Tag Archives: in-between

For Everything a Season: on Goodbyes and Cherry Blossom

Tomorrow I will leave Singapore and fly to Japan.

I am of course very excited about this, but I have to be honest, I’ll also be sad to leave.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to miss the Singaporean climate. And whilst I will miss the food here (durian aside), I’m too excited about ramen and canned coffee to be sad about that.

No, it’s not stuff I’m going to miss. It’s people. I’ve been here doing a general orientation with a dozen other newbie missionaries. But only two of us are heading to Japan. The rest will be going elsewhere in Asia.

Now we’ve been here less than 4 weeks, but we’ve become good friends. Family even. We’ve laughed together, worshipped together, argued together (OK that was mainly me) and done lots of eating together. The kids refer to me as ‘uncle Levi’ – or ‘Levo’ because it turns out ‘I’s are difficult for some two year-olds to pronounce. The other day I came out of my room to be greeted by a happy squeal and knee-high hug from one of the kids.

Yup, I’ve come to love these guys. And now the goodbyes have begun, we’re going our separate ways, and God only knows when/if we’ll meet again. It kinda sucks. And, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of saying goodbye to children.

 

Another thing I’m going to miss is Japan’s cherry blossom. That is, I’ve already missed it.

Now you might know that cherry blossom viewing (hanami) is a popular pastime in Japan. But, like me, you might not have realised how short the window for it is. The first time I was in Sendai I almost missed it, because I didn’t appreciate how quickly it goes. And this time round I have definitely missed it. At the start of this week Sapporo looked like this:

Japanese cherry blossom in full bloom

Thanks to Peta for the photo

By now the trees are pretty much bare.

And therein lies the attraction of cherry blossom. Not just that the period for viewing it is brief. The beauty of cherry blossom is that they acknowledge that they have a season to blossom and they embrace that season without clinging to it. The spring wind blows and the cherry blossom recognise their time has come, and fall without regret or bitterness.

So to truly enjoy hanami I guess you need to have the same attitude as the cherry blossom – enjoy it whilst it lasts, but accept that it won’t last forever.

You can probably see where I’m going with this right?

 

So yeah, I do think it’s the same with the seasons in our lives. This last month in Singapore has been a really precious time to me (durian aside). But it’s over now, and I need to move on.

Because if I don’t then I’ll miss out on the new season that’s coming.

I was talking to the kids of my adopted Japanese family in Sapporo yesterday and I mentioned hanami. She replied, “Yeah, hanami is over. Now it’s the season for hanabi (fireworks).”

Sure, I could go and sit forlornly under cherry trees, among the rotting leaves. Or I could join people down by the river and watch some epic (and I mean epic – this is Japan after all!) fireworks. Embrace the new season – recognising of course that it too will pass.

 

OK I know this sounds a bit like I’m saying ‘carpe diem’ (or ‘YOLO’ if you don’t read latin). I sort of am. But I don’t want to stop there.

Now this post is already getting on, and I have to be up at 5am so I’ll be brief here, but one of the things I really appreciated about my time at Bible college was seeing how much down-to-earth wisdom there is in the Bible.

For example the book of Ecclesiastes, which at first glance reads like lyrics from an Emo-punk band, has stuff to say on how we deal with these changing seasons. But it’s not quite what I’d think of.

It begins with this cry of “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (or possibly “Misty mists! Nothing but mists!”) and works through a lot of angst and anger at the transient, seemingly meaningless nature of – well of everything (I told you it was Emo).

But it ends like this,

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of humankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

Now I know that still sounds fairly Emo (albeit in a religious fundamentalist kind of way) but I think the point is this:

We should not see the seasons of life as sources of our ultimate meaning, but we also shouldn’t see them merely as occasions for enjoyment. Rather we should use them as opportunities to love God and love our neighbours – those being the most important commandments.

Sure that’s less hashtag friendly than YOLO. But I already knew I had but one life. I want to know how to make the best use of it.

Anywho, on that note, I am going to finish packing and then sleep. I don’t want to add my flight to the list of things I miss.

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Lessons from Japan: Sometimes Loving Children Looks Like Being a Horse

In case you weren’t aware, back in July I went out to Tokyo as part of a ‘Kids Gospel’ team. We hooked up with churches and ran clubs with them throughout the week where we taught the kids some English gospel songs and then performed them at a concert on the Saturday.

At the first church we went to there was one girl, Sara,  who decided early on that my role on the team was mainly to give her piggy back rides – or in Japanese, “be a horse!” which makes much more sense to as a concept, but hey. So every time we took a break from teaching songs or playing games I would find her tugging on my arm, asking me to crouch down so she could jump on.

Me, being jumped on by a large number of small Japanese children

Now she was a cute little girl, even by Asian standards (it is a well acknowledged fact that Asian children are the cutest on the planet although there is debate as to whether Japan or Korea tops the list) meaning that I was initially fairly helpless to refuse her requests for piggy backs. And I enjoyed it. For the first 15 times.

But towards the end of the week I was tiring of constantly running around with a 7-year-old hanging off my neck and my patience was starting to run thin. I would still “be a horse” but my horse impressions were becoming increasingly Eeyore-like.

But on the Thursday evening I was planning the team devotions for the morning I and had the thought of looking at 1 Corinthians 13 –  you know the passage, it’s the classic wedding reading, ‘Love is…’ In particular I was struck by the truth that ‘love is patient.’ As a team we were committed to modelling for the children God’s love and so I realised that I would need to demonstrate this sort of patient love to Sara, and the other kids, otherwise, as 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us, I would be ‘nothing.’ (I had already resigned myself to the fact that no matter no loving I was, when it came to singing I would always be a ‘clanging gong’.)

So, Friday morning arrived, we looked at and prayed through Paul’s exhortations to love and went into the church hall. After about 2 minutes Sara arrived and about 12 seconds after that she was asking me to “be a horse.” So I did.

By the end of Friday I was exhausted, having lost count of the number of times I had carried Sara around the hall. Not to mention the other kids who also wanted in on the fun.

Later I was chatting to one of the missionaries who works at the church and she mentioned how much Sara had been jumping on me. Then she told me that it was possibly because Sara had no Father and so she didn’t often get the chance to play with men.

In that moment I was profoundly struck by the opportunity that I almost missed. Not an opportunity for me, but for Sara. For me, Sara was becoming a chore, giving her piggybacks was something I had to endure. For Sara, I was a chance to enjoy childhood, getting piggybacks was an experience for her to treasure.

The passage from Corinthians says that love is not just patient but also that love is ‘not self-seeking.’ I had missed that. I saw these ‘in-between’ moments as dead time for me to get past. I didn’t consider that for Sara they might be much more than that. (The idea of ‘the in-between’ is from the insight of Jeff Goins. His blog is definitely worth checking out: http://goinswriter.com.)

So now I think with sadness about when Sara will next get the chance to ride around on someone’s back. When will that be? And how many other children in Japan – or indeed elsewhere – are waiting for the Father figure they need to “be a horse”?

Now I know this story doesn’t really prove anything. It doesn’t prove that there are many absent Fathers in Japan. It doesn’t prove that children need male role models or piggybacks. It doesn’t prove that the Bible is true or powerful. Although I do think all those things are true.

But if you’re the praying kind, I hope this inspires you to pray for missionaries in Japan to be filled with 1 Corinthian 13 style patient, other-seeking love.

And whoever you are, I hope this might make you think twice the next time a little child asks you for a piggyback ride and you’re tempted to say no. I hope you’ll consider those moments from the viewpoint of a child who just wants to enjoy being with you. 

Go on, be a horse!