Time Time Time Time Time

In a week, my husband and I will be celebrating our wedding anniversary.

Nine years.  Nine whole years.

In a week and two days, our little boy will be turning three-years-old.

Three years.  Three years whole years.

In three weeks, our little girl will be starting second grade.

Time.  It is running.  It is going.  It is stopping for no man.

Every summer I have grand plans.  Cleaning out the stacks of Shopkins and dolls in the little girl’s bedroom!  Reorganizing the kitchen!  Deep cleaning the dust that has settled on the edges of the door frames!  And every summer the same thing happens:  I run out of time.

I am a planner, I like organization, and my daughter will attest that my favorite words to her are “clean that up.”  So what happens during this 8-week period, when I have a checklist, swifter, and disinfecting wipes ready to go, yet inevitably end up at the end of the break with even more dirt by our garage door and more toys strewn about the living room?

Life.  Life is what happens.

During the school year I am so consumed with doing.  Doing planning for classes.  Doing grading for papers.  Doing emails to colleagues.  Doing doing doing doing.  By the time the first week of June hits, I am ready for a break.  I turn off my computer, erase Google Drive from my memory banks, and have a grand ole time going to the museum or romping in the ocean with the kids.  I make a list of things to do so that I will be productive (yet have fun!) during the upcoming weeks.  Cleaning.  Trying new food recipes.  Adventuring to the nearby trails.  The summer is looking to be one of accomplishment and productivity.

By week two, we are all settling into a routine, with the little girl heading off to summer school and the little man and I going to story time at the library or running around the gym’s kid’s club.  I haven’t yet gotten around to any of the household chores I dreamed up for myself to accomplish, but it’s ok.  There’s still the whole summer left.

Week three has me looking for fun (yet free) activities for the toddler and I to engage in.  New activities that ensure he is getting his fair share of outdoor time (biking!  sidewalk chalk drawing!) are difficult to come by, as by this point of the summer, we have exhausted many of the possibilities.  And the cleaning?  The disinfecting?  The swiftering?  Well, an afternoon nap sounds more enticing.  Keep those duties on the to-do list.

Week four, and I am getting tired.  Physically and mentally.  I am craving adult conversation.  I am starting to peek in my Google Drive, my work email, looking to see if I can have a conversation with some other adult, some other person who can engage in topics that are more than just about Sesame Street or Lightning McQueen.  Doubt that I can even sift through the drawers of Shopkins starts creeping in my mind.  Would it really be so horrible if I put that off until Fall Break?

Week five, I dream about my classroom.  Literally.  I have dreams about instructing freshmen on the first day of school and talking about Of Mice and Men with sophomores.  I attempt coercing my seven and two-year-old into using the baby wipes to help sweep the dust off the walls.  No such luck.

This is the evolution of my summer.

It would be quite easy to say that my summer was unproductive, my summer was a wash, my summer was wasted time.  In reality, these last few weeks have been some of the most rewarding.

I joke with my husband that it is more exhausting to be at home with a toddler than being at work (well, there is some truth to that statement), but if I didn’t have that time with him to read his favorite Planes book or wasn’t able to run alongside him as he peddled his little tricycle up our hill, I’d be missing out.  During the school year, I see my students more than I see his smiling face.  How wonderful is it that I have all this time to be present, to see his growth, to snuggle with him before his nap?

I admit that I am one to fall into the trap of letting time control me, of letting life control me.  I base my life around time–where do I need to be at this moment?  What did I schedule myself to do at this time?  Am I using my time wisely?  Major moments of my life are defined by time, and I use those markers (getting married, having kids) as a barometer.  But a barometer for what?  To show my age?  My experience?  My knowledge?  When it all comes down to it, time truly is in God’s hands.  I may put great stock and stress in the time my husband and I said “I do” or when our little boy decided to enter this world.  But what about God’s time?  What are the moments HE treasures and desires for us to experience?  Are they the same as the ones I value?  And what about the times that I see as less than or not as important?  Does he still see my summer routine just as valuable as the moment my daughter begins a new grade in school?

It’s a lesson I’m learning, how to enjoy the “being” of time and to know that life is more than clock hands ticking ticking ticking away.  Time will continue on, and unlike what Marty McFly or Doc Brown professes, a person can’t travel back in time or alter the future.  So what’s next?  Just be in time.  Just be in life.  Savor the seemingly mundane, the seemingly unplanned.  Remember that every bit of time here on earth is meant to reflect the love of God.

And with that, I’ve abandoned my plans of de-cluttering my home.  I have thrown out the to-do list.  I am relishing these last few weeks of summer with my son.  I am living, I am being, and I am letting time keep on going.

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Where My Friends At???

We were the band of four.  Kari, Kathy, Anna, and me.  One was a long-limbed swimmer with a cute button nose.  One was a book worm intellectual who always greeted others with a huge smile.  One loved to laugh and play video games until the wee hours of the morning.

