Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Diary?

Today will be my final entry for my 5-year diary. If I was in Japan, I would have picked up the next one at the local bookstore, having chosen from a variety of them on a table near the checkout counter.  

When I received this 5-year diary as a gift, I knew that the next five years would be momentous. Indeed, I started graduate studies, we experienced the triple disaster in Japan, our oldest daughter was engaged, married and became a parent. Our second daughter graduated from college and has begun her young adult life apart from us. We became the first Asian Access missionaries to move under SIM. We wrapped up our long-time years of service in Japan and moved to the US to begin serving with SIM after our sons graduated from high school. We became home owners, started new positions, went church shopping, cared for our missionaries through the Ebola Crisis, oversaw the growth of one department. Stan piloted a successful conference between the mission and strategic churches. For starters...

If I was in Japan, I would have picked up the next one at the local bookstore. But we're not in Japan, and the local bookstores had racks and racks of journals, but no multi-year diaries. I had seen some online--my favorite way to shop-- but wanted to go touch them, feel them, see if I could be happy with them for five years...  

Walking up to the check out counter, where two youngish clerks were waiting, I asked, "Do you carry diaries?"  The blank stare on their faces took me back. They asked me again what I was looking for. "A diary." Again no recognition. "A book where you write an entry per day." They asked if it was a journal...and then a lightbulb went off for one of them--"with a key?" she asked. This dread of something pink and girly with Dear Diary written on the outside flashed across my mind...

I grew up with a father who kept multi-year diaries for most of his adult life. I think they're still stored in at my sister's house.  His minute writing would fill the entry. Year after year.  We would get calls, or emails (when that was finally invented!) that would inform us that "10-years ago you did this or that" sometimes being something that I didn't exactly want remembered. I do that to my kids and husband now... 

Since I'm not in Japan, I had to go back to my online shopping options. Sadly, there weren't as many to choose from as I would have hoped, but here is what I have decided to make work!   Yes, it says its a journal... but its what's inside that counts... and what is inside is room to write a short entry over the next five years...  I have to provide the year in the bubble, but I guess I can do that. Its a decent size--not too small (and no lock!)--and it looks like it will travel well.

So here goes, 2016 - 2020!
What stories will you hold?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Connecting with De La Cour family

Stan and I just returned home from a great one-week visit to the North East. We visited friends on the North Fork of Long Island for a couple of days. Over the weekend we enjoyed time with ministry partners in the Providence, RI area and were grateful to share about our work with SIM USA at Darlington Congregational Church in both small group settings as well as in Sunday School and church.

On Sunday afternoon we drove to Cape Cod to spend a few days with Stan's brother, Ed and his wife, Marian. It is so rare that we have been together--if I worked at it, I probably could count the number of times our two families have actually been together in the years we've been married. Living in two different countries and when in the US, on opposite sides of the country has made it a bit challenging for us to connect as we would like.

Ed is soon to retire from full-time ministry, and we had some good conversations exploring what that might look and feel like for them over dinner last night. We are a few years away from that transition, but have recently done some reading on preparing for retirement, finishing well, encore careers, and such. It is good to begin asking the questions and anticipating decisions that need to be made heading to that season.

I also had fun getting to know our first grand nephew a little bit.  The only photo I have of him from our visit is this one, taken as we took a selfie on our way out the door this morning. Stan happened to be up there when this little man was born a couple of years ago, but this was my first time to meet him. Just a few minutes before this photo, we were able to Facetime with our oldest daughter and her little man--the cousins hadn't seen one another for years, and we got to show off our grandson, too!

We are a small "clan" spread far apart so we are thankful for technology and opportunities to tag personal visits onto other trips.

And...its good to be home.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Early Memories and a Sense of Loss

The theme of grief and loss once again crossed my path as I pondered a blog published on Communicating Across Boundaries at the end of last month.  The writer was reflecting on how some of our TCK memories are intertwined with those from whom we "inherited" our toys as their owners grew up and or left our country. It brought back a vague personal memory from when my parents felt led to leave Brazil that still causes me to ponder.

