🌿Re-Connect🌿

As the 4th of July approaches, American life, which kick started the regeneration process, seems to be gradually coming back to life. 

Half a year ago, I mentioned that I’m working on my rhythm for:

🌿Rest, 🌿Restore,

🌿Connect, and 🌿Create

I expected our anxiety and stress that we have had since before the pandemic would be exacerbated by stay-home life, but oddly enough, I find myself freed from them after a year.  

During this year, we re-evaluated what are the essentials for us, and made an effort to protect them dearly. For me as a pastor’s wife, the biggest challenge as well as joy was the online church service we broadcasted from our living room. While the stay-at-home order was in effect, we were concerned about the mounting anxiety for our church body, so we recorded videos of the pastor’s Stay Home Life and uploaded it on Youtube, and increased the number of phone calls and visitations. As a result, our days of being chased by an increased business begun, quite contrary to the rhythm of rest and restore. 

Yet it was a timely offered grace of God that I had the chance to ponder what it is that my soul is truly seeking, in contrast to the previous days when I lived my life in constant comparison with others, driven by something. 

It was a great comfort and encouragement even in the midst of quarantine to be able to hold online service every week, and get connected to people from all over the world through JCFN conferences and other opportunities. 

The happiest moment after the pandemic subsided was when I saw people attending the service for the first time as the church reopened. She has never come to our church before, and was put in a situation where she has to live apart from her family and friends. The pandemic begun while she is still in that condition and was able to get connected with the church and God’s family through online service and ZOOM Bible study. Her husband, who have been a seeker, was able to get baptized this Summer with the support of the church community 🙌. This was a major event that taught me how essential the “rhythm of connection” is.   

The “Rest” and “Restore” are the rhythms of input in order for our busyness and stress bound souls to be filled by the peace of Jesus.

The latter “Connect” and “Create” are the output rhythms that can get us out to a new world where we can receive joy and blessing, while without them we tend to shut ourselves in with fear and anxiety. 

The Rhythm I’m talking about is the contemplative way of life to retreat in silence, and then proactively go out in the world to connect with people, as Jesus did. Through the “forced quit” of this year, I learned personally that this contemplative rhythm and balance are important to our souls.

Right before the stay-home order was put in place, I attended a retreat. Until then, I saw going to a retreat for “rest” and “recovery as a treat to myself, and the time of equipment for the next, higher step and self actualization. However once I was there, I had the time of reckoning with myself that could not be satisfied even when I rested or had my wishes come true. Moreover, I saw my weaknesses and shortcomings, ugliness, and easily-hurt self. Later I realized that the retreat was not the time for me to learn a new skill or merely rest, but a superb gift of grace from God to help me to notice important needs for my soul. 

Now that I look back, the whole ear was the time of retreat for my soul. Grace I received through online CC, EC, GRC, and weekly services became milestones that led me from the bondage of self-affirmation, anxiety, and fear to freedom as a child of God. In each step I took this year, there was a gaze of Jesus who is with me in pain, and through it my soul was able to see myself from a new vantage point. The peace I was given at each moment showed me the meaning of what I’ve been through, but also the meaning of the connection with people God has placed in my path. 

On June 15th, the restrictions for quarantine were lifted, and I started reconnecting in relationships with church and others. 

Where there is regeneration, there is also pain. Not everybody can easily jump the distance after experiencing enforced social distance and political division and discord. For example, don’t we sometime regret confiding in our friend, parent, souse, or lover our innermost thoughts? We have already experienced the hurt and pain of not being accepted when we wanted our core being, opinion, and vulnerability to be known. We live in an era when we don’t know how to regenerate our connection with others just because the world reopened again. 

To be honest, I’m quite uncomfortable with small groups. I am a shy person😅. I probably had negative images (too much work. hard) towards small groups before, and was the type who couldn’t wait for it to be over. I think it was because the past pain with connection made me uncomfortable with sharing something that I’m not interested in or inconsequential surface matters. Also I was not open to sharing the innermost part of my soul that I haven’t really recognized myself. Yet if stayed afraid of connections, the soul will sooner or later be isolated and be in the optimal condition to doubt God and others, which is what the enemy who wants us to be alone.    

Since I got married, I lived in three countries 🇯🇵🇨🇦🇺🇸 and moved 12 times. That was a memory of repeated desolation and pain, the accomplishment  I’m not even proud of. In my 40’s it has been my major goal to rebuild the connection with trusted friends and church in a different location. For me, who are not comfortable with crowd and social situations to interact with many people, it was a struggle to go along with others. I might have looked normal to others but in my heart I was like a crown who are juggling frantically.

