Into the Blue

This year our three girls are each graduating from middle school, high school, and college. So for the past month, we spent hectic days, our moods soaring or plummeting with each incoming communication such as “the graduation ceremony will be online”, and “we’ll have prom for our school”.

At the end of May, the Covid infection warning level went down to Yellow. We glimpse a hope of recovery in the next fiscal year for schools and churches, while being aware of new challenges with hybrid operations. At the same time, the back-sliding and hollowing of faith surfaced in the face of isolation from the society and community, which became a commonplace due to this pandemic.

My husband and I received our second vaccine at the end of April, and our children’s vaccination will also be complete by the end of May. The Summer break begins in June but what will the world be like once it starts moving again? What will the church be like once the restrictions are lifted? Still the days of reality with cloudy uncertainty continue.

Since I had already experienced fatigue and fever with the first dose of vaccine, I scheduled the second dose with side effects in mind.

As expected, a severe chill came 14 hours after the shot and I couldn’t sleep. When the chill receded, fever broke out next and kept me up. I experienced these uncontrollable bodily reactions, but apparently it would have been ok if I took fever reducers at the beginning.

How much harder would it have been, if it wasn’t from the vaccine, but from the actual Covid infection or the side effects of the treatment for an infection. I was compelled to pray for our friends and acquaintances who are experiencing incomparable hardship.

I was also moved with thanksgiving for regulations and countermeasures put in place by churches and local government, and the heroic work of medical personnels to get us to this point.

On a different topic, my oldest daughter graduated from college a week after my second vaccine. The weather forecast for that day was  5℃(40F) with rain starting a few hours before the ceremony. There was a thorough check for participants of the ceremony to ensure that at least two weeks have passed since the second vaccine, and also the proof of a negative test within 72 hours. It was said to be the first outdoor graduation ceremony since 1956. We got our spot an hour before the ceremony in the cold rain, armed with rain boots, heat-tech, and rain coat.

I kept checking the weather forecast daily for one week before the ceremony, and even after arriving at the venue I looked at the forecast every 10 minutes with my cell phone.

Suke-san (my husband) said to me,”No matter how many times you look at the forecast, you can’t change the weather. There are rainy days and clear days in our lives. But there must be a beautiful blue sky above these clouds. How splendid that God is showing this to the graduates!”, as he was shivering and smiling at the same time.

In the end, despite my numerous checks on the forecast, the weather did not turn the way I hoped, and we had an unprecedented graduation with umbrellas☔.️

There was also another thing that filled our hearts with heavy rain clouds, even if we actually had clear weather on the day of the graduation ceremony. The reality is that half of the graduating students wouldn’t get a firm job offer until June when the world gets moving. The result for the third interview for an NPO, where my oldest daughter wishes to work, did not arrive even after graduation.

The wall of disappointment we cannot overcome by any human effort.

To look straight at the side effects of emotions bubbling up in our hearts, and put aside the disappointment, frustration, and anxiety.

To look up to God who works through our weaknesses.

Perhaps we can do these when things are going well, but now we don’t even have the willpower left to rise up. It is as if we are under the spell of spiritual Gogatsu-byo (May Blues: a Japanese term for a form of lethargy experienced by college freshman and workplace recruits shortly after beginning school or work).

Even if we had faith, we can experience anticipation followed by disappointment. Our hearts react greatly to that pain, and the recurring pain leads to spiritual backsliding.

When we ask God time and time again the meaning of events in our past and present lives, yet fail to gain understanding. We find reasons to write them off as inevitable and gradually increase distance from those around us and isolate ourselves as if we are spiritual failures.

Since my salvation in high school, I’ve been passionate about serving at church and sharing the Gospel with family and friends, but there was a period in my early 20’s when I fell away from God because of an encounter with a wall of uncontrollable reality and disappointments.

Especially when I’m experiencing a spiritual May Blues like that, I would like to look up at the sky above the cloud and see:

① Not the outcome, but the faith that waits on the Lord himself. 

② Jesus, who is walking beside me hear and now. 

and be reminded many times over that these are given to me.

I’m fortunate to have a friend from my Hi-BA days who will check on me at least once a year, regardless of how far we live or if we are aware of what’s going on in each other’s lives recently. She probably doesn’t know how many times she, who lives so far away with her newsletters, encouraged me and helped me to return to God.

