Wednesday, November 30, 2011

(Giant sigh noise)

It had been a while since I'd put so much energy into a single day of teaching:

Before school and during 1st period prep, I was in the staff workroom grading essays.

2nd and 3rd period, I handed back the finished essays (it was good to hear the collective "Ehhh?!" when I told the students that I was returning the essays they'd written the day before. It wasn't just a fast turnaround by my own standards--it was a fast turnaround by sane human being standards. In other words, when I have a family of my own, I won't be able to just disappear into grading for the better part of 24 hours like I did yesterday and this morning). Then, I led a workshop on writing introductions, using our impending unit essay as a guinea pig. The kids formed peer editing groups; I talked briefly about the importance of a clear and specific thesis in setting an organized foundation for the paper, and also about what constitutes a good hook. Then the kids got to work, and really used their time very well. I told them not to pressure themselves too much: if they got to the end of class and didn't like what they'd written, they could simply throw it away and start over... and only have lost a paragraph.

After writing rough intros, I had them share with their peer editing groups for feedback. Then I had the kids print out their intros without their names on them. I laid the anonymous intros out around the room with stacks of post-it notes nearby, and had the kids go around the room, reading and commenting on as many intro paragraphs as they could. At the end of class, they picked up their intros (now full of post-its) and left. We'll follow up on the comments tomorrow.

During 4th and 5th, I lectured (which I rarely do, but it's a lecture I've given many times before and am relatively comfortable with) on the intertestamental period--we're studying the Rise of Christianity in World History and so the lecture was a supplement to an article they'd read. I love that I can have my WH students do so much independent research and work, but it is nice to occasionally just have a class period where I talk to and with them, tell stories and try to present an interesting and engaging lecture. Not my ideal teaching style, but I feel like it went well. This said, performance always takes it out of me. I was thoroughly exhausted after being "on" for two 50-minute class periods.

6th period, my English students were writing an in-class essay. I fielded questions, but mostly enjoyed the chance to sit for the first time since before school. My goal is to have those essays graded by Monday.

7th period, I introduced and talked about my middle school runners at the MS pep assembly. I enjoyed that opportunity--It was good to publicly recognize and compliment my team, and reaffirm their hard work. I also extended an invitation for more kids to join--I tried to sell XC but may have under-cut my own argument when I asked a 6th grader to describe the course that the kids ran on, and he mentioned how difficult it was. "By the end, we were all dead", he said.

"Not literally, as you can tell", I said, pointing at the kids who were very much alive.

Now I'm preparing for the next round of essays--I've got half the in-class essays graded from yesterday's Humanities class, and I have 12 more to go. Then, I'll start in on the English class' essays.

Today is and has been anything but dull, and I like that. I don't think this is a pace I could keep up indefinitely, but I am really okay being this busy sometimes.


Back to work!

Grading, Grading, Grading

So, it seems my advent reflections will not be a daily thing--I'm a tad pressed for time after a full evening of grading and watching the first basketball games of the season (and still with more grading I'd like to get done). I can promise that the advent reflections will be frequent... just not daily. Next year, I'll have to plan out ahead of time what I'm going to write about so that I have a real sense of direction going in.

Instead, this evening, I'd just like to share a bit of what's been on my mind for the last 48 hours. In case the title of this post and the previous paragraph didn't give it away, I've been spending a lot of time grading. When I haven't been grading, I've been thinking about grading.

I won't lie to you, dear readers: Grading is the part of my job that I like the least. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I sometimes hate it. It requires an extra measure of motivation for me to start grading. However, once I get started, I am a grading MACHINE!!!! In my Junior classes, we are coming up on the end of the semester in January, which will coincide with the end of our current (and very long) unit on "American Buzzwords: Freedom, Equality and Diversity". As the kids prepare to begin writing their final unit essay, which will address a question related to one of those major themes and incorporate examples from history, literature, Scripture, class discussions and personal experience, I've been trying to prep them for the writing expectations.

I feel like I did an inadequate job of preparing my kids to write last year--I'm much better at teaching presentation and speaking skills. The reason is, I had to struggle to learn how to be an effective public speaker myself and so I am very familiar with the process of learning attached to presentation. Writing, however, has been as natural to me as swimming is to a duck--I suppose there's a period of time where a duckling doesn't know how to swim, but this is a fleeting moment soon eclipsed in memory by a lifetime spent on the water. I don't remember a time where I struggled with writing. I always scored high on writing assignments in school. I never proofread my own work. My classmates never had any criticism for my writing on the rare occasion that teachers required peer editing. It felt good at the time, but, as it turns out, it was poor preparation for eventually teaching others how to write.

Rereading that last paragraph, I come across as arrogant. I know I am not God's gift to writing: I found that out in an advanced expository writing class that I took in college (first time I ever got a B on a writing assignment--it really shook the core of my identity at the time). I tend to use elevated diction (fancy way of saying I use big words too much), I lack organization and structure, I ramble sometimes... Professor Schaap wasn't one to sugarcoat, and I discovered that I had much to learn.

I still do. I guess that's why I'm blogging regularly, so I can practice and improve my writing. For instance, I now can tell that I'm rambling. Back to the main topic...

Grading. I find that I teach writing best by grading. While it takes a nudge to get started (a nudge that I prayed for in a blogpost several days back... God answered with a full-out shove), I do find the process intriguing. Two days ago, I graded AP essays on the Scarlet Letter as a diagnostic for my AP students' writing abilities. This evening, I started grading in-class essays as a diagnostic on the entire classes' writing abilities. I am actually enjoying reading through and making comments. The quality ranges from good, to bad, to barely legible, but in every case, I enjoy the challenge of thinking of comments that will encourage the kids, and comments that will push them to improve.

I've probably graded 30 essays over the past 48 hours... I'm settling into a good pace. My goal is to keep it up through the next two weeks so that I do not need to bring a huge stack to my parents' house over Christmas (where I know my pace will inevitably falter).

I am also going to try having the kids workshop some parts of the writing process in class so that they do not put off starting their rough drafts until the night before it is due, like I would have done. Hmm... I guess I can apply some of what I learned in school to my own teaching after all!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not just a word, but The Word

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." (John 1:1-5)

When I was a child, the opening chapters of John were my least favorite out of all of the Gospels. I much preferred the Nativity story found in Matthew and Luke, the familiar account of Christ's birth, the celebration of the angels and the shepherds, the gift of the magi, Joseph & Mary's daring flight to Egypt... John's introductory passages just confused me.

