. This used one comes in at around $175.

This obnoxiously orange item is a scale. It has a simple weight function as well as memory settings for up to 4 individuals. In addition to weight, it tells BMI and estimates your body’s age (condition). Downside: no user’s manual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope you’ve enjoyed this post, I’ll definitely try to post soon about some of my September activities.

Rejoicing in Heaven

People often ask me things like “How’s your life in Japan?” and I know that they really mean “Are you happy?”  Most of the time, the answer is an unhesitating “Yes!”  But I won’t pretend that it always is.  Sometimes things are hard. Last week in particular was pretty tough.  I felt kind of alone, and that’s something that might not change. (Especially since the Seelens’ interns went home today. I’ll miss you all terribly!)

But the enemy attacks us in our weaknesses, and as a social creature, I’m often tempted to believe that the lack of constant human interaction means I’m unloved, forgotten and alone.  But this is a lie.  Even without my wonderful friends and family who are constantly willing to write me letters, text me, talk on the phone, etc., I have all I need in Jesus who is always with me.

I’m happy to say that the last few days have been amazing. I hope you all have the same joy your hearts when I tell you that there’s been a lot of rejoicing happening in Heaven lately!

Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
Luke 15:10

Last summer, when I was an intern myself, one of my friends Ariel began meeting with a couple named Chiharu and Aki.  I remember the joy on her face (and a bit of nervousness) as she talked about bible studying with them.  I also remember, as we prepared to go home, how hard it was to imagine leaving people that we’d been meeting with. And I remember the sadness in Ariel’s voice when she told me that Chiharu and Aki had told her that they might believe her, but they weren’t ready to become Christians.  Even though we’re just tools of God, spreading seeds with no ability to really make them grow, it feels like a failure when you love someone and pour Truth at them and they won’t believe.

I’m so happy to tell you all that a couple weeks ago Chiharu and Aki both accepted Christ into their hearts. I couldn’t make it to their baptism, but they told their stories and afterwards another friend (also named Aki) accepted Christ as well!  I went to his baptism ceremony yesterday and when someone asked him his story, he said “God rescued me!”

Everyone please pray for these three as they grow in faith, please pray for more rescues, and please pray for me to remember that I’m never alone.  Love you all. 🙂

My Dreams are Bursting at the Seams

After my trip to Korea, but before I went home, I had even more adventures! But it seemed a bit much to include it all in one post! Once I arrived in the airport, instead of heading east to Kobe, I headed North – to Niigata for Fuji Rock 2012!

It was really great to be in a brand new part of Japan. Niigata is farther north in Japan than I’ve ever been before. The mountains are not the biggest I’ve seen, but they’re much bigger than down here. In fact, the place I visited (Echigo Yuzawa) is full of ski resorts in the winter. But in the summer it was very green!

I got there by night bus, which is exactly what it sounds like. I got on the bus in Osaka around 9 pm and arrived in Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture around 7 am. Night buses are fairly legit, too. The first one, especially. It had a leg rest, an electrical outlet, and a crazy “privacy hood” that blocked the light and hid whether or not you were sleeping from other people.
From Nagaoka Station I took a train to Echigo Yuzawa Station. Then came the waiting. I waited to get on the shuttle bus, then I waited to get my wristband. When I say waited, I mean about an hour and a half in each line, mostly in the sun.

Because of this, my early start from Nagaoka Station didn’t help as much as I’d thought it would, and I arrived at the Green Stage only about 30 minutes before the Ed Sheeran show. For those of you who don’t know Ed Sheeran, he’s a fairly new British performer. I found him pretty impressive just from his youtube videos, but he put on a great performance! He went out there alone with his guitar and did a lot of loops to let himself perform alone what would normally take a whole band. He was big on audience involvement, so it was never dull.

When he was gone, I was able to push ahead to the very front to wait for Owl City – the reason I came. Waiting for him wasn’t as bad as the wait for Ed Sheeran. Nothing to do with nerves, the sun had just moved behind the stage and breeze was nice.

Although Adam Young writes the music and performs on the CDs, he can’t do it all in concert and so he tours with a group. They were an interesting bunch and looked really fun. They were on stage off and on during set up and were out there before Adam. But when Adam came on stage, I could hardly believe it! I’ve loved his music for so long and wanted to meet him and see him that it was really hard to comprehend that he was on that stage about 8 yards away from me! I hope he noticed me in the crowd. I had a sign that told him “I’m praying for you!”

