Friday, September 30, 2011

Jesus Paid it all!

Having spent the afternoon at home, sick, I have been reflecting a lot on how weak I am. Nothing like a bad cold to remind us of our limitations! Fortunately, there is One who intercedes, who is more powerful than even the strongest cold medicine. You see, He doesn't just provide relief from sickness but from sin and death! Pretty cool. Here's the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, by Kristian Stanfill:

I hear the Savior say
Thy strength indeed is small
Child of weakness watch and pray
Find in me thine all in all

Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

Lord now indeed I find
Thy power and thine alone
Can change the lepers spots
And melt the heart of stone

Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

And when before the throne
I stand in him complete
Jesus died my soul to save
My lips shall still repeat

Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

Oh praise the one who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead

Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

Thursday, September 29, 2011

...Hitting the wall

I am home early today. By early, I mean I didn't go to Cross Country practice, so I was home by 4:15 pm. The reason: I'm coming down with a cold that I've managed to fight off for a while... the battle was going my way but apparently, the cold brought in reinforcements at about noon today and took away my voice. I'm not sure if that analogy makes any sense... maybe I better check my temperature, too :P

Anyway, I need to sleep. Sleep and recover for wilderness camp. I missed out on wilderness camp a couple years ago because I was sick and know from experience how inconvenient it is for the groups to be re-shuffled and reorganized at the last minute. So, I'm dropping everything else and playing the recovery game.

Aside from getting sick, today was a good day. Here's what I hope my students learned:

2nd and 3rd period Humanities: While it's true that people may stereotype and make assumptions about us based on ethnicity, age, gender, appearance and other characteristics, it's also true that we stereotype and make assumptions about others, often without even realizing it.

4th and 5th period World History: Though ancient civilizations across the globe developed in radically different directions with unique cultures and languages, they often began in the same way (nomadic groups settled and practiced agriculture along rivers) and share common characteristics (cities, organized governments, laws, writing systems, etc.)

6th period English: We encounter rhetorical fallacies every single day in a variety of mediums, and even use fallacies ourselves.

It was a fun day--particular praise to my freshmen, who had an outstanding first day of presentations. Middle school teachers, pat yourselves on the back because this group has effective communication down. Not only effective communication but creative communication (hands down, the best skits that I've ever seen students do in my entire time at CAJ)!

I also enjoyed my 7th period prep-time, which I spent sitting with a bunch of Seniors in their senior lounge, quizzing them on rhetorical fallacies. They still remembered most of the fallacies, and it was a good opportunity to trouble-shoot the fallacies that they'd either forgotten or never felt comfortable with. Doing this helped me to feel even more comfortable with my own understanding of the fallacies so thanks, Seniors! I miss having you in class, but I treasure the chances that I get to still be a part of your school experience in an informal capacity.

Now, I'm home. I'm going to sleep. When I wake up, I hope I feel better. Till then...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Becoming Part of a Community

Community is a concept that I've been thinking a lot about lately: we discussed community in a recent high school divisional meeting, a friend blogged about community, I just finished watching an episode of the show Community...

More than all of this, however, I've been increasingly recognizing that I belong to the CAJ community... not just that I live in the community or exist within its confines but that I actually belong to it and in it. It's a realization that I have been approaching slowly for some time, and I've blogged about it in pieces before: wanting to appreciate where I am and not ask "what next?", enjoying conversations with students and colleagues at the end of the day, feeling as though teaching might just be my mission in Japan... but this week, the feeling of being a part of the community hit me as only an "aha" moment can.

It was a perfect storm of little things:

1. My chapel talk from two weeks ago seems to have left an impact on the Middle Schoolers. Okay, so maybe it wasn't the part of the talk that I was hoping would stick--the middle schoolers LOVED my description of playing laser tag, and since I gave the talk, I've been having pantomime laser tag battles with middle schoolers who I don't even know by name at random places on campus, at random times of day. One 6th grader even told me excitedly, "Mr. Gibson, it's only 3 years till I'm in your class!"

Yikes. I haven't even thought 3 years ahead myself. That's pressure... and it also means that even younger students at CAJ see me as a fixture. Strange feeling...

2. A mother of two of my students (a senior who I taught last year, and a freshmen who I'm teaching this year) sat down with me at lunch and told me how much it meant to her that I was a good role model and mentor to her boys. I resisted the urge to question her judgment about my role-model capabilities... I definitely don't have the same confidence in myself that she has, but then again, I am much more keenly aware of my flaws than she is. Self-deprecation aside, it was a beautiful compliment, and it meant so much to me to hear that from a parent.

3. I had a deep conversation with a bunch of Junior guys in the gym lobby a few nights ago. It'd started with just a few guys asking me for my thoughts on a discussion question that I'd posted on our class' online forum--"what is the right age to get married?" We talked about marriage, love, maturity, and faith--the guys were all very insightful and all asked good questions of myself and each other, and as the discussion went on, our group grew to well over 10. When the discussion ended, we all shook hands and parted ways feeling encouraged and enlightened.

4. My freshmen have recently been very vocal about how much they enjoy my World History class and the projects that they've been working on. I'm horrible at taking compliments and so typically respond either by deflecting ("I'm not THAT great of teacher...") or just saying "awww, thanks!" Again... I waffle between doubt (sometimes, it feels like every last flaw that I have comes to my mind when people say nice things about me) and smugness (other times, the nice things go to my head and I get a bit cocky).

There are other examples I could list, but the combination of all of these things made me realize that I'm not just a faceless member of CAJ, but someone who is valued, someone with a distinct identity, someone who is loved and cared for. Someone with a future here? That I don't know, but I do wonder...

This certainly wasn't the case when I first started at CAJ... my first few months here were lonely and very tough at times. I wasn't in the classroom, just working at the school in a supporting role, so I was often bored... I sometimes felt as though I wasn't able to grow in the position that I was in and saw my work at CAJ as temporary; a brief stop before the next big thing in my life. I cherished the times when I could teach (subbing, coaching, chaperoning field trips, leading study groups), and dreaded the dreary monotony of sitting at my computer, waiting for something to happen. I even filled out applications for schools in Washington and Illinois, and fully planned on returning to the states early on. In those days, I put most of my energy into advising and working with the JAM leaders--that was real, that was tangible.

I also felt disconnected from my colleagues. I didn't feel close to the other young teachers (and there weren't too many other young teachers to begin with), so I spent most of my lunch-times eating with older staff members. They were friendly, but they'd been at CAJ for such a long time that their experience seemed at times intimidating and unattainable. They also definitely viewed and treated me like a kid (which I now realize that I was, at the time). I enjoyed hanging out with the JAM leaders, but I knew that they would graduate and move on within months.

I missed my home church tremendously, and doubted that I would ever find a church where I could feel at home in Tokyo.

All of this to say, at that time, I did not feel like a member of a community. However, after I'd been at CAJ for a couple months, something changed and I felt like I was being called to start my teaching career in Japan, that this was truly where God wanted me, and so despite my fears, my doubts, and my loneliness, I jumped upon the opportunity to stay.

The risk was worth it. It didn't pay off immediately and it took another year of adjustment, of loneliness and feeling like something of a misfit, but things gradually came together. When I look at my life today, I can so clearly see how God's hands have worked in my life and how they continue to work. I feel like I belong, like I serve a unique and vital purpose.

Becoming part of a community takes time. It takes work. It takes patience, and trust in God's plans, which are so much bigger than our frustrations and worries. I am so thankful that I've become a member of this community and I need to always acknowledge God's providence in this.

So, the next question is, "What is my responsibility as a member of this community?" That's something that I'll think about and pray about over the next few weeks and months... I'm sure I'll
write about this topic more, so thanks for reading and stay tuned!

