Friday, July 31, 2009

Debriefing and Renewal

We just finished a six-day "Debriefing and Renewal" (DAR) time at a retreat center in Monument, Colorado. This was sponsored by Missionary Training International (MTI). It gave us some time to review the previous term and prepare our hearts as we look to the future.

The 12 families were split into two groups. Ours was led by Scott Shaum and his wife, Beth. Scott was our speaker at the Asian Access March retreat earlier this year, and we appreciated being able to debrief with someone who already knows some of our history. We have had four other Asian Access families attend DAR sessions earlier this summer--and Scott and Beth facilitated some of those groups, as well.

Some of our fellow group members have spent years in central or southeast Asia--and two families were making significant field changes after spending 7-9 years in their current location. Others had shorter mission experiences, and some were returning to the States to seek God's direction for the next step.

We were the only missionaries with over 20 years of experience. It still blindsides us when we are referred to as the "senior" missionaries!

While we really appreciated the times of group debriefing, individual times with Scott facilitating, and a relaxed schedule to reflect and respond to what we were learning, we also were exceptionally grateful for the concurrent children's program. There were 8 teenagers, who went through age-level discussions on the same topics we discussed. While our boys haven't talked much to us about it, we did meet with their teachers and got a bit of insight into how they were responding.

Last night we slipped away from the retreat center and met a friend at "Rosie's Diner" for dinner. Lisa was one of the members of Stan's Bible Study in New York (many years ago) for 30 some flight attendants! As he says, "somebody had to do it!" It was good to catch up with her.

And now we're on to the next stage--settling in. We are to move into our apartment on Route 66 tomorrow! We're so ready to get out of suitcases!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fun in Colorado

We've made it to Colorado where later today we begin a week of "Debriefing and Renewal" at Mission Training International. We're looking forward to this time of being able to "process" some of our experiences this past term with people who understand the various issues that missionaries encounter.

Before this time, however, we had three days where we were able to visit with a few friends in the area. We flew into Colorado Springs Thursday evening, and headed to a restaurant to visit with friends we haven't seen since the mid-90's.

It was great to catch up with Linda and Ted. And while we're all a little grayer, it was one of those natural and delightful conversations that feels like we've been together frequently. They have so much ministry wisdom, and we were excited to hear that they'll be spending some time near us in Southern California later this year. (Unfortunately the camera wasn't on the right setting for this photo.)

On Friday we went to visit my cousin and her husband. They have been in the Denver area for around 11 years and still have an awe for the natural beauty around Colorado. They took us that evening to the Red Rocks amphitheater. I think anyone who has ever performed in music would love to have been on the stage to try it out!

The next day they took us to Mount Evans --the highest paved road in North America. They made sure we stayed hydrated since we were climbing up to 14264 feet by the time we got to the top.

Here we are at Summit Lake just before we made the final ascent.

The parking lot stops at 14000 feet, and we had to walk the rest of the way to the top. We went slowly and stopped to catch our breath numerous times, but we made it! "On a clear day" you can get a 360 degree view of the area. It must be awesome. There were times where the clouds would clear in a direction enough to catch a glimpse, but then we watched the clouds come up the slope from Summit Lake faster than a speeding train--and soon we were engulfed in them.

Here's our group up on top of the mountain.

Then the fog set in. Stan and Dan are walking down the path...just before it started raining a little and then...hailing...and then we started hearing the thunder. What a variety of experiences! The rangers called every one down off the summit.

I couldn't help but stop on my way down to get a photo of these tundra flowers surrounded by the hail.

As we drove down the mountain taking hairpin turns on what looked like ice I was so glad that Bev and Dan grew up in Minnesota!

We got back in pouring rain--and dried off enough to head out to dinner with another couple who have been friends and supporters for many years. As we went to leave the restaurant the sky opened up once again, and we ended up wading through ankle deep water to get to our cars.

Certainly we have some great memories from this time in Colorado!

A few days in Boston and Cape Cod

We spent a couple of days as tourists in Boston from July 16-17. We booked a hotel in Braintree for those nights to give us a little "family time." I've grown fond of! We had a great suite for $50/night.

Since we were accompanied by two teenage boys who are in a "whatever" frame of mind, we looked for things that might possibly be adventuresome to them.

