A Dream Coming True

I previously wrote about a negative experience I had serving at a church (here). I also wrote about a dream I had last week (here). Recently I discovered that the two are related. Let me tell the story.

At last week’s church service, my pastor prayed over me. He said many things, but the thing that stood out most was him saying, “Your dreams are going to come true.”

At the time I didn’t know what that meant and I just shrugged it off. Still, it remained in the back of my mind. But of course, late at night as I was about to fall asleep, God spoke to me. He reminded me of the dream I had. Of all the symbols. The narrow walk alone. The fellow Christians. The hooded figures and their oppression. The drumbeat. The song. The parade. The bridge.

Suddenly it all made sense. God was speaking to me of my time at that church. I had walked alone with God when I joined that church to serve as a missionary. I was in fellowship when I was met with spiritual oppression.

Interestingly, when I told husband about my dream, he suggested the cloaked figures represented living a strict life because of their strict line formation. I had kind of dismissed his comment since it seemed like such a small detail. But he was right. The spiritual oppression I faced most at the church was the spirit of religiosity. There was absolutely no flexibility and my dreams of reaching out to the unreached Japanese people, praying with them, and showing them the Holy Spirit were blocked. It really crushed me.

But now that I am at a new church, a new opportunity has appeared. An influential member of the church has recently left. In fact, that last church service was a joint farewell party for her. I can feel it inside of me that God wants to step up in her absence. And He made His point in my dream. I began the drumbeat. I led the parade. And as I did so others followed. And finally, in my dream, I turned left over a bridge. My direction changed and it led to another connection.

I came to Japan with a certain purpose, but that purpose was blocked. And now God is leading me in a new direction. But this time there will be rejoicing and my dreams of being able to connect with Japanese people will actually come true. All I have to do is keep praying in His name.

My Labor & Delivery Story

I was so happy and relieved to have an easy pregnancy with my daughter. I had relatively minor morning sickness, no heartburn, and I was able to move around without getting too dizzy. It was so good I thought to myself, “If my pregnancy is this easy, this means my labor is going to be a nightmare.” 

It was.

I woke up on a Sunday morning at around 5am to some light contractions. I had been having Braxton-Hicks for the last few weeks, so it was nothing new. But these contractions kept coming and they were a lot more regular than usual, so I knew I was in labor. I tried to sleep as much as I could, but finally woke up at around 7am. By then I had timed my contractions to about every 12 minutes. I told my husband I thought I was in labor, but wanted to wait until my contractions were closer together before heading to the clinic. By 9:30am my contractions were every 5 minutes apart. My husband called our clinic and they told us to come in. By the time we got ready and out the door, it was almost 11am. I was seen by a doctor who was not my typical OB-GYN. He was very kind and told me I was 3 cm dilated and admitted me in. By then my contractions were down to 4 minutes.

I was placed in a room where my husband and I waited as my contractions progressed. They steadily got closer together and more intense in my back. I told myself positive thoughts and stayed focused on my baby coming out. After 12 hours of labor, the nurse checked me and told me I was only 4 cm apart. Hearing that made my heart drop and tears fall. I thought my labor had been progressing, but I had only opened an additional centimeter in 12 hours. I told myself that was natural as it was my first baby and bared with it.

By 2am the following day my contractions increased to every minute and they were intense. I was hooked up to a monitor where each contraction read off the scale. When the nurse check my dilation she told me, “Maybe 4.5 or 5 centimeters.” I couldn’t believe it. I cried to my husband that I couldn’t do it anymore. My husband asked the nurse for any sort of pain relief available, but she told me there was none. We asked when the doctor would come and she told us not until the next morning. She left the room and I continued to bare with the pain.

An hour later, my contractions were less than a minute apart and my body was telling me to push, but because I hadn’t dilated far enough I couldn’t. I was forced to hold it in and each time I felt my baby’s head pushing against me. I just wanted to poop her out! We called the nurse again and she still told us we could do nothing until the doctor arrived in the morning.

The doctor finally arrived at the clinic at around 7am. We heard him come in and my husband went out to get him. I didn’t see him until 2 hours later. By then my contractions had regressed to every 8 minutes and were less intense than when we had been admitted the day before. I’d already been in labor for over 28 hours. I hadn’t slept. My body was exhausted and even the smallest contraction felt like the biggest. 

When the doctor finally saw me, he told me I was still 4cm dilated and the baby’s head hadn’t dropped far down enough. That’s when my husband and I told him we wanted a c-section. He then put us in another room and told us to wait for him again so that he could explain the procedure to us. We waited. Then we were told he wouldn’t give us the talk until a translator was available to interpret everything he was saying, even though he spoke English. So we made a few phone calls and waited for the translator to arrive.

When our translator finally came in, the doctor told us of all the precautions and risks involved with a c-section. We knew of the risks and wanted it anyway. He continued to try to discourage us from the c-section, insisting that a natural vaginal birth was the best way.

But you will have a scar. If you have another baby, you will need to have another c-section again. Your contractions are far apart. Don’t you want to wait a few hours for them to get stronger? Do you want to try to induce?

No. No, I don’t. Because I waited 6 hours for you to arrive so that someone could make a decision. MAYBE if you had been around at 3am I would’ve agreed to an induction, but now I’M making the decision and I want the c-section. Now you’re trying to prevent that decision from being made.

