The Time I Didn’t Invite Someone to Church

A lot of times when people share stories about individuals they’ve met in ministry, they are success stories. The story I have to share tonight isn’t a success story. It’s not even a story, really. It was a chance encounter, a brushing of shoulders between two people in a city of 9 million. And it ended in tragedy, at least for tonight.

 

I was standing behind her on the subway from Sakae to my apartment in Tsurumai. Of average height, with long, caramel hair, she would not have stood out to me, except for one thing. She was wearing a romper with no shirt underneath, leaving her whole back exposed. Japanese 20-somethings are not ones for modesty, but there are certain nuanced rules about how to be sexy in Japanese culture; exposing one’s shoulders AND back was probably pushing it too far, I thought. If I wasn’t sure about that, her black bra which stood out vividly against the skin of her back was enough to let me know that no, this was not a cultural norm I was misunderstanding. She was indeed aiming to be exceptionally provocative.

 

In the crowded subway car, it was difficult to move any more than a few inches from where I was standing. I couldn’t see her whole face, but only a portion of her profile. She kept her neck bent, eyes cast downward. She clutched her purse tightly, and I could see, off and on, the glint of her curved, rhinestone-adorned fingernails. Though those are the nails typically worn by women who work as hostesses or in night clubs, her hands were not caught my eye. It was her wrists. And forearms. And elbows. And the back and the top of her upper arms. All the way up to her collarbones she had them-thin, white scars, slightly raised. Some were crisscrossed over each other, others straight and methodically imprinted. But it was undeniable that each of them had been sliced into her skin by a sharp razor blade. Perhaps more precisely, the hundreds of now-healed cuts had been sliced into her by a person holding a sharp razor blade.

 

Whether it was at her own bejeweled hands that she was mutilated, I don’t know. Maybe it was, as people who suffer from cutting usually inflict the wounds on themselves. Or maybe it was someone else who hurt her; a boyfriend, a relative, a pimp. Maybe it was the same person who told her she was worth nothing apart from her sexuality. I’ll never know.  I reached in my purse to pull out a church invitation card, and as I did so, the subway doors opened and the mob of people around me began to move. I walked quickly behind her so as to keep an eye on her, though her exposed flesh was hard to miss amid the sea of black and gray suit coats. I held the invitation card tightly in my palm, poised to give it to her once we had both gone through the wickets and the crowd had dispersed.

 

I scanned my card to leave the wickets, and for a split second, I couldn’t see the woman. And it is right here that I wish my story was different. I wish that I had lost her among the masses, despite my best efforts to find her. Or that I had ran to give her the card, and she had utterly and dramatically refused it. Or that I gave it to her, and she never came to church, or really, anything besides what actually happened. In the split second that the woman left my field of vision, a wave of doubt came over me. I wish there was reason to it, that I could explain it in rational terms like, I thought she might have refused to take something from a stranger, or I imagined the disgruntled look on her face upon being invited to a religious gathering. But in fact, I didn’t think either of those things. I simply doubted that I should give it to her, and so I didn’t.

 

It wasn’t a long, drawn-out decision that I made to not invite this woman to church. It was literally 3 or 4 seconds of hesitation, and by then it was too late.  I just stood there and stared as she turned around a dark corner. It was the last I saw of her.

 

I stood there for several more minutes, invitation in hand. People walked around me. It was the invitation to our weekly Sunday gatherings. If the woman came, she would have heard about hope in Jesus. She would have been welcomed by Christians who would have showed her acceptance, and longed for her to join our family.  She could have met Jesus, and found wholeness and healing and forgiveness of sins in him. She could have been introduced to her Creator, and thereby, at long last, been given Truth through which she can make sense of the rest of her broken life. The invitation, just a little black and green card with some pictures on it, was really an invitation to feast at the marriage banquet of the lamb. But she never got it.

 

And I get that there are ways I could bring myself to a state of cognitive peace about this. I could tell myself that if I gave it to her, she probably wouldn’t have even come. That may be true, actually. Lots of people who receive cards don’t come to church. I could tell myself that she was a stranger, and my Japanese isn’t good enough to really get involved in her life. Plus it would be strange and stilted, and that may also be true. Or I could tell myself that she will meet another Christian who will reach out to her. That may be true, possibly. And certainly it is true that God works in people’s lives daily in ways I’ll never know about. And I hope that’s what happens with her.

 

But here is the other side of it the side that I can’t stop thinking about tonight. God made it necessary for there to be a messenger in order for people to hear about him. Not possible, but necessary, and that’s the whole reason I’m here with my teammates. And the odds of this woman ever in her lifetime rubbing shoulders with a Christian are almost nothing. It’s not like other countries, where I could allow my ambassadorial responsibility in Christ to be diffused to other Christians. I knew she needed help- if I couldn’t see it plainly on her arms, I could sense it palpably in her demeanor. I crossed paths with her. It was my responsibility. If I had taken just a little longer eating my McDonalds at dinner, or hadn’t stopped to put more money on my subway card, or if I’d gotten in a different subway car, I would have missed her. But it was at just this moment in history that this woman’s path had connected with a person who could connect her to Jesus. But I chose not to reach out to her.

