Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Christmas in Japan

I went back & forth and back & forth on whether or not I should write this post. 

Would the audience accept a less quippy, Japanese-themed post in exchange for a more thoughtful, solemn essay? 
Would I lose readers because I went too deep?
Would it be offensively weighty?
But I trust you. I trust you to read if you like and pass if you don't. I won't insult your intelligence by assuming you can't make that choice. So if you've had enough of artsy-heartsy Christmas posts and you're just here for your dose of Japanese life, meet me here next week?

For now, I have this small corner of the internet and, if I may, I'd like to prop up a little Christmas tree here and turn on the lights. 

I've been celebrating Christmas in a different way this year than I ever have in the past. I'm usually surrounded by family and laughter and noise and music and movies. 
It's a bit quieter in Japan. We have the music some nights and I've watched 3 Christmas movies and trust me, WE LAUGH, but it's an altogether lower decibel Christmas this year.

The busy is missing and the hustle they sing about in the songs is easy to avoid when all your shopping is shipped before December 10th so it makes it by Christmas.

And the quiet, as it does if you let it, brings with it a small dose of reflection and an invitation to explore a little deeper. I accepted. And so in the corner by the tree, I'll share what's happening in this artsy-heart.

Christmas is a big event. Commercially. Personally. Relationally. 
Big marketing campaigns.
Big dinner plans.
Big lists (that must be checked twice).
Big story. The biggest story in the history of the world, if you believe what it says. And even if you don't, the claims of this story are certainly the biggest. A God of the universe becomes a baby...a tiny helpless human predicted to SAVE THE WORLD, conceived & born of a virgin...a teenage girl, who could've been stoned for betraying her betrothal vows. This baby then grows up living a perfect life and performs miracles of healing & immense power only to throw all the fame away to die by crucifixion with a promise to take away our sins and defeat DEATH in a death-defying rise from the grave 3 days afterward. 
I'm sorry...wha??

I'm not here to defend the claims of the Scripture that Jesus lived, died & rose again. There are lots of more qualified resources for that.  I'm just here to tell you how my belief in that big story is shaping my small life this quiet Christmas.

Several years ago, I read in a beautiful book by Sheldon Vanauken "Van" called A Severe Mercy (I could give this a full run-down and recommendation, but for sake of time & topic, suffice it to say that it's wonderful, so go read it) an auto-biographical story of Sheldon and his wife, Jean Davis "Davy", their love for each other and their friendship with C.S. Lewis that eventually culminated in a conversion to Christianity. The story-telling of this couple's love of & devotion to one another is breath-taking in its grandeur and simultaneous simplicity. It's not an imagined, romantic, Notebook-esque story, but it leaves you thinking, "I thought that only existed in the movies." It's that over-powering and enchanting. But it all boils down to glass of water.

In an explanation of the level of love and devotion they were willing to give each other, Van doesn't read us an oath they signed in blood or a grandiose vow to die for each other if needed, he tells us of a promise they made to always be willing to bring the other a glass of water. No matter what they were doing or what time of night, if one asked for a glass of water the other would bring it to them. 

How laughably little they promised each other. 

But don't you feel it? Don't you see the pristine example of selflessness this is? 
We are not often asked to jump in front of a bullet, to lay on the grenade, or to stop a speeding train, though our hearts, in the throes of love, shout that we would do any number of these and more if it were asked of us. It seems actually easier to promise that which we will, most likely, never have to do.

But what if the test of our love were a glass of water? Now that's dangerous. I might have to do that every day. I might have to show you my love as I promised it: With a daily relinquishing of my rights so you can have a glass of water. 

I can feel it in my heart now. The courage to help Oakie if he was in danger rises up in my chest as I sit on this couch imagining all the ways I save the day. It's just as real as the irritation I feel when I'm interrupted because he needs a favour. I'm embarrassed as I type. What if I'm the only selfish one that cringes when I hear that voice I love asking me to STOP WHAT I'M DOING AND HELP HIM? 
But, love, can't you see I'm reading? 
You don't understand, GILMORE GIRLS is on. 
The ire I am capable of unleashing is better kept for a villain who threatens our lives, but aren't the tinges of it right there at the edges of my heart when he gets it wrong or misunderstands or forgets...again? Just me?

Stay with me; Christmas is around the corner.

So what is the root of that ire? That grating pain as I comply, but grumble?
Isn't it the pain of dying just a bit? Dying to my desires? Dying to my rights?
Could this be the version of dying for each other I've been given?

And isn't it just the smallest thing?

