Archives for category: Before Japan

Everyone has what I call “Sliding Door Moments.” If you’ve seen the movie Sliding Doors, you probably get what I mean. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a movie about a woman’s (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) life shown in 2 parallel timelines. I don’t think I’m giving anything away here, but just in case, SPOILER ALERT. In one timeline, the woman catches a subway train just before the doors slide shut and gets home in time to see her boyfriend cheating on her. She breaks up with him and falls in love with someone else. In the other timeline, she misses the train and doesn’t catch him. She stays with him, even though neither one of them seems to be getting much out of the relationship, and he continues to cheat on her. END SPOILER ALERT.

As I’m sure you’ve probably guessed, a Sliding Door Moment is a moment in our lives when something occurs or a choice we have to make radically changes the course of our life. For example, one of my Moments was January 8, 2008 in the early morning. At that moment, I seriously, SERIOUSLY considered not going to the airport and not getting on the plane that would take me to Japan. I clearly remember thinking, “I don’t HAVE to go.” That’s an example of a choice that I made in a Moment. An example of a seemingly serendipitous Moment would be when the representative at Chase Visa gave me the advice that eventually helped me out of debt.

250 yen for one strawberry. To buy or not to buy?

250 yen for one strawberry. To buy or not to buy?

Both of those moments profoundly changed my life. Some of it was good, some of it was bad, all of it was difficult. But at the end of the day, I am here because of those moments, and they helped make me who I am now.

Even though I like my life and who I am now, it’s tempting to think, “What if?” Of course it’s not tempting to wonder about the Moments that obviously led to good things. I have never once tried to imagine what my life would be like if I still had all that debt. But what if I hadn’t gotten on the plane? I had a really good life in the U.S. I had lots of friends, I liked my job, I was very involved in my church. There was absolutely nothing that I wanted to run away from. There are also lots of events I wouldn’t have missed if I had stayed: marriages, births, concerts, parties. Another Moment I often wonder about occurred back in 1987. It was the moment I forgave my high school boyfriend for cheating on me. Forgiving him led to 7 more years in a totally unhealthy relationship, a devastating breakup, and depression. What if I hadn’t forgiven him and instead broken up with him? Wouldn’t my life have been better?

As easy as it is to dwell on those Moments, to convince yourself that life could have been better or easier, it’s so wrong to do it. Most people will tell you that you shouldn’t regret those episodes in your life because they made you stronger and wiser. That may be true, but that is not the only reason I like to leave the past in the past. The Bible tells us that God has a plan for each one of us, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And as if that’s not enough, He also says He will go with us: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” and “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He never once promises His way is easy or painless, but He does promise we won’t face our challenges alone. If we trust this, then we know that those Moments were meant to be. There is no point in wondering “What if?’ because there is only what is.

So the next time you find yourself dwelling on a decision that you should or shouldn’t have made, remember that you are right where you are supposed to be.

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I’m packing up the last of my stuff right now, all the little stuff that fits into the crevices. It’s amazing how much those space bags will hold! If you are ever completely overwhelmed by the amount of stuff you have to cram into a suitcase, I recommend calling Eric Deeter. If you could get a Master’s degree in Packing For a Trip, he should have an honorary one. But make sure he brings Sarah along with him so you also get the words of encouragement. They’re like a package deal, and I’m so glad they’re my friends.

My bank account is closed, my phone is shut off and my dresser drawers are all empty. Everything is so final. It doesn’t feel like it should be. I wish I had one more day. But I suppose if I had one more day, I’d still want one more after that, and I’d never go. I’ve put off a lot of things in my life, though most of them were minor and don’t make much of a difference in the long run. This would. Can you imagine if I just didn’t get on the plane? I just decided to sleep in and skip it? Tempting, but not really possible.

So I guess I will end here by just saying, “see you all later”. That other word you say when you leave is too hard. Why is this so different? A lot of my friends in college go away for months at a time. I see my sister maybe twice a year if I’m lucky, and my parents even less. Is it just that I’m crossing an ocean? I guess so. Whatever it is, I don’t like this. I wish it were 2 weeks from now and I was already starting to get used to being away. Sigh. I’ll miss everyone and hope that everyone will miss me enough to be excited to get an email from me. I promise it won’t be in Japanese—yet.

Later.

I do believe this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I’ve discovered that it’s the mornings when I’m lowest about leaving. I woke up this morning kinda sad already, and then my grandmother called. She just wanted to say goodbye and that she’ll miss me. It just about killed me. Then she asked if I was happy about going, and since I didn’t want to worry her I said yes, of course I’m happy. How could I have explained to her that at that moment I was not at all happy about going? In fact, I was decidedly sad and was trying to come up with a scheme to get out of it.

