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The Beauty in Her Scars

My son is now 3 months old. I am now an adult, or at least now I recognize this fact. It may have been true for a good while. But the other day I was playing Super Smash Brothers, a classic video game of mine. I was in the middle of a heated battle when the child started crying. I immediately put down the controller and ran to tend to my son’s needs. What’s more, I WANTED to take care of my son. Realizing what just happened, I acknowledged my own transformation into an adult…drat. Kicking, and screaming the entire way, but I crossed the threshold. The entire time I was a child all people did was complain, (on the subject of adulthood). Bills, jobs, lawn work etc. But no one told me that: I would enjoy my job, find satisfaction in supporting my family, and yard work can actually be gratifying… in its own unique way. But having a son should be the number one reason we tell people that they need to be running head long into adulthood. When people ask me what it’s like being a father, I give them the same response as I do for the question, “What’s it like living overseas?” And that is, “You have got to try this for yourself.”
I thought of Japan the other day. And it was because of the most peculiar reason. MM’s body has fully recovered from the process of giving birth, there is however, one thing that will never be the same. The other day I was next to MM and I noticed her stretch marks. But when I looked at them I didn’t see scars, I saw Japan, I saw snowboarding on top of Mt. Zao, I remembered the two of us drudging up Fuji, and riding world record roller coasters. But most importantly, when I looked at these new permanent marks on MM’s body, I saw Max. And I thank God for her scars. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I know that, but now I am finally understanding it. MM and I have been married for 4 years and have a son. And those facts are now evident on our bodies, and it is so beautiful. Her scars tell a story, and are badges of pride for all that we’ve been thru. My grandfather once told me that my grandmother looks exactly the same today as she did 60 years ago. I now know what he means. My wife is more beautiful today in her scars than she was the day we got married, and I would not change a thing about ourselves, because in doing so I would be changing our scars from our past. But those are exactly what has made our journey together so amazing and this life so wonderful.

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Maxon Cole Fish

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First of all I have to say, God bless America, and modern technology. To live in a place where my wife can give birth in such a safe, calm, sanitized place, with dozens of people dedicated to keeping her and the baby healthy and safe leaves me with a gratitude for this land that I have not felt in a long time.

Mary Margaret is a rockstar. It took her 4 hours to give birth, and she did so with no medication. Watching her in pain, and the entire birthing process, leaves me with a new respect for the woman’s body, which can do amazing things.

I now know what it means to have tears of joy.

Thank you to my colleagues, and Harding University for being so gracious as to allow me time off so that I can be with my son, even though a large deadline looms on the horizon.

I appreciate all of the support of our family and friends, from my dad, who has made Max an heirloom cradle, to MM’s mom who has stayed by our side this entire week.  Taking care of; an injured wife, newborn baby, and crippled dog would have been too much without her.

And most importantly, God is good, all the time. The Lord gives, and takes away, but still I will always say, blessed be your name. I don’t know the future. I can’t see how much time we have together on this world. But I do know I will thank God every day for the rest of my life for the blessings he has given me.

5 Not So Maybe Good Things.

Ok, before I start this post, I must write the disclaimer that I absolutely loved my time in Japan, and wouldn’t change a bit of all my 2 years living there. However, now that I have left the country it is maybe ok to finally answer a few people’s questions about, “What, maybe, did I, maybe, not enjoy so much about Japan?”

1) Driving. Now I know every state in America likes to claim that their drivers are the worst. But the prefecture of Ibaraki, where I lived, was statistically proven to have the worst drivers in all of Japan. MM and I getting our Japanese drivers license was one of the crowning achievements during our time there, because we had to learn the rules of the road and display them. And sometimes the rules were just bad ones. For example; in Japan, whenever one turns down a road, they must always pull into the left most lane, regardless of the direction you are coming from. Lets say you pull up to a stop light and want to turn right. The street you are turning right onto, has 2 lanes, you must turn into the left lane. If you pull into the right lane you are driving wrong. Now the big problem comes when a car is driving towards you and also want to turn down the street you are turning onto. Even though there are two lanes, both cars must turn into the streets left most lane. I have seen cars crash because of this. Also, stop lights are a suggestion. My friend got into a car wreck because she braked when the light turned yellow, and the person behind her rammed her because he thought they could have both made the red light. Happens all the time.