On Thursday we went and took a "Duck Tour" of the city. This 90 minute tour was a lot of fun and whet Stan and my appetite for the time when we can do a walking tour together.

Our tour guide pointed out the huge number of Dunkin Donut shops throughout the city--but this one caught our eye--it is a combination Donut and Sushi shop!
I'll have a sugar glaze with wasabi please!

The second day we took the metro subway into the city. This was our boys' first experience on US commuter trains. Our tourist locations for the day was the Bunker Hill monument and the US Constitution shipyard. The men made it to the top--J.n doing laps back and forth to the top to see how his dad was doing on the walk up.

The Constitution is undergoing refurbishing, so we opted to go on the Destroyer (okay, I don't remember the name--that's for the guys to remember) that was open to the public. We got in on the hour tour where 13 of us squeezed into the bridge, various quarters, etc. It was interesting, and I now know why they call their sleeping quarters "the rack."

I took my turn trying out the machine gun (much to the embarrassment of a two teenagers).

We headed back by train and enjoyed our second night in a hotel in Braintree. The next day, after a lazy start, we headed out to the Cape to visit with Stan's brother and family. It was great to see them again. Stan had been back recently, but I hadn't seen them for a while--though I've discovered that our frequent skype calls have really helped close the distance.

We went to the Bourne Braves baseball game--part of the Cape Baseball league. It was a beautiful night, but not a good game for the home team... BUT, the hamburgers and hot dogs were great! Here are Marian, Stan and Ed pondering the poor playing.

We had a nice time later that evening catching up with our niece and one nephew as well. Here are three lovely De La Cour women enjoying one another's company!

Then it was time to go back to Rhode Island. We got the guys lined up and thanks to our nephew's urging, we actually got smiles out of the two young men.

We are grateful for this little time away alone and with family before we had another weekend of ministry.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Life on both coasts

We have been back in the US for two weeks--in many ways it seems longer but the calendar tells us that's the way it is! We spent 10 days in California, where we enjoyed the warm dry days and cool breezes at night. We found an apartment that we'll move into when we return there the end of this month.

Our first Sunday back, we went to a restaurant off Route 66 called "Legends" with a group from Cornerstone Bible Church. We noticed a group of folks with those orange cones blocking parking spaces when we first arrived. As we were leaving, we discovered that the first Sunday afternoon of every month all these restored cars fill the parking lot. It is amazing what all they had there! Our boys, who have an interest in cars, enjoyed looking at some of them. We'll have to do this again sometime.

We're only about 45 minutes from the Pacific--and my (Faith's) sister had her birthday party at Balboa Beach on Friday. We could get used to this! The waves were a bit higher and stronger than at the little beach in Japan where we spend our summer vacation.

On the way home from the beach, we marveled at the beautiful sunset. Unless you enlarge this photo, you would miss the advertisement for the "tattoo expo" on the right side.

By the way, people ask us what we've noticed is different now that we're back. Definitely "tattoos" -- excessive amounts of tattoos -- ranks up there as number 1.

On Saturday we flew from the West Coast to the East Coast, where we've spoken at one church and will speak at two more over the next week. We are in Stan's home area of Rhode Island, and have been able to do some reminiscing as we drive around. Our family (of 4) spent 1994-1995 here on home assignment, and we are staying near that neighborhood. The other night Stan and I walked over to the "Lincoln Creamery" for some great ice cream--like we used to do with two little girls.

Yesterday we went to the Rhode Island Veteran's Cemetery, where we visited Stan's parents' graves. It was the first time since his mom's death in March. J-ph is helping to clean the stone. It was a moving time for Stan.

After spending time there, we drove on, over the bridge to Jamestown and eventually to Newport. (So we've been to both Newport, RI and Newport Beach, CA within a week!)

We stopped at a State Park and Stan and I walked down along the coast. It was a beautiful day, and we fully enjoyed the time together.

We are discovering how tired we are. Although I had envisioned being more "sociable" I think we've needed some down time. We plan on doing a little touristy stuff in Boston the end of this week before we go to visit Stan's brother on Cape Cod.

Monday, July 06, 2009

So, what is God trying to point out to us?

When we hear a message presented multiple ways in a short period of time, we realize that maybe God is trying to get our attention. Even though we've been in the States for less than a week, there is a theme that seems to be cropping up.

In brief, we believe we're being told to be content and live simply.

