Monday, April 30, 2012


When I came home tonight, the strangest feeling came over me.  I didn't want to sit down and put up my feet; I didn't want to grade papers; I didn't want to watch TV.  I wanted to go back outside.  I wanted to run.

This wasn't my normal, somewhat guilty feeling of "I SHOULD run."  This was a deep and compelling desire to put on my running shoes and keep running until I couldn't push myself any further.  It was 8:20 when I got home and it was an inviting 70˚F outside.  The conditions were perfect; I had to run.

This was my first run since early September, when I gave up my daily running because of the heat and humidity.  It was good.  I ran for 30 minutes and then cooled down by walking for another 10 minutes, stretching out along the way.  I'm not sure how far I ran--maybe 4K.  As I ran I listened to a history Podcast that I've recently subscribed to, this show being a discussion of the Red Scares and the role that hysteria plays in history.  It was one of the most relaxing and reinvigorating half hours I can remember, listening to an interesting and engaging lecture as I jogged by the river and along empty city streets.

I hope that I can make this a part of my routine once again so that even on rainy days (such as are predicted for the rest of this week), I'll be drawn up, off the couch and outside to run.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Song of the Semi, Reprise

On my bike ride home tonight, the paths along the river were empty.  It was not, however, a quiet ride.  On this warm evening, a noisy, grating choir has resumed its familiar anthem.  The semi (Japanese cicada), clearly appreciating the warm weather as much as I have been, have taken up their places on trees and bushes.

It doesn't feel like all that long ago that I last wrote about the semi.  Yet, more than 8 months have passed since I wrote that post... 8 months since the school-year started.  The semi remind me that life keeps moving and that it is full of new beginnings.

While I'm comforted by this, I'm also feeling convicted and challenged: I don't want to simply allow my life to cycle through the seasons and find each Springtime exactly the same as the one before.  How can I possibly ensure that I have grown and found direction since the last time the semi were out?

Certainly, there have been times where I felt as though I'd regressed, even more times when I felt I was simply spinning my tires and going nowhere.  What I've learned firsthand in this past month is that prayer is no mere ritual, not just a hoop for believers to jump through several times a day to make God happy... prayer is our way of communicating with our Father, and it is through this relationship above all others that we grow.

I'm not patting myself on the back or anything: I didn't discover some new, previously unknown truth that magically made me more Christian.  Instead, I felt so overwhelmed by so many responsibilities, and at the same time, felt so lonely and disconnected from God that I had no choice but to trust.  It's difficult to describe now, but it was a feeling that I had better dedicate myself completely, that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by filling my life with prayer.

We (meaning I and many others I know) often talk about trust as though it were on some kind of gradient scale: "well I kind of trusted God at this time in my life, but then maybe a little less later on, and..."  That's false... trust is not a continuum.  Either we trust, or we don't.  If we say we kind of trust in someone, that means we also kind of doubt them, too, and that ultimately means we DON'T trust them... thinking of a typical trust exercise, would you tip backwards off of a table if you "kind of" trusted that the person standing below would catch you?  There have been times in the past month where I haven't trusted, same as other months.  What's different now is that I realize that those times require my attention and prayer--it's easier to overlook those moments if I package them as "trusting a little less" because hey, it's still trust, right?  But most times that I have felt doubt or emptiness in the past month, I have responded by praying... praying to trust, praying for a prayerful response in future situations of doubt.  And do you know what?  I'm increasingly finding trusting to be a much easier thing to do.

Despite the stress, illness and weariness of this past month, I am grateful for the lessons I've learned, and for God who has drawn me close when I felt most distant.

With this in mind, I look forward to May and beyond as the season of the semi starts once again.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Sometimes I worry that I am not really living life to the fullest.  I worry that I do not seek out adventure or excitement, and that the routine of school, grading and prep, sleep and school becomes the extent of my life.

Fortunately, any time I start to feel this way, opportunities present themselves just in time to prove me wrong.  Tonight was such a night.  Though Reno's is an American restaurant, it is where most of my interactions with Japanese people and local culture takes place... and often this happens against the backdrop of a third culture.

Tonight was Mexican Night at Reno's, with Tacos and Enchiladas served as specials, in honor of the evening's musical guests: a Mariachi duo!  It was very interesting to hear these two friends speaking in Spanish and then translating into both Japanese and English, especially since I understand all three languages to varying degrees (those degrees being relatively small for Japanese and Spanish of course).

As the evening wore on, Reno's filled to capacity.... and that's when things got 楽しい (fun).  Several songs saw the entire crowd up on their feet, dancing, clapping and cheering.  Several songs even led to a conga line!

So it was that on this evening, April 29, 2012, I had the opportunity to be the only 外人 (foreigner) in a 15-person Japanese conga line.  This wasn't on my bucket list--I mean, how could I have even fathomed having such an opportunity?  However, it was one of those moments that reminded me that my life, despite its general busy-ness, does have its share of adventure, fun and spontaneity.  I will not soon forget nights like tonight, and I am ever-grateful to God for providing such cool opportunities!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Trust vs. Timidity

Currently, my students are thinking and writing on the concept of the American Dream, especially as it relates to the American reality.  The disparity between dream and reality is easy to relate to: we've all experienced disappointment at times in our lives when our expectations and hopes were not met.

It's easy to play the role of the victim when circumstances do not pan out.  It's much tougher to admit that we must be proactive in pursuing our dreams, that responsibility for the success or failure of a dream rests on our shoulders to no small degree.

I believe that the greatest enemy to making dream reality is timidity... when we see opportunities, but do not take them.  Or perhaps, we do not even seek the opportunities we desire.  Ultimately, this is a matter of faith--if we believe that taking a chance and failing will end us, then of course the risk may seem too great.  However, if we trust that God will provide regardless of whether we succeed or fail, no opportunity should seem too risky.  Even the worst case scenario for pursuing every opportunity pales in comparison to separation from God.  If we believe that God is in control of all things, we will live to recover, grow, and try again.

