Sunday, January 29, 2012

Preparing for Battle

This is a busy time for me. I am getting married in less than 8 weeks. I am finishing up grad school. I am house shopping. Which means packing, too. I am working full-time. I am also just trying to live, you know? Anyways... since I finished most of my grad school requirements last May, I took a break from studying, but picked up on a different type of studying: marriage preparation.

Here is a look at some of the books I have read (or am reading) and my thoughts on each:

The Five Love Languages -- by Dr. Gary Chapman

I read this book last spring. I first was interested in this book when I was dealing with family relationships 4-5 years ago. I then read this book in Japanese (愛を伝える5つの方法), sort of at the same time as my fiancee did. I cannot say enough about this book, really... I love it! Very eye-opening about the importance of recognizing how we ought to express love, and how we best receive it from others. Good not just for marriage, but for almost any relationship that you want to see increase in its love.

101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged -- by H. Norman Wright

I actually bought two copies of this one, because it is more of a "workbook" where there is space to write answers to the questions. There are a good number of important questions in here that will help you see if you are compatible with your partner. It is more about knowing who YOU are, and being able to open yourself up more completely to your partner, before agreeing to spend the rest of your lives together. There are a few repeat questions (seem almost the same) and some that you will find irrelevant to your own situation, and there are also some that are hard to answer (either because it's hard to put into words, or because you don't want to admit to your weaknesses). But it's really good to help prepare you for the next stage. (Note: My fiancee and I never got through the book in time... I proposed before we reached question 10... and we're still working through it slowly... we're on question 70 or so, and hope to finish before saying "I do!" But no worries... we have been very open with each other, and there are no big surprises left to be revealed, if that makes sense.)

Sacred Marriage -- by Gary Thomas

This one is probably the best that I have read so far. It asks a lot of hard question, shares a lot of wise insights, and turns marriage on its head. Look no further than its sub-title: "What if God designed marriage to make us holy, more than to make us happy?" This book was probably the least "scary" and the most "encouraging" of the ones I have read so far. Oh, it challenged me to change my thinking and my actions, but it has not made me feel like marriage is impossible or prone to failure upon failure. Thomas does a great job of setting us straight, highlighting the different ways that marriage will change our character and make us more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

His Needs, Her Needs -- by Willard F. Harley Jr.

This one talks about the five most prominent needs that men have in marriage, and the five that tend to be more important to women. For him, sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, attractive spouse, domestic support, and admiration. For her, affection, conversation, honestly and openness, financial support, and family commitment. Some of those needs overlap, and they are not 100% gospel, but from a man's perspective, I can see some truth in this. Anyhow, one thing that bugged me about this book is that it tended to have too many stories of broken marriages in which infidelity was an issue. Now, he is being realistic, but as a soon-to-be-married man, it was kind of discouraging to hear an author talk about how affairs are quite commonplace. He was not condoning them, mind you. I guess I didn't need to hear what he had to say when he said it (that is, when I read it). But one concept I liked from this book: he talked about how every person that you know has a "love bank account" in your heart. Based on your encounters with them, they can either make deposits or withdrawals. And that will sort of determine where you are at with each other. A kind word, a gift, a good joke will make a deposit. A harsh word, a toilet lid left up, ignoring the kids will make a withdrawal. Too many withdrawals, and you will no longer have the largest account in your spouse's heart. Interesting.

The Christ-Centered Marriage -- by Neil T. Anderson

I am in the middle of this one still. It is decent... it talks a lot about how you need to free yourself from any spiritual bondage in your life before dealing with marital issues. Often the "marital problems" are just extensions of individual issues that have not been dealt with. The jury's still out on this one, as I have only finished reading five of fourteen chapters. And when that one's done...

This is one I have on order. It just came out earlier this month. I got the DVD in the mail today. (You can see that from the pic -- figured I would post a pic of myself for the first time since fall.) Anyhow, Mark Driscoll is one of the pastors I respect the most. He speaks truth, harsh truth even, relevant truth, but with love. When I heard he was writing a marriage book with his wife, I knew I wanted it. Should be a good one. Apparently it was the top "Self-Help" book on the NY Times Bestseller list. Not bad for a Christian author in a country where Christianity is so out of vogue!

So there you have it, folks! If you have any books that you think I should read, or if you have any thoughts on any of these books, feel free to share them with me! I'm thinking of reading Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud. Is it any good???

Fear Factor

I'll admit it. I'm scared. Who wouldn't be? Getting married is not something that can be taken lightly. I firmly believe that marriage is a battlefield. Not that I am going to war against my wife... but against anyone who might try to interfere with our relationship. There are a number of things that can cause relationship stress, and marital breakdowns.

First and foremost, as a Christian, I believe in the existence of the devil. And he is against my marriage, because my marriage is a gift from God Almighty. And as with all good things that God gives us, the devil intends to pervert and destroy my marriage. So I have to have my eyes opened and my battle plan in place.