Prayer Card -- my parents would have been in their mid to late 20's.
When my family left Brazil, I, at nearly 5-years old, had to give away my precious stuffed bear (probably along with many other toys).  I have spent several hours today looking for a photo I know I've seen of me with that bear. By today's stuffed animal standards it was fairly unattractive, but it was mine. I remember we went to an orphanage, where I was coaxed to give the bear to another child. In those foggy early memories, being with all the children was overwhelming to me, and I don't know that I cried or resisted but I'm pretty sure I wasn't doing it from a charitable heart.

After my parents returned to the US, they served as the US administrator for their mission and then my father was a teacher at the Bible School where they met. In both situations they were funded as "faith missionaries" receiving little support. Our finances were extremely tight.  I remember stories of God's provisions when the cupboard was bare. (I had a hard time believing that pot of split pea soup was God's provision, but that's another story...)

One year I received a stuffed toy for Christmas--a turtle I named Myrtle. It was several years later I learned my parents  had "shopped" the missionary barrel for our gifts that year. While I wouldn't have ever chosen a turtle for myself, mangy Myrtle has made it to Japan and back--staying packed in a box most of the while. She's somewhere upstairs in one of our yet-to-be unpacked boxes. She represents my parents' sacrifice and love, and provides one of a few links to my childhood.

I don't feel angry with my parents for the choices they had to make in leaving Brazil--I'm pretty sure they let me bring a dolly with me. (I lost her along the way, but still have some of the hand-made doll clothes that were hers.) But there is a sense of  sadness when I think of these things.

Visiting with my Mom the year she died.
When we were going through my mother's china in the year before her death from breast cancer, I asked her about a demitasse coffee service that she had from Brazil.  She told us that she had to sell the complete set of china that went with it when they left, and this was all she could bring with her.  I think that was the point where I realized that she probably left more of what was precious to her than I did.

When we teach transitions to missionaries and those heading overseas for the first time, one of the concepts we talk about is enabling your children to choose what "treasured possessions" they want to take with them. Space is usually limited--but allowing them to choose what to take in their backpack or box enables them to make the transition easier.

I do hope that the child who received my bear found comfort from him. And kids, if I haven't dealt with her, you don't have to hang onto Myrtle when the time comes to go through our stuff...just saying.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Fifty Years and counting!

Yesterday we honored Liz Howard for her 50 years of service with SIM. She is currently a member of our MK ministry, impacting both our babies and our college age kids. She also grew up in SIM, going to Africa at 6 months old. Liz has fascinating stories of life for MK's in those years. She brings great wisdom and a wonderful, positive outlook on life to our Member Care team. Happy 50 years + from today!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The gift that brought joy (even if it didn't match)

 In April, my daughters gave me my Mother's Day gift in person (an "average" of Mother's Days which is celebrated earlier in the UK and later in the US).  It was a bird feeder made from a cup and saucer.  True confession--the first thing that crossed my mind was that they didn't match. I share some photos from the season with our bird feeder below, and want to let you know that this turned out to be a wonderful gift.

In our first two years in Japan, we lived at a home in the woods, and out our kitchen window we would watch chickadees. After we left there, we didn't watch birds...I've been trying to figure out why.  One reason that come to mind is that we lived in a more urban area, where the most obvious birds were crows...definitely not high on our pleasure list. We had birds at our summer cabin, and would enjoy hearing most of them (the piercing call of the pheasant took some getting used to). So when we came to Charlotte, I was overwhelmed with the sound of birds in our yard. I would be fascinated by the bird orchestra that was performing when I would get up early, take my Bible, diary and that first cup of coffee out to our deck, and just sit and listen.

We went ahead and first hung the bird feeder from the deck to begin with, but soon after bought this shepherd hook that enabled us to put the feeder off the deck yet within reach.  We bought "bird seed" but realized that the birds that were coming were primarily Cardinals, and they were going solely for the sunflower seeds in the mix.

