When people put their trust in God in radical ways, and we hear the stories of how He provided at the last minute, the exact thing, just enough or massively more than enough, it evokes a response in us for MORE. MORE of the radical, MORE faith, MORE trust, MORE of Him. Something stirs up our hearts and we cry out, “He is so faithful! I know it!” In the afterglow of this emotion, leaps of faith — literal jumps from the edge of a cliff, plummeting abyss below, with too much distance to cover and little chance of getting even a fingertip on the other side — cease to be so frightening. They begin, in fact, to look exciting and encouraging. We make plans to pursue our own trust fall with God. We listen to our hearts and our dreams, resounding with the beats of His own exotic heart, and decide to do it. We will put our trust in God in a radical way.
Then we are living what was once just a listening exercise for us. We are the people in the story, and when the last minute arrives, where we have need of an exact thing, and we don’t know if He will provide massively more or just enough or even not at all, leaps of faith start to feel frightening again. We wonder what we are doing wrong that it doesn’t feel like a big adventure to fall backward into the arms of God. In the moments that God provides, even if His provision is radically different from what we expected, and we wonder if it could even be called ‘provision,’ we tell our story. We see the seeds of excitement in the eyes of our listeners, see that they want to go on an adventure with God. Should we warn them? This adventure doesn’t feel like we thought it would feel — there is much more fear and anxiety, much more taking stock of our hearts, much more battling of lies and searching for truths, much more setting aside the old wineskins of our immature beliefs, than we were ever prepared for. But we see their sparkling eyes and know, with a spiritual sense, that they couldn’t hear our warnings even if we yelled them through a loudspeaker, complete with sirens and flashing lights. For they’ve been caught, hook-line-and-sinker, by the God of the eleventh hour. They want MORE. They want more seeing, more understanding, and more experiences of this crazy Being who loves with such abandon and requires nothing less than our bodies AND our souls. And oh, will they get it! When that dark night comes and they are wondering why this big adventure doesn’t feel very adventurous, the same Spirit will whisper to them what He has whispered to us: “Perfect love casts out fear, and there is so much you are afraid of. So you need a big love, and there is really only one place that is found — in the deep chasm after jumping, in the moment when you see with perfect clarity that you will not make it to the other side and need to be caught. That is where perfect love is found. So that is where I will take you.”
It’s our 7th August in this house, the rental that needs so many fix-ups we cannot name them, yet has become our tenderly loved spot in the world.
August is summer break in Japan, splitting the school year in half: a whole month of river trips with onigiri picnics, cold soba noodles to delight our palettes, hanabi in the street and at festivals, trips to the pool, excited calls for kakigori from the back of the car, slip’n’slides at the park with friends, neighborhood kids running in and out of the yard, suika after dinner, sharing sake with our retired neighbors while sweat runs down our backs, nightly cold showers that prep our bodies for warm sleep, and the song of semi accompanying all our comings and goings. It is a month of crazy, exhausting fun, and I have really come to love it.
There is a band of neighborhood kids that have played together each of these seven Augusts and beyond: five boys and three girls, ages spanning two to thirteen. They have had water balloon wars, made movies together, went fishing at the pond down the street, snuck out onto our roof (!!!), played for hours in our tiny pool, and created a general ruckus on our block and theirs. When the crazy is happening, I am so overwhelmed by it that I see them as a total nuisance; but when I stop to write it all out, I think, “These are the moments my kids will remember with nostalgia when they grow up” — and I don’t want them to ever stop.
Those kids are all at my house right now, with wet hair and fresh clothes, bunched up on our nasty, old couch to watch English cartoons together, and I think my heart might burst. One little boy, a year older than Ezra, used to pester us incessantly with questions when he came over, following either Bryan or me around the house to ask us what we were doing and why and for how long. But that was years ago now. He has grown into such an interesting kid, with a kind smile and the best one-liners. He has freely given us his best compliments, including this recent one: “The things that happen in this house are amazing.” We love him. I hope he always comes to my house. Another boy, the oldest of the bunch, has been the ring leader for finding new and interesting play; he seems reluctant to leave childhood, and I don’t blame him. I think, in fact, that these days of running and laughing with friends younger than him greatly benefit the rest of his week. We have known him the longest, since he started coming over by himself when Jones was just three years old and he was six. At this point, I think we will stay in touch with him for the rest of our lives, and I often imagine him showing up to tell us about his new job or to announce his engagement. The little girl, a year older than Harper, comes to ring the doorbell with her mom, and even if none of my children are at home, she wants to come in and play Licca-chan while petting Iggy, the family dog. I can tell she feels comfortable here, and even when I’ve had kids in my house up to HERE, I love this about here. She and my little ladies could play make-up or Sylvania or mama-gokko for hours, and have.