We were a band, a quartet, a bond of girls who were just beginning to learn what it meant to be young women during the eighties, a time of fluorescent hypercolor shirts, scrunchies, and Balloons shoes.  During those formative elementary school years, the four of us were inseparable–recess time found our gang huddled by the big tree near the cafeteria, pulling bark pieces from the massive trunk or hanging upside down by our knees on the monkey bars, hair falling like cascading waterfalls toward the playground’s red dirt.

We were a band.  But then seventh grade happened, and I journeyed off to Aiea Intermediate while the other gals traversed to Highlands Intermediate.  Initially we attempted meeting up on the weekend for Pearlridge outings or made plans to catch a movie once a month, but eventually, the phone calls between the other gals and me became fewer, the meet-ups less frequent.  By the time we graduated high school we rarely spoke–this being before the internet was popular and social media enabled constant interaction between individuals clear across the globe–yet it was ok.  There was an unspoken acknowledgment that we had grown apart, that the mere fact that we were not attending the same high school or constantly seeing one another in classes or on breaks was the root of why we were no longer a band.

It was ok.  It IS ok, because that is life.  There are seasons when we are close to certain individuals, invite them into our homes, break bread with them, and talk with them for hours, and then when that season passes, it is ok.

Right now, I’m going through a transitional time.  The seasons are changing.  My relationships are altered.  I desperately long for the friendships I had in the past yet also know God has some great relationships with others waiting for me in the future.  Last night at our small group Bible study, we talked about one such friendship I had that abruptly ended almost a year ago.  A year ago.  365 days.  I still don’t feel quite resolved in the issue despite all that time elapsing, and even though our disagreement occurred almost twelve months ago, my heart does ache for the days when that friend and I would plan ice cream dates or walk around Ala Moana window shopping.

Why???  Why do I still feel this sadness even though the other gal has evidentially moved on from the fractured relationship?

It’s not that I don’t have pals.  I have many other friends:  I have a best friend in the form of my husband, I have great love from my children, I  hang out with co-workers, and I strike up a conversation with fellow gym goers.  Why would this lost friendship mean so much to me?  Last night, while talking with my fellow Bible study members, God showed me one part of the answer:  I fear what she and others think about me.  Because the ending of the friendship was less than ideal, I worry that she may have a negative thought on who I truly am.  Whereas in other relationships that ended because simple geography led us to not be around one another (example:  my band of elementary school friends), I am still confident in the fact that they don’t see me as “bad” or “mean” or any other negative adjectives.  But when a relationship ends with a fight?  Eek.  My mind starts to go crazy imagining what she may see me as.  A crazed lunatic?!  A neurotic liar?!  An irresponsible adult?!

I know that ultimately Jesus is the one relationship that I should prioritize, and that I really shouldn’t be worried about what other people think about me (These words of wisdom are from my husband, by the way.  I don’t know how he does it, but he DOES NOT have that people-pleasing attitude in him).  But I do worry.  And what it boils down to is that I still have insecurities about myself.  If I were truly confident in who I am in Christ, SHOULD those imagined words, those hypothetical ideas of what others think about me impact me so greatly?

No.

With Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms incredibly popular, I was able to reconnect with my old band of elementary school gals.  I “like” their posts of wonderfully pictured food, their pictures of the beach, and snapshots of their kids.  We may not have the same closeness as we once did thirty years ago, but it’s ok.  It IS ok.  Jesus has been showing me that the time we spent playing soccer in my family’s living room and prank calling the neighbors during late night sleep-overs (I know!!  Horrible!!!) are a part of my past, and that past is not meant to be recreated but instead should be honored for what it is, a part of ME.

I am on a journey, and in actuality, it’s not a journey to mend the old friendships so they can be how they once were.  Sometimes, relationships were meant to help form a person, to inspire her, to lead that individual towards another road in life.  On the flip side, sometimes, relationships are so fractured they can’t be put back the way they once were, and that is ok too.  It is incredibly challenging to accept that fact, that what was in the past cannot be changed, but it is something that God wants me to realize.  Why attempt to recreate what once was when there is so much more grandeur waiting ahead?  I am on a journey, a journey of moving forward with the confidence that God has great relationships with others in store for me.  The first step of this journey?  To find fulfillment and joy in the band of people He has placed and will place around me.  And you know what?  So far, it is ok.  It IS ok.

 

Social Media…Farewell???

I am old.

Well, not really that old, but old enough to remember the days when I didn’t have a cell phone attached to my hand. If I wanted to talk to friends at night I had to sit with my coiled-wire Snoopy phone to my ear. I memorized the numbers of my closest pals because I dialed those digits so often, and even now I can still recall pressing the familiar “455” in order to speak with my best Pearl City pals.

Now I have an iPhone, albeit a beaten up iPhone 5, but it’s still a smart phone that enables me to contact friends from around the globe through my Facebook app. This same phone has it set so that I don’t need to memorize numbers to talk with people–all I need to do is press their name on my contact list. With this great technology, and it is pretty remarkable because I can now Google map how to get to a certain location without the stress of unfurling and refolding a paper map, is the sad fact that I can use my phone for good (checking movie times online instantaneously) but also easily get caught up with social media and all the distractions it brings.