I was tired and angry and in pain. As much as I wanted to be able to push my baby out, I just couldn’t take it anymore. Knowing I had only dilated 1cm after 30 hours of labor had deflated me. I couldn’t even imagine how much longer it would take me to dilate another 6 centimeters. Or how much more pain I would be in with whatever induction methods they would try on me.

Fortunately, our translator was on our side. She saw how much pain I was in and urged him to operate on me despite the risks. By 11:15am my baby was born via c-section.

My husband cried tears of joy. The doctor and nurses congratulated me. They put her in my arms and wheeled me out of the operating room. I saw friendly faces greeting us. They took pictures. I don’t remember that. I was asleep the second the nurses transferred me into my room. My husband held our daughter and took pictures and made phone calls while I slept.

Hours later, I was awoken by the nurses telling me my baby was crying because she was hungry. I nursed her while barely awake. I was groggy, but that was the moment I finally got to be with her.

The frustration with the clinic made the experience upsetting. I felt more stressed out and afraid and discouraged due to lack of communication and support. I really wanted my doctor to be there for us, but he wasn’t. Still, remembering all the pain I went through makes me love my baby even more. Now I kind of understand why Japanese people believe labor pains bring you closer to your child. It does make me appreciate her more. Because it was hard. Still, if I have a second child, I’m going somewhere that offers an epidural!

Jesus’s Hollaback Girl

It’s been almost four months since my last post. Since then I’ve had my baby, who is about 2.5 months old now. I’ve had a lot of life lessons and reflections within those 2.5 months. I will share some of those in posts to follow. Before then I want to record a great dream I had last night.

I was walking down a narrow road alone when I came to a four-way intersection. There I ran into a friend of mine and a few other people I knew from Christian ministry. We began to walk together and continue to the road straight ahead of us, but there on each side of the road stood people clothed in white and red robes. The leader of this group was a young woman with dark blonde hair. She and her nearest hooded followers approached us. It was then that my friend exclaimed, “Oh no, they’re going to curse us!”

The cloaked clan encircled us and began to chant in a demonic language. Just as they began to chant, I raised my right hand and began to pray in tongues. My prayer started out as indistinguishable words, but then slowed to just two words. “Rajah Jesus.” (I don’t know what “rajah” means. It’s in tongues and it was a dream.) I said those words over and over again while beating my palm in the air. I imagined myself banging a big drum in the air with my hand. 

As I said those words, I could hear someone to my left begin to repeat those same words along with me. Soon the rest of the group chanted in unison, and finally, people on the streets chanted as well. 

The occultic leader said, “You’re giving them something to be in rhythm with.” (Or something to that effect. I can’t recall her exact words from the dream.) 

The cult disappeared as we all chanted Jesus’s name in unison. The people in the streets began to sing and dance with me and it became like a parade. We all danced and sang songs together. The song I remember playing and dancing along to was “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani. (So strange. I don’t even like that song!) Instead of walking straight ahead as I had originally intended, I turned left onto a bridge while still marching to the music.

This is the most positive dream I’ve had in a long time. So what does it mean? I’m not great at interpreting dreams, but here’s my stab at it.

The narrow road by myself is own my personal walk. I’m alone because I’m an introvert and that’s my preferred way of doing things. I’ve also been walking spiritually on my own now for about three years. But I join with friends in fellowship. A church.

The intersection may mean choices in life.

The road I want to take is met with spiritual oppression, in whatever form that oppression may appear. However, when I pray and turn to God in worship, it inspires others to follow.

Drumbeats indicate a leadership position. Drummers lead the band and direct others with their rhythm.

Worshipping pushes the enemy back and spreads joy to others. Being in a worshipful state will influence me to take a different direction that will connect me to something unknown, but significant.

I shared this with my husband and told him it was weird that I heard “Hollaback Girl” in my dream. I always hated that song and it had nothing to do with Jesus. Then my husband mentioned there is a big drumbeat in “Hollaback Girl” and that there was a parade in the music video. I hadn’t known those things before. I thought it was an interesting coincidence that it all tied in with my dream.

I decided to look up the lyrics and background behind the song. Gwen Stefani wrote it in response to an insult by Courtney Love calling her a cheerleader. Her attitude was if you want me to be a cheerleader, I’ll be a cheerleader who runs the show.

It’s kind of a cool message. She took one person’s judgement of her and turned it into a massive hit that made her even more successful. And it’s kind of what happened in my dream. If the enemy wants to pick on me, I’ll use that start my own Jesus parade. I guess that’s how worship works anyway, right?

I think that’s what God is telling me to do here. Stop walking alone and start the drumbeat. Be a cheerleader for Jesus, but one that runs the show. Beat that enemy and get that parade started. Most of all, have fun doing it.

Waiting for the Backlash (Narcissistic Mother-in-Law #4)

I did it. I couldn’t resist. I tried and failed. Now I’m waiting for it… the hailstorm of entitled outrage.

About two days ago my NMIL posted a child photo of my husband on facebook with a comment that said, “My 30 year old baby.” (Notice the infantilization.) I ignored it, because I ignore all her facebook activities. But my husband decided to correct her. “I’m 29,” he wrote back. This morning her response was, “Yes, you are 29 in American years! But you are 30 in Japan.”

Okay, my NMIL is from Korea. That is how they count birthdays in Korea, but not in Japan. This drove me crazy! People say ridiculous things on social media all the time, but when someone states an incorrect assumption about another culture, I have to correct them. I feel like people need to know the truth or else they will be ignorant towards that culture. And ignorance really gets to me.

