Last Minute Notes from Japan

Tomorrow I will be getting on a plane and flying back to Canada. I’m coming home! It’s been a whirlwind last few months here and yet, the day before departure has finally arrived. I am feeling more excited than anything, although as the days wind down I’m am becoming increasingly aware of the fact that there are people, places, and aspects to life here that I will indeed miss terribly.

It has been a good 4 years. I have learned a lot about myself, people, and most importantly, God. I have had a lot of exciting opportunities through work and been given the chance to really get involved in life here. I have joined a hardcore bible study and gotten to know some incredible women outside of work. I learned to run. I learned to coach. I learned to be a Head of Department (let’s never let that happen again!), and I learned what it means to trust God with every detail of my life.

With this as my third “international post”, I feel that I have some experience with goodbyes. This one feels a little bit different because this goodbye involves me handing in my Foreigner Card. I’ve been holding onto that baby for 10 years and now, it’s time to hand it in.  I feel like I’m not only saying goodbye to Japan, but also in a sense to the expat life. There is some sadness there but at the same time, I am really looking forward to being done with emotional airport goodbyes, massive Wal-Mart shops for 6 months worth of tampons, toothpaste and deodorant, and long long flights. I’m looking forward to understanding what’s going on around me, being able to easily make dinner reservations, and being able to buy shoes any time of year! So true, I am saying a major sort of goodbye, but I’m also saying a really happy hello!

I feel very blessed for the way the past 10 years of my life have played out and I am really excited about relocating and living the next 10 in my home and native land!

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A Note to the Single Ladies

December 2014

Dear Fellow Single Sisters,

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…! While we are heading into a time of picture perfect moments, coziness galore, good lighting (who doesn’t look good by the light of a fireplace or Christmas candles?), Christmas sweaters, warm socks, hot cider, and every other “Christmassy” moment, it’s hard not to get totally swept up in all of the hoopla. Yes, I just used the word hoopla.

This isn’t about the materialism that occurs at Christmas, but it’s about what happens when a single girl starts to notice that there aren’t any special presents under her tree.
Wait! I’m not going to moan, I’m just explaining. The fact is, I get totally swept up in the romanticism of the holiday. I’m sure you do too. I love the Christmas chick flick movies and the ideas of cuddling by the fire or walking in the snow with a well-built, chiseled-featured, strong man who looks wonderful in cream-coloured, cable-knit sweaters, red scarves and jeans. A man who can have meaningful conversations but also knows exactly the perfect moment to crack a joke, a perfect combination of mature yet playful. A man whose very presence is a gift but who also knows how to give the most thoughtful and meaningful presents all while still being able to chop firewood, shovel the driveway, and bring me a mug of hot chocolate. But I digress… a lot.
So what do we do about the fact that he hasn’t shown up? How do we deal with watching people celebrate the holidays who do have good men and maybe a few cute little munchkins? It can really get a girl down. One thing we know is that no one wants to hang out with Debbie Downer during the holidays, so what do we do?
Well.. to be blunt, I think part of the “whoa is me I’m alone for the holidays” comes from a rather selfish place. It happens when our eyes are on ourselves and what we need to be happy. We obsessively start focusing on all of the things we want, instead of all of the things we do have. This is not the key to any sort of happiness. It’s hard not to be selfish when you’re single. We spend a lot of time tending to our needs and emotions and it’s okay to be aware of our wants and needs, but also I think that in order to be happy, we need to get our eyes off ourselves and onto others. Focusing too much on ourselves, especially this time of year, can be dangerous.
I think the only way to really combat these feelings of loneliness or sadness over the holidays is to simply be thankful. Get out that “attitude of gratitude”.. sorry I said that but I’ve been thinking about it and really, that’s the only way. Because the thing is, I do have some pretty amazing things in my life and my life is filled with all sorts of love… maybe not of the axe-swinging, cable-knit sweater wearing variety but still– there is a lot of love in my life. Start looking at your own life and I’m sure you’ll see some pretty amazing things to be thankful for. Wishing for something or someone we don’t have, isn’t the key to having a happy time this holiday, being thankful for what we do have automatically guarantees a certain level of happiness.
And so while we go about the very important business of practicing gratitude during the holiday season, we must not let ourselves get sidetracked or derailed. I think the biggest culprit is social media and I think it’s particularly dangerous during this time of year. Being constantly bombarded by filtered photos of Christmas trees, lovers, children dressed up like elves, big parties, presents, family, etc… it’s very hard to maintain a feeling of contentment. It’s very easy to feel like you are the only one in the world who is single for the holidays. It’s very easy to feel lonely. And so– I know that we need to really limit the amount of time we spend checking these sites. Maybe you don’t have issues with social media but I certainly do. Yes, I’m an instagram addict, and sometimes it’s okay but when I feel myself getting jealous or resentful, it’s time to put the phone down and focus on what I do have in front of me.
It’s not only about being happy about what I have in front of me but being happy for those who do seem to be having a picture perfect Christmas. When I was little and would go to friend’s birthday parties, I would come home feeling jealous about how Jenna was so lucky cause she got a Barbie camper van AND the My Little Pony Castle. My parent’s taught me to say: “Oh wow, I’m so happy for you.” I think we need to bring that phrase back out again. No matter how we are feeling, we should be happy that our friends (and all of those complete strangers on instagram), have the great things in their lives that they do. I’m so happy for them! Say it a few times and you’ll eventually start to believe it.
If that doesn’t work.. the whole: ‘it could be worse’ game works. I don’t suggest you play this out loud as people will worry about you. But seriously, life could be a lot worse. You could be stuck in a bad marriage, you could be terminally ill, you could be homeless, you could be locked up in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, you could be stuck in an airport, you could be stranded on a desert island, you could have a flesh eating disease.. you get the idea? Not having a boyfriend at Christmas is hardly the worst thing in the world.
And then– really. Who are we to mope and complain anyway? If we believe what we say we really believe then we believe that God is working out His perfect plan. Maybe that includes us meeting someone amazing, maybe it doesn’t and if it doesn’t, we can trust that His plan is still the best one. (I am still working on happily believing this.. it’s a process) I do know that we can relax and be content in this particular set of circumstances because they aren’t for no reason. Whoa double negative. Reword: This set of circumstances is important to your story and who you are now. We must believe that these experiences are also important in making and shaping us into the people we are meant to be.
So this Christmas, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, let’s practice being thankful and grateful and loving the people God has placed in our lives…
Simple.
Do enjoy this holiday season.
With lots of love from me to you!