2) Motorcycle Gangs. In Japan, you are only required to go to school through JR. High. After that you have to apply to High Schools, as one would for College in America. If you do not move on to High School, then you are expected to find a job and start contributing to society. The only problem is, those who didn’t pass JR are 16-year-old boys who don’t want to work either. So what do they do with their free time? Why, they buy motorcycles of course! And then they saw off the muffler so that their bikes make really loud noises, so that everyone within a 5 mile radius can hear them and know how cool they are. They don’t even own nice motorcycles either, they are just cheap 2 cylinder crotch rockets that they rev up outside of the malls and irritate everyone. And they are dangerous too, these kids like to drive into the middle of an intersection, do a couple of doughnuts, and then drive off to the gas station,  where they may or may not, have to apply for a job.

3) Inconsistencies. In Japan, it is very important to gargle water after you have finished brushing your teeth. However, It is ok to not wash your hands after using the bathroom.
When working outside it is always a good idea wear a hat, However, wearing a helmet when riding your bike is optional after the age of 13.
No whistling is allowed on school grounds, as it is a sign of disrespect. However sticking your finger up the rear-end of another person is perfectly acceptable and often found to be humorous. (I really am being serious about this one.)

4) Privacy.  You can’t have any secrets in Japan, or even try to lie to the people. By this I mean that the Japanese people are so stinking helpful that if you ever have a problem, or situation that you need to take care of, the people around you will drop all that thy are doing to make sure they help until the problem is over. Now this is normally a good thing, but on several occasions it has caused more trouble than the original problem.
One example: A friend was trying to make chili. He wanted some red beans to put in the chili, so he asked his co-worker if they thought that the local import store might sell cans of red beans. That simple question turned into an hour and a half drive around town as the co-worker had made it her personal mission to find his beloved can of beans.
Another Example: When MM needed to visit a doctor to see whether she was pregnant or not, she requested time off from work. Her principal asked why she needed to leave. She told him it was for a quick doctors visit. The principal was suddenly very concerned for MM’s health and insisted that she needed to go to the hospital right away if she did not feel well. MM tried to explain to him that it was not urgent and could wait. But the principal insisted that she needed to leave at once, and even informed the surrounding teachers of MM’s situation, so that they too, could help persuade he to go to the hospital right away. MM then had to confess to all of  her surrounding co-workers that she had a doctor’s appointment because she was pregnant.

5) NHK. Aka: Japan’s Broadcasting Corporation. They are, hands down, one of the worst business models I have ever seen in this world. If you were to move to Japan today, you could plug your TV into the wall and start watching Japan’s TV stations right away. At some point, it might take months, or even a year, but he always comes, your door will be knocked on. The man at your door will be a representative of NHK.
Scenario 1: You open the door, the NHK man informs you that you have been enjoying his companies services and you need to start paying for it. Now mind you, you never signed up for it in the first place. His services were rendered to you the moment you plugged in your TV. Nevertheless you do watch TV and it is fair to pay for it. So you give the man at your door your bank info and are charged about 40$ a month for as long as that bank or credit account is open.
Scenario 2: You open the door, NHK man asks you pay up. You inform the gentleman that you do not own a TV. He inspects your house to find that statement true, but then still asks that you pay his monthly fee because… there is an antenna attached to your apartment, and everyone there needs to pay for it.
Scenario 3: NHK man appears, you realize why he is at your door. Any Japanese you knew leaves your head and only English quickly flies from your mouth to intimidate him. Awkward silence and staring until he leaves.
Scenario 4: NHK asks for money, you say you don’t have a TV, he asks to see your phone. You show him your phone and he points out that you can watch TV on the phone and therefore need to pay him, never mind the fact that you are already paying for the internet needed for your phone viewing pleasure.
Scenario 5: You have no TV or phone, but the NHK man points out that you own a car. And the government just passed a law requiring any person who has a TV in their car need to pay NHK.
A lot of people own TV’s in their cars, which leads back to point 1….

One Last Lesson

I am living back in the USA now. I am excited for the future, and all that God has in store for MM and I. But first, I would like to record a few more Japan stories before  I move one.