I tried my hardest to let it go. I’ve made it a point not to interact with her online. She always posts embarrassing, strange things on facebook. Always leaves obnoxiously fake comments of adoration on my photos and posts. Always tries to bait people into giving her attention online. Always I ignore her. But this time I couldn’t help myself. It was like an annoying itch you just have to scratch or else it gets more and more irritating. So I did it. I scratched it. “That is in Korea. He is 29 in America and Japan,” I wrote underneath her comment. I added a winking emoji just to indicate that I wasn’t trying to humiliate or outsmart her. But I know she’s going to take it that way anyway.

I know there will be a reaction. Perhaps it will be on facebook exclaiming how rude my comment was to her. Or perhaps she will try to educate me with false information to insist she was right. Or perhaps she will not address me at all. There’s a good chance she will complain to my husband behind my back to keep her happy, loving mother face up on facebook.

As Shakespeare would say, it’s much ado about nothing. Was it really worth it for me to stick my 2 cents in there over something so trivial? Probably not. But after a while, you just get so tired of staying silent. I wanted to say something, so I did. Do I need to apologize for it? No. And I’m not going to, especially not for stating the truth. And like I said, I can’t stand ignorance. She can believe what she wants to believe (and she will continue to do so), but that doesn’t mean the whole world needs to agree with her delusions.

[Just for anyone who wants to know about ages in Japan: Japan used to count a baby’s age at birth starting at 1, not zero — just like Korea still does now. But that was the old system called kazoedoshi. Japan no longer uses that system and hasn’t used it in over 60 years. Now when a Japanese person says they are 29 years old, they are 29 years old in both Japan and America.]

Do Who You Are In Christ.

Lately God has been speaking to me a lot, bombarding me with reminders and messages of calling, gifts, purpose. In my last post, I wrote about an experience with a church where I felt stifled. I had come to Japan as a missionary with a vision to reach out to people who had never heard of God. Instead, I found myself serving only a spiritual family of Christians. There’s nothing wrong with that. There definitely is honor in maintaining God’s House. But that’s not my calling.

Before coming to Japan I heard God’s voice telling me to go out to people, meet them in their homes, eat with them, and show them God’s true character. When I saw the footage of the 2011 Tohoku Tsunami wiping out Sendai Airport, people losing their homes, the wreckage of nearby coastal towns, I grieved hard. It wasn’t just some far off land that was suffering. That was MY city. MY prefecture. MY people. I wanted to be with them again. I wanted to tend to and pray with those who desperately needed God but didn’t have access to Him. I couldn’t really do that at my last job, at my last church. And that hurt.

Since the two years I’ve spent away from that church, I’ve forgotten. So now God has been reminding me. Reminding me of who I am, what my calling is, and how He equips us to carry out those callings. I saw a video of Michael Jr., the same comedian I mentioned in the Listen to the Father’s Voice post, and that really reminded me of what my gifts and callings are. Here is the video below.

Our gifts are the tools God gives us so that we can carry out our calling. In this video, Michael Jr. talks about having the gift of comedy. But it wasn’t until he heard God’s calling that he was able to use his gifts to make an impact. What is his calling? To bring healing to those who are sick. How is he doing it? His gift — comedy.

This video reminded me of a sermon I heard about two years ago from my home church in Hawaii on God’s calling for us. (If you wanna listen to it it’s here –> Your Life Calling — Jordan Seng, Bluewater Mission) According to that sermon, God has a calling for each of us and they tend to fall into one of four categories. They are as follows:

  1.  A Prophet’s Calling – to declare and demonstrate God’s truth and Kingdom in word and deed
    • They always try to bring the Kingdom more fully
    • They live an otherworldly life, an extreme life
    • They have a powerful mission or project
    • They are often campaigners, but have a hard time building and maintaining
    • They lead by challenging others
    • Often feels rejected
    • Is fruitful when they convince others that radical godliness is actually possible
    • Fails when they become an embittered critic
    • Call to Action: You have to find your message and ask God to give it to you. Be bold. You empower people when you speak and live without fear.
  2. A Shepherd’s Calling – to pursue and empower individuals
    • They are teachers, healers, counselors, coaches
    • They see the world in terms of individuals who need help
    • They see problems at the personal or interpersonal level
    • They are always thinking about spiritual health or growth
    • They lead by helping people to get fixed, move forward, and by protecting others
    • Often feels concerned for people or stressed out relationally
    • Is fruitful when people are living in health and influence, when people become productive in their callings
    • Fails when they are inconsistent and do not commit to people
    • Call to Action: Get some people. You see those stray sheep and you have to go get them. Disciple intentionally, pass on what you’ve experienced, make people strong.
  3. A Levite’s Calling – to make and maintain a sacred space for people
    • They are the administrators, worship leaders, artists
    • They support, keep things organized, and fill the place with the presence of God
    • They provide opportunities for people to be in God’s presence
    • They see the world in terms of opportunities to interact with God or bringing others to interact with God
    • They lead by providing spiritual hospitality and creating a place for people and God to meet
    • Often feels misunderstood
    • Is fruitful when they get people out of the fleshly world and into the spiritual world
    • Fails when they become a lost idealist
    • Call to Action: Attend to your duties. Create and set aside a time for God only. Be disciplined for your art and worship.
  4. An Apostle’s Calling – to gather, build, and lead by example
    • They build communities, teams of people, and are missionaries to start new things
    • They are leaders. They are the first so that others can follow
    • They do whatever needs to be done in order for others to follow
    • They are very broadly gifted — they can be a jack-of-all-trades, masters of none
    • Often feel confused or overburdened
    • They lead by multiplying groups
    • They are a little bit of everything, but need to be the first to get the ball rolling
    • They are leaders, managers, pioneers, but lonely
    • They are fruitful when they establish a group that sustains and grows of its own accord
    • Fails when they use people instead of developing people
    • Call to Action: Take responsibility. Be the first one to take responsibility, to serve, to sacrifice.

