Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Life That Needs No Translation

I've been on a two-month hiatus from my blog, taking the time to realign my heart and readjust to this new place I am entering. I have transitioned out of one church to another where I am no longer fighting a patriarchal system. This means I'm trying to get back on track on why I want to write and what I want to write. It is going to take some time. In the meantime...

I admit I was a bit nervous and a little stressed about the two strangers who were coming to stay with us for three days. Strangers but also family from the other side of the world whom I had not seen for many years. I had met my Japanese cousin only briefly 15 years ago on a trip to Osaka with my mother. His daughter had visited our home 27 years ago. There had been no communication since then because my deaf-mute mother could not call long distance nor write a letter, having never learned how to read or write. I did not know Japanese either. My cousin and his daughter were now 72 and 46 years old. Our lives had changed drastically on both sides of the world.

The time spent hosting them in our home turned out to be surprisingly fun despite the challenge of translation between English, Japanese and sign language. They responded to every new experience with "Ahh!" and "Ohh!" in harmonious squeals of delight. Rejecting offers to take them to Japanese restaurants, they preferred the real American thing, preferably Portland-style. So we introduced them to McMenamins one evening and Multnomah Falls Lodge the other. They especially loved craft beers. We capped off their final night with a late evening firepit and roasted s'mores. Everything was captured on their digital camera.

In between expressions of gratitude for caring for my mother, they made frequent references to one particular observation. My cousin lamented that the Japanese worked too hard and did not know how to enjoy life like the Americans did. I assured them that Americans had the same problem. But according to their observations of our home and never-ending fun projects, our children and grandchildren, and our hospitality, they insisted that Jon and I knew how to live life with exuberance and joy.

Now granted, we have had more time to enjoy life since Jon retired from teaching three years ago. Even that amazed them because Jon was able to retire at the young age of 55. My cousin had no thoughts of retiring even in his 70s. Believe me, we keep pinching ourselves that we are in this particular season of life.

On the day they departed, we spent a few hours enjoying our last three-language conversation on our deck under a billowing, yellow canopy that shaded us, along with the forest of 150-ft Douglas fir trees, from the hot sun. Then during a lull in the craziness of broken English and gesturing hands, my cousin turned to his daughter and asked her to translate a question to me. He saw our productive, happy, love-filled lives and wanted to know what our "power" was.

Our power? You mean motivation? Her head nodded. I thought for a minute and gave two answers. In short, my father and my Father. I had a father who taught me I could do anything and I am a Christian who loves Jesus. They accepted my answer happily and offered their own Buddhist faith as a point of mutual contact and respect. I accepted in return.

Since that exchange I have reflected on their question some more.  What does not need translation is a life that is enjoyed and filled with people who are loved. Maybe that's why Jesus insists we treat each other with his kind of love and live his kind of abundant life. Such a gospel-life "speaks" so loudly that it prompts the question, "What is your power?"

My Japanese relatives only saw a very small slice of our life. When I have guests I'm like any other person - I behave my best and put a lot of effort into my hospitality. But my hope is that what they saw was the real thing, the Jesus-kind-of-life that comes from loving Christ with every fiber of my body and every intention of my heart. I don't have the gift of evangelism but perhaps my gift of hospitality is close enough.

I don't live that life well all the time but there are moments like those spent with my relatives from the other side of the world that tell me I am progressing with my translation skills.

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