The 24 To 30: #16 – Cynthia Sanders

by Just Juan

In the first quarter of 2007, when I was re-establishing my relationship with God, I came into contact with some great people at the church I attended in Jacksonville…really good Christians. I remember writing in Triumphs & Tribulations VII about my worries and concerns regarding finding comparable people in Japan, a nation not exactly known for Christianity. On my last Sunday, one of the older women in my singles group prayed that I’d link up with someone who had a motherly spirit to “nurture my spirit” as I grew more in Christ. Little did I know that’s exactly what would happen in Tokyo. In today’s post to The 24 To 30 feature, I’ll cover the story of Cynthia Sanders…

THE BACKGROUND. Before I even dive into my history with Cynthia Sanders, I have to make it known that from this point forward in the post, she’ll be known as Mama Sanders…gotta give that respect for what she represents. Now on to the background with Mama Sanders, which started in June 2007…not too long after I arrived in Tokyo. I think she noticed that I kept to myself near the back of the sanctuary. So, in her typical fashion, she walked back during one of the greeting sessions and hugged me. That was my introduction to her. I joined the church the next month and she was one of the first people to pray for me. Being young (22), single, and far away from home, she was like a mother figure to me early on. When I returned from my Iraq deployment in January 2008, our relationship picked up. That’s when she started inviting me over to have dinner with her and her husband on Sundays I wasn’t hanging out with Latisha. It was during those occasions that I first tried her banana pudding, which is by far the best in the entire world. She really cemented a place in my heart forever when she pronounced me as her “spiritual son”, a label that I likely copped from one of my co-best friends…a former student of hers who had returned to Japan as a serviceman. From there, our relationship blossomed. It was literally like having a 2nd mother. When we’d have after-church fellowships at her house, I had a designated seat…a chaise lounge that was so comfortable, I always fell asleep while laying back on it. She made sure I had at a couple of home-cooked meals per month. When I was sick, she’d call and check in on me…often sending one of the guys from church with something to make me feel better. When the excruciating pain of getting my upper wisdom teeth extracted was so relentless that I stopped eating and rejected just about everything my friends and other members of the church offered me in relief, it was her that gave me some special soup and bread that held me over until I recovered. Mama Sanders played a major role in the strengthening of my relationship with the Lord through the talks we had and just the way she went about living. She also cared deeply about my dating and relationship life…probably more than anybody else. She once told me that I was like a crown jewel and that God would make sure I wouldn’t end up with just any woman but that I’d probably be hurt a few times before the right one comes along. Suffice it to say that she has been 100% correct on that. At times, she’s served as my moral compass and she’s never shied away from reprimanding me when I’m wrong…only she does it in the most loving ways. At other times, it appears that she has some kind of alert system that tracks my well-being as she always calls me when I’m troubled…even half a world away, and even when I don’t show any signs of distress. I’ve always been appreciative of everything she’s ever done for me and I usually make it a point to spare no expense in showing that appreciation. Today, even as I approach 30 and I’m years removed from my Tokyo residency, I still keep close with her. In fact, besides the lure of the big city and bright lights, just being in her presence is why I covet the opportunity to always visit Tokyo.

THE MOMENT OF IMPACT. Over the 7 years I’ve known her, Mama Sanders has impacted me in a number of different ways…the seeds of which are present in how and why I do certain things today. From the way I pray today to the whole “no shoes on my carpet” to how I mentor others, it all traces back to her. But the moment of impact I’ll remember most about Mama Sanders is the month I spent under her care in September 2011. Having gotten my heart busted up really bad in June 2011, I labored through an extremely difficult July and August before getting to Tokyo for a month-long visit in September. She and her husband hosted me and during that month, she cheered up my spirit with great food (including my first-ever taste of hot water cornbread) and even greater conversations. She taught me several important lessons about forgiving those who have offended you—something I don’t think she would’ve let me return to the United States without fully understanding—and ensured my heart was in the right place as I proceeded with the presentation of the 1st Just Juan Building Blocks Scholarship.

HOW IT GOT ME TO 30. Yesterday, I mentioned that getting to 30 required having a person who prays for your spirit. Mama Sanders has been that person for me. It’s very likely that those Tokyo days—the very ones that have shaped my life in current times—would have been vastly different had we not met or had we not been as close. As I was crossing the Pacific Ocean from Tokyo to Los Angeles, I remember writing in the May 3rd entry of Triumphs & Tribulations X that “while I’m certain I wouldn’t have started drinking, I’m not as certain I would have surrounded myself with quality individuals had I not met Mama Sanders”. I just felt as if she was always looking at me and the decisions I made during my time in Tokyo in the same way my own mother did in my youth…with the full intent of keeping me on the right road to my destiny. That’s why I love her so much and that’s why she’ll always have a place in my heart and my life.

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