For the past week, well, almost a week, I have refrained from posting videos of me squatting, benching, or deadlifting because I noticed that those activities were starting to define who I am. Namely, I didn’t (and still don’t) want my identity to be “that small girl that lifts a lot of weights.” Instead of immediately putting up a shot of my legs flexing when I pulled sumo or my triceps bulging as I attempted a bench PR, I have instead been putting up images on IG that show what I believe to be important–my family and God.

The first day I decided to refrain from showing the social media world my training for that day, I felt a bit off. Normally after I was done with lifting, I’d collapse in a sweaty heap on the floor, pick a video that I had of me lifting, add a quirky or cute caption, and then press share. But now, without having that normalized action in the cards, what would I do? I started to stretch more, which was nice, but then I just ended up going home early. And WOW. What a difference that made. I didn’t realize that I spent so long lounging in a sweaty heap, oggling over IG and FB. It was then that God spoke to me: Limit your phone usage. Don’t go online so much. Use your time to devote to me and your family.

At first I thought refraining from opening up my IG app would be a piece of cake, but then my lazy quiet time before bed hit, the time I normally would turn to social media to unwind. And I had to put my phone aside. Let me tell you, it was a challenge. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but there are many times at night, when I’m so mentally and physically drained that I would veg out scrolling through Stefi Cohen’s videos rather than play cars with Shogun. Or I could not move myself from the supine position on the living room carpet to play Shopkins with Misha, and instead chose to read up on Powerlifting Women on Facebook. It’s a sad tale, when the people I care most about, my children and husband, took a backseat to checking my online accounts.

So what did I do when faced that challenge? I hid my phone. Yes, you read that right. I put it out of view, still plugged in and charging to the wall outlet so my morning alarm would ring, but nowhere in immediate hand range. Keeping that device out of sight made it so that I was fully engaged with my children, whether it be rolling on the ground and tickling my daughter or putting together number and letter puzzles with the little boy. And what happened if the phone was in reach and I checked the screen to see my notifications? I immediately opened up my Bible app, and turned to a verse that I was meditating on that day.

It’s amazing that the longer I have been away from social media, the more I don’t really miss it. I am beginning to realize that I am not a person cut for moderation, whether it be with my phone, exercise, food, or, well, life. When I was in the throes of anorexia, I would either eat only a Subway sandwich a day and that was it, or if I ate more than that (oh, the horror!) I would end up drinking only diet soda and munching on carrots the following day to balance out the calories. One mile running was never enough–it was either 10 miles or nothing. In that same way, I can’t merely state that I’ll check my Facebook “just for a little bit.” I have to either set a time restriction for myself or not go on at all.

Similarly, my mind becomes very caught up in the images I see on social media. I admire women like Morghan King and Stefi Cohen, gals that are my height (yes, five feet and one inch tall!) and can lift way more than twice their body weight. But in reality, that will never be me. I’m learning to accept that fact, that God didn’t make me to deadlift over 400 pounds. And that’s ok. In my quest to rediscover who I am in Christ, Jesus has shown me that those females I loved watching on IG and FB are NOT me. Yes, I can have lifting goals. Yes, I can hit the platform because it’s fun to load up a barbell and see what I can do. But I’m not going to break world records because that is not the plan God would have for me. He designed me for something more, and although I’m not quite sure even what that looks like, I do know that my hope and identity is not in how much weight I can squat, bench, or deadlift. This revelation doesn’t mean I will stop going to the gym, but I am now training for a different purpose. I used to want to be Morghan or Stefi. I wanted to earn titles and accolades, to be first place in everything that I did. But those medals, they are not the reason I was placed on this earth.

One example of this is my recent decision to make a concerted effort to get up in weight. My RP coach wants me at least 107-109 pounds. My husband thinks 115 pounds is more reasonable. When those two first approached me about being those numbers, to be honest, I initially balked. Why? Because I could compete in the 97 pound weight class and qualify for a national competition. Given the numbers required to qualify, I could easily hit that now. But for what? Aren’t I in this sport to challenge myself? To see myself grow as an athlete and individual? Isn’t part of the draw to powerlifting putting in hard work in order to show that perseverence is a key to success? Shouldn’t I want to test myself and go beyond my comfort level? If so, then staying at 102 pounds would be ridiculous. I need to gain weight in order to actually do some “hard work” on the platform.

And so I am at the place now where I am eating to be heavier–107, 109, 110, 115 pounds–because I know that that additional weight makes me stronger physically as well as mentally and spiritually. I can’t engage in the sport of powerlifting whole-heartedly if I am not at a weight that allows me to push myself and see what physical strength God has blessed me with. Similarly, I am also going to continue to refrain from looking at my Facebook and Instagram for extreme amounts of time, save for a random five minutes or so while lying in bed before falling asleep. And while I do miss seeing hilarious memes and reading even more hilarious threads, I am enjoying the moments I actually get to spend with my family. God is showing me more about Him in the weight gain and social media restriction process, and it leaves me in awe at how He has been able to use scripture to do so (more about that in a later post). But for now, I think I’ve spent enough time on technology. It’s time to put away the device, play with my kids, and live life.