These kids fight, too. They are all human. There have been disagreements at the park that erupted into yelling and tears, or accidents that have flustered some of the group, or older kids ganging up on the younger ones. What I love about this group is that each family seems to value the freedom of play and discovery in childhood, even as it reaches into relationships and communication. The kids handle these disagreements on their own, retreating to their own homes to take breaks from one another and dump their frustrations to mom, dad, or grandma. But no parent is angrily ringing doorbells or demanding reconciliation. We are in silent agreement that kid problems need kid solutions, and our interference would be just that: interference. This is one of the reasons, I believe, that this group has remained friends spanning elementary graduations and schedule changes and pre-adolesence. They seem to play and fight with the comfort of siblings. Among many other reasons, this is perhaps the most pertinent for why we hope to remain in the neighborhood: this band of friends, from different families, cultures, and languages, spending their summers together in Surugadai.
onigiri – rice ball
soba – buckwheat noodles
hanabi – fireworks
kakigori – shaved ice
suika – watermelon
semi – (extra large and loud) locust
Licca-chan – Japanese version of Barbie, pronounced “Rika”
Sylvania families – Callico Critters in the US
mama-gokko – playing cooking, kitchen, and babies
Yesterday was the grand opening of our coffee roasting business here in Japan. I’m celebrating by spending the morning in my pajamas, locked up in our bedroom, sipping, reading, and tapping the keys: an introvert’s party.
I remember sitting in a Shizuoka cafe a little over five years ago, journaling and daydreaming about the coffee business Bryan and I dared to imagine. I wrote up a mock menu, sketched versions of the interior, played with potential names. The reality is nothing like those notes, with the simple roasted bean our only menu item, scraped concrete instead of dark wood floors, and a name we arrived at only after a year of deliberation. There is no disappointment in this fact, though. It was much like a wedding day: hoped and endlessly planned for, but in essence, very normal.
We are happy to be partnering with farms in Thailand and Rwanda, and hopefully expanding soon to Burundi. We are excited for the potential to offer our coffee to cafes and restaurants throughout Shizuoka and greater Japan. We are most encouraged by the possibility for friendship with the people who walk through our doors to purchase beans, asking their questions and trusting our recommendations. We hope this business will be a blessing to all who encounter it.
Visit our website here.
It’s raining. I’m upstairs in our bedroom, space heater at my feet, writing a few letters in between sips of coffee. My oldest is gaming with his friends downstairs, my second fell asleep in his bed for a rare afternoon nap, my third is drawing in the playroom, and my fourth is napping as well, which has also unfortunately become a rare thing these days. I’m contemplating ice cream and cake for afternoon snack — it’s spring break, and we are one week in and getting used to seeing each other all day again. We are enjoying each other. It makes me feel like celebrating with cake.
Recently, I have made a practice of looking each child in the eye and saying, “You are a blessing!” I’ve also started telling myself how much FUN it is to have four kids. I feel like life tells a different story: piles of waiting laundry, a nightly meal crisis, fights and yelling and personality clashes, middle-of-the-night anxiety, tired under-eye bags that don’t seem to go away. All of this is enough. It betrays the difficulty of raising children. Then there are the unknowing comments of onlookers, wondering how I could ever manage four kids, and isn’t it just exhausting? I must hear it three or four times a day, from friends and strangers.
All of this has permeated my thinking, and I’ve started to look at the job before me and wonder if I’m really up to the task. After all, if it costs so much in energy and emotion, and all these people don’t know how I do it, then HOW am I DOING IT? I must be out-to-lunch! I must NOT be doing it. I must be horribly in need, it’s too hard, and I think I’d rather take a break. Except we don’t get those in parenting. We get small ones, sure. But we don’t get to be done with the job; and actually, I don’t think that’s what we really want, either.
So I’m retraining my mind. I’m remembering that although there are costs involved, I LOVE having four kids. I LOVE their personalities and their quirks, their sibling relationships and their needs and their chats. I WANT THIS JOB. It’s hard, but I want it. And I also want to stop looking at them like they are the reason for my tiredness, the vacuums sucking up my energy — I want to look at them and see PEOPLE. Little people. Little growing people, with a huge desire to be enjoyed — and how FUN they become when they are being enjoyed! Each one a gift. Each one, adding so much to our lives. Each one, multiplying the good things in our home. I LOVE HAVING CHILDREN.
