Don't Ignore Your Passions

Driving back from Chicago a couple weeks ago I made up my mind to think deeply about my future and how that would be directed. As I thought about it I came to the conclusion that my life right now has several specific passions. The first is obvious thanks to my Instagram, but I love photography. It has been a big part of my life now for close to ten years and I want to see that side of me grow. Another passion is culture and cultures. I firmly believe that I grew up in Mexico, moved to the States, and lived in Japan, for a good reason. Spreading and sharing culture means a lot to me especially in the Midwest where we tend to be mono-cultural.  The other passion I have is for the Latino community, specifically in the United States. I taught English to adults most of the time I was at Grace and got to hear their struggles and victories as outsiders in the United States. Their stories impacted me as they are an unheard voice and I want to be an advocate for them.

During my job hunt the past few weeks I kept those passions, photography, culture, and the Latino community, in mind. They were clarifying for me as I discerned between jobs that would work toward those passions or not. I was offered a position as EL (English Learners) Paraprofessional at an elementary school nearby, mostly working with Mexican kids. With my handy-dandy list of passions I figured two out of three was a good ratio. So while this may not be the long term plan I feel confident that I am not wasting my time.

I encourage you to delve into your own thoughts and bring out what really motivates you, aside from what people have told you. I had to come to terms with the fact that I do not care for graphic design that much, even though that is what most people thought I wanted to do.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, your passions, and maybe even how your mindset has changed after working through this! Share in the comments! 

Engagement: Peter & Abi

While I was in Japan I got to share half a desk with Abi; she and Seth made me sit at the crack! We got to talk quite a bit while we worked, and through our conversation I learned what a beautiful soul she is. She cares deeply about people and loves God with her whole heart. She is also a very hospitable person and helped make the interns feel welcomed and comfortable a world away from what they were used to.

So I knew Peter had to be someone special too, and he is! He is funny and kind, and together they make a wonderful couple. Hanging out with them for a couple hours to shoot was full of laughter and joy for the journey they are taking. 

Allowing Sadness

I wished I hadn’t watched Inside Out when I flew back to the States on Sunday. It is about a little girl’s emotions as she grows up, and at age 11 moves from Wisconsin to California. Her emotions are depicted as the characters Sadness, Joy, Anger, Pain, and Disgust. [If you haven’t watched the movie yet, I would do so before continuing to read.] At first the movie really frustrated me. The idea of someone being controlled solely by their emotions does not sit well with me. Sadness, in particular, annoyed me as she had the habit of touching joyful memories and making them sad memories. As the story progresses you see Joy and Sadness get lost recovering some joyful core memories, leaving the other three emotions to control the girl. The girl acts out to her parents and slowly she loses her love of friends, hockey, and even family. Eventually it gets so bad that she decides to run away from her new home. But just as she is leaving on the bus, Joy and Sadness return the core memories. Joy realizes that Sadness needs to touch some memories with sadness so that her girl can move on. This way the girl can still remember her previous home in a healthy way while looking forward with a positive attitude to her new home. The girl gets off the bus and returns home to realize that she can move on.

Grieving is not fun but it is a necessary part of life. The Friday night before I left was a rough night; I just wanted to watch Netflix and set aside my feelings for awhile. But I had read enough TCK blogs about how TCKs lock up their feelings to know what I was doing. So I closed my computer and started journaling and asking myself the hard questions. I hate to admit it, but those emotions sure came out! I allowed myself to cry about what I was losing in Japan, the friendships and work I had come to love. It was still hard to say goodbye, but I knew I had said a healthy goodbye. Now I can remember Japan with joy and a little sadness and allow myself to move forward with life. It’s more difficult now but in the long run it is healthier.

I would love to hear how you have learned to handle saying goodbye, whether to someone, someplace, or even something! 

Volcano Yakedake as seen from Kamikochi

Volcano Yakedake as seen from Kamikochi

Week 12: 86 Days Later

86 Days ago I was sitting in Narita airport writing my first Japan blog post. I was a little nervous, pretty excited, and a little lost since I knew no Japanese. 86 Days later and I think I have more questions than when I started. I believe transitioning to Japan for three months went way smoother than I expected it to (thanks for praying!). But in the process of transitioning in and now transitioning out I am discovering more and more about myself. I am rediscovering the unhealthy way I have of saying goodbye as well as having more questions about the possibilities for my future. So many of my thoughts are only half formed I am struggling to say what is rolling around my head.

