It’s hard to live life fully when things are hard, unstable, unpredictable. But then there are moments that break through: feeling content in a simple cup of tea, a hug of a friend, a cool breeze, a moment of knowing that you are loved. That’s when music happens, when life breaks through. I know I need to be creative, because a part of me comes alive when I do. The flip side of is, a part of me dies when I don’t. So here is a bit of creativity… a worship song in Japanese I wrote during Lent this year: The Song of Returning Here I am, sitting at your feet Here I am, basking in your voice I am returning to you, for that is where I find freedom Light is dawning, wind and healing are flowing
I know what happened on that day
Pictures. Videos. News. Data. Stories. To an extent, as much as an outsider can, I know about it.
And how it has changed my life. That day, crying out to God as I watched black torrents carry towns and communities away, the promise that He would hold the nation. My nation.
And how the following two years included some time spent in the so-called disaster zone, being touched by encounters, recognizing my new-found love for this country. And so I decided to move here, from Cambodia.
And now, this year. 3.11, as we call the day, has come and went. We wrestled with how best to walk with people. We listened, we visited, we opened up a place to gather and mourn and dream again. I don’t know how well we did, I’ll need to ask our friends about that. But for me, the day was not about the catastrophic disaster. I didn’t even have the capacity to think of other areas of Tohoku. For me, it was about the lives of friends, now, on this day. Finally being able to cry. Wrestling between being fed up with helping people, and still wanting to walk alongside others. The uncertainty of future. Losing a home. An empty house after the kids have moved out.
These are no news-worthy stories. They are not dramatic. And yet this is the everyday reality, and 3.11 is simply a day when the reality surfaces and must be acknowledged. I have been called to this place, not by a booming voice raining from the heavens, nor the plea of the people. Simply because I felt somewhere deep within that I wanted to be here. That’s somehow part of the 3.11 story for me, my desire to be here, to walk that everyday reality with people.
After a busy week of being intentional with people, now I’m sitting and having a time to reflect: what is my “now”? Where am I?
Although my inner journey and the answer to that question can be nebulous and a winding road, at least in a geographical sense, I can say, I am here. In Ishinomaki and Onagawa. I don’t take that for granted. It’s a miracle.
I was reading a book by a Catholic priest who moved into Kamagasaki, one of the biggest homeless district in Japan. In it, he shared about his own journey of having been a “good Catholic” and how weighty it was to live up to that. And how he encountered Christ in a homeless man who cared for him, though he was acting out of outward piety. He challenges “good doers” to stop being the one who shows love, but start recognizing the love and Christ himself amongst those who are despised in our society. To stop being sympathetic or wanting to be “like them,” since the whole concept of humbling oneself denotes a perspective that looks down on those who are already low and had no choice to “humble oneself.”
As I go around places and share about Cambodia and why I ended up moving into a slum, I need to reflect on my heart. It’s so easy to make this another method, a neat package, a new way of serving the poor. I share stories of my dear friends and family in Cambodia and the Downtown Eastside, and yet I need to check my heart is not in any way boasting their beautiful gifts as my own. And I also feel the dilemma between being challenged radically, to know the poor, to learn and to act and seek your neighbour outside your comfort zone, but also in seeking out God and those that are hurting right around you, living a simple life of gratitude where you are placed.
I am no saint, I am just Chami. I am still full of contradictions and questions, and sometimes I don’t care about anyone or anything but myself.
And even with this selfishness, I know that denying it is far from freedom. That Jesus is there embracing me, with my own hypocrisy and do-goodness and selfishness. And He reminds me of the true love I received from those that are on the margins. Without you, I would not be here. So instead of feeling frustrated and confused, I want to end with a…
“Ladies and Gentlemen. I hurt…” started a first nations man, with long silvery hair braided in the back. Holding his heart, he said, “I hurt.”
Today, I was privileged to hear stories of 10 men and women who survived the residential school. Their stories of what they experienced: physical punishment, alienation from their family, destruction of culture and language, sexual molestation, loss of dignity and courage. Alcoholism, suicidal attempts, depression, inability to express love as a parent came as a result of that. I wept at the depth of the hurt that encompassed multiple generations. What does it mean to forgive and to truly reconcile in light of that deep hurt?
