Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Turning a Corner, Hitting a Wall

Something has changed in my work-ethic this year and has grown more noticeable even since returning from Christmas break. I'm putting in longer hours, more nights a week, than I have ever invested in my teaching before. Tonight marks my third night in a row in which I have spent more than 5 hours planning, and have stayed up past midnight to accomplish my planning.

Some of it has been immediate planning for the next day, but a vast majority has been long-range unit planning; broad, sweeping stuff. It feels like a gamble--I know from experience how plans change and ideals become disrupted. These plans and schedules may be meaningless next year if they do not work well this year. Or, they could serve as the foundation for my classes and mean that I can focus on finessing and fine-tuning. Oh, wouldn't that be sweet...

The unfortunate result of all of this time that I've invested is that I am thoroughly exhausted... physically, mentally, even spiritually. I feel so empty and so run-down. How can I work hard and do the best planning that I can while at the same time caring for myself and nurturing my relationship with God and with others? It's so easy to say that God is at the center of my life, to pray for that to be the case and to go on believing it; in practice, though, it feels like I've put God on the bench and my work is at the center. I need to refocus and think through why I am doing the work that I am... there's still room for hard work when God is at the center. In fact, God calls us to a high standard in our careers, and as we use our gifts to work within His world. I need to learn the line between hard work and self-destruction (which is absolutely NOT what God calls us to in our careers).

As it is, I can barely think right now. Bedtime, it is.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Traveling, part two

90 days in Japan--the length of my tourist visa. When I'd first landed at Narita, even the week ahead of me seemed like it would last an eternity: a new home, new surroundings, new job and meeting lots of new people, all against the backdrop of an unfamiliar city, culture and language. I had not thought of what I would do at the end of 90 days.

By the time March rolled around, and my tourist visa was nearly due to expire, a lot had happened. I had found myself entrenched in the community. I had signed a contract to teach Bible, History and English at the Christian Academy in Japan for the next school year. I had applied for my instructor's visa, but as that had not yet finished processing, I would need to leave the country to reset my 90-day tourist visa. Fortunately, the end of my 90-day stay would coincide with CAJ's spring break--the perfect time to travel. My first instinct was to fly back to the States for a week. Certainly, my parents liked the sound of that option, but the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to pay over $1000 to spend my Spring break flying nearly 20 hours total, enduring two separate cases of jet-lag all for a couple days at home when my parents would likely be working and my sister would be in school. The option made little practical sense. So, I consulted with the school's business manager, Mr. Seely.

I asked him where he thought I should go, and he responded by asking me where I wanted to go. The image of the city lights sprang to mind.

"Hong Kong," I said, with so little hesitation that I actually did a double-take after I said it.

"Ohh, Hong Kong is great," Mr. Seely replied. "I went when I was about your age; really easy to find your way around, a lot of English. Great fun. Let's see what we can find."

Minutes later, we'd found a list of fairly inexpensive options for a round trip ticket and 3-day hotel stay. After visiting a travel agency in Ikebukuro several days later to finalize the plans, I realized that this was happening: I was actually going to Hong Kong for 3 days. At this point, it was Saturday. I would be flying out in several days and I had done no planning at all.

Wikipedia (despite whatever qualms I may have with it as a teacher who bans use of the site as a reliable source in research papers) saved the day. In reading the article on Hong Kong, I learned that, from my hotel in Kowloon, it was a short walk to the ferry, a short ride across the bay, a slightly longer walk to the base of the hill and then a short tram ride to the top of Victoria's Peak. There, I would see the city as I'd seen it in TIME so many years before, except that this time I would actually be there myself. I also learned that on the opposite side of the city, I could take a 40-minute cable-car ride into the Buddhist mountain village of Ngong Ping, home to one of the world's largest Buddha statues. The cable car ride looked terrifying and awesome, so I added that to my itinerary.

So, in the course of a mere week before departing, I went from having no plans for Spring Break to planning my stay in Hong Kong by using Wikipedia the day before I left. Even at the time, it was a strange and wonderful feeling to look at the picture of the city lights and think "By this time tomorrow, I'll be there."

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fog Lifted (bookend)

I biked home along the river tonight, and though it was briskly cold, the skies were crisp and clear. Each breath I let out left a puff of steam along the path but I was wearing contacts, so did not need to worry about fogged-up glasses obscuring my vision.