An Experiment in Time

The following events took place in my Junior Humanities class in February of 2011.

"Mr. Gibson, do you think that time travel will become possible in our lifetime?"

This was where a discussion on being a part of history had led--dangerous territory for a class ostensibly about American History and Literature.

"Well. There's only one way to find out, isn't there?"

Incredulous looks from my Juniors. They were right to be skeptical--me, a self-proclaimed idiot at anything remotely science-related claiming to have the means to definitively prove or disprove time travel? This had to be good! Good for laughs anyway.

"No, I'm serious. Take out a piece of paper," I instructed one of the boys in my class, "and write a letter to your future self:
'Dear future me', I dictated, 'If time travel is possible, please come back to Mr. Gibson's Humanities Class at CAJ on February 2, 2011 at 10:16 am.'

Okay, now fold up the letter, write 'DO NOT LOSE' in capital letters and put it in your pocket. Now, we wait.."

It was 10:15. We sat in rapt silence staring at the door. 10:16 came, and the bell rang, signifying the start of break. Still dead silent. Nobody came through the door. 10:17.

"Well, there you have it," I said, slapping my hands together as though trying to clear dust away, "Time travel clearly cannot become possible within our lifetimes, or else someone would have come through that door."

Little did I know that this would become a running joke throughout the remainder of the semester in Humanities, or that several students would play a prank on a classmate in which they made it look like a similar experiment worked, or that she would believe them for a split-second. And that... is the story of how my Humanities class disproved the possibility of time travel within our lifetimes.

Author's note: What do you think? Were we thorough? Did we disprove time travel? What else could we have done?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

*Catches breath*

Long day today. Long, long, long...

Got a good amount of grading done from my perch in the school plaza during first period (over a Tully's latte and cinnamon roll, naturally) and then set in on the day's work.

Humanities: The kids practiced and then told folk-tales to each other in small groups. As with the storytelling activities in the other classes, I ran this outside in the plaza. As I made the rounds from picnic table to picnic table, I heard lots of good stories--I told the kids that they need to re-tell their stories on Wilderness Camp next week, and I think quite a few are actually planning on it! It would be so cool to see storytelling revived as a cultural art/entertainment form at CAJ.

World History: Groups working on their civilization research projects. Most groups were actually done with the research and were putting together either presentations or video projects to use to teach their classmates about the ancient civilization that they researched. One group had finished their video and were waiting on one groupmate to finish editing. To keep this group out of trouble (when freshmen become himajin (people with too much time on their hands), they can be a bit noisy), I agreed to help them shoot an extra commercial for their video project. This we did... in the plaza, once again (I feel that any day where I can spend some time outside every hour is a success). Again, lots of walking around and doing the rounds between the classroom, plaza and computer lab to answer questions and make sure all groups were moving forward... I wish I'd worn a pedometer because my step count was through the roof today.

Cross country: After lunch, the cross country team left school early for our annual meet at Ome against Yokota. It's a nice (albeit tough, mostly uphill) course in the hills on the outskirts of the city, close to where I'll be hiking next week. The kids either love or hate the course, and had either a great race (one guy got first with a PR) or a bad race (one girl twisted her ankle)... not much middle ground there. I enjoyed the van ride there and back and the opportunity to chat with my team. We rolled back into the CAJ parking lot at 6:10 at which point I went to...

Wilderness Camp Meeting: It was good to attend this meeting, even though it was mostly review. With each passing day, my stress level about wilderness camp seems to decrease. I feel like I know what I need to do as a leader and knowing both the route and the group is a weight off my shoulders. Now, my task is to keep rested and healthy...

So, I got home at 9:00 after a long day. I'm feeling less stressed than earlier this week but I am also very sleepy... falling asleep as I write... so... Goodnight blogosphere!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The last week of September

Last week's typhoon was more or less the death knell of summer in Japan. Since then, the temperatures have cooled and the humidity has vanished.

As I sit out in the plaza this morning, it is 64˚F/18˚C. This is a perfect temperature to sit outside, gather my thoughts, write and enjoy some coffee. The beauty of a day like today is the choice--either iced or hot coffee are fine on a day like today. I went with a hot Marron glacé latte. Good choice, as it turns out! Tully's has some unusual flavors, but I'm okay with that. I tend to be very much a creature of habit at a place like Starbucks where I can stick to my tried and true trifecta of Vanilla Latte, White Mocha or Caramel Frappe. The unusual and constantly rotating menu at Tully's forces me to occasionally branch out and try new things... something I need.

I'm thankful for these moments of rest and peace throughout the school week, especially as the stress level picks up. In fact, I had a strange realization on Sunday afternoon that for the first time this school year, I was stressed out. I'm surprised by this, actually--usually I get stressed out a lot earlier in the year.

Anyway, these are the things that I am praying about this week, and for any who read this I covet your prayers too:

1. Wilderness Camp (four day/three night hike in the woods with the Juniors)! I'm starting to get more excited than stressed for this (just found out my group this morning, and it's a great group). Nonetheless, it's not a picnic. It's four days of hiking, possibly in the rain, and sleeping outside (under shelters if we're lucky). It's fun, but it's not relaxing fun.

Actually the reason I'm mostly stressed about wilderness camp is the fact that it represents a milestone of sorts in the school year. As a teacher, I need to try and finish up the current units I'm teaching before wilderness camp, since that represents basically a week away from school if you include the three-day weekend that follows the return from the hike. As I thought about what it might take to finish my current units in the Junior class, I realized--I'm several weeks behind where I was last year.

Now, I added a lot to the first few units, and so I knew it would take a lot longer to get through. Still, it stresses me out to know that I've fundamentally changed the timing of my year from what I'm familiar with. It shouldn't stress me out, but it does. I try to be a teacher who focuses more on uncoverage than coverage--on understanding, no matter how long it takes to get there than getting through a set amount of content... but old habits die hard.

2. Grading: I spent the first few weeks of the year doing intensive prep for the first few units (all of which were mostly new to me). I got grading done when and where I could, but I've still got a decent amount that I need to do. Wanting to do this before Wilderness Camp is a solid goal. It also stresses me out a little.

3. Recommendation letters: I should've expected this and planned better for it--somehow I had it in my head that I'd magically have lots of time during the year to write recommendation letters even while school was in full swing. That's simply not been the case. It seems like another student asks me to write a recommendation for them each week. I'm more than happy to do so, but it will mean readjusting my schedule to make that happen. I may have to take a sabbatical from daily blogging for a while :P I'll still be writing, I just won't be able to post what I write publicly.

4. Health: I've been tired a lot lately and sort of not feeling well in general. Not sick, but not genki. It's frustrating and very tough to be diligent when this is the case.

I need to turn all of this over to God and then just do my best. It's so much easier to say that, to write that in the blogosphere than to actually do it. Anyway, if you happen to read this, please pray for me. And, if you have any prayer requests yourself, feel free to drop them in the comment section or email me. I have a tendency to get self-absorbed sometimes and think that I'm the only one in the world who is stressed and it's always best if I remember to pray for those around me.

Thanks and I hope that all who read this have a great week!
God bless--

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bad Driving

(This is a transcript of a story that I told for my storytelling class this past summer)


This was how I felt as I walked out the doors of the DMV on that hot July day. You see, I was 16 years old and I had just gotten my driver's license. And, not only had I gotten my driver's license, I had absolutely owned the tests that I had to take--100% on both of them! Now, I hadn't been too worried about the written test... the written test was supposed to be pretty easy with simple, common sense, "what do you do at a stop sign? You STOP" kinds of questions.

No, I'd been worrying about the drive test. I'd heard horror stories from my friends, some of whom had failed the test because they messed up on parallel parking or backing around a corner, and then they had to wait two weeks before they could take the test again, and some even failed a second time! Parallel parking, backing around corners--THESE were the things that had tripped up my friends, THESE were the things that haunted my nightmares and THESE were the things that I ultimately aced in order to score 100 on the test.

