Reflections on my daughter's wedding
The truth is, I really can't put any of this into words. On 6 May 1992, we welcomed a bundle of joy called Julia Grace Jackson into human society. One 8 April 2017, we gave her away in marriage. What words can capture the range of emotions and thoughts and feelings and perspectives bouncing around in a father's heart on the day of his daughter's wedding? Not many. But the many words following provide at least a glimpse into one of my favourite stories.
How does a Jesus-loving teenager rebel against cross-cultural church planting parents with whom she has lived in three different nations? She completely ignores her parents attempts to entice her with the glory of Europe and instead falls in love with Japanese culture.
Drawn in by her sister Moriah’s fascination with Japanese anime, our oldest daughter Julia began dabbling in the Japanese when she was a young teenager. She decided to study Japanese at university, including her third-year abroad spent in Tokyo.
Although Jean and I have sought to cultivate in our daughters a world perspective in which we take seriously the command of Jesus to go to all nations and make disciples, Jean and I have never had any intention of engaging Asia. Our cross-cultural mission assignments included Ukraine and Scotland. Our exotic food regimen reached its limits with borscht and haggis. But for whatever reason, Julia was drawn to the land of the rising sun.
In one sense, this made absolute sense: By the time she was 18, Julia had spent 27% of her life in Scotland and 22% of her life in Ukraine. That’s nearly half of her time outside the United States. But more important than the duration was the allocation of time: these were quite formative years.
Thus, by the time she was heading off to University, Julia wasn’t fully American; she was a third-culture person, significantly shaped by multiple cultures with no complete identification with any culture. Thus, heading off to experience another culture, completely different from any in which her parents had lived, was no big deal to her. For her parents, we kept wondering: why is our little girl living half way around the world?
A Journey to Christ
When Julia spent her third year of university in Japan, Jean popped over for a visit; if our daughter was going to consider living in this far-away place, we should at least experience it for ourselves. When our second daughter, Moriah, who had first opened the portal of Japanese influence into our family ended up in Japan for her third-year abroad, it was my turn.
Julia had just moved back to Japan, taking up a job teaching English, so I had a ‘two-for-one’ experience of seeing both Moriah and Julia. One evening we went for dinner with a family Julia had met at her church; they became her ‘adopted family’ while she was there.
The daughter of the family, Nao, had become Julia’s best friend. At dinner we also met the son, a young man named Kazuyoshi. He lived away, in the city of Nagoya, and was working for a translation company. More interesting than any of these details was the story of how this family had come to Christ.
Like many others before them, by the early 2000’s, this family had disintegrated. The parents were divorced and both children were out on their own. It was Nao who first became a Christian through the ministry of a church based in Yokohama. Through her influence, her mother Takako and her brother Kazuyoshi also came to Christ at this church. Rays of gospel hope were beginning to shine.
The father was living and working in New York City. As a dutiful and loving daughter, Nao hopped on a plane to go and introduce her father to the same Jesus who had transformed her. She met her father and looked up a church connect with the same family of churches (Every Nation) as the church in Yokohama. She took her father to that church so that he too could meet Jesus.
This is where the story gets fun. The pastor of the Every Nation church in New York City was Ron Lewis. Ron had baptised my wife Jean when they both worked at a summer camp together in the early 1980’s. And Ron was pastor of the church where Jean and I both worked as campus ministers in the late 1980’s, and he had done our wedding. Without knowing the future, Ron, who had been my mentor in ministry, led my daughter’s future father-in-law to Christ in New York City.
Having met Jesus, Yuto Matsumoto returned to Japan to reconcile with his family. At first, his ex-wife was uninterested; sometimes there is just too much pain and heartache to overcome. But through his faithful and loving persistence, Yuto was finally able to win Takako’s heart, and they got remarried. When Jesus is the author of our lives, sometimes storybook endings really do happen.
When I met this family with Julia and Moriah in Japan, I didn’t know this full story; they simply appeared as a strong and healthy Christian Japanese family. Rather, then were a remarkable picture of God’s transforming grace. I also didn’t know that they were going to have a big part in my future life; Yuto and Takako would be be my daughter’s in-laws; Kazuyoshi would be my daughter’s husband.
It was a number of months after my visit to Japan that Julia and I had a face-time chat in which she expressed that she and Kazuyoshi were interested in each other, and he wanted to ask my permission to date her formally.
On one hand, I appreciated the respect Julia and Kazu were showing; on the other hand, I kept thinking: but this is my daughter we’re discussing! She’s my little baby! I don’t remember the conversation with him, but I know I covered the bases: do you love Jesus? Do you have a job? Will you respect my daughter? Will you keep me appraised of how this is unfolding?
I know we live in world greatly changed from what my parents have described as the idyllic 1950’s; it’s even a very different world from my coming of age decade, the 1980’s. But beyond my continued belief in the importance of a father’s role in protecting and blessing his daughters as they cross this liminal threshold from being unattached singles to being married, this relationship had its own unique challenge: not only was I separated geographically from where my daughter and her guy were living; we were separated culturally.
Marriage is difficult. Marriage involves a life-long covenant of two people who are different - who grew up in different families, who have different personalities and temperaments and perspectives and hormonal influences - to live together in love and harmony. Cross-cultural marriage amplifies these differences.
Julia and Kazu started dating – and it grew both formal and serious as the months went by. Simultaneously, Kazu and I were getting to know each other through regular Face Time conversations. I came to learn that he loved Jesus, he had a job, he was a hard worker, and he really loved my daughter. Whatever wall of ‘NO!’ I had built gradually eroded as I discovered that Kazuyoshi was a pretty good guy.