I learned how to ride a bike when I was 9 or 10, and then went more than 10 years without riding until I came to Japan. Though the conventional wisdom that one never really forgets how to ride a bike proved true for me, it was also true that I biked like someone who had just learned. Over the past three years, I've gained the sense of balance and coordination that I never developed as a child. So, with the path along the river stretching out before me, empty, I released the handlebars and outstretched both arms as though they were wings. Eyes fixed on the stars in the sky ahead, I flew, free and unencumbered. Free from stress. Free from illness. Free from exhaustion and free from the weight of my every limitation.

For the first time all week, I felt not burdened, but grateful. Simply and wholly grateful. How can I even begin to express my gratitude?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


So, my joy at completing my grades was short-lived. Though school was cancelled the next day due to snow (first time in my teaching career that I've had a snow day), I got sick with some stomach virus.

I spent most of the day on Tuesday flat on my back in bed, and totally devoid of an appetite. It was not a restful or restorative day; it was a sick-day. This morning, back at school, I ate a light breakfast and discovered that I am still sick.

I made it through the day, but was pretty queasy for most of it.

Even now, this evening, I am still not feeling well, still have no appetite, and definitely not much energy.

I think I ran myself into the ground over the past couple weeks.

I need to take better care of myself.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


At 6:45 p.m, I went to school to work. Having spent a good portion of my Sunday morning and afternoon working at home, I was already wearing out, but I knew that I needed to push through and that my work for the evening would require proximity to a printer and copier, so grading at home would not be an option.

I left school at 12:30 a.m. I accomplished a lot, but what I have left to do still feels daunting, discouraging, overwhelming. I didn't finish everything I set out to do despite working as tirelessly and efficiently as I could.

Biking home past midnight during the winter is an experience that I'd never had before. The bike-ride between school and home is an easy 5-minute jaunt along the river. At least, it is usually easy. Tonight, as I coasted down the short slope to the path along the river, I was surprised to see a thick shroud of fog hovering precisely above the river and the bike-paths that run on either side. There was nothing gradual about entering the fog--one moment, I could see and the next I couldn't.

Well, technically, I could discern the glow of the streetlights shining above the path every 20 meters or so, and occasionally I could catch the outline of the fence separating the path from the river to my right. And, I could hear the river. However, I couldn't see it; couldn't see much of anything. To make matters worse, it was a crisp 3˚C out, and my every exhalation sent a blast of air warm enough to steam up my glasses. I tried breathing out through my nose, but that didn't help. So, I biked a little slower than usual. The 5-minute bike ride became an 8-minute bike ride and not at all easy or jaunty. I biked carefully, listening for the river and watching for shadows and outlines through the dual-layers of fog that could perhaps keep me from colliding with a fence on one side or a wall of hedges on the other.

My mind played tricks on me; the distance seemed to grow exponentially from what I remembered. Several times, I thought I must be getting close to the main road only to find the path continuing into the hazy darkness.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I could see the bright lights lining the road ahead. As I emerged from the path and turned right on the road, I noticed that I had also emerged from the fog. It was not a clear night, by any means, but for the first time in 8 minutes, I had my sight back.

This is precisely what my last few weeks have been like: familiar job, familiar place, familiar people, but I have been blinded by a fog of stress and exhaustion. No matter how hard I work or how much time I seem to invest, it seems as though the end is elusive and the path ahead long, dark and hazy. I know, however, that the end is not elusive and the path will lead me out of the fog and onto the main road. Eventually, I'll finish all of the grading from first semester, finish the prep for the new semester... and again I will find myself back in the easy, jaunty routine that I love so much.

I needed this encouragement, especially after 6 hours of solid work tonight (that on top of countless more hours over the past week). I am thankful that God gave me the kind of mind that would notice the fog and relate it to a seemingly unrelated challenge in my life.

Now, I am going to bed because I'm tired, and that same mind is falling asleep before the rest of me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

For the sake of writing something

I hate that I'm not writing every day anymore. I spent the last 7 hours solid grading, and I am finally just now calling it a night--deciding to write a quick paragraph or two before I turn in. I have almost literally no time to spare and that makes me sad.

What makes me happy (ish) is the fact that I'm getting a lot accomplished on the grading front. I'm not ahead of the game, by any means, but it is nice to at least be in the gym while the game is still going on as opposed to being a ways behind (two years ago, I was in a pretty massive grading deficit at this time of year, and had to take several personal days just to catch up). This year, I have been diligent and have kept up with my grading in a mostly timely fashion.