And yet I also heard words of hope. Resilience and laughter, an acknowledgement of what has not been lost. “We are still here!” A declaration that stated the survivor chooses to forgive to be free from this bondage, and encouraging the perpetrator to do so as well, to receive forgiveness, so that they can also be free. That this is not only a first-nations issue, that it is a call for all people to stand against injustice, open up to vulnerability and honesty, and walk on towards true reconciliation.
I don’t know what the process will be after this week. But today, I listened. Knowing that even though I did not take part in what happened here, I know that I have a part of myself in the perpetrators and the victims. To recognize the humanity in both sides. That is me.
I’m back in Japan. Though it will take a while for it to feel that I’m “home” and “settled,” it’s good to be back.
I went back to the tsunami-hit area to visit my boyfriend, friends, pastors I’ve worked with, and some people from the community. It’s incredible I can come back again, since in Dec. 2011, I had no idea that I could. Coming back to a familiar place. To live and work there again. It’s an experience I’ve never had in my life. Ever. It was always, hello, goodbye, move, the end. Next place. And now, through what I can only call the hands of God, I’m moving back to Ishinomaki to live and work there.
I got to tag along to a bbq with my friends. It was a home that Samaritan’s Purse had worked on last year. A couple from the neighbourhood came over, and we had a table full of food: fresh cucumber and edamame from the garden, lots of meat, lots of amazing seafood (scallop, squid, crab, fish), beer, and good spirit. I’m always amazed at the gratitude that comes out at gatherings like this. “Yes, we’ve lost a lot. But we would have never met you if it weren’t for the tsunami.” “It’s amazing how you Christians have helped us.”
And it gives me shivers when people who are on the journey, who may not have committed their lives to Jesus yet, speak the Truth, the gospel. It’s so real.
Husband: “It’s important for me to make my own living, I have to fend for myself.”
Wife: “Well, Christians would say that true sacrifice is when you give even when you don’t have enough.”
THIS IS IT. This is Christ incarnate, living amongst us, spreading out, blossoming.
As we sat there, drinking beer, looking at the lit cross down the road, we talked about how that’s a new landmark for the neighbourhood, a hope for those who feel discouraged.
“Why do you come to Ishinomaki? There’s nothing of interest here.”
To that question, all I can say is: “Because I’ve met God and I continue to meet God here.”
I’ve gone to two memorial services in the last month. They were for people that I did not know personally, but many of my friends were connected to. They were both deaths that were shocking and sudden, the ugliest sort where death takes away so violently. What was beautiful at the services though, was that there were friends and family who shared about the lives they lived. The gifts they had. The sides that maybe not everyone saw but was surely there: gentleness and considerateness, zeal for life, adventurous spirit, inclusivity. There are many things that you don’t realize until you lose something you love or someone you love. It’s not that you don’t notice it while you get to share the time together, but sometimes, the everyday life makes you get used to the extraordinary gift we have in each other.
Yesterday, I went to an art exhibition called “Life Is…” In it, the photographer had recorded series of moments, ordinary moments, in the lives of Cambodia people. A girl riding her moto. Kids playing in the rain. Women selling meat at the market. Construction workers. Kids sniffing glue. A food stall. What was startling was the colours that burst out from the ordinary moments. It made me realize what colourful country I live in, in this crowded city of Phnom Penh. Then a phrase came into mind: artists are those that help us see beauty once again in things that we have gotten used to. Eyes to see, ears to hear. Sometimes, we are so blind, so deaf.
I am leaving this beautiful nation in 3 weeks. I too, am grieving what I will lose. But I want to be attuned to the beauty of it all before I lose them, and start celebrating them, letting them be a source of joy that sends me out. I want the artist in me to help me see, to hear, what is so precious around me.