Ramblings and Revelations

I can blame it on genetics, since my mother weighed less than 100 pounds on her wedding day and my father entered the army after high school measuring in at a hefty 115 pounds. I can say that I have a small boned frame as I am half Japanese and half Okinawan. I can also claim that my body is just made to be “small”, as even when pregnant I never weighed more than a whopping 125 pounds. But the fact of the matter is, I am still in need of putting on some pounds.

This is not a crazy revelation to anyone that has been around me, oh, for the past year or two. After giving birth to my son in July 2015, the act of nursing plus working full time plus being a mommy to my daughter plus keeping the house in somewhat clean shape whittled my weight down to a whopping 100 pounds. During this time I was still hitting the platform to clean and jerk and snatch, and while I could heft my bodyweight (and even a little more) overhead, I wanted to add more plates to the barbell. I saw Mattie Rodgers’ biceps bulging while maintaining her wide-armed front rack position, and I ogled Morghan King’s meaty thighs as she exploded out of her high bar squats. Basically, I wanted to be stronger, more thick, just MORE. But in order to do so, I needed to gain weight.

So I tried doing a variety of options—I went back to seeing my old eating disorder dietitian but that didn’t work out. I enrolled in our gym’s Transformation Challenge (muscle gain category, mind you) in order to keep myself accountable to gaining weight, and sure enough, I saw the scale move up five pounds in a span of 12 weeks. I felt victorious, as weighing 105 pounds awarded me first place in the female muscle gain category, yet fast forward a few months, and I was once again back down to 100 pounds. Well, more like 102. Regardless, I was not where I needed to be. I knew I needed some kind of eating regimen to follow, and Paul Salter with Renaissance Periodization gave me a wonderful template. He started me off on maintenance, meaning I first needed to just get used to eating regularly throughout the day a certain amount of fats, carbs, and proteins. Maintenance agreed with me, and I was soon heading off into massing land.

This is where the rubber met the road, and where I am still struggling. I would gain a pound or two or three, and then internally freak out. Why should my heart be filled with fear when what I wanted was to get stronger and the only way to do so was to gain weight? Paul is great in that he basically told me that by not following the template he provided, I was throwing my money down the drain. His statement was true, and so every time I was faced with having to eat another bite of peanut butter or chicken, I thought about my hard earned paycheck, and how NOT scooping myself another mound of rice was akin to a check being chewed up by the garbage disposal.

And yet, I cut corners. I would save up my allotted fat and carb servings for the end of the day because I was fearful that I’d crave them at night and then overeat. But by the time my bedtime snack was ready to be eaten, I felt physically full and couldn’t stomach the thought of adding cereal or nuts to my already dense mound of casein pudding with peanut butter, almonds, and banana (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). Every Monday and Thursday when I’d report to Paul on my eating consistency and weight, I’d feel this huge letdown—I imagined him opening up my email, already expecting to see that I was missing a fat serving on my food log and stagnating in weight gain. I felt like a failure on multiple levels.

During this time I was still lifting weights, and in fact competed in a powerlifting meet where I weighed in at 45kg. My daily training was taxing as heavy deadlifts and squats will take its toll on the nervous system, especially on a system that is being under nourished. I still looked forward to putting on my knee sleeves for leg workouts or wrapping up my wrists to bench, but I was beginning to feel a sense of monotony. I can’t quite explain it, but I felt stagnant, in my lifts and in my mind and spirit. I’d bench up to 100#, and then feel like that was it. I had no more to give. I’d squat 135#, and anything above that felt like arduous work.

A few weeks ago I was prompted by D’Lissa to meditate on scripture like it was medicine, so I opened up Psalm 23 multiple times throughout the day. Reading about Jesus as the shepherd opened my eyes, yet it was a recent conversation I had with a friend in California when God spoke loudly and clearly. The morning started out like any other, as I had just gone through Psalm 23 during my quiet time. The one line about walking through the valley of the shadow of death, however, leaped out from the page. Mind you, I am nowhere near dying, as my heart is beating well and I can function at work and home. But there are signs that my spirit is ill. How do I know that is so? It’s because I feel gray. My heart bursts with unspeakable joy when I see Shogun smile or hear Misha sing, but I don’t have the capacity to connect the joy in my heart to the joy I know I am missing in my spirit. My emotional mothering side can feel, but my spirit side cannot. The passage reaffirmed this revelation, and so I mentioned this to my California friend immediately after putting down my Bible. I described to her that it is like when I have a cold and my head feels disconnected to my body. That is my situation from when I wake up to the moment my head hits the pillow at night–fuzzy, unclear, and BLAH. My California pal said that I should pray on it more, but that maybe separating the identity I have in God from my athletic achievements will clear the fogginess.