It's good from the standpoint of providing effective and timely feedback (one of my goals for this school-year if you will recall), and the kids are definitely impressed to get essays back so quickly after they submitted them. Still, I cannot help but wonder what I am going to do once I have a family, whenever that might be. I guarantee you that I won't be pulling any 7 hour evenings of solid grading when I have a wife and kids... there's got to be a better way of grading, of handling assessments; one that won't absolutely run me into the ground when I reach the point in my life where I am not simply taking care of myself but caring for a family.

For the moment, though, I'll bask in my feeling of accomplishment*.

*This feeling is somewhat tempered by just about every muscle in my back, neck, shoulders, head and face feeling really tight. Oh, and that knot in my stomach muscles... Stress...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Oh, to Grace...

I do not often miss teaching Bible, but earlier today, as I was reading through an article responding to the viral YouTube video "Why I hate religion, but love Jesus", I couldn't help but think of an excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I assigned several times.

The excerpt, the first chapter from The Cost of Discipleship, deals with the oh, so important distinction between cheap grace and costly grace. It was relevant to Bonhoeffer as he wrote the book in the late 30s, and it remains relevant to Christians to this day. What prompted me to think of Bonhoeffer in the first place was Kevin DeYoung's contention that many young Christians today have a one-dimensional view of grace.

Certainly, there is ample evidence to support such a claim. Universalism seems to be on the rise (or at the very least, not on the decrease); it doesn't help when figures as prominent and widely respected as Rob Bell openly deny the existence of hell. Grace functions as something of a humanity-sized safety net, something that will ultimately protect all of mankind from judgment.

Here's where Bonhoeffer's wisdom can be instructive: such a treatment of grace as this, Bonhoeffer calls "cheap grace". Grace that can be bought or sold, grace that lacks any transformative power, grace that serves as a blank check for all of the sins we wish to commit or a get-out-of-hell-free card. It's an attractive way to view grace, make no mistake--"Jesus paid it all, therefore I can order everything on the menu and catch up with Jesus later!" Huzzah!

...Except, this is missing the point entirely, abusing the gift of grace completely.

If God's intent in sending Christ to die was to reconcile us to Himself, then what ground could be gained from giving humanity carte blanche to continue in rebellion (ordering everything on the menu)? Perhaps grace is more complex, more wonderful and *gasp* more powerful than "you can do whatever you want because I died for you!"

Bonhoeffer contrasts cheap grace with costly grace. It's still a gift, given regardless of who we are or what we've done; we cannot begin to earn it. However, what sets costly grace apart is our response--instead of squandering grace, we must live according to grace, allow it to saturate our hearts, to mold and reform our desires, wants and needs. We cannot pay for a gift so priceless, and so in receiving such a gift, our gut instinct should be to give our all back to Christ; to dedicate ourselves wholly to Him. It should be, but it often isn't. We are, after all, estranged from God--broken, we are. So, we confess our sin--not in the defiant, almost proud voice that boasts "This is who I am, and if you don't like it, tough!", but in the humble, honest voice that cries "Here I stand, broken and in need of grace; Heal me, Father!"

Bonhoeffer describes grace as a pool that we must return to and drink from again and again. Notice the difference between this and the metaphor of a blank check! Once the check is written, all accountability is off, and the recipient can do with the check what he or she pleases without fear of repercussion. A pool, however, must be sought--seeking is as simple (and as profound) as following Christ, clinging to Him for dear life. This is not works-righteousness; yet, following Christ fundamentally lends itself to obedience. It is not obedience for obedience's sake, but instead a by-product of a journey spent following Christ.

"I messed up." Yep, humans do that. Follow Christ.

"I messed up again." It happens. Follow Christ.

Notice there's no room in this framework for "Thanks Jesus, I'm going to drop some acid or chill at a strip club tonight--see you later!" Such an attitude is nothing short of rebellion, actually running further from Christ and ultimately making a mockery out of the gift of grace. We'll mess up, we'll sin, but repentance is key. Even if we must repent over and over again. You see, following Christ has the pesky habit of transforming our hearts, our lives. Discipleship is a journey and as time wears on, we don't stop sinning but our hearts do become more in line with God--what He delights in, we delight in; what He desires, we desire; we He grieves at, we grieve at. Sin still intrudes, and always will as long as we live in this broken existence, but willful rebellion becomes less and less attractive. We cannot achieve this ourselves--it is costly grace that transforms us in such a way.

