Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Life is all about decisions

This is a repost of something that I wrote in December of 2010

Life is all about decisions, and tonight I am reflecting on the two-year anniversary of the biggest decision that I have made in my life so far. I've told the story of the circumstances leading to my decision to come to Japan before and will not repeat it here. That's not what I'm thinking about, anyway. Instead, I'm thinking about the decision itself and how close I came to choosing not to come to Japan.

I have always considered myself a small-town guy. I grew up a few miles outside of a town of 10,000, where I went to school and spent many afternoons playing in my grandma's backyard. I went to college in a town of 6,000. I hadn't spent more than a couple days consecutively in a "big city"--in fact, my definition of a big city was an urban center of more than 50,000 people. Bellingham, WA; Sioux Falls, SD; these were the biggest cities that I felt comfortable in, and even then, just in small doses.

By the time I'd finished my student teaching just over two years ago, I felt as though I had achieved a remarkable degree of self-awareness on this matter: I was telling anyone who asked that I was determined to spend my life in a small rural town setting. In fact, I was even ready to settle down in Iowa, if a teaching job were to present itself--that's how enamored I was with the idea of the small-town life.

As there were no teaching jobs available in Iowa, I was busy searching for jobs closer to home. I wanted to teach, even if that meant substitute teaching as needed and working full-time at a grocery store or somewhere else. I applied for a tutoring position in Everson, WA and the next day, actually received a request for an interview. I thought that I was looking at my future, at that moment--that I would move back home, and start my teaching career as a freelance tutor in the small town of Everson. I'd live at home, earn money, and bide my time until something more substantial came up. Little did I know that the next morning a new option would be introduced that would completely change the trajectory of my life.

"Are you still breathing?" was the last line of the message that Brian VanderHaak had forwarded to me via my mom and indeed I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me a little bit. In my heart and mind, I'd mapped out what I thought my future would be, what I thought it should be and this new opportunity, the coincidences surrounding the CAJ opportunity were God's way of saying "Remember, I make the plans around here--you just have to trust me."

I read Brian's email just as I was packing the last piece of luggage into my '98 Ford Taurus to leave my college career in Iowa behind. I spent the entire 4-hour drive up to Mankato, MN listening to half-volume Simon & Garfunkel and mentally rereading Brian's email over and over. At first, it seemed ridiculous--of course I would say no! I was not cut out for life in the city, ESPECIALLY not one of the BIGGEST cities in the world, ESPECIALLY not in JAPAN where I wouldn't understand the language at coffee shops and restaurants and where I'd be a cultural fish-out-of-water with my pale-skin and bushy red caveman beard. I'd daydreamed of idyllic hours that I would spend in small-town diners, prepping lessons over a cup of black Iowa coffee and flirting with the waitresses and parting with that daydream was viciously difficult.

I thought my Dad would laugh, too, when I picked him up in Mankato and told him about the opportunity but he didn't laugh. That was when I realized that this was a decision and not a joke. Not something to chuckle at and say "thanks, but no thanks." The next 48 hours were spent in deep conversation and prayer as we crawled across South Dakota, Montana, Idaho and finally Washington, over treacherous, icy roads.

I was getting sick by the time we reached a hotel in Cheney, WA late at night, and was feeling weak and exhausted in so many ways. That night, I prayed a simple prayer--a prayer admitting my total weakness and ignorance, and asking God to use me as He would. I finished with the Teacher's Prayer:

"Lord, speak to me

that I may speak

in living echoes of your tone.

As you have sought,

so let me seek

your erring children lost and lone.

Oh, use me Lord,

use even me--

just as you will and when and where

Until your precious face I see

your rest, your joy, your glory share."

The next morning, as we climbed into the car for one last long day on the snowy I-90, I told my Dad that I had decided I'd go to Japan.

That decision has defined so much of who I am and who I have become as a young adult so far. I sometimes pine for the days of Iowa diners and bad coffee, but I know that this was not what God had in mind for me. As I made small-talk with the barista at Tully's today ("Konnichiwa."--We're talking REALLY small talk, here) and smiled as I thought about how the student presentations in my Humanities class had gone the period before, I felt a sense of contentment more real and more powerful than any of those daydreams from two years ago. Letting go of our plans and allowing God's will to be done is scary and tough... and I will not regret it, not for an instant.

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