God has placed these people in our lives from the time we were saved, and occasionally reminds us how they have come alongside us on our journey.

Perhaps, to let go of the outcome is to contemplate on Jesus and receive who He is, slowly and repeatedly through that process.

A few years ago I went through a period when my heart was filled with disappointment, anxiety, and anger, and I was disappointed in myself. I experienced the spiritual urge to quickly “let go” and “surrender”. The pressure I felt in my heart was subtle yet it was definitely there. In the midst of that I attended C-WIT and learned contemplative prayer and centering prayer.

EC20B Workshop:  Contemplative Prayer(Japanese Only) by Sachi Nakamura

GRC21 Workshop: Centering Prayer (Japanese Only) by Sachi Nakamura

Since then I gradually started paying attention to my internal processing of what’s going on with me, and how God intervenes in it.

Like a caterpillar through a stage of cocoon becoming a butterfly, I now consider the sudden side effects of my emotions and spiritual May Blues as a purposeful process for recovery.

I also learned that I can enjoy the process in my way, rather than just endure it like some kind of discipline.

BEFORE

Until now, I was compelled to take and eat each “problem dish” that came in front of me like sushi on a conveyor belt; “Eeek, it comes! What do I do!?” (it would’ve been nice if it was delicious sushi).

AFTER

Since then I recognize a “problem dish”; “Here it comes… This is it”. Even if it was a problem with a premium, I only focus on the Lord and voice the name of Jesus. Meanwhile, the dish keeps moving on the conveyor, so unless I grab at it, it goes away on its own eventually.

This is different from ignoring my own responsibility and ceasing to make an effort. Rather it is me who is unable to trust the Lord and cannot wait for the time and outcome that are prepared for me. I felt freed from the compulsion and anxiety and realized how desperately I have been trying to control the outcome.

“If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” 1 John 3:20 NIV

Of course after a while a similar dish comes my way. But as hundreds and thousands of such dishes roll in, instead of pulling these problems toward myself, I find myself being pulled toward Jesus. Instead of solving problems myself, I enjoy the conversation with Jesus who intervenes on my behalf, and look forward to seeing His handiwork.

We shouldn’t rest when we are tired. We need rest before we get tired.

Recently my quiet time changed from an ascetic endeavor of purging anxieties to just being there to receive God’s love. I sometimes even fall asleep. It has become a time of supreme bliss.

On that day, as the graduation ceremony drew to an end, when graduates were getting up on the stage to receive their diplomas, a gust of cold wind came in to blow away rain clouds and blue sky opened up.

It was like a scene from a fairy tale that I have never seen before. No number of pictures could capture the beauty and the wonder of it all.

My eldest daughter came home for the first time in a long time and stayed busy with tests and interviews, and eventually received a job offer from the NPO she wanted. We have had a conversation that this is not an outcome to be grasped, but the blue sky God has shown us as a process to the next step.

Once again, as I remember that beautiful blue sky after the rain, I am excited for the not-yet seen spiritual blue sky God is going to show each of you.

May you see a beautiful blue sky when you look up this coming June. 🌿

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV

 

Makiko Nakao (Santa Clara Valley Japanese Christian Church)

From Despair to Hope (Testimony of an EC20 Beyond Participant)

Ryoko Kawaguchi (JCFN member in Miyagi)

I was in despair. I was really in despair. I was so busy working, going to bed, waking up, working, going to bed again…. There was no hope for me. I was desperate to finish the day. Before going to bed at night, I even wished that tomorrow morning would never come. Even now, as I write this, I am crying from the pain of living a life without hope or joy. ______

 

I studied in California for six years starting in 2000. I had a hard time studying, but I also made many Christian friends and had a blessed time. After returning to Japan, although I had some ups and downs in my faith, I was working at a Christian workplace and participating in Christian gatherings for returnees, so I didn’t fall away from the church, and I was having a good time both at church and at work.

