It’s a day of fog and mist and stilling. And even though I live in Japan, it’s so foggy and so green out my back porch that if you squint just so, the view could almost pass for a rolling Irish countryside.
But it takes a lot of squinting to make it past the fence and apartment complex behind…
And I’ve never even been to Ireland…
After having lived in Japan for now just over six months (more on that time and all my silence to come),
And after an incredible two week vacation in paradise (yes, more on that as well),
Today held such a sweet, sweet moment, one amplified by the stirrings in my heart, and one that was so clearly a gracious gift from my Father. And probably a moment that will be one of my favorite here.
So I teach a little Japanese girl English every week here in Misawa. Her name is Aine and she is four. But in our household, she is affectionally referred to as “my little girl”.
She is a stinker. She knows very little English, but more than I know of Japanese. Which essentially means that we’ve really mastered the art of miming and sound effects. I’m well aware that our hour together would be quite comical to behold by someone outside our little world. But to us, it works just fine.
I’ve been teaching her for about three months, and she is learning much. Her parents are actually the directors of the little tutoring center where we meet. Which makes things interesting when Aine is asked how the lesson went, and there is a flurry of language you don’t understand but that you hope is positive. Typically, I always look forward to our times together. They bring me lots of laughs and let me think about something totally different for an hour each week. And I love to watch Aine learn.
Today however, I wasn’t feeling the greatest on multiple levels, but still planned for our time together since we hadn’t met these past two weeks. I arrived to find her mother a bit thrown off as to why I entered the door. (Did I mention that our form of communication can be rather comical as well?) But, crisis adverted, she called her mother, Aine’s grandmother, to see if we could have the lesson at their house.
I am told, they will walk over to retrieve me.
I have met Aine’s grandmother before, she takes her home after our lesson every day. In Japan, it is very common for multiple generations of families to reside under the same roof, and this family is no different. So I knew who she was, but it took me a moment to remember how little English it is that she speaks. Well, now…this could get interesting.
Commence the miming and sound effects.
We attempt conversation on the walk to her home. Oh dear, this will be painful.
Aine and I sit in her family’s dining room for her lesson. I meet her grandfather, who knows a tad more English.
Smile, nod, hai.
Our lesson goes just fine. Aine is particularly attentive since we haven’t met in so long and is excited to play along in my feeble attempts to have her kurika eshite, repeat after me. Her mother claims that she adores me. She is a little stinker.
Afterwards, her grandmother enters the dining room with a tray of grapes and water. We sip water and nibble grapes and attempt the awkward dance again, both of us pulling out our trusty dictionaries, hoping that they will somehow be the key to unlock each other’s foreign tongue. Me, kicking myself (again) for the little Japanese I know.
We do alright though, chatting about my recent vacation to Okinawa, about family and heritage. And as I sit there I realize just how rare this moment truly is.
Yes, I live in Japan and brush shoulders with the Japanese people daily. But making friends and investing time and seeing a family function in their very own home is a different story. Being a part of just their normal living, that’s rare.
Really, it’s a privilege.
And for it to be a home and a family whose tongue I do not understand, and still get by? I’m reminded that there are these elements to our humanness that can still leap over the large culture gaps that do exist. We all know how to smile and laugh and nod and say thank you very, very much. And, we know how to extend grace.
I stay for thirty minutes doing a lot of smiling and thank you-ing. And when Aine’s grandmother laughingly counts on one hand the amount of Japanese phrases I know, I think, not for the first time, when it is that they’ll realize they’ve made a huge mistake in hiring me.
I walk, and then drive home, all the while thinking of the gift of those moments, the gift of that interaction. People so different from me, and yet so very much the same. And because those moments are so rare, seeing the grace that God extended to me today. The encouragement He knew that I needed. The experience of family He knew I was yearning for. The quiet simplicity of just living that I’ve been after.
He knows my heart, He’s acquainted with all my ways (Psalm 139), and He cares for me.
And the sun, it can burn through all the fog and mist…and the grace, that too can clear away even the cloudiness in my heart.