So this is my concluding thought for this post, bringing all of this back to what I read in DeYoung's article: as a Christian society, we're getting better at stating our flaws and our foibles. But let's not for one second confuse confession with boasting; let's call sin 'sin' and recognize that, as the saying goes, though God loves us just as we are, He also loves us far too much to let us stay that way.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Traveling, part 1

Once, when I was in high school, I happened to leaf through a special edition of TIME magazine that had brilliant panoramic photos of the biggest cities in the world. At the time, I had only been to three of the more than 100 cities featured: Vancouver, Seattle, and San Francisco. Even those cities seemed small compared to the rest in the magazine.

As I flipped through the pages, one shot in particular caught my attention. It was a night shot clearly taken from a tall hill overlooking the city, which encircled a harbor in blinking, twinkling lights: Hong Kong. I am not sure why, out of all the cities in the magazine, Hong Kong stood out so vividly, but something about it captured my imagination and briefly took me out of rural Washington and dropped me somewhere so foreign, so exotic.

My eyes scanned the brilliant skyscrapers and city lights along Victoria Harbor and I wondered what was happening in the city at the moment that the picture was taken, what was happening even as I looked at the picture. Surely there were millions of people in the city--what must it be like to be one of those people? What was it like to look at those dazzling buildings from the streets of the city? What was it like to stand and look out over the harbor? Was it cold? Was it warm? What sounds, sights and smells would overwhelm me, and would they be familiar to me or completely new and unexpected?

In that instant, I attempted to step into the shoes of people for whom I had no previous knowledge, no context and seemingly no common ground. It was terrifying and it was exciting. Even after I'd put the magazine down, the thought persisted: what is it like to walk those streets? To be in the middle of an iridescent urban jungle? From that moment on, I dreamed of one day actually walking those streets myself.

Of course, I was only dreaming, right? I mean, if I did any sort of world travel in college or later, I would go to Europe. To go to Hong Kong... well, it seemed wild, impractical.

Still, the vision of the Hong Kong city lights remained clear and bright in my mind's eye in a way that no other city on earth could compete with.

When I thought of world travel, adventure and excitement, Hong Kong was the first place that came to mind. Still, the prospect intimidated me even in hypotheticals and in daydreams about traveling the globe, so I would put it out of mind and dream about places that were adventurous in a much safer, more familiar way... Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum.

In March of 2008, I visited New York City for the first time during a free-day on a college choir tour to the East Coast. As I walked those busy streets, surrounded by buildings that seemed to disappear into the clouds, my mind again returned to that photo of Hong Kong. Soon, I would graduate from college and then I would start my career as a teacher--not much travel involved in that profession! I smiled and thought to myself, "Hong Kong will never happen, but hey, New York is a fair consolation prize."

Little did I know that exactly a year later, I'd be in Hong Kong, walking those streets that I had often dreamed about. Though invisible to the naked eye, I would be in at least 10,000 tourist pictures (me and over 10 million others, of course). Perhaps relatives and home-bodies would look at those photos and wonder, as I had years before, just what it was like to walk those streets, what it was like to be a part of a scene so sweeping, so foreign, so spectacular.

By that time, I would have an answer.

(To be continued)

Saturday, January 14, 2012


After sleeping 10 hours last night, taking a nap this afternoon (and even managing to grade a stack of DBQs when I wasn't sleeping), I think I am finally fully rested and back on a normal sleep schedule--the first time since I returned to Japan 15 days ago. It turns out that chaperoning a lock-in is not an effective way to recover from jet-lag.

Hopefully I can now settle back into my normal teaching routine without the exhaustion that I've felt over the past two weeks!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Long week

This was an exhausting week, and maybe represents the least writing I have done since August (aside from Christmas break). I could complain of being constantly tired, or about the lingering feeling of stress I've had all week, but instead I'll focus on a positive.

Last night, I played volleyball with some friends (a few other teachers). Since I am rather uncoordinated (and have a fairly limited knowledge of technique), my main goal for the evening was to not look like too big of an idiot. I definitely had some less-than-graceful moments, but I had a lot more fun than I expected and worked pretty hard. Fortunately, I was teamed with several volleyball coaches, who were very patient with me, and skilled enough that I was not a fatal handicap for our team. I even provided some entertainment with my horrible technique, in which I essentially punch the ball with my fist (surprisingly providing us with several points!).

