Friday, April 15, 2011

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts..."

In our women's Bible study at church, we studied the book of Isaiah the last few months, and, as usual, God's timing was perfect. He used so many things in Isaiah to challenge, correct, and encourage me in my relationship with Him. A few weeks ago, I was catching up on a friend's blog and through a whirlwind of thoughts, I was instantly overwhelmed by God's grace and provision... so I must share!

But first, rewind back a few years... I was a sociology major in college. I loved my classes but I never knew exactly what I wanted to do with my degree. Way before we went to Guam, I always thought it would be fun to do graduate studies in child development or child psychology, but nothing ever happened beyond those initial thoughts. After college Brian and I married and God led us to Guam... with no jobs, house, car, etc... but of course God provided everything we needed right away! Within one month of arriving I was working as a social worker for The Salvation Army... and I LOVED it. I could talk forever about that, but let's just say it was perfect for me in so many ways, and God used those 3 years with the Salvation Army to mold me and use my passions in ways I never thought I would be able to.

Then we felt God calling us to graduate school in the Philippines... for Brian. :) Well, long story short, in order for us to stay on campus, I also had to take classes... and I couldn't justify taking classes for 3 years and not getting a degree, so I too studied for a Master's degree. Let's just say I wasn't too happy about this. ;) I don't like to admit it, but I was pretty upset about someone telling me what to do in such a big way... and they didn't have any degrees that really matched with my undergraduate in sociology or the work I had been doing in Guam. But we felt we needed to live on campus, and I was halfheartedly interested in the religious education degree APNTS offered, since I had been involved in various forms of adult education in Guam, so I started the program.

Now, don't get me wrong, I LOVED living in the Philippines, I LOVED our life there, and I still miss it very much... but I wasn't always happy about being in school. I just didn't feel the need to go back to school at that point in my life and the degree I completed wasn't really what I ever wanted to study. However, I never felt God leading me to do something else... and trust me, God and I talked a LOT during my time at APNTS. ;) But when we first arrived, a few people started mentioning the possibility of teaching English as a second language. I had never thought of that before, but it sounded interesting and God opened doors for that opportunity... and I loved it! Being able to teach part-time while I was in school really saved me from going crazy in my little "how dare you tell me what to do" temper tantrum. I loved my students, I loved what we got to do together in class.. it was simply wonderful. :)

When I was about a year away from graduating, the school announced they were launching a new degree program... in holistic child development. Woah, that was what I had always been interested in, but I was too far into my program to change anything at that point. So I was really proud of the school for doing this and excited for the people who started, but I always felt a twinge of regret whenever it was discussed... "Why didn't they have this program when we came?" kept swirling around in my head... but I felt I just had to push through and finish what I had started.

So I finished my thesis, graduated, and then it was time to look to the future. As we began praying with our leaders about where God would lead us next, we talked about a few countries in Southeast Asia... and our discussions about those countries normally centered around the possibility of working with women and children, things similar to what I had done in Guam. Of course, I was thrilled and instantly felt at peace, that this was where God was leading us. But then God surprised everyone... soon after we began these discussions, a very unique Nazarene church in Okinawa, Japan needed a pastor... within 2 weeks we flew to Japan to interview... and the day we returned to Manila, the church formally asked us to come serve as their pastor.

Everyone involved knew this was where God was calling our family. So even though it was to a developed country, which was quite a culture shock, we knew God has amazing plans for us here in Japan... and we were so excited. So we came, and I was pregnant... it's quite difficult to adjust to new life when you're pregnant - just take my word for it and try to never make such a big life change when you're huge and emotional. ;) So, our first 6 months here I was pregnant, then I had a newborn... again, it's a little difficult to really find your routine in a new place. But as Noah's first few months flew by, I started earnestly seeking God's direction about what I should do and how I should spend my time in our new country and new role. It's incredibly easy to make myself busy, but God has been teaching me the importance of seeking what He has for me, more than just filling my schedule so I can say it's filled.

I felt God clearly leading me to focus on studying Japanese... so I started looking for classes that would fit in my schedule with a baby and a toddler at home, and unfortunately it wasn't easy to find. There were plenty of options at night, but that just wouldn't work right now... so I kept inquiring and waited and waited and waited. Finally after about 5 months I received word that a conversation class would be starting. It worked with my schedule and I couldn't wait to begin. I had already met the director of the language school and taken a few private lessons with her last fall. But when she emailed me about the group class starting, she also asked if I would be interested in teaching an English class at their language school. Wow, I hadn't even been looking for that, but I knew I really missed teaching... and this was something that could work with my current life responsibilities. So we prayed about it, worked out all the details, and I can't describe how wonderful it has been to be back in the classroom, even though it's only an hour a week, and begin to get to know 4 amazing Japanese ladies who are quickly becoming friends.

So now, back to why I'm writing this incredibly long blog... a couple weeks ago I was catching up on a friend's blog, and it was an update of things happening through the holistic child development program at APNTS. Without even thinking about it, I immediately felt that same twinge of regret... if only they had had this program when we started... I would have loved doing this. And then the grace of God overwhelmed me... I had just returned from teaching English to 4 incredible Japanese ladies, and I would have never had that opportunity if I hadn't gotten the religious education degree...God led us to Japan, where English teaching is an amazing way to get to know Japanese people, and there are so many opportunities. My mind was filled with the provision and goodness of God - I had no idea why I was studying those things, and I don't know how He will use them in the future, but He is using them now. As always, He is giving me abundant life - so much better than I could ask or imagine!

That week in our Isaiah study we read these verses:
"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters....
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;....
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:1a, 2-3a, 8-9

Wow, the words come, listen, satisfy, live... they just jumped out at me and took on a whole new meaning. I didn't always have the best attitude, but I am so thankful God gives us grace to hear His voice, even when we don't deserve it. So please pray for me as I continue to meet with these ladies to practice English conversation. Pray for our Japanese studies and that God would continue to provide us with opportunities to make new friends and practice what we're learning. And pray that we would seek God's direction in everything, listen to His voice, and follow where He leads. If you made it to the end of this post, thanks for listening to me ramble... and pray that God continues to show us where and how He is working in Japan. :)


Christina Erwin said...

Julie, you continue to be such an amazing role-model for Christian women. I'm so happy God led you to Okinawa! I will continue to pray for you and your classes.

Jessie said...

Jules, I didn't know you had started teaching again! I'm so glad that worked out for you. Love you!