Sunday, February 18, 2007

Doctors' visits...

For the past month or so we have been in and out of doctors' offices for coughs, head colds, sprained fingers, and sore throats. Several of the family have developed a cough that seems to trigger some sort of reflex reaction in their airway that causes them to be left without breath for a bit. Its been a bit frightening to watch, but more frightening to experience. Our family doctor has been working with various medicines trying to help them get beyond this. While they are better than they were, they are still not well.

As I was collecting our medical receipts to see if we had enough to deduct on our Japanese taxes, I thought you might be interested in knowing what a trip to the doctor entails. We are on the Japanese National Health Insurance plan, which means that we only pay 30% of our doctors' visits and prescriptions. When we go to our local doctor, we bring our insurance card, and a clinic card with our name and chart number on it, turn that in, sign up on a list, and then go wait.

Most clinics take people in the order they sign in--not that many places actually take appointments. A quick glance around the waiting room and we begin estimating how long this visit is going to take! Usually a patient is called from the large waiting room, to a smaller queue closer to the Doctor's office, until its their turn. There is a definite assembly line feel to the experience!

The actual doctor's office usually is open on the far side to a corridor between other consultation rooms, etc. Nurses move back and forth back there, and occasionally other staff come by, too. I took Anna to an orthopedic doctor two weeks ago, where the whole consultation room was surrounded only by curtains, so anyone waiting in that "inner queue" could hear your health issue. At the Ear, Nose, Throat doctor, the inner queue is just around the corner from the doctor's desk and patient chair, so we can hear whatever procedures are being done on the person ahead of us (usually a child crying intently).

Each doctor's office tends to have its own x-ray and sonogram equipment. One x-ray of the lungs last week gave the good news that in spite of this hideous cough, Stan's lungs were clear. An x-ray of Anna's finger assured us that it was a sprain, not a break. On a recent visit to the gynecologist, an internal sonogram gave me a clean bill of health. Use of this specialized equipment doesn't significantly increase the cost of the visit. We can leave having paid around $15-$20 for one of these visits...and if we return within the month for a follow up of the original illness, it is only around $7 per visit. If we have blood tests, the bill can get up to $30 or so...all inclusive of doctor's visit and lab work. All of this is paid in cash at the desk when your visit is complete.

We usually take our prescription forms to the nearby pharmacy affiliated with that particular doctor. We are given the medicine, a written description (which they go through with us item by item), and then a summary to put into our Prescription Record Book. Theoretically (that is, if we remember to bring them) they can see all the medicines we are taking and refer to other prescriptions as they explain our current prescription. And again, we leave having paid around $15 to $20. The notable exception to this appears to be our Lipitor prescriptions where we are paying $75-$150 for two month prescriptions...

Two weeks ago I did something new. The Ear, Nose and Throat doctor now has computerized check-in. I went to a website, input our name and the chart number, and found out where on that sign in chart our name appeared. It told how many people were in front of us, and how long they estimated it would be before our name came up. So we kept refreshing the web page, and when it looked like we were within 10 minutes of being called, hopped into the car and headed over there. It was great! Rather than sitting in that busy waiting room full of people with coughs and sniffles for over an hour, we were soon called in to see the doctor.

One of the challenges of the system here is that each doctor tends to be pretty specialized. Our "family doctor" has a specialty in internal medicine. We have to find specialists in every other issue that comes up. He has been helpful in referring us--which involves writing a letter of introduction to a doctor at another clinic. When we go to the second clinic we bring this sealed letter of referral with us. At some major teaching hospital clinics, if you don't have a referral letter, they charge you an extra fee for your first visit.

There are some specialties that are hard to find here. I do have a phone number of an English medical referral center in Tokyo, where they try to assist foreigners in finding specialists who speak English. I've gotten their help in a couple of situations in the past. And I've been dissatisfied with some of the specialists I've dealt with... But over all, we are grateful for the care we receive.

I was totalling up our medical expenses for our Japanese taxes, and last year we spent around $800 all together (not including about that much for an injury to Anna's finger that was covered by the school accident insurance). This was for five people (actually six, because the oldest one had to see our doctor for a cold when she was here at Christmas) including doctors' visits, lab work, x-rays, and prescriptions.