I’m thankful though, that I was always able to share my feelings and thoughts with my husband Suke-san (while there might be other challenges in our marital relationship😅). Through this pandemic, I learned that the connection that is important to me is not just the ones to share time and fun, but people who I can share what’s in each other’s heart, responsibility, and aspiration, even if we live far away from each other. 

Especially this year, I remember instances when God has timely placed a fitting person or connection in my life. Starting with retreat, even if it was a short and limited time to share, Mrs. K who I had the honor of being in the same small group at EC, a young person who is filled with the joy of salvation and desire to serve, a person who is fighting valiantly with trauma, or someone else who sent me a surprise gift. By focusing on God’s timely placement such as these, the connection with others that used to feel like a bothersome chore transformed into the connection of grace where I can face my soul. 

I made prayer Lei for my daughters. I heard that Lei has a meaning of “beloved child”, so I have prayerfully woven raffia and flowers together for every graduation. There are connections prepared for us, which God himself planned and leads us to meet those people. The connection that provides rest for the heart, by simply being there, and the connection to provide encouragement and sincere interaction through just sharing time together. Even the connection that pains us or cause suffering, when it is connected and woven by the hand of God, it becomes a one of a kind, original “Lei-a beloved child”, even though it may appear a little awkward. At each milestone of our lives, God gently place it on our neck and lovingly utters “You are my beloved child. In you I am delighted”, and teaches us that the connection has become a beautiful Prayer Lei. As I thought of my children and prayed, wouldn’t God instead of counting our shortcomings and weaknesses,  to remind us of these connections and communicate how much we are loved and blessed?

From now on, instead of seeking connection for self validation or for pride:

I want to re-receive the connection God gives with thanksgiving. 

→ I want to choose to bless others sincerely and love them. 

→ To be a friend who others want to be friend with.

This pandemic was the time to give thanks again for Jesus Christ who became my friend friend and loves me as a whole, weakness and shortcomings and all. I hope to enjoy the connection with Jesus who walks with me, and the true freedom as God’s beloved child in this era of new regeneration.   

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

I was nervous every time since I was not used to sharing in this way. With thanksgiving for such precious opportunity, I would like to keep writing in my blog about the rhythm of soul. Thank you for reading, everyone! 🌿

 

 

Makiko Nakao  

Santa Clara Valley Japanese Christ Church pastor’s wife.
Mother of three daughters born in 🇯🇵🇨🇦🇺🇸.
Hobby: Observing my husband, aimlessly change interior decorations.
Saty-at-home wife blogger ++Violette ++https://violetteivory.wordpress.com/

 

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)

🌿 ”Becoming” for each of us 🌿

As my March schedule nears to the end, I found myself a little bit scared to turn the next page. I try to refresh my mood and get ready for the new life, while locking regrets of “what ifs” and “I could haves” in a corner of my heart. 

March was perhaps a mixture of anxiety and hope. 

The other day in Santa Clara County, Northern California, where I live, the COVID cases tracker color codes went down from purple to red to orange. Schools started meeting for the first time in a year in person, and cities and churches suddenly became abuzz with activities toward the Spring of joy. Now our bodies and minds are in full throttle to get adjusted to the new changes, with no room left to reflect back on the past year.

10 years ago I encountered this Dallas Willard’s quote. 

The most important thing in your life is not what you do; its who you become.
Dallas Willard

Ironically I feel like I spent the half of the 10 years since, seeking “what I can accomplish” and “how to become worthy”. 

It’s not that I intended to strive for a lofty goal to “accomplish something”. I think I was just envisioning small and seemingly attainable hopes, plans, and ideals within my capability and resources.  But at one point, I was able to come to a stop because of a “forced power off”, and looked back on these words to ponder what kind of a person I really wanted to be. I think God has led me to a journey to learn “the most important thing in my life” so that He can set in motion “God’ plan”, which is far more spectacular than my little wishes and plans.

 

We go and get new uniforms and suits for a new semester, new life, and in a new place. We receive this university’s or that company’s IDs. At home we wear our uniforms as wife, husband, or parents and set out for the new semester with fresh minds. From that point on, we make efforts to achieve, following the suit of people who are ahead of us and around us, and try to change ourselves. We try frantically, even skipping the process of setting our own pace and adjustment, maybe because we want to establish our standing and feel secure once we put on the new uniform.   

