A Love Story
You know how when you love someone so much, your heart literally hurts in your chest - you feel you almost can't breathe - there's this constricting weight sitting there, that you can only describe as the physical manifestation of intense longing? Especially when you miss them, or haven't seen them for a long time... you are literally hurting to see them again. Your mind is filled with them every waking hour, and sometimes your sleeping ones too. You see photos and lose your breath so suddenly from the memories that come flooding in, it's like when you fell off a swingset as a kid and got the wind knocked out of your lungs.
Have you ever had that feeling over a country?
In case you haven't put two and two together, that's what I feel for Japan, every single day.
Before I studied Japanese at university, I was fascinated with the culture, the country and the language. Maybe obsessed is a better word. It was my teenage rebellion, my hobby, the thing that filled my every spare minute. Researching the country and learning Japanese were one of my favourite things, and one of the major reasons I decided to do a degree in it. Study something you love, right? So I did. I had a great time my first two years of uni. Made great friends, had great experiences, fell in love with the city of Edinburgh. Enjoyed actually working and getting achievements in something I already loved. And then I left for a year to study in Japan.
I had thought for a long time that maybe, this passion I had for Japan wasn't just from me. Maybe it was from Someone bigger. So as I sat on that airplane, looking down at Tokyo Bay as we prepared to land, my heart prayed, 'God, if this is from you, please confirm that to me while I'm here.'
And he did. I have literally never felt so at home in a country. One of my Japanese friends used to joke that maybe I was Japanese in a past life. If I believed in reincarnation, I'd think she was right. Whether it was the people, the food, the church family I found, the trains, the city life in Tokyo, or a combination of it all... I don't know.
But I fell in love with Japan.
Coming back to the UK was literally one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life. Harder than any of the four moves I'd had to do before that. It felt like I was leaving part of myself behind. As someone later told me, my soul felt like it had lost its equilibrium. I had lived in the country I was designed for for the next stage of my life... and then I had to leave.
That first month back was hard. Feeling constantly like I described in that first paragraph. CS Lewis describes how being in love is one of the most exhausting things you go through - your heart is up and down, emotionally ecstatic and in turmoil... it's a crazy thing. When you love someone AND you miss them so dearly... the feelings are exemplified by a million.
Fourth year, thank God, provided a lot of distractions. A full schedule of classes and articles to read. Hours of slaving away at the dissertation (which after that ordeal is truly my baby). Great friends and people to spend time with, laugh with, love with. But now, as graduation has come and gone and summer is slipping into autumn, the feelings of longing have returned. My heart is aching once again to go home.
As hard as it is, I thank God for making me so in love with that country. As much as my soul is in the tortures of longing now, I know that it will make the reward all the sweeter when we meet again. These months of agony will serve as a reminder; when I am there and having a hard time one day, I will remember my past heartache and instead just be thankful that I can be living and working and loving people there. If it was a simple process, a walk in the park to get to Japan, who knows if I wouldn't fully appreciate how God was working to get me there?
So when those moments of desperate longing for a country called Japan come and grab onto my heart, I thank God for them. They make me aware of his plans for me and the unique calling he has put on my life. They don't allow me to be complacent. They make me work my absolute hardest to get back over there. And they remind me to enjoy every single moment I have here right now... because I know it won't be forever.