They played so many good songs. I’m disappointed in myself because I can’t remember them all, but I know they played Fireflies, Angels, Hello Seattle, and the new ones Good Time, Take it All Away and Gold. I knew all of them but Gold and Take it All Away, but pretty much learned them at the concert. 😉

After he left the stage, I kinda had nothing to do. I was pretty sunburned at this point. (Some of you know how bad I am atremembering sunscreen.) Because of that I didn’t really wanna sit through another concert that I didn’t know. Fuji Rock is HUGE. There was so much going on and it took a long time to walk from one side to the other. But the next band I know (the Kooks) weren’t playing until 6:30 and it was only just turning 3. So I wandered toward the front and sat in the shade outside the convenience store. Bought a taco on the way because it’s an opportunity I don’t often get in Japan. Then I sat down to examine the map.

It was turning 4 now, so I still had plenty of time before the Kooks concert. I thought about taking the “dragondola” ride up to the top of the mountain, but it closed at 4:30 and cost about $15. So even if I could make it in time, I wasn’t sure it was worth it. Then my eyes focused on what they’d been sliding over all day. It said Owl City – サイン会. For those of you that can’t read Japanese, this says sain (sign) kai (meet). And it had a location, but no time listed.

Right away, I just knew it was too late. He had a concert in Korea the next day (I know because I considered trying to go there instead) and although the countries are close, we were a couple hours from the nearest airport and time had to be tight for them. I felt like it was too late, but I couldn’t chance it, so I hurried for the place on the map, which was much further than the map implied. Something like 2-3 km I’d guess.

When I got there, there was a sign at the small MTV stage saying Owl City would be giving an acoustic concert at 4:30. MADE IT!

Then I looked around for the signing and meeting business the map had talked about. I asked an attendant and he explained that I’d have to buy a CD or something and only the first 50 would meet him. I was down for buying a CD – even one I already had, but they told me that they were out. 50 people had already received their meet Adam tickets and I wasn’t one of them.

Needless to say I was devastated. Although I’d tried to keep myself from hoping too much, I’d really wanted to meet Adam Young and almost believed I would. I hung around for the acoustic concert, which was cool. Fireflies and Good Time with just a guitar. Then they lined up the 50 people. But I couldn’t leave.

As number 50 approached the stage to walk up and say hello, the man monitoring the line and keeping track of the tickets caught my eye. My original friend had tried to negotiate something where I could get around the ticket thing, but they had said it was impossible. I’m fairly sure that the guy currently catching my eye was the one who had said it was impossible. So I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was absolutely floored when he motioned me into the line!

I’m sorry to say that the combination of surprise, mild dehydration, sunburn, exhaustion, and sheer excitement rendered me incapable of intelligent speech. Instead of telling him how comforting and cheering I found his music, or how I’m glad to have a good Christian artist to recommend to my Japanese students, I just babbled about how I wasn’t gonna get to meet him and then I did and I was from Alabama. If I get to meet him again, I hope I can do a little better!

Before I left, I asked him if I could have a hug and he said “Sure! I’m really sweaty though.” It was like 95 degrees with 50-60% humidity. Everyone was sweaty, so his apology was unnecessary, but adorable. And I responded with a completely sincere “I don’t even care.” And not even because it was Adam Young. Japanese culture doesn’t involve near enough hugging for my taste, so I welcome any and all hugs!
But seriously, I hugged Adam Young.

Pretty much the rest of my trip is kind of a blur. I didn’t even try to watch the Kooks. I had stopped thinking correctly at that point. So I went back to the station and waited for the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). The trip by regular train took almost 1 hour 20 minutes. The return trip by bullet train was only 20 minutes!

Then it was onto my second night bus. The second wasn’t quite as awesome as the first. More like a regular charter bus, but the nice Japanese driver explained that there was an unoccupied seat next to mine, so I could feel free to spread out over two of them. I spent the night just playing Owl City on my iPod. 🙂 We arrived early in Osaka and I was home in bed in Kobe by 9 am.

 

It all just feels like a dream.

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