Monday, September 29, 2008

Its soccer season again...

We are three games into the Middle School Soccer season at the Christian Academy in Japan. Our son, J-n (#31), is once again playing on the "B" team.

The first two games were rough--they lost the second one 1-14... It was especially hard because they were undefeated last year. They have a new coach, lots of new kids, and needed a bit more time to begin to work together as a team.
Our son is on the far right back row.

Originally they were going to have to go to Yokohama for their game this past weekend, but the location was changed to their school. It made a difference of getting up before 5 a.m. on a Saturday--he could leave the house at 9 a.m. instead. This past week the team played very well. They were short a few players, and our son was playing even though he had missed school on Friday with a cold (and is home on Monday with the tail end of it). Stan said J-n did very well with some Tylenol in his system! I was actually surprised at his team loyalty considering what they had experienced the last two weeks.

He ended up doing a lot of "throw-ins" on Saturday's game. They won 4-1! Their spirits were lifted.

By the way--notice the soccer field. We have a friend who was amazed when his family moved to the US to discover soccer is played on grass...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Social Networking...

I read this interesting article about online social networks in Japan. Everywhere we go we see people interacting virtually with others...the cell phone is the link to one's community. But it is interesting how some Japanese are freer to express themselves in an English-based context than in Japanese.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Watching God connect the dots--Celebrating the Wheelchairs of Hope becoming an NPO

Yesterday we went to the "Celebration of Hope" for Wheelchairs of Hope, a mercy ministry that collects, refurbishes and ships wheelchairs to other countries in Asia as an outreach of the church in Japan.

Stan has been working with them over the past three years, doing some network-building and getting in there on cleaning days to clean these used wheelchairs.

WOH is led by a missionary with World Venture, Mary Esther Penner, whose son is disabled. They raised him in Japan where they were able to be a part of the socialized medical program--which provided custom made wheelchairs for their son every four years.

Often the outgrown chairs are discarded, and seeing the potential to affect people who lived in places where they could not afford wheelchairs, a ministry was born. According to the World Health Organization, 20 million people worldwide need wheelchairs. For many parts of Asia, wheelchairs may cost more than a full year's salary... Meanwhile, here in Japan, wheelchair rental companies replace their chairs frequently and have to pay to throw the chairs away...

The full story of Wheelchairs of Hope is at .

At the gathering was a young man who had been on a sports ambassador's type of ministry team. He had a business trip to Thailand last year, and offered to take a wheelchair with him to a group that works in with disabled people in Chiang Mai. While there, the Lord touched his heart with the burden to work there with the disabled, in a sports training program. He shared his story, as did a pastor of a large church who had taken chairs to the Philippines.

We also had two pastors of deaf churches share about their congregations' involvement in cleaning and carrying chairs. This pastor talked about taking chairs to C hina.

While there, the whole process of how a chair goes from being picked up to being delivered in the other country was illustrated through a power point presentation. Nearly everyone in the room had been involved at some step along the way, but many had not seen the whole process. Most chairs require significant cleaning when they are received. Sometimes repair is needed. Once cleaned and ready, they are wrapped or boxed, and then stored until someone is ready to take them to another country as part of their checked baggage, or until a shipping container is being filled.

The pastor of the church where this dinner was held had taken a couple of chairs to the Philippines earlier. He didn't know much about what went into getting the chairs ready. And when he heard that there were recently 20 chairs donated, but no place to store them, he began to connect the dots... (or was it his wife's jabbing elbow?) This church has a large facility, and one sizable section of one floor is totally unused... a place to store chairs? Looks like it!

Our role as a part of the society...

We went to a local steak restaurant last night--and I couldn't help but snap a picture of the text on the front of the menu.

Coming back soon as we leave wasn't in the budget.

I also found it interesting that this was their role as a part of society... I am not sure why.

However, I have recently been pondering the role of society in the life of people in Japan--Or actually, the level of responsibility that is put on society for decisions made by individuals. When a mother kills her child, the question is where did we (as a society) go wrong. When there are random killings by young men going through crowds with knives, the question is where did we (as a society) go wrong.

On a more personal level, though, I have been pondering the statement I've heard from several counselors who work with missionaries to Japan that say they see so many more family issues among "us" than among missionaries to other fields. I have put the question to several groups over the last few months..."why would this be?" More than one person has mentioned that they think it is because we have picked up a lot of cultural expectations that are very hard for us to actually live up to.

