Thursday, November 29, 2012

In the clear?

Man, I feel like I've been through the ringer this past week.  The problem with having an immune system that programs itself to only get sick 2 or 3 times a year is that when I do get sick, I REALLY crash and burn.  And the problem with this happening while I'm still in school, as opposed to vacation is that I still need to try to do my job and live my day-to-day life through all of it.  Somehow, on vacation, I can manage to skate through illness without collateral damages... that seems to be tougher to do when school's still on.

This week has sort of seen me all over the board: Monday was the hyper, mile-a-minute chattering that always heralds the onset of a fever for me.  Tuesday, I didn't even leave my apartment.  Wednesday, I was emotional, sensitive, and picking fights I probably should have left alone, and today (following only 3 hours of sleep last night due to my cough), I was in a strange, whimsical, profound mood, but definitely sleep-deprived.

As I sit here writing this post, I am still coughing and wheezing.  I hope it eases up soon. One doesn't truly value health until they get sick... and this is, unfortunately, a cyclical truth:  Every time I recover from a bad virus, I am grateful for my health for a while... and then I forget; take health for granted and complain.

This time, I'm going to try to be consistently grateful for good health... and as part and parcel of that, I want to go out of my way to keep myself healthy, to view my good health as something I am responsible to care for and maintain.  I manage to figure out new pieces of what it means to be a responsible, independent adult every year, but I never manage to have all of the pieces in place at once. Life, one of these days, I'll figure you out, just you wait...

Monday, November 26, 2012


The past few weeks have been more of a question of "when" than "if".  WHEN will I crash?  WHEN will I get sick?  WHEN will my stress, busy schedule and busyness-induced lack of care for myself collide?

I would have put my money on Christmas break.  Typically, I can hold out until then (at least, that was always my pattern in college and my first years of teaching).  This year, it was Thanksgiving... and unfortunately, a 3-day weekend was not enough time for me to recover... in fact, I'm feeling worse now, despite a weekend of pretty solid rest and sleep.

So, again, I ask for prayers.  I hope to one day blog about more cheerful and lighthearted topics, but I'm afraid that this is not the evening where that happens.  Perhaps I'll take to more creative writing over Christmas break... but for now, I just want to get over this stupid fever/cold/whatever.

Thanks for praying--

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Riff on Psalm 130:6

My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Even when I am tired,
My soul waits for the Lord.

Even when I am discouraged,
My soul waits for the Lord.

When it feels as though I can't win,
My soul waits for the Lord.

When I feel like even my best ideas fall flat,
My soul waits for the Lord.

When I feel abandoned,
My soul waits for the Lord.

Though I feel stretched beyond my limits,
My soul waits for the Lord.

Though I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders,
My soul waits for the Lord.

Though I feel backed into a corner,
My soul waits for the Lord.

Though my ambitious plans seem out of reach,
My soul waits for the Lord.

When I'd rather just run away,
My soul waits for the Lord.

When the time I invest in my job seems in vain,
My soul waits for the Lord.

When my best efforts come up short,
My soul waits for the Lord.

Even when I begin to doubt myself,
My soul waits for the Lord.

Even when I cry out in anger and frustration,
My soul waits for the Lord.

My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
More than watchmen wait for the morning.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Teacher's Christmas List

Today, the recognition dawned on me that Christmas vacation is exactly one month away.  To be honest, the past month and a half (really, since the week after Wilderness Camp) has been the most exhausting of my teaching career thus far, for a wide variety of reasons.  Under normal circumstances, I'd choose being in class over being on vacation any day, but at the moment, I'm feeling more than a little mentally drained, which makes vacation actually look desirable for a change.

All of this got me thinking: Professionally, what are my Christmas wishes?  Putting aside practicality, what would I want most, as a teacher?  Here's what I came up with:

1) The perfect Master's program.  I've talked in the past about wanting to learn more about curriculum and instruction.  Specifically, I'd love to complete a Master's in which I could study the benefits of a Humanities-style education (over and against keeping History and English class separate).  I enjoy teaching my Humanities curriculum, but I feel like in order to keep growing that curriculum and growing in my ability to teach it, I need to spend some time as a graduate student, researching and discussing curriculum, instruction and pedagogy.  Ideally, this would be an on-site program and not online, as I really do benefit from being in a live classroom setting.