I stumbled on a blog by an MK named Taylor, living in Hiroshima, Japan (link at the bottom). Even though I am 21, graduated from college, and slowly moving on with life, her writing reminded me so much of who I am, something I think I had started to lose while in the US. I am a Third Culture Kid and I cannot lose sight of how important that is to me. Sometimes, ok, most of the time, I try really hard to fit in and be a part of the group. Often that means being careful of how I present myself and only allowing certain parts of me to be visible. But thanks to Taylor I was once again reminded that I need to be aware of myself and realize that I can have meaningful relationships even over a short period of time.

I am very thankful for my time at NORTHSTAR. I might be just as confused as when I first landed but It has been a worthwhile experience.

Thank you all so much for sticking with me during this incredible journey. This is my last blog post while in Japan, but I am sure it will not be my last about Japan. I pray God blesses each of you who prayed or gave for me to be here!

Taylor Joy Murray Blog

Week 11: Red, Yellow, Orange, Green... Blue, White?

In October Japanese tourists travel to the mountains to witness the spectacular fall show: the turning of the leaves. While summer is relatively short, fall is prolonged, like it has a patient plan to woo us to its side. The colors start changing higher up in the mountains first, shedding its green coat. As the month passes the lower altitudes get to have some of the color until the whole mountain is colored in. Then, it snows on the peaks. Not a lot, but enough for the peak to glow in contrast to the warmth of the world around it. This is called Sandankoyou, the Blue Sky, White Snow, and Fall Colors. The Japanese have words for everything!

Fall is a season, and signifies the ending of the year. I feel like I am in a small fall right now. I have had a wonderful season in Japan at NORTHSTAR. But that season is about to end and bring to a close the college years. Now I get to look forward to the next season, the next years of life. The years where friendships are solidified and I continue seeking Father’s direction in my life. Please pray for me in my last week and a half here that it would be a growing time, and as I leave. I so appreciate your support!

Now please enjoy the fall colors of Japan!

Week 10: Camps, Camps, and more Camps

I checked my calendar today and wow, I have under three weeks left. My time in Japan has been incredible, but it is not over yet! We just finished our first of five camps in October alone. This means we go from 8:30 AM at the latest to 8:30 PM at night, from helping serve meals to doing programs with the kids. I am not really a “kid person” but this past camp was very interesting. It was an international school, with kids from all over Asia, Europe, and the Americas. It was an all girls, 7th grade, camp so we expected some craziness. Yes, they were crazy, but it was so cool to be among my own kind again, the elusive TCK, Third Culture Kid. I felt like I could understand them, even if they did not fully understand themselves yet.

Even though I am technically here as an art intern, I knew I would b expected to help out with some of the camps, especially now that we are a little short staffed. And you would never guess, but I enjoyed hanging out with the kids. The first night they were here we did a campfire with all 45 girls and it was a blast. The following day I assisted leading indoor wall climbing for two groups of 10 girls. Though I have only climbed a few times it was really neat to see the girls challenge themselves and encourage each other.

Please pray for us as we continue to guide each camp that comes this month. And especially pray for energy for all us; back to back camps are exhausting! But always our focus is to touch the lives of the campers and hopefully bring them a step or two closer to Christ. 

Week 9.5: Photo Essay - Summiting Yarigatake

Welcome to the second installation of the XX.5 Series! This series is dedicated to photo essays that will not fit on my Instagram. As always my slogan is more pictures, fewer words.

Our kind full time staff gave us two days off at the beginning of this week. We knew this ahead of time so Andy, who loves hiking, organized a hiking expedition. Eventually we settled on how many of us were going, three (Andy, Tyler, and me), and where we were going, Yarigatake. The peak of Mt. Yari is the 5th highest in Japan and very popular with Japanese hikers. We left NORTHSTAR early, around 4 AM, arrived at 5 AM, and were on our way by 5:30 AM.

The first four hours were relatively easy hiking, and we went quickly. The last three hours were very steep and we slowed down considerably. Up until the last 20 minutes we had not been treated to a view of the peak, only to a view of the Lodge, mocking us as we struggled higher.