However, as I've gotten older, my perspective on these important verses has deepened. Christ's birth is a wonderful story, but we must not for a moment forget that Christ's story predates His own birth! We learn something profound, something fundamental about the nature of God in these verses: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Christ was not just a man who lived a good life worth emulating--He was, is God incarnate!

This strikes me for two particular reasons: First of all, the realization of Christ's deity and existence outside of time makes the story of His death and resurrection all the more significant--God's plan for our redemption was not a whim, but something that had been in the works even when humans first rebelled against God in Eden. Second, the nativity is made all the more meaningful when cast in the light of God becoming human. One who is eternal, all-powerful, all-good voluntarily becoming a weak human being, capable of being hurt and even killed... Even in this, He was still wholly God, but His holiness was perhaps underlined by the contrast to the weakness of the human vessel.

O magnum mysterium... though difficult for my own weak and limited human mind to fathom, there is nothing quite so amazing!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Finding My Voice as a Teacher, year 3

Last year, when my classes were going extremely well and I was feeling very good about my 2nd year of teaching, one of my own former teachers gently warned me: "It's nice when you prepare yourself for a challenging year in the classroom, and then it goes smoothly. Unfortunately, it's not always so easy. Just wait for the year down the road that catches you off-guard."

I didn't want to have to heed that warning, but I knew it would be true. In some ways, it's been true of this year--the challenges have not exactly caught me off-guard, but still, it has been a tougher year than I anticipated.

I learned a lot through my successes and the good times last year, and I am learning a lot through my struggles, failings and frustrations this year. The biggest lesson is this:

I can find a teaching style that works for me, but it won't always work for the students. One size does not fit all.

Pretty basic Ed. 101 stuff, especially when considering the topic of differentiation in the classroom. Unfortunately, it's a truth that a teacher really needs to experience and wrestle with to fully understand and appreciate.

The style I developed last year was one where I gave the kids a lot of slack, a lot of independence. The kids rose to the occasion and used their time very well. I saw some high-quality work emerge as a result and the kids were often very excited and passionate about their work, having taken ownership of their learning. This, in turn, made me more excited and passionate about teaching. It was a positive reciprocal relationship, a healthy classroom environment.

For future teachers out there: Not every group should be given so much independence, at least not so early; in one case it might generate a very positive and healthy situation and in another it might lend itself to chaos and wasted time. This doesn't make a given group better or worse... just different. Different needs, different strengths, different readiness...

I teach 3 subjects this year. For privacy's sake (since I know I have students who keep up with this blog), I won't identify the classes by name. Also for students who read this, please do know that I'm not complaining about you, but rather identifying struggles both on the part of the class and on my part as the teacher.

One class is highly independent and highly motivated, and the teaching style that I developed last year fits their learning style like a glove. In discussions, they even identified this as optimal: "We enjoy it when the teacher gives us a question to discuss, and then backs up and lets us wrestle with it ourselves." This is not true of everyone in the class, but it's certainly true of the majority--enough so that it has become part of that class' personality and atmosphere, and even students who struggle to work independently are supported in meeting expectations.

Another class** is very high-need. I've made the mistake of persisting with very independent assignments and projects, and while it is clear that some students are ready and will rise to the occasion, many are not ready for that level of independence. My solution so far has been to try methods that I've seen fail, again and again, only to be frustrated again and again. I feel upset, bored, burned out, and a variety of other negative emotions when I see so many students not using their time wisely, and even distracting their classmates from using their time well. Clearly, they do not see the value in what we're learning that I want them to see--it's easy to blame the students, but I need to first examine what I could do better to motivate the students and convey my passion for what we're learning. Just because whatever I did last year worked for last year's class doesn't mean that it will work again this year.

Recently, it occurred to me that I need to model independent learning; teach independent learning; train students to be capable and thrive when learning on their own. Note that this does not require me to abandon my core philosophies of classroom instruction and learning--I genuinely do believe that the best learning occurs when the students themselves take ownership of understanding. However, in my day-to-day style, it will require an adjustment as I strive to meet the class where they are and bring them to where I want them to be. Easier said than done. All of the plans that I've got developed from last year were based on the assumption that students would be ready for independent work from the get-go, and I will have to step back to square one in a lot of ways. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, this does not make one group any better or more capable than another group... just in a different starting place and in need of different methods. They'll ultimately wind up in the same place as last year's students, and I really do believe this. It'll just take a different approach, and different learning experiences than the students had last year.

I'm busy, constantly exhausted, usually feeling some degree of stress... how can I carve out the time to re-work my teaching style and to some extent even my curriculum as I think through how to teach independence, and prepare the students to take ownership of their learning? When things aren't going well, it's very tempting to give up. I must confess I've felt like giving up on the high-needs class more than usual over the past few weeks and it really is not a fun place to be as a teacher. Nor is it a particularly admirable knee-jerk reaction for a teacher--with a class like that, my first instinct should be to ask "how can I address the needs of this group?"

Man. It's frustrating to know what best practice is, but struggle to see how to achieve it. Christmas break will be a valuable time to regroup and rethink my strategy. In the meantime, I must pray for patience for when the kids' lack of understanding and/or motivation wears on me, empathy to understand that they are likely frustrated as well, and the dedication to stop at nothing in figuring out how to teach them.

It looks so easy in print...

**The third class is a different story altogether. Highly motivated, but in need of structure before they can learn to work independently. Also a group that thrives when given a challenge--I need to think carefully about how best to provide this.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Making the Final Approach Above December

...and the conditions aren't great--sleet; the runway is icy; a strong tailwind consistently blowing at speeds in excess of 45 mph...

No, really, it's not as grim as that. It's just that life is somewhat overwhelming right now--a lot to accomplish, a lot to navigate. I won't crash and burn (or at least, I don't think I will), but I also know that getting through the next three weeks will require energy that I myself do not have.

I need to work on my coping mechanisms in times like these. Between fight or flight, I inevitably flee or freeze up like a deer in the headlights. I need to dive in and tackle each obstacle and responsibility in front of me head-on, and do this without hesitation... however, I am bad at this.

So, I do the only thing I can do, and I pray for the strength to persevere, and the desire to follow God through the tangled brambles of responsibilities and challenges that the next few weeks will hold. It's all too easy to do my own thing, and doing my own thing has never ended well for me. Maybe I'll learn and be able to follow my own advice this time.

I'm an escapist, through and through. When will I learn that escapism is neither restful or productive? I won't find myself restored, nor will I find myself any closer to having what I need to do accomplished. True rest comes from trusting in God and that trust is lived out through engaging what's in front of me. What's tough is this stage right now where I know I should trust and I want to be able to trust, but for some reason I don't trust, and therefore, I am not moving forward. It sucks.