 

A few months ago, during a Spiritual Direction session, my SD (Spiritual Director) asked; “Did you put on the uniform yourself? Or is that something somebody else has put on you?” I had thought that I have handily managed being in and out of several uniforms, and I looked rather good in them. Up until then, I sometime received grace and privilege because of these uniforms, and felt proud of them. At other times I was hurt, lonely, and in pain. When I looked closely, I realized my uniforms were getting pretty raggedy. Yet I didn’t feel ashamed or repulsed. Rather, I even felt that was “like me”, just like a vintage that increases its value with the passage of time. 

 

When I closed my eyes next, it was as if God’s warm eyes and Jesus’s hands were extended to me, and I imagined myself reaching out to take that hand. 

Then:

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

The words of Mark 1:11 came to my heart and several months from that point, I pondered these words numerous times and I felt myself gradually being freed from the strong attachment to the search for “my style”, “my role”, and “my worth”. 

 

I used to constantly wonder “what if…”, but now it doesn’t feel like such a big deal

even if I lost these uniforms,

and couldn’t find out if I put these on,

or others put them on me,

or what is “truly me”.

This is because I was able to embrace that there is nothing greater than the joy of knowing myself as “God’s beloved”. When Jesus met Peter, he said in Mark 1:17:

Follow Me, I will have you become fishers of people. (Mark 1:17)

This is the word with which I dedicated my life to ministry, and I realized for a long time I’ve been clutching on to it. Probably because I felt like there was nothing else I can be proud of, such as my worth or accomplishments.  

Peter didn’t receive any uniform or company ID, admittance notice or Visa, other than Jesus’s words and that he was made a disciple. So, maybe sometimes we become anxious and try to obtain an ID.  

For some people:

・To be acknowledged as a good disciple and a Christian. 

・To be a capable boss or a subordinate. 

・To be a wife who can perfectly execute house work and child raring. 

・To have a personality to get along with everyone. 

・To be a master fisherman whose ministry always leads to people’s salvation. 

・To be a preacher who can knock out a hit every time. 

・To be a person of love who can meet any needs. 

・To be a person of integrity who is trusted and relied upon. 

・To have mercy and a capacity deeper and wider than the ocean. 

 

If possible, I want all of these IDs, but I would be weighed down and could hardly walk. 

The words Peter received from Jesus were just “follow me” and “I will make you…” That was also a promise to make him become  an original being, which only Jesus could do.

From the beginning, it was not about achievement by my Doing, nor did I need to obsess over Being in my style. He just invited me to “follow Him”, so that I can joyfully enjoy the journey with the one who lives alongside me.  

 

After I came to a stop, I gave up the method of reading the Bible as if it was a duty or a discipline. Instead, I begun to yearn for the experience of deep fellowship with the One who speaks to my soul through the Bible reading. My desire is to live in that joy every day. 

 

For me, meditations and Lectio Divina that I learned from Sachi Nakamura over a long period of time, and participation in the spiritual exercise and contemplative retreat were helpful. Before I know it, my grip on the questions of “who is my true self?” “What kind of me is the most authentic me?” become loose. 

 

When I desire to enjoy and rejoice in the rich time I spend with God, I lose interest in various identifications and titles that I used to want. Moreover, God has shown me my daily transforming self (soul?), and set my heart free. Then I became assured of my never changing identity as “God’s beloved” even when I struggle to fit and get adjusted to the uniforms that change as I moved across three countries, lived in different places (country and area), and belonged to different entities (school, company, organization, and my space).  To the question, “who I want to be”; it’s not that everyone will be the same, but if Christ was formed within each of us, church will be a wonderful temple of God in the age of Phygital Church, too.  

 

Some time in silence, and other time through service, each of us rejoice in the life of profound fellowship with the one who make us beloved children. I hope we can always listen to the word of Christ, who journeys with us, daily atones us, and continue to make us, and together rejoice and enjoy.  

 

I would like to share with you 5 words of Jesus (Matthew 14) as we turn the new page in April with our souls oscillating in various emotions such as anxiety, wariness, impatience, tension, hope, and joy .

  • 🌿Take Heart      
  • 🌿It is I           
  • 🌿Do not be afraid   
  • 🌿Come        
  • 🌿Why did you doubt?  

 

Which word resonates with you today?

 

I hope we can embrace the fellowship with the one who comes alongside my heart and speaks to it, above all else this coming month.🌿

💐🐣Happy Easter🐇💐

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