LORD, let today be the day that my trust outgrows my timidity!

Explanation of the name of this blog

Recently, I have gotten a lot of questions and comments about the name of my blog.  I figured that it might be helpful to provide a bit of background:

When I was in high school, I was a reporter and editor for the Hi-Lite, our school newspaper.  I was also in charge of the Entertainment page, and had my own humor column.  After several class periods spent brainstorming a catchy name for a regular humor column, my inspiration came during breakfast with my prayer group on a Thursday morning.  I'd ordered my eggs fried, over-easy, and as the order rolled off my tongue, I realized that this would be a perfect title for my column, which I intended to gently poke fun at the quirks of the Lynden Christian community.  Something about the pairing of "frying" and "over-easy" seemed to fit with this vision.

I used this name again for a blog that I started in college, expanding to "Fried, Overeasy, and a Side of Hashbrowns".  I included the "hashbrowns" because my intent for my new blog was broader and bigger than just writing humorous pieces.  For several years, this blog served as a place where I would re-post Facebook notes; essays that I wrote on a variety of topics, some humorous and some serious.

A few years later, the email account that I had used to create my first blog expired, as I hadn't used the actual account in a long time.  Unfortunately, this meant that I was no longer able to access my blog.  So I created a new blog, and thought of a new name to reflect the fact that I was living in Japan.

Thus, "Fried, overeasy with a side of natto".  I am not actually a fan of natto (which, for the uninitiated, is a gooey fermented bean dish that many in Japan enjoy).  I've tried it, and although I didn't dislike it, I found it very difficult to eat because of the consistency, and decided that it would not be a regular part of my diet.  Natto is, however, a cool word, and it makes for a catchy, interesting title.

And that, readers, is where the title of my blog comes from.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

2002 and 2012

Last night, I posted part of a project that I had done for biology as a sophomore in high school.  Sophomore year was a pivotal year in my becoming who I am today, and this had much to do with the class that I'd looked forward to the least: Speech.

I should explain.  When I entered my adolescent years, I became very self-conscious.  I was a wiry, pale, freckly kid with big glasses, braces, and red hair, and I stood out like a sore thumb at my predominantly blonde-haired school.  At least, I thought I stood out.  Anyway, my fear of being perceived as awkward and out of place actually made me somewhat awkward and out of place.  I was not particularly confident in myself, and preferred to spend most of my time hoping that people were not looking at me, wishing desperately that I could just blend in with the sea of blonde.

It seemed as though teachers seemed to derive some level of cruel enjoyment from embarrassing me.  How would they embarrass me?  By calling on me in class.  By asking me to read from the textbook.  By making me give speeches.  I guess I recognized on some level that it wasn't just me, that the teachers were asking my classmates to do the same things, but at the time it all felt very personal and it. was. humiliating.

Going back to the pale red-head thing, I can't exactly hide embarrassment all that well.  My face is usually at least some shade of red to begin with, and I blush for a wide variety of reasons beside embarrassment, but it seems that there's a specially purplish, blotchy hue of crimson reserved for when I feel embarrassed.  That was the mask I wore when I stammered out answers to questions, when I jumbled words while reading, when I tripped over words while delivering halting, shaky speeches.

Mercifully, my classmates didn't laugh at me, at least not in front of me.  My friends all knew that I didn't like giving speeches or receiving attention of any kind during class, and I did receive sympathy and encouragement from them.  I appreciated this, but felt like they were wasting their time in encouraging me--I'd never be comfortable speaking in front of people, and that was the end of the matter.

You will understand, then, why I was dreading a semester-long speech class.  At least other English classes allowed me to hide under the rock of my writing: I enjoyed writing, it came naturally to me and best of all, I could write without people watching me.  Speech, however, would require me to deliver a variety of presentations: informative, persuasive, biographical, chapel-style and worst of all, impromptu.  There would be no shelter, no hiding.  I'd be exposed and vulnerable.

I still remember my first speech and the way my legs quaked as I spoke and the way the consonants seemed to get all twisted up on the tip of my tongue before falling to the ground in a mangled heap that my listeners could only scratch their heads and guess at.

I remember my second speech being much the same, though by that time I'd resigned to my fate and my fear was replaced with a strange numbness.

My third speech was different--it was a biographical speech and we could choose the historical figure.  I remembered my World History teacher mentioning a Roman Emperor who went insane and tried to make his horse a governor.  So, I researched Caligula and for the first time, I felt as though I had a really interesting (and really disturbing) subject to share with my audience.  As I wrote my speech, my typical feelings of anxiety and nervousness were replaced with excitement--I couldn't believe that a guy like Caligula had ever ruled over people and I wanted my classmates to share that same disbelief.  I knew that the textbooks avoided Caligula and began to see it as my duty to teach my classmates that "absolute power corrupts absolutely."

I even used this quote by Lord Acton to open my speech.  I still stumbled over some words, and I still shook a little bit, but as I got into my speech, I realized that my classmates were actually listening.  Not only listening, but they seemed positively hooked on every word, laughing at all the right moments, gasping at all the right moments.  When I finished my speech, there was applause--not the half-hearted obligatory applause that happens like a reflex after sitting through, but not really hearing a speech, but hearty, genuine, sustained applause.  It was a tradition in the class that after every speech, we'd vote for the best of the bunch.  That time, I won "best of the bunch."

From that point on, I saw speeches not as a bright spotlight shining on me like a lamp on the face of a suspect in an interrogation room, but instead as an opportunity for me to shed light on new and interesting information for my audience.  It wasn't about me; it was about them!  This revelation made all the difference in the world, and changed the trajectory of my high school career: plays, musicals, solos in choir, emceeing banquets, leading pep assemblies... such opportunities became my life later in high school, and I became, in many ways, the face and mouth-piece of my class.  So, almost exactly 8 years ago, when I found out that my classmates had selected me to be the class speaker at graduation, what would have been my worst nightmare several years before had become an honor of the highest caliber.