So we went ahead and bought sunflower seeds and only added a little of the other bird seed. We filled the cup with water, and the saucer with the seed. On occasion we would see a squirrel trying to dangle from the hook to the cup, and a few mornings we awoke to the cup flipped over with all the seed on the ground. I actually saw a Mocking Bird go after that squirrel one day!

We ended up spending much of the summer watching the Cardinals--we had a whole family that would come--papa, mama and eventually the baby was introduced to our feeder.  They would sit and chatter on the railing if the feeder was out of seed, too.  Mid-summer they started looking really bad--like they'd been in a fight or were having a bad hair day. I went online to discover that they were molting. As the summer drew to a close, they started looking better. I think they've headed out recently because we have other visitors to our feeder now.

More recently we've had wrens and chickadees hanging out--so we've brought out more of the smaller seed. 

We have two Humming Bird feeders on the deck as well, and one very territorial bird. He started "hiding" on the shepherd hook among the two metal birds, waiting to chase away any other bird that dared to approach "his" feeders.  I've come to the conclusion that all those photos of multiple humming birds feeding from one feeder must be photo-shopped...

As I mentioned at the beginning, I've spent many mornings watching the birds this summer. As it is getting a little cooler (and dark!) in the early morning, I'm already grieving the loss of this respite. 

Thank you, B & A, for the mis-matched cup and saucer. It's been great!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Well, this is different!

When I started this blog nearly nine and a half years ago, it was intended to give people a peek into our lives as missionaries in Japan.  One of our first posts was about the 920 square foot apartment we had moved into after months of searching for a place to call home in 2006.  I snapped photos regularly to use for blog postings, and enjoyed opening the door on our version of cross-cultural life. I never thought that within the decade we would be living in America, with three cars in the driveway!  This past month the Lord provided a vehicle for one of our sons--mind you, he hasn't yet gotten his license, but he's close!

Among the changes in our lives since we've been back in the US is the rhythm of the summer.  As we watched photos of folks vacationing in our favorite place in Japan in July and August, I was balancing the recovery from foot surgery with teaching at SIMGo (our candidate training program) and meeting many missionaries coming through our offices for end of term visits, writing the paper for my graduate class, and helping to plan and lead the SIMReconnect,(our spiritual formation retreat for missionaries on home assignment.) Last week we had SIMStart where applicants come to be evaluated by the mission.  And this looks like a regular schedule for our summers--always with some bonus thrown in (last year was Ebola, this year was a graduate course and foot surgery).  

And now, while our friends both in Japan and the US are sending kids back to school, we see a little bit of open space in the schedule.  We have our eyes on the end of September when we've booked a vacation for just the two of us. But before then...we have a birthday and an anniversary to celebrate and Stan will take part in a Trauma Healing Facilitator Training course to be held at SIM.

Another change we have in being back in the US is that we've been able to have visits from family. This month my sister came to visit from California. It was her first time to see where we live, and she enjoyed our back porch for resting and reading on those days when I needed to be at the office a while.  It was good to have time to sit, talk, brainstorm, reminisce, and we also were able to Facetime with our brother in another state. Unintentionally, Stan flew out of NC hours before my sister flew in, and came back hours after she departed. So, aside from two young men that made themselves rather scarce, it was truly sister time!

We've also had our first foray into Worker's Comp with a son who had  the tip of a finger cut off in a workplace injury...just hours before Stan was to fly to CA.  It isn't pretty, but it could have been much worse, so we are grateful though a little impatient with the process of getting appointments with hand specialists.


I hope to write a few post related to my "grief" study this summer. While I am not going to claim to be an expert, there were some interesting models of grief that I hadn't heard of before and I hope to take some of what was presented in the class and share it in what hopefully will be an easy to read format. A number of people  have asked me for gleanings from the course, and I realize this is a big topic--not only for those of us who serve cross culturally, but it does permeate our lives.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Narrowing down my paper topic

My summer class on Counseling Grief and Loss will be over for me as soon as I complete a Final Integration Paper. This is the part that I wish I didn't have to do -- and yet I really look forward to preparing material that would be useful for our Member Care work at SIM USA.