Even more entertaining was our game of basketball, after we'd finished playing volleyball. In my current tired state, I cannot recall why, but both teams spent a significant amount of time laughing (strange, considering we were actually taking the game semi-seriously). It's frustrating that I cannot remember why, but the game was hilarious.

The point being, not only was it refreshing to get several hours of solid exercise, it was also uplifting to spend time with friends. In a week otherwise filled with hard work and seemingly endless responsibilities, that evening of games and laughter with friends was a time of peace and renewal. No matter how busy I may become this semester, I must not forget the importance of taking time for friends.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


A lot of the time, teaching can feel like a solitary profession. I should explain: Yes, I am surrounded by and working with students all day, and yes, I have opportunities to collaborate and plan with colleagues during meetings. Typically, though, I am the only adult in the classroom. In the words of Simon and Garfunkel, "I am a rock; I am an island."

Okay, so I'm not a rock, nor am I an island. However, being the only adult in the room most of the time has brought me to the realization that most professional growth for me as a teacher will happen through trial, error and reflection on my part. So, I try new ideas, gauge student engagement and response, think through what I did well and what I could have done better, and then adjust my teaching accordingly. There are times when, exhausted from this process, I wish that I had paid more attention to how my own high school teachers did their jobs--how they instructed, how they managed, how they assessed. There are times when I would give anything to turn over the reins and watch a master teacher at work.

There are times when that wish comes true. At least one of those times is a standing appointment. Every year, as long as I am teaching Junior Humanities, and as long as he is in Japan, I will invite Brian, CAJ's headmaster (and a family friend) to show the movie Amistad. Brian designed the Humanities block class, and so has a good familiarity with the philosophy behind the class and the way it is structured, though it has been years since he last taught it.

Fortunately, every teacher since then has brought Brian back into the classroom to teach through Amistad. For a busy school administrator who misses teaching, it's an ideal situation: the chance to teach an engaging and interesting lesson that requires little prep and no marking. For me, still relatively new to teaching, it's an ideal opportunity to learn, not only about Amistad, but also about how to more effectively engage a class, draw students out and lead a discussion.

During the movie, Brian will push pause and comment on a variety of things, ranging from social context to the significance of certain music cues, camera angles and lighting. This is a movie that he clearly loves, and one with which he has built an at-times frame-by-frame familiarity. This expertise is not lost on the kids, who treat the frequent pauses more as stops on an interesting tour than a disruption to an interesting movie. This is convicting to me, as I tend to focus perhaps too much on philosophy of curriculum and instruction. I hope to earn a Master's in education someday, and at times I pursue this interest in the how of teaching to the neglect of my content--I spend vacations reading books on pedagogy; rarely do I disappear into a history book or a good novel. Watching Brian's Amistad commentary reminded me that there's value in developing my content knowledge; that becoming an expert, developing a close familiarity with a particular period of history, a particular book or movie, actually opens the doors to so many more options for curriculum and instruction.

Though we are only a day into the viewing of the movie, my other major take-away from observing Brian is a reminder to keep up my own energy and enthusiasm. As I mentioned above, I learn a lot from trial and error, and if I have a stretch of time where I'm marking more tallies in the "error" column, I can easily become weary and discouraged. I'm a naturally energetic person, and a naturally energetic teacher, but there are some days, even some weeks where that energy is difficult to muster. So, Brian's obvious joy for teaching and being in the classroom reminded me that my enthusiasm and energy should not be hinged on whether a given lesson or activity goes well, but rather from the privilege of simply being in the classroom and actively taking a role in facilitating learning.

I'm sure there are other lessons and observations that I will make over the next few days, but those two are the ones that stood out in my mind this evening as I thought about how Humanities class went. I am thankful for the opportunity (all too rare as it is) to watch a good teacher teach, and covet such opportunities to learn.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


After investing hours into planning an important lesson for a class, it in indescribably rewarding when the lesson goes well. It means that tonight I can go to sleep less stressed out than I was last night.

