In college, Nancy received a scholarship to study in Japan for a year. The Japanese government paid all living expenses as part of a special student exchange program. Nancy was one of only 8 foreign people in the city of Hirosaki that year.
Nancy was confident in her ability to survive and thrive so far from home. Even though she had grown up in rural Tennessee, during high school she had traveled all over Europe on a trip with People to People International. A summer Spanish course at the University of Madrid in Spain, had also been very enjoyable. Everywhere she went, people responded kindly to her friendly smile and southern charm. She had a knack for learning new languages and fitting in.
When she arrived in Japan, things were more difficult than she had imagined. Three “alphabets”. Unreadable signs. Men’s language, women’s language, country dialects and cosmopolitan slang. She was a business major and she wanted a corporate career after graduating. In Japan, people laughed at her when she explained that she wanted to be a “salaryman” – the Japanese term for businessman. Japanese girls didn’t do that. If they worked, it was so that they could meet a potential husband.
Her Japanese host family, who had never met an American girl before, didn’t understand her at all. She was so lonely, even though they tried to be welcoming. Unfortunately, they found her to be so different, so rude, that they finally went to the school counselor. They asked him to find a new place for her. He called Nancy into his office, and apologetically told her that he had arranged for her to have an apartment.
Nancy was shocked. She was so homesick. Breakfast was the most difficult time of day. Her host family ate traditional breakfasts of rice and natto – a type of fermented soybean with a foul smell. In spite of her loneliness, she had tried very hard to be friendly and cheerful. She had no idea that the family found her rude. Her counselor couldn’t even begin to explain what she had done. Couldn’t explain, or wouldn’t explain. Nancy wasn’t sure which.
As she packed her things, she couldn’t decide if she felt relieved or sad to be moving into her own apartment. It had been so hard to fit into the family. She had sensed that they weren’t happy with her, but they would never tell her what she was doing to upset them.
Sadly, she remembered that the Japanese word for foreigner, “gaijin”, translated as “alien”. Alien as in from outer space. She was so totally Alien. People would approach her on the train or on the street and pet her “straw colored” hair as if she were a strange animal. They would talk about her physical features…”What long legs!” unaware that she might understand their comments.
She had no reference points for understanding the Japanese culture. She discovered that even the children of Japanese ex-patriots struggle with Japanese manners if they don’t spend enough of their early childhood in Japan. How could a strange girl from America ever hope to become accepted there?
Nancy learned a hard lesson that year. To understand someone, it’s not enough to know lots of vocabulary or master a new writing system. Words are only the surface of communication. Heart-to-heart communication happens when we try to understand someone’s culture, beliefs, challenges, fears, and dreams. It’s important to care enough to dive deeply into unfamiliar waters.
Nancy puts that hard won knowledge to work every day. She knows the importance of taking the time to understand others. She dives deeply into the world of her potential customers to understand their lifestyle, their challenges, their fears and their dreams… so that she can meet them where they are, and offer them the message, inspiration, or product that they’ve been searching for.
“I saw you trying really hard.”
Nancy’s martial arts school for children, Aikido Kids! attracted many different types of families. However, they all had one thing in common. The parents were looking for a a place where their children could learn the life skills associated with the practice of the martial arts. They wanted their child to have more self-discipline, self-confidence, patience, respect, and focus. Having the child learn self defense was often a secondary need for many families.
Almost 20 percent of the parents described their child as struggling to maintain focus at school. One day, a father brought his son in for a trial class, and pulled Nancy aside for a private conference. “He’s hopeless,” the father said. “None of his teachers can get him to listen. So, I’ll understand if you need to send him out of class if he’s too disruptive.”
As “Billy” went through his first class, Nancy could understand his father’s frustration. She could tell that he was very smart. Yet, he was so distracted that it seemed like his spirit was almost completely out of his body. She imagined that part of him was floating around on the ceiling like a butterfly, and gently kept drawing his attention back to the lesson. Over and over again, she asked the students to practice their “Great Focus”.
At the end of class the students made a line to shake her hand and get feedback on their participation in class. Billy hung back, not quite sure what was going on. He began to look excited as each student received a compliment on something they had done well. As she worked through the line of students, Nancy was praying… “Oh Lord, what do I say to Billy?”
Finally it was his turn. His big trusting eyes looked into hers. Nancy shook his hand warmly. “Thank you for coming today Billy. You did very well. I saw you working really hard on your Great Focus.” Nancy couldn’t believe those words had come out of her mouth. Where had that come from?
