Today was a special graduation party for Annie’s class, moms, and teacher. Although the graduation from youchien/kindergarten isn’t for several more weeks, this event was an important rite for all involved. And peculiarly enough for me.

For three years I have been involved with Annie’s young education — going to the school events, dropping her off and picking her up each day, participating in cleaning days, some play dates, trying to help her build friendships and become more integrated into the system. But unlike Owen’s early school years, I never felt a part of the group of moms. And I don’t think Annie has, either. Until today.

When Owen was in youchien, there was a mom friend who brought me into the mom group – she made a point of including Owen and me in special events, BBQs, play dates. As a result, I was able to build more friendships that are still strong today.  I think, too, that Owen more naturally and quickly entered into the culture and language than Annie which has made a difference.  At any rate…

My one good friend in Annie’s class, N., was one of the co-leaders of this graduation party. She asked me to be in charge of games — and to feel free and go all out “American-style.” LOVE the challenge! I asked two of the moms who are studying English with me to form a game working committee. Yesterday, after earlier discussions, they came over and we worked on the games for several hours. I learned several things as I reflected on these past few days’ events:
1) The process is SOOO important. Even though the games were ones I have done numerous times before and could have led on my own, it was essential that our committee of three laborious discuss each detail together, and arrive at conclusions as a group for even minute issues like what to name each game; what colors to use; how many balloons each team should get. At the party today, we were a unified team. Of course there were glitches (a little boy throwing up, for example);but it was natural to work together (funny – it was the three of us who cleaned up the little boy’s mess, even though we had been sitting across the room when it happened. We were a team!). In this culture, the process is probably more important than the end result. We were in this together.

Often as a North American I am tempted to skip over much of the process in order to be more expedient –i.e., I know how the games work- that’s all that matters–let’s get it done! But if you take the time to go through the process….

Here’s a few pictures from our games:

2) In Japanese culture it usually takes someone on the inside to pull you in from the outside. (The exception that I have found in my studies is when you are part of starting something new — if you are all newbies, you often get the advantage of starting on the inside). My friend N. asking me to do games was in some ways a risk for her. But as a result, I started getting texts from other moms; moms starting calling me by name (instead of just “Annie’s mom”); today there was a tangibly different feel with the moms as we hung out, side by side; peers.

3) It’s not about being popular. Of course I struggle with wanting to be accepted, but I gave up expecting too much in that regard  a long time ago. But being brought inside in any group in Japan is a huge step towards adjustment in whatever phase of cultural acclimation that one is in; it absolutely helps fight the isolation that sends many missionaries packing after too many lonely years here.
4) Our indepth involvement in the activities and more importantly in the lives of our community friends helps our children with their own adjustments and identity issues as Third Culture Kids.  Annie has made great advances in recent months in language learning and friendship building;  I want to continue to do all I can to help her in this area.

5) The goal isn’t to be inside; rather it’s to build relationships in such a way that Jesus can be experienced as real. And as I go deeper in my friendships with N., my two mom friends who helped plan games; the teachers and other moms, it allows me the advantage of being up close and personal… and hopefully therefore Jesus, too, having a chance to be up close and personal. This is my prayer.  Yesterday during lunch one of the game committee moms starting crying as she shared about some challenges she had with her son.  I had NO idea.  Now I know;  now I can pray with her.  Jesus is all the closer to being able to enter into her world.

6) It’s strange but when we feel accepted we are more able to be ourselves. For better, or worse. You should have heard all of our kids crack up when they saw these last few photos!

7) Final lesson – don’t show a one-year old a picture of his mom sticking out her tongue. Someone has learned a new trick.