The context is that we've just put all our worldly goods in storage. We thought we had a lot of stuff until we started taking evening strolls here in California and seeing what people have stuffed in garages that are larger than our storage space in Japan. Perspective...

We have also pondered whether or not this is the year to "invest" in a home for rental/investment purposes. We've talked with a few friends in the business. Now that we're back, we're stunned at the number of "for sale" signs we see and decent homes that are obviously not inhabited. But at the same time we're hearing people share the challenges they've experienced being over-extended financially. Caution...

Then we heard sermons at two churches yesterday on
~ the tenth commandment--do not covet your neighbor's house, et al.
~ the seed that fell on thorny soil, that took root but was choked out by the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things (Mark 4) Exhortation...

We have a unique opportunity to look at these lessons and consider how we "do life" since we've temporarily relocated to the States for a 12-month period. Pray for us as we look to God's guidance in how we apply these to our own personal situation. Teachability...

At the same time, we've returned to the States needing to raise fairly substantial financial support for the next four-year term in Japan. Faith...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

What a month!

We have a notebook with day-by-day instructions we followed for the past three weeks as we closed up our apartment, and made preparations to relocate to the US for one year. Life was so full, I missed out on blogging, and didn't often have my camera with me to catch those special moments...

Moving is never easy, and doing what we had to do--cull out the things we were taking to the States from things we were storing for a year--was a little extra challenging. We were able to get our "to America" things into our 8 check-in bags, plus the 4 carry on pieces.

The rest of our belongings were packed and moved by professionals--definitely the way to go! While we were tired through this process, we probably wouldn't have survived doing it all ourselves. All our belongings are stored for the year in a second floor warehouse--high and dry.

We went back to the apartment for the final clean up on the 18th and I was there for the walk through with one of the rental agents on the 19th. It was so strange to walk through those empty and now hollow sounding rooms. The smell of the place was even different since the tatami (straw mat) flooring in one room was noticeable again. The walk-through was pleasantly uneventful (five years ago, the walk through with the landlady of the house we had lived in the previous 10 years was the worst experience of my life!)

That same afternoon, Stan closed things up at the city offices and tax office. By 5 p.m. we felt like a major load had lifted and we were released. We had a great farewell Sunday with our friends at ICCS, and then loaded up our van and headed up to the Sendai area to go to our cabin for a few days.

Our resident pyrotecs had fun playing with fire, and one of them began making his own fireworks. Other than that, they really missed having others to hang out with.

But for us, it was a joy to return to a place that has become very dear to us over the past 10 years. It is our refuge, and for me, the only place I feel "at home." We have people renting the cabin this summer, and we enjoyed opening and cleaning it for them. On Sunday afternoon, the 28th, we closed it, snapped the parting photo, and drove back down to Tokyo. The trip that normally takes 5 hours took nearly 9 because of traffic. Japan recently instituted a discount toll on Saturdays and Sundays in order to stimulate the economy--so everyone was heading back to Tokyo...

Monday we stopped in to see our Doctor for the last time before leaving and got two months of medicines (on our National Health Insurance). We spent time at the office wrapping up a few projects--including the final packing and balancing of our 8 pieces of luggage. We managed to avoid overweight charges on all bags! (one bag was slightly over the limit, and the agent just shrugged and sent it on).

Tuesday morning (our first of two this week) Stan picked up a one-way rental van and our 8 pieces of luggage from the office, came to the guest house and loaded the carry-ons, and then we headed to Narita. We made great time, and even had a chance to chat with our friend June W. who came out to see us off. The flight was on time, full, and uneventful.

When we arrived in LA (our second Tuesday morning), we were met by a friend in the van we'll be driving for this year. We looked at an apartment that we've been in discussions about renting, then headed to our friends to rest and meet up with our daughters. All six of us had dinner at Acapulco Restaurant in Azusa--right across the street from our first apartment after we were married nearly 26 years ago!

Our oldest makes a face while her brothers are less than enthusiastic about the "photo op."

Even though we were dealing with jet lag, it was special to sit around the table with the girls, hearing one's adventures in Hollywood and the other's stories of jazz dance class this summer and updates on her friends from college.

There are many more decisions to be made these next days. We think we've got the apartment question settled. Family gatherings begin next week, when we get together several times with my sister, my dad and his special friend. And then we head off to Rhode Island on the 11th.