So, I was feeling pretty smug as I left the DMV. The first thing that I did was call my dad to tell him the good news. I'll never forget what he told me. He said "Nate, you know that driving is a big responsibility. Just because you did well on the tests doesn't mean that you can stop being careful out on the road. Driving is a privilege, so take it seriously."

I remember thinking "PSSSHHH! I don't need to be careful! I got 100%! I am INVINCIBLE! UNBEATABLE! I... write the rules of the road... I am God's gift to drivers everywhere!"

If you'd known me at this time, you might've wanted to smack the arrogant smirk off of my face. Well, rest assured that the wind was taken out of my sails in an embarrassing way just a few months later.

I grew up in the town of Lynden. 10,000 people, small town... you don't expect surprises on the road in Lynden.

I'd just finished visiting my Grandma's house, and was backing out of her driveway. I thought to myself, "I don't really need to check my rearview mirror, or look behind my shoulder as I back out. I'm God's gift to drivers! I'm INVINCIBLE! UNBEATABLE!" So, I gunned the gas pedal--VRROOOOMMM!!! Then all of a sudden CRASH!!! CRUNCH!!!

I didn't want to look behind me. I didn't, but I knew I had to. Slowly I turned my head and... my trunk, which should've been flat and below my eye level was mangled, twisted, barely recognizable, sticking off at a grotesque angle. I recited the alphabet of swear words that I knew in a fortissimo shout.

I got out of my car to see what I'd hit... I had hit a BULLDOZER. A MOVING BULLDOZER. I hadn't even seen it coming. Frantically, I ran around to the front of the bulldozer to get the driver's attention. I waved him down, and not even joking, this is what I said to him:

"Hey! Umm... I think I hit your bulldozer!"

He looked at me, looked at my car, back at me.

"Yeah, you did", he chuckled.

He stepped down from the driver's seat, went around to the back corner of his bulldozer, and ran his hand along the part that I'd hit.

"Not even a scratch on ol' Bessy here," he said cheerily, "But you sure did a number on your trunk! I think it's totaled!"

I was still nervous, still stammering, still shaking.

"What d-does that m-mean for me?"

"Well, we don't have to exchange insurance information--that's the good news. But, you better get that thing in for a damage appraisal because it might not be worth fixing!"

And with that, he got back onto the bulldozer and rode off into the sunset.

Now came the part that I'd been dreading: I'd have to call my dad. What could I possibly tell him to make this more palatable? What could I say that would make me sound like less of an idiot? My mind was racing as I dialed his number.


"Hi Dad... umm... sooo uh... I was in Lynden and I visited Grandma... she's good... and umm... the craziest thing... I uh... backed my car into a bulldozer."


"N-no no no! It was the.... uh... the BRAKES! Yes, the brakes. I saw the bulldozer and I pushed the brakes but they didn't work. It was the brakes!"

"I'm glad you're okay. I'll come into town to pick you up, and we'll call a tow truck to take the car away. Hopefully it's reparable. We should also get the brakes checked out. That's good that you noticed they were acting up now. It could've been dangerous to find that out later."

"Uhh yeah... yeah, thanks... I'm sure we'll find out that those brakes are really.... messed... up."

Now, you know as well as I do that there was nothing wrong with the brakes, that I was just making excuses and trying to blame anything but myself.

So in the end, I'd totaled my car. I'd lost my parents' trust when they discovered the brakes were fine. And, I'd learned a very important lesson:

I was not INVINCIBLE or UNBEATABLE out on the road. Do you know what is?

A bulldozer.

Friday, September 23, 2011

XC Results, 9/24 @ Ikego

Most of our meets are held at Tama Hills, but occasionally we'll travel to new locations. Though this means that it is difficult to compare times to the week before (especially when it's our very first time running on a new course), it does introduce some variety into the competitive side of Cross Country.

Today, we were on-base at Ikego. The Middle Schoolers ran a 1.7 mile course, and the high schoolers ran their first 5K race of the season.

The MS Boys ran well today. 7th grader Kenji J. placed 14th with a time of 10:24. Isaiah S., the team's only 8th grader, had another break-out race today, placing 23rd with a time of 11:05. 7th grader Callum M. was not far behind, placing 33rd with a time of 11:55, followed closely by 7th grader Ryu K. who placed 35th with a time of 12:03. 6th grader Jeremiah S. placed 49th with a time of 13:28 and 7th grader David B. placed 50th with a time of 13:30.

The two 6th grade girls continued to improve today, with Ha Eun K. placing 8th at 11:21 and Angela L. placing 17th at 12:01. The girls were thrilled that they beat some of their male teammates. The guys took this turn of events in stride, though they promised to repair their wounded dignity with better times in the next race.

The HS girls ran strong as they pushed through the first 5K meet of the season. The top 3 continued to stand out, with sophomore Runa S. placing 7th at 20:52, sophomore Misaki N. placing 12th at 21:22 and Ria K. placing 15th at 22:02. The lessons in 5K pacing that the girls learned today will prove invaluable as the team approaches the second half of the season (which includes more 5K races at Guam and Far East).

And then, the highlight of the day indisputably goes to the HS boys, who won the 5-team invitational. Junior Tsubasa K. ran his best race in two years, placing 3rd with a time of 17:20. He was followed closely by classmate Ryan H., who placed 4th with 17:37.3, and Sophomore Kye A. who placed 5th with a time of 17:37.6. Not far off was Senior Shin M., who placed 10th with 17:52. Today, these boys proved that they can handle the longer distance and also that Ryan, Kye and Shin can keep up with Tsubasa. Their performance today holds great promise for the 2nd half of the season.

Once again, I'm proud of all my runners, particularly those who ran despite not feeling well, or despite having been sick most of this past week. Way to hang in there! God bless--

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Listening for the voice of God

Yesterday, I had a long conversation with one of my Juniors about theology. I always love these chats--this kid read through Augustine's Confessions in his spare time, so he asks questions and makes statements that are profound and insightful. It's always fun to leave a conversation with a student feeling as though I've learned something new, or at least am thinking through new questions. The question that last night's conversation left with me was "what is it like to hear God's voice?"

God speaks to us, moves us, answers prayers. I have a tough time just listening, though. Prayer tends to be mostly me talking... otherwise, I keep myself busy. Rarely do I simply remove distractions and listen. Prayer should be a conversation with God, and we all know how tough it is to talk to someone who monopolizes a conversation. What does it mean for me to listen for God's voice?

It means not treating my devotional time as something to get through, something that has a time limit, but rather as a time to meditate and dive into God's word. Listening may involve silence, but it is by no means passive--as any good English teacher knows, listening must be active and intentional. The listener must put themselves into good conditions for listening, assume posture that will help them listen, hang onto every word and not worry about what to say next.

I'm going to try to listen more because I tend to take on Homer Simpson's attitude toward prayer much of the time (in one episode, Homer prays that everything in his life will stay exactly as it is, and if that's God's will, for God to give Homer absolutely no sign at all. "Thy will be done", Homer says, after a few moments of silence). I need to spend time in silence listening and reflecting on God's will for my life, rather than assuming that what I pray must be God's will, as Homer did.

I have a tough time with silence... but I find that the older I get, the less it bothers me, or at least, the more I'm able to push myself to let silence remain uninterrupted. I wonder what I'll hear.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Unpacking Faith

I've been thinking a lot lately about the concept of faith. Sometimes, nagging doubts will creep into my head and I ask myself, "How do I know God exists? How do I know that Jesus reigns?" Sometimes, my own weak faith isn't even as obvious as the doubts... sometimes, it's a simple matter of falling asleep as I read from my Bible at night.