Our staff team has used Gallup’s StrengthsFinder this past year to learn more about ourselves and each other. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m really good at analyzing present circumstances and thinking of ways to enhance them. I’ve also learned that I currently lack the wisdom to know when the present circumstances require analyzing, and whether or not a new method is helpful or necessary. I also lack the maturity to understand fully that the necessity of improvement is not always the result of a personal flaw.
Relating this to motherhood, I’ve often struggled with a nameless sadness. Things are not as they should be — I’m not doing what I should be. I can do this better. So on and so forth. I make plans, I get excited about them, and I implement them. Discipline methods, screen time, “natural play”, quality time, eating habits, etc etc etc — nothing is beyond the reach of my evaluating prowess! But then time passes and that feeling reemerges. Quickly on its heels is guilt: What did I do wrong? Do I need to move backward, to what I’ve done before? Forward, to what I’ve not done yet?
Self-improvement and growth are not the things I’m talking about here, but rather constant evaluation of a process that is not in need of it. My kids don’t need me to rearrange bedtime routines every few months, though I can do that if I choose. But they don’t NEED it, its not required of me as their mother. In fact, there are very few things they NEED, and they already have them: food, physical affection, presence, a listening ear. They don’t have these to the ends of my capacity, but they have them in good measure, and I’m learning that is enough.
This evaluation not tempered by wisdom has created in me a restlessness for a method, a philosophy or program, that will make things feel right with finality in motherhood, a useless goal in a broken world. That is Christ’s job, not mine. Which is not why I was given those analytical qualities in the first place. Really, I’m not certain why I have them — increasing efficiency in business? or in toy clean-up? — but I know they aren’t meant to rectify any worldly circumstance (mothering or otherwise). This helps me let go, helps me be okay with the idea that life is probably never going to feel “just right”, no matter what method I’m employing for parenting, cleaning, or self-care. “Enough” has become an important phrase for me this year.
I read yesterday that Tim Keller was glad he didn’t write any books in his 30s, because he was pretty sure he would’ve wanted to burn them once he reached his 40s and 50s. I breathed a sigh of relief, as I thought of my silent fingers, so little to tap or say. Right now, I just feel needy. I need input, I need wisdom, I need advice, I need time and growth and truth.
This has been a year spent unraveling all my neatly packaged philosophies: those theologies and convictions I put in boxes and labeled, tied with pretty bows. Life is completely messy, and we are utterly incapable and powerless. I’ve learned that ignoring or brushing over this truth, even if in the deeper parts of the inner life, will lead to fear, anxiety, a nameless sadness — a tireless but ultimately empty pursuit of everything and nothing. Vanity of vanities! (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
In His loving grace, God has been in the process of smashing my boxes. Has that ever happened to you? It is so terrifying. He took the box labeled “health and youth” and replaced it with a thyroid disease that was previously rather uncomplicated — but this year, it hurt me, it confused me, it sent me into physical and emotional chaos. I’ve seen the powerlessness of human will over a broken body. A broken body? I’m only thirty-one! How could this be? And as the road of life stretched out before me, I saw that bodies only get more broken with age. This was not encouraging. Box smashed.
This ushered in a million other thoughts and questions about my views of God, of human brokenness, of how suffering and joy can coexist. Am I okay that all life ends in death? This was scary for me, mostly because I was unaware of how much I have placed my heart in the here and now — life is short! I must make the most of it! There is only one! These are all true, in a way, but what if God doesn’t allow me to “make the most of it” to the degree that I have pictured? What if “make the most of it” includes illness? Or sadness for a child? Or never realizing my “true calling”? Or a lifespan amidst gobs of cultural change? I have few good answers and loads more questions.
The two things that bring comfort right now are these:
(1) Jesus has gone to the depths of my most terrifying places, and beyond. I cannot imagine His sorrow. I am simultaneously relieved, filled with affection, and crushed for his suffering on my behalf. I have seen only a sliver, and have felt my sliver to be a harsh burden. How much more for Jesus?
(2) I will never understand God’s ways, and He never expects this of me. It’s okay to wonder, but my only peace is to offer the contents of my heart and relent. I am not in control. I am utterly incapable. Your will be done.
I don’t think I will be writing books for a long time coming. Though I still hope I will eventually find something to say with clarity.