Monday, January 9, 2012


I think that this may be the busiest that I have ever been in my life. So much to do and for every task I finish, there seems to be 3 more that come up and I have to choose which to take on. I don't mind being busy, but the fact that I'm starting to feel physically ill from working so hard might be a sign that I'm hitting my limits. Though it's a small consolation, I take some pride in the fact that this has nothing to do with procrastination on my part (sure, I could have finished a lot while I was in WA over Christmas break... but that was family time, vacation and ultimately, sacrosanct. As it was, I spent five solid days after returning to Japan grading and prepping). What it does have to do with is the fact that I over-commit myself... I really need to learn to tell people 'no' when they ask me to do things for them... and also to be realistic about the work I generate for myself, especially in the way of grading. Praying for health, energy and perseverance... this, too, shall pass.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

How Beautiful

This weekend was so busy, and went by so quickly that I haven't had an opportunity till now to sit and write. Exhausted as I am, I don't have much to say, really. It was good to return to church at Grace City today after missing last week (jet-lag + staying up to ring in the New Year was dumb from a standpoint of actually doing things on Sunday). So rather than write something lengthy, I'll simply share the words to a classic song by Twila Paris that, I think, paints a fairly vivid comparison between Christ's physical body and the church as the body of Christ:

How Beautiful by Twila Paris

How beautiful the hands that served
The wine and the bread and the sons of the earth
How beautiful the feet that walked
The long dusty roads and the hill to the cross

How beautiful, how beautiful
How beautiful is the body of Christ

How beautiful the heart that bled
That took all my sin and bore it instead
How beautiful the tender eyes
That chose to forgive and never despise

How beautiful, how beautiful
How beautiful is the body of Christ

And as He laid down His life
We offer this sacrifice
That we will live just as he died
Willing to pay the price
Willing to pay the price

How beautiful the radiant bride
Who waits for her groom with His light in her eyes
How beautiful when humble hearts give
The fruit of pure lives so that others may live

How beautiful, how beautiful
How beautiful is the body of Christ

How beautiful the feet that bring
The sound of good news and the love of the King
How beautiful the hands that serve
The wine and the bread and the sons of the earth

How beautiful, how beautiful
How beautiful is the body of Christ

Friday, January 6, 2012

Wait, I'm doing ANOTHER one of these things?!

Another lock-in--my 3rd this year, my 7th overall. After chaperoning a lock-in in November, I swore that I was done agreeing to chaperon lock-ins. I am not reneging on that solemn vow--I agreed to this one months ago, before I decided to hang up my chaperon hat.

I should note that it's not lock-ins themselves that I am opposed to, but more the idea of staying up all night. I used to be able to handle all-nighters relatively well, and fondly remember many epic parties with friends during my middle and high school years filled with video games, movies, bonfires and something like a cumulative ton of junk food over the course of 10 years. However, in the last few years, I've noticed a significant decline in my recovery time the longer I go without sleep. In short, pulling an all-nighter sets me up for a week of rather miserable exhaustion--a week where, no matter how much sleep I get on a given night, I will not feel 100% rested.

Lock-ins themselves are variable; utterly dependent on the planning and cooperation of the students involved.

So I don't sound like a total grouch, I must tip my hat to the class I am supervising tonight--the freshmen class of 2015. They have made my job as chaperon SO easy by thorough organization and forward planning, having games and activities figured out well in advance, deciding when to move from the gym to the academic building and then sticking to that plan, and even themselves setting a separate room rule for sleeping arrangements.

At the moment, they are keeping themselves entertained on several different fronts: a group is watching "Despicable Me" in the Multi-purpose Room, a group is playing Wii in the atrium, a group is sitting around singing with a guitar, and several groups are playing cards. What makes this all the more special is that most of the class is here tonight--37 out of 47 students, by far the largest turnout I've seen and undoubtedly the highest percentage of classmates in attendance (especially considering that several of those missing are still out of country on vacation and several more are sick and would have attended otherwise). Despite having more students to keep track of than usual, I do not need to worry: this is a respectful and fun group.

I do not need to worry about anyone being obnoxious. I do not need to worry about kicking out non-CAJ students. I do not need to worry about students vandalizing bikes in the bike parking lot. I do not need to worry about having to go out into the cold night to chase down students who sneak out. I do not need to worry about keeping students off of the 2nd and 3rd floors, which are off-limits. I do not need to worry about students watching movies that were not approved for the lock-in.