Fast-forwarding to today...  Today was a special day.  I found out that the Seniors, who took my Humanities, English and Bible classes last year, had chosen me to be their graduation speaker.  It is a privilege and a blessing to be able to address this group, for whom I care deeply, at their graduation ceremony in June.  As my mind races through potential ideas, I cannot help but think back to where I started 10 years ago.  What my reflection has reminded me: I'm not in the spotlight--it's my chance to serve the class of 2012; to teach and to challenge them as an entire captive audience one last time.  By God's grace, I am a teacher today, and have this wonderful opportunity.  I must begin in prayer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Tribute to Dr. Seuss (from 2002)

I didn't save too many assignments from when I was in high school... however, I did find this a while back!  The date on the cover page was 2002, which means that this must have been a project for sophomore biology.  It's really ridiculous, but I suppose that's what makes a fitting tribute to Dr. Seuss.  I did the drawings myself!  Anyway, enjoy:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


It was a long, cold winter... much longer and much colder than most years. March came in like a lion and went out like a lamb that has developed a taste for human flesh (which is actually a genuinely terrifying image).

Then, April began and the seasons turned. Today, it feels like they are turning again. April is drawing to an end, but right now it feels like summer. Maybe not summer in Japan, but summer in the Pacific Northwest, at least. It's about 75˚F at 4 in the afternoon--an afternoon too nice to spend inside! There's a breeze, but it's mild and refreshing. I don't think I would change the temperature any--the thermostat is just right and I feel like if I so much as breath too heavily or blink too loudly it might disrupt this delicate and perfect setting.

An afternoon like this was worth the wait; it was worth all the days in August and September that were too hot and humid, worth all the days between January and March that were too cold, rainy or snowy. It was even worth all of the sniffling and sneezing earlier this month when the trees blossomed. I'm the kind of person who tends to be dissatisfied with the present, and is constantly looking ahead to something--this is something I need to work on, to challenge myself to change... but today, I am content with where I am. I could sit at this picnic table for hours.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Day Made for Coffee

Once, a student asked me to explain "dreary" to them. I listed a few synonyms, and that seemed to clarify things. I wish they'd asked me today because then I could've dramatically gestured toward the window and said, "THIS... is dreary."

Indeed, it was a dreary day: dark, cloudy, cool and rainy in that sputtery, indecisive way that carries neither the excitement of a storm nor the refreshment of a mist. In other words, this
was a textbook Washington day. It brought back feelings of home, but not in the positive manner that a familiar smell or sound might. Instead, it brought me back to the dark, dreary days of Washington winters, where all I really wanted to do was settle down in a chair with a book (or at that time in my life, more likely a video game) and a cup of coffee.

I think that God created coffee and inspired mankind to develop espresso specifically for days like today. This is the kind of day best spent in a coffee shop, if one can manage. The kind of day where one will feel the most joy by appreciating the warmth and comfort of a quiet seat by the window while watching platoons of umbrellas marching in haste to unknown destinations. Armed with a steaming mug, one will find that even a dreary day takes on a brightness and color of its own.

I'm beginning to understand why all the major coffee-shop franchises began in Seattle.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Developing a Prayerful Attitude

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about my faith; in particular, what it means to live out my faith consistently. I don't want to compartmentalize--to pray only when I wake up, when I go to bed and before meals. I want to pray constantly, to maintain an attitude of awe, gratitude, and praise to God as often as I can.

This is so tough to do, especially during the average day when I'm in school-mode and busy. Nonetheless, taking the time to reflect, to pray and to praise, even in the middle of a busy day has become a pressing and personal goal for me.

What does it take to cultivate a prayerful attitude? What conditions best lend to developing such an attitude? What needs to be added and what needs to be subtracted from my life to create such conditions? As I wrestle with these questions, I realize that I am limited, forgetful and weak. What I've been reminded is that discipleship is a journey, and a journey requires one step at a time--Ultimately, I must pray for a prayerful attitude, pray for a constant, urgent desire for God. It may sound silly to pray that I spend more time in prayer, but God listens and works in my heart, little by little replacing all the vain things that charm me most with joy and an earnest desire to know Him. What are the ultimate benefits of a prayerful demeanor?

"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." --Philippians 4:7

Friday, April 20, 2012

Developing Friendships

I've found that one difficulty in being a young teacher is that when I get together with other young teachers, it's easy to just talk about school (since school consumes so much of our time and attention). Talking about the world, about life, about random things becomes so much more difficult because the common ground of an enclosed community and small work-place is the basis, or at least the starting point, for friendship.

Last night, I had dinner with a bunch of the other young teachers from CAJ, and was thankful that everyone made an effort to break beyond the school-talk. Of course, we did talk plenty about school--that's to be expected, I suppose, but we also talked about summer plans, movies, family. This was refreshing and I needed it after a busy week.

It wasn't effortless conversation, but breaking outside of a mold never is effortless. My image of young adults gathering and talking is a good mixture of joking and light-heartedness, and profound, thoughtful discussion about life, faith, growing up/how we want to continue to grow. Such deep conversation requires trust and a willingness to break beyond the superficial safety of talking about work.

Developing friendships with my fellow young teachers seems important--perhaps because of our unique position and ability to support, uplift and encourage one another: nobody knows what it's like to be a young teacher better than other young teachers. This doesn't mean teaching needs to be the topic of conversation--simply that there is a level of empathy present when fellowshipping with other teachers that isn't present in other situations. The same is true of any profession (though the inescapably social nature of teaching likely requires seeking out strong social support to a greater degree than some other jobs).

I realize that I must take my part in developing such encouragement, depth and support seriously. It's easy for me to sit back and listen only or to only talk about school-related things. As always, intentionality is a must.

Passing the Torch

We've officially entered the time of year where the torch passes from the current Seniors to the upcoming Seniors. I'm not sure what this is like at other schools, but at CAJ, the long process of transition begins with Spring Thrift Shop.