 

I’ve come back to this entry a few days after I initially wrote it. For whatever reason, I still feel pangs of remorse about not extending an invitation to that particular woman. But thankfully, because God is gracious and strong in my weakness,  that experience has been affecting the way I see people around me. I’ve invited more people to church in the last week than I have in several months. Not that that is supposed to change or make up for what happened with her. But I think God has made the image of her walking off into the night one that is redemptive, because I feel urgency now to tell people about Jesus when I think of that. I’m thankful that sometimes, even if it’s painful, he allows us to see people the way he sees them.  And I’m thankful that even when I’m not faithful, he always, always is.

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7.10.10

A few nights ago, Megan and I met with one of our Japanese friends at Starbucks. She told us about the relationship she’s been in with this English guy for the last 7 months, and the various ways he has manipulated and abused her. Sounds like he is an egotistical, insecure, perverted, selfish swine. Your standard unregenerate male, I guess. It was pretty painful to hear. I wanted to explain how it is when guys begin to follow Jesus that they have the grace to become real men, instead of selfish little boys, and only then are they are worth giving any attention to.  I wish my sweet friend could see that. She’s coming to church on Sunday. So I’m excited about that. I hope she knows someday how much God loves her.

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The Time I realized “staying in” is the new “going out.”

I’m not sure when it happened.

But sometime between now and a what seems like a long time ago, I became the type of person whose ideal Friday night is soaking in a hot lavender bath, reading for an hour or two while drinking a little red wine, and then dozing off to some Andy McKee around 9:30. And no, I somehow don’t feel the least bit lame doing it.

I’d write more, but tonight is Friday, and it is too far past my bedtime.

Nighty-night.

Sleep tight.

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The time I’d lived in Japan a few months and had a pretty regular daily schedule

Remember that time I had a blog?

Yeah… Me neither.

By posting this, I’m not indicating that I’m going to be posting more often. I may. Or I may not… Though you should probably know by now the most likely outcome.

I always do enjoy it though, when my friends post everyday-life stuff on their blogs. I’d like to start doing that. The only problem is, my blog would be a slight variation of this, everyday:

“I woke up this morning. I didn’t want to get out of bed… but then, I never want to get out of bed. I think that getting up is the worst possible way to start one’s day. Regardless, I stumbled out and slunk into the kitchen to make myself some coffee.

Then I checked email. Put on a little makeup to cover up my slept-on morning face. I had huge, curly morning hair that I shoved back in a ponytail. Then I got on my bike, and pedaled to school. (I used to feel so green and cool when I rode my bike around. Now riding my bike varies between feeling normal and being a pain the butt, particularly when it’s raining. I’m not very good at doing that balance-the-umbrella-in-one-hand-and-bike-handle-in-the-other thing.)

For the next 6 hours, I sat in class. I listened to Japanese. I practiced sentences in Japanese. I had tests in Japanese. I learned new vocabulary words and grammar structures in Japanese. I asked questions in Japanese, and received answers in Japanese. I forgot words in English because I could only remember them in Japanese. I felt accomplished when I understood what was being said in Japanese. Then I felt like a moron when I failed to understand anything said in Japanese for a while.  At the end of the school day, I gently gathered up the parts of my brain that had been flung around the room in the process of cramming more Japanese into my head. I did my best to piece them back together before I got back on my bike to ride home.

Upon arriving home there was, of course, a mound of Japanese study awaiting me. On some days, if I’m feeling particularly bionic-womanesque, I do it right when I get home. (Try and guess how often I feel like that after a pounding my head against my Japanese textbook for 6 hours prior.) Usually instead, I mosey on down to my favorite cafe to read a book (in English), drink some of the best coffee this side of the Okazaki station, and unwind for an hour or so. I might go grocery shopping, go back and clean my kitchen, or pay a bill. If I’m hungry, I’ll make something for dinner. (Or, more likely, find something that isn’t really dinner, but will suffice till I go to bed, like a banana and peanut butter. Or tuna. Or some peas. I love peas.)

(By the way, sorry that I changed tenses on you in this last paragraph, from past to potential form. It’s just that there’s no telling how many household chores and other fun activities I may do in the 3 hour window between the end of Japanese class and beginning of nightly Japanese study, so I had to leave room for change by using words like “if” and “might.”)

I began studying sometime in the early evening. I made up songs, mnemonic devices, scenarios, original dances, and had long conversations with myself, all in the name of route memorizing more Japanese stuff. (Not that I refrain from doing any of those things when Japanese study is not in the picture. I’m true to myself, yo.)  Then I took a shower, turned on sleepy-time music, did some pre-bedtime yoga stretches, and went to bed.

After that, I got up the next morning and did it again.”

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The Time I Moved to Japan

I moved to Japan a few weeks ago. Two weeks, maybe.

I was really sick for the first week. Like, I actually thought I was going to die this one night because I felt so awful. It was bad news bears.

The second week I started language school. One word: absolutelyinsanelyscrapingmyfacealongthesideofabrickwalldifficult. Good news though- there is zero danger of me having an inflated ego due to my mad Japanese speaking skills. (That is to say, I have none.)