Father, I'm standing on the edge of a couple very important weeks: lots to do, lots to decide, lots to endure. My ability to trust seems to be so thin that it has disappeared with the ease and comfort of earlier times; nudge me over the edge, Lord, and equip me to trust you as I take action and make decisions. Amen.


Today I went downtown for the Kanto Plains Speech Contest at Seisen, where I met two students. We were not there to compete--simply to watch and see if this was maybe something we'd be interested in, in coming years. Short answer: absolutely, we're interested!

We saw a wide selection of performances today: Multiple readings (short original scenes acted out by large groups), storytelling, informative speeches, persuasive speeches, dramatic duo acts, poetry recitation, humorous and extemporaneous speeches.

Watching these performances, and watching the excitement of the kids who were with me reminded me of how much I enjoy teaching speech and performance skills. My teaching style tends to very project-based, work that allows the students to be independent. Speech and performance add a coaching dimension to that teaching style that is missing when I teach history or English. In a weird way, I actually prefer teaching speech over the other subjects that I am responsible for. I have a sense of what's good and what isn't; I'm capable of demonstrating effective speaking, and I am developing nuance in training these skills in my students.

I would love to teach a pure speech class, as I am confident that I'd do a good job and get people excited. However, given my current teaching load, it's a crazy dream at this point... I'd have to give up something else. Still, I am seriously thinking about trying to set up a club or informal team, perhaps meeting after school every so often to begin training for next year. I think there would be solid buy-in from the students, and that we'd have the potential to do very well.

I've still got a ways to go before I feel like my skills as an English and History teacher are smoothed out to the point of the job being second nature, but I genuinely believe that I'd be starting a lot closer to that point in teaching speech! This could be my thing--that's exciting!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

So This is How I'm Spending Thanksgiving

I'm currently "locked in" with the Junior class. They seem to be having a good time (they are playing games in the gym), and I am getting some good grading done (I have a tough time forcing myself to sit down and read essays, as I'm a slow reader... I anticipate a productive night ahead!). Still, the fact remains that I will be up late, possibly all night. I definitely don't recover from all-nighters as quickly or gracefully as I did back in college. Man, I am getting too old for this...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Things I am Thankful For, part 3

My family. Right now, we are in three separate locations (usually it's four):

My parents are in Washington State,
My brother and sister are in Wheaton, Illinois (my brother flew out from Denver to visit her)
and I'm in Tokyo.

Despite the distance, I keep in almost weekly touch with all of them (it's been a while since I've chatted with Lea; I better fix that this weekend!), and they are a huge part of my life. My parents' support, encouragement and faith are partially responsible for my moving to Japan (even when that seemed like the scariest change in the world to me), and for me staying here. Even through the quake, tsunami and radiation scares that caused so many other state-side parents to panic, my parents remained calm and supportive of my decision to stay. They are both wise and thoughtful, and I appreciate them tremendously.

My siblings are two of my closest friends--my brother has been for a long time, as he's close in age to me and I've gotten closer to my sister recently (increasingly since I left home after high school). They share my sense of humor and though we are vastly different personalities, we're often on the same wavelength (especially noticeable when we play Apples to Apples... maybe other sibling sets know what I'm talking about). Anyway, I love them both and genuinely wish I could fly out to Chicago to be with them, even if only for a day or two. I guess I can wait till Christmas, though :)

In short--I love my family and am ever-grateful for them!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Things I am Thankful For, part 2

My health. I complain whenever I have a cold or a headache, and that's because, really, I'm quite healthy. I know that this isn't the case for so many people, even my age. My job keeps me busy enough, and I cannot imagine having to worry about major health issues. My health is not a blessing that I think about often, but it's one that I am constantly benefiting from. I'm so grateful!

Things I am Thankful For, part 1

Although I will be in school for part of the day on Thanksgiving, and will not have a chance to celebrate the holiday any more than an evening meal, I thought it would be good to reflect on things that I'm grateful for in my life, as I think of them. So, the first thing I'm thankful for is my job. 3 years ago, I was driving to Wheaton to meet up with my brother (we would then drive up to Grand Rapids for Thanksgiving). I had no idea what I was going to do once I finished student teaching. Absolutely none.

Now, 3 years later, I have a job that I love, even when it is overwhelming and stressful. I enjoy the kids that I get to teach, and I appreciate my colleagues. At CAJ, I have learned how to be a teacher. I'm still learning, and CAJ is so incredibly instrumental in that growth. As I made that long trip out to Chicago just a short few years ago, I never would have guessed that I'd be moving to Japan 5 weeks later, or that I'd still be in Japan years later. Just goes to show that sometimes what God has planned is so much better than what we expect, or could ever imagine.

To my future wife...

I am not sure if we know each other yet. Perhaps we've met, but do not know each other well right now. Perhaps we'll meet tomorrow. Perhaps not for a while.

In any case, I've been thinking a lot about you lately. Or maybe 'thinking' isn't the right word: one thinks about what they know, and wonders about what they don't. So, I've been wondering about you a lot... what you're like, what your favorite food is, what kind of music you listen to, whether you're a soprano or an alto... you know, really profound stuff.

I guess I've been getting impatient recently. It seems like with every passing year, more and more of my friends and classmates from both high school and college are getting married and at times like that, I can't help but wonder when our moment will come.

I wonder if you've been feeling the same way.

I wonder if you've been wondering about me, too.

I know that this is a "God thing"; something that will happen when it is supposed to, and not a minute sooner or later. My head knows this, but I wish my heart were more trusting.

Anyway, I just want you to know that I've been praying for you, wherever you are. I've been praying for patience for you, in addition to me; praying that you're content with where you are right now; praying that you are striving after God wholeheartedly; praying that you feel loved and encouraged by the people around you. Praying that you and I both can trust in God's timing.

As much as I might want to, I can't pray for God to rush things--His timing is perfect, and what we're living right now is shaping us into who we'll be as husband and wife someday. For something so important, I don't want to cut corners or miss a minute!

You may never read this (though I'm hoping you value my ability to write, so it's possible you'll track this down). If you do read this someday, just know that I've been praying for you and praying for us long before there was an "us".

I'll see you when I see you!

Love, your future husband,

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Morning Psalm

It never ceases to amaze me
that the One who built the universe,
who spoke into being every last star
in the galaxies and also every last pattern
on the tiniest shell at the beach,
should care about me.

