The Thread that Runs so True
After graduating from high school, I had a plan for my future! For months, I had secretly been sewing dresses, and slowly building up a collection of basic necessities. Finally I had saved enough money to purchase my one-way airline ticket to Honolulu, the big city in Hawaii that would keep me at a safe enough distance from the chaos of my parents’ home. Early one morning when I thought my parents were asleep, a friend of mine picked me up to take me to the airport. My parents, however, had apparently known of my plans all along. Just before I left, Mom quietly got up and called me to herself. She gave me $50.00 for my first month’s rent and gave me a hug. Dad pretended to be sleeping. After I left, he told Mom that he was disowning me.
This response from my dad was not surprising. He had grown up in a very abusive home and was used and rejected by his parents. Dad was the fifth youngest of seven children, the middle of three sons, and for whatever reason was targeted as the black sheep of the family. He worked the hardest, yet it was never enough—he was constantly beaten and berated. If his work was not satisfactory, he was placed in a burlap bag and hung overnight on a tree or in the garage. My uncle, the youngest in their family, was the apple of my grandparents’ eyes. He was the one who got to go to college, and Dad was the one who was made to work to support him through college.
His dad (my grandfather) was a pastry chef and raised sugar cane on land he had purchased. Eventually, my grandfather decided to move back home to Japan after his growing frustrations with life in Hawaii. My grandmother refused to go with him and chose to remain with her children. My father requested to accompany my grandfather back to Japan because he wanted to get training to become a Buddhist priest. They had always been a Buddhist family. When his request was rejected and he was belittled, my father fell into deep despair… and he turned to alcohol to alleviate his pain. This was many years before he even met my mom.
My Mother, In Christ
My mother grew up in Hawaii also, in one of only two Christian families in town. As a teenager, she professed her personal faith in Christ and was baptized one Easter Sunday. At that time, her family lived on a hill that overlooked Kailua Bay in Kona, Hawaii. She tells of an amazing vision she saw the morning following her baptism. She was awakened about 2:00 a.m. by a bright light that was beaming into her second floor bedroom window. She woke her sister up and they both saw a giant cross in the sky. They quickly ran to tell my grandparents about this odd phenomenon. My grandfather went outside to get a closer look, but there was nothing! The magnificent cross with its light was only seen through my mother’s bedroom window.
Every Easter after this experience my mother would look for the reappearance of this cross, but it was never seen again. Mother often said that as a teenager she knew in her heart, Jesus came to personally visit her. The vision gave her assurance that God would always be with her, no matter what happened.
My Grandfather, Before Christ
Mom’s parents were Shintoists before conversion to Christianity, and they were very well educated. My grandfather moved the family from Japan to Hawaii to help the first generation Japanese immigrants there who were struggling with retaining their own language and culture. It wasn’t in his plan, but in God’s providence, that once in Hawaii, he would embrace the Christian faith. According to his initial explanation for converting, he found “the Christian faith similar to my Shinto beliefs.”
I wondered how this could be since the Shinto religion has thousands of gods or “kami,” and Christians worship one God. In researching the Shinto religion, I discovered that among the thousands of gods worshipped within the Shinto religion, there is a God called “Amenominakanushi” which means “The God in the glorious center of Heaven.” He is the God flanked by two “other Gods” of Creation. These three-in-one Gods are separate from the other gods of Shintoism, because they are Spirit and not seen.
The Shintonist writer Hirata Atsukane, in his book Kami (1776- 1843), states, “…we understand that Amenominakanushi has Sovereignty over all the things in the Universe and since this great God who exists is without a beginning, it is only appropriate that He be called the ultimate first Deity, and that no words should possibly exist to describe the heights and depths of His virtuous power.” The Kojiki—the Records of Ancient Matters, written in 712 A.D, also talks about Amenominakanushi as Creator God who Himself was not created but is self existent and has no beginning.
This three-in-one God seems to have been the one known and worshipped by my grandparents as Shintoists. As Christians, they came to understand more fully the nature of the One true God, the Creator of heaven and earth, who expresses Himself in three persons—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
My Parents, In Battle
So, one day my parents’ worlds collided. While they were both of Japanese ancestry and shared the same cultural background, they had really grown up in two very different worlds. My mother grew up in a home of refined aristocracy—and lived a life protected by her parents. My father grew up in a very abusive home and was used and rejected by his parents. My parents were also of different faiths. After dating for some time, in defiance of my mother’s parents’ wishes, my parents got married. My mother did not realize at the time that she was marrying an alcoholic. Dad’s alcoholism surfaced when Mom was three months pregnant with me, and soon it became like an evil monster attacking in every direction. In the unseen world of spiritual principalities, alcohol became the weapon used by Satan to try to destroy her faith.
Though I believe my dad loved Mom, he treated her with the same disrespect as he was treated while growing up. Memories of my mom’s abuse are indelibly imprinted in my mind: his holding a rifle to her head, tying her up with a water hose outside in the pouring rain, keeping her sitting in a chair all night yelling harshly at her until the sun rose the following morning—then in a drunken stupor, falling asleep, and Mom having to begin the day getting us children ready for school and preparing to open the restaurant.