 

Michael Jr.’s calling is that of a Shepherd. He’s a healer. He wants to connect with people and bring healing to their emotional sufferings. So what is my calling? What direction does God want me to go in?

Whenever someone moves to Japan, they are almost always immediately a teacher. I came here to be a missionary, but I ended up a teacher. I taught children. I taught adults. I taught English. I taught the Bible. But teaching isn’t really my gift. My gifts are healing, prophecy, and intercession. I’m a healer, a counselor. I’m a shepherd. I see that lost sheep and I want to tend to them. That’s why that experience in my last post was so painful for me. I saw a lost sheep that needed tending to and I was barred from doing so.

Based on my notes of the Shepherd’s Calling, I’m pretty much failing. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been very noncommittal when it comes to people and to the church. I’ve realized I have not used my gifts at all since coming to Japan. At first it was from an overly religious church that barely allowed me to do so, but now it’s because I’ve been complacent. But God is slapping me awake again. Time to get some people. Time to take ownership and find those lost sheep. Time to bring some healing.

Time to do who I am in Christ.

Becoming Rooted in Community

12509000_10101693568282576_63496475315095174_n

I drew the picture above in my notebook at church the other day. I sat down recently with the pastor’s wife and she explained a vision she had for our church and how she wanted it to be. Especially in Japan, church is a place of sitting, listening to the pastor talk from his bible, and singing hymns from behind the pews. It’s extremely rigid and dull. According to my pastor’s wife, she wanted church to be a place of joy, freedom, and creativity. A place where people can worship in many different ways and be themselves. She knew I like to draw from time to time and asked me to draw freely during worship service. The picture above is what came out of it this past weekend.

While drawing I originally envisioned the three-stranded cord from Ecclesiastes 4:12 coming from the Heavens to form a bond of unity and solidarity. As I made my way down the braid another idea popped into my head. What if whatever made us unbreakable took root in us? What if it becomes our very foundation? Then we certainly cannot be broken.

I’ve heard that Ecclesiastes verse interpreted in different ways. I’ve mostly heard it at weddings to symbolize the unification of man, woman, and God as one. I’ve also heard it preached as the coming together of people to form a congregation. And of course, there is the trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I suppose no matter how you choose to interpret that verse, the message is still the same. Three strands are stronger than one.

In its original context the verse goes like this:

I observed yet another example of something meaningless under the sun. This is the case of a man who is all alone, without a child or brother, yet who works hard to gain as much wealth as he can. But then he asks himself, “Who am I working for? Why am I giving up so much pleasure now?” It’s all so meaningless and depressing.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. — Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 (NLT)

I’ll admit I’m definitely a lone wolf type. Where the crowd goes, I go in the opposite direction. Maybe it’s from past experiences with people, maybe it’s the way I was raised, maybe it’s just my personality. But I’ve always preferred to do it alone, whatever “it” was. I like my independence, and while I definitely see it as a strength, I’ve realized it has it’s downfalls too. I don’t like asking for help, but that also means I have less opportunities to connect with people. And admittedly, I hadn’t been to church recently in almost two months. It had mostly been due to illness, pregnancy problems, and bad weather. But last week I sat down with a small group of women and we talked for a short 45 minutes. It felt good and I realized I needed that.

Perhaps God is telling me to take root in my church more. I had a bad experience with a previous church in Japan several years ago. I came to this country as a missionary eager to make a difference. I wanted to pray for people, make new friends, and invite them to church. I worked six days a week teaching English to children and adults alike as a form of evangelism. But I quickly discovered the classroom-like setting came with a wall. People didn’t want to open up and talk and be friends. They just wanted to learn English and get out of there. I was not their confidant, I was their teacher. And in Japan, you shut up, listen, take notes, and go home. Teachers teach, friends go out to bars for drinks.

I was especially dismayed when an elderly Japanese woman invited me to her home for dinner with her family. It was the first time after months of living in Japan that a Japanese person had shown willingness to open up to me. At first I excitedly said yes. This was a woman who had once had a soft, open heart, but had grown distant after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. I could see she felt hurt by God. I saw this as an excellent opportunity to witness to her and establish a relationship with her. The only catch was that it was on a Sunday evening, a time reserved for church members to meet privately and have “family time.” I assumed the church would see this as an outreach and ministry opportunity as I had and allow me to sacrifice “family time” this one time. However, when I explained the situation to them I was given a strict no. It was my job to go to church and operate as one of its members. I was told I could go for half the arranged dinner time and then invite my hosts to the church after. I tried to persuade them to change their minds and see this from my perspective. But in their eyes, I was having fun instead of dedicating myself to the church.

I was in utter disbelief. How was I to be a missionary if I was confined to the church walls? After all, I was in fact a missionary and not a nun! Who was I working for — the church or God? I was so frustrated by the religiosity of the church that I quickly burnt out. I lasted only half of my contract before leaving to get married. In hindsight I realized my mistake. I had been to Japan previously and decided I could not return alone. I knew mission work in Japan was a job for two or more people, not one. But at that church I was the lone American and lone missionary. I thought that being rooted in a church would give me the support I needed. Instead, it drained me and broke my spirit. I had no outside friends, no outside life, no separate self from the church. I felt more isolated with them than I had ever been alone.