I, too, was created for a purpose,
and so often I fail to live up to this purpose
and even run from it; from the One who made me.

Father, fill me with wonder and a passion
for you, for your creation.
May my reaction to your glory always be
to fall on my knees and praise you,
to give all that I am to you.

Take my heart, Lord, and break down the plaque
that has grown up around it, and made it indifferent to you.
Restore my heart, O God, and fill it with a desire to
follow you and nothing else on this earth.

May this be my prayer, now and always.


(Sunrise in ThaTon, Thailand in Mar, 2011)

A Letter to the Class of 2012

To the class of 2012 (with some explanations and asides thrown in for others):

There must be a positive correlation between the number of hours I spend teaching and my desire to sit on comfortable furniture.

7th period typically finds me on a couch in the Senior lounge. Not having you in class this year, it's a great opportunity to catch up and talk with whoever happens to be in the lounge for study hall. Don't mistake me--I often get a lot accomplished, whether that is grading or responding to emails, and I try my best not to distract you so that you can accomplish things too. However, some days, there are conversations that must trump both my work and yours.

Today was such a day. At approximately 3:00, we started talking about the 10 Commandments, which was related to what some of you were studying in Bible class. We talked about the purpose of the 10 Commandments and from there, embarked into deep waters, discussing the sovereignty of God, the reason why Israel was chosen and how that "chosen-ness" has been expanded through Christ, the debate between predestination and free will, the balance between God's judgment and God's mercy, the nature of sin, the scope and power of general revelation, eschatology, love vs. lust, the true nature of love, and likely some other questions that I'm now forgetting. We managed to talk substantially about each of these things because this discussion lasted until nearly 5 pm.

When we started talking, there were only a few of us in the lounge. By the end, there were roughly 10 of us. I just want to tell you how much I appreciate and enjoy these discussions, and the fact that you listen so carefully to my opinion is an honor that I do not deserve, but will cherish all the same.

I was saddened last year when I found out that choosing to take on World History 9 would mean dropping Bible 12 (and therefore, not teaching your class). I made the right choice, but it was not the easy choice--over the trials and unprecedented challenges of the last school year, I bonded with your class in a way that I may never bond with another class again in my entire career. To my current and future classes, please do not take umbrage: I sincerely hope I don't bond in the same way with another class, because that would mean enduring another major natural disaster and death of a fellow student together.

I got along with your class to begin with, but factoring in the impact of several devastating traumas in a quick succession like that, we developed a camaraderie that can only be borne out of shared grief. Though I realize the comparison is limited, I think of it as being like the bond that soldiers share even after they return from war. Together, they confronted death and worked through feelings of terror, shock and loss. To endure such things together requires developing a heightened level of empathy and providing a unique kind of support, love and encouragement. What we went through last year was nowhere as extreme as battle, but we still forged that kind of relationship as a classroom. That probably won't happen again, nor do I want it to. Nor, I expect, do you.

Recognizing the rarity (and painful creation) of what we developed, I deeply value my relationship with you, the class of 2012, and these opportunities to talk about life mean so much to me. I remember where you were in August last year--still sophomores in so many ways, and though you have always been a bright and studious class, your perspective of the world was still so very narrow.

Today, I spoke with a group of wise individuals who asked brilliantly deep and piercing questions about human nature and the nature of God. I spoke with a group that was patient, empathetic, willing to listen and willing to think. College may yet seem far away (after all, there's much to do over the next 6 months), but take it from one who has worked with you and watched you grow over these past years: you are so much closer to college than you are to your sophomore year, and even your junior year.

CAJ's mission is to equip students to impact the world for Christ. You may snicker and laugh because, yes, it is CAJ-speak, and you've heard it a million times before. However, I am here to tell you that it's clearly no joke because you are nearly ready to impact the world for Christ and that is obvious to anyone who looks. You may have doubts and questions that you have yet to wrestle with, but you're asking the right questions and you are seeking answers in the most thoughtful and responsible way. I have faith that you'll change the world, and I couldn't be more honored to have been a part of your journey.

Love in Christ,
Mr. Gibson

P.S. I am looking forward to many more profound conversations in the lounge yet this year!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tohoku Trip

November 2010:
Several intense days of Parent-Teacher conferences. A month and a half since our last break from school. A busy couple of weeks until Christmas. It was Thanksgiving morning, and I could not have been happier, because despite the busyness and stress surrounding the day, the weekend would be a welcome respite. I was on my way north to Takayama, a small missionary retreat near Sendai. Though I had only been to Tak (as the families who stay there affectionately call it) twice before, I'd immediately felt a special connection to the place. It reminded me of the ocean-side cabin that my family traveled to for a few days most summers throughout my childhood and even up till now. Even more than that, it was a temporary escape from the urban jungle of Tokyo. The beaches were quiet, despite the hustle and bustle of the surrounding fishing village of Shichigahama. This was a place where I felt peaceful.

November 2011
Parent-teacher conferences. Cross country Far East. Knowing that virtually everyone else besides me had enjoyed at least some vacation the previous week. This was what I was feeling on Friday, November 11. The rain was beating down on the school van in droves as we drove north. I was traveling to Tak for the first time in nearly a year. This time, it would not be a leisurely trip of quiet wandering along the beach and lazy afternoons spent on the electric rug in the cabin reading. I was heading north to help with relief work on Saturday and return to Tokyo on Sunday. Despite being stressed and tired, this felt somehow more important than rest. I needed to do this.

November 2010
The very first thing I did after helping to unload the van was to walk down the hill to the beach. I approached the water and stood at precisely the point where the waves lapped up against the tips of my shoes before retreating. I simply stood and watched the ocean; listened to the rhythmic and inexorable crashing of the waves; breathed in the salty sea air; scanned the horizon in wondrous reunion with wide open space.

I'm a farm-boy and though I am very far from those roots now, that part of me is irremovable. I don't think about how much I miss wide open spaces and the quiet beauty of nature while I'm in Tokyo, and in fact there's much that I love about the city. However, I cannot deny that returning to the countryside (whether that's the farm where I grew up in Washington, or the beach at Takayama) fills me with awe and refreshes my soul.

November 2011
We arrived at Tak late, well after dark. As I helped to unload the van, I could hear the familiar roar of the ocean and felt a twinge of sadness that it was too late to walk down to the beach and simply stand near the water. The next day, we drove to our work-site. Though much clean-up had happened since March 11, the signs of ruin were still obvious: houses with the first floor demolished, but the second floor surprisingly intact, empty foundations where buildings had once stood, the vague outline of the water-level still imprinted on many structures, the occasional abandoned, wrecked car.