Billy beamed! “I was! I was trying really hard,” he exclaimed happily. He skipped with excitement over to his Dad, who could not believe his ears. Billy’s Dad looked at Nancy almost in disbelief; he hadn’t seen any focus!
Nancy smiled and nodded at the father. “Yes,” her nod told him, she had meant it. But Billy’s reaction had surprised her. In a flash, she understood that sometimes we can’t see the efforts others are making. But that doesn’t mean that the other person isn’t trying. She suddenly realized that she could encourage a new behavior by acting as if it were already in place. If she believed in her students, she could help them develop to their highest potential.
Several months later, Billy’s dad pulled Nancy aside again. He wanted to let her know that Billy was a new kid. He was doing well in school and his teachers were telling his dad how much better his focus was. They assumed that it was from medication. Billy’s dad was so grateful for Nancy’s help. It was a great blessing to Billy to have someone believe in his ability to develop his “great focus”.
From then on Nancy taught all her families this secret. “Act as if, praise as if, and behave as if.” To create a new habit in one’s self or in others, we have to believe it, praise it, and encourage it as if it is already done.
In the Right Place at the Right Time.
In April 2017, Nancy attended a writer’s workshop in Las Vegas, NV. She used the event’s Facebook group to find a roommate to share expenses with. She connected with a lady named Toni, who already had reserved a room. As the new friends got to know each other before the event, they discovered several things in common besides writing.
They were close in age. They were both moving or preparing to move. And they also had personal experience with diabetes. Toni and Nancy’s daughter both have Type 1 Diabetes. They shared their experiences and daily challenges with this life changing condition.
When they finally met the night before the class, they chatted a bit about their travels to Las Vegas. Nancy questioned Toni closely about her blood sugar control. Toni shared that she had been having quite a bit of trouble with her current insulin pump. The pump kept over delivering insulin, and creating dangerous low blood sugar conditions. Toni was eager to get a new pump which she expected to be waiting at home when she returned.
Nancy asked her about the kind of symptoms she had when she was experiencing a low blood sugar. Reactions to low blood sugar are unique to each individual, and can be difficult to spot.
The next day, the ladies had a wonderful and intense class. At some point during the day, Toni’s insulin pump became disconnected. She had to leave class to reinsert the pump. Then, she had to take some insulin to adjust her blood glucose, as it had gone very high.
Nancy had been so involved with the class that she didn’t realize that Toni had had so much trouble. As they prepared for bed, Toni explained how frustrating it was to have to miss out because of her blood sugar. Nancy and Toni talked about what they had learned that day and finally fell into bed.
Nancy’s alarm rang at 4 am. She had a 7 am flight home, and wanted to get to the airport by 5 am. As she started to move about the room quietly collecting her things, Toni started shifting in bed. Nancy felt bad about waking her so early, but Toni had said that she was a sound sleeper. Nancy hoped that she would fall back to sleep quickly. Toni started kicking her feet like she was hot, but dreaming.
Nancy continued sneaking around the room. Toni kicked her feet harder. Suddenly, Nancy realized that Toni’s blood sugar might be falling… thrashing her feet was the sign. She flipped on the lights and started talking to Toni loudly as she hunted for the blood test kit. No response except for the thrashing and moaning. Nancy knew they were in trouble.
She found Toni’s kit, and figured out how to use it. It was different from the one that Nancy had used, but close enough. Toni’s blood sugar was 37, dangerously low. Nancy popped open a can of soda Toni had on the bed stand and started dribbling it into Toni with a straw. Sip, sip, sip. Ten minutes later, Nancy tested Ton’s blood glucose again. Was the soda working? Beep! 27.
Curses, it was still falling. Nancy called 911. In minutes, the hotel medical staff was on hand, and not long after that the City firefighters showed up. The paramedics administered IV glucose, and revived Toni. While they worked, Nancy called the airline and changed her flight. She didn’t want to leave Toni alone until she was back on her feet.
An hour after the 911 call, they were eating breakfast together. Toni was grateful for the help, but also surprisingly nonchalant. She’d done this before. But the new friends knew that Nancy’s experience with diabetes had made a big difference. If Nancy hadn’t recognized the low blood sugar, things might not have turned out so well. It had been a very close call.
On the flight home, Nancy thought about what had happened. This experience demonstrated to her how tenderly each of us are each cared for by God. Nancy could see how everything had fallen into place to make sure that both of them got home safely.
Nancy was in awe that she had gotten to play a part in creating a miracle! She could see that she was part of something bigger than herself. She had been the right person in the right place at the right time. Being of service to others and to a Higher Power felt so good.