Since then, I’ve been mostly lukewarm about committing myself to another Japanese organization. Mostly it was because I was so burnt out. It took me nearly a year before I was able to attend another church again regularly. But perhaps now it’s time to try again. Not just to go to church, but to actually try to make a difference again. To actually try to form friendships again. Perhaps God is telling me to give it one more go. After all, it can’t be that bad if my pastor’s wife’s vision is one of joy, freedom, and creativity. Those are actually in line with my gifts, and it’s very nice and refreshing to have my own talents, no matter how small and unconventional they are, be recognized and encouraged as a form of worship, not deviancy. And something tells me I’m going to need the support in times to come.

More doodles to come in the future…

Doing “Mom” Right (Narcissistic Mother-in-Law #3)

Last night my NMIL left a comment on my facebook that made me really angry. It was a long paragraph of barely coherent sentence fragments. Words of adoration and encouragement and advice. It was supposed to sound loving and supportive to her facebook audience, but mostly it was annoying and condescending and a big, fat lie. But the part that really got to me was the end. She signed her comment, “Mom.”

My NMIL is NOT my mother. This is something we’ve brutally fought about in the past. The story goes back to the planning of my wedding with my husband. We announced our engagement during the fall and were married by early spring. It was a short engagement and a lot of planning and not much time. The in-laws did not handle this well. In fact, they were downright unsupportive. Every decision or idea we had, they shot down. They had a complaint, an excuse, and an accusation for just about every detail. They threw a wrench into our plans at every chance they got.

The thing that really hurt the most was deciding the location of the wedding. I have a very large extended family that is rooted in Maui. My husband’s family is very small with only three people and no extended relatives. They are from the city of Honolulu, which is on a different island. Maui is an extremely beautiful island and since my family is much, much larger than my husband’s, we thought it’d be a great idea to have the wedding there. I was especially excited to show my husband and his family my home and my family and my history for once. I was prepared to give them the royal treatment and welcome them into my family. I thought it was a wonderful opportunity for them to receive the aloha spirit from my ohana (family) and to experience a lavish island getaway. When my husband told his parents our plans, their reaction was the complete opposite of what I expected. They bickered and complained that it was unfair to them, that it was too inconvenient for them to travel to a different island, and they refused to come if we had the wedding there.

It was a huge slap to my face. My immediate family lives in the continental U.S. No matter what island we chose for the wedding, they would have to travel at least six hours by plane to get there and back. (And by the way, a roundtrip to Hawaii for an entire family is not cheap!) My husband and I were also living in Japan at the time, so we also would have to travel for an entire day just to get to the islands. Meanwhile, my husband’s parents were complaining about a mere 20 minute flight! They also expected me and my entire family to cater around just the three of them. I couldn’t believe how selfish and conceited they were!

My husband is my NMIL’s golden child, so at this point he still believed his parents would bend over backwards for his every wish. For the first time in his life, his eyes were opened to the true character of his narcissistic mother and his enabling father. He fought with them left and right. His father even told him that he would not support him as a husband. Unfortunately, since this was the first time he’d experienced rejection from them, it also meant that he wanted his parents’ presence and support even more. He fell for my NMIL’s mind games and was willing to do what it took to ensure that she would be there. That meant having the wedding on their island.

I made the terrible mistake of staying at his parents’ home for the first couple of nights before the wedding. At that time, my NMIL kept making comments about being my mother and me being her daughter. Of course, I was not okay with this, but I didn’t have time to argue with her. I just wanted to get through the week and be married, so I ignored it. Well, three nights before our wedding, she made the same comment. “I’m your mother.” This bothered my husband and he spoke up. He told her to stop saying that. She then turned to me and asked, “You don’t have a problem with it, do you? You can trust me. You can tell me the truth.” So I did. I told her it made me feel uncomfortable. In those words. Her response was, “I’m so offended!” and she stormed out.

An hour later I walked into the living room to see my husband’s family in a heated discussion. Come to find out, they were fighting about what I said earlier. My NMIL felt I had rejected her and accused me of rejecting her entire family. She turned it into this big fiasco and that heated discussion turned into a family intervention on my personality! His mother accused me of being unfriendly and disrespectful to them and not integrating myself into their family. His father lectured me on how I needed to behave if I wanted to be in their family and be married to their son. I kept my composure and told my NMIL that she needed to back off. But when it was all over I was so, so angry. I felt so betrayed that my NMIL made it all about her three days before my wedding and angry at my enabling FIL for being such an arrogant hypocrite! They couldn’t fly 20 minutes to Maui to acknowledge my family, but I was supposed to call them “Mom” and “Dad”?! I have only ever been that angry once in my entire life — when I was sexually abused by a distant family member. It took me years to forgive my abuser. I still haven’t forgiven the in-laws for this yet.

Fast forward two years later. Here NMIL is pulling out the “Mom” title again. On facebook. Facebook is a public place. My entire family is on facebook, including my mother’s very large, extensive family. Her sisters, cousins, aunties, uncles, nieces, nephews, and of course, my siblings. My family is not very emotionally expressive, but we respect each other. To us, “Mom” is a title reserved just for my mom. She gave birth to me, raised me, paid for my education. My NMIL did none of that. Her calling herself my mom in front of my mom’s family is rude and arrogant and disrespectful to my mother. Not to mention she crossed a boundary I had already told her not to. I deleted her comment immediately. I hope none of my family members saw it.