 

It was 12:15 PM when I rode up to the Mini Stop. I was supposed to be meeting one of my students there at 12:30. Earlier that day, during the end of our school’s good-bye ceremony, Hidetoshi, one of my older students, approached me amongst the other students and said, “Meet me at the Mini Stop.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I want to give you something,”  was his only response.
And with that I waited for him down the street, at our meeting point, not knowing exactly what he was wanting to give me.  I figured it might be some good-bye present. Or final last word of advice, I wasn’t sure. Hidetoshi rode up to me on his bike, and with a swift motion said, “follow me!” Before he rode off down the street. Not sure if this was a good idea, I followed on my own bike.
We rode down the street two blocks to a set of small apartments. “Come on!” He motioned as we started moving in between the apartments. Now feeling extremely cautioned, I followed. “Where are we going?”
“You’ll see.”
Hidetoshi made his way to a second story apartment, and opened the door, “Come in.” Me, standing firmly at the bottom of the stairs, “Uhh, are your parents home?”
“Yeah they are inside.”
I entered the small apartment to find 2 groups of people. The first group was a set of my PTA mothers looking blankly at me, with the second group being a dozen of my students, from various grades, sitting around a large TV playing the video game: Super Smash Brothers. Instantly I knew what this was all about. Me and several of my students for a long time have argued who is better at this particular video game. Of course the children all believed that they were great players. I had on multiple occasions explained to the kid that I had been playing that game before they were born. None would believe that an old foreigner could beat them at a video game. But it looked like it was time to set the score.
By the look on the parents faces I guessed that the ladies had no idea that I was going to be stopping by their make-shift day care program. The women quickly went to work, preparing for me some tea and a light snack. I sat on the sofa, making pleasant conversation with them and explained the situation. After a few minutes, the kids were ready. I sat down on the ground amongst them, and they set up the game. We chose our characters to play with, and the game was on.
Those kids tried, they really did. They brought their “A” game to the console and played their hearts out. They even started playing 2 VS 1 against me. But in the end, I destroyed them, I wiped them out, and showed them up. They were so stunned, but one doesn’t challenge me to Smash Brothers and live. I had explained this to them several times, and now was finally showing them I meant it. School was out, but I had one more lesson to teach those kids, and that lesson was, I am the boss. We were only to play for about 45 minutes before I had to go. After the last game I thanked them for playing, thanked the parents for their hospitality, and made my way out the door.
That was the last time me and those kids saw one another. I hope all my students will remember me, and our time together. But I really hope Hidetoshi and his friends never forget our last moments together, and the last lesson I gave them.

さようなら

Well, this is it. MM and I load the plane bound for America in 9 hours.

I ran out of good-byes after my schools last ceremony. Those of us who were leaving the school had to walk thru the trail of tears. The entire school had formed two lines across the grounds. We got to walk in-between the rows for the final good-bye. When I got to the line’s beginning, the rows turned in a sea of my 800 hundred students swarming all around me. I had to literally wade through the kids as they all latched onto me and teachers had to pull them off. You know you have done a good job when all those around you ask you not to go.

Every time I try to even begin to describe the events over the last two years, all I can get out is a Da…… I don’t think I can ever find the words to explain all that has happened. All I can tell people is, “you HAVE to try this for yourself.” And, “thank you.”

Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you!

Thank you Iemura Sensei, thank you Machiko Sensei, thank you for helping me thrive at Senba Elementary

Thank you Muira, Sato, and Kuga Sensei for teaching me Japanese.

Thank you Senobe Sensei for teaching MM and I the art of Japanese long bow.

Thank you Atsushi and Gaku Sensei for the karate classes.

Thank you Katogi Sensei, for being my Japanese mother.

Thank you to the Namae family for making MM and I a part of it.

Thank you to the Tsuneki family for helping us survive in Japan.

Thank you to all the Senba Elementary children, for healing my heart. It was broken in ways I didn’t even realize that needed to be mended.

Thank you God. You are great, all the time. Thank you for this life, thank you for this time, thank you for this adventure.

The Silent Goodbye

All too soon MM and I will leave our life in Japan behind. We will leave on April 11th heading back to where we left in the first place. So far we’ve had 4 goodbye party/ceremonies. I’ve been doing pretty good about keeping it together so far. Each goodbye has been good. The church has already sent us off. The AET party was excellent for all of us getting together one last time. I’ve said hello and goodbye to so many people in my life that I’ve gotten good at enjoying the time I’ve spent with others, and then continuing on.

Last night was our last Japanese class. For two years, every Tuesday we would travel an hour away to study Japanese in a class ran by a bunch of crazy old ladies. Sato sensei would chase me around the room with ice while trying to explain how to say “its’ cold!” Kuga sensei giving me a look of contempt as I made up sentences about my underwear. The goodbye was a bit emotional as I hugged Miura sensei for the last time and descended the stairs as she watched from above with a proud gleam in her eye. MM and I have been glad that we’ve been keeping our tears to a minimal for now. We know we will shed plenty as the end comes closer. But for now the seal is yet to be broken.

