So, as most of you fine blog-reading people will know, 9 months ago I up-sticks and moved to Japan.
And there, unbeknown to me at the time, I would meet one of the bravest and most inspirational women I have ever had the absolute-privilege of becoming friends with.
It’s an unconventional kind of friendship.
I mean, on a surface level, a 29 year old English girl and a 69 year old Japanese woman have very little in common. But in very little time, Kayoko became as dear to me as a family-member-stroke-friend-stroke-Japanese-Mum-like-figure-rolled-into-one ever could be.
This is the woman who shared her house with me for 5 months.
Who invited me into her home, not as a stranger, but as family.
She fed me. More food than I could ever-possibly eat.
She bought me gifts.
She threw me parties.
She helped me learn Japanese grammar.
She had English tea shipped over for me.
She took me on road trips.
All over Hokkaido.
4 months ago, she rented me one of her apartments.
She helped me set up my bills.
She gave me furniture. And cups. And blankets.
She fed me and my friends and my family, and gave us lifts to the airport at 5am.
As I only live next door we still share countless cups of tea and cake together. I often go round to play her piano and bake proper cakes in her real-fancy-big-oven.
She is precious to me. Her overflowing generosity humbles me and inspires me everyday.
But way more than all this practical stuff, which is pretty huge by itself, Kayoko has had a far larger role to play in my life that I think she will ever really know.
Because amongst all the cooking, and drinking tea and ‘stuff’ she has generously bestowed on me; having her in my life has also been a huge way in which God has completed an awful lot of healing in my heart.
She has listened to me. I have listened to her. I have shared my story. She has shared her story with me.
She has become my friend.
She has heard me share my heart for studying and young people and church. She has encouraged me to believe that I can make a difference in this country. She has supported me with everything from 6am prayer meetings to late night worship sessions to weekend trips to interview translation to apple pie recipes.
But she is also the person, who in great detail, has heard me share about my regrets. About my divorce. About my abuse. About my mistakes. About my pain. About my rejection. About my fear. It was her who helped me finally regain the weight I’d lost these last years, to finally become physically healthy again, to finally be able to sleep soundly in her house. It was her who told me that no experiences of my past could prevent my future. It was her who told me when she felt I was ready to let go of things one by one. It was her who helped me dream again and do it healthily. It was her who helped me to see the beauty in all the mess.
I will never ever be able to adequately thank her for all she has done and continues to do for me.
I will never be able to thank God enough for in so many miraculous ways opening so many unlikely doors to bring me here. To this exact place.
But, even more than all of this… Kayoko has taught me what it is to be truly brave.
This is a woman whose story involves more loss than I sometimes think anyone should ever go through in their life. She has had more people taken from her by disease than it sometimes seems fair. She knows what it is to lose a husband, a brother, and right now, I am watching her nurse her own mother through a bitter cancer.
She’s so incredibly brave.
Because no loss has made her bitter, and no loss has made her less willing to love fully. She has had over 70 exchange students live with her in the past 20 years since her husband died. She has opened her home to those who needed it. She has sustained more properties and businesses than I think I truly grasp. She has loved people, and fed people, and clothed people, and seen her children and grandchildren grow and fly. She is smart. So business-smart.
She’s not famous, and she’s so humble, but I was hit afresh with this thought when I went round to have tea with her this morning. I hugged her tightly as she told me about her mum being re-admitted to hospital for what looks to be the final time, and all I could think was, ‘Kayoko, do you know how loved you are?’
Because do you know what really challenges me about this tiny, humble, 69-year-old Japanese lady?
She’s not a Christian.
Not yet anyway.
She reads the Bible sometimes, and she does Buddhist rituals sometimes, but she talks about the god-inside-of-her more than anything else.
She’s probably the most genuine, generous, loving, humble person I’ve ever been privileged to meet. She lives life openhandedly and without bitterness, despite having been through immense suffering and loss. She isn’t bitter or cynical from pain, she determined to love more deeply because of it. She’s believed in me and helped me accept healing and forgiveness from a God she doesn’t even believe in…
Because she’s not a Christian.
And although I pray and believe that she will get to know the Beautiful Saviour, I can’t help but be so completely challenged that she does more without the Holy Spirit than a lot of Christians I know.
She challenges me.
So I’m learning a lot about real bravery.
God’s teaching me a lot about real bravery.
And if I could pray one thing just now, it’s that maybe, just maybe, I could be just a little bit like Kayoko when I’m 69.
(*Obviously, if you could also join with me in praying for her and her mum right now, I’d also love that.)