The Juniors are responsible for running the concession stands and supervising the freshmen. All of the money that they make from selling hot dogs, chili, pie, candy, popcorn and drinks goes toward funding the class' Thailand trip, and officially kicks off the class' Senior Concessions sales which will continue in earnest in the fall and winter.

It is yet another signal that this year is winding down, and even serves as a preview of next year, with the Juniors carrying ultimate responsibility for food sales, set-up and clean-up.

I tend to notice these moments of transition; I have ever since I first came here. After watching the class of 2009 sell concessions in January and February, I remember how jarring it was to see the class of 2010 running the show at Thrift Shop. It was the same with the class of 2011 the next year, the class of 2012 the year after that, and now the class of 2013. Each school-year ends, but the cycle continues. It makes me wonder whether I am a permanent part of this cycle at CAJ--this is actually a scary thought as I've talked with several colleagues over the past week who are now nearing the end of their careers who remember being in the position I'm in, looking ahead. Will that be me someday?

It's strange to think about--I fully believe that this is where I'm supposed to be right now, and generally I am content with my life here. I also realize that as I approach and eventually pass 30, I'll continue to grow and change. So, I wonder: what would need to change; what would need to be different for me to be content here permanently?

Trust is a necessity.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Developing Patience

My first year of teaching, there was a much larger disconnect between what I wanted my teaching to be and what my teaching actually was. I understood, for example, that I needed to be calm and patient when difficulties arose. Unfortunately, I was still fairly insecure in my sense of authority (as a 23-year-old first-year teacher in a classroom full of teenagers who knew how young I was) and so I took any problems in class, any student misbehavior personally.

This made it difficult to react to issues in the classroom calmly and sensibly. Several times, I became frustrated and lost my temper... of course in hindsight, an adult getting into an argument with high school freshmen seems really silly, but at the time it felt like life or death, eat or be eaten. I knew I needed to be the one to remain calm in tense situations, but my will to apply this often crumbled in the heat of the moment.

Fortunately, God's grace is sufficient to pick us up, dust us off, and build us up. I wasn't aware of growing in my ability to remain calm, to listen, to be patient... in fact, I don't feel like my patience was even tested seriously once during last year, my second year of teaching.

And though there have been moments of frustration and disappointment this year, I've never felt tested in my ability to remain calm or patient. Even today, when a group of students who was supposed to give a presentation told me in class they weren't ready (after being given two extra work-days beyond what they'd planned and having neglected to tell me ahead of time), I didn't feel tested. I firmly told the class that I was disappointed, that I wasn't trying to make them feel bad, but that I really expected better from them and that I hoped they'd try harder next time. In short, I hadn't thought the moment was a really big deal.

After school, I saw several of my students outside of Lawson's. They called me over and told me that everybody had really listened carefully to my lecture earlier in the day. I didn't even know what moment they were referring to, until they said that they were thankful that a teacher could express unhappiness without becoming angry. I was a little surprised to hear this, but as I gave it some thought, I realized that I had, indeed, dealt with a classroom issue gracefully (and not even realized it). I told the students that several years before, I probably would've gotten angry and yelled, but I'd realized that something like that wasn't worth getting angry about.

Then, one of the students said,
"Well, we really appreciate your quality."

The other two students nodded and voiced their agreement.

This moment touched my heart and made my day. It's such a blessing to know that even though we are weak, God is working in us, building us up where we fall short. I still have aspects of my teaching where reality doesn't match my ideals and this moment today gave me hope that in several years, I'll be even more deserving of such a kind phrase.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Changes upon changes

Thought for the day:
Each school-year at CAJ is like a completely different life. When I think back to each past school-year since I first came here (Spring 2009, 09-10, 10-11), each was vastly different from the other... more-so, I think, than they would have been if I were living somewhere else. Not only have my teaching responsibilities changed each year (and obviously I teach a slightly different group of students each year), many teachers and community members have gone and many new faces have come. While some dynamics are consistent from year-to-year, it seems like each year means redefining normal, redefining routine.

I wonder what next year will be like...


Increasingly, I am realizing that while curriculum and instruction are a big part of teaching, they are only a small part of what students learn.

This is not an invitation to treat planning and the content that I teach as unimportant, but rather a reminder that teaching does not end with classroom instruction. It's actually an incredibly reassuring thought... bad days are overwhelming when they happen, and I obsess far too easily about classes that I feel didn't go well, activities that fell flat, or a disappointing set of essays. However, if I have a trusting relationship with my students, if I care, if I take the time to talk and listen, that is far more important than every classroom activity going smoothly, or every assessment yielding the results I want.

I was reminded of this today. It was not a bad day--I simply had more opportunities than usual to have conversations, either one-on-one or with small groups of students, that reminded me just how important relationship is to the teaching profession. I don't consider myself to be a terribly outgoing person. I'm an introvert--I find lots of social interaction to be tiring. At the same time, I feel like if I were teaching online or teaching lecture-hall-sized classes, I'd burn out really fast.

The conversations in particular, and building relationships with my students in general are such meaningful parts of my job. The fact that students feel comfortable talking to me, and that they actively seek my input and advice gives me a greater feeling of satisfaction and worth than even the best classroom activity. It's not even for my benefit--likely the students do not realize how much it means to me that they value my opinion.

I hope that I can prove worthy of their trust, that I can listen, think and provide wise advice.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spring Cleaning

I'm not a neat-freak. I'm not a slob, either, but I am organizationally challenged, which is a polite way of saying that I have little to no concept of how to keep my possessions in an order that would be discernible to anyone else... sometimes the order isn't discernible to me, either, and that's when panic sets in.

Anyway, my desk at school and my room at home are probably the greatest pieces of evidence of my inability to sort and organize. Piles of paper, piles of clothes... it's sort of the norm for me.

I don't want it to be the norm, though--it seems to me that I would feel better and my life would run much more smoothly if I put some effort into learning how to stay organized.


The piles get so big that they cause collateral damage. Others complain. I may lose something (or more often, I cannot find something in a pile, though I know it's there). I may simply become overwhelmed or discouraged by the size of the pile.

