I think writing about my life story (so far) that God has carried me through is a good place to start this new season of my blog with. I hope it will help my readers to understand why my faith is so important to me.
I was born in Japan. Many people assume that most Japanese people are Buddhists. This is not untrue, but it’s not really true either. Many people in Japan practice Buddhist customs out of tradition more than faith. At least that was true for me. Our family would participate in various rituals, ceremonies, and festivals, and I never knew what any of it meant. Nobody would ever explain it to me (probably because they didn’t know themselves). We would have a small shrine of our ancestors in our homes and pray to them, because that’s just what we’ve always done. In reality, I would say most Japanese people are atheists or agnostics. They follow Buddhist customs out of tradition, but they rely on what they can rationalize for truth. Although, since I left there, I’ve heard that many people are now turning to “spiritual mentors” for guidance. From what I understand (don’t quote me on this), it’s similar to the New Age movement.
I think a lot of my perfectionism came from my Japanese culture. It was an environment, at least while I was growing up, of achieving/maintaining excellence and pleasing others. It was a culture that stressed conforming and doing your part to maintain harmony, rather than expressing yourself as an individual. I don’t want you to think it was all bad. My Japanese culture taught me some valuable virtues, such as respecting others (especially elders), living honestly, and pursuing peace, which are virtues that are becoming hard to find in the current American culture.
I always believed in God as far back as I can remember. I just didn’t know “which god” I was supposed to pray to. Many times I would pray and use names of all the gods I knew. From early on, I constantly toiled with the question, “Am I doing good enough?” On the outside, I was always “good.” But on the inside, I knew I had many faults. I remember one particular instance, I think I had forgotten to do my homework…I was praying to the gods, “Will I still make it to heaven?” Even though I acted “good” on the outside, I knew I had “bad” thoughts/feelings on the inside, such as jealousy and selfishness. So I never quite felt certain that I will “make it” to heaven when my time came.
I also remember soaking myself in self pity. I wanted my life to be “normal” like everyone else’s, but I felt that mine was so different. My mom became a single mom early on, and my grandparents raised me. During my elementary years my mom married my step-dad, and I was transferred to an English-speaking school inside a US Air Force base in Japan. It was a lot of changes to handle – meeting new people, experiencing a new culture, and learning a new language. I also found out that we’d eventually be moving to the States in a few years. Looking back, I see how this was all part of God’s plan. But while I was going through it, I remember feeling sorry for myself a lot…because I didn’t know God nor see His hand in any of it…just yet.
It’s amazing to look back and see how intricately God worked out the details of my life. I’m convinced it was no coincidence that my path eventually led straight to Him and His truth. We moved from Japan to Southern California at the beginning of my seventh grade year. I attended a school inside the military base for one week; that was all it took for my parents and me to find out that we didn’t like it. My wonderful parents found a private school for me to attend, 40 min away from the base where we lived. That’s almost three hours of commute everyday for my mom. My parents did this for four years, until my dad retired and we moved closer to the school. For this, I am so grateful. Anyway, this school that they found for me happened to be a Christian school. There, during my seventh grade year, I heard the gospel for the first time.
I love the way Ravi Zacharius puts it (he was raised as a Hindu and later converted to Christianity):
Jesus wasn’t just the best option to me; He was the only option. He provided the skin of reason to the flesh and bones of reality. His answers to life’s questions were both unique and true. No one else answered the deepest questions of the soul the way He did. And because Christianity was true, it was emotionally experienced.
–Ravi Zacharius, Walking from East to West, emphasis mine.
It was SO EASY for me to accept the gospel as Truth. Jesus was the Only One who provided simple answers to life’s questions I’ve been pondering about. It’s not that all my questions were answered. I still struggle with some parts of the Bible that are hard to understand/swallow. Jesus, however, answered the most pressing questions of my soul:
- Where did I come from? God created me. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14.
- What is the purpose of my life? God has a plan for my life. I am not here by chance. Jeremiah 29:11; Philippians 1:6.
- Where am I going after I die? Is heaven real? If so, what do I have to do to get there? I was created for eternity. Heaven is real. I do not get there by my own good works; God has provided a way through His Son, Jesus. Jesus took on God’s punishment for my sins, so that I can be made right with God. If only I believe this and accept God’s free gift of grace, I will be with God forever in heaven. Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:16.
On Easter of 1993, I took my first communion. Since then, I have not found any other truth to replace the truth I found in the gospel. No other person or religion or philosophy has been able to answer the above questions like He did. Jesus is it. He is the way, the truth, and the life…no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).
Continued on Part 2…