I am a bit late in getting started--there are a list of reasons, and I have appealed for an extension, but I need to keep working in case I really DO have to turn it in within the next two weeks!

So I'm struggling with narrowing down my topic. There are certainly plenty of issues that missionaries experience that can be looked at through the grid of the Theology of Suffering, a Grief Theory of my choice, taking into account the culture of the missionary population I am studying, and suggesting the implications for grief counseling or missionary care.

The one that I'm particularly interested in is the one that first drew me to the field of Member Care nearly 25 years ago. In my "motivational statement" for pursuing these studies I wrote:
It was the beginning of our second term that I began to notice that many of our language school companions were no longer in the country.  Since then we have said “goodbye” to many fellow missionaries—family issues, frustrations with language, private and public sins, a restlessness caused by lack of visible results, and issues with their sending organizations were some of the reasons they went packing.  
In the terminology of today, I would call this "Premature Departure."  The challenge I am having with this topic is finding materials. Tonight I ran across several from the Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ) but many of them are rather "old" and not overly academic. I do have a few articles that an SIM affiliated physician from Australia gave when I was in Turkey that are quite relevant--and she actually applied two different grief theories to this population. There are a couple of books on my shelf at the office that I need to review for relevant materials as well.

Our personal experience of departure was planned and executed in a systematic and timely manner after a long career.  We frequently see, however,  people coming through our offices who have left the field abruptly and are struggling to process the losses and figure out how to move forward. And if they come back as a family, each one has different responses and reactions. Sometimes they cannot tell their support constituency the reasons for their return. Sometimes they are fearful of what people will think of them. In most cases, their dreams of serving God overseas have been shattered.

If you are a praying person, please pray that I will be able to focus and collect the appropriate materials, process them well, and then be able to write material that will help me to understand and help us to care for our fellow missionaries with compassion and insight.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

On the threshold of Year Three!

Yesterday we marked two years since we arrived in the US bringing to a close our 30 something years of ministry in Japan. Keeping a 5-year diary brings up these kinds of reminders.

In many ways it feels much longer than two years. The work we started here in Charlotte six months after we landed has been especially intense for me, and time has become one major blur between  events and even a few crises which seem to come with regularity.

In the two years we have purchased a home--something I didn't think would ever happen as a missionary.  We have become grandparents--of a sweet young man who lives across the sea. Yet we have seen him three times in person in his short little life and he has discovered how to turn the iPhone off when we're FaceTiming with him. Clever little boy!...   We have visited churches from a wide spectrum in an effort to figure out where we belong--and Stan has been blessed to lead a men's group at the closest church.  We're starting to feel like we have friends, and hope that we won't spend another Thanksgiving just the four of us.

We have also missed friends who are still in Japan. Facebook gives us a glimpse into their lives, and we email or Skype--but its not the same. When events happen over there that were a part of our annual rhythm, we feel sadness and loss. When kids graduated from the High School this past year who were little ones in our church years ago, we wondered where the time had gone.  When the young man, who came into our church years ago telling us he knew he needed to become a Christ-follower, got married and later became the father of a sweet little girl, and is now preparing for a pastorate, we look on as wistful parents from afar.

And there are practical things we miss.  This video has been going through our Japan and Japan-Alumni friends on Facebook this week. And you know what, we really do miss the Japanese bathrooms! 

The last house we were in had this level of technology in the bath--and even today I wish I had a display in the kitchen that would let me know if the hot water was running anywhere in the house--how else can I know if my kids are in the shower? And for those of you not from Japan--can you imagine the freedom of not having to worry about water on the floor?