2) Speech class.  I'd love to teach a speech elective.  Speech was one of the most important classes I took in high school (though for most of the semester, it was certainly not my favorite class), and I think I'd do a good job at teaching it.  I'd also enjoy teaching a storytelling class, though perhaps it would be possible to incorporate storytelling into a speech curriculum.  This would require adding an hour to the day, and then using that hour to create an 8th period in the school day.

3) Newspaper advising.  I've heard some of my students talking about reviving "The Evergreen", CAJ's on-again/off-again school paper.  I've got years of journalistic experience behind me, having spent 6 years of my life on a school newspaper staff in high school and college.  I have experience as a reporter, a page/layout editor, a photographer, a cartoonist and a columnist.  I would LOVE to be a part of the learning process for these students, since I know a lot about print journalism and still have a passion for it, though I ultimately decided that teaching was my calling.  There's just that whole time thing... only 24 hours in a day.

4) Reacting to the Past.  I occasionally build simulations and mock trials into my existing curriculum, but with the need to balance coverage and un-coverage in courses intended to be surveys of U.S. History/Lit or World History, I cannot afford to linger for too long on a single event or time period in history.  A course dedicated to simulations (such as the "Reacting to the Past" series) would provide freedom to dive all the more deeply into historical events and develop high level critical thinking skills.  It would also be interesting to see what kind of crowd a Junior/Senior history elective might draw.

The obstacle to all of these is a frustrating lack of hours in the day, and days in the week.  I think I may spend a little time over Christmas break just researching options for a Master's, since that's less a function of adding hours to the day and more of finding an opportune time to take a break from teaching.  As for those others... well, I can just keep wishing for a time-turner, I suppose.

Monday, November 12, 2012


A clear sense of calling is a powerful thing.  It was a clear sense of calling that brought me to Japan, and a clear sense of calling that led me to stay this long.  As I described in a recent post, I feel like I'm sort of drifting now, or waiting.  There are some days when I feel that sense of calling to stay here, to invest in language training, to gear up for the long haul... there are also some days when I wonder.

Tonight, for example... the "what if's" sprang to my mind as I thought about the year after next.  Two years ago, I'd been looking at the possibility of going back to school for a Master's this year.  Here I am now, no closer to even thinking about my Master's than I was two years ago... and perhaps even further back in the process, as I was at least searching for schools two years ago.  I know I want to come back for another year at CAJ--I established a good relationship with the class of 2015 when I taught them as freshmen and want to work with them again next year when they are Juniors.  I want to see that teaching relationship through.  But beyond that... the thought sprang to mind that perhaps the year after next might be an opportune time to take a leave and pursue my graduate education.

It was just an idea; I don't really know if that's what I want... it could even be that the whole idea will seem ridiculous to me tomorrow or a few days from now.

I feel a little bit like I'm in the middle of a giant maze, and I've got so many options for paths that I could take.  Sometimes I wish that God would drop more bread-crumbs to show me which way to go.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Something Positive, Something to Keep Me Anchored

Day after day; one week fading into the next; seasons changing and years marching on... The longer I teach, the more the routine of the school-year turns time into an utter blur.  I love teaching, so it's a fast blur... but all the same, it is much too easy to get caught in the current and forget to enjoy the moment or even recognize the present.

I've learned that it is important to have a life outside of school; some anchor to keep me grounded in time and place while the school-year rushes on.  Having a planned disruption to the usual routine of CAJ life is most welcome and helpful in keeping time from getting away from me.

Church has provided me with this anchor.  I wrote a year ago about how I was hoping to become more involved at Grace City Church.  Due to a combination of shyness, lack of comfort with the Japanese language and frankly, laziness, it took me until April before I started attending weekly, and it wasn't until June that I started making friends.  Of course, I was away for the summer, but upon returning, I resolved to dive in.  I'm so glad I did.

My desire is to be helpful and to serve, and I have strived to assist regularly with set-up before church.  Today marked my first Sunday helping to lead worship by singing on the worship team.  I am so completely grateful to the pastors and leaders within the church for these opportunities to develop a role within this wonderful community.  I've made friends and I've also made mentors--those valuable folks who are just enough older than me to really speak wisdom and encouragement into my life, yet from a position that's not too far distant from mine.  I've had countless opportunities to meet new people, many of whom do not speak English.  This has required me to put to use the Japanese language training of summers past, and I have been able to maintain some of what I've learned, and I've been challenged to continue my language training in earnest.