The thing is, I’m guessing this is a pretty human, if not normal, reaction at this stage. My grandma, however, would never have understood this. She would have assumed that I’m leaving completely against my will and am looking forward to the most miserable 2 years of my life. How can I explain to someone who is not a Christ follower that this is not all about me? No matter what my emotion is at any given moment, I have to go because God has called me to this. I am so thankful for this. I’m thankful for all the people who have encouraged me over the years to walk by faith rather than feeling. How fickle those feelings are! How does anyone make a reasonable decision based on their emotions? My feelings change every half-hour these days, so I would never get anything done if I went by them.

I’m so sad to leave everyone, and I’m scared to start a new life. But I know it will be exhilarating when I get there. I know that the regret I would feel if I didn’t go would be overwhelming, and that I’d have to seek forgiveness from God for being disobedient. The consequences are far too great to give in to my feelings. And the blessings will be more than worth following through with this.

So don’t worry about me. I know lately I’ve sounded depressed about this whole thing. I’m just trying to be honest. I want people to know that making a change like this isn’t necessarily going to be like riding one huge wave of excitement all the way to your destination. It’s more like floating along and being raised up and then lowered again with a bunch of smallish waves. You just have to remember that it’s God keeping you afloat and He will never let you drown, no matter how far out He carries you.

I was thinking today how much I’ll miss everyone. It’s been really wonderful getting together (very deliberately) with friends the last few weeks. You guys really mean a lot to me. I know I’ll make new friends, but it won’t be the same. Everything’s going to change now.

Thank you, Lord, for leading me out of my comfort zone; for pushing me toward a dependence on You instead of myself; for making me realize how thankful I am for this life you have given me. Thank you for the sadness that I feel in leaving my home and friends, and thank you for the joy in the hope of seeing them all again after a time. Please help me to dwell not on the way things were, but to look forward to all the new things that You are going to do, and to the ways that Your name will be glorified.

It would be really easy to update you all by giving you the list of things I have left to do in the 9 days remaining. Or to just say I’m excited but a little nervous. Or something similar. But I guess that wouldn’t be completely honest, nor would it be of any help to you as you may be considering missions yourself. It also wouldn’t give you an accurate idea of how to pray for me. So to be entirely honest with all of you, here it is: I feel bi-polar. One minute I’m crazy excited, ready to jump around screaming, “I’m going to Japan! I’m going to Japan!” and showing off my newly-acquired visa. Then 3 minutes later I’m thinking about how I won’t be around for a certain wedding, or I won’t get to go to movies with Eric anymore (which occurred to me this afternoon) and I’m near tears. I feel so many conflicting things.

BUT (it’s a big but), it’s during these times (usually about 3 AM) that I rely on God the most. The only thing that calms me is prayer. I even have tears as I write this. But God has been so faithful the entire way. He has answered every prayer I’ve prayed. He has given me peace. He has provided funds, etc. He has made every step easier than I expected (even driving downtown THREE times to the Consulate of Japan for my visa). He is the one constant in the last 4 months. For that, I cannot possibly give enough thanks to Him. I can only tell you of what He has done for me. Don’t I at least owe Him that tiniest of favors?

So no, I’m not great. I’m not “so excited”. I’m not sad. I’m not nervous about teaching. I’m all of those things at the same time, and to tell you any differently would be the easy way out. And a lie. I have weird dreams lately, ones that I know are due to my insecurities. I have moments of panic when I can’t remember if I took care of something. This is the strangest time I’ve ever had, and the most exhilarating one. God will change things here at home while I’m away. He’ll also change me (I hope!) And in an immediate sense that’s really hard to think about. But I trust Him. I know that even though the changes seems scary and I wonder where my place will be in 2010, He’ll be with me.

I just got back from Tucson. I was visiting my parents for Thanksgiving. It was a good visit, and it was very hard to process that it’s the last visit before I leave. It’s weird, it seems like such a big deal that I won’t see them for at least 2 years. But honestly, it’s been about 2 years since I last saw them (Christmas 2005). I guess it seems more drastic because I’ll be so much further away.

I got the CUTEST picture from my friend Amy’s little girl, Ashlyn. I guess she’s started drawing and coloring, so she drew a picture of “Aunt Jen”. I have it hanging on my wall by my desk. I’m gonna miss that little cutie! What if I come back and she doesn’t remember her Aunt Jen? I guess Amy will just have to keep showing her pictures and talking about me 🙂

Next up. I have to figure out where on earth the Consulate of Japan is. I received my Certificate of Eligibility from Japan, so I have to go get my visa. They granted me one year, though Keiko said it’s pretty easy to extend it while I’m there. How exciting! It’s very official-looking. Probably because it is official.