It had been warm most of the way up, but as soon as we crossed over the ridge and saw the peak the wind almost knocked us over and the temperature plummeted. We had a quick lunch and began to set up camp. We changed and decided to give the peak a try.

It was a quick clamber to the top, though there were some spots where basic rock climbing came in handy. The view from the top was awesome. It was a fantastically clear day and it was even possible to see Mt. Fuji.

Coming down took a little more time as it was rather steep. Then we had dinner, which we had to be inventive about. One of our party forgot the gas for the stove, so we ended up eating lukewarm rice and curry. We were all too ready to set up our sleeping bags and prepare for the night. However, we had to see the sunset first.

The night was very windy and rather cold, but our layers and sleeping bags kept us warm. We planned on going to the peak for sunrise, but when we woke up at 5 AM it was still windy, cold, and now, cloudy. So we had oatmeal for breakfast and called it good.

Hiking down the mountain we got to see more beautiful views. We were tired at the end but we all firmly believed it had been worth it. 

Week 9: Cool People

There are some people out there whose stories are cool and humbling all at the same time. They have done things some barely dream of doing. Sometimes they do them for themselves, sometimes for others. But they do not give up and accomplish what they set out to do. Over the past couple weeks I got to meet two very special people with cool stories.

 I met Heike Pirngruber when a bunch of us decided to climb Mt Norikura. She was just starting to take her camp down when we arrived at the hiking starting point. We said hello and thought nothing more of it. During the hike up we crossed the main road several times. At one crossing we were taking a breather when Heike comes around the bend on her bike. A little surprised, we stopped to chat for a little. Obviously not Japanese, we asked her where she was from and she said Germany. As we got acquainted we learned that she has been to 29 countries over the course of 28 months! She had cycled through mostly Eastern European and Asian countries to finally arrive in Japan, her last Asian country. I wanted to share about her because she set her mind to doing this adventure and has not looked back. There were months at a time when she could speak to no one, yet she pushed on. Her blog is very well written and I highly recommend reading it. Her writing is insightful and honest, something I have come to appreciate in Japan. Link to her blog is at the end of this post.

Photo: Abi Erickson

Photo: Abi Erickson

I met Asa Yuki, Morning Snow, while taking onsen. Ty and I had gone to the free onsen, a short walk from NORTHSTAR, after our Yarigatake hike (post about that coming this weekend!). We spent around 30 minutes relaxing our very tired muscles. We were just thinking of leaving when an older gentleman came in. He spoke to us in broken English, asking us where we were from. When we told him we were from the States and Mexico, his eyes lit up. He told us that in 1979 he spent 8 months in the US, Mexico, and Guatemala. Then, we understood him to ask us if we would take a picture with him. Confused, we started to leave. He got out with us and we went up to the road where his SUV was. To my surprise, instead of pulling out an iPad to take pictures, he had a photo album. Inside were over 50 pictures of his time in Guatemala, mostly of people and Semana Santa (Holy Week). As I was flipping through he told me his favorite place in Mexico was Oaxaca, where I’m from! It was so great. After I finished looking through his lovely photos he told me that he wants to go back to Guatemala and give the photo album as a present to the families he photographed. I think it is wonderful how he thinks about these people often and wants to give back. He is from Tokyo and was visiting Norikura for the third or fourth time. Yet he kept this photo album from 1979 in his car, to remember.

Sometimes it takes specific circumstances to meet someone, sometimes it’s a casual meeting in an onsen Either way, it is important to take advantage of the situation, you never know what cool people you might meet!

Heike Pirngruber’s English blog

Week Eight: A Next Act

My heart is learning to love Japan, both its vistas and its people. I am captured by the dreams of the people here and feel unprepared to leave. I have never dealt with living someplace so intensely then quickly leaving. It is unsettling, especially once I think how I may never see these wonderful people again. Sure, Facebook and Instagram create digital, artificial, forms of communication, but do not take the place of living close to each other. For all I know I could be in Paraguay next and stay there for the 17 years.