So, at that point, I have to clean things up: I trash and recycle what I don't need and divide what I do need into logical stacks. The result is a clean desk or clean room, and me feeling amazingly liberated and relieved.

This is spookily like how sin accumulates in our lives. Sin weighs us down and we lack the skill and strength to put our lives in order ourselves. The more we try to do things on our own (or ignore the issues), the messier the issues become and the more hopeless the situation seems. Fortunately, God is the ultimate organizer: when we lay our problems before Him, we find our priorities renewed. He re-orders our hearts and cleans them. Sometimes it feels as though He uses steel wool to scrape away the plaque, and that can be painful, but we're left clean, unburdened, restored.

Two-fold point here: When I'm feeling burdened, I need to remember to take my burdens to God rather than letting them accumulate or being so naive as to think I can solve my problems through my own strength. The second point is, rather than letting the stuff accumulate on my desk, I need to sort, order and file right away--even if it may be a painful habit to form.

As always, I pray for wisdom and strength in developing habits that are so outside of my nature.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Two weeks ago, I was trying to describe to my parents how the Sakura blossoms would look. Two weeks before that, I was packing to leave for Thailand and shivering on a cold evening.

Tonight, I am sitting at the school picnic tables after two productive days of hard work and thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere. The Sakura petals are still raining down, and the trees are slowly transforming from pink to green. It's warm this evening--70˚F at 5:00 pm.

I know that summer is still a couple months away, but this reminds me that summer is coming, makes it seem somehow closer. I worked hard this week, and that on top of being sick over the weekend. I'm in need of rest, and the calm, warm breeze, the green on the trees... all of it reminds me that rest is around the corner. Though I'm feeling significantly more content and at peace with a huge stack of grading almost behind me, I'm definitely feeling more and more ready for summer-time. For the moment, an evening such as this will do nicely.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sakura Petals

Tiny pink moments
Pass gently before our eyes
Some endings are also beginnings

It's that time of year again... the time of year where my students write haiku for my Humanities and English classes. Following the advice of one of my mentors, I intentionally de-emphasize the syllable-counting aspect of haiku writing (as you can see demonstrated above). Even for masters of Japanese Haiku, the 5-7-5 scheme is a fairly sophisticated rule to follow and one that a haiku writer is not expected to master immediately.

Factor in just how messy and imprecise syllables in English can be (especially when compared to the crisp precision of Japanese syllables) and... well it just makes sense to put more teaching energy into other, more important components of what makes a haiku...

So instead, I encourage the students to focus their haiku around a main "ku" or idea, utilize "kigo" or words that evoke a particular season or sense, and include one line that serves as "kireji"; a cutting line that is different (either structurally or tonally) from the other two. As long as they keep each line relatively simple (no run-on sentences), the length and syllable count do not matter.

Some students (they could choose) will put these skills into use as they write a haiku for each chapter of the book "Obasan", and eventually make a creative visual haiku that will be on display in the school's atrium.

It feels as though I just went through this unit with the class of 2012. The memories are still so fresh. I wonder if those Spring months of 2011 will always feel that way to me, even years from now.

As it is, the Senior class of 2012 is less than two months away from being alumni, and a new group of seniors will take their place at the top of the CAJ food chain. The class of 2013 has already elected their Senior council for next year. My first thought, as I looked over the list, was "What a good group of leaders--they'll do a fine job."

My second thought was jarring: I first met that group and their classmates when they were Middle Schoolers. I consider myself a newbie at CAJ, a new and still inexperienced teacher. Perhaps that is true, relatively speaking, but I've been here long enough to see an entire high school generation go through--the current Seniors were freshmen when I started. For some reason, that wasn't as shocking as the realization that the little (well, some not-so-little) 8th graders who I subbed for and helped to lead a youth group for in 2009 are preparing for their final year of high school. It made my 26 years feel just a little heavier and wearier, I must confess.

It's all so bittersweet. I'm glad to see that class start to think about their Senior year. I'm glad so many are taking the idea of leadership and responsibility seriously as they look ahead. I'm also sad to see the class of 2012 prepare to go. I've written a lot about that group and I don't want to sound like a broken record, but I sort of grew up parallel to them. I learned how to be a teacher as they learned how to be high schoolers. In fact, I'd originally planned to leave CAJ after this year (a plan I was fairly committed to up until about the time of the earthquake). For the sake of the comparison, it would've worked perfectly to leave at the same time as the class of '12, but I now realized that I'm called to stay.

Each year, I say "CAJ won't be the same without this Senior class". Each year, I'm right. However, life goes on and different doesn't mean bad... it just means different. Perhaps it's just one of those weird cycles that teachers need to get used to: constantly welcoming a new group, constantly bidding farewell to a familiar group... perfectly and precisely bittersweet.

The Sakura petals are starting to fall from the trees in CAJs plaza: after a brilliant couple of days in full bloom, the rain and the wind are bringing the delicate petals to their inevitable destination on the concrete. Having spent the four years before coming to Japan in Iowa, where the concept of four seasons is as whimsical as the concept of Hobbits, Quidditch or magical wardrobes, I am easily moved and awed by noticeable seasonal transitions.

The falling of the sakura petals is at once so sad and so beautiful. Sad because those days of full bloom are gorgeous and the trees will not look like that again for a whole year. Beautiful because of the graceful exit, with the petals fluttering softly like snowflakes. Sad because the blossoms create an atmosphere of such camaraderie and joy that is unique to the setting of "hanami". Beautiful because the falling petals herald warmer days and the coming of summer, which creates its own atmosphere of camaraderie and joy.

Some endings are also beginnings.

The old has gone, the new has come.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Continuing Yesterday's Metaphor...

Today was the warmest day of the year, so far. At its peak, the temperature was roughly 73˚F (23˚C). The Sakura trees, as well as many others, are still in full bloom. It was a beautiful day, and exactly what I've been looking forward to since April last year, and...