 

It was after I got married that I started to change (no, it wasn’t because of my husband, just so you know). After the Great East Japan Earthquake, my husband, who is a Christian, and I began to live in the Tohoku area for long-term support. We came to the area with great enthusiasm, feeling like a hero, to share the gospel with the people living in the disaster area, but I was immediately beaten down. First of all, I had no friends. The church was too quiet (of course, that was not a bad thing, but I was confused by how different it was from the churches I had been to). When I looked to my right and left, I saw mostly elderly people. Even so, I took it as a positive sign and said, “This is the kind of environment God dared to give us.” I continued to attend church diligently, but my faith quickly weakened. My new job became busier and busier, and although I was supposed to be going to church to receive blessings, I came home only feeling tired. I didn’t know what the point of going to church was. I didn’t know what “Christianity” was in the first place, and my old energetic self had gone away.

 

I suddenly realized that I had no motivation to evangelize people in the disaster area, and instead, I was being evangelized by the people in the disaster area (laughs). But I didn’t have the courage or faith to overcome, so I just nodded my head. I think I was more afraid of what people would think if I said, “I’m a Christian. So I decided to go on a wandering trip to find another church (with my husband and children, of course). As a family, we went to a different church every week. However, since I went to church with the feeling that “the church will take care of it,” there was no one church that completely satisfied my heart, and we continued to go to some church every week for a long time (this is an ongoing process). Of course, with such an uptight attitude, it was impossible for the message to penetrate my heart, and I never made any Christian friends. In any case, I wanted to minimize the time I spent on church-related matters, and use the time to get home early to work and do homework for my children.

 

The time was December 2020. It was the busiest time of the year at work, and my heart was finally dying. I was at my limit. That day, after coming home from church exhausted, I took a nap without knowing it, and when I woke up, it was evening and my bedroom was completely dark. I was staring at my phone in the dark, afraid to come back to reality. Then I saw the EC information. And this year, it was online. There was no way I could go to California to participate, not without leaving my husband and children behind in Japan, and not having the money to pay for it in the first place. I wanted to change, I wanted to be changed, I wanted to praise God from my heart like I used to.

 

The morning of the EC day. I was feeling pretty guilty. “What if there are really hot Christians there?” “What if I feel completely away?” “What if I meet someone who knows me from the past? However, my fears were wiped away in no time, and I was in tears immediately after the first message by Pastor Kuroda. I can only explain that God touched me, but anyway, I cried all day long. Above all, being able to share with Christian friends in small groups softened my heart, which had been sharp as a knife.

 

Up until now, I had experienced the so-called worldly life of an ordinary person, away from God. I worked very hard and received a good salary. However, I had children and if I spent money, it would be gone in an instant (of course). When I thought about what I could have left behind after working so hard, I couldn’t leave anything behind. Really nothing. After working so hard and ignoring God, the only thing I had left was fatigue and despair. When I went before God, instead of praising me and saying, “You’ve worked hard and saved up all this money,” God said, “Faithful servant, you’ve done well. You’ve done well. I experienced firsthand that there is no other way but to leave behind “faith, hope and love” in order for God to praise me.

 

As a side note, when I was working for a Christian organization, I had a chance to talk with an orphan boy from Africa. He told me something like this. He said to me, “If you know God, it’s like you have everything. But if you don’t know God, it’s like you don’t have anything. I laughed it off in my mind, thinking, “That’s so exaggerated!” But now I know that what he said was true. After 15 years of being told by a 10 year old, I finally realized the truth.

 

After joining EC, I realized how important it is to connect with Christian friends and encourage each other. In the past, I had thought, “I’m such a person of faith, I’ll be fine on my own! I want to kick my past self out! I want to continue to connect with my Christian friends (even if I have to force myself to do so), encourage each other in our faith, and continue to cling to God’s love.

 

I wanted to write my testimony because I wanted to thank the EC committee members and all the people who made the EC possible. It was my first time to participate in an online EC, and I am so grateful to you for making it happen. If it wasn’t for online, I would never have been able to attend! Thank you so much!

 

“This is why the things that last forever are faith, hope, and love.”(I Corinthians 13:13)

 

The reason why it took me so long to write my testimony from EC2020 to now is because I was busy with work, but also because I wanted to take some time to see if I was just excited about the event. However, my love for God still burns brightly, so I thought it would be okay and wrote this with gratitude to God and everyone.

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