Tonight is Sunday of the third week. These coming days will probably consist of more Japanese flash cards. More riding my bike around in the arctic tundra that is Japanese winter. More figuring out how to make food in my apartment (that doesn’t have a stove or oven.) More Japanese flashcards. More of me trying to understand Japanese grammar.  More discoveries of cool little alley ways and shops in my neighborhood. And maybe…definitely…some additional Japanese flashcards.

I love living in Japan thus far, though. These are a few of my favorite things here:

-100-yen stores. One-hundred yen= about a dollar, so they’re like dollar stores, only huge, and with way cooler stuff. And they’re everywhere. Since the first time I went in there and saw the store’s array of artsy, porcelain vases and rows of hilarious Engrish post cards, I’ve been a changed woman.

—My bicycle. It’s got 2 sweet baskets- one on front, and one one back, and it’s sort of a deep olive green. The guy who sold it to me said it was the color of “matcha,” an uber-healthy, green, powdery substance people put in their drinks in Japan. Antioxidant rich, I think, and supposedly both the color and the food are very popular in Japan. Cool, because it’s my favorite color too.

– –Drink vending machines on every street corner. And in every floor of every building. It’s not just soft drinks inside, either. One can buy cold drinks (like lemonade, assorted energy drinks and flavored water, green tea, iced coffee, etc.) or hot drinks (very hot, sugary coffee, hot chocolate, black coffee, double shot espresso, black tea, milk tea, pearl tea… .) And the best part is… they’re only about a $1 each! These machines make me so glad, especially on days when I can’t feel my face because I’m so cold from riding my bike everywhere. They are truly there for me in my time of need. I just might make up a victorious-sounding theme song to start humming every time I see one.

—Baths. Despite the fact that my bathroom in Japan is smaller than my not-very-big closet in the States, it’s bubble-bath capabilities are impressive. If I fill up the tub about 3/4 full and sit down in it, the hot water comes up past my shoulders. Sprinkle in some lavender-scented bath salts, and voila! Steaming comfort and instant rejuvenation.

—Rowen Charley Greer.

—All my other wonderful teammates. And they are seriously. all. wonderful!

—The fact it is my full-time task to tell about the message of Jesus. I literally would not want to be doing anything else.

Ok. Maybe right now my full-time job is actually to be making Japanese flashcards (lest the gospel message come out more like “See Spot run” in Japanese.) Better get back to it.

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I recently returned home from being away for several days on a trip. When I walked into my house, I noticed it was freezing, and then I remembered I had turned off the heat while I was gone. Upon walking over to the thermostat to turn the heat back on, I noticed that I had also accidentally left a large window open. The lack of heating and the influx of cold drafts from outside had left the house at exactly 40 degrees. Ugh.

I walked over the fridge after adjusting the temperature, hoping to dig up fixings for hot chocolate or cider and so mute my growing bitterness about the ridiculous temperature of my house. Upon opening the fridge, I saw that its internal temperature was around 41 degrees.

And I realized at that moment that I would be just as well off bundling up in a blanket and and crawling inside my fridge, parking myself next to my leftovers and salad dressings, as I would sitting anywhere else in the house.  This, friends, is I think reason number 612 why I hate. HATE. hate. cold weather.

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The time I came back after MTI

I’m back.

After a 7 month, um… sabbatical from my blog.

After finishing college.

After repenting of my short-hair phase.

After finishing the last training I’ll have before I move to Japan. I pretty much have it all together now. Good thing.

It’s October now, and I can hardly believe it. I just got home 2 hours ago from Mission Training International in Colorado. It was complicated and trying and wonderful, but I don’t feel like going in to detail. The short notes are, I learned a lot about myself- how I handle conflict, how I am under stress, what I’m afraid of, what I have grieved, and am grieving over. I didn’t sleep much. I cried a lot (in a good way) and I climbed some mountains (like, actual mountains. Not hills. Or proverbial mountains.) Also, I really, really love my teammates. And I miss my sweet roommate, Jen. 

You know how sometimes, when you’re by a stream or something, there are boulders that are embedded pretty far into the ground? Sometimes they have moss grown over them, binding them to the earth, and making them really messy to overturn. Then if you sink your fingernails into the moss, right to the center of the boulder, grasp if firmly, and pull it up, your fingers get all messy. You rip the moss in two, upset the ground around the boulder, and leave a big hole in the cool ground where it used to be nicely settled.

MTI was one of those situations that is better explained by imagery than words, I think. I pretty much am that rock. Or maybe the moss. Or maybe the earth around it all? Maybe all of them. Our instructor kept using the phrase, “There are parts of me that haven’t heard the gospel,” and since then, those words have been reverberating through me in the lowest tones. These last three weeks have unearthed a lot of those places, and now I’m sitting here in a jumble of dirt and moss and rocks, over turned from places I didn’t even know I had places. The hollows are waiting to hear the message of Jesus, maybe for the first time, and be filled with grace and peace and truth.

So. Hooray for sanctification and refinement. And feeling a sense of deep empathy toward mossy boulders. And for having a long, long way to go.

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