My comments here are not scientifically please don't go quoting me! But I want to give a personal illustration. My child-rearing years were all in Japan. I learned that it was "my role as part of the society" for my child to thrive, be healthy, succeed. Of course parents are responsible and important--but at what point did it become unreasonable? Children get sick. Was it my fault? Children have individual natures. Was it my fault that more than one was a strong-willed child? Children learn at different paces. Was it my fault that more than one wasn't a strong reader by the beginning of first grade? Whether the Japanese society really meant to put that pressure on me or not, I frequently felt like a failure because I didn't measure up.

I will continue to ponder the question about missionaries to Japan and their family challenges--"my role" as the Member Care Committee Chairperson for the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association gives me license to ponder and ask...

Saturday, September 20, 2008 our apartment

I first started blogging about three years ago, when we moved into our apartment after a nearly five month search for a house in the Tokorozawa area. At that time we had five people living in this 900 square foot 3-bedroom apartment. We thought it would be temporary, but after the six-month mark, when no suitable houses came on the market, we grew a bit discouraged. At the one-year point, I started looking for housing again...and at the two year point when I was helping another family find a place, I looked again... But here we stayed.

The apartment worked because Stan and I took the "tatami" room that is attached to the living room. In most situations this would be considered an extension of the living room, and might be used for a guest room, but not usually a bedroom, i.e. it wasn't very private. It was also an inside room without windows. Our daughter had a small room and the boys a very large (relatively) triangular shaped room which proved spacious enough for the massive Lego explosions that would take place regularly.

Over the past year, the lack of privacy has started to wear on us both. In addition, I didn't have a quiet place to go to get away--and I have a low threshold for tension or violence in movies, TV, and video games--and would at times feel trapped in my own house. I have tried to take to heart the teaching in 1 Timothy 6:6

But godliness with contentment is great gain.

So, when our daughter got ready for college, she packed up the rest of her belongings (which weren't really that many--MK's live light) and we took them out to our storage space. Then we started a massive "moving" effort which took us out of the tatami room , took the boys out of the big room, put us in the big room (I am writing from "my own little corner in my own little chair" right next to a window), put them in the smallest room on bunks, and set up the tatami as a guest room/living room extension. The first big pass was on Monday (a school holiday)--and we've done smaller projects since then. Today we moved Stan's desk out of the living room and into our room. We moved the boys chest of drawers into the guest room. We are doing this amidst a regular schedule of work and ministry.

We still have several large storage bins of Lego's to find a place to store (their owners have selected certain ones to have in their room, but we must have nearly $1,000 worth of Lego's which no longer find favor with them). The boys are adapting to smaller space--and spend time in the living room or the guest room when they need more room to stretch out. If you look at the outside, its starting to look pretty hopeful. We still have clothes in two rooms, and the next phase of this move will be tearing apart the closets.

In many ways this is a great time to do this. If we're packing up in 8 months, we might as well sort through our belongings now--how much paper accumulates, clothes that haven't been worn for years, blanket and sheet sets for more beds than we have, and bags of things I forgot to get out for the semi-annual "thrift sale" at the kids' school, and then there's just "stuff".

It feels like chaos each time we get started on another phase of the project, but I AM feeling more hopeful -- and I am very grateful for a bright, spacious, private room.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Twenty Five Years and counting

Today, September 10, is our Twenty-Fifth Wedding Anniversary. We were married in the old College Church sanctuary, in Wheaton, Illinois.

It was the hottest day of the year, and there was no air make it worse, I put our bridesmaids in long sleeve taffeta! I hope they've forgiven me. The groomsmen were in full tuxes, as well, for a formal afternoon wedding. In spite of that, we had a great time--and enjoyed going through photos of the event again today.

For years after our wedding, I thought we hadn't changed too much! But then, something happened...

Today, two silver-haired people sat across the table from each other for lunch at El Torito's restaurant in Shinjuku, Tokyo...

We ordered the lunch special--no this is NOT the diet plate. This is a normal portion for a Japanese restaurant.

It was good, and we left "mostly full." So, we decided to stop by the Krispy Kreme donut shop which is a short walk away.

Stan got into the queue while I snapped the photo of the Disney-like crowd management arrangement. The sign tells us its about a 10 minute wait. We've talked with people who have waited over an hour to get up to the door! While we waited, a staff person brought out fresh donuts and handed one to each of us. It was good, sweet, and we probably should have taken our cue at that point...but when we got in we bought a few more donuts, coffee, and a box to bring home. The coffee was not too pleasant, and the sweetness of the donuts started to overpower us. Still, we were making memories, and that was fun.

We wandered through Tokyu Hands--a store full of interesting things--bought a couple of small gifts to send to our girls, and then headed back toward Shinjuku station. We made great connections getting home, and were back before the boys returned from school.