My identity in Christ? What? Don’t I already know what that is?

I like to think that I do, but in fact, I am still grappling with it. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, considering I just talked about identity at one of our school’s Christian Emphasis Week seminars. But I am falling back into relying on a title more than Jesus to define who I am.

Remember when I said I was always small? Being the “small but strong girl” is a title that I didn’t realize I clung to until I sat down this morning after my conversation with my California friend. I like other people recognizing that I am slight of build but can move around weights that are massive in comparison to my size. Since I look for that athletic validation from friends (“Wow!!! You lifted that? How much do you weigh again?”), there is fear in what will happen when I do gain weight. What if my squats still feel heavy and I don’t add on weight to my bench? What if friends and family make comments about my suddenly burgeoning stomach, legs, and arms? I know what I can do as a 102# lifter, and it actually is pretty remarkable to be able to handle the weights I currently do given the stressful schedule I have as a mother, wife, and teacher.

But what can I do at a higher weight? It’s unknown, and that lack of knowledge leaves fear in my spirit. My coach and Paul say that at a higher body weight my lifts will definitely improve, which is somewhat comforting. Heck, even my husband who has no experience in powerlifting says the same thing. Yet I’m still fearful because gaining weight will make me lose my title. What title will I then have?

I know I can title myself as a “child of God” or “a person made in God’s image.” But that is hard to describe and feel. I am very right-brained, so I want the facts and figures, the numbers and black and white outline, to tell me what my title is. But in reality, do I even NEED a title??? Why do I feel the desire to have to label myself? Is it so that I can get validation from other people so that immediately upon seeing my title, they will accept and “know me”?

Maybe. I am still praying through all of this, so excuse this long-winded post, as it’s basically everything that’s in my head erupting on the computer. I definitely need more time to process this all, as even thinking about being made in God’s image is mystifying. God is so many things: a Father, a lover of my soul, a comforter, a provided, a healer, a king. The list goes on and on, so how do I even begin to come to terms that I am made in that image?? It literally leaves me in awestruck wonder. I will return to this blog and document more about my processing of this identity issue.

The challenging part about processing is being bombarded with images on Instagram and Facebook. I see powerlifters, short gals with thick thighs, tall women with lanky legs, and I compare. And so for a week, yes, just a week, I am challenging myself not to add to those barrage of pictures and videos of deadlifting females. Instead, I am refraining from putting up any athletic-centered posts. This challenge may not seem grand to the normal person, but my husband (and many of my friends and family) know that I put up a lot of lifting shots on my IG page. A. LOT. I love going on Instagram to zone out on pictures (Look! A cute dog! Look! Food!), but if all my feed produces are videos of my squatting, benching, and deadlifting, then something is amiss because the Big 3 are not my life. God is. My family is. My friends are.

Anyway, that is the plan for now. Refrain from posting on social media all of my normal gym stuff. That, and really following the plan Paul has set for me TO THE TEE. I don’t need an accountability partner, as that is what I am enlisting Paul’s help for and I am an adult who knows what I need to do. But I need to just take that leap of faith. Become bigger, not just so that I can lift heavier weights, but to break the title, the label, that says I am the “small girl.” Because in reality, didn’t God make me for a wondrous and glorious purpose, and NOT just to be looked at as “the tiny girl who benchs a lot”?

If you lasted this long reading this post, thank you. ☺ I will surely update you all on the new revelations God is giving.

I’M STILL HERE!!!

Despite the fact that I have not written on this site for awhile, yes, I am still around.

I am still tooling around with the keyboard, staring at a blinking computer screen most hours of the day, although my normal blog prose has taken on the form of detailed lesson plans for freshmen on a highly-edited version of The Iliad and emails to students in my AP English class on what book to bring in for their research project.

School is underway, and the time I normally get to spend at the computer, putting my thoughts down on all things family, work, friends, God, and body-related is now devoted to running copies for quizzes and double-checking grammar handouts for the sophomores.

There will be a day, a time, heck, a 30 minute window, when I am sure I will once again be able to put down my insights and thoughts about what it means to be a woman who loves God, loves her family, and has found true grace and peace that allows her to live life free from the mental and physical chains of an eating disorder.  That day will come.

In the meantime, please check out my IG (@freeingfaith) because taking a picture and writing a short caption on my phone has become the substitute for my lack of blog writing computer time.

And I promise…I’ll still be around…and one glorious day, I’ll be able to actually format a wonderfully thoughtful post on all things related to God, family, friends, and true recovery.  😉

I Could Get Used to This Life

I could get used to this life.

I wake up without an alarm, the room still dark and cool.  My daughter is lying on the floor next to our bed, her waist-long hair splayed out around her head like a dark brown halo.  She has taken to laying out the green and blue patchwork blankets on our bedroom carpet at 7:30pm every night, grabbing her favorite fluffy pillow, and camping out there until I turn off the light and lay on our futon mattress.  I should usher her upstairs to the bunk bed that she and her brother share, but there is something comforting about hearing her deep breaths as she nods off to sleep at night.