I believe God gave me the gift of commitment. Once I choose to be committed to something it is very difficult for me to un-commit myself. So I committed 90 days of my life to Japan, but to leave feels like breaking a promise. It feels like I have only gotten started. There are so many things that could be done, that I could help with. But maybe it is not my place to have a physical role in them. In some ways, my coming to Japan was a key step in developing a dream. But a step is for supporting those who come after.

I have to believe that God’s plans for me and for Norikura are true, and that they may not coincide. Seth and I have been working through Donald Miller’s “Creating Your Life Plan.” The point of Donald’s book is to jump start your life and bring clarity. We are about half way through the plan and getting to the good part: seeing what you should focus on and how to achieve your goals. It has me thinking about what I really want to come next in my life and brings up some tough questions. Am I a photographer or designer? Or both? What is my goal in life? What steps should I take to achieve that goal?

Obviously I do not have answers yet but I know being in Japan has been a big part of God’s plan for me. I have to be ok with accepting the idea that God may have someplace else for me. I love Japan and will do my best while I am here. I believe God is already preparing me for the next step, and I am very thankful for the experiences that have brought me where I am today.


If you have heard of any photography or graphic design positions, I would love to hear from you! The next stage of life is exciting but also a little scary. Thank you for praying for me as I start taking my next steps! 

Week Seven: Beach Trip!

Thanks to everyone who has supported me so far! I cannot say it enough! I really appreciate everyone who is praying for me and the other staff at NORTHSTAR.

Two weeks ago I went off the grid for a few days. It was our fall break so we had four days off to do whatever we wanted. Brad and his wife Michie were planning a camping trip to the beach as well as visiting Michie’s parents, and they invited us interns to go along. We accepted, so on a rainy Tuesday morning we drove down the mountain and toward Michie’s home town. Our route was as follows: Norikura > Ueda > Toyama > Norikura. If you start at the red pin and go counter clock-wise that is the way we took.

Michie told us that Ueda was a pretty standard city for Japan. There was nothing really exciting or historical about it, but to me, it was wonderful. It was great to get away from the more touristy feel of Norikura and Matsumoto and go to a regular Japanese city without all the extras. As we got to Ueda we stopped at the castle ruins near the center of the city. There was only one tower left standing as the rest had been destroyed. But the rest of the grounds had been turned into a beautiful park, which we all enjoyed.

Later we went to Michie’s parent’s house. Ka san (Mom, in Japanese), and To san (Dad) were the most welcoming hosts we could have asked for. To san was very enthusiastic about practicing his English and I was more than willing to help him and practice my Japanese! He took us out for sushi, which was delicious. This sushi was not wrapped in seaweed like I often picture it. It was rice with a piece of raw fish or squid laid on top of it. Picking it up, dipping it in soy sauce, and getting it into my mouth with chopsticks without it falling apart took some skill. Squid meat is white and very soft and smooth, with almost no taste. I really enjoyed it!

2015-08-31-Fall-Break-Beach-Trip-04632-1200.jpg

After spending the night on traditional futon we had breakfast. What a breakfast! There was fruit, rice, miso soup, and pregnant fish. They were crunchy, kind of like Mexican grasshoppers. After breakfast we packed the van up and headed out to the beach! It was a pretty long drive to the beach so we drove directly to our site, set up camp, and went in search of dinner. The water was still warm, but since it was late we did not play in the water. Instead we set off fireworks!

The next morning Brad made French toast for breakfast, then we played in the Sea of Japan for a few hours tossing the Frisbee. It was a wonderful de-stressor and none of us were ready to leave. But we had some more sites to see! Our main objective was the Glass Art Museum in downtown Toyama, but on the way there we stopped for lunch at a rest stop right next to the ocean. The food was good, but the main attraction to us was the foot bath. The bath was around 40° C, which is well over 100° F. But it was so relaxing and really good for circulation, plus there was a great view of the ocean.

The Glass Art Musuem had opened just a few weeks prior and only cost ¥200 to get in, just under $2. It was a beautiful construction made of glass and wood. The exhibits were full of artists from all over, including one main exhibit by Chihuly.

Our final stop was something I wanted to do just because: McDonalds! Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, it was pretty much like any other McDonalds. I had a teriyaki burger, but it was still McDonalds. We made it back Thursday night, and it was still raining in Norikura. And a fantastic road trip was had by all!