In the last bit, I feel like I’ve talked with friends and read blogs about the voice of people who feel marginalized in the Christian community. Singles. People with same sex attraction. Women. Those going through tragedy or suffering. How do you create space so there’s openness and safety for people to share? What are some of the assumptions that we have that may be excluding those who are not in the same camp? (For example: You’re not complete until you find “the one.”)
But at the same time, it’s possible to be so conscious that the rest of the community feel they don’t have a place to be who they are. A heterosexual woman, a mother of three children, with lots of everyday tough stuff, still needs support of other mothers going through the same thing. So how do we cultivate that space that is welcoming for all?
I just read a beautiful post by a person who is not a mother, and her response to mother’s day service. It can be hard for women who have lost their children, women who can’t have children, women who are single on a day when mothers are appreciated and you feel like you are excluded. A prayer in this blog caught my attention: it spoke to the motherhood of all. And celebrated and mourned with mothers, mothers who have lost their child, who are estranged from their children, who are spiritual mothers, to those who lost their mothers:
To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you
To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you
To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you
To those who experienced loss this year through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you
To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you
To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you
To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you
To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you
To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience
To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst
To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you
And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you
This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.
Recognizing the essence that draws us together, so there’s both the space for many to be welcomed but also a desire to listen to different stories. I hope that’s the kind of community that I can help cultivate, wherever I am, whether as a single woman in her 20′s or a married woman in her 30′s with kids or an elderly woman who have lived life well.
Sometimes, you just wake up groggy simply because you were silly enough to stay up too late doing something that wasn’t of particular importance. If it were a worthy cause (like finishing a paper or responding to a friend in crisis) maybe it’s okay. But really, when it was sheer lazyness to go to bed (yes, this is possible, at least for me it is), then there’s simply no sympathy for the heavy body and brain that refuses to cooperate. As I was trying to decide what to do this Saturday, with absolutely nothing on, the power went out. I couldn’t decide whether to go out or not, so I just sat on the bench outside my room, looking out through our gate to the little alley. And then there came 4 beautiful kids, jumping up and down, wearing a sack on their legs, like they were in a sack race. They had just come back from collecting recyclables. I know some of them are skipping schools, some of them come to the homework club. I didn’t say anything, but just smiled to see them so full of life. Once I left my house (finally, after organizing my room and cleaning the bathroom, some productivity helps me feel a bit better), on the roadside, I saw another girl I know, sitting with her mom who was tying her hair up. Another beautiful moment. Later, I saw a teenager from my church that I hadn’t seen in a while. Just said hi in passing, but he gave me a huge smile. And then as I was fumbling with the petrol tank cap after filling up my moto, the two guys working at the petrol station started play fighting, kicking and trying to grab each other.
I stop and breathe deep.
Sometimes, it’s better to let go of silly things, like how groggy you feel or guilty you feel for staying up too late, or how you can’t do something you wanted to do… and simply marvel at the beauty of the moment. Thank you Cambodia. You are truly beautiful.
Just had a really lovely visit with a friend I haven’t visited in a while. I see her everyday in the morning selling porridge, but haven’t made the time in the last while to go visit her. When I first came 3 years ago, I used to go to her house every other day and practice Khmer, ask questions about Cambodia and Buddhism, and play with her kids. Now her infant has grown into a 3 year old that loves to run around and say “no” and give you this smile with his tongue sticking up.
Today, I told her that I’ll be leaving in July. We talked about ways that we’d miss each other, how we could keep in touch. She then mentioned how people wonder why she has a Japanese friend. Good point. Not a lot of Japanese in this neighbourhood, except for few JW missionaries I’ve seen. She said her neighbours asked her, “Does the Japanese girl come to share her religion?” And she simply told them, “No. She’s here because she wants to be friends with me.” I almost teared up when she told me this. Because it was true. I love her and her family dearly. And I do share about what God’s love is for me and how I am in Cambodia because of that. But I earnestly wanted her friendship, just because. No strings attached. After 3 years of precious friendship, that’s what she tells her friends, “She visits because we are friends.” She continued: “I think it’s great that even with religious differences we can be friends.” These are the moments that I know will stay with me forever… and I need to make sure I let her know that in person before I go.