Japan, it's under my skin forever

I don't think I'll ever get over Japan. I'm not sure the day will come that I can think about that trip without a jolt of joy, a pang of hurt; joy that it happened, that I lived it, and hurt that it's over, that it's done, a memory, no longer my present.

I will never stop loving the country that embraced me when I needed a hug the most. I will never forget the people who became home when I was far from one. I will never get over the awe of seeing Tokyo from above, vast and blue and stretching, stretching, stretching onto infinity. I will never be able to distance that awe from the depression that swung in hours later, choking me.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Japan will forever be linked as good and bad in my mind. Because I wrote about finding peace and I meant every last word. I had a breakthrough in Japan, in the strangest of circumstances.

But in nearly the same breath, I wrote:

I am depressed in New York City, when I sling pizzas with a cheery smile and a hearty laugh. I am depressed when I wander the streets at night, crying into my phone and contemplating leaving my fate to chance and Central Park after dark.
I am depressed in Nikko City, when I clap hands with the children and sing to peppy music. I am depressed when I curl up in my retreat center bed and wonder why I thought I had anything to offer.
I am depressed in Trieste, when I walk seven miles to my favorite castle with my best friend, laughing and only pretend groaning. I am depressed when I write poems called "I hate myself" and swear I should have died before breathing.
I am depressed in Brooklyn, when I sit on my couch with my roommates and giggle and share secrets. I am depressed when I dig my nails into my flesh and rip so blood will flow.
I am depressed in South Carolina, when I meet up with my cousins and play golf and read. I am depressed when I pitch a fit and scream myself hoarse.
I am depressed in Marzell, when she tells me I'm a bully and remind her of Hitler and I think I wish I could freeze to death. I am depressed when I collapse on the couch and wrap my arms around my sisters and laugh until I cannot breathe.
I am depressed in Tokyo, when I eat sushi and grimace because the wasabi clears my sinuses and it's pleasant in its pain. I am depressed when I break from the group and walk, crying, down the alleys.
I am depressed in Europe, America, Asia. I am depressed when I'm happy and when I'm sad. I am depressed here, there, yesterday, now, tomorrow. I am depressed awake or asleep, with a laugh or a smile, with a blade or a fingernail.
I am, simply, depressed.

Japan is a kaleidoscope (hah, get it?) of emotions for me, a swirling, colorful, bountiful mess of happiness and sorrow that are forever intertwined. It makes sense — all the sense in the world — that I wrote those two pieces in the span of a few days.

Because that's the thing, is that my joy and my depression, they are neighbors, they are sisters, they are forever linked. The one does not take away from the other.

Just because I am depressed does not mean I am not joyful.

I've maybe always known that, but it was Jessi who truly made it real for me. See, I was sitting on some steps in some kind of shopping district in Tokyo, sobbing. Hyperventilate-sobbing. And when my teammates asked what was wrong, I said, "It's OK."

Not because was OK (I wasn't) but because I wanted them to know they didn't have to ask. It was OK if they didn't want to know. My depression is a heavy burden, and not everyone can help me bear it. I've learned that the hard way — by losing friends because of it. And I didn't want to lose these friends, this family, this home.

And what did they do?

IMG_2121

They insisted. They demanded. They said it was OK — for me to burden them. So I did. I confessed that I was speechlessly depressed. That I was having suicidal thoughts — and here I digress for a second to say, suicidal thoughts are far different from suicidal ideation; one is uncontrollable, the wish for death. The other is active, the plan for death. Digression ended — and couldn't handle it. Couldn't handle it. Couldn't handle it.

They gathered, they prayed, they squeezed my shoulder and put their arms around me and Jessi (bless her), she thanked God for my joy.

And I realized again that the two, they live together. I am full of joy, full of life, full of love; I am depressed.

The two interact. The two compete. Most days, the joy wins — that's why I'm here.

And it won in Japan. In the end, joy won.

I don't have words that go deep enough to tell you how much I loved Japan. How much I lived Japan.

Leaving Japan — it broke my heart. Being back in New York...I've struggled, these past few days. Because every once in a while I'd wake up and realize it was over. I was no longer on foreign soil, opposite-the-world from home. I wasn't breathing different air, ingesting new oxygen, touching something other and beautiful and incredible and amazing. I wasn't with my team anymore, and that was so hard to handle.

IMG_2268

And last night — I drank some wine and left a party early. I danced to "Boom Boom Pow" as I walked through Manhattan; and when I say danced, I mean danced. I saw Bryant Park at night and sprinted across the street, flung my hands into the air and breathed in my city's air.

And I was so grateful to be home.

Those two can go together, too: missing Japan and loving New York. They're not irreconcilable, just...different.

Japan is under my skin. I love it forever. There are so many words in my heart to share with you about this trip — I can't wait to talk about the reawakening of my love (nay, need) for travel; about the struggles of coming home no matter how often you do it; about finding home amongst people I didn't know; about that, and so much more.

I'll never get over Japan. Thank God for that.

 

A good-bye to break my heart

This past week in Japan was undeniably good, but also undeniably hard. There were so many rocky moments, from my crippling insecurities about whether or not I'm actually helpful to the kids, the families, and my team; to the depression that choked me - that's choking me now - that ripped my brain to shreds; to the tiredness of traveling plus jetlag plus a foreign land plus kids for 12 hours a day. It was so good and also so hard.

And one of the reasons it was good is one of the reasons it was hard. I got so attached to those kids! To the little girl who spells her name like it sounds - SP, literally. There were a brother and sister who were so precious - sweet and polite, always willing to sacrifice for someone else, never asking for themselves - and I wanted to bundle them up in love. I adored the family of four siblings, mostly blond, who were helpful and sassy from the oldest to the youngest.