I could get used to this life.

I softly walk to the kitchen, take out a cup of cold-brewed Deathwish Coffee (yes, that is actually the name of it), and sip it quietly as I start preparing breakfast for the crew.  Sliced cucumbers and aspargus topped with wasabi sauce, cut up turkey slices, half a banana, and a handful of nuts for me–apple slices or fresh red grapes with peanut butter and jelly toast for the kids laid out on matching pink and blue plastic plates.  Like clockwork, as soon as I am done cutting and arranging said food for the little girl and boy, I hear Shogun jabbering away to himself in the bedroom, which is my cue to head up the two flights of stairs and rescue him from the wooden bunk.

I could get used to this life.

I peek my head into the room he and his sister share, and he is already sitting up in the lower bed, handmade patchwork blanket in hand, a big toothy smile on his face.  “Good Morning!” he jabbers, arms suddenly outstretched to me as I make my way to his bed.  I lift Shogun over the bunk bed barriers, and holding his tiny hand, we make our way down the 14 stairs, counting them one by one.

I could get used to this life.

I let go of Shogun’s hand as soon has his feet hit the living room carpet, and he ambles over to the Paw Patrol pillow situated in the middle of the room.  Sitting on the soft cushion, my little guy remarks to me, “Shi-shi.  Shi-shi.  Poop.”  It’s his cue to tell me, “Hey, mom, diaper!  Change me!”, and so I follow suit.  By this time big sister is awoken because of the noise outside, and she staggers out of the bedroom, hair disheveled and eyes bleary.  Misha sits next to her brother, gives him a big hug, and in an almost inaudible voice, she whispers, “Good Morning, Shogunnie.  I love you.”

I could get used to this life.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are days when this scenario is more “Come-on-stop-crying-go-brush-your-teeth-before-we’re-late” than the picturesque scene I just described.  But more often than not, the morning routine is calm.  It’s (dare I say) relaxing.  It is different than the normally hectic actions that occurred during the regular school year when I was attempting to get Misha into her uniform, grab a pop-tart for Shogun to eat in the car, and getting my iPad and bag together–all at the same time.

Now don’t get me wrong again.  I love my job, I adore my students, and I find inexplicable joy dialoguing with them about literature, writing, and all things books.  But truth be told, I love the simplicity of being a mother.  It’s a bit oxymoronic to say being a mother is simple, but maybe it’s because this summer break is a time when I don’t have to be “on” that I’m finding all the normally stressful duties of the day aren’t as crazily maginified.  Teaching is one of the most mentally and physically exhausting professions, as one is constantly walking around a classroom, drumming up excitement for subjects as enticing as grammar (that was sarcastic, by the way), and rarely finding a spare minute to sit down to drink water and eat a snack.  It’s no wonder that teachers are often times just as excited as the students for vacation days.  By the end of my work day, after meeting with students about papers, lecturing on Edgar Allen Poe and making copies of upcoming assignments for my ninth graders, I was ready to head home, put my feet up on the coffee table, and zone out to “Full House”.  But there was always Misha’s homework to go over, the dinner that needed to be cooked, and the laundry that should be washed.  I rarely got time to take a breath in between school and home duties, and towards the end of this last month, I was starting to feel delinquent in my role as a mother.  I spent hours planning lessons on short stories, grading essays on Thoreau, and designing new curriculum maps for the incoming freshmen.  But when did I have the time to sit with my son and do an alphabet puzzle with him?  When did I have the time to play restaurant with my daughter?

And so when summer break began two weeks ago, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Literally, as soon as I left campus for the last time for the 2016-2017 school year, I let out a huge exhale that mirrored that of my son attempting to blow out candles on his birthday cake (and side note:  he will be two next month!).  Teaching was done.  Now I could focus totally on mothering.

I know I need more balance between work and home, and sadly, the amount of time I spend doing school stuff outside of the campus has drastically decreased throughout the years.  Despite this change, there has secretly been a little inkling of fear in my spirit that was causing me to look down on my own parenting skills.  What was this fear?  It was a fear of being alone with my children because in my perfectionistic mind, I imagined my mothering skills to be less than up to par.  Although I knew that every parent has her own opinions on how to best raise her child, I always felt uncomfortable in my label as “mom”.  I wasn’t one of those snuggly-types of mothers who always wanted hugs and kisses from their child, nor was I a stern-type who showed no emotion at all.  My mother was known as the disciplinarian, and while I do enforce rules, I rarely yell like my mom, and my daughter and son have never gotten a spanking.  I felt uncomfortable because I wasn’t sure what my “style” of parenting was, and since I didn’t know that piece of information, I constantly felt on guard.  Were other people watching me with my children and secretly critiquing the fact that I let my toddler eat ice cream for a snack?  Were other people whispering behind my back because my daughter’s long hair was tangled and not in perfect pigtail braids?