Critics and skeptics complain about Christians' reliance on the Bible as a trustworthy text: "You say you know Jesus lives because the Bible tells you so? Well how do you know the Bible is true?! Isn't that circular logic??"

For some reason, it's easy to get stuck here. "Well, umm... we know it's true because... umm..."

Let's not forget what Scripture was to the original recipients... the Gospel was GOOD NEWS--not about some distant events long past, but events that had happened recently. Jesus' life, death and resurrection... these events were contemporary to the first who heard the Gospel. What's more, there were witnesses--hundreds of people who saw the risen LORD and subsequently made it their life's work to tell people that Jesus was alive.

These witnesses brought us several Gospels, preached the first sermons, wrote the first epistles and their words carried weight because they had seen the risen Christ. Look at the way in which Christianity grew during its earliest years... the church grew exponentially even during this time of severe oppression--would this have been the case if there were no witnesses, just wishful thinkers? NO! We must never forget that people had a good reason to trust, to give their lives when they heard the Gospel proclaimed and when they read the epistles: the writers either were eye-witnesses or they had known eye-witnesses! What's more, these were not lunatics, not compulsive liars or delusional dreamers... these were average people whose lives had been radically changed by having known Christ personally. When they called for their readers and listeners to have faith, it was not a weak, wishy-washy call to buy into something they could hardly accept themselves. It was a call to partake in the amazing grace that had changed the very fabric of their lives. They knew full well both the cost and joy of real, physical discipleship of Christ and in turn invited others to follow. And others did follow--they saw that joy, observed the transforming power of grace in the lives of their pastors and teachers and though they had not seen Christ themselves, they saw His power.

So what's wrong with me? What's wrong with those of us today who read the New Testament and shrug, or say "It's a nice thought..." We're reading/hearing the same message as people who lived back then, and yet... we have the disadvantage of historical distance. We too easily forget that we are reading the words of real people, that the call to faith is not coming from fiction writers, dreamers or thin air--the call to faith is coming from people who knew Christ, who saw him risen after he had been crucified. And what were these friends and witnesses telling others? Jesus is ALIVE. He is the Son of God, He died for our sins, and to follow Him is to live. This we know. Come, follow.

It's no small invitation... it's an invitation that calls us to die to ourselves; to abandon our selfish impulses and our greedy tendencies, our leering, lustful temptations; to let go of hatred; to love and serve. Many early Christians had never seen Christ themselves; they instead saw and heard about him from those who had seen Christ. They chose to believe and they too dedicated their lives to following Christ.

It's powerful and humbling to think that the words that I read in the New Testament of my NIV convinced countless people so firmly of Christ's Lordship that they ultimately gave their lives for Him. For some, taking up the cross was a literal act and in fact the last act of their earthly lives. So why do I fall asleep while doing devotions? Why does my mind wander as I read of Christ's glory? My challenge to myself is to refocus my faith--to first see the message as the earliest Christians saw it, to hear it as they heard it. Before I even think once about how to apply what I've read to my own life, words and decisions, I need to receive it with the heart of one talking to a witness, and trust so much that I surrender myself completely. That, in my humble opinion, is faith.

Then Sings My Soul

How Great Thou Art
by Stuart K. Hine

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder

Consider all the works Thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

When through the woods, the forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze...

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin...

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God how great Thou art!

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

The Storm

As I write this, we are in the middle of a typhoon. The meteorological agency issued a warning yesterday afternoon showing Typhoon Roke to be headed on a course that would put it over Tokyo at about the same time the next day.

This puts school administrators in a tough position--do you cancel school for something that might not happen? The storm could change course, it could hit later than predicted... and then, you've wound up canceling school at a time when you could've gone. Of course, if you don't cancel school, and the storm hits full force... train-lines close down, walking, biking and driving become treacherous due to low visibility, low traction and high gusts of wind... and you have a majority of the student body stranded at school. What do you do? You make the safe decision.

I'm thankful that school was canceled today as I listen to the storm raging outside. The only other typhoon I remember being anywhere close to this strong actually ended our annual School Without Walls week a day early (a few brave staff members hiked out into the woods late at night to find and bring back the Wilderness Camp groups--I was supposed to be out there, but had an unfortunate encounter with Swine Flu that prevented me from going at the last minute). This typhoon is even worse than that one, and I pray that the damage happening outside these walls is not as bad as the storm sounds.

The wind is rattling and shaking our 2nd story apartment, the rain is driving hard against the windows, and there's a constant eerie ghoulish howling noise coming from the streets as the storm rages through the city.

Life does this occasionally... we know the world is a broken place, and so we anticipate hard times as well as good. We can steel ourselves for the stressful, stormy times but when they come, they are often more overwhelming than we could ever have predicted. In times like this, it's vital to know that Christ is LORD, even over the storm. Yeah. We can't weather the tempest on our own. However, if we stand with Christ as our foundation, placing in him our faith and trust, we'll find ourselves on the other side of the storm one way or another. This is no guarantee that we won't be physically or emotionally battered by the things happening to us, but it is a guarantee of something much more important emerging safely: our souls... our very identity and birthright in God's kingdom... the part of us that is eternal.

Eventually, this typhoon will end, and the next day will be bright, clear and sunny. We, in our limited and oh-so-logical minds, "know" this and believe it unquestioningly though the storm is scary right now (the building just shook so hard, I'd have thought it was an earthquake if it wasn't for the sound of the wind). So, I challenge myself and anyone who reads this to believe unquestioningly that Christ will carry us (or at least the part of us that matters) through even the toughest of trials. The storm will end. The sun will rise. This we know, because the Son has risen. Alleluia!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rainy days and Tuesdays

Hovering rainclouds

cast heavy, drowsy shadows


Today was the first day that felt distinctly autumn-y all the way through. No humidity--in fact it was somewhat chilly (particularly after finishing a late afternoon run in the rain with the XC team). It's the kind of day that makes a person yawn even when they're wide awake, a day where it can be challenging to keep ones' eyes open, a day more like a sigh than a declaration.

Days like today are the reason why coffee shops were invented.

I'm almost positive.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blink, and you'll

Today is "Back to School Day". I can't believe it. 25 minute classes in the morning, then parents attend each class for 13 minutes in the afternoon and I can't believe it. Usually "Back to School Day" feels like an eternity into the school year, but this year it completely snuck up on me. I kind of thought that my new teaching schedule would pick up the pace of the year, but I had no idea that it would pick up this much! And, with a Pro-D day on Friday, this school-week will speed by doubly fast.

Two weeks from now, I'll be getting ready to head into the woods just west of here for a four-day Wilderness Camp with the Junior class. This will be my second time going and evidently that makes me a veteran (a number of our seasoned leaders are unable to go this year). This fact makes me nervous, somewhat, but I'm excited for the trip. I enjoyed the hiking last year--no, it's not a comfortable couple of days and yes, there's a definite element of stress to it. However, it's also rewarding to watch the team learn to work together, communicate and figure things out. It's rewarding to watch them come alive during debrief times to talk about what is going well and what they can work on. I've been training this group to discuss, reflect and debrief in my Humanities and English classes and so I hope that this transfer of learning carries over to our Wilderness Camp experience.

However, I have much to accomplish between now and then. Maybe a trip into the woods will seem like a vacation from the stress! Or maybe I'm just talking nonsense now.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

In Celebration of 30 Years...

It’s been a big month for my parents. Several weeks ago, they returned home from a long road-trip to drop my sister off for her first year at Wheaton. When they returned home, they were empty nesters—it was just the two of them for the first time since 1986.