It was very timely that God enabled us to have people over Sunday evening who are preparing to head to Japan as missionaries. From Charlotte we are impacting the next generation of missionaries who will serve Jesus in Japan! One couple is currently serving with SIM International and hope to do a vision trip to Japan next year. The other three are in our Candidate Training program, SIMGo these next two weeks.

And then yesterday friends who retired from Japan a couple of years ago stopped by the SIM office on their way to the North East where they will serve as an interim in a Japanese church for a few months. This couple has 103 years of missionary service between them!

What a blessing we have--to encourage new missionaries and be blessed by visits from those who have served faithfully many years!

So here we are--at the threshold of year three. In my grief class I am reading about one of the tasks of grief --developing "continuing bonds" with what you have lost so you are able to find a place in your life to keep the memories alive while also moving forward in a healthy way with life. I think that we are doing this. And so we wonder, is this the year to consider a trip back?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

two weeks of increasing awareness

The first day of my "Counseling Grief and Loss" I heard personal stories from three women who had been regularly sexually molested by family members from as young as age 3. This is so far from my own life story, for which I am grateful. But it was an incredible privilege to be entrusted with their stories, to hear how this has affected them throughout their lives and how God is healing them. Is it any wonder that all of them are trained in counseling, one is a victim's advocate and another teaches trauma healing? I took away some important lessons from this time of learning about their stories, their lives, that I will need to apply in my role as Director of Member Care.

I came home Friday evening, and on Tuesday morning headed to Washington, DC with Stan. We took the metro from our hotel to the center of the city--it was great to use a train system again! We enjoyed two days of walking around the nation's capital, visiting historic monuments and museums. Our apps showed that we had walked over 9 miles one day and at least 3 the second. We were able to see the White House from both sides (and watch the changing of the guards up on the roof). It was meaningful to us to visit the World War II memorial (Stan's father served in grave registration in the Pacific), the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Memorial, and also get a selfie in front of the Washington memorial...

We spent the rest of the afternoon in a couple of Museums.  At the Museum of American History, we split up--I enjoyed the First Ladies exhibit, and snapped a photo to send to my daughter, the costumer, wishing she was there to enjoy the styles and fashions with me. Stan went to more "guy-type" war exhibits... We then wandered over to the Museum of Natural History, where we crowded around the Hope Diamond, and then wandered through other exhibits until we ended up in the cafe sharing an ice cream sundae.  The second day we walked around the Capital Building, through the Arboretum, and finished at the Air and Space Museum.

What brought us to DC wasn't sightseeing, but to attend the SIM USA co-sponsored Third Annual National African American Mission Conference. Stan had been at this conference the year before, and my schedule opened up to join him this year.

As we walked into the venue on Thursday afternoon, it was a delight to see and hear a Gospel Choir rehearsing.  If you've followed us over the years, you know how Black Gospel music is being used to share the Good News of Jesus to many Japanese. Both of us have sung in the "Hallelujah Gospel Choir" in the Tokyo area over the years.  I learned later that the director of this choir was a member of the group that went to Japan last year to do outreach in partnership with Asian Access.

Over the three days there were five plenary sessions taught by five speakers. The desire of the conveners of this conference is to mobilize the African American Church to be more intentional and involved in missions--not just short term or local, but long-term internationally.

Leroy Barber, the Global Executive Director of Word Made Flesh, told us that African Americans comprise only 1% of the total number of foreign missionaries sent from our country. Of the 1.4 million registered non-profits in the US, only 15% are led by people of color (10% Black, 4% Latino, 1% Native American and Asian American combined). Those 15% only receive 3% of all the funding that goes to non-profits. He went on to describe numerous challenges that are faced these organizations, many of which come out of our country's history of racism. He described the spill over effects of  financial boards being primarily white, male, upper-class, of fundraising being primarily relational (if they didn't go to a prestigious college--maybe didn't go to college at all--how will they going to tap into this network?).