I have been in counseling via Skype for the past few months, with an amazing and loving counselor as my guide. I am beyond thankful for the ways God is using this in my life right now, so much so that I’ve begun recommending counseling to everyone I know. 😉 (Stubbed toe? See a counselor!) One of the things that has consistently come up during our sessions is the need to accept the limitations of the body and mind, the brokenness of the world, the messiness and ambiguity of the human experience, in order to move forward in this current struggle with anxiety. This morning, after a string of nights fighting sleep battles with a one-year-old, God has been prodding a certain area of my life where I’ve fought Him and His lovingly given limits: babies.
When I first discovered I was pregnant with my oldest, I was 22, two months out of college, newly married, and terrified. I saw a large hurdle looming in the distance and now idea how I could possibly jump it. I felt so unprepared, so NOT ready. Nature and time carried me along until there was a newborn in my arms, and I made vows: I will do this right. I will do this well. I will not fail this little guy. EVER.
But I’m human, like the rest of us. The first time I felt like I had failed Jones, I was devastated — I had made a vow, and broken it. How does one recover from something like that? I had a hard time forgiving myself of anything I did that I felt could be wrong or a misstep of some sort, viewed through much confusion by my husband, who only saw a young mother devoted to loving and helping her son. He didn’t see the sky-high ultimatums I was giving myself, because I didn’t see them, either. I accepted them as what must be done, never stopping to think they might not be from God.
A second baby, and a third, and a fourth, provided me with opportunities to “get it right this time” — to somehow “do better” in the ways I’d felt I had wronged or failed the previous child. This included anything and everything, from sleep to eating to potty training to emotional health to issues of discipline. Vow after vow after vow. But of course, living in a broken world and a broken body, the vows could not be kept. And so I saw the failures pile up. There were a few points in which I realized I was heaping expectations upon myself that God was not giving me, and He was able to reach through the muck in those times to give me mercy I desperately needed. After the third baby, in particular, He showed me that living beyond my limitations, attempting to be a perfect mother to three kids, thinking little of self-care or what a mothering body might need, would lead only to destruction — of myself, of relationship, of our family. There was a breakdown and the realization that I needed lots of help and rest and grace.
Even after all that, with this fourth little bundle, I’ve still been caught in the “get it right” mind-trap, only I was going to “get it right” in the department of self-care. I was going to avoid a mental breakdown at all costs, which ironically, actually led me to the ledge. I was going to right all the wrongs, once and for all, because this was to be the last baby come from my womb — my “last chance” to fix things, make myself clean, win my favor as a mother before God.
Today, I was thinking about how my perceived shortcomings as a first-time mother have shaped the way I’ve mothered my other three babies — particularly how this mindset had blinded me my merciless view of myself as a mother, leading to anger, frustration, and an inability to accept the shortcomings in the people around me, as well. It’s led me to give more of myself than even God was asking; and quite ironically, when we “sacrifice” things God has not called us to sacrifice, there is very little fruit or righteous outcome. It’s rather a lose-lose situation. These things have hindered my ability to see the circumstances of mothering with any kind of logic or clear-headedness — I have only seen guilt, failure, and anger in my limitations. As I was thinking through all of this today, having done a lot of talking and processing about the human experience lately, about brokenness and limits and their appropriation to us by God, I felt a heavy sadness for my merciless view of myself. Then, in an instant, I saw God looking down on that terrified 22-year-old girl, and instead of seeing her shortcomings and her failures as a mother, I felt His deep love and tenderness toward me — His desire to help me and to care for me, to meet me in my needs.
I feel broken by that love this morning, the love He gave and continues to give, that I could not give myself. I cannot fully understand my strong desire to live beyond my limits, but accepting this ambiguity is perhaps the exact point, enabling me to lay my impossible standards and wrongful vows in His hands. I am continually reminded in this season that Jesus’s yoke is easy and His burden is light; so when I feel like my load is unbearable, I am likely carrying things He never intended for me to carry. Perfection in motherhood, redemption through works or acts of service to my kids, self-sacrifice to win favor, using my children in my quest to “get things right” — none of those are His burdens for me. I long to cast them off with finality. Jesus, let it be so.
The constant presence and care needed by a baby makes me crave quiet in a way not normal to me; as an introvert, this is saying a lot. I plan my days around morning nap time, that magical hour-and-a-half, boiling water for coffee before I even take her upstairs so I can maximize the time.
I’ve pulled at least a dozen books from the shelves recently, because I had desire to read them; they are laying at random spots around the house. One by the TV, a few in the dining room, one or two more stacked next to the guitar. I pick them up and trail them to a new spot, thinking I might be able to crack them and soak up some words, but really I’m just playing a game: the one that used to be by the TV is now on my desk upstairs, and which one will be where when the urge to open it comes? I have no idea. I’m no good at creating games.