On Monday, they will celebrate another milestone—30 years of marriage. It will be a quiet day, in all likelihood. With my sister in Chicago, my brother in Denver and myself in Tokyo, there are no big parties in the works… at least not planned by the three of us. So I write this as my personal celebration of my parents’ marriage, a long-overdue thank-you note.

As long as I’ve lived, there has never been a single doubt in my mind of my parents’ love and commitment to each other. For most of my childhood, I simply took this for granted. This was just the way things were, and it never once crossed my mind that there could be any other way.

When I grew a little older, I began to observe just how many of my peers came from homes where this was not the case. I got to know people who came from homes where the parents constantly fought… homes where one parent had been abusive to the other… homes that had been torn apart by divorce… homes where the parents had been unfaithful to each other. As I realized just how fragile marriage could be, how lightly the bonds could be taken, I became all the more grateful for my parents.

It’s not an absence of trials that makes a strong marriage, but rather the response to those trials. My parents are both busy people—demanding jobs that seem to generate more stress than joy at times. My mom has spent most of her marriage to my dad raising horses, and I know that this was not the life my dad envisioned for himself… definitely it has been a source of disagreement with my mom on occasion. I know that my dad can occasionally be grouchy, and not at all easy to talk to when he’s in a bad mood. I know that my mom can be opinionated, sometimes even stubborn.

I say these things not to be critical (I see some of these traits in myself), but to establish the point that my parents are human and their marriage is not the result of some mysterious lack of faults or challenges on their part. As I mentioned, it’s the response to trials and challenges that determines a successful marriage. My parents both understand that marriage needs to be based on a foundation of faith—rooted in relationship with God.

They understood this, though almost certainly on a much more superficial level, 30 years ago when they exchanged their vows, and have learned this truth more deeply and more fully every day since then. Their marriage has been a partnership in the truest sense of the word: a partnership to know the goodness and grace of God more fully; a partnership to raise children to know the goodness and grace of God; a partnership to support and serve their church through time, money and effort; a partnership to nurture and encourage each other’s gifts and interests; a partnership to support and care for friends and family. Through all of these tasks, my parents have striven to be thoughtful and reflective, to truly make their Lord the center of their lives and decisions.

Only now that I have started life as an independent adult do I fully understand just how difficult this is. To truly serve, whether it be serving each other, friends, family or the church, a husband and wife must be selfless and find their identity in Christ. I am thankful for my parents’ selflessness, for their near-constant service, and for the wonderful example of marriage that they’ve given to my siblings and me during our lives with them. Though it must be somewhat lonely to become empty-nesters, to establish a new routine that doesn’t include their children on a day-to-day basis, I am glad that my parents will have time as a couple once again. I’m eager to watch and see the new ways that they will find to serve those around them with the extra time and mobility that an empty nest now brings them.

So, to my parents—congratulations on 30 years of marriage. Thank you for your wisdom in communicating with each other, in making decisions and in working through trials. Thank you for your undying service to the many people in your lives. Thank you for your faithfulness to each other, and thank you for modeling in your lives with each other the relationship between Christ and his church. Surely your marriage has been a “first-fruit”, an encouragement and blessing to all who have known you.

I hope and pray that my future wife and I can be so wise, so selfless and so faithful—I’m eternally grateful that I know what a good marriage looks like, having been blessed with the two of you as parents, and I wish you many more years in partnership with each other, in Christ.

Tama Hills, 9/17/11

There's something about actually running in the first race of the season that shifts your perspective on practice. What I observed in my middle schoolers during our practices this week (following the first meet last Saturday) was an intensity and determination that simply hadn't been there before (or at least, hadn't been anywhere nearly as obvious). Gone were the complaints and gripes about how far we were running or how many hills we were doing. Instead--quiet, focused effort. A lot of this has to do with how much potential the team sees within themselves. It means a lot to them to see this potential reflected in the meet results, and it means a lot for them to hear such affirmation from myself and Coach Rudd.

This year, I'm setting up a system of 'ice cream times', similar to what Coach Rudd does for the high schoolers. Simply, we examine the times that the kids ran at Tama Hills, and based on their personal records, we set goals for improvement--a time that they can shoot for; something challenging, yet attainable with hard work. This goal is their 'ice cream time', and if they reach it or beat it, they will be rewarded with an ice cream bar. A simple reward, but it helps to make their improvement more concrete, more visible. Ultimately, I don't think it's really about the ice cream. Yes, they'll enjoy the cold treats, but today, I heard so much joy from nearly every single one of my runners ("Coach, I got my PR by ___ seconds!!!") that I know they're slowly adopting the mindset of competing to do their best for the sake of doing their best.

Here's the write-up that I posted on the CAJ website. I'm proud of my runners.

The Middle School boys had an outstanding day on the 3.3K course at Tama Hills, bringing in their first win in three years (edging out YIS). Every runner on the team had a strong showing, and all ran their personal best except for top runner, 7th grader Kenji J., who maintained his pace from the first meet with 15:29 (down a mere four seconds from the previous week).

Callum M. (7) ran a 15:53, a PR of 40 seconds. Isaiah S. (8) ran a 16:33, a PR of 38 seconds. Ryu K. (7) ran a 17:51, a PR of 2:18. David B. (7) ran 18:18, a PR of 1:53. And, taking the record for most improved time, Jeremiah S. (6) with a time of 21:18, a PR of 3 minutes.

Though the girls had to automatically forfeit due to an incomplete team, the two 6th graders improved on the same high level of promise that they showed in their first meet last week.

Ha Eun K. placed 13th with a time of 17:08, a PR of 12 seconds and Angela L. placed 45th with a time of 18:55, a PR of 50 seconds. Now, if only we had three more girls...

The high school girls continued to improve and impress on the 3.3K course today. Our top three girls are rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Kanto Plains, and may well develop into the core of one of CAJ's strongest girls teams ever. Runa S. (10) placed 9th with a time of 15:01, a PR of 52 seconds. Ria K. (11) placed 10th with a time of 15:04, a PR of 35 seconds. Misaki N. (10) placed 13th with a time of 15:06, a PR of 38 seconds. With a mere 5 second span separating these three friends, I have no doubt that they will continue to push each other, improve, and entrench themselves in the top 10 as the season wears on. If two more strong runners join next season to round out this trio, the CAJ girls could be looking at a Far East title next fall!

The CAJ boys ran well this week, and though they were edged out by YIS, the relatively young and inexperienced team continued to build their identity on the 4.4K course. Tsubasa K. (11) lead the team, placing 8th with a time of 16:39. He was followed by Ryan H. (11) who placed 19th with a time of 17:34. Kye A. (10) improved 15 seconds for a time of 17:40. In his first race ever, Shin M. (12) placed 23rd with a time of 17:47. Ken N. (10) placed 53rd with a time of 19:23 and Daniel Y. (9) showed promise, placing 64th with a time of 19:43 (a 63 second improvement over last week).

Overall, it was a very good day and the atmosphere was one of excitement and joy, as so many runners improved significantly over their times from last week, and even their personal records. Some critics fail to see the point of cross country and question the sanity of those involved in the sport. Though I doubt I could ever make them understand, I simply point to the pure joy of running and noticing tangible improvement each week. It's a beautiful feeling as a runner and as a coach, it's so meaningful to see your runners asking first "Did I run my best today?" rather than worrying about placement and comparing themselves to the other teams, or to their teammates. This, I think, is how a cross country runner brings glory to God. As the team mantra goes... "Soli Deo Gloria!"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Reflections on the nature of TCKs

This week flew by--even faster than usual it seemed. It was a good week of school (three full weeks down... unbelievable!), but today was kind of a tough day as the Juniors said goodbye to a classmate who is returning to Korea and eventually moving to the states. She was a leader within her class and was loved and respected by her classmates, so her absence will be felt keenly.

