My family moved to Japan the summer I turned six. It’s in Tokyo where I learned how to walk busy city streets, ride a bike, squish into a packed subway, and read line maps to travel to see friends all by myself.
In the beginning, Japan’s unfamiliarity elicited fear in me, but with struggle and time, I would come to fall in love with the way she smelled and tasted — from the scent of dashi sneaking from homes and restaurants, the way cold zaru soba noodles slid down my throat on humid summer days to the unmatchable joy of opening a foil-wrapped, steaming, roasted sweet potato from the yaki-imo truck that graced our street on crisp autumn days. Though I wouldn’t have chosen her, Japan fed me through my formative years.
My parents spent hours telling me what Japan would be like before the move, and I resisted all of it with every ounce of my kindergarten wits and strength by frequently stomping my foot on the ground and giving long five-year-old speeches about how I wouldn’t move and why it was a bad idea. No matter what I said or did, they listened, but we packed up and moved anyway.
Over the last eleven years, my husband and I have witnessed all three of our kids learning to face transitions and change. As we’ve watched them barreling head-first into whatever new scenarios have come their way, we’ve held our breath and remembered the ways we resisted transition in our own lives. Fear can have a rigid, tight grip, and it’s hard to forget how it holds us down and tries to keep us.
So, last spring, when our family of five was sheltering in place for the first time, I watched how each of our kids responded to the unfamiliar. Every change and transition in those slow months of spring-turned-summer, was another blow. The initial tenderness and hope alongside the fear, anger, and grief melted and melded into a weight of pure exhaustion for all of us. It felt like none of our bodies and minds could ever catch up with the news or all of our feelings. It reminded me of the way moving to another culture starts with a honeymoon phase, then moves into a phase of hostility, slow adjustments, and eventually, adaptation. After the novelty of the honeymoon phase, the newness feels more like one punch in the face after another.
Sometimes I want my kids to move through all of those stages as quickly as I can explain them. Sometimes I still expect that of myself. I expect the information and my own experience to be enough of a guide for them and me. But it’s the experience of living through each of these stages and meeting God’s new mercies day in and day out that draws us near to God, beckons us to surrender, and has the power to transform us.
In the midst of our world facing the ongoing devastation and impact of a global pandemic, the tension of our upcoming national election, and the severe polarization of people in our nation, we’re all responding differently: our hearts hang heavy for the world, we resist our own national and personal shifts, we grasp for control or distraction, and our hostility towards one another rings loud and clear.
Nothing is the same as it was back then. Seven months later, here we are, however fractured, exhausted, angry, or adjusting, and all of us are offered new mercies each day.
Leaving Japan wasn’t the last time I left something kicking and screaming. I look back now, and see how the gaping blank space of every loss wasn’t just stretched wide for aching but also for a holy remaking.
After our move, my mom started adding her own version of Japanese curry and tongkatsu to our weekly dinner rotation. Instead of city streets, I got used to finding glittery snail trails on the driveway of our Californian rental home, visiting the little avocado tree in our backyard, and enjoying weekends at the beach.
We invited Japanese college exchange students to live in our home with us, and every time I watched them bow or slide their shoes off at the front door in exchange for our Korean house slippers, it was as if someone handed me a tiny balm of healing.
Through every stage of shock and transition, God is with us. He is the one who listens, steadies us, keeps us, shelters us, and moves us forward anyway. He is the one who offers to take all that was, every tear shed for what was lost, and all that now is, and make something new. No matter how homesick we feel or how acutely aware of how far from home we are, God gives us little homecomings to sustain us along the way.
We’ll get there — one morning of mercy at a time, even if it takes a little while.Leave a Comment