When Julia informed us that she was bringing her boyfriend Kazuyoshi home to meet the family, we knew this was serious. One does not simply fly with young man in tow from Japan to the UK on a whim; this was a journey with a purpose. Supposing that a big question loomed, I wanted to make it somewhat easy: not that my answer was a foregone conclusion, but because high-stakes dialogue needed to happen, I wanted to get the ball rolling.
And so the second day Kazuyoshi was with us, I took him out for lunch. No question. After lunch, we went on a walk around the Linlithgow Loch. No question. He and I went out for lunch again later in the week – no question. Keep in mind that he was staying in our house and had easy access to me. Julia and Kazuyoshi were leaving on Sunday; I began to give up hope that this was going to happen.
Saturday evening is a work slot for me; it’s my final prep moment for preaching on Sunday morning. So I went to work after dinner, around 7pm, having enjoyed Kazuyoshi’s visit, but thinking that he was simply not ready to marry daughter. Finally at around 9pm, my wife Jean knocked on my office door: ‘Kazuyoshi wants to know if he can speak with you’. ‘OK’, I said.
A few minutes later, Kazuyoshi knocked on my office door, and I invited him in for a chat. Again, to help him out, I asked him, ‘What can I do for you?’. He talked for a while – it was vaguely related to my daughter and future and destiny and love, but I wasn’t sure what point he was trying to make. So I interrupted him and said, ‘Are you trying to ask me if you can marry daughter?’ He acknowledged this was the case. I said, ‘Look, I’m originally from the United States, and we tend to be somewhat direct. Look me in the eyes and ask me what you need to ask me’.
Finally, at around 10pm on Saturday evening, 11 June, Kazuyoshi Matsumoto asked if he could marry my daughter. After some intimidating mixture of threats and encouragement, I said, ‘Yes’.
Julia and Kazu set their wedding date to correspond with our daughters’ school and university breaks; it takes logistical planning to get our portable sorority all in the same place at the same time. And because their church and so many friends were based in Japan, they decided to have the wedding in Nagoya.
I won’t elaborate all the ways that Japanese weddings are different from British and American weddings, but from the start, this was going to be a big cultural mash-up – a little bit American, somewhat Scottish, and a big dose of Japanese with an international flavour. Here are a few details:
Amazing Venue. Japanese weddings tend to be ‘full-service’ affairs in which the venue for the reception makes all the arrangements; the ceremony and reception are staffed by a team of helpers that make everything run smoothly. This wedding was done by the Park Banquet, based in the TV Tower in Nagoya.
The Weather. Although I told her it was a big role of the dice, Julia wanted an outdoor wedding. The Park Banquet uses a small park just a five minute walk from the TV Tower. Although it rained both before and after, the ceremony was dry.
Family Affair. I was so glad that my parents, Jim and Mary Jo, my sister Eve, and aunt Lois, were able to join us in Negoya for the wedding. The American contingent was small - but heart felt - and we were thankful they put in the effort to make it.
Fun. God's blessing seemed to mark the entire week we were in Japan; in addition to getting the marriage accomplsihed, we had a great time.
Flowers. The Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina have an abundance of rhododendron; Scotland has the heather on the hills. Japan, however, has cherry-blossom trees. This only lasts for a week or ten days, and this year it was supposed to have been a week earlier. But unseasonably cold weather delayed the onset of cherry-blossom week, and we happened to catch it at the peak. God is good.
Double-duty. When Julia and Kazuyoshi got married, I told Julia I’d be happy to be involved in her wedding in whatever way she wanted. At first, she said she just wanted me to be dad for the day and simply walk her down the aisle. I was very cool with that. But she had a re-think, and asked me to do the wedding, so I ended up with double duty: I walked her down the aisle, gave her away, and then led the ceremony in which my daughter entered the covenant of marriage with Kazuyoshi.
Can you say beautiful? I know that for many women, their wedding day is a high-water mark of expressing their God-given femininity. But Julia was absolutely gorgeous on 8 April, 2017. Kazuyoshi – you have done well. Even Grandma approves.
Final Words. The wedding attenders all walked from the TV Tower to the park; because of how the Park Banquet gets people into the right places, Julia and I had a final taxi ride together. I had concocted a variety of highly emotive final thoughts to share with her on the way. I don’t remember what came of out my mouth, but it was nothing very profound: we were both filled to the brim with undefinable emotion, and just being with her was enough.
It worked. There is no such thing as a perfect wedding, but this one went really well. At its heart, however, was a covenant, and Julia and Kazu promised themselves to each other forever. They invited Jesus into their marriage from the beginning to be the guest of greatest honour, and it was beautiful.
Balance. Apart from the many admirable qualities he possesses, Kazuyoshi Matsumoto - my new son-in-law per his marriage to Julia Matsumoto - fulfills an intense and long-standing need in my life: he is helping to adjust the male to female ratio; two to seven is better than one to seven. I cannot yet say that balance to the force has been restored. But we're on the way.
Generational Consistency. I’m continually struck that God is a God of generations; he was simply Abraham’s God, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Paul didn’t simply celebrate Timothy; rather, ‘You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others’ (2 Timothy 2:2). Notice the four generations: you (Timothy), me (Paul), trustworthy people, and others. Paul was thinking about his spiritual grand-children.
What most excites me is that Julia and Kazu are followers of Jesus committed to advancing his good news. Julia is currently enrolled in church planting course through her local churchy. She is being trained to do what her father has done, what her grandfather did, and what her great-grandfather did – to take the gospel of Jesus to those who don’t know him.
This is what CBU is about, and it’s exciting to see a commitment to the gospel being carried by the next generation. The best is yet to come!