November 2010
On Friday, I went down to a wooded area to ride dirt bike on the trails with some of my students whose families were also staying at Tak for Thanksgiving. We enjoyed taking turns speeding over the bumpy trails and along the concrete breakwater overlooking the beach. That evening, the several families staying at Tak gathered together for a giant Thanksgiving dinner. After eating our fill of turkey, we were visited by an old fisherman, a lifelong friend of many at Tak. He brought a big plate of raw seafood for everyone. Some of it would have been very appetizing had I not just eaten a large meal.

November 2011
We worked on an old farmhouse which was very spacious--especially considering that it belonged to an old lady who lived alone. Though we never met this lady, I wondered who she was and what her life had been like as I helped to take out cracked walling. Several of the Samaritan's Purse workers who had helped to set up our work-day stopped by during the late afternoon to check up on us. They told us several stories that they'd heard from local families about March 11. The one that had the biggest impression on me was a story about a family that had seen the tsunami coming from their house. They didn't see waves or water--things you might expect to see at a time like that... instead, they saw a storm of dust and debris blowing toward them along the horizon. The water was so powerful that it actually sent a gust of wind ahead of it strong enough to create a wall of dust. The family climbed into their car, pulled out the driveway and sped toward the highway, since that ran along a hill and would be the safest place to wait. Unfortunately, they ran into a traffic jam a good distance from the highway, and so they got out of their cars and ran. They made it to the top of the hill and onto the highway a minute before the wave hit.

Later, I went for a walk in the same wooded area where I'd ridden dirt-bike only a year before. It was virtually unrecognizable: the breakwater was missing huge chunks, the trees within 20 meters of the breakwater were simply gone, the rest of the trees had been pathetically thinned out, and there were huge piles of garbage lining the edge of the woods.

I stood near the ocean and, as I'd done the year before, simply watched and listened. How could it be that this ocean had been the vehicle of so much destruction and damage? Had anyone been walking along the breakwater and been swept away when the first wave hit? How many had lost their lives? How many had lost their homes? How was it possible that this ocean, with its predictable routines and rhythms had done something so unpredictable and overstepped its bounds by so much? Why had all of this happened?

Feelings of frustration, bewilderment and anger that I'd not felt since Spring resurfaced at that moment and I prayed a tearful prayer for patience and understanding.

November 2010
On Saturday evening, I walked along the beach at sunset and took pictures. Again, I spent time just standing near the water. As I watched the sunset, and admired the glow over the water, everything felt right. Despite the stresses and worries of life, God had painted a spectacular scene that now made those problems vanish from my mind. I was safe. I was at peace. I was reminded that God is Lord of all creation: water, earth and sky. In His hands, I could find respite.

November 2011
Watching the sunrise over the ocean just before loading the van to leave, I was reminded of why I'd felt so at peace the last time I'd visited Tak. Terrible things had happened since then, but the most important fact hadn't changed: God was still Lord of all creation, still in control of all things. As I absorbed the vastness and beauty of the morning scene, my anguished "why?!" suddenly seemed trivial. God is so much bigger than we can even begin to fathom and we cannot understand His purposes or His plans. We also know that we can trust Him even in the midst of chaos, even when our hearts ache and we cry out in hurt and confusion. The sunrise over the water heralded the start of a new day in Sendai, and as we drove home, I saw evidence of a new day dawning in so many other respects: repair and reconstruction happening tirelessly throughout the city and countryside. Businesses newly reopened. Friends smiling and chatting while waiting to cross the street. Hope is abundant, and though the destruction was great, the cause of that destruction is now firmly in the past--hope is now and hope is in the future. I pray that God will reveal Himself to the people of Sendai as they rebuild their lives. He is the source of all hope and though we are too small and limited to understand how God works, we know that He is faithful. Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

I have a cynical side, and this cynical side comes up a lot in my history teaching. In fact, this cynical side in many ways informs how I teach history--not that this is all bad... could you, in good conscience, teach a class of high school juniors that Christopher Columbus was a hero who discovered a new world? I like poking holes in unexamined traditions and myths. I do this sometimes with holidays, too.

It's common knowledge, of course, that many popular elements of the Christmas season as we know it were derived from pagan traditions among Germanic tribes over a thousand years ago. In fact, there's no evidence to suggest that Christ was born in the winter at all--even the timing of the holiday has secular origins. BUT (and this is a big 'but'), I cannot poke holes in the Christmas season, like I do with Columbus and the undeserved holiday that bears his name.

Regardless of when Christ was born, Christmas is more than a day of recognition--it's a celebration; the culmination of an entire season of looking ahead, anticipating.

Take a step back in time with me, if you will, to Israel under Roman rule. You are living in the land that God promised to your forefathers, but something isn't right. Perhaps you have a vague awareness that the problems run deeper than your Roman oppressors, and perhaps not. Either way, you're waiting for something... or someone. In Scripture, you read (or if you're illiterate, hear) Isaiah's prophecies about a savior. If you're especially perceptive, you may connect the dots to other parts of Scripture and recognize that God had planned this long before the time of Isaiah.

So, you wait. Perhaps in agony. Definitely in bondage. You yearn for the day when your chains will be broken by this promised Messiah, who you ardently pray will come within your lifetime:

"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel!"

Now, we step back into our modern times. We know what the Hebrew people at the time could not even guess--that the ransom would be infinite in cost, and that the captivity wasn't merely political, but spiritual!

Christ came, the Son of God born as a human child. His arrival was heralded by angels, and celebrated by shepherds. Today, His birth is celebrated by hundreds of millions (even though many do not understand what they celebrate any more than the post-Exilic Hebrews understood).

We are waiting, too. Waiting for Christ to return and for the renewal of all things to be made complete. Christ dealt the decisive blow to sin and death when He rose from the dead, but even a dying monster is still dangerous. We can still be snared by sin, though its days are numbered. We are still (or will be) struck down by death. We await the day when the victory will be complete, when the Messiah will come again to not only break our chains, but obliterate them altogether.

The advent season calls us to prayerful, watchful expectation. We try on the lenses of those who awaited the first coming as we read the Word and remind ourselves of God's faithfulness to His promises as each prophecy finds its fulfillment in Christ. We also look at Christ's own words--His promise to return, to restore, and with that same characteristic of faithfulness in mind, we look ahead to the day of His return.