If I am going to be up most or all of the night, I cannot think of better circumstances. I think this is a good note to end on for my lock-in career; I have no doubt that this group will be able to find willing chaperons in future years with the good reputation they have developed and continue to prove their are worthy of.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

3 years ago

...I was fresh out of college, having only just completed my student teaching and received my teacher's license several weeks earlier.

...I was 22 years old (almost 23).

...I had never traveled overseas; the only "foreign" travel I had done was in Canada.

...I hated sushi; my only experience with sushi being from the WalMart in Sioux Center, IA.

...I rarely ate white rice.

...I thought green tea tasted like grass.

...I had not ridden a bike in more than 10 years.

...The biggest city that I had ever lived in was LeMars, IA (population 10,000).

...I could count the Japanese words that I knew on two hands (and could recognizably pronounce maybe half of them).

...I thought karaoke was an activity held on stage in smokey bars.

...I had only dreamed of visiting places like Tokyo or Hong Kong.

...I knew exactly four people in the CAJ community.

...I stepped off the plane at Narita airport for the first time.

...I planned on my adventure in Japan lasting only a few months.

...I was exhilarated.

...I was scared to death.

Thankfully, God works through us despite our inexperience, our limitations and our fears; three years later, and the destination that seemed so adventurous to me has become my home. I could not have predicted this, might not have chosen this path three years ago--how fortunate is it that our advanced planning sets absolutely nothing in stone? I could not think of a better way to have spent three years, and I have a feeling this is only the beginning.

Thank you Lord!

Back to School (January edition)

Today marked the first "normal" day of class in just over three weeks; just enough time to have gotten out of the school routine and into a vacation routine. Though I always cherish the time of rest and relaxation, each year I cannot help but worry about what it will take to get back into the routine.

At the end of the day today, I realized something: vacation doesn't upset the routine, it revitalizes it. I came back more energetic and genki in front of the classroom than I had been in months. I don't think my teaching style comes across as sluggish when I am tired, but I'll admit that by December, I'd lost the spark that I'd had at the start of the year; that me being energetic on December 13 was but a pale imitation of me being energetic on August 25. Today, I felt like I had recaptured that energy and with it, a significant amount of joy in what I do.

So, realizing this; recognizing this energy level as optimal and also recognizing that I will, at some point, get tired, how do I maintain and nurture this energy for as long as possible? How should I best care for myself so that I do not exhaust quite as quickly or drastically as I did first semester? I don't have an answer--I'm just posing the question to myself and also to anyone who happens to read this who might have ideas.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

So This is the New Year...

It's weird--so often I think about the 2000s as being the "new" century, but I have spent almost half of my life post-2000. It is doubly weird to think about the 90s as "the decade before last" and the 80s? Well, my memories of the 80s aren't vivid enough to have made a huge impression...

This was the first time that I celebrated the New Year in Japan--a fairly sizable earthquake on New Year's Day reminded me that a) tectonic plates do not make New Year's resolutions and b) God is in control this year every bit as much as He was last year.

It's been a few years (five, I think) since I made New Year's resolutions. Last year, when I had no resolutions, I decided that it might be nice to come up with resolutions for this year. I never officially resolved to do this, as that itself would have been a resolution and somewhat confusing. So without further ado, here are my resolutions for the coming year:

1) Exercise at least 3 days a week. I ran faithfully for a month during the summer and was settling into the habit when I came back to Japan in August... only to find that running outside during August in Japan takes an extra measure of motivation and endurance that I simply hadn't mustered up, so my daily running came to a complete standstill. I miss the feeling of regular exercise. So, I resolve to exercise several times each week, most likely jogging on the treadmills at school (maybe some weight-lifting, for good measure). At this point, I'm thinking Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.

2) Cook at least once a week. I cooked regularly during college, and definitely ate healthier when I was cooking for myself. Granted, there are added layers of challenge here, such as shopping for ingredients in Japanese, but I feel like my language ability (even minimal as it is) will allow me to find what I need. At this point, I am planning on making Thursday my cooking night (and shuffling that, depending on whatever else may be happening on Thursdays).

3) Write at least 3 times a week. I realize that comparing this resolution to what I've been doing actually looks like I am resolving to decrease my writing, but I'm simply looking to maintain my regular writing without locking myself into a schedule I cannot maintain. In reality, it will probably end up being more than 3 posts a week.

On Mar. 1, Jun. 1, Sept. 1 and Nov. 1, I will evaluate how I am doing in keeping up with my resolutions.