My grandparents grieved for their daughter, but felt helpless to correct the situation. They often provided us children a safe haven, a place of reprieve in the quiet and safety of their home. During these years, Mom bore a huge amount of guilt, for she considered she was reaping what she had sowed when she married Dad against her parents’ wishes.
My Life, In Achievement
The house where we lived during my younger school years was located on the grounds of a Buddhist temple. I naturally became active in the Young Buddhist Association, and found myself having a spiritual sensitivity and hunger greater than my peers. I soaked in the teachings of Buddha and wanted to follow his enlightened ways. I regularly repeated my nembutsu mantra and memorized the doctrines of the eightfold path and Buddha’s teachings about compassion and selflessness.
It was because of these teachings in my life, and an eagerness to escape the harshness of home, that I set off to Honolulu. When I arrived, a friend helped me find a maid’s quarter to rent for $50.00 a month, and his family helped me look for work, provided transportation and meals, and in every way treated me very kindly. This family was a Christian family, and I could feel the joyful spirit that permeated their home—so different from the tumultuous, chaotic, and fearful setting of my own. During these early years of my independence, not only did I find work, but I also attended the University of Hawaii. Soon, I was hired as a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines, began to make a lot of money, and in time, thought I was living on top of the world. I lived on the 26th floor, in my own luxury condo, with a spectacular view of Waikiki, the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean, and a panoramic, unobstructed view of Hawaii’s most famous landmark, Diamond Head. I had everything a girl could dream of…and was finally free from the tyranny of home.
My Life, Out of Control
…Or so I thought. I was free on the outside, but my soul remained in bondage to my past. On the surface I was the happy, vibrant girl who loved to party and was accountable to no one but myself. Yet there was an emptiness, a strange ache and a void in my heart—literally in the bowels of my being. I often thought of my dad, how he quenched his pain with alcohol, but I determined not to take the road he took. Trying to get control of my life, I began reading self-help books, even some on voodoo.
At the state fair one year, I filled out a form for a drawing for a free fire alarm. I don’t know why I did it—I didn’t even need a fire alarm! About this same time, a friend of mine was discovering the Bible. He excitedly showed me his discovery of the Love Chapter of 1 Corinthians 13. When I read this chapter about love, my heart knew that this love was what was missing in my life. I so wanted to experience true love and to be able to offer true love to others. I purchased a Bible, and began reading over and over the amazing words about love. I tried practicing true love with everyone, but found it impossible to achieve.
One day a knock came at my door, and there stood a young salesman who was assigned to try to sell me a fire alarm—in response to the entry I had filled out at the local fair. When he saw the Bible on my coffee table, he immediately asked if I was a Christian. “Yes….” I answered, then sheepishly added that I was a Buddhist-Christian. Being a Christian himself, he knew from my response that I was not. Then he began sharing about God’s love with me—the humanly impossible love I had been reading about in the Bible.
My Life, In Christ
This young salesman, whose name was David, spent hours with me, telling me that God created me and that I was amazingly and wonderfully made. He explained that everyone is a sinner— not just the criminal who is in jail… that sin is a condition of our natural state, and that we can’t be in God’s presence no matter how religious and moral we are, because we are still not righteous enough. He explained that out of God’s unfathomable love, He provided His only Son, Jesus Christ— the only perfectly sinless person who was qualified to meet God’s standard of righteousness—to come and die in my place, for my sins, so that through Him I could have a personal relationship with God the Father.
What I was hearing seemed absurd, yet at the same time, it was fascinating and intriguing for it seemed impossible for a human to conjure up such a simple plan for the solution to life— my life. I had grown up with spiritual books in my house, and even had a Bible when I was a child. From my grandparents and mother I had heard about Adam and Eve, the Christmas story, and Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection. But on this day, listening to David talk, God’s love became real to me personally—Jesus Himself became real to me, not just a character in a story.
Over time, I began realizing salvation is only the beginning of an indescribably wondrous life with Christ. It goes beyond the coping, managing, striving, and even sucking it up—what Japanese call “Gaman” (gah-mahn) and “hiding” the shame and guilt—whether self imposed, culturally imposed, or real, that keep us in our nice trappings. And that’s what it is—trappings, a bondage— that leaves us dead on the inside and smiling and superficially confident on the outside.
My new life in Christ made my extra-ordinary life extraordinary, my superficial life super-natural, because life went from coping and striving and seeking the elusive happiness and comfort, to being empowered with strength, joy and peace. In Christ, there came a new ability to truly live life victoriously in every dimension of daily life, and I wouldn’t trade my life for anything in the world! And… the love the Bible talks about is real—because it is God’s love and He is real.
A few years ago, I asked my mother how she did it… how she managed to live through all those years of abuse. Her answer: God’s grace. She told me she depended on God to take her through each hour of the day. She trusted in God because she had no one else who truly understood her fear, shame, and timidity. And she held in her mind the image of the cross of Jesus she had seen on that Easter morning after her baptism. She said she understood that, somehow, through her trials, God was honing her heart and soul. And she never gave up believing that God’s love that was woven into her life would ultimately reach the hearts of her children too. Today, Mom is 86 years old, and although she has lost her physical sight and much of her hearing, her mind remains strong, and her faith is anchored securely.