Since my husband and I live in Japan, we’ve been able to live our lives separately from his crazy, entitled family. I’m also happy to report that my husband is no longer brainwashed and is better at standing his ground with them. But now that there will soon be a grandchild in the mix, things are becoming a bit more blurred. Boundaries are being crossed again. The title “Mom” is being thrown around. And soon, that will be my title too. It’s honestly something very strange for me to grasp. To take ownership of that title. The weight of responsibility of being a mom is intimidating, but I’m realizing it’s something very important that I’m going to have to do for the sake of my child and my family. To stand my ground as “Mom.” But I need to do it right.

It forces me to ask the question, “What does it mean to be a mother?” To me, it means someone who gave birth, raised, and financially supported their child. But beyond that, what? I have two examples. My own mother and my husband’s mother. My mother is extremely strong willed and productive. She’s great at taking care of finances, providing material needs, and getting things done. I’ve learned a lot from her. How to be strong, to be aware of my surroundings, and how to pack a suitcase like a pro. But she is not emotionally nurturing. (Have you seen the mom on Fresh Off the Boat? Malcolm in the Middle? Roseanne? That’s my mom!) My NMIL is also extremely strong willed, but emotionally volatile. Obviously, there are no personal boundaries with her and it’s always all about her. (Have you seen the mom on Everybody Loves Raymond? Terms of Endearment? That’s my NMIL!) It’s almost as if the word “mother” is synonymous with the word “God” to her.

Are these examples good enough? I love my mom, and like I said, I respect her. I know I want to be a strong woman like her. But I also want to be more than that. I know I do NOT want to be like my NMIL. So how do I do “Mom” right?

Actually, there’s a third example. The Holy Spirit. Here are some of the names for the Holy Spirit: Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, Guide, Intercessor, Teacher, Witness. When I look at this list I realize this is the one thing both our mothers lacked. (Maybe in my NMIL’s case, not the only thing.) It’s what both my husband and I lacked in our childhoods. Realizing this missing piece gives me hope for my daughter. I pray that I can be those things to her. I know I’m not going to be perfect. I’m going to mess up at times. But I think that’s the key. Being a mother means I have to love my child like God — to be comforting, encouraging, guiding, watchful, prayerful, and present. But I cannot become her God.

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed.” — Luke 1:46-48

When it comes to my NMIL I honestly have no answers. I’m still mad at her. Her abuse of the word “Mom” infuriates me. Managing this type of hostile relationship is still relatively new to me. Half the time I don’t know what I’m doing. But the most important thing to me is that I remain my child’s mom and not hers. At least I know this: I’ve got the Holy Spirit to comfort, encourage, guide, and teach me. That helps.

As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you. — Isaiah 66:13

Listen to the Father’s Voice

One of my friends shared a video on facebook recently that blew me away. It’s a video by Michael Jr., a Christian comedian. In it he shares home footage of his daughter’s birth and how she responds to the sound of his voice. It’s very powerful and it’s down below.

This video moved me for a couple of reasons. One, I could put myself in the position of the baby. We are all God’s babies and life really can be overwhelming sometimes. Two, parenthood is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. With my own baby due soon, it’s something that is completely new and foreign to me. We think we know what to expect, but how can we really when it comes to something this big? And that goes back to reason #1.

The idea of being a mother is something that I haven’t been able to fully wrap my head around. Even being pregnant is a very strange reality for me. When I think ahead and picture myself with my future baby — nursing her, changing her diaper, rocking her to sleep — and then as she gets older — disciplining her, teaching her life’s lessons, shaping her — it’s something that is so beyond me that I can’t even comprehend it. It’s overwhelming.

They say when you become a parent your relationship with God deepens to a whole other level. I’m starting to understand that. Right now, I am that crying baby straining to hear my Father’s voice. How can I do this, God? Hello? Are you there? I’m naked and exposed here. And soon, I will be in the position of the father in the video reaching out to my own crying baby. It forces me to be one with God. It forces me to open my own eyes so that I can guide my own child one day.

That’s a lot of pressure. It’s scary. It’s so scary that I can barely even think about it. But going back to the video, my immediate gut reaction to seeing that crying infant was the desire to pick her up. She looked so frail and scared. All my thoughts and all my feelings were immediately in the best interests of the newborn. If I can feel that much for a child that is not my own, how much more will I care for my own daughter when she is born?

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.  — 1 John 4:18-19 (NIV)

Perfect love drives out fear. I don’t know how I will react when I see my child for the first time, but I’m praying that my love for her and God’s perfect love for both of His babies will drive out all those fears.

And I guess it’s going to be okay, because God is right there. I just have to remember to open my eyes and listen to His voice.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” — John 10:27-28 (NIV)

 

The Atheist was the Better Christian (Narcissistic Mother-in-law #2)

german cross

The tumultuous relationship with my Narcissistic Mother-in-law (NMIL) has taught me a lot about God and my own family. I have greater respect for my family now, though they do not share the same believes as I do. God has continued to show his true, unconditional, everlasting love and support through them.