The TCK approach to friendship is an intriguing one--many of the kids (and teachers, for that matter) tend to be friendly to newcomers, albeit friendly in a somewhat distant way. I definitely noticed this when I first came here. Everyone was friendly--both students and colleagues--but there was also a palpable distance. It was as though I was being kept at arm's length even as I was being welcomed into the community. This certainly wasn't true of everyone, and I don't mean it to be critical, either, because I understand the mentality now. It wasn't until I knew I'd be back the next year that some of those walls started to crumble... then I started to develop closer relationships with people in the community. It must be tough, not knowing how long people will stay--what do you do? Do you make friends with someone who you may have to say goodbye to sooner rather than later? Do you invest in someone who might not be a part of your life for very long? With so many people coming and going in an international school setting, getting close to another person just means another inevitable goodbye--if that someone happens to be a close friend, it's essentially as though a part of yourself has been taken from you.

These kids are used to goodbyes, but that doesn't minimize how tough it is to say goodbye to someone you care about. As I watched some tearful final farewells in my 6th period English class (as the tennis team left school early for a match and bid their departing classmate goodbye), the uniqueness of the TCK experience really struck me. At no other type of school are goodbyes this common, or this global in scale. It's not just like this girl is moving across the city, or to the other side of the country--she's moving halfway around the world. This is likely a permanent goodbye between her and some of her classmates, perhaps even with some of her friends. To invest in another person even while knowing that such a goodbye may loom on the horizon speaks volumes about the character of these kids and their capacity to show love and care for each other.

I consider myself to be a late-blooming TCK in a lot of ways (or maybe a TCA?)... I'm proud of this part of myself, and thankful for the members of this community who have invested in me along the way even before it looked like I would be here to stay. What a blessing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

For when things are going well

I spoke in chapel yesterday, and shared a story from my own high school experience about the first time that my friends and I came face to face with death and loss (a friend of ours lost her father unexpectedly). Though we were shaken, and though we'd never put any energy into talking about our faith as a group of friends, we responded by praying and worshiping together--striving to know God better as we sang and prayed on a cool October night in Lynden, while watching the northern lights. It was an amazing night, but of course, it came to an end and we quickly settled back into our old patterns of not discussing our faith.

My overall point in chapel was similar to a lot of what I've been writing about on this blog over the past month: we absolutely need to find rest in God. When troubles come, it is so easy to become distracted, or to try to find rest, shelter or escape somewhere else. However, true peace can only be found in the arms of our loving Father.

That's when things aren't going well. What about when life feels good and we're happy, content? I know that for me, personally, if I have a really good day in the classroom, or am really pleased with how a chapel speech went, my first instinct is to think "yeah, I'm pretty awesome." My success, I attribute to myself. How lopsided is that? I share my struggles, worries and stresses with God, lay them at His feet, but as soon as good things happen, I stand and walk away, look in the mirror, and strike a pose.

We need to recognize that God is the source of every blessing in our lives--not just good things that happen to us (seemingly coincidental events sometimes), but our abilities, our talents, our good decisions--all of this comes from God! So, at the end of a good day, the only grateful response is to bring all of those good things before God as well as the things that hurt and stress us. It's the only way that we can grow--if we believe that we're the source of the good things that happen in our lives; that good things happen because we're awesome, then we'll become that much more despondent and disillusioned when things don't go our way. If we rightly acknowledge God as the source of those good things, that each blessing is a gift, we'll be more inclined to treat the good in our lives wisely, value those times and qualities in ourselves all the more, and seek out the good even in a painful situation. When we view the joyful times in our lives in this way, we cannot help but fall at the throne of God and worship... and that's a source of true joy.

I wish I could follow my own advice and reflections, but so often I selfishly hoard the good things that happen to me and refuse to show the gratitude that I should. Lord, grant me the wisdom to bring before you all that I am--not just my struggles but my successes as well...

A Glimpse Into My Life

...with photos more than words, this time. During 5th period World History, one girl spent a few minutes snapping pictures (which I was fine with, since she was paying attention & contributing to the discussion too). It so happens that there was an assortment of head-wear in my classroom at this time (Freshmen were keeping costumes for a video productions project in my room), and so I cycled through wearing a variety of hats during the course of the class period. No good reason, I was just being spontaneous. I like to try and keep the kids on their toes... not in the sense that they see me as unpredictable or untrustworthy, but in the sense that they come to class partially out of a desire to answer the question of "what will Mr. Gibson do today?"

Our topic du jour was "Civilization"--specifically examining hunters/gatherers. Our entry questions for this topic revolved around defining 'home', discussing why people move and how it feels to move, and also how we use/how much we use technology. What I came to realize is that a discussion of home/moving in a TCK (third culture kid) community is not such a far cry from the nomadic view of home/moving. They're not one and the same, obviously, but I think TCKs can put themselves in the shoes of nomadic groups so much easier than kids who have grown up in one non-international community.

You see, the kids in my class said without any hesitation that home is defined by family and the people around you. I feel like if I'd asked a similar question in the states, the answers would have started out at a much more concrete place--home is my house. Home is my town. Home is a physical location that I can point to on a map.

It was a good discussion, and illuminating for me as I listened to the very deep responses to questions about home and mobility. The technology discussion hit full force today and man, that was an AMAZING discussion--I mostly just sat back and let the kids talk back and forth and by the end of the period, both classes had settled on the realization that technology itself is not bad (in fact, we're created to develop technology), but rather people misuse it due to the corruption of sin. That took absolutely no hinting or prompting from me, whatsoever. I'm proud of my freshmen :)

Anyway, here are the pictures:

I gesture a lot. Wouldn't have it any other way.

"OOH. Good point."

Me doing my impression of a hick farmer (it's okay, I grew up on a farm so I'm allowed). My point was, society tends to look down on farmers as backwards and dumb, but one of THE biggest technological leaps in all of history was the advent of FARMING. Yeah.

"Mmkay now scramble up and discuss this question with someone who you're not sitting next to."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wayfarers all, revisited

A while back, I found this essay that I wrote as a Junior in college, over four years ago:

"Wayfarers all"

Every so often, I have one of those days where it feels as though the walls are closing in on me. My dorm room seems to shrink (which is an impressive feat), and the quiet life at Dordt just doesn't seem to cut it. Usually, when this happens, my roommates and I make a midnight WalMart run, just to get off campus. However, the harrowing late night journeys to the south side of Sioux Center just aren't enough anymore.

Something quiet and distant is calling out to me, beckoning me to travel and explore. I've heard it for a while now, and chosen to ignore it. But every time I ignore it and try to go on with the comfortable routine that I know so well, it comes back again, resolutely offering its persistent plea. The road is calling me, but I don't think that it is calling me westward, back home to Washington. Not yet, anyway. Instead, I find myself looking east, toward the Atlantic and beyond. Celtic ruins, historic battlefields, massive stone castles, ancient cities and other places which I cannot even imagine are calling out to me.

When I was home for Spring Break, I listened to a friend talk about some of his own travels overseas. His goal was to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro, but even getting to Africa was a horror story. He spent over 36 hours in Heathrow airport in London, trying to track down the elusive Ethiopia Airways, with whom he had booked his flight. As it turned out, Ethiopia Airways was literally just a desk and a chair, and it soon became apparent that he would have to make other arrangements. He got to Africa by the skin of his teeth, but landed 6 hours south of where he needed to be. So, he took a chain of city buses North until he arrived at Kilimanjaro. This horror story should have snuffed out any desire of mine to travel, but instead I found myself thinking about how cool it would be to have a story like that, of my own.