Summer Summer Summer Time

Summer in Canada is coming to an end.. *sigh*. I’ve been home for nearly two months.. well two months minus two days and I really can’t believe how quickly time has flown. It’s been a great summer and I’m sad that it’s ending but I am somewhat looking forward to getting back to doing “that thing I do” and into a routine and all that jazz.

So just because I feel like telling you. Here are my Summer Highlights:

New York City – I got to see New York for the first time ever and totally see what all the fuss is about. My friend and I had a blast. We stayed in this sweet apartment/hotel on the Upper East Side and took the city by storm. Lots of sight-seeing, show-seeing, cafe-eating and meandering throughout the city. I would say some of my favourite things were: Seeing Idina Menzel in If/Then, Central Park, Comedy Clubs, going to the top of the Rockefeller Centre as the sun was setting and then having drinks at the bar below, The High Line park. Realized very soon into the trip that there is no possible way that we could see half of the things we wanted to see and so we just have to go back! 

The Workshop in Toronto – I had the chance to go to a workshop on teaching poetry at a fancy school in Toronto. Geek right? Anyway it was one of the highlights of my summer for sure. I had the chance to meet some really cool people, learn a lot about my own teaching, and meet the most amazing workshop leader. She totally inspired me and encouraged me and I kind of feel like I met the teacher I never had. Also– I ended up bringing my mom with me and we had a great time when I wasn’t in the workshop. Really nice to hang out together and wander the streets of Toronto. Went to a Blue Jays game too! I really saw the city through new eyes and think it’s just a great place!

Chicago! – My sister and I went to Chicago mainly for the Sara Bareilles concert but also to see the sights. It was my first time there as well. What a city! So different from New York but so incredible as well. We stayed in a beautiful boutique hotel right in the middle of things. Loved the Architecture Tour by boat, the eating and shopping, and of course Sara Bareilles was mind-blowing! One of the best concerts I’ve seen in ages and ages. 

The Cottage – A family friend lent us a cottage for a week along Lake Erie. It was perfect. Comfortable and beautiful. So nice to hang out with my sister and parents. Lots of walking, a bit of swimming, tons of reading, and just an overall lovely time. I also went “offline” that week which was a very good and healthy experience. I’ll write more about that sometime later. 

So I took some trips and between those I had a great time catching up with friends. Dinners and coffees and lots of big chats. Really a great time connecting with friends. There is something so refreshing when it comes to hanging out with people who have known me longer than 10 years. It’s nice to be back with “my people”. I also really enjoyed lots of good family time, some beach days and just general enjoying being back in my Home and Native Land. 