But then I realized that God has blessed me with children for a reason–not to validate my own parenting skills because in the end, He is their true Heavenly Father.  It is my role as a mother to lift my daughter and son up to God each and every morning, bless them with prayers every night before they go to bed, and raise them to seek after Jesus with their whole hearts and bear His light to the world.  In Titus 2:4, the scripture states that mothers are designed to love their husbands and their children–and “loving” another is more than merely making breakfast every morning for the kids or making sure they have clean clothes.  “Loving” another ascertains that a person is emotionally and spiritually there for another, and that individual would also show the same reverence she has for Jesus to another person.  This got me thinking:  Do I love my children the same way I love Jesus?  And vice versa?  How do I show love to my daughter and son?  Do I do the same to God?

When I do actions for my children out of love–cutting their PBJ into cute shapes, gifting them with tiny toys from Target–is it out of compliance to someone else’s expectations or because I WANT to do said actions due to my love for them?  Folding Shogun’s clothes and changing his diaper throughout the day may take on a tiring feel, yet even though those actions are not my favorite, I do it because I WANT to.  I love him and am thus willing to sacrifice sleep or my own desires to bless him.

I think that is the main reason why I am loving this summer so far.  All of the morning routine actions, all of the time I’m getting to spend with my children, are because I WANT to.  I see Jesus in their shinning faces, and no matter how stinky Shogun’s poop is or how much Misha will whine for a cookie, I WANT to be around them.  I am their mother.  I am the person Jesus placed in their lives to grow them into loving children of God.

I still have another twenty-two days with my little girl and little guy before I head back to school.  Twenty-two days to enjoy the early summer mornings, hot afternoons, and calm nights with them before my first teacher meeting.

I still have twenty-two more days to embrace the role of mother, to grow in my knowledge that God will guide me in parenting, and that by loving my kids, I am also showing my love for Jesus.

I could get used to this life.

Celebrate. Celebrate. Celebrate.

At our last English department meeting for this school year, there was a feeling of jubilation in the air as we quickly went through the nitty-gritty administrative details (Don’t forget to turn in keys!  Don’t forget to update your curriculum map!) and chit-chatted about our upcoming summer plans (No summer school!  I get to stay home with the kiddos!).  Eventually we educators got caught into discussing the popularity of graduations, and how preschool and kindergarten ceremonies are now A THING where toddlers parade across stage in construction paper hats to accept certificates of early education merit.  The discussion then turned to whether or not these types of ceremonies are really warranted, and not just for the toddler set.  Why do high schools celebrate the ending of a school year?  Aren’t there more important life events one could throw confetti for?

This past Saturday, one hundred or so of our school’s seniors took part in such a celebration.  They marched across the Blaisdell Concert Hall stage, smiles as wide as the ocean, enthusiastically shook hands with the president of the school as they grabbed their diplomas, and pumped their arms in a victory call.

WE DID IT.  WE DID IT.  YES, WE DID IT.

Seeing these rudy-faced young adults eager to enter life after uniformed class schedules and curfews made me quite excited for them (I’m not embarrassed to admit my eyes welled up with tears of joy), but the questions about the uniqueness and practicality of celebrating graduations still remain.

Why celebrate the ending of a school year when there are still so many more challenging life events yet to come?  Should we as a society award praise to a child who has attended four years of English, science, and math classes (all required, mind you), and emerged from the tests and homework being able to analyze Shakespeare and compute biochemical equations?

Why do parents, family, and friends shed tears of joy when seeing their loved ones parade across stage wearing a black cap and gown, when in truth, said students still have the rest of their lives to fully experience?

Is it really so impressive that students basically followed our society’s rigorous educational rules (i.e. spending hours listening to lectures and even more hours studying in hopes of getting the “A” that will propel them to a good college) and survived it all?  Are we merely celebrating the fact that they were pushed by us adults to do something which was PROBABLY not what the teenagers actually wanted to be doing anyway?

Initially, I agreed with the majority of the educators in the room in response to these questions.   YES!  Life hasn’t really begun for these students.  Lets not delude them into thinking that high school IS IT.  There’s attending college.  There’s finding a job.  There’s working at a job.  There’s dating (UGH).  There’s getting married.  There’s (possibly) having children.  Life has so much more to offer after the cap and gown ceremony!

But then I realized what my high school years were like.

Midway through my sophomore year, I felt the pull of inadequacy tugging on my spirit when I saw classmates acing tests that I received all red marks on.  I struggled through understanding Japanese characters, and no matter how many flashcards I made, the brushstrokes for kanjis never took to my brain.  After one incident when I had to give an oral presentation in history class but stood there in front of my peers, eyes bulging with fear because I didn’t remember what to say, I realized that I still had two more years of being just “mediocre” in my studies. It was a sobering realization that I would not be the valedictorian, salutatorian, or even in the top 10 percent of my graduating class.  I had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone is meant to be great at everything–and it was a wake up call that happened during my high school years.