To use a tired cliche, I want to see the world. Ireland, Germany, France, Spain, Australia, New Zealand... Last semester, Dr. Fessler told our Civil War History class about how he dropped out of college for a semester to backpack around Europe. I don't know if I could do that, as I would be losing some valuable scholarships. But, if not now, when? Before I know it, I will have my own classroom, and I will be responsible for teaching high schoolers about World History. How will I be truly qualified to teach World History if I confine myself to two small Dutch communities in Washington and Iowa? I should be visiting a REAL Dutch community in the Netherlands, or perhaps an Italian community. There are limits to what I can learn sitting behind a desk or writing papers in my dorm room, and I think that I am approaching these limits.

I need to keep going about my business, reading my textbooks, taking my tests, and writing my papers. I have worked hard for nearly 6 semesters, and only have a couple more to go. However, even with the end in sight, I cannot help but feel distracted as I think about what lies just out of reach, beyond the cornfields, and across the ocean...

Huh. Japan wasn't even on my radar back then. It's amazing how God answers prayers, and not always in ways that we expect. Since I wrote this note, I've moved to Japan and lived here for nearly three years (minus summers). I've traveled as far north as Sendai and as far south as Nagasaki. I've learned enough of the language to function in coffee shops (though by no means do I intend to stop at 'kissaten no nihongo'). I've developed a love for sushi, nori and yaki niku. I was here when the earthquake happened and so part of my heart will always be with the Japanese people even if I move on someday. I've traveled to Hong Kong for Spring Break... taken pictures of the city lights from the top of Victoria's Peak... ridden in a swaying cable car up to the Buddhist mountain village of Ngong Ping... I've accompanied the Senior class to Thailand twice... I've sipped lime tea while watching the sun set on a flight from Bangkok to Chiang Rai... I've ridden an elephant (fun, but more uncomfortable than you'd think). Moreover, I finally feel like I've earned the right to teach World History. I realize now that I'll never know everything, but my desire to learn has increased. I may not know where I'll travel or how I'll get there, but I do know now that if a person truly wants to travel, God will open those doors for them, one way or another.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I think the sense of smell is underrated sometimes. When you think about it, most of our recreational activities involve one of the other senses: we READ books, we LISTEN to music, we MAKE things, we EAT as a means to enjoy good food and fellowship. Rarely, though, do we exercise our sense of smell for recreational purposes. No smelling parties, no smelling clubs... As a result, we tend to overlook the sense of smell or think of it as somehow less important.

Yet, out of all of our senses, it may be the sense of smell that is most closely tied to memory. Certainly no other sense has the ability to transport us back across the years and across space to a specific instant, a particular moment in our lives. It's the olfactory nerve that does this--the nerve that carries signals picked up by our sense of smell to the brain, interestingly enough, is only two synapses away from the amygdala (the part of the brain that processes emotion and emotional memory). The result is a fairly strong link between what we smell, and what we remember.

I was reminded of this yesterday as I walked back to school from the eki after church. It had rained at some point in the hour before, and so the ground was wet and there was that refreshing scent in the air--the one that almost always accompanies rain in the city. However, as I walked into the school plaza, right past the ramp up to the auditorium, a very strong sensation hit me. I caught the aroma of what seemed to be honey and earth--a very sweet, rich, full smell. BAM! Just like that, I was in the back field of my family's farm in Northwest Washington, the same sweet smell washing over me. The Cottonwood tree--the "balm of Gilead" tree, whose leaves gain a distinctive honey smell as they turn color and then drift to the ground.

Just as quickly as the moment came, I was back in the city, looking at leaves plastered on the ground by the rain. It had been such a strong, overwhelming feeling of familiarity... I simply stood and breathed in the pleasant scent for several minutes. I said a short prayer, thanking God for such cool moments and then went inside. I used my other senses quite a lot as I prepared for the coming week of school and as I ate my dinner, and slowly my sense of smell faded into the background in my mind. However, I could not forget that moment. We can skype with family and friends across the ocean, see and hear people and places that are thousands of miles away, but no other sense can simply pick us up and drop us somewhere else like the sense of smell can. We truly are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


As a writer, it is important to know when to say something and perhaps as important to know when to remain silent and get out of the way. So today, 9/11/11, I am simply going to get out of the way and let the Word express what I am thinking and feeling as I reflect on those tragic events which shook both of the nations that I call "home".
Psalm 62
For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David.

1 My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

3 How long will you assault a man?
Would all of you throw him down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
4 They fully intend to topple him
from his lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.

5 Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
7 My salvation and my honor depend on God[a];
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

9 Lowborn men are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie;
if weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
10 Do not trust in extortion
or take pride in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.

11 One thing God has spoken,
two things have I heard:
that you, O God, are strong,
12 and that you, O Lord, are loving.
Surely you will reward each person
according to what he has done.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Day at the Races...

…and what a day it was! The 2011 cross country season started off with a bang on a hot day at Tama Hills. Humid, with highs approaching 88˚F (31˚C), today felt like a return to mid-August—slightly warmer than the ideal climate for running.

Despite the sweltering heat, the CAJ teams started strong. Though we lost to St. Mary's and Seisen, there were a number of strong individual performances worth noting! The returning Middle School boys all matched or improved on their PRs from the previous season, and the newcomers had a strong first showing. Special mention goes to Kenji J, 7th grade, who placed 30th with a time of 15:22 on the 3.3K course, and Callum M, (also grade 7) who placed 55th with a time of 16:39.

Though there are only two middle school girls running this year, the girls, both 6th graders, had an outstanding showing this morning in their cross country debut. Ha Eun K. placed 17th with an impressive time of 17:20 on the 3.3K course (a time that would put her in the middle of the pack at the high school varsity level!) and Angela L. placed 52nd with a respectable time of 19:45.

The high school girls showed a high level of energy and promise, with three girls, Junior Ria K, Sophomore Misaki N, and Sophomore Runa S finishing 14th with a time of 15:41, 16th with a time of 15:51, and 19th with a time of 19:46, respectively, on the 3.3K course.

Compared to last year, the high school boys had the toughest act to follow, as the 2010 team (comprised of some very talented runners who have since graduated), won the Far East tournament. The make-up of the current team is almost completely different, with only several boys returning. Veteran runner Tsubasa K, Junior, led the team, placing 7th with a time of 16:31 on the 4.4K course. Newcomer Ryan H, Junior, placed 13th with a time of 17:27 in his cross-country debut, and newcomer Kye A, Sophomore, placed 17th with a time of 17:55 in his debut.

I’m extremely appreciative of the positive attitudes and hard work displayed by the runners today, and I am eager to watch each of them set goals and improve over the course of the season. Otsukaresama and Godspeed!

Friday afternoon

Teaching is not an 8:00-4:00 job where you punch in, become a teacher, punch out, and stop being a teacher. If you're a teacher, you're always a teacher, even when you're not in your classroom.

Sidenote: One of my pet peeves is when teachers do adopt this punch-clock mentality. If teaching is nothing more than a paycheck... why teach?

Back to the topic at hand: Long story short, it took me an hour to leave school today. 60 minutes to walk from the plaza to the bike parking lot (a walk that would ordinarily take 20 seconds). It seemed like I would take a few steps and then get into another long conversation with either a student or a colleague. Oh, I'm not complaining--not in the least! This lengthy end to the school-day was one of the many highlights of this week.

I love these conversations--conversations about how classes are going, conversations about how life is going aside from class, conversations about goals for the coming year, conversations about career goals, conversations about theology, conversations about faith... this afternoon had 'em all.

All this to say, I appreciate my students and the people I work with. I'm grateful for the community and the fact that this school environment doesn't encourage punch-clock-itis. It's fun to hear what colleagues are doing in their classes and it is such an encouragement to hear students thinking deeply about the world and about faith. Definitely a good end to the school-week.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Running to God

This marks my 31st blog post since I returned to Japan (which has been less than 31 days). I love writing, and it has been tremendously energizing to me to start writing regularly again--I enjoy working with words, of course, but beyond that, writing helps me to process what's going on in my life more deeply than I could otherwise.

