Monday, December 31, 2012

さよなら, 2012!

There is an hour and a half left in 2012 on the West Coast of the United States.  Japan is already more than halfway through January 1st.  As the year comes to a close, I now take the opportunity to reflect on another year gone by.

It was a difficult year.  2011 was a year of some fairly major tragedies in Japan and in the CAJ community, and much of 2012 was spent in the wake of that intense emotional exhaustion.  For me personally, there were stretches of spiritual dryness, of loneliness and of uncertainty about my calling.  My family grieved the loss of my Grandma Emma in May.  October, November and December were perhaps the busiest months of my life so far, and saw me spread more thin than ever before (and consequently, more on edge and stressed out than ever before).  It was a year of challenging, sometimes painful lessons.

Still, such lessons also meant that it was a year of growth and learning for me.  I found a church-home in Japan.  I was chosen by the class of 2012 to speak at their graduation, an honor that I will always treasure.  I'm learning more about my strengths, weaknesses and capabilities as a teacher.  I made a lot of progress in my Japanese language study.  All in all, I feel like I learned more about what it means to be an adult, and more importantly, what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

My New Year's Resolutions from last year were to exercise more often, which I kept up pretty consistently between August and mid-November (until I got fairly sick and had to stop); to cook more often (which I've done regularly since getting my own apartment in late July); to continue writing (which I've done, though admittedly less consistently than last year).

This is the first time in my life where I've actually had any degree of success in following my New Year's Resolutions.  I'll try to keep up the work that I've started with exercise, cooking and writing, but my main resolution for the coming year has to do with finances.

I'm not a big spender by any means--honestly, I probably spend more money on coffee than anything else.  Still, in talking with my dad today, I realized that I do not have a clue about budgeting my money or keeping track of my earnings or expenditures.  As each passing year brings me closer to responsibilities as a husband and father (LORD willing!), it's imperative that I learn how to keep track of what I'm earning and spending.  So, in the coming days, I will create a monthly budget that will serve more of an organizational purpose than anything else (since I live fairly frugally), but may also moderate my Tully's intake at the same time.

Tough as 2012 was, I'm excited to begin 2013.  I'll turn 27 this year.  I'll very likely participate in an intensive language course for part of the summer.  I'll continue to deepen my involvement at church and build friendships in that context.  I'll continue to grow as a teacher and develop my curriculum.  I genuinely believe that this will be a good year.

LORD, in this coming year, and in all that I do, say and think, abide with me.

Here we go!

As families grow up

In the scheme of my entire vacation, the moment would have appeared inconsequential at first glance:

Mom, Dad, Ben, Lea and I were purchasing tickets for the Keystone Ferry to Port Townsend, on our way to pick up Ben's girlfriend Hilary.  The man in the ticket kiosk asked if any of us were under 18 and of course, Dad said that no, none of us were under 18.

How on earth is that possible?  When did that happen?

The thought struck me then, and has continued to occupy my mind since.  Lea, the youngest of the Gibson kids, will turn 20 in a matter of days.  Ben is 24, and I'm 26.  It registered with me in that moment that we were traveling as a family of grown-ups.  None of us is a permanent resident of our parent's home, the home of our childhood, any longer.  We live our day-to-day lives in very different settings, separated by land and sea, and had the privilege to converge on this special place for a few fleeting days to celebrate Christmas together.

The last time we'd taken a ferry together was in the Summer of 2010, on our way to a favorite vacation spot on Vancouver Island.  Our family trips to the cabin by the beach were a beloved tradition, and 2010 marked our 5th trip to the cabin in 7 years, a 7 years that saw me pass from high school to college to a career overseas, my brother, from high school to college, and my sister from middle to high school.   The trip had become an ingrained part of our family routine, but we have not returned to the cabin since 2010.  Perhaps those days are behind us, as even simply spending time under the same roof has become tougher to coordinate.

Rather than mourn the apparent end of those family trips, and the moments of security that come from all being part of the same household, I find myself celebrating the time we spend together as a family, regardless of what we're doing.  Even sitting around the kitchen table together is harmony to be treasured.

As I prepare to return to Japan, I am so incredibly grateful that for 10 days, we could share meals, sing songs, worship at church, watch movies, play games, and simply sit around the table together as a family, no matter how much we've grown up or how far away we've settled.  Thank you, LORD!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Good News for Thirsty Souls

I wrote this Advent reflection for my home-church's Advent blog:

Proverbs 25:25
Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.