...I am totally miserable. I'm still not sure whether I've got allergies, or just a really persistent, bad cold that has coincidentally gotten worse with the number of trees in blossom, but whatever it is, it's hit me hard and made simply existing somewhat painful.

This morning, I decided that being miserable was a choice and that I would boldly choose to seize the day and NOT be miserable. I took a Claritin tablet for some added insurance.

However, as I was walking through beautiful Shinjuku park with friends early this afternoon, I could not stop sneezing... which was not my choice. Eventually my body ached from the jolt and force of each sneeze. While my friends went on to visit several more parks, I caught the train home, where I lay down for an hour and slept for a total of maybe 15 minutes off and on.

Today was a gift from God: a beautiful warm day, a vacation from school, the kind of day I'd been looking forward to and yet I was so overwhelmed by my symptoms that I couldn't fully enjoy or appreciate the day.

Sin does much the same thing: it takes something good that God created and then totally distorts it, or totally distorts our enjoyment of it. Sex, money, family, career... all of those are basically good things that God created, things that are beautiful in the proper context of God being the center of our lives. However, we misuse these and other things, give them inflated importance or purposes that God didn't intend. We replace God with some created thing as being the focal point of our life. At that point, we've lost the beauty and joy that God intended.

Somehow, sin manages to advertise itself as glamorous, flashy and fun. However, as I sit here trying to write, coughing, sneezing, sniffing, eyes watering, I can plainly see and feel that anything which distorts or disrupts enjoyment of God's creation is miserable at the core, and ought to be eradicated. I wonder, what will the world be like when that happens?

The final scene from C.S. Lewis' "The Last Battle", the concluding installment in the Chronicles of Narnia, comes to mind. At the end, Aslan takes the characters into Real Narnia, which resembles the Narnia they knew, only it is bigger, more beautiful, more vivid and more real.

Eventually, my symptoms will ease up, and at that point, I will be able to enjoy the beauty of the day and my surroundings without distraction, without disruption. This will be a taste of that realness to which Lewis refers. One day, sin will be vanquished once and for all, and we will be able to enjoy an existence where God is at the center, always. Even the strongest joy that we feel in this lifetime is but a first-fruit, a sliver of the full joy we'll experience on that day.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Resurrection Day Relief

It's a picturesque Easter Sunday (or, if you prefer, Resurrection Day) here in Tokyo: the skies are clear, the sun is shining, and the Sakura blossoms are in full bloom.

Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the scenery on this day is tempered somewhat by the discovery that I have 花粉症 (kafunsho; the Japanese term for hayfever). Many students and colleagues of mine suffer from Spring allergies and I'd heard that people develop it seemingly at random. I'd always felt fortunate that I wasn't among the sufferers, until this year. It started with an itch in my throat early in the week and by Saturday, I was sneezing constantly, my nose was running and my eyes were watering.

This morning, I took a Claritin tablet. Within an hour, my symptoms had eased up. I'm still snuffling and sneezing occasionally, but the intensity has ebbed from the way I felt when I woke up this morning (I actually woke up sneezing... first time that's ever happened to me). I don't feel great, but I feel some relief.

In a strange way, this brings me into reflection about the resurrection. With His resurrection, Christ ensured victory in the war against sin and death. In His earthly lifetime, Christ endured every possible type of temptation and even some kinds of temptation that we will never face. Not only did He endure temptation, but He did what we never could: He withstood; triumphed every single time He was tempted. Our willpower may occasionally win out, but more often then not, we have a breaking point; we capitulate... which means, we don't really have a clear concept of what it's like to be tempted with full force. Christ does because He endured every temptation to its fullest extent without caving. In doing so, Christ established the authority and ability to take on our debt of sin: only one who has never sinned could do so.

In dying on the cross and rising from the dead, Christ extends the promise of life without temptation, without sin.

Like an allergy, temptation is an uncomfortable reality that must be endured not just once or twice, but constantly. It diminishes the enjoyment of the good things that God has created and brings so much misery and distress. However, while for allergies we have only anti-histamines (which are great, but obviously have limits and side-effects), for temptation, we have Christ.

We will still face temptations in our lifetime and we will still buckle under those temptations with astounding frequency, but we can rest assured that Christ took those moments of weakness with Him to the cross. In Him, we find relief. In Him, we find the promise of a day when we will no longer face temptations, when sin will no longer even be a possibility.

Compared to this glorious hope, the promise of not sniffling or sneezing seems pretty trivial.

Hallelujah to the Risen LORD!

Easter Sunrise on Walnut Hill

I wrote this meditation on Easter, 2007--a video recording of the reflection can be found here.

"After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men." Matthew 28: 1-4


"Nate, time to wake up." Even though mom is not shouting, her voice is louder than my alarm, which had blared and beeped for five minutes without waking me.

Sluggishly, I open my eyes and look to the clock on my nightstand. I blink twice and the blurry red digits slide into focus: 4:50 am.

"There's coffee in the kitchen. I'll be outside setting up. No rain, so we'll be up on the hill. Happy Easter!" Mom leaves the room swiftly, and I wonder to myself just how I missed out on her “morning person” genes.

I step out of bed and dress clumsily, nearly falling over twice as I climb into my own jeans.

In the kitchen, I pour myself a cup of coffee and take a seat by the window. The sky is dark, except for the moon, shining brightly above our barn.

My brother, who did inherit the "morning person" gene, strides into the kitchen.

Setting down my mug, I grunt a jumbled combination of "Good morning" and "Happy Easter." The coffee will take a few minutes to kick in.

Fortunately, Ben deciphers my ramblings, and returns the greeting. "Dad's bringing the truck down to the barn,” he tells me, “You ready?"

I tip the mug over my lips and catch the last few drops before grabbing a pair of ratty barn gloves and stepping out into the crisp April morning.


"The angel said to the women, 'do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay." Matthew 28: 5-6


I jog down the hill to our old red hay barn, the brisk air cutting through my lingering sleepiness with every breath. The first traces of morning are touching the night sky now, cloaking the farm in an eerie shade of blue.

