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The Cha Family in Japan

Blessings in Disguise: Aliya’s First Year in Japanese Elementary School

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One of the recurring themes for me in the last year has been fear. I wrote in a previous post that I’m a fearful person. Fear invades my perspective of many situations, and it is the root cause of anxiety, stress, and other emotions that consistently impact my thoughts and reactions.

This year, one way my struggle with fear has been exposed repeatedly is through the challenges Aliya faced as she entered Japanese elementary school. I will not downplay these challenges: it has been a stressful and difficult experience…for her and for our family.

For a period of time, I saw my easy-going, happy, positive little girl transform into a lonely, insecure, and at times sad person. She felt very alone at school; largely due to her inability to freely speak Japanese, she became even more shy and unable to make friends. She played by herself each day, taking sideward glances at the other kids playing together during recess, in class, and around the school. She would come home with tests left completely blank, because she was unable to do the work. I know she felt very deflated, and yet she didn’t complain (a testament to her grit and the grace of God in the personality he has given her).

Aliya had to work very hard to learn the language, persevering through hours of study, sometimes in tears, apathy, and arguments.  As Aliya just turned 7 years old shortly after entering first grade, I have learned that it is not true that kids just “somehow pick up” a language; they learn it quickly (much more so than adults) but it still takes a lot of effort to get to the level of fluency that elementary school requires.

If I was the one who was facing these challenges, I could have dealt with it. But because I was in the place of witnessing the struggles of my child, it made the situation exponentially more difficult, often leaving me feeling helpless as a mere observer. While I know that children are resilient — and even from my own experience as a child of immigrants, children will eventually adjust, learn the language, and make friends — these facts did not diminish the actual heartache and difficulties my daughter faced.

During this time, I wish I could say I was the all-embracing supportive and loving mother I should have been, and that I responded in faith when witnessing and directly faced with such adversity. But I admit that most times I responded in sin: in frustration, anger, anxiety, and hopelessness. I pushed my daughter, who was already trying her best, too hard; I was impatient and critical; I lashed out in anger in the midst of frustration; my heart became hardened to her classmates who wouldn’t befriend her; I questioned our call to Japan in light of my daughter’s unhappy circumstances; I stayed up nights worrying and cried a lot after I sent her off to school every morning.

While it was important and necessary to put into place resources and support to help Aliya thrive in her new environment (such as finding a good Japanese tutor for her, working with her daily on her Japanese, etc.), in time I realized that those were not the sole answers to our struggles. Becoming fluent in Japanese doesn’t alone solve the problem, nor does making friends. The truth was, God allowed her to be in that struggle and, through such challenges, he wanted her to know him more. These were opportunities to teach her about God, and his presence became tangible realities to her.

For example, we told her repeatedly, even though mommy and daddy were not at school with her, that even as she played alone at the playground, she was really not alone. In fact, God was sitting right there with her, taking care of her. I remember her eyes widening at this realization. It gave us the chance to tell her why we are living in Japan, that her classmates don’t know the gospel, and that as a child of God, she can show kindness to others regardless of the circumstances. It showed her how she can pray to God about anything, and he will listen. I believe that in this year of struggle, the Lord provided Aliya a great opportunity to know him more…even as a 7 year old can. I am most grateful for that.

It also taught me more about fear. I was afraid for my daughter, and my fears exposed my sins.  And at the root of that pervasive fear is my lack of trust in God, which is, on the flip side of the same coin, my over-dependence on myself. The Lord was asking me, “Do you trust me?”, and he used a very powerful means (my daughter) to show me my heart of distrust. Do I entrust my daughter to God? Do I really believe that he loves her more than me, that he will care for her better than me?

I think, as parents, we all face these questions about our children. We can so easily make them into our idol, and the comfort and ease of their lives our pursuit. But the reality is, they are in God’s good hands, and whatever he brings into their lives, it is always for their best. And when I trust in the One who has given us this truth in Christ, then there is no room for fear; fear is cast out.

What fears dominate your thoughts? About what are you worried and anxious? To what are you holding so tightly with a white-knuckled grip? Remember the love and presence of the God who always cares for us and who has given us this grace and hope in Christ Jesus. I, too, will try to remember this truth. And may God increase our faith and give us the grace to respond in trust when we face various struggles and challenges, big or small, in the moments to come.

Thank you for reading,

-ym 🙂

2 thoughts on “Blessings in Disguise: Aliya’s First Year in Japanese Elementary School

  1. Thanks for sharing a glimpse into the real life of a missionary. As shared here at Lighthouse, “Everything we (and our kids) face in life has passed through the filter of God’s love and wisdom . . . everything!” Reassuring when we face the trials of this life. God will use everything for His glory! Phil. 3:8

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