Wilderness Camp is a yearly tradition at the school that I work at: during the first week of October, small teams of 11th graders embark upon a four-day backpacking trip into the woods and mountains surrounding Tokyo.  One inevitable take-away from the days of hiking and camping is a list of things the students had previously taken for granted.  Usually topping the list is water.  As trails steepen and the sweat starts to pour, water-breaks not only become a want, but a need.  
Tired, sore and dehydrated, the way forward seems impossible, the next peak just a little too steep.  Water refreshes the thirsting, weary body, and enables the exhausted sojourner to press on.
What an apt analogy to describe the arrival of good news!  Though Solomon’s kingdom enjoyed peace and prosperity, Israel’s position between major world powers was never entirely secure.  Sandwiched between powerful and vast ancient civilizations, the Israelites lived in the midst of tensions over land, resources and cultural differences that must have seemed so much bigger than them.  Surely their call to bless the nations seemed at times out of reach while living in expectation not of good news, but of invasion or rumors of invasion!
Yet the news that we now reflect upon in this Advent season was not merely good news; it was the best news!  Notably, the news wasn’t arriving in Bethlehem from a distant land; rather, Bethlehem was the epicenter and the news was to be broadcast to many distant lands, world over!  Millennia of stumbling, weariness and hopelessness arrived at that moment to receive nothing less than history’s greatest water-break.  We persevere today in the renewal and refreshment of the good news of Christ.  Quenched with this knowledge, our thirst slaked by Christ’s spirit, we push on, secure in the trust that the hike is not impossible.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


A crisp view of the mountains far to the North.  Rolling fields.  The faint scent of evergreen on the air.  The vast blue skies.  The vast cloudy skies.  The many shades of green on the landscape.  The sounds and smells of farm animals coated for winter.  The warmth of a full house.  The bubbling and soft blinking of the lights on the tree.  The familiar prayer spoken five voices strong.  The impromptu harmonies around guitar or piano.  The shared laughter of siblings reunited.

Only 3 more days... I am looking forward to it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


The age-old icebreaker asks, "Would you rather be an expert in one area, or sort of knowledgable in a lot of areas?"

One only needs to look at the popularity of liberal arts education to figure out how Western culture as a whole would answer this question.  Being a "Renaissance Man/Woman" is a desirable goal... it also seems to be a goal which many believe is within their reach.  This mentality extends beyond the walls of our schools and universities: Surf n' Turf was architected specifically for those who reject having to choose between seafood and beef; Neapolitan ice cream for those stymied by the choice between chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.  Michael Scott of The Office famously reflected on whether he'd rather be loved or feared by his employees: "Easy: both.  I want people to be afraid of how much they love me."

One of our rallying cries as not only modern culture, but as humans is "I want it all!"

So when does this mentality become an unhealthy and destructive thing?  Generally speaking, I find my liberal arts background to have been worthwhile.  I've got diverse interests, and reasonably diverse gifts (I say reasonably because there are none from the left side of the brain but many from the right side).  However, what I've come up against recently is a recognition that by trying to accomplish everything, I'm actually damaging my ability to accomplish anything.

Case in point: Trying to figure out my future in Japan.  I want to invest intensive time into learning Japanese, and the best opportunity to do so is during the summer once CAJ's school-year finishes.  I want to do this because I want to stay in Japan long-term, and I strongly value the ability to communicate and understand what's going on around me.

I also want to go back to school to pursue a Master's degree in education.  I feel like I'm running up against the limits of my professional growth with the amount of education that I have.  I deeply desire to learn how to be a better teacher, and to pursue research and studies about how best to establish and maintain a Humanities classroom.  Once again, this is a goal that I must pursue outside of the CAJ school-year.

Recognizing that I wish to stay in Japan, I could look into Master's options that run during summers only, starting from this coming summer: I would travel to the States after CAJ finishes its school year, take classes and then be back in time for the new school year.  This fits in with my goal to stay in Japan long-term and certainly seems appealing from a financial stand-point (paying for something like a Master's degree would be easier with a steady paycheck coming in).

However, it would effectively prevent me from diving into intensive language study for several years, as my summers would be committed already.

So, the other option would be to look into year-round Master's programs.  As I've signed on for another year at CAJ at least, this would put the start date in 2014, and allow me to study Japanese this coming summer.  However, it would mean leaving Japan for likely two years as I pursue my degree.  This does not fit with my goal to stay in Japan long-term, and may even render an intensive summer of language study useless by the time I do return to Japan (and if I were to return to Japan).

As the Japanese would say, "どうしよう".  It's a seeming catch-22, and a direct result of me wanting to accomplish more at once than I can physically accomplish.  It's left me stumped, and in roughly a month of wrestling with this decision, I'm no closer to knowing what I want to do.

Perhaps I need to accept that I cannot do it all, and just accept that I'm going to have to let one thing or the other go right now.  Not that this makes the decision any easier...