Ironically, I spent a lot of my breaks completing homework so I could have free time when I got home to practice my oboe.  I thought that since I couldn’t excel in academics, I could at least have SOME talent in music.  Even carving out for myself that chunk of rehearsal time at home, however, didn’t leave me feeling any more relaxed or confident in my musical abilities.  Instead, the more times I played the same run in the Saint-Saens concerto or practiced my chromatic scale, the more my weaknesses were exposed.  And then I got the awful case of the “shoulds”:  I “should” practice at least 2 hours a day to get better.  I “should” play “Metamorphosis” in this manner so that the judges would like it.  I “should” make the first chair of the symphony, otherwise no one will think I’m great at anything.  It was a lot of “shoulds”, and in the end, those “shoulds” left me feeling even more inadequate in my capabilities.  I had to learn that the limitations and expectations I placed on myself could be either helpful (yes, set goals!) or harmful (no, don’t place unnecessary stress on yourself!)–and it was a wake up call that happened during my high school years.

In the midst of trying to attain somewhat decent grades and medals in music recitals, I was also highly influenced by my long-legged, tanned, surfer-like female classmates who seemed to exude the sexual appeal that guys at school desired.  I realized that looking the role of a “popular” girl meant that I would have to turn from the person God made me to be into another creature, and maybe once that transformation occurred, I would find acceptance and inclusion.  I, being only 5’1″, Japanese, and inept at water sports, was aesthetically the complete opposite of what I deemed to be the “perfect girl”, but that did not stop me from trying to transform myself to a surfer chic.  As a result, I used self-tanning lotion to make myself darker, flooded my closets with thin-strapped tanks, and bought a pair of reef slippers that didn’t fit me well, but who cared, because all the “popular” girls had them.  Still, my short legs did not compare to the taller Caucasian gals’, and my stick straight hair did not flow in the wind like theirs.  I secretly desired to have the attention those “popular” girls had, because the smiles from boys, the look of envy from other girls, the carefree attitude they encompassed were what I was missing.  One night, I distinctly remember laying on my bed, eyes opened to the Heavens, hypothesizing that only IF I had the perfect exterior, THEN I would feel special and THEN I’d be internally happy.  The fact is that Jesus made each one of us perfect in His sight–sadly, I didn’t realize this during my time as a teenager, but what it means to have self-acceptance (or lack thereof) reared its’ head during my high school years.

So as we teachers talked about the absurdity of graduation, my knee-jerk reaction of “Yeah, that’s right!!!  Life hasn’t started yet!!!” changed to one of “No.  Wait a minute.  High school is HELLA hard.”  In what other time in one’s life will a person have to learn pretty challenging lessons (how to accept oneself, how to set goals), all the while battling teenage insecurities and (gulp) hormones?  What other time besides during high school will students realize that there IS a big world out there beyond the walls of the classroom, and taking that first step to the unknown is tremendously intimidating?  Even more nerve wracking is that they are doing it all as 18 year olds without any previous experience living on their own in the “real world.”

And don’t forget about all the other “stuff” that high schoolers are dealing with that we teachers don’t see:  parent relationships disintegrating, strife between siblings, sports injuries that can knock a kid out for months on end, friendships changing as social circles collide, and teenage hormones running a muck.  It’s almost like these high schoolers are back in the terrible twos stage where toddlers are asserting their independence and personality, except these young adults have pimples, don’t speak in gibberish, and can drive.

Clearly, graduation is a time of celebration.

We are celebrating a monumental time of inner growth and development.

We are celebrating that many students had to endure much emotional and spiritual learning beyond the academic rigor of papers and tests.

We are celebrating how high schoolers are taking that next step to fulfill the call God has upon their lives.

While typing out this post, I’m reminded of all the graduating seniors I saw parade across the stage this past weekend to accept their diplomas.  Some looked enthralled, while others seemed relieved.  Either way, there was satisfaction in the fact that God was there with each one.  He had knit every single student in his mother’s womb, thoughtfully cultivated that individual with His Holy Spirit, and amazingly, we in the crowd were able to see His handiwork there on stage.  Matthew 28:20 urges believers to “Go forth and make disciples of all nations”, and that is exactly what this graduating group of 2017 are doing.  They are taking a spiritual (and literal) step from the life they’ve known and are seeking to do God’s will in their lives.

My high school experiences were rough, to say the least, yet those times of trial were made all the sweeter when I stepped on the stage at Blaisdell some 18 years ago and received my diploma.  Yes, it was merely a piece of paper that stated I had accumulated the required amount of credits to graduate, but having that certificate in hand meant more than grades.  It showed that I was a fighter, that I was a survivor.  It demonstrated that I could push myself through great mental, emotional, and physical strife, and by God’s grace emerge on the other side ready to do His will.

So celebrate, class of 2017.  Celebrate your achievements, your failures, and the path God is leading you on.  Celebrate.  Celebrate.