If ever there has been a year that I sang out of tune, it has been this one. If ever there’s been a year when I lost my voice, it has been this one. If ever there’s been a year that I’ve seriously considered giving up on singing altogether, it has been this one.
In March, my world shifted on its axis. But really it started before that. I haven’t known how to write about all of this with grace and integrity. So I’ve been silent. That’s how you know I’m not quite right, by the way–when I’m quiet for too long. I mean, if you don’t have something nice to say, just shut up, right? But after several months here, waiting for Godot, I must start writing again, even if it’s not shiny and tidy. There will be no bright red bows, be warned.
Living overseas is hard. Living overseas as a missionary is even harder, I gather. But living overseas as a sort-of-missionary/sort-of-regular-person/what-the-crud-am-I-really-doing-here-person? Maybe it’s that word I have been fighting for so long: impossible. Impossible? After several months of trying to triumph over this wall of a word, we’re still here really, on the same side we were on when we first arrived in this country. For a spot there, we kind of thought we had stumbled upon our “mission” here, but then it slowly fell away. Certainty is the annoying little bastard of Pride. And what do you do with yourself when you don’t know what to do with yourself? Well, we’re still not sure. Move to Europe maybe?
I’m sorry. Are you surprised by my melancholy? It’s my own fault for fooling you into thinking everything was just fine the last few years. I mean, it is fine. We’re fine. It’s really not as depressing as my tone is coming across. But for a while now, we’ve been just barely surviving, certainly not thriving. I’m not going to lie to you now and tell you our hearts are humming “Victory in Jesus” these days. But they are still humming. More like “Blessed Be The Name of the Lord.” Don’t fret too much. We just have a lot of questions, but we seem to have been put on need-to-know status for the time being, somehow graciously benched for this quarter.
For the past few years, we felt like we had found our place in Japan, namely a church to serve alongside Japanese Christians whom we loved with all our hearts. After 5 years of striving to figure out how to best serve the Lord here in Japan, we finally found a match. Our first year there was a honeymoon–worshiping in Japanese among Japanese believers, mutually and joyfully gathering all of each others’ stories into our hearts, reveling in how even our differences complimented each others’, collaborating in fruitfulness, and seeing the church multiply very quickly.
But then somewhere along the way, we lost it. As in a marriage, how can you pinpoint that moment when things moved from challenging to “irreconcilable”? We were going through culture shock all over again, except it was “church culture” shock. Suddenly the honeymoon was over. I don’t know if I should give examples. Probably not. But the challenges went both ways: we struggled to reconcile the teachings and policies of the church with our own beliefs, and they struggled to accept us, aliens that we are here. The cultural challenges snowballed for two years, but we never considered them to be insurmountable. Until March.
When I left Japan with the kids in March after the earthquake, everything went to hell. We became deserters, traitors, outsiders never to be welcomed back. I’m actually not exaggerating. Those things were all spoken over us by strangers and friends alike. But it hurt the most coming from the church. It nearly tore me apart, personally. I won’t go into details now (you’ll have to buy the book), but I came closer this year to walking over the edge than I ever have in my life. I camped for months in emotional sadomasochism: torturing myself over every mistake, every misstep, every flat note; reading over and over again the emails from strangers who hated me and church members who were sorely disappointed in me, breathing in the words, even the lies; allowing depression and anxiety to swallow and chew me up, back and forth, back and forth. Keith was still in Japan, trying so hard to mend what had been broken. I was just trying to get myself back together again–it was all I could do to get through the day. But there were too many pieces. We couldn’t put it back together again, on either end. But we tried. And to be fair, so did they, for a very long time. We all tried so hard and we all loved like it was never gonna hurt. But in the end, we weren’t good for each other after all.
No wonder I’ve been so prophetically obsessed the last few years with the song “The Scientist”:
Nobody said it was easy
It’s such a shame for us to part
Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be this hard
I’m goin’ back to the start
So that’s all I’ve got for you today. That’s all we know for now. We’re going back to the start.
And for those of you who didn’t stand up and walk out on me (when I sang out of tune), thank you.