Ben and Dad are already tossing hay bales onto the back of the Chevy pickup. I hop into the pickup bed and stack the bales.

Dad throws the last bale on and Ben and I climb the stack to take a seat at the top. We duck to avoid branches and power lines as Dad drives up the path. Ahead, the lone, tall tree atop our hill stands out against the fading night sky.

Dad parks the pickup twenty feet from the tree. Ben and I jump down and unload the bales, then arrange them in five rows of four, with an aisle down the middle. It’s a crude sanctuary, bales for pews.

We stack several bales at the front, and place our old Yamaha keyboard on top. In just an hour, family, friends, neighbors, people from church, and even strangers will fill this cold hilltop chapel in the bonds of Christian fellowship.


"Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying... At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
'Woman,' he said, 'why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?'
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.'
Jesus said to her, 'Mary.'
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, 'Rabboni!' (which means teacher.")
Jesus said, 'Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: 'I have seen the Lord!' And she told them that he had said these things to her."
John 20: 10-11, 14-18


Mom is setting up silver pots filled with coffee and hot chocolate on card tables in the barn. Our inquisitive horses poke their gray noses out from their stalls. Several years ago, one of our mares decided to have a foal on Easter, early in the morning. We named the filly "Alleluia.”

People start arriving at 6:30. An assortment of cars transforms our driveway, front lawn, and horse arena into a sprawling makeshift parking lot. I return to the top of the hill and begin to pass out bulletins fresh from our kitchen printer.

Familiar and unfamiliar faces gradually fill the pews of hay. Families bundled up in several layers of sweatshirts huddle together under quilts and small children run around giggling, weaving between the bales, somehow immune to the cold.

I sit down between Ben and Lea on one of the front bales. Mom, seated at the keyboard, begins to play "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" in a faux organ tone, and the sound of our hilltop chorus breaks through the still morning.

In the distance, the sun is rising behind Mount Baker, shooting vibrant rays of yellow across a mellow orange horizon. Trails of light dance off of the clouds and the mountain shines brightly as if the sky burst open right behind it.

As we sing the closing line, "Christ has opened paradise", the significance dawns like the sunrise itself. Christ allowed himself to be mocked and tortured, humiliated beyond comprehension. He died in history’s most gruesome manner, hanging like a despicable criminal. He endured an inestimable number of eternities in hell for the sins of every single person who ever lived, including each of us here this morning, and yet...

And yet, he conquered sin and even death itself, leaving the promise of redemption. Of paradise.

The sun rises high above the mountains as we worship, illuminating Whatcom County in a golden glow and the wonderful assurance of this promise is cast over our small congregation with the sunlight: Christ the Lord is risen today. Alleluia.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

From a young age, I was awed and intrigued by the story of Jesus' death. The final days leading up to his crucifixion were dramatic. The thought that on one evening, he could be in the comfort and safety of that upper room, having a meal with his disciples and then just a day later would be crying "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" in anguish on the cross was mind boggling. When I was in elementary school, I would even try to think of where Jesus was and what was happening on those days so long ago.

He must have been praying in the garden at about this time.

This must be about when Judas betrayed him.

It's Friday morning; I wonder if this is when the rooster crowed as Peter denied him...

Of course, Scripture does list some specific times: we know that from the 6th hour to the 9th hour (which scholars believe to have been 12:00 pm to 3 pm), darkness covered the land. I never accounted for the time difference, and so at noon, Pacific time, I would think, "Okay, Jesus would be on the cross now, and it's really dark."

And I vividly remember Good Friday services at church--Wiser Lake Chapel would hold a tenebrae service (with each reading, reflection and song, the lights are dimmed until the sanctuary is totally dark). This tradition caught my young imagination and has stayed with me to this day and served as a visual reminder to me of the bizarre, miraculous events of Good Friday afternoon.

As I mentioned, it got dark early. Matthew, Mark and Luke all include this detail. I wonder how many at Golgotha made the connection between this and the crucifixion. I wonder what other people thought as they went about their business and lives in Jerusalem.

Matthew, Mark and Luke also mention that when Christ died, the curtain of the temple was torn in two. When I was younger, this always seemed like a really epic scene to me: Christ cries out in a loud voice, and the very instant he dies, this massive, heavy curtain tears down the middle. Matthew even mentions that the ground shook and that graves opened up, and many who were dead returned to life, which adds to the intensity of the scene. I now understand that for the average person living in Jerusalem, perhaps even for the disciples, who had a penchant for missing what Christ was really saying (by their own admission), these natural and supernatural events may have seemed completely random. The disciples, and others at Golgatha likely would not have found out about the temple curtain until later. Several gospels report that a centurion understood the connection: "Surely this man was the Son of God", he says after Jesus dies.

It's easy for me to read this and think "well, duh..." However, I know, just based on the way I think and act that I would have been more like the disciples and the countless others who heard Christ, smiled and nodded, but failed to put two and two together. For those who didn't understand Christ's promise that He would rise again, it must have been a horrible day... to lose a friend, a teacher, one who had been rumored to be the Messiah... it must have seemed like the end of all hope.

However, we know from our vantage point what so many at the time didn't realize: Christ would triumph. Christ is LORD of all and that includes all of nature, even the ground that we stand on. From Good Friday, we eagerly await a day when darkness will not reign, when the ground will stop shaking and when death itself will be history.

We can count on the coming of this day because the story didn't stop with the cross. I pray that all of my thoughts and reflections of the coming days will lead me from the cross to the empty tomb, which is the source of profound hope and unending joy.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dealing the Fatal Blow

This is a reflection that I wrote for my home-church's blog, for today:

“O death, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

1 Corinthians 15:54-55

“What happens when we die?” From an early age, we ask this question. We ask because death seems mysterious, unpredictable and strange. We ask because the idea of death terrifies us.

Terror is an understandable response: death is the curse that we bear for human sin. We were created to live in eternal closeness to God, but selfish pursuit broke that relationship and carried us far from the safety, goodness and life found in Him.

