Wednesday, January 1, 2014

On the other side

The last week was a blur.  Actually, the last year was a bit of a blur--all of 2013--but no part moreso than its final week.

I guess the reason is as good as any: I got married!  2013 will always be, in my mind, defined by my relationship with my wife.  Though we met late in 2012, we got to know each other in January, went on our first date in February, became a couple in March, became engaged in May, decided upon our wedding date in August, and spent the next few months planning and preparing for our wedding, which was this past Saturday.  We went from friends to more-than-friends, to a dating couple, to engaged, to married in the course of this wonderful year!  Some might call that fast, but I've learned not to question God's timing.

As I write this on the evening of January 1st, 2014, one week ago was the most unusual Christmas Day of my life.  I spent the day alone in Japan--no family, no Christmas tree, no ambiguous Pacific Northwest skies that taunt the possibility of a white Christmas before providing a wet Christmas instead.  My main task was getting my apartment organized and cleaned up.  The only thing remotely Christmas-y about the day was the fact that I had a playlist of Sufjan Stevens, Bing Crosby and Mannheim Steamroller playing on my speakers while I cleaned.  While it was a lonely day, perhaps the solitude helped me to focus on what was important without the other features that I hold so dear: in the birth of Christ, God became man to take on our sinful and broken condition and pay the debt of our wickedness.  Why?  So that we might live again in relationship with God!  Not a single part of life is untouched by this mysterious and wonderful act of the Nativity: marriage, too, is fortified and upheld by God's abundant grace.  I think I needed to reflect on that truth on Wednesday.

Thursday saw me all over the Kanto Plains: I traveled out to Yokota for breakfast with my good friends Cody and his wife Jess in the morning and then out to Narita in the afternoon to meet my parents and sister who flew in from Seattle at 3:00 and my brother who flew in from Denver via Los Angeles at 4:00.

Friday saw my parents shopping with the Vanderhaaks at Costco in the morning, while Ben, Lea and I did some shopping for my kitchen before meeting with Tomomi to start decorating at the church with Tomomi's friends.  Of course, we were only able to help for a while because we needed to head downtown for our rehearsal dinner with my family, Tomomi's family and our pastor, Seima Aoyagi and his wife.  Tomomi's roommate Ellie also came!  We went to a Spanish restaurant where we were waited on by a man from Morocco who spoke 7 languages.  The highlight of the evening was "Paella time"--the moment went the Paella was finished--which merited loud music, and the entire restaurant staff cheering and marching the Paella around the whole restaurant, both floors, from table to table, to show everyone the finished product.  It was, in every possible sense, a multi-cultural experience!

On Saturday, I got married.  This was perhaps the blurriest of the blurry days, so I will just leave it there.  I do remember that my shoes hurt like hell.  Oh, and my bride was gorgeous :)  The 2nd memory more than makes up for the first one.
(Plus, I'll cover a lot of wedding stuff in the thank-you's later, I think...)

We stayed in Ikebukuro that night and on Sunday, met up with my family for lunch in Yurakucho. We went for a lovely walk near the Imperial Palace before taking them to church at Grace City and having dinner afterward.

On Monday, we came back to Higashikurume just in time to say goodbye to my family before they left for Narita to fly back to America (quick trip!), repacked and caught the train up to Nikko (getting lost along the way, of course).

We came home from Nikko today, and have enjoyed our first evening at home--no place to be, no responsibilities.  Truly a moment of peace before we return to our jobs next week.

Though the past week was a frenzy of activity, and the start of something completely new both to Tomomi and to myself, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed with gratitude as I look back on it.

I am grateful to my family for making the long trip, even though it meant sacrificing five days of their precious Christmas vacation (more if you count the jet-lag) for a very rushed trip on which they did not actually get to spend much time with me, all told.  This, in my mind, sums up sacrificial love--love which gives with no expectation of receiving anything in return.  It inspires me and challenges me to love my family in this same way, particularly Tomomi, my new wife, now my closest family member by nothing short of a Covenantal vow.

I am grateful to the council at Kurume Christ Church for allowing us to use their beautiful facilities and for being so accommodating at every turn.

I am grateful to Rick Seely, Kurachi-san and Tada-san for acting as supervisors, and super-encouragers (and Rick for his ever-present camera and sharp eye for pictures).