Most of all, I'm being fed spiritually... really, for the first time since I moved to Japan.  When I was supervising JAM, I was trying to pour myself out, into the lives of my JAM leaders and the middle schoolers, but was not putting myself in a church situation where I would be fed and where I could grow.  I still struggle with the self-care that I think I should be engaging in given how often my job requires me to care for others, but the opportunity to worship and hear solid Biblical preaching regularly makes a big difference.

This feels like yet another step in the process of making myself at home in Japan for more than just the short-term.  I grew up hearing my parents talk about the value of church and the community we had in our small Wiser Lake Chapel congregation.  Last year, I heard my brother talk about the value of the church community he had while spending a year tutoring at a public school in Denver.  Only now that I've found and plugged into such a church community myself do I understand the value of which they spoke.

I'm ever-grateful for Grace City, for the pastors, and for the friends I've made and have yet to make, and  above all I am grateful to God who has allowed me to become part of a community outside of the routine of school.  Time still seems to be flowing at a dangerous clip, but I feel like I am able to withstand the current and enjoy the now that God is giving me.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Summer Language Training

On the one hand, it feels too early to start thinking about summer.  On the other hand, I need to purchase a return ticket to Japan for the end of Christmas break, and must make a decision soon about whether that will be a round-trip ticket (like I've done in the past, the second part of the ticket being a return to the States in June), or a one-way ticket.

I'm fairly certain it will be a one-way ticket this year.  I'm currently looking at a variety of options for summer language programs in Japan.  The most attractive one so far is a program offered through OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship), a complete immersion course in Hokkaido.  There are also several options locally in Tokyo that I'm looking into, as the Hokkaido option gives preference to missionaries with OMF and is very much dependent on how much space is available during the summer--something that the staff will not know until April or so.

Either way, I know for a fact that my only hope for making any kind of clear progress in my Japanese language training is to take the opportunity to do an immersive program during the summer.  Too much of my daily life during the regular school-year is spent speaking and listening to English to make real headway--it'll take diving in deep over the summer, and diving in deep in a setting where I cannot just revert to speaking English at home each evening.

I've already invested several thousand dollars into my Japanese language education over the past few years, and I want to continue to honor that initial investment by building on my language training.  I admire the missionaries I know who are fluent in Japanese, or at least comfortably conversational.  I want that for myself, and now have a clearer since of what it will take to reach that point.  Please wish me luck and pray for me as I begin to fill out applications and wait for results.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Waiting for my real life to begin

Today, I filled out the ballot that my parents sent me for the upcoming general elections.  This, of course, included voting for president.  I won't go in to the details of who I voted for, sufficed to say that I don't much care for either Mr. Romney or Mr. Obama, and that the ads I've seen from both sides, as well as the debate that I watched, have caused me to despair.

What occupied much of my thought as I filled out the ballot was just how strange it was to be voting in yet another presidential election.  Last time I voted, I was in the home-stretch of my student teaching, still technically a college student.  I was in Iowa.  I was 22.  90% of the Japanese I knew was brand names.

Now I'm 26, coming up on four full years of teaching at CAJ.  It occurred to me that life abroad is all I know as a working adult.  This is my reality, and there would be a learning curve if I moved anywhere else (U.S. included).

When I moved to Japan, I more or less assumed that it would be a short stay--a brief chapter of my life.

I'll work in the LRC for 6 months and then go back to the states to start my career as a classroom teacher.

I'll teach at CAJ for three years to build up experience in an international school and then return to the states to pursue a Master's.


I still need to figure out what to do about my Master's, but the longer I've stayed in Japan, the less I want to leave.  While we're in school as children, and on through college, our lives our marked by distinct milestones that we can look ahead to at fixed points in time: moving from elementary to middle school, middle to high school; high school graduation; college graduation.

Now, there's no fixed point I'm looking ahead to; I've never broken out of the earth's orbit and simply drifted through space, but I'm guessing the feeling is similar.

Progress used to be defined by completing choreographed stages, but now the choreography is on my shoulders and I must decide what progress will mean.  I feel like I'm still waiting, as I grew so accustomed to doing in school.  What am I waiting for?  My gut instinct, as I mulled this over earlier today, was to say "real life", but "real life" started 4 years ago (26 years ago if you want to get technical).  So, why the feeling of waiting, then?

I don't have the answer to this... I just have the question, and I feel better when I put the question into writing.

Some additional questions that I can't help but wonder about:
Where will I be when I fill out my next presidential ballot?  Will I be mailing it overseas again?  Will I still be waiting for whatever it is I'm waiting for?