We are so thankful for all the wonderful friends we’ve made through Life in Japan, and one of our biggest requests was for a video of our family speaking in only Japanese for a day. Could we do it or not?!
Well, we decided to give it a try, and what a day it was! There was more than one instance when I was wishing I knew how to express myself properly in Japanese. It was funny speaking and seeing the kids look expressionlessly back at me, obviously not understanding. Either I
Spoke it wrong, or
I spoke it right and they didn’t understand it, or
They’re pretending not to understand
It was an excellent test of our ability in Japanese. Some things came easily. Other situations, like communicating with the kids, were a big stretch. Becca and Anna’s Japanese was great though, and I love hearing them speak in Japanese. Even Sarah’s understanding of Japanese is quite impressive. Joshua, on the other hand, is only beginning to understand Japanese, and often we had to talk to him in Japanese and quickly follow it with English.
The experiment was certainly worthwhile, and it’s something we want to do more times. It forces us outside of our comfortable “English” box to try to bridge the gap into Japanese. While Japanese is a complicated language to learn, the feeling of making strides in it and being able to express oneself in it is very rewarding. Here’s to more Japanese videos!!
When we first moved to Japan in 2014, everything was new and we had no idea what we were doing, especially when it came to the festivals! Our twins Becca and Anna went into Japanese kindergarten and soon after came our first experience with Tanabata. Thankfully the other Japanese parents were extremely helpful in getting us oriented and we were soon pros at the whole thing.
Fast forward to 2020 and all three girls have danced in a number of Tanabata Festivals — but this year was a first for us as Joshua took his turn. Normally this festival is held in July, but due to Corona, they postponed it until September. We are very thankful that the school found a way to make it work — dividing the whole school into three different groups to limit the amount of people together at the same time.
Even though the festival felt very different, it was still great to see Joshua and his friends all dressed up in their yukatas, dancing together and having a great time.
When you move to a new country, cultures are going to blend. The extent to which that happens depends on you and what you want for your family and children. For us, we are embracing as much of Japanese culture as we can. There are so many wonderful parts and we don’t want to miss out. What we won’t do is compromise our beliefs — we won’t worship other gods or idols, but we certainly respect everyone else’s choice to do so. Our Heavenly Father gives us such a rich and rewarding life that we need not seek out some other source of blessing — He is more than enough! And we are super blessed to live and work in such a beautiful country with its amazing people.
We need to plan to live. The better the planning, the better the living can be. Without good plans, the best intentions fail. But plans are a funny thing. We can only plan as well as our ability to see ahead. If you’re driving a car and see a sharp curve ahead, you know to pump the brakes, slow down, and prepare to turn safely. The problem comes when you don’t see the sharp turn and you’re barreling down the road full speed ahead.
We plan the way we want to live, but only GOD makes us able to live it.
Proverbs 16:9 The Message
I love this verse from the Bible — full of wisdom! Our own ability to plan will only take us so far. When it comes down to it, we’re at the mercy of God to be able to live out our plans — we’re at the mercy of God to be able to live at all! So what does that mean for planning?
Every year our Paz Team — the team behind our church, our coffee shop and many other noble endeavors — takes a couple days out of our busy lives to prayerfully look down the road and anticipate the curves ahead. It’s best to plan ahead as much as possible. Last year we made some great plans for this year, almost all of which were obliterated by Corona and 2020! But something truly phenomenal happened — the goals we had for reaching more people and expanding the ministry moved forward by a huge rate anyway! It shows God’s hand at work in the midst of all the turmoil of 2020.
In light of 2020, how can any of us be so bold as to plan ahead? I think planning ahead this year looks very different than it did last year at this time. There are things we consider now that we’re even a discussion a year ago. We’ve seen how important it is to stay connected to people, even if we can’t meet them physically. We’ve seen the strain and the stress this year has put on families, homes, emotional health and the general well-being of people everywhere. And we’ve realized we can’t take anything for granted.
This year has refined our values and our purpose. It has put in perspective things that really matter — the “non-negotiables” of life. We can no longer plan ahead without a larger perspective. Living in different countries and cultures will certainly open up your perspective, but the greatest perspective we can have is a heavenly one — the very perspective God has.