I was looking through china at my parents' home a few weeks ago, and saw a tea cup with "25th" in silver. I didn't find a bowl that had been my grandparents' 25th anniversary gift...but I remembered looking at it as a young girl. I recall that we had a 25th reception for our folks--I was out of college and working. (I think Mom was quite involved in putting it all together!) Life for us is sure different than for our families...but we wouldn't trade what we're doing.

The first time Stan ever spoke to me at any length, he talked almost exclusively about Japan. Our call to ministry whether in Japan or, at some point, elsewhere will continue to be an integral part of our relationship. We are at an interesting jucture in our lives, with the girls in the US and the boys becoming more independent. While not empty nesters yet, we know we need to make sure that our relationship as a couple is a priority.

Wonder what the next twenty five years will hold!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The gift of family...

The day after I dropped our girls at Vanguard for their orientation program, my sister and I flew from Southern California to Tennessee to visit our dad. I had been able to arrange a great deal on some American Airline tickets that had a change of planes in Dallas--and made the layover long enough to connect up with our brother and his family that lives in the Dallas area.

We headed out to a Chili's restaurant just off the airport, and had a great Sunday lunch together. It was fun to catch up with cousins, as well as Brent and April. My sister (in the photo above)spends time with them at major holidays, and we look enough alike that the youngest was a bit confused with who I was.

One of the great costs of missionary life is that we don't get to build relationships with the extended family as easily as if we were nearby. My children have never met this little girl and have only seen this young man once...although we now get to talk via video Skype, which helps.

After the extended lunch, Joyce and I headed back to the airport and flew into Nashville. It was great to see dad again.

Dad wanted to take us around to familiar sites when our family lived in Nashville ( 1971-1975). He and our mom moved back there about 18 years ago. Dad has been widowed for 10 years this coming November. It was good to see how he is doing--loving God, taking care of himself, redecorating his house, encouraging others, and enjoying his cat, Sarah. We got his wireless Internet connection set up, visited with family friends, cousins who live nearby and even gave some additional decorating suggestions! We pulled a painting* out of the attic and made him put it back up on the wall--because it was important to the two of us--it said "home."

I am grateful we could make this four-day trip. It had been nearly two years since I saw dad last, and 18 months since I saw Brent and his family. Joyce's place is one of my "crash pads" when I fly into LA, which happens at least once a year--but we had more time to talk this visit than we've had in a long time.

*The painting is of a branch of a cashew tree, with the fruit of the cashew hanging off of it. It was one of several paintings that came from Brazil, where our parents served as missionaries, and it ALWAYS hung in the house. We actually moved another painting from the same set back over the hearth where it BELONGED and put the cashew painting in its place. ;)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Launching a daughter

Tonight I had a Subway Sandwich with my daughter while sitting at Balboa Beach. It was our final meal together before we said goodbye--I fly out on Tuesday. I am so grateful for a couple of special financial gifts that made it possible for me to be here with her. This has been a good week of watching her make gradual adjustments to a new life as a college student. Both of us have said that we sense God clearly has placed her in a place where we think she can grow and flourish. So as much as it was hard to say goodbye as I drove away from the campus a little while later, it was with the assurance that God has some good things in store.

One of the first blessings was --
that A was cast for the part of Mary Bennet in Pride and Prejudice! I wasn't quite sure how much to encourage her as a freshman Musical Theatre major to audition--but she chose to try it. On an anxious phone call to me right before leaving for the audition, we prayed after which she went in to a very comfortable audition. She was called back to audition for two productions, and this morning found her name on the listing for Pride and Prejudice. The performances will be October 31-November 9.

A spent a year in this area in 9th grade, and this weekend we were able to visit at the church we attended. She saw many friends, including a woman who was a high school girls mentor. While there, we mentioned that A would like a bicycle to be able to get off campus since she doesn't drive. Before we left the church that morning, the "network" was working to get a bike. It will be brought down to her in a few days. As we visited with various people, she gathered phone numbers and e-mails and was invited to contact these people whenever she needed/wanted to get away. It did my heart good to see other people's love for my daughter.

One special treat was being able to have dinner with dear friends from my Wheaton College days who live not far from where A attends college. We had a blast, and they have offered to get together once a month for a meal. They have a number of relationships with people at Vanguard, and so that was another nice connector. In fact, one of the students they had suggested A contact is in a lead role in Pride and Prejudice!

So as I head back to Japan, I leave with a grateful heart. The launch has been good. And there are people who care nearby. But most of all, God has His hand on her life.

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