It doesn't matter what time of year this happens--in fact, this prayerful and watchful expectation should happen all year round; but, being limited and broken humans, the reminder that Christmas brings is helpful.

So, I look ahead, I watch, and I wait.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Trust is a gift

Trust is a gift, delicately given,
and the giver expects the recipient
to value,
to protect,
and to nurture

As easily as it is given,
trust can be
or squandered
and the process of
rebuilding and repairing takes
a lot longer than
the initial giving.

Realizing this,
recognizing the fragility and
preciousness of
the gift of trust
challenges me
to be worthy of it.
Even the clumsiest person
can protect
an eggshell-thin
through care
and the grace
that only God
can bestow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I'll admit it: the last few weeks have been personally challenging. I've felt as though I've been in a perpetual state of unrest, I've felt lonely, I've felt burnt out, and my enthusiasm and patience for teaching have been wearing thin. Today helped to reverse the trend a bit.

I had the freshmen in class today for the first time in four days (they'd been busy preparing for and performing their Greek Day skits for English class). Last week, they had finished presentations on leaders for the ancient world, and I informed them that they'd have a take-home test due next week that connected themes of human nature with the personalities, decisions and ruling styles of four different ancient leaders. To review, I thought it might be fun for the students to do something creative, so I asked them to write a personal profile for the leader they'd presented on, like you'd find on a dating site (the whole, "I enjoy long walks on the beach and candlelit dinner" type of thing). However, instead of candlelit dinners, it might be plundering cities and not sparing women and children that the leader enjoyed...

Well, one girl's hand went up right away and she asked, "Could we write up how their facebook profile would look?"

I thought about this and could not suppress a smile. What a GREAT idea! I said yes, absolutely, and praised the girl's creativity. My mind started running through all of the brilliant possibilities for such a project:

Recent Activity:
6:45 pm Nero added 63 new photos to his album "The Burning of Rome."
6:46 pm Nero "likes" his album "The Burning of Rome"
6:55 pm Status update: Don't look at me, it's the Christians' fault!

...and so on. When you factor in the inevitable back-and-forth that would come up in the photo and status comments, and wall posts, you've got some fairly solid critical thinking taking place in a creative and engaging medium.

I didn't even try to contain my excitement: "Guys, this is a really great idea--I'm definitely going to use this later in the year and make a bigger project out of it!"

I think my enthusiasm was contagious--I heard lots of good planning and discussion happening, and for the first time in several weeks, I was genuinely happy with how a class had gone. I'm grateful to God for moments like these that seem to alight at the exact moment that we're most frustrated and exhausted.

I am still exhausted and at a low ebb for energy and motivation, but I think that today energized me enough to finish out the next few weeks before vacation with strength and passion.

The familiar thought now echoes in my head: I need to take better care of myself...

Passive Voice

I'm too passive. Always have been. In school, when I didn't understand a concept, I waited for an explanation rather than seeking one. When I didn't feel motivated, I waited (you know, on the off-chance that motivation would magically materialize later on... and it usually did, in the form of panic and stress). When I'm confronted with a tough situation, my inclination is to wait rather than to confront the problem. I hold off far too long while making big decisions. I am passive.

There's something to be said for patience, of course, but here's the irony: I am not a patient person. I want results, and I want them now, but I struggle to take that first step on the road to results. "I'll just wait and see" has been my modus operandi for as long as I can remember, but in hindsight, it has only ever yielded results ranging from disappointment, to boredom, to stress. The best things that have happened in my life came from decisions that, while not made rashly, were definitely made boldly and swiftly.

So then, knowing this, why do I linger in this "wait and see" mentality?

Am I lazy? Cowardly?

Perhaps a bit of both?

At any rate, I am beginning to think that I need to outgrow this mentality, whatever the cause may be. Being proactive is not even remotely in my nature, but I'd like it to be.

It won't be as simple as me waking up tomorrow and saying "I'm now a proactive person who will take action!" Still, I need to ask myself what I can be intentional about each day.

I'm 25. If I continue to approach life by waiting and seeing, all that'll happen is that I'll write this exact same post again when I'm 30. Life's too short for that.

So. What can I do now to break my routine of passivity? I've a feeling that this is an answer that I need to search for, and not just wait for.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Faithfulness. This characteristic of God was very much on my mind this past weekend as I was up in Sendai for a short relief trip. God is faithful--no matter how hopeless or chaotic a situation may seem. I'll write a more extended reflection on my trip up north later this week. For now, I'll leave you with the words to a wonderful hymn that praises this aspect of who God is:

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As thou has been, thou forever will be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own great presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me! (Thomas Chisolm)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Game over?

I am not sure about anyone else, but I know that I have a tendency to view life as being like a game... There are, however, some glaring differences: In video games, actions have consequences that are, by and large, limited to the confines of the game. In Mario, if you stomp a bad guy, nobody gets hurt in real life. When you maneuver Mario into a bottomless pit, you remain on solid ground in real life. Not only that, but you get to start over and try your best not to fall into the bottomless pit again. Even when you run out of lives, there's really no such thing as "game over" because you can reach the same spot again and keep trying.

I used to think that it would be great if life was like this: if we had unlimited chances and that our choices were not final or binding. Wouldn't it be great if, after saying something dumb, or taking a bad risk, we could hit "reset" and do things differently? I sometimes wish that I had multiple chances to handle a situation, to try things differently each time and after seeing all possible outcomes, make a decision about which was the right solution.

It sounds so attractive. However, if this was the case, then ultimately there would be no such thing as risk--risk implies that we stand to lose something if the situation does not unfold as we hope. Risk means sacrificing security--and not just in the temporary sense of a game, where you can always restart after you lose. Risk is what we do anytime we make decisions where we cannot predict the outcome... which is basically all the time. What's more, risk brings us opportunities to place our faith in the One who does know how things turn out.

I'll admit--some risks terrify me. When you stand to lose a lot should you make a mistake, you begin to question whether the risk is worth taking, or even if it is necessary.

Why does Mario need to leap over that huge pit? Can't he just hang out where he is and make friends with the koopas?

Okay--that's a nerd analogy, pretty blatantly. Still, to me--one who spent way too much of my adolescent years playing video games--I cannot help but stall in the face of risks that may only have one chance, where wisdom and care are a must, and I stand to lose more than just a game. I would like to think that just coasting, maintaining status quo, is the key to a happy life... but I know that's not true. There are some risks that must be taken to advance in life. Fortunately, it's not as chaotic and random as getting a running start and hitting the 'jump' button at the right time. I'm not leaping into the dark, but into the arms of God. I may not know where I'll land, but He does, and He will keep me safe even if I wind up somewhere other than I'd hoped or thought. It's so easy to say, but so much tougher to trust.