Just as our bodies cannot survive for long without water, so our souls cannot survive separation from God. Physical death is symbolic of the full extent of the curse: complete and permanent separation from God. When held up against the tremendous beauty of what we were created to be, how we were created to live, of course this is terrifying!

This is what makes Paul’s words, a paraphrase of Hosea 13:14, so striking: because of Christ, we no longer need to fear death. In fact, we can be so bold as to ask “where is your sting?”; “where is your victory?” Through Christ, we are able to mock death.

Often, we think about mockery or taunting in any competition as bad sportsmanship, but never before has a victory been so important, or so decisive, the victor so good or the villain so despicable. Christ took on the sins of humanity and died on the cross--total separation from God. Then, He rose from the dead, bursting through what seemed to be an impenetrable barrier. He dealt a fatal blow to death, and made it look silly in the process.

So as we wait for Christ’s return, and in the meantime suffer from the mad thrashing of death, which is itself dying, we can feel not only consolation, but triumph in the fact that the outcome was decided on the cross. Death still strikes out at us with all of its might, but because of Christ, we need look no further than the scoreboard to know how this game will end.

So, we play on and wait, and even when death deals a heavy blow, we are privileged to ask, “O death, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

Thanks be to God!

Monday, April 2, 2012

What Wondrous Love

trad. American folk-hymn

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this
That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free
I’ll sing His love for me,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

Love is a term thrown about perhaps too glibly. It's certainly been commercialized to an unhealthy extent, and through this process of commercialization, "love" often carries connotations no more broad than feelings of admiration at best, feelings of lust at worst.

The true impact of what love means is cushioned by a pile of so many cut-out hearts and rose petals. I was listening to a sermon online yesterday, and the pastor was discussing the significance of Jesus Christ as being the Great high priest; one who brings us into the presence of God safely because He bore the weight of our sins.

It's easy to say we are loved by God. As the familiar song goes, "Jesus loves me, this I know..." But do we live like we know? It occurred to me, listening to this sermon, that I don't live as though this were fact.

When we know beyond a doubt that we are loved, it changes how we act. It changes how we speak. It changes how we think. Love, in its most selfless form, is a powerful force.

We might see glimmers of this in our relationships with friends, family and significant others but it will always be imperfect and incomplete because somewhere along the line we will do something selfish or hurtful. We may even try to justify our inconsiderate behavior by blaming it on the faults of the other person... "I'd be a better brother if so-and-so weren't so annoying!" "I wouldn't cheat if my husband actually paid attention to me!" "If only my students would listen, I wouldn't have to lose my temper with them."

Such rationalizations explain our flaws as being the fault of those around us. Such behavior takes place in even relatively healthy and functional relationships, to varying degrees. It is, most unfortunately, typical of us as humans.

So, we understand then, just how difficult it is to look beyond the blemishes, beyond the mistakes and to love another with total and selfless abandon.

That's precisely what Christ did for us on the cross. God is wholly good--something we can scarcely envision. In such a presence of total goodness, things that are broken, dirty and evil simply cannot exist. Obviously, we do not seem like likely candidates to dwell in the presence of God. Yet, Christ bore our sins on the cross and because of His sacrifice, we can enter the presence of God and live!

We did not earn this privilege, we do not deserve it, we cannot repay it. We can only accept and follow. This is the wondrous love to which the song refers and when you really stop to think about it, it's a love so powerful that it will transform us from the inside out. My challenge to myself (and to any who read this) is to believe and accept this love... to not simply say I'm loved but to live as though I'm loved.

And through eternity, I'll sing on, I'll sing on...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Audit #2

The months are flying by. This is my second checkpoint regarding my New Year's Resolutions. I said in my last checkpoint post that my focus for the coming (now past) month would not so much be getting back on track with my resolutions, but simply getting back on track in my personal relationship with God.

Unfortunately, it's all too easy to shelf even such an essential, fundamental goal, to put it on a back-burner when life gets busy.

This past month has been one of stress and struggle, leading up to and coming away from the Thailand trip. There were some good moments: Forming new friendships, sharing how I use technology in the classroom with a group of enthusiastic parents, turning 26, spending a week in Thailand with the Seniors, spending a week with my parents.

There was also a tremendous amount of overwork (to the point of physical illness, sometimes), loneliness, and in general, feelings of despair and hopelessness. I live, for better or worse, by comparison. So, my natural point of reference for how I define success this year is last year, and when the way things turn out this year differs from the way they turned out last year (the way I think they ought to be), I lose hope.

I also tend to overlook the love and support of my friends, my students, my colleagues, my family--the wonderful community in which I serve, and feel totally isolated and lonely if the social reality doesn't meet my (often skewed) expectations.

In the midst of all of these struggles and doubts, I've failed consistently to turn to God, to accept His love, to pray for His will to be done. I'm a control freak, and want things to be so specifically my way that it scares me to let go, to turn everything over to Him. The thing is: trying to hold on to my way and my will clearly doesn't work--it's left me burned out and the year is far from over.

So, now I look to the months ahead and I pray for healing. Perhaps it's my exhaustion. Perhaps it's the attitude of one who is weakened by illness and stress. At any rate, I look at myself and my way of doing things and I realize just how powerless I am. I cannot do anything on my own, but I can endure, can persevere, can accomplish and succeed through the mercy of Christ.

Recently, I told the Seniors that they were loved and cared for, even as I had questioned the truth that I myself am loved and cared for. No, life will not turn out as I planned or hoped and yes, there will be times when I do not have close friends nearby, times when I feel lonely... but I'm never alone.

My goal for this month is simply (and profoundly) to let God's will be done. Make no mistake, God's will WILL be done no matter what I say or do, but growing in discipleship means following. Following means listening. Listening means letting go of what I think needs to be said or done next.

I appreciate your prayers as I endeavor to live out these reflections and ideals, as well as prayers for an awareness of mercy and grace when I stumble or get caught up in my own agenda.