It has also, in a lot of ways, challenged me to be more serious about my own faith. Having grown up in a Christian home, and consistently Christian settings, I have a tendency to be spiritually lazy. Coattail syndrome, let's call it. The logic, however faulty, is as follows: I don't have to be Christian all the time because there are so many Christians around me who will pick up the slack.

Okay, so my thought process about this has never been that crass, but at any rate, the fact remains that I have struggled my whole life to truly make the faith of my parents, mentors and community my own. Earlier this year, in the wake of an earthquake, then another earthquake, and then some fairly major losses within the community, I realized just how empty I was. I also realized that I tend to seek my escape, my respite, in things other than God and just wind up more empty.

So, my challenge to myself for this school-year is to pursue God, and pursue Him with every ounce of energy that I have and every spare second that I can remember. If a man is thirsty, does he slake his thirst by eating 20 packets of senbei? Certainly one would hope not... but that's what I've been doing, that's what I'm inclined to do. It's so illogical, so destructive, especially in light of the fact that there's a Fountain more refreshing than any mountain spring and it has been offered to us in spite of who we are. So I now run to the fountain and drink, again and again.

Writing helps me to do that. It reminds me to think about how richly blessed I am, about how big and how good God is. It reminds me to praise Him and thank Him, even on days when I am feeling tattered and drained. It's not a perfect process. I'm easily distracted... call it spiritual ADD. If I get the least bit stressed, or if something doesn't go the way I wanted it to, I complain about how bad I have it. All of my talk about God's mercy and blessings evaporate from my mind and my lips. So, I seek to remind myself again and again of the Joy that I have in my life as one of His creatures, as one who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Seriously--to be loved that much? It's overwhelming when you really think about it. To forget this truth is inexcusable. To forget this truth is also distinctly human.

That's why a vast number of my recent writings have revolved around faith. I'm not trying to look super-righteous, or just trying to talk the talk, and I hope it doesn't come across that way. If the content of my head and my heart were to be projected onto a big screen, you would see just how imperfect I am. It's scary sometimes. I write about faith as a challenge to myself, as a means to praise God and as a way of constantly reorienting the compass of my heart to seek Him. If others read and are similarly challenged and encouraged, so much the better.

"Find rest, my soul, in God alone, amid the world's temptations! When evil seeks to take a hold, I'll cling to my salvation." Alleluia!

Two Weeks In

It's been quite a week--a good one, at that. Getting to start my day off with Tully's coffee almost every day this week, sitting out under the trees in the plaza--blissful! Classes are continuing to go well, pretty much across the board. Today, I had the opportunity to talk through rhetorical fallacies with my Humanities students as they worked on skits/videos in small groups, and had some fun bouncing examples off of them and hearing them come up with good examples, themselves.

In World History, I had the opportunity to hear a number of very solid storytellers from among the ranks of the freshmen class. As a teacher who has students do a lot of presentations, the ease, enthusiasm and confidence that I see in my students at this point in the year tells me that I can focus on teaching more advanced public speaking skills since the kids seems to have a solid foundation already. Very exciting!

Then, in 6th period English 11, I had my students read the poem "Sure, you can ask me a personal question" by Diane Burns (a wonderfully sarcastic piece written as a one-sided dialogue responding to common stereotypes about Native Americans). I then assigned my students to write their own one-sided dialogue addressing stereotypes that they commonly face, whether based on their ethnicity, gender or age. This lead to a series of great conversations with small groups about stereotypes and where they come from.

Cross country is going pretty well, too--definitely a different atmosphere than last year's team (a strong group of 8th grade leaders last year... this team is younger--primarily 6th and 7th graders). Still, I think that they will do well, and that the first race on Saturday will remind the kids of what they are working toward in practices. Middle schoolers are funny, man. Here's a snippet of dialogue from after practice on Tuesday:
"Coach, how old are you?"
"EHHH? You're so young!"
"I was 22 when I started working here, so compared to that, I'm not so young anymore!"
"Are you married?"

Turns out answering this question was a big mistake because what followed for the next 10 minutes solid was 6 different middle schooler's opinions on who I should go out with--I think they listed every single woman in the community.

"Look guys... I'm content being single for now. I'm pushing myself to seek God first in everything that I do. It's hard to explain, but I believe that I need to preoccupy myself in striving to develop my relationship with the Lord. Someday, and I'm not sure when, a woman who is just as preoccupied in pursuing God will bump into me, and without missing a beat, we'll just keep the journey going together!"

...At least, that's what I would've said, if I had been able to get in a word edge-wise. Not exaggerating, the middle schoolers' excited chatter about how they were going to play matchmaker didn't let up for even a second until I told them to get changed and go home. Fortunately, they'd forgotten all about their elaborate schemes by Thursday's practice. They are entertaining and good-hearted kids, and I appreciate them even when they try to play puppet-master on my life. I hope I can be an encouragement and positive influence for them... I tend to be at my most tired and uninspired right after school and digging deep is a must.

So yeah... that's my week. I'm ready for the weekend, but Fridays tend to infuse both teachers and students alike with energy we didn't know we had. Thank God for Fridays!

Oh, and I'm not sure who will read this, or if anybody will read this far into this post, but if you do... I'd appreciate prayer as I will be speaking in chapel next Wednesday and I'm currently mulling over what to talk about. Thanks.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


When you're a child, it's easy to believe that the adults in your life have everything figured out; you think to yourself, "they know what they're doing" and then you curl up and fall asleep in the backseat.

Only as we grow older do we discover the truth: there was quite a lot that our parents improvised--simply made up as they went. We learn this when we reach our early to mid 20s and discover that there's no training seminar on how to be a grown-up. We may have a college diploma at our disposal: a piece of paper that proves that we're competent to work in one field or another (anything from teaching to journalism to working as a lab technician). Yet, that certificate is no guarantee of our competency to live as adults... it simply means that we knew how to succeed in the still-relatively-controlled environment of school.

Learning to be independent, learning to pay taxes, to rent and furnish an apartment, to eat healthy while cooking for oneself... these things take work. Throw in marriage and family, and that's a lot to juggle. For most of these tasks, we won't have someone looking over our shoulder, giving us constant guidance and feedback. Help is there when we ask for it, but ultimately, as adults we are expected to accomplish these tasks ourselves.

This was a revelation that struck me this past week one morning as I was setting up my classroom for the coming day. It dawned on me that I was the grown-up in the classroom and had been for a few years. When did that happen?! It really is a quiet transition that sneaks by without any fanfare. In some ways, childhood seems so recent. Certainly adolescence seems recent. I tell my students stories from my high school years that seem so fresh in my mind until I lead off with something like, "I started my freshmen year in fall of 2000, so this story happened 11 years ago." When I was a freshmen, 11 years was nearly an entire lifetime. When I was a freshmen, my current freshmen students were toddlers. And, here's something I literally just realized that affects my plans for class this week: Walking into class this coming Friday and asking my kids what they remember about 9/11 is probably not a fruitful idea. Hmm... change of plans.

So, I accept and embrace the fact that I'm a grown-up. Even though I feel a little frustrated, lost and clueless about what adulthood entails at times, I take solace in the fact that surely I am not the first to feel this way, nor will I be the last--and many others who felt this way turned out fine. For now, I need to learn how to be an adult... a scary prospect--a little sad (au revoir, childhood), but mostly exciting. Right now, at this very moment, being an adult means taking care of myself, recognizing that I'm tired and feeling under the weather, and going to bed. And so, I close my semi-stream-of-consciousness ramble on adulthood. Goodnight!