Create in me a trusting heart, Lord...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


As time goes on, we learn, change and adapt, based on our experiences. Through trial and error, we learn what works and what doesn't. Sometimes even what works changes along with us.

One thing I was looking forward to this year was not needing to write nearly as many lesson plans for Humanities class. Last year, I built the class from the ground up, using a strong framework that I'd inherited from another teacher. I put a lot of hard work into the class, and felt good about the results.

Over the summer, I realized that I had lots of room for improvement, and so I resolved to make significant changes to my curriculum and my teaching. It didn't mean going back to square one, but it did mean a lot of hard work--work that is very much still in progress as the school year is still in progress.

Yet, I still have some lessons planned from last year--lessons that, at a glance, looked reusable. I took one of these lessons today and dusted it off--a short lecture on Salutary Neglect. As I delivered the lecture, I discovered "this isn't nearly as good of lesson as I remembered it being!"

I still like the illustrations that I used. I was articulate in my delivery. The problem? I just don't like lecturing anymore (unless I get to tell a story), and my students aren't used to it when I do lecture. Rather than feeling like another good tool in a diverse arsenal, it just felt out of place and ill-fitting. Strange, as it had felt like a fairly natural fit last year. I hadn't realized that my style had changed that much. Makes me wonder where I'll be next year, and what notes/lesson plans I might discard in favor of new ones....


For some reason, I have great difficulty in admitting that I'm lonely, even to myself. I try to keep myself so busy that maybe I won't notice, or I tell myself that simply spending my day around so many people is enough, but for some reason the feeling is really overwhelming tonight and there's simply no denying it: I am lonely.

Why do I have such a tough time building new friendships and nurturing existing ones?

Why can't I let down my guard long enough to invest in others and let others invest in me?

I need to take care of this part of myself, or else I'm going to burn out.

Next exit

It's 2 am
and I'm driving
down the freeway.

The roads are empty
and the only headlights
shining in the blackness
are mine.

I don't know where I'm going.
I know where I'd like to be,
but how to get there
or even if that's the right
well, that's not entirely clear.

The mile markers tick past
in a greenish blur,
like pages
off a calendar,
or leaves from
a tree,
counting down to... something,
but I don't know what.

Which off-ramp should I take?
Which exit will keep me moving
toward the right destination?

Too often it feels like guesswork,
and that's scary.

Should I be enticed by promise
of shelter,
of fuel,
of food,
of some so-called 8th wonder of the world?

Or should I stay on the interstate?

What if I miss my exit?
Could it be I already missed it hours ago?

Sometimes I feel like
I'm just
at the wheel.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bringing back the music

This morning, I sat down with a guitar as I waited to leave for the cross country meet. I plucked out the chords to a few praise songs ("I could sing of Your love forever", "How deep the Father's love for us") and sang along. As I played, I grew frustrated with the clumsiness of my fingers--the accidental extra string held down, the slightly-too-long wait time between chords as I tried to position my fingers, the clunky strumming pattern.

It's my own fault--I simply don't practice enough. I started playing guitar almost exactly two years ago, and I haven't improved much. That may have something to do with the fact that I make time to sit down and play only once every two weeks or so.

Music is a vitally important part of my life, and until I started working, I made adequate time for it. I took piano lessons in elementary and middle school. I joined choir when it was first available as an elective in 7th grade. That marked the beginning of 10 years of singing--learning to read music, learning to harmonize, singing for concerts, for musicals, to worship and even just for fun on my own as I drove way too fast down empty country roads with the windows down.

At one point in college, I was in Concert Choir, Kantorei (acapella chamber singers), the Canons (men's glee club), and taking weekly voice lessons. It's safe to say that I spent a noticeable percentage of my waking time making music. Often, when I wasn't singing, I was listening to music. I never thought twice about this--it was just the way things were; the way things were supposed to be.

It's only now that I realize how important a part of my life music played, and this by virtue of comparison. I still sing on my own occasionally, and I still listen to music when I can, but the opportunities to sing feel scarce. In the moment, it seems like there are so many other things that are more important than making time to sing, to play, to listen. "I'm too busy" too readily becomes a legitimate excuse not to make that time.

Why, though? Music brings me joy, and is a means of expressing my joy. It is the most natural way in which I worship (though I believe that any gift used for God's glory is an act of worship). One thing that I hope for my future is that I can foster a love for music within my family, that we can sing and play instruments together, just for fun. This means that I need to nurture my own love for music now. I can't let stress or busy-ness stand in the way--I need to do what I can to free up that time, even if it means giving something else up. Now... what can I do without...?

Monday, November 7, 2011


God blesses those who persevere.

This was the concluding point of yesterday's sermon, and it has been on my mind over the past 24 hours. The text for the sermon was the story of Jacob and Laban (and of course, Leah and Rachel). You know the story--Jacob loves Rachel and arranges to work 7 years in exchange for her hand in marriage. Then, Laban turns the tables; tricks the trickster. Rather than Rachel, it's Leah who Jacob wakes up with the morning after the wedding. Laban utters some lame excuse for the switch, but it was clear that he was trying to pull a fast one. Jacob marries Rachel, too, but it costs him 7 more years of his life. He then proceeds to have a lot of kids with his wives and their maidservants.

The character in the story who displays perseverance is obvious, right?

Well, maybe and maybe not. Of course, Jacob endures for a total of 14 very long years of servitude for his uncle (half of those years, very likely resenting his uncle's dishonesty). That's tough. That displays real character, especially for someone like Jacob, who was not known for his integrity as a young man.

However, the real hero (or at least, so suggested Pastor Makoto) was.... (drumroll)


Why Leah? Wasn't she in on her father's tricks? Probably she was, but what Leah ultimately wanted was Jacob's love--Something more unattainable for her than Rachel's love was for Jacob. Jacob could work 14 years and have finally earned Rachel, but Leah was chasing the wind. Tricking Jacob into marrying her didn't endear him to her any. We then read about each child that Leah bore to Jacob. Each time, she hopes "maybe now Jacob will love me!" But alas...

This continues until she gives birth to her 4th son, Judah. When Judah is born, Leah says "This time, I will praise the LORD." (Gen. 29:35). Finally, Leah pursues something greater than Jacob's love--the love of the LORD. Her perseverance is rewarded, as we know what Leah did not, that through Judah, the Savior of all mankind was born.

Pretty cool, eh?