I'm here to tell you, I married a guy who excels at this kind of death; this kind of life.
He is so incredibly selfless, sometimes it hurts to be married to a guy so kind. 
Sometimes it shows in sharp relief the hurt I've dealt him with my sharp words and my knees buckle under the weight of my ingratitude. And I feel another small piece of myself die and be replaced with a fresh desire to love him like that. 

It happens when I say to him, "I'm really frustrated with you right now." 
When he didn't communicate and he DIDN'T TELL ME THE PLAN and I'm hungry and there was NO COFFEE this morning. 
And I turn my face to the window of the car so I don't have to see him extending his hand to hold mine; that way I could play it off as unseen instead of another unkindness. 
And he just says softly, "It's ok." 
And I add it to my ammunition to fire another round. It's ok? Gee, thanks for your permission to be frustrated but----- 
And just as the Proverbs say, his gentle answer turns away my anger. 
He didn't rear up to fight back. He didn't defend himself against my out-of-proportion annoyance. He didn't swing the spotlight around to show all of my wrongs. He just acknowledged it in gentle love. And my answer came in kind. 
When he shows me that kind of love time & time again it chips away at my ego and my need to be right and instead creates in me a desire to find a way to show him how thankful I am.
He died for me right then. He died to his pride & his right to be right & his big love came right down small to me.

And isn't this the Christmas story? 
Didn't the big God come right down small?
And before He ever did the big dying, He did the small dying. 
He was wrongly accused & reputation-ruined & belittled & forgotten & dismissed, but He didn't rear up to fight back. He didn't defend Himself against our out-of-proportion ire. He didn't swing the spotlight. He just acknowledged it in gentle love. 
He died to His pride & His right to be right & His big love came right down small to me.

And He died for me right then. On that cross. Those two thousand years ago.

The biggest loving & living & dying started with the smallest. 
the small girl from the small town loving a small man and a small baby.

And He says, "Follow Me."
If we can follow Him in the small ways of dying to ourselves so others can have a glass of water, won't these small deaths eventually add up to a whole life of big love?
So then, Luke 16:10 makes a little more sense when it says, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much."

The big God came down to show us that the way to the big things we desire: value, purpose, joy, forever-living, peace, harmony, beauty is the really the way to Him: Jesus. 

Acknowledging this will cause a dying in you. And dyings are painful. I feel it every time I lay down myself for the glass of water. We can't do it on our own. We need Him to show us the way, but because we're so set on turning our face to the window we will not take His hand. 
Thank God that He takes ours. 
And He doesn't take it by force, swinging the spotlight and angrily showing us our faults. He comes in a soft answer, a little baby born in a little town weaving a big story of a big love. 
Showing you, through His life and death, time & time again, that 
He values you.
More than this whole big wide world.
He. Loves. You.
You need do nothing more extravagant than turning to Jesus. 
Look to Him for your meaning 
and your value 
and your purpose 
and in Him you will find joys unimaginable.
He already showed you how He thinks of you when He sent that baby to give you a way to see Him and know Him and love Him back. He came for you.
And if that soft answer is turning away your anger, turning your face away from that window reflection of yourself & your endless attempts at creating happiness and purpose out of yourself, I believe it is evidence that He is calling you now. Follow Him. He's been coming for you from the beginning.

merry Christmas.


  1. I think I'm going to leave an empty glass on a shelf in my room, to remind me of the truths you shared in this post. And I am glad that you decided to post this, Thank you! Merry Christmas!

  2. That was beautiful. Thank you sweet girl!!!

  3. What a beautiful Christmas blessing you have to us
    Merry Christmas to you & Oakie.

  4. Beautiful, big, salty, aching tears of joy and gratitude are rolling down my face as I read this. How perfectly you have described the love of our Father, and my husband, and - praise God - my son!!! And how softly you have bared the soul of selfishness that manifests in our little irritations. God bless you, sweet Caroline.

  5. Oh. You know how what you write can touch people in different ways and so the reader reads until they get to that one moment that makes them say, "Oh..." :) That scripture in Luke 16:10 always made me feel swamped and pressured; like I couldn't possibly take doing MORE. But now..."Oh" is quietly joyful. This is fabulous. Thank you.

  6. Caroline. Go write a book. This was phenomenal. And emotional. It was phenotional. I love you.

  7. This moved me in a way I can't express. I'm so thankful God gave you those words to write, so they could be read. God knew so many needed to see this, myself included. Thanks. (By the way, I'm friends with Theresa and Randy and I'm so glad she directed me to your blogs )