In the Bible we read the story of God and his creation. We see how it all came to be, how man messed it up so badly, and how God is bringing it all back together. We realize that the stories of our lives are not individual story lines that criss-cross, but they’re a part of a much bigger story that God has been writing since the very beginning. God invites us into His story, and as we receive His invitation, our future is made secure and our path defined.
Now the question remains — have I let God into my story to change it, to rewrite it as He sees fit? Have I truly put every part of my life before God, surrendered to Him? The result will be a complete transformation of our lives as we are filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. I move from fighting to control the story line of my life to letting God fight my battles as I rest in Him and follow His lead. This is what the Christian life is all about, and I love it! There’s no other life for me.
There are many unique aspects of Japan and its culture, and this week we have a fun look at one of those things — our kids’ Japanese backpacks, or ランドセル (pronounced “Randoseru”). This backpack is bought when a child enters 1st grade and is used all the way through elementary school! It is strong and durable, which also makes it quite expensive.
But it’s not just the backpack itself that’s unique compared to other countries. It’s is all that goes into it. Not only are the “normal” school items all personalized: notebooks, stationary, pencils, musical instruments, but they all have their own special cloth bag. Then there’s even more unique things: shoes to be worn indoors, sewing kits, wood carving tools, kanji brushes and more! Just looking at the bag and its contents gives you your first glimpse into the complicated and thorough Japanese education system.
It’s really kind of crazy — we’ve lived here over six years, right along the banks of the Tama River, and never once enjoyed a dip in the water until this year. We heard that the river wasn’t a clean river, and so we avoided entering it. But looking at it, it looked so inviting and refreshing. We saw other people kayaking, other people swimming, still others barbecuing nearby. We would admire it from afar, but never enter in ourselves.
Then this year came. Pools and beaches are at limited capacity. Restrictions in place that keep us from enjoying the water like we would like. Couple that with the extraordinary heat of the last couple of weeks and the shortened summer vacation, and we were needing a place close by to go to and cool off.
One of our friends researched the Tama River and found, to our delight, that the water is not only swimmable, but it has a high grade “A” ranking right by where we live, which is the ranking just under drinkable water at AA. What a discovery! So we found a nice shady spot where the water was safe, the current calm and we waded on in with our family. Wow! What a refreshing thing to do — and so close to us! Our experience with the Tama River just improved a hundred times over this Summer, and we would have never discovered it unless everything else was limited as an option. Funny how life’s limitations can lead to the greatest breakthroughs.
God’s Presence is Like a Refreshing River in the Hot Summer
As I was making this video, I realized it is a perfect analogy to God and His presence in our lives. God’s presence is there for each and every one of us — we can see His handiwork all over creation (it’s His very own work, after all). God’s presence is described in the Bible as a River of Living Water, a perfectly pure river which you can drink from and never be thirsty again, a river you can enter and go deeper and deeper until you float away in God’s great current. It is a place of refreshing for the weary and restoration for the tired.
God’s presence is with you now. Maybe you’ve seen it expressed in our lives or in the lives of others who are full of His joy. But have you ever experienced God’s presence in such a way that it refreshes and revitalizes you?
Experiencing God’s presence is the difference between religion (trying to be good to earn God’s favor) and true Christianity, which is receiving God’s love for you through Jesus Christ and trusting him to make you clean. It’s when you stop trying to do life by your own strength. God graciously gives His Spirit to everyone who believes in Him, and His Spirit is like a river of living water that flows from our very hearts. This is a spring of refreshing like no other, and it only belongs to those who have given their hearts over fully to Jesus.
I could have no greater hope and prayer for you that you would discover this source of refreshing that brings life in the midst of so much restriction and that the heat of summer that would dry up all your joy would in fact become a source of joy as you enter in God’s goodness in His river of life.
My only regret in living close to the Tama River all these years is that I didn’t actually enter it until this year. All those hot summers gone by in the stifling heat, and I could have been swimming all along! All of those days with not enough time to go somewhere far, but all I needed was close by and I didn’t even realize it. It was staring me in the face the whole time!
Don’t make the same mistake with God. Don’t wait longer to look into who Jesus is, to believe on Him and receive the Holy Spirit. You can be refreshed right where you are, right now. You too will wish you would have tried it sooner in life!
Imagine if you could say 2020 was the best year of your life so far because it was the year, through all the difficulties, that you found the greatest treasure of all that was so close all along: God’s sweet river of refreshing in Jesus.