And so I go back to Japan and while I leave with a sad heart, I also leave with a happy heart. 

Winnie the Pooh says it best:

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”

“Just the Highlights Please” – The April Edition

This month is flying by! Spring is in the air and you can feel the excitement. Lots to do but summer break isn’t all that far away anymore!

PROUD OF: Getting better at my 4 hours a day plan. No this isn’t like a Tim Ferris thing… it’s more of a personal commitment to get on with becoming who I want to be. It involves: Running/working out for 1 hour a day, walking for 1 hour a day, reading for 1 hour a day, writing for 1 hour a day. I can’t say that I’ve had a string of successful 4 hours a day but I’m getting better at it and am much more focused.

GRATEFUL FOR: An unexpected visit from home. I had the opportunity to meet up with a couple from church from home and it was the most encouraging evening ever. It was so good to connect with home. There is also something incredibly comforting about spending time with people who have known me for longer than 2.5 years, know my family and know what I’m really all about. I felt very loved.

LETTING GO OF: work. I mean letting go of being upset by things that aren’t going quite right and people who aren’t acting quite the way I’d like them to be. I know that I can’t let work define me and I’m working on not letting a bad day there affect every area of my life. I’m learning to stop thinking about work when I get home and focusing on the other parts of my life. Balance baby!

OBSESSED WITH: Ingrid Michaelson’s new album – Light’s Out. This is good listening! It’s been on repeat for over a week and I can’t see that changing any time soon! Give yourself the gift of song and download it immediately.

EXCITED ABOUT: Next year. I just found out that a really good friend of mine was hired by the school for next year. I was feeling a little sad and lonely so this new news is just what I needed. It’ll be great to live in the same city again. More later… once she has announced it!

COMMITTING TO: Kissing Wheat goodbye. It seems like my nearest and dearest are all cutting out the stuff and I know that with my own eating.. something’s gotta give. I’ve been pretty wheat and sugar-free lately (with the exception of an evil Laura Secord chocolate egg that was sent by my lovely mother to Tokyo) and I feel great even though it’s only been a couple weeks.

And so I smile

Because these are days where everything seems so… volatile and because I’m in the fairly new habit of living life one day at a time, I have noticed that I do my best to block out the future in my mind. Because these days I find the future to actually be quite scary.

Living in the moment can do that to you– it can prevent you from thinking about anything beyond the boundaries of the next 24 hours.  And usually that is a very good thing.
It is the beginning of the school year and so I am in the midst of planning, planning, planning. Almost daily I am sent emails with important dates to note down and I pretty much loathe receiving every one of them. Not because I don’t want to know that this year I get to chaperone the middle school dance (you really haven’t lived until you’ve experienced that ball of wonder) but because it reminds me that things are so incredibly unknown.
I write down a date in November and wonder what the world will be like then. I write down a date in April and wonder how much different things will be or not be. It frightens me.
Up until recently I have been blessed by living in a state of constant excitement about “what’s next”? Whether that next thing was 7th grade or graduating high school or starting university, graduating, new jobs, new relationships, living in new countries, going on fun holidays… getting older has all been rather thrilling.
Until lately.
Until the not-so-fun parts of growing up started showing up. Suddenly, the harsh realities of life started to close in and my tomorrow became a little scarier.
And now that Proverbs 31 verse takes on a whole new meaning.. “Strength and dignity are her clothing and she laughs at the time to come.” (ESV) or my favourite: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future” (NASB).
The idea of laughing at the future, as I write dates down in my diary, is rather intimidating but something I would love to be able to do. In sitting here I wonder how do I do that? How do I stop feeling sick to my stomach when I have to write down another date? I think I  know the answer. That’s where the idea of faith and hope are vital. I may not be quite able to laugh yet but I think I can muster a smile.
I can smile at the future because I know who God is.
I can smile at the days to come because I know that no matter how dark they may get, He will not leave me.
I can smile because I know that He is with me all the way and will give me all that I need in order to get through whatever He puts me through.
I smile at the future, not because I know it will be filled with fun and happy times (it might be!) but because I know that God will get me through it, whatever may be.
I am not alone and that’s why I smile.

In which pain and joy co-exist.. because that’s the deal.

This post was supposed to be a more trivial one about running and relaxing. Originally I was going to write about the time I spent at a cottage and how each morning I liked to “torture” myself a bit (a hilly run followed by a dip in the lake) all in the name of taking the rest of the day off in the most delightful guilt-free kinda way. You see, I’m very good at relaxing but we can talk about that another time. Anyway I was going to write about the idea of needing to experience the pain in order to enjoy the pleasure later and how great pleasure feels when you went through a bit of pain prior. I had drafted out something about the idea of putting yourself through something bad to enjoy something good. It was pretty decent actually but as time went on and I didn’t press the Publish button, I started to think a little differently.