My favorite memory came at a time when my NMIL had judged and treated me terribly. This happened about four years ago. My then boyfriend had been hired out of the country and his mother didn’t handle it well. I stayed behind and continued to work while he moved abroad. At the time, I was serving as a Bible study leader at my church and was in a meeting with a member of my group. It was a time of fellowship and discipleship. My NMIL abruptly interrupted us and I was forced to put an early end to my meeting. She then bought me dinner, went on and on about how much she missed her son, talked endlessly about herself and all her problems, demanded that I love her more and immerse myself in her family, ran over whatever I had to say in response to her, told me to not to tell her son about that evening, and then bribed me with a giant box of instant ramen. (It sounds so ridiculous, it’s almost funny!)

I felt so disrespected. She interrupted my meeting so that she could use me as a personal dumping ground! Did she ask how I was doing? No. Had she tried to keep in touch with me during any of the previous months her son had been away? No. On top of that, she asked me to keep it a secret from her son, to betray his trust. She knew what she did was wrong and I knew it was something I needed to tell him. So I did. Of course, he gave her an angry phone call the next day scolding her for her rude, inappropriate behavior. That evening I got a hate message on my voicemail. It went something like this, “I’m so angry at you for telling! Blah, blah, blah… blah, blah blah… blah, blah, blah… You are a really weird girl!” Being called weird isn’t an insult for me, but she had still used me and taken a massive dump on me. I had a hard time shaking it off.

The following week, my dad came into town on a business trip. He was only there for a few days, but he made an effort to see me as much as possible. We had dinner one evening and I remarked at how different he was from my mother. My mom is very loud and brash. My dad sat there quietly eating his meal barely saying a word. What he said in response blew me away. It went like this:

Your mom and I are really different, but that’s what I like about her. She’s loud and I like the quiet. Sometimes she makes me really mad, but that’s what makes her exciting. Everybody is different. Your brother and sister are very social. You’re a more private person. But that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. I always say, “Nobody has the right to tell you what’s normal and what’s not normal.” If anybody says that or thinks that way, they’re the ones who are arrogant. The important thing is just be yourself and do what makes you happy. You know, that’s what really matters.

I hadn’t told my father about any of my personal struggles with my NMIL. Those words just came out of his mouth. His timing was impeccable. I was so stunned I nearly cried in front of him. My dad is an atheist. He doesn’t believe in organized religion and there have been times in the past where he’s been outright antagonistic towards my faith. But in that moment, I knew my Heavenly father and my earthly father were speaking as one. Both my dads were telling me the exact words I needed to hear.

That’s what I love about my family. They don’t try to be perfect. They’re just real and honest. Again, the hypocrisy struck me. Here was my Christian NMIL using and manipulating and judging me, while my atheist father was pouring words of truth, love, and wisdom into me. An atheist was the better Christian. I’ll never forget that moment. It was the best moment I ever had with my dad.

Maybe it’s wrong of me, but in that moment I thought to myself, “My dad is better and way cooler than you are, NMIL.” It also reminded me of my Real Dad, and He’s definitely better and way cooler than she is.

Unmasking a Hypocrite: My Mother-in-law is a Narcissist and a Christian

korean masks

The picture above is one I took while I was on vacation in Seoul. The Korean masks reflect a constant struggle I have faced throughout my relationship with my husband. It’s something that is hard to talk about and share openly with others, but I’ve been thinking about it in lieu of Mental Health Week. I always feel apprehensive when speaking honestly about it. I always fear that people will accuse me of being judgmental, irrational, or just jumping to conclusions. But the truth is this: my mother-in-law is a narcissist. (She’s also from Korea. Get it? Korean masks?)

I don’t mean that she’s narcissistic. I mean she is a narcissist — as in she has a psychological condition called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). I hate saying that, mainly because it’s such a cliche for a wife to hate her mother-in-law. People say their mother-in-law is a narcissist as a joke or exaggeration, but I don’t mean it in either way. I mean it as the truth. I’m writing this down, because I feel like I need to get it out there. I need to say it. Not to attack my mother-in-law, but because I need a place to be honest about it. This blog was originally meant to be a tool to worship God. The first several posts of mine have been mostly positive and praising. But worship isn’t just about being happy. It’s also about the struggles we face. This is my personal story of dealing with a narcissist. It’s a story that will continue and I hope to continue it on this blog.

I’ve dealt with abusive people in the past in my own childhood. Because of it, I have mostly lived my life very carefully and I am usually wary about who I trust. I usually know when someone is bad news and I’m pretty good at keeping my distance from those people. But in this case, I can’t. It’s taken me a long time to heal from my past experiences and I have had faith that God would never allow such an atrocity to happen to me again. I trust Him to protect me and I know that He has. But this is something entire new, entirely different. I don’t blame God. He has protected me and He has warned me and guided me throughout my five year relationship with my husband. Unfortunately, I was not prepared for it and I didn’t always listen to Him.

Narcissists operate under a mask. I am VERY good at reading people. I saw the warning signs, but I ignored them. I suppose I made the same mistake many women make when they enter a relationship with a man. I wanted him to offer me something I was lacking in my own personal life. My family has always been supportive of me, but they have never been very emotionally available — especially during the times of my childhood abuse. My husband is a very open, very affectionate guy. His mother from day one was welcoming, giving, and warm. She was a Christian who went to church every Sunday and loved God. It was what I never had in a mother. (Mine is always suspicious. Wonder where I got it from!) It was a wonderful mask that I fell for. I saw the warning signs beyond the mask. God showed them to me. She was pushy, clingy, and sure liked to brag. I saw that she was a broken person who desperately needed people to like her. I saw that she was overly dependent on her family for emotional acceptance and that her husband was both emotionally and mentally vacant. I saw all those things. But I ignored them. I ignored them because I was living in a city by myself and I wanted familial support. I was naive and I wanted to be liked.