Second, there is ourselves. Each partner in a marriage has expectations, hopes, needs and desires. And we tend to look to each other for fulfillment of at least some of those desires. And that is fair. God can meet all our needs, but He uses humans to do so in many cases. And He will use our spouse in many ways to meet those needs/desires. When people use the platitude "God will supply all my needs, I don't need anyone" they are simplifying and denying our human nature. (If I need a kiss, can I really pucker my lips and expect the air around me to comfort me with the warmth and tenderness that a human could provide?)

Third, there is our pasts. We have all been traumatized, mistreated, and shaped negatively by our own childhood experiences. Even our experiences in adulthood go a long way to shaping who we are. If we have not received healing from those experiences, they may come out in weird unexpected and hurtful ways towards our spouse.

Fourth, there is our families. Pressure from parents, overbearing mothers, unaccepting fathers, and so on. And will our broken relationships with our siblings affect our relationship with our spouse? You'd better believe it!

I could continue on to list more factors, but they all come down to one thing. Have you been guarding your heart? Is your heart ready to be broken, ripped from your chest, and put back in a different shape than it used to be in?

"The two shall become one flesh." If you imagine this literally, it is pretty gross. But I imagine it like we are two "rocks" that are moving closer together, to fuse into one bigger, stronger, healthier rock. (What's a healthy rock, anyways? That's not the point... ignore that part of the analogy and stick with me.) The rocks are jagged and pointy, and even a little brittle. And as they get closer together, in order to make the fit "tighter" there are a lot of pieces that need to be broken off. The shape of the original rock has to be modified in order for it to better "fit" its partner rock. In the end, that rock will be mightier than the sum of its parts, but there is a breaking process that has to take place.

And that is a little scary. I'm scared. I look at the divorce rate in the world, and it terrifies me to think that the odds of any couple divorcing are greater than those of that couple staying married for life. The world has become a more self-centered place. A less gritty place. When things get tough, and when things don't go "my way" then it's time to move on. When things get less exciting, a little more mundane, then our hearts get restless and consider moving on.

Scary. But God has not given me a spirit of fear. He has given me a spirit of power and love and a sound mind. Love it. Love Him!

This blog entry did not go in the direction I had hoped it would... so I will end my "thoughts" here and start a new post about my original intention.

Pray for me, please. Thanks everyone. (When I say I'm scared, don't worry -- I'm not in panic mode, and I don't have cold feet! I'm just being thoughtful and careful and trying to stay realistic. I'm really looking forward to marriage!)

Why, Japan, Why? (Part 1)

This is my first winter in Japan. "WHAT? You've been in Japan for 13 years, have you not?" Yes, yes I have. But you have to understand that the first 11 were spent in Okinawa, where "winter" consists of wearing a sweater and having to put your hands in your pockets to keep them warm. For a week. At the most. And Hokkaido, well, that is REAL winter, but not REAL Japan.

What I mean is, Japan has a different approach to winter than Okinawa, than Hokkaido, than perhaps the rest of the world. When it gets cold, they do not believe in heating the whole house. They believe in heating the whole body.

So they have all these special "indoor use" sweaters, pants, jackets, slippers, lap blankets, and so on. It has been quite hard for me to adjust to. For thirty-six winters, I have been able to find refuge from the cold in my apartment or home. This is the first time I have walked into a cold home and simply left my jacket on, or kept a pair of mittens nearby.

Yes, they have heaters in their homes, but they tend not to use them as often as we would in the west. And especially in the wake of the earthquake/tsunami disaster up north, people are more conscious of energy consumption. There is something called "setsuden" going on in Japan, both in the summer and winter, which is a conscious effort to cut down on electricity consumption.

A wonderful idea, and very "green" and noble of the Japanese. But does that mean I have to like it? Should I feel guilty for wanting to walk around my apartment without five layers of clothing on? What do you all do to beat the winter colds and blues?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Random Thoughts and News

-- I think I am getting old. But I am still in denial of this reality. My body is breaking down in weird places and for strange reasons. I do not think either of my two current ailments can be attributed to the aging process, but I could be wrong. I'm too young to know any better!

A couple of weeks ago, my left heel started hurting. Not like sharp pain, but kind of like the muscle (or whatever it is down there) is bruised and it hurts to step. I thought maybe it was plantar fasciitis... but I'm sure that is much more painful than what I have. Nonetheless, I cannot run until this injury heals. I do not know how it came about, which I think hurts me just as much as the fact that I cannot run.

Then two nights ago, I woke up from a coughing fit. I kept coughing for almost an hour, and my body was heaving so much that I felt a discomfort in my ribs. Sunday morning and afternoon I felt tired and had a headache, and I did not really notice the pain in my ribs so much. But as the day went on, it was harder and harder to breathe deeply without feeling a sharp pain. At first I thought maybe it was just a bruise, but then I started wondering if it wasn't fractured ribs. I'm still not sure. I'm still in pain, but it doesn't feel as bad as it did yesterday, so perhaps it's not such a serious injury. Still, I wonder why my body is breaking down in such weird and unpredictable ways?

-- Funny how some people show up in your lives once, and then disappear seemingly forever, and then randomly reappear in a place you least expect them to.