It wasn't enough to use as a deduction on the taxes...


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Igniting the power!

We were blessed when one of our Norwegian brother’s led the worship service last week. He decided to use hymns – good old fashioned robust hymns that I grew up singing on Sunday evenings. The hymns focused us on God’s grace, on God’s faithfulness, on God’s staying power in the midst of hard times.

As I looked around the congregation I saw the message of the hymns reaching deep into the souls of people. There is the recovering alcoholic who has come to the Lord recently and whose spouse reluctantly came along to church a couple of months ago—but now has rescheduled travel plans to be at church. One was there who, four months after being married, found out the spouse had been living an immoral lifestyle for years. There were parents who are concerned about their children, others struggling to manage two jobs, several who are preparing to leave the country and relocate, some literally trying to survive in a work culture that values overtime to the extreme. To many of them, these hymns were new—to most of us, these hymns were like salve, touching our wounds, reminding us of how God works, and how we are blessed if we persevere in our walk with Him. We were reminded of the fact that heaven waits, and that while we have troubles, it is well with our soul.

Today after ALPHA, some of the ladies were talking about Sunday’s service. They mentioned how wonderful the time had been. Then one mentioned how much she enjoys having different people lead. Each one brings their own “flavor” to the worship time, and it is good.

I was reading in the newest copy of The Leadership Journal tonight and a comment caught my eye “I’m unlearning…the American church’s traditional focus on super-star pastor, worship leader, educator and shepherd, which serves mainly to attract spectators rather than igniting the power of everyone else.” Leadership Journal, Winter, 2007 Page 31

One of the ladies had commented that our church had come to a point where everyone had a chance to contribute. She said that we had a wonderful couple that led the worship for us for years. When they left we were left with a big hole. Another man stepped up to try to fill it afterward, but he left for a few months, and since then people have taken turns to fill those roles.

This is igniting the power of everyone else! Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Sharing in that Rest...

Saturday Anna participated in a Drama Festival held for International Schools in the Tokyo area. The host school is 2 1/2 hours from our home, so she spent the night at a friend's home closer to the center of Tokyo, and then went early in the morning to meet up with her Drama troupe from CAJ.

I traveled that 2 1/2 hours in the afternoon to see their performances at 3 pm. On the way home, we again did that 2 1/2 hour trek--on four different trains. The third of four trains we were able to get seats across from one another, though I couldn't see her because of the crowd. As we stopped at various stations along the way, I finally was able to get a good view of her. This is what I saw... She's the one on the right with the pony tail. No, we don't know the girl on the left, but she seems equally as tired. I debated calling her cell phone to wake her up (its the blue object in her hand), but did the mother thing and gently touched her about 30 seconds before we needed to get off the train.

Santa came back...

A man came to our door on Thursday afternoon, and embarrassingly introduced himself as the one who had come mistakenly to our apartment in December as Santa Claus. (If you missed that story, go back through our December postings!) He said he and his wife wanted to become friends, and invited us to his place on Sunday afternoon.

We were planning on the whole family going over there, but the kids are fighting colds with some fatigue so we left them home to rest up. Stan and I went for a visit to their apartment--about a 10 minute walk from our place.

The first thing we noticed when we walked into their living room was the large butsudan in the corner (on the left of this photo). Through the course of our visit we learned that they are members of a large Buddhist sect and were pleased to tell us how we all generally believe in the same thing. (We trust God will correct that thinking later!) Mr O is one of the neighborhood association leaders for the government owned apartment complex we live in. He has seen our kids on the way to the station from time to time, and knew what color and style van we drove. Mrs O has lived in this community for a very long time, and knows much of the history of the area.

We had a delightful visit, all in Japanese. It was fun to do this--its been a while since we've had a time to visit someone outside our "official" roles. We left them with a copy of the "Power for Living" booklet--a campaign is currently under way here in Japan with those. We trust that God will use His Word, and the written testimonies in the booklet to open their heart.

We brought a photo of our kids, and in the background is a Japanese verse in calligraphy--that talked about going and making disciples of all nations. I heard Mrs. O tell her husband that described why we had come to Japan. Our prayer is that God will allow this friendship to grow in a way that will reflect His glory and draw them out of darkness into His eternal light.