I am grateful for the the Vanderhaaks--lifelong friends who underlined the sacrificial love of my family by giving up their own vacation and family time to help shop for supplies and food, to prepare the food, to drive food/supplies back and forth from CAJ.  This felt like a neat book-end to Brian and Bette's daughter Emily's wedding, which was held at my family's farm in Summer 2011, and which my family helped to organize.  However, I know that the Vanderhaaks would have given and helped tirelessly regardless of whether I'd helped with Emily's wedding.  The family embodies quiet, determined service.

I am grateful for our Grace City friends who helped... ah, who am I kidding?!  PLANNED the decorations and agenda for the reception.  Momoko, Rie, Yukiko, Emi, Aco, Lindsay, Kurachi-san and Yoshimi made sure we had everything we needed, and that everything looked good.  I am so grateful for their tireless work, especially with not much time available to do the setting up.  Truly, the wedding would not have looked as spectacular without them.

I am grateful for the Aoyagis.  From our first counseling session in May, Seima and Naoko's gentle guidance and wisdom has meant much to Tomomi and myself, and their friendship (which spans many years for Tomomi) is a treasure to us.  We appreciate the model that they provide for us in their own marriage and family, their generosity and their hospitality.  We are particularly grateful for the wonderful ceremony that Seima put together and for his willingness to do something extraordinarily taxing and difficult in interpreting into English from Japanese on the spot.  We are also very grateful for their daughter, Akari, who was a wildly popular and cute flower girl!

I am grateful for Ellie, who played beautifully during the ceremony and reception, but more than that, has been a tremendous friend, support and encouragement to us as Tomomi's roommate since July.

I am grateful for my brother and sister for their lovely gift in song at the reception (not to mention Keiko for emcee-ing, Peter for playing piano, and Shio and Stephanie for interpreting).  Ben's speech was just the perfect balance between hilarious and serious, and left so many (my whole family and myself included) in tears at the reminder that I do, indeed, live in the legacy of my Grandma Emma, whose birthday was Dec. 28, and who would have loved to have met Tomomi, and attended the ceremony.

I am grateful for my friends Cody, Jess and Ryan.  What a blessing to have friends not only from the same small high school of Lynden Christian, but also the same class, and even the same close group of friends, living within an hour or so of me on the other side of the world.  Since Ryan's assignment in Japan will end up having been just over a year, and Cody and Jess' assignment, roughly three years, the specialness of this blessing is not lost on any of us.  I appreciate Cody and Jess for driving Tomomi and I to Ikebukuro after the ceremony with a Post-it decorated car, a bottle of Champagne, and well-selected music for the hour-long ride.  I appreciate Ryan for his servant spirit in staying to help clean up at the church.

I am grateful for Tomomi's family--though we are not able to communicate much without Tomomi's help in interpreting, I am so fortunate that they have accepted me and given me their blessing as a worthy husband for their daughter.  I hope to get to know them better as the years go on and my ability to speak and understand Japanese deepens.

I am grateful for David, who took photos for us, sometimes having to fight through a crowd of guests who saw fit to bring their own expensive cameras.  I will post those photos on Facebook for sure!  I am also grateful to Ikemoto-san, Tomomi's colleague, who took hours of video footage during set-up, rehearsal, the ceremony and the reception and has made a very beautiful video (as well as making our slideshow of childhood photos the week before the ceremony!)

I am grateful for the encouragement and prayers of my colleagues from CAJ over the past few months. I am grateful for the prayers of my Community Group and other friends from Grace City.  I am grateful to each and every guest who attended our wedding.

I am grateful to Tomomi, my wife, for her love, her encouragement, her prayers and her patience.  She has kept me focused on what is truly important.  Though there have indeed been stressful moments for both of us, we have been able to support each other and remind each other that God will see us through.

Most of all, I am grateful to God.  Truly this wedding was a product of His power and grace, as He blessed us with such wonderful family and friends, and gave them the exact variety of gifts that we needed to put this wedding together.  I hope and pray that Tomomi and I will make God the center, the foundation, the cornerstone of our marriage each and every day.  To God be the glory, now and forever!

Happy New Year!!!