Today was my last time to teach second grade. I have thoroughly loved all of my classes and students. But this year’s second grade was last years 1st grade. And we kind of came into Senba Elementary together. We might have 22 years of age difference, be both me and those kids were clueless together. The first kid I really met, was a small girl named Maki. I was overwhelmed when I first started teaching at Senba. But during my first week I spent some time with the after school kids. I walked onto the playground, kinda feeling lonely and looking to make some friends. And that’s where I met Maki. I had only been introduced to the children for a week, but that was enough time for them to feel like I was their new play mate. Maki walked up to me, and proceeded to climb up me and latch onto my chest until I supported her weight. And that was how our relationship started, she wanted to be picked up and wasn’t taking “no” for an answer.

Now, as a second grader, Maki was sitting in my classroom, for what I knew to be the last time. Me and the kids had a wonderful last English lesson, we sang the hokey pokey, rehearsed the Rhyme “Bow Wow Wow” talked about would we rather eat vegetables, or cookies. And played by setting up a food market. At the end I told the kids this was their last English lesson, and we all took a class picture together. After each lesson I wait at the door and high-five each child as they pass thru. I was feeling a bit emotional as I took in every kids face for the last time as we touched. Maki had waited to the end. She approached me as one of the last kids, I knelt down, and she wrapped her arms around me as I embraced her hug. She was my first friend at Senba. Her nickname is Monkey Maki, because when I was teaching animals she thought I was calling her name when I first said monkey. Her parents personally have told me that she likes coming to English class to see me. Maki loves to sit at the front every time I read a book to the kids. I thought all of this as I released my grip around her, and she slid through the door. Barely, just barely, I held it together.

I needed a few minutes to recover before the next class arrived and we repeated the process. The second round of second graders came through, and we all a had a blast together. The hokey pokey, rhymes, food, marketplace, goodbye. I said goodbye to all of my children, which was getting harder by the moment. Feeling emotionally raw I headed towards the teachers room for some green tea. I walked down the hall, turned the corner, and in the distance I could see the 2nd grade hall. And there she was, my little friend Maki standing in the doorway to her classroom, and looking right at me. I happily waved at her, she responded by simply looking into my eyes and silently mouthed, “Goodbye.” I continued on past the teachers room, doubled back to the English room, where I could be alone. I knelt down, and broke my seal of tears.

The Ice Monsters of Zao

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My face was frozen. Mary Margaret and I were standing at the top of Mt. Zao, and my face was literally frozen. We were in the middle of a cloud with snow and wind whirling about us. The temperature was -12 C, not counting wind. The snow would hit my face, melt into water, and then refreeze into ice. I looked down at my own nose and saw a sheet of ice. These conditions of cold, snow, and wind were cutting through MM and my snow gear and quickly making us feel miserable. But it was because of these exact conditions that we went to the top of the mountain in the first place.
      At the top of Mt. Zao, a natural phenomenon has been created. Because of the constant mixture of cold air, strong winds and constant snow, claims were being made that giant ice monsters had been seen living up there. At first when we reached the top of the mountain, sky and ground were were all one sheet of white. Making if difficult to see anything but your own breath. But as we reached the top, focused our eyes, and strained our brains to comprehend what we were seeing we realized that the claims were true! Before us did indeed stand a large ice monster, if fact, they were all around us.
     Imagine with me, if you will, a large mound of snow pushing itself off the ground and loosely resembling a human body. The creatures stood 10 to 12 feet high, and varied all shapes and sizes. Some stood tall while others haunched their backs. One had a large round head, and yet the one next to it had no head at all! One of the monsters his body smoothed over by the wind. His neighbor let himself be taken over by the jagged edges of ice.
      As I stood before these creations only two things were to be heard. The first being the wind whipping around me. the second being the groaning of the creatures. And groan they did, a deep low sound like a tree swaying in the wind. A natural terrifying sound only to be heard coming form the closest of creatures for my ears had been dulled by the cold.
      The creatures thrived on top of that mountain, but I could not. MM and I only walked a few short minutes among them before we had to return. I will remember Mt. Zao for the rest of my life. Far to often in life people forget. We spend so much times worrying about life, watching movies, working, and reading books that we forget. We can spend our time reading about fantasy, or watching stories told of fantastic adventures across foreign lands that we fail to remember that adventure is right outside our doors. We need only to let our imagination to take over. Mt. Zao was another world right here on our own planet The earth is filled with places to be explored and discovered. It is important to search out those places, let our imagination take over, and make our own adventures.