Some speculation on our part--Mrs. O probably speaks some English--she certainly had a good command of English vocabulary. She may have even had some Christian exposure in the past--to recognize the meaning of the verse so quickly was impressive. Often there are layers of previous exposure that only become visible with time! Pray for this new friendship.

Oh, and they had not only come to the wrong apartment--they were in the wrong building when they came wishing us Merry Christmas!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Who do you turn to for protection?

On one of the borders of our apartment complex is this statue. This is a Jizo. Here is one description of the Jizo that I found:
Along many country roads in Japan, you may come across small stone statues of a gently smiling bodhisattva (bosatsu in Japanese). Often the statue is wearing a red bib and sometimes a bonnet. It may be standing in a little hut or standing free. These statues are also found in temples. This is Jizo, or more politely, Ojizo-san.

Jizo has come to be seen as the protector of the people, and over the ages, different Jizo have been attributed with rescuing people from fire and other hardships. A well-known folk tale is Kasa-jizo in which six stone Jizos come to life one New Year’s Eve and reward an elderly couple who have no rice by giving them food after the old man gives up his last possessions to keep the statues free from the snow. The origin of Jizo as a protector of the people lies in the belief that the bosatsu Jizo was entrusted with the task of saving the people after the death of Buddha until the second Buddha’s arrival.

However, it is as the guardian of the souls of deceased children that Jizo is most associated nowadays. Indeed, another name for Jizo is Ko-sodate Jizo, which translates as ‘the Jizo who raises children’. The souls of departed children are said to go to the banks of the Sanzu River. There they play by the river, but the children are sometimes disturbed by devils. Jizo arrives to protect the children, who are said to hide in the folds of his cloak.

Someone out there dresses this "local Jizo" with coats in the winter, and a raincoat during the rainy season. In the picture you see the offerings of flowers and fruit. I don't know if folks from the local shrine do this, if the staff of our apartment complex does this, or if there is some Jizo committee out there.

There is a big part of me that has a hard time understanding that people truly trust in this Jizo for protection! But I've seen people teaching their children to bow and pray in front of similar Jizo in other places. Pray that we will see more Japanese come to know that the God who created heaven and earth is the only place that once can find true help and protection!
Psalm 115:1-11
Not to us, O LORD, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.

Why do the nations say,
"Where is their God?"

Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.

But their idols are silver and gold,
made by the hands of men.

They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but they cannot see;

they have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but they cannot smell;

they have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but they cannot walk;
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.

Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

O house of Israel, trust in the LORD—
He is their help and shield.

O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD—
He is their help and shield.

You who fear him, trust in the LORD—
He is their help and shield.

"Home" -- that elusive place

I had a strange experience two weeks ago. I was working at our US office that Friday, when I decided to run out to do some errands and get lunch. On home assignment we lived just down the street from this office so I know the area well. After stopping at the post office, I pulled up to the Albertson's grocery store I used to shop at regularly. As I walked into the store to pick up some lunch, I had an overwhelming feeling in my spirit...
I'm home!

Now, I don't really think that Albertsons in Glendora is my home! I know better than that. But I was stunned at the feeling! In contemplating this the last two weeks, I realize that there is really no place I call home. This isn't that unusual for missionary kids, and I see it not only in my life, but also in my children's lives.

Our daughter in California is still looking for a place to live. She jokes that her car is her home (and in fact she has photos of friends and family tacked up on the visors, etc.). While Japan might sort of seems like home to her, we no longer live in a home she lived in--and there isn't really room for her to be where we live!

I, too, don't have any childhood home to go back to. My parents were missionaries in Brazil, then worked in various places through out the Midwest--the longest we stayed anywhere was about 4 years. Even my grandparents' homes are no longer in the family. I've lived in four places in Japan--but aside from the sense that "I go home after work" to this apartment, it feels so temporary.

When Jesus called His disciples to follow, they always had to leave things behind. I belong to another place--I have another "home" that I have yet to see...but I long for it and when I walk into a familiar location that gives me a glimpse of "home" it isn't really Albertsons I'm attracted to, but a place of peace and comfort. Maybe I'm not supposed to feel at home on this side of heaven.
Philippians 3:20,21
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.

Do you have a place that makes you feel at home?