This has sort of happened to me twice, both times in Kobe. The first one was over a year ago now. While living in Winnipeg in 2002-03, I really missed contact with Japanese people, and found a listing for Japanese Alliance Church in the Yellow Pages. So I started attending and really enjoyed the fellowship. Particularly interesting was the story of the pastor and his wife, who were missionaries from Japan who originally served the aboriginal people in Northern Canada and Alaska. Anyhow, long story short, I moved back to Japan in 2003, and only saw them a few times after that. One such time was when their son, who was raised in Canada, wanted to finish high school in Japan, and enrolled at Okinawa Christian School. The family stayed in Winnipeg at the time, but they eventually moved back to Japan a few years ago, but to the (at that time) unknown-to-me city of Kobe. I was in Okinawa. Then I moved to Sapporo. Never thought I would see them again. Then I met a beautiful Kobe woman, and had to come see her to confirm that she was "the one" for me. During that time in Kobe, I stayed at that pastor's home, and it was a sweet time of reunion.

The other incident happened just yesterday. I went to Kobe Union Church after their service was over, in order to talk to the administration about having our wedding there. As we made our way in, we ran into some familiar faces. So we stopped and talked. Yumi started talking to a blonde lady, whom she had gone to Tokoku to do volunteer disaster relief work. That blonde lady looked way too familiar to have been someone I was meeting for the first time. "Oh, this is my fiance, Trevor. He's from Canada, too." And so a conversation ensued, and I started to hypothesize about where I had met this woman before. Her husband asked me, "How long have you been here?" So I gave my typical answer: 6 months in Kobe, but before that I lived in Sapporo for a year and Okinawa for ten or so. The blonde woman said, "I lived in Okinawa, too. In Naha City." My answer: "Yeah I know, we used to go to the same church!" I was amused at myself for the way I so non-chalantly divulged that we had known each other nearly a decade earlier. Funny stuff.

(Incidentally, this happened to Yumi a few months ago, too. My good friend Aaron, whom I met in Okinawa, invited us over for dinner. When we got there, Aaron's wife introduced herself to Yumi, and then said, "You know something, you look an awful lot like someone I know." And so it turns out, Yumi and Aaron's wife have known each other for longer than Aaron and I! Of course, they had lost touch for like a decade or so, but still... weird how our spouses unknowingly knew each other before we all met each other.)


Well, this has gotten way longer than I expected, and I am out of time for now. I will write more again later, perhaps in a few days.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Days of victory

Some of you may know that I really like The Lord of the Rings series. Recently I have found the time to watch the entire trilogy (extended version, no less).

I got to thinking, "There's an awful lot of fighting in these movies. Feels almost nonstop! No wonder some people don't like it, or feel like it's rather repetitive!"

Well, isn't that life, though? One battle after the next. Sometimes it feels like there's no end to our struggles, to our quest for victory or freedom from pain, anguish, struggles.

And then I got to thinking, "There are so many weird creatures in these movies! No wonder some people get turned off by fantasy!"

But then, don't we encounter some weird, formidable beasts in our lives? Weird people, strange situations we couldn't have possibly imagined ahead of time. But we gotta deal with them, often clumsily or uncertainly, as we face new challenges almost daily.

Then I got to thinking, "Aren't their battles unrealistic? Small, ill-prepared, inexperienced warriors against armies that are way too large for them to defeat. And yet they win. How unrealistic! No wonder people don't like these movies!"

But then, aren't our lives like that at times? Odds stacked against us, victory seeming impossible or improbable. But then some army of trees, or legion of dead pirates (Lord of the Rings references) comes out of the blue to aid us to victory. I prefer to think of our aid as ANGELS or even the "cloud of witnesses" (fellow believers, past and present) found in Hebrews 12.

This time through the trilogy, I was captivated by different scenes than ever before. Between the battle scenes, there are a lot of victory parties. Lots of drinking, smoking, dancing, and laughing.

And I asked myself, "Now, why doesn't my life reflect this aspect of the movies?" Not the drinking and smoking per se (I'll spare you my views on these "Christian controversies" for now), but the idea that it's OK to celebrate the small victories on the road of life!

These days, for me, are days of victory. Life is going well. Really well. No, my life is not without battles. But it seems like I've been winning them left, right and center!

So, I need to celebrate in my own way and be thankful to the One who has granted me victory.

But like the fellowship in Lord of the Rings, I also have be of the mindset that more battles, of larger magnitude and steeper odds, lie ahead.

My enemy is a prowling lion, waiting for just the right moment to pounce! So I celebrate with an eye on the challenges that await me.

The war is over! Jesus was victorious over the grave! But the battle rages on...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011 - The year that was

What an unbelievable year that was. I have never had my emotions stretched both high and low like that ever before. Lots of amazing things, lots of trials.

I'll post more later. I just remember the words of Chuck Smith: blessed are the flexible, for they shall not break.

Pray for Pastor Chuck, by the way. Apparently he has been diagnosed with lung cancer.