So many things bouncing around in my mind now. I guess I sound a little rambly. 41 days to go!

Keiko emailed me from Japan to tell me…they bought my ticket. I had this sinking feeling in my stomach last night because I was thinking about how I’m REALLY going. I’ll be gone for a LONG time. It’s so crazy going back and forth between being extremely excited and kinda sad/nervous. I could tell last night that if I just let myself go, I could really end up in an hysterical panic. So I keep asking God to help guard me from that. It’s so funny how our nature is COMPLETELY different from how God wants us to be. Sometimes I forget the truth of that. Then something like this happens and I realize that it’s only by the grace of God that I’m not uncertain and scared and depressed every day. Knowing that He takes care of me and that my purpose in life is to glorify His name goes an awful long way toward comforting me. It grounds me. Even when I’m in a plane flying over the ocean to bring me halfway around the world.

It’s been a while, so here’s the latest: I heard from Keiko in Japan, and they have found and will purchase a ticket for around $700 (yeah!) for me to leave on Tuesday, January 8, 2008. Time is flying! Also, I will be staying with the Iwahasi family for about a month to sort of get used to Japanese culture. Then, I will move to an apartment (a very small apartment, I’m told) with a Japanese roommate, Ryoko. She works for Food For the Hungry and speaks some English. The apartment will also be in the same building as Johanna, who was part of the GM Partner trip last August and with whom I have been in contact frequently. She has been SUCH an encouragement, as well a great resource since she is American also.

Recently, I received an email from Johanna about the things that she is praying through right now. She said that she’s scared that God will tell her it’s time to go home, and she’s also scared that God will tell her to stay longer. But she is more scared about going home. It may sound weird, but that is the one part of all of this that most concerns me. When I go to Japan, they have a project for me, a home for me, provisions for me. When (or IF, as Betty says) I return to the U.S., I will be homeless, jobless and without vehicle or income. True, I know SOMEONE will take me in temporarily, but it’s still kind of scary. How strange is it that I feel better about going into the unknown than returning to the known? Maybe it’s easier for me to trust God when I have no reference, when I am completely out of my comfort zone and it’s impossible for me to rely on myself. I suppose it’s possible that when I’m in a place with which I’m familiar, I feel like I should rely on myself more. I guess I need to trust God at home more. It’s rather humbling to think that you’ve been doing something well and then find out that you really haven’t been doing it well at all. I am, after all, a work in progress.

I was so excited to get home last night and find my very first prayer support response in the mail! It’s the little things…

Have you ever fretted over a situation, only to find out after you FINALLY hand it over to God that it was never even a problem to begin with? In case you didn’t follow that, let me explain. I was concerned because the information packet I got from Grace Mission stated that I should raise at least $500/month in support in addition to the stipend I’ll be receiving. This fact made me nervous because I thought, “I’ll be getting about $750 a month, my living quarters and utilities are paid for…Japan must be REALLY expensive!” Nevertheless, I knew that if I trusted God, people would be moved to support me. Then I find out that Grace Mission won’t be handling the support and neither will New Song. I’m not going as part of any other non-profit, tax-exempt organization. And I myself am certainly not tax-exempt. So, that means that supporters will have to write their checks directly to Jennifer Hill. This raises 2 problems. The first and obvious one is that any donations made to me are not tax-deductible. You don’t get to report money that you’ve given to an individual. Otherwise, think of all the birthday and wedding money you could submit to the IRS!

The other problem, maybe not as big a deal, is that it just doesn’t seem as “official”, does it? I heard of a situation in which a collection had been taken for someone who claimed they were going to India. Supposedly, he never went. All those people who gave money had been tricked. Now most people who know me know that I would not do that. I’ll say here that I can’t imagine ever trying something that devious. And if you need assurance, Dr. Horiuchi is here often enough that you could always check with him to make sure I’m really teaching in Japan 🙂

Anyway, this situation had me worried. What if people won’t support me? How do I ask people to give when they get no assurance or tax-break in return? Even writing it here now sounds monumentally stupid. But at the time, it made perfect sense. So I prayed. And I realized that God wants me to go, so there is nothing to worry about. Only then did I write to Johanna (an American missionary teaching with the same ministry) to ask about spending. She reassured me that she only lives on the stipend. Admittedly, some support would help her in her ministry (special awards, treats, etc. to help build relationships with the students), and a laptop would be invaluable. But God has provided for her; He will provide for me.

Needless to say, this is a huge weight off my shoulders. I hope I haven’t talked anyone into NOT supporting me financially, IF they feel that God has moved them in that direction 🙂 And I still really could use a laptop computer. But what a relief it is when we remember that we truly are in God’s hands.

25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life[b]?

28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)