American playgrounds are often robust structures - slides, ladders, bridges...you name it. As young parents we often took Clark and Mollie to these. What a great way to burn energy!
Japanese playgrounds, however, are petite establishments. They fit into narrow openings and sections within the highly populated Kanto Plain/Tokyo region we live in. There will be a few options such as a sand pit, a swing set or if it's a larger playground it'll include a slide.
So the challenge is when your kids' attention span is so short, the playground you're at can become "old news" in 15 minutes or less. What's a parent supposed to do to get their kids to burn off that youthful energy?
One day, Clark and Mollie attempted their hand at the see-saw at a playground nearby. Of course, they immediately asked for help since neither one was familiar with how a see-saw works. So, Lindsay and I hopped on with them. Our children lasted less than a minute. They both hopped off and darted for the swings. And Lindsay and I remained.
We went up and down a few times laughing at how ridiculous this must of looked to others walking by. Then it hit me!
This see-saw is our lives right now.
When Lindsay is encouraged and on the up-and-up, I'm down and out. When I'm particularly motivated one day, Lindsay might be having a downer. In many ways our lives have been a see-saw the last few months leading up to our family moving to Japan.
Day by day as our departure date drew near, we were slowly being uprooted from our normal lives and relationships in America. And as soon as packing began, we entered chaos. Communication was strained. Our hearts ached. Our excitement for leaving for a dream and calling we've been pursuing for a decade was mixed with joy and sorrow.
We boarded the plane. Tears streamed from both our faces as the plane tires lifted off the ground for our 14 hour flight to Japan. We literally said good-bye to our entire family within a two-week period.
We arrived in Japan exhausted from the long trek. And even now 7 weeks into our first term we're still not in a consistent rhythm of sleep.
We said good-bye to our van and home and the next day we were in an empty apartment waiting to be furnished in a Yokohama neighborhood. We spent the following weeks walking to stores in Yokohama's hilly terrain while tugging the kids along. We don't have a vehicle yet. Our entire lives have shifted from competency and independence to highly dependent and clueless.
And all of these emotions and happenings are within the confines of the Japanese language. A language that we have a toddler's level understanding of.
I don't write this to complain. There's no complaint here. It's the reality of our circumstances. And regrettably it's these circumstances that have often affected our joy.
But, are you that different from an average Christian family like our's who has moved to another country to serve?
Do your circumstances affect your joy?
How about when your toddler is teething and neither Mom or Dad are getting the necessary sleep because your child is crying throughout the night...for the last 6 months?
How about when someone else is recognized at work who from your estimates doesn't deserve it?
On a more serious and tender note...how about when you've lost a loved one?
Truly our family and your's are no different. We all face the ups and downs of life. Perhaps these are God's means to grow us into maturity and wisdom, so greater glory can be brought to His Name. Perhaps these are temporary pains meant to cause us to reflect on Jesus and His gruesome and bloody death for our sin and what it truly means to suffer.
I'm writing this on level playing field with all of you. These are mutual struggles we all face...daily. Today I'm reflecting on James' words to the early church who was dispersed from their homes because of persecution. He writes, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-3).
So often I try to solve my problems with more strategy; more disciplined approaches; more grit; more thinking a bit harder on the matter.
But rarely do I humbly submit to God and meditate on whether or not I'm truly submitted to Him and His plan to make me more like His Son. Paul explains this concept to the Romans, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Romans 8:28-29).
Thinking once again about my "ah-ha" moment at the local see-saw. As our family's circumstances go up and down in the process of transitioning to our home here in Japan, my prayer is that we'd enjoy Jesus in the process.
May Jesus be our joy and delight as we serve here in Japan. Our desire would be that the Japanese would know that same joy. May He be your's as you serve your community.