I’ve only had time for one book recently, and that is the Bible. I lay that sleeping cherub in her crib, close the door, and dash downstairs to grind beans and pour water. I’ve made the orange chair in the living room “my place,” recently. It faces the front windows, and if the lighting is right, I can see bugs dancing around our trees through the smudges made by dog noses and little hands. This is where I spend naptime, the thing I’d almost forgotten was so necessary until this latest babe came around.
When I say I only have time for the Bible, I am not being pious. I am saying, literally, the Bible and waiting on God has become essential to my daily survival. I’ve been feeling worn down, battered by the little things of life, and my go-tos were not cutting it. Even before this, I was still in the Bible, still attempting to live its words; but I’ve stumbled upon a season in which I simply cannot live my daily life without being refreshed with God’s presence, without remembering why I am here and what my task is, without being girded by truth. I think I waited til the last possible moment to give in: I wanted my problem to be diet-related, or perhaps a lack of sleep. But it was a lack of God.
Sometimes you can look and feel fine, with just enough dryness of heart to make you wonder, “Why doesn’t the beautiful sky pierce me today?” And then, after an infection or two, some small problems with kids, and a string of grumpy days, you find that you are just not. okay. And why? How did this happen? You are thirsty. Drinking from the well of life takes discipline. It’s not an easy thing to admit. It’s sometimes more fun to scroll facebook.
For me, it was the anger — the little things would really irk me, and I would wonder, “Why was there no patience for that? It was just something so small.” And then the fear — over what would happen, and when, and how would I make it? Next, an unhealthy turning inward, unable to think of the things and people that were not ME. So I looked deeper, and there I found dryness. And a host of unconfessed sins. I clutched Isaiah 30:15 as my map back to living waters: “For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In repentance and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling.” Jesus, make me willing.
So today, legos and other toys litter the floor. Dishes topple over in the sink. The vacuum cleaner is still plugged in and lying in the back hallway. Cardboard box creations and forgotten science experiments find permanent homes in the playroom. Emails go unsent, the dog is unwalked. Picture books lie everywhere — literally, one on every surface of the house, half opened, corners folded, wearing the look of story love. My house is in seeming shambles; but I’m building more important things, cleaning the places of my heart that need tending. This is hard, but necessary work.
My kitchen sink faces the back of our lot
one neighbor’s graveled yard literally
five feet from the window. I’ve known
the comings and goings of this neighbor
from my post, heard her crunching steps
and listened to the clip-clip of laundry hanging.
I watch demurely, hoping she doesn’t catch
my eye through the sparse hedge.
In spring, pink blossoms grow on those bushes.
I could tell time by her taillights, backing into
the drive after work, or her faucet on, with bucket
filling, as she readies water for the plants. I only
see the back of her house, but it is
immaculate, a place for everything and
everything in it’s place. My eyes move to
the sink below, filled with the remains of
yesterday’s dinner and this morning’s breakfast,
carrot peelings and dried, old milk drops.
How different, our lives. How often does
she wash dishes, I wonder? Likely, more
often than me.
This summer, we had a small pool in
our parental employ, located very close
to that evenly distributed gravel, to those
sparse bushes. It promised to be a very loud
August for our neighbors, their windows open
to catch some Pacific breeze, fans whirring.
This time, I tried to catch her eye.
“I’m afraid we’ll be rather noisy this summer,”
I said, hoping my shaky smile would alert her
to the things I couldn’t say. Things like: “I know
you run your house like clockwork, and keep
your hedges trimmed just right, but will you
let my children play crazy like summer kids
should, splashing and laughing and most certainly
fighting? Will you still like me as your neighbor?”
This woman. Somehow, she knew.
As she filled her bucket, the sound of that
faucet that I could recognize from any point,
any room in my home, readying the water for her
flowers, she said, “It’s no problem at all. I love
the sound of happy children.”
What a gift to me, this woman couldn’t know.
I can watch her pull towels from her
basket and clip them, spread them out, but she
can’t see my sink or its contents, my dining table
littered with paper scraps, Legos, crumbs, books.
Sometimes I long for that clockwork, the
security of that immaculate yard. Then I imagine
myself at 60, in a quiet home, everything in its
place. I see myself watering plants at the
same time each night, my taillights illuminating
red in some other woman’s back kitchen.
I look at my dry, old milk drops, and they
seem very different.