However, there was a moment when I saw through my mother-in-law’s perfect little Christian mother mask for the first time. It was about eight or nine months into our relationship. My own mother was planning to come to town and offered to bring souvenirs to my then boyfriend and his family. Narcissistic Mother-in-law (NMIL) took this as a threat. She expressed worry that I was getting serious with her son and that meeting my mother was too soon and not traditional. Of course, traditional pacing didn’t matter to her when she wanted to meet me after only a couple weeks of dating her adult son. By the way, no one ever intended on either mothers meeting. My mom simply wanted to pass along a gift, because she likes to give gifts. It was only for a second. NMIL phrased it as concern and continued to act supportive, happy, and excited. But it was enough for me to know.

It was like being punched in the stomach really hard. I realized then that it had all been an act. She didn’t love me. She didn’t even see me as a person. Rather, she saw me as an extension of her son, who she saw as an extension of herself. I was just a pawn playing the role of her son’s girlfriend in her glamorized Korean soap opera life. She wasn’t being nice to me and welcoming me into her family because she liked me. She was keeping me close because she saw me as a threat. I was going to take her golden son away! She didn’t want me for a daughter. She just wanted me to accept her as my mother so that she could dictate my relationship with her son and mask it off as concern, as she had just done for the first time. I also realized that there would be a serious power struggle the more my relationship with her son grew. All of this hit me in an instant and it was a heavy blow. I was crushed at this revelation. I cried for hours and missed my boyfriend’s birthday dinner (and caused him to miss it too!). I was angry that she had played me for a fool. And I was a fool. I chose to brush it off. I chose to believe that she was simply over-attached to her son and would eventually learn to let go. My own mother was over-controlling once, but she adapted as I grew more independent. I told myself it would be the same with my NMIL. I didn’t know at the time that there was a word for all of this — narcissism. Because I loved her son, I chose to believe it was simply a phase, a cultural difference, or something that could be healed with time. But I was wrong.

I made a decision that day. I knew they had a very unhealthy family and I could no longer ignore it. I also knew his mother feared me and would try to manipulate and control me. I was a target. But mostly I felt rejected and lied to. I felt conned. I decided that day that I would take a step back from their family. I knew I couldn’t get too close and a healthy distance was necessary. I would not make myself emotionally available to my NMIL, but I would remain polite and respectful. (In hindsight, I’m so glad I did! There was a point where I considered telling her about my past childhood abuse, but that would have been a terrible mistake!) Unfortunately, this meant I remained outside of NMIL’s reach. She could not control me and that’s when the real hostility began.

Of course, the mask never came off. Every passive-aggressive act, every backhanded complement, every inappropriate gift, every invasive “gesture of love” was done with a hug and a smile. She continued to present herself as a perfect, loving Christian mother. It’s the way the world sees her and it’s the way she sees herself. It’s also the way she needs everyone else to see her and to treat her. Of course, as a Christian myself, I could not give her the worship she so desperately sought from me. I could not allow her to become my idol and she wasn’t my mother in the first place. I had no personal attachments nor responsibilities towards her. On top of that, I would not dishonor my own mother by putting NMIL on a revered, Virgin Mary-like pedestal.

It’s the absolute hypocrisy of it all that kills me the most. Being a Christian is about putting Christ first and living the way he teaches in the Bible — compassionately, humbly. Jesus was all about unconditional, self-sacrificial love. He operated in truth and the light. He condemned lying, revenge, gossip, cheating, and even being angry with a fellow brother or sister. He tells us not to be afraid, not to worry, to always trust in Him and to have faith. Yet every word, every gesture from my NMIL comes from a place of fear and jealousy. Up until that point, I had never met a Christian that was a hypocrite. (I had a good church!) If there was one thing that pissed Jesus off the most, it was a hypocrite. I understand that anger now.

I was able to see through my NMIL’s mask, but it took years before my husband was able to see it for himself. He always had some resentment towards her. She was, after all, emotionally abusive, but he was too enmeshed to see it. He had always thought of her as a flawed mother who loved him with all her heart. In all her devious ways, she was able to convince him that I was the one who needed to change. For too long he expected me to please her — even though her expectations were entirely unrealistic and implausible. She brainwashed and poisoned him. It wasn’t until our engagement that the mask finally came off and my husband saw her for who she really is. Every decision we made and didn’t make was met with a temper tantrum and manipulation. She continuously threatened to not come to our wedding if we didn’t agree to her conditions. She backed out of promises. She even got her family to perform an intervention three days before our wedding. When my husband stood his ground, she told him he was no longer her son. That’s when it became clear to my husband that his mother’s love and support were completely conditional. She didn’t love him the way he thought she did. He accepted then that his family was in the wrong and they had mistreated me. It still took several months of marriage before he was able to admit that his mom is a narcissist. But the good news is, he can now see through her mask too.

It took over three years of fighting, crying, anxiety attacks, depression, feeling like something was wrong with me, feeling rejected, and lots and lots of prayer. Prayer for myself, prayer for my husband, and prayer for my NMIL. And the praying still hasn’t stopped. Things have gotten slightly better now that my husband can see through the mask, but my NMIL’s hypocritical, arrogant, and obnoxious behavior is still a constant struggle we have to face. And the past still hurts. But at least now we’re facing it together. Thanks God.

More to come later…