You see, in a few days I will be heading back to Japan after 9+ weeks in Canada. It hasn’t been an easy summer but it has been so good to be home. In taking things one-day-at-a-time, I have learned so much about valuing moments and really living in them. I have learned that pain is temporary, tears come and go as does laughter. I have learned that through tears there is joy. I have become increasingly aware of the link and co-existence of joy and pain.

I have learned that to experience pain or hurt or sadness does not mean that I’m doing something wrong or being punished or missing a part of life, it means that I’m living. It means that I’m loving. It means that I’m able to be joyful and I’m able to be sad and so I am able to experience what it really means to be alive. It’s not always great but it’s life.

I read a lot of C.S. Lewis this summer and he so clearly understands the link between joy and pain and between bravery and fear and hope and despair and how all of these human emotions are coursing through our veins and making us alive. There is that great line from the film Shadowlands where, in discussing her upcoming death, Lewis’ wife says: “The pain then, is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.” And not only was that a highly emotional cinematic moment but there is truth in seeing that pain and happiness and joy are so completely connected. We can be happy even when we know that sadness is coming. We can experience pain and yet search for joy and there always is some, even if it takes some searching to find it. That’s the deal.

Back in January I was reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and copied this quote in my journal:

“Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living.” She gets it. She knows the deal.

And so, as I think about a summer that was filled with laughter and tears, I think about the pain that most likely does lie ahead of us, I remember that it’s all part of being alive and living.

Sorrow and Joy.

Pain and Happiness.

To experience these things is to be truly awake.

On (happily) Taking Things One Day at a Time

“We are just going to have to take things one day at a time,” my mother said to me, shortly after I arrived in Canada for the summer. She was referring to the fact that this summer is very much about my dad’s sickness and helping him get through treatments and all the ups and downs that go along with such business. We had been having a bit of a “what if” conversation which always seems to have the potential to derail us into a bit of an emotional frenzy. But this is not the time to do that because as we all know.. we cannot determine the future. That’s not our job, and if it was, we’d stink at it.

And so we have been taking things as they come. Looking at what is on our plate for the day and dealing with that alone. And you know what? It’s been a good way to live. As a girl who loves to have a one week, one month, one year, five year plan always running through my head, this has been a new challenge but it’s been very helpful. I find that I’m learning to be mindful of my time and to think of my life inside one day instead of freaking myself out about the future and all the scary “what ifs”.

In May I bought a 365 journal (like this) and every night I write something in it to remember the day I just lived. Sometimes it’s a list or random thoughts or a meaningful quote. It’s been helpful to look and note all of the good moments and happy things that have happened. Sometimes the day isn’t that great but there is always something little that happened… words spoken, little treats, happy moments and I do think it’s important to keep track of those things. Sometimes I write about sad things too, as they are still part of life but I must say, that it has been a good exercise to really think about my day in detail. It also helps to keep all of the days from blending into each other.

This brings me to another idea.. which is the idea that even when you are going through something really difficult, it’s important to look for little silver linings and happy moments and things that can sweeten up a fairly dire situation. My dad was telling me a story about how he was needing to take public transport in the dead of winter and how waiting for a bus to show up in Canadian temperatures could in fact be quite miserable, until he realized that if he timed it right, he could get a Starbucks and stand sipping that while waiting for the bus. That little thing made the whole experience quite a bit better. Looking for ways to make miserable times semi or completely enjoyable is a skill. It’s called having a talent for happiness and I believe that it’s something I need to continue to incorporate even more. Just because life isn’t 100% happy these days, doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the little things. I need to be awake to all that is going on in my life. Maybe I just need to enjoy a conversation with a friend, or a few words exchanged with a family member, maybe I need to let myself really love the taste of a vanilla latte or be excited about how great it feels to wear a new shirt. Maybe I need to let myself enjoy reading a good book and sipping on tea in the waiting room of the clinic. It’s okay to do this. It’s okay to look for happiness in little, somewhat trivial things. I think it’s part of being awake and alive.

And so I work at concentrating on the now, the whole now. I look at all the things in this one day that make me happy, I deal with the things in this one day that sadden me and I trust God to be exactly what I need Him to be for me today. All the while, I am firmly believing and trusting that He will be everything I need tomorrow and the next day too.