The kids I spent time with in Nikko absolutely stole my heart.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetAnd then I had to say goodbye.

And oh, the hardest kind of goodbye: the one with little to no hope of being resolved anytime soon. The kind that's permanent, that you know will stain your heart for weeks, months, possibly ever, and will soon fade for them. That's what made these goodbyes so hard for me. I've been those kids, the ones who are 4, 5, 10, who capture the hearts of the adults who traveled to love on them. I've been the kid who loved them too, but whose mind is so young, getting so full, so distracted, that within a blink they were gone.

And so I know - this goodbye is permanent. The chances that I'll return to Japan are slim. The chances of seeing any of them again before they forget me, even slimmer. And those two facts break my heart.

But do I regret coming?

100%, not even a little.

This trip was just ... it was a struggle. I'm bad with kids. I'm bad with adults. I'm bad at a lot, and great at very little. And I'm riddled with insecurities, oppressed by depression, sometimes wishing I could just die. I literally walked through Tokyo at one point and cried because I was so depressed I started having suicidal thoughts again. So yeah, this trip was hard. I often say that when I'm having victories, depression and the devil combine and strike ever harder. That was definitely true on this trip.

But this trip was amazing. There was this moment where I felt God's peace more truly than I have in a long time. There was a real sense of home that I experienced, not just with the place but with the people. I felt like I truly connected with my teammates and the adults I worked with.

And when I'm being honest and logical, I think I can say I connected with the kids as well. We loved each other and yeah, working with kids is hard and I second-guess everything, but I truly believe I did alright.

And then...good-byes. The children's good-byes were so hard.

IMG_1965And in less than 24 hours, I'm going to have to say good-bye to my team. And that's going to be equally hard. These are people I traveled with, experienced a new culture with, struggled with and laughed so wholeheartedly with. I experienced the depths of sorrow in front of them, but traveled to the heights of joy as well. That's a bonding experience — and so was the communal hot spring (nudity required) that we had to shower in.

I love these guys, and I don't want to say good-bye because I'm scared.

I'm so scared that I won't see them again, that this friendship will just...fade. Cause I've been on teams like this before, where you grow so close, and you swear you'll stay this way forever. But the truth is sometimes this closeness is meant for only a moment.

And that shatters my heart to smithereens. Cause I don't want to say good-bye.

Not again.

 


 

But I will.

And I'll hope and pray that by some miracle it won't be as permanent as I'm anticipating. That I'll see my kids again, stay connected with my team, go on more and more Kaleidoscope trips and love the world radically.

That's the dream.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Finding peace with "Oceans" in Japan

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetEarly in the morning, Japan-time, I sat in a cozy lounge with some people I met barely 36 hours earlier, and found peace. These people, they don’t know my history, not all of it; they barely know my present, they hardly know the person I am, much less what I was, much less all that has come before.

And yet it was with these people, these pseudo-strangers, that I was washed with the peace and grace of God.

These past few weeks — oh, these weeks, I’ve been so lost. I’ve wandered in the dark through a cold forest, noises on every side, danger near and breathing down my neck.

I have been the farthest from safe, from comfort. From peace. I have floundered. Like a kid who learned to swim in a pool, thrown into the ocean for the first time. Yes, he still knows how to swim; but this environment is different, vast, terrifying, and so he splashes and kicks and screams and swallows water and chokes and cries and flounders. That was me.

Shrieking, crying, tearing at my hair — or worse, my skin — sobbing in the dark, desperate for someone to save me.

It didn’t even have to be God, is the thing. I didn’t care who came to save me, as long as someone did. It could have been God; it could have been a best friend, a coworker, a dangerous boy on a bike…who cares? If he’s willing to pull me out of the woods, I will take him, danger be damned.

And so.

Alone, lost, terrified, I boarded a plane to spend a week in Japan, ministering to children. I mean, what was I even thinking? I can barely take care of myself, much less help anyone else! What arrogance, to believe I could add to these kids’ lives when my own is such a shipwreck.

And yet. I digress.

I sat on a couch in a lounge in Japan, and without the help of instruments or a band or any outside paraphernalia, we worshipped.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders… 

The tears began slowly at first, a thought in the back of my mind: I might cry. My trust has so many borders, but oh how I long for them to disintegrate.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters… 

That’s where I am, now, for the past months, for the past years: deepest waters. Floundering. Drowning. Sometimes treading water, sometimes floating, most often sinking.

And keep my eyes above the waters… 

I see nothing. I see waves and nothing but waves. I try to keep my head up but I can’t, I’m alone and I’m sinking and I’m drowning.

The great unknown where feet may fail… 

I am failing. And yet. In this moment, this worshipping moment in a foreign country with people who don’t know me…in this moment my eyes surface above the waves, I can breathe, I feel whole, I feel at home.

When oceans rise / My soul will rest in your embrace. 

Here. The embrace is here. Home is here. I belong. I am not lost.

*
IMG_1773

I've been in Japan for a little over 24 hours. I've been on two long walks through the countryside, where I marveled at how beautiful the landscape is. I tie-dyed a T-shirt, ate unfamiliar and delicious food, experienced God's peace and simply...lived. I've met people I didn't know, made friends, prepared for an intense weekend ahead.

And I look forward to what is to come. I definitely cried this morning, but it was a cleansing cry, a good kind. I thought for a second I'd been healed of my depression, because that's something I'm always looking out for.

I'm not sure that's the case, but I do know God found me here. He saw me, he showed me His love, and here I am. At peace. At least for now.