When we think of blessing, we tend to think of an absence of sickness, an absence of despair or trials. However, what if blessing comes through opportunities to endure and persevere? What if following the LORD even through the bleakest times leads to the greatest joy?

It's been a long day (I ran well over a mile between the boys' and girls' races today, calling out times at opposite ends of the course), and my mind is reeling. I don't know if I can write any more coherently. But... I just wanted to throw that reflection on yesterday's sermon out there...

Persevere, all you who are tired and beleaguered. I know I will!

Saturday, November 5, 2011


by Brooke Fraser

I see the king of glory
Coming down the clouds with fire
The whole earth shakes, the whole earth shakes
I see his love and mercy
Washing over all our sin
The people sing, the people sing

Hosanna, hosanna
Hosanna in the highest

I see a generation
Rising up to take the place
With selfless faith, with selfless faith
I see a new revival
Staring as we pray and seek
We're on our knees, we're on our knees

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what is yours
Everything I am for your kingdom's cause
As I walk from earth into eternity


Every time I hear this song, I'm especially convicted by the line "break my heart for what breaks yours". It seems like so much of what upsets me, what frustrates me and what angers me is, in the scheme of things, very petty and selfish. It is a powerful prayer to ask to delight in what pleases the Lord and to grieve what He finds worthy of grief. Can I look past my own problems long enough to recognize the larger hurt in the world and in those around me? Can I align my heart to God? I need to remember to pray for this relationship, even when I'm tempted to focus on me, me, me.


I literally cannot articulate what I am thinking and feeling today and that frustrates me to no end. Seriously--I've tried for maybe an hour or so to start this post and I'll get maybe a paragraph in before making judicious use of the delete key, because what I've written doesn't really fit how I'm feeling. The best I can describe it is a feeling of restlessness and frustration and above all not knowing what to do about it. Why can't I just be content, and just appreciate a peaceful day of rest?

What's wrong with me?


Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Reflection on the book of Ruth

I just finished rereading one of my favorite stories in the Bible: the book of Ruth. There's some nostalgia in this appreciation, as this was one of many Bible stories that my dad used to tell me before I could even read. However, beyond the "natsukashi factor", it's a simple, but powerful story of redemption, and one that so strongly points ahead to God's ultimate plans in Christ.

In the story of Ruth, there are several characters who go above and beyond the call of duty--namely, Ruth and Boaz. Ruth is not bound to go with Naomi after her husband (Naomi's son) dies, and in fact, Naomi expected her to stay behind. Yet, Ruth follows Naomi, saying, "Don't urge me to leave you or turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God." (Ruth 1:16)

Later, Boaz finds himself in a similar situation as he approaches the kinsman-redeemer, Naomi's closest living relative, about claiming the property of Naomi's deceased son. The kinsman-redeemer agrees, until he finds out that Ruth is part of the package. Not eager to bring about added complications to his family's inheritance (since the firstborn offspring with Ruth would carry her first husband's name to keep it alive), the relative declines the opportunity. So, Boaz goes above and beyond, taking Ruth as his wife without any care for the potential ramifications on family inheritance.

Who would I be in this story? I'd like to say that I'd be like Ruth and Boaz, that I would do more than what was expected of me to show love and faithfulness to others. However, I find that most of the time, I am more like Orpah (Naomi's other daughter-in-law) or the first kinsman-redeemer. These were not bad people--they simply kept their eyes on the ground in front of them and did not wish to worry about anything beyond that. Their actions serve as a foil for Ruth and Boaz' actions to make them seem all the more extraordinary: Here's what normal people would do, and here's what righteous people would do.

I pray that I can be endlessly faithful and loving, even when it is inconvenient to do so. I pray that I can broaden my perspective from what's right in front of me to what is happening around me, and that I can take action.


Hypothesis confirmed

Yep, I am definitely an introvert. It was actually a very good day of conferences; both parents and students alike were encouraging across the board, which is good affirmation for me that what I do matters. In turn, I appreciated the opportunity to encourage students and their parents. So, in that sense, it was a very good day.

Still, it was 40 conferences (supposed to be 38, but a few extra families found their way in somehow). It's now 4:30 pm but my brain feels like it is a lot closer to bedtime. Today involved no physical activity beyond talking--in fact, I spent 90% of the day sitting. The cause for my exhaustion is clear: Lots of social interaction.

Well, only 26 more conferences to go--I know saying this makes me sound like a broken record but here goes: Time flies. I can't believe PT conferences are half done.

I might as well just start listening to Christmas music :P

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


After spending my morning in the thick of all the social interaction that a classroom brings, I relish the peace and quiet of lunch break. I love the opportunity to simply sit alone and regroup... catch my breath. If a student sits down and wants to talk, I will not send them away, but I find that I can't recharge as well when that happens.

So, am I an introvert? Or an extrovert? I once told my students I was an introvert and they all thought I was joking. I didn't think I was joking, and I still don't. They said I wasn't shy enough, that I was not quiet enough to be an introvert. Here's the thing, though: being an introvert doesn't necessarily mean that a person is shy or quiet, just that a person loses more energy in heavily social situations than they gain (an extrovert thrives on the crowd).

That's me... I'm not a shy person* but I cannot deny that large crowds and lots of socializing with lots of people exhausts me. I do, however, get energy from teaching (which ostensibly happens in a lively social situation)... figure that out.

I'm not really going anywhere with this note... I'm just typing. And students are gathering around, so I shall wrap this up and make conversation!

*I AM shy in some situations. Girls my age, for example... yeah, never figured that one out :P


(I took this photo in August the night before I flew back to Tokyo)

I returned to my classroom following an after school meeting today to find the room illuminated in a pale orange hue. Out the window, I could see the sun setting behind the tall buildings to the west. I stood and watched for a few minutes until the sun descended behind a sky-scraper and I remembered that I had places to be, things to do.

I often tell people that I don't miss much about the U.S. And that's true. However, there are a few things that I miss about the small corner of Washington State where I grew up. Aside from my family, I'd have to say my home church and the sunsets, in that order. I'll write about my home church some other time. Watching the sunset from my 3rd floor classroom was a peaceful moment in a busy day, but watching the sunset from a hillside in the middle of the country is... well, spectacular. It's telling to note that one of the most frequently painted scenes is a panoramic sunset... artists try their utmost to replicate the sight, but God actually created the sun and made it set. How awe-inspiring is that?

Take some time in the next week to watch the sunset (wherever you are--in Tokyo or on the farm) and just think about that truth... let it sink in.