Barber then brought it down to areas that I am more involved in. We are striving to be a mission that includes people of various ethnic backgrounds but is our training a "white program?"  Do the books we ask candidates to read, the examples we give, the materials we provide for them to facilitate fundraising reflect their own realities?

We also heard from William "Duce" Branch, also known as a rapper,"The Ambassador." He presented a great expository message on Jesus as our model and motivation for missions. At a later session he performed some of his music for us (I'm not the quickest at picking up rap lyrics, but I heard Biblical stories and theology in that music format.)

Over and over we were reminded that one sin our churches are not preaching about and addressing is the sin of racism. Having this a week after the shootings in Charleston made this lesson all the more poignant. The stories we heard increased our awareness of the challenges that are faced by the African American Christian community and those who are called by God to serve as long-term missionaries overseas.

Sometimes I think we've been "ruined" by learning about what life is like for other people! As Stan drove home yesterday, I continued reading out loud from a book that we started on the way up to DC that deals with "encore careers." Stan interjected several times that the advice was written from a white, economically secure perspective...

As we continue to serve with SIM USA, may we continue to grow in awareness and understanding to more effectively connect God's people to God's work in the world!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The bigger story

Shortly after writing my last post, I began reading Jerry Sittser's book, A Grace Revealed--How God Redeems the Story of Your Life.  Having God's work in us presented as a part of the bigger story isn't a new concept for me, so reading this was more affirmative that informative. However, in the context of having written such an intensely personal blog, I was able to again see how what happened 27 years ago was only a chapter in our life story and glimpse how God has redeemed those experiences and memories.

My favorite quote came toward the end of the book:

“Eventually we will live happily ever after, but only when the redemptive story ends, which seems a long way off. In the meantime, you and I are somewhere in the middle of the story, as if stuck in the chaos and messiness of a half-finished home improvement project” (emphasis mine) (Sittser 2012, 260).  

I have never lived through a home improvement project, but when friends talk about kitchen remodeling projects, it truly sounds dreadful!  I think of the days, weeks, months of improvising to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways.  And then one day, its done. Beautiful. Cleaned up. 

I think it helps, at least a bit, to realize that we'll never get our "home-improvement-project-life" finished until our life is done.  What can I offer to people in the midst of the story, struggling to know how to respond to the past and how to formulate their next moves for the future? “I can be certain only of this: though the story will not turn out as I expect and plan, it will be redemptive all the same. (emphasis mine) We might be in the middle of that story, uncertain of what looms ahead; but God rules over the whole thing, which is all that matters” (Sittser 2012, 270).

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Timeline entry: June, 1988

If you read my last post, you know that I am preparing for a Counseling Grief and Loss class, and need to create a summary of significant losses in my life. Thanks to all who suggested a timeline would be better than trying to condense it all into two pages of narrative. Just this story alone will illustrate the futility of that approach!

This week we pass an anniversary of the most pivotal loss that I've experienced. On Thursday it will be 27 years since I gave birth to twin sons at 27-weeks, in the car, on the way to a hospital in Japan that had only one English speaking nurse (who was not on duty that night). One boy lived only a couple of hours, the other one fought on through the night. Not only did the hospital not have a neonatal unit--we found out later they performed abortions to kill babies as old as the ones I held on my lap through the streets of Tokyo. 

There are few photos of me pregnant with the twins--this one was taken in March when we visited
a former English-student in Karuizawa.  Our oldest was just 2 years old.
A few months earlier, I remember the day that the ultrasound showed two little glowing bodies--how the staff surrounded the screen before the nurse told me what was going on. Stan hadn't come with me for that appointment, and I remember stopping at a pay phone (no cell phones in those days!) to call him and tell him. We were ecstatic.

I also remember that when I told the women of our mission there was little response, little joy shared with me.  I'm not sure why--and maybe I don't remember this the way they did, but I have always carried a bit of sadness with this.  My best guess is that parenting in Japan is hard, and we were all just barely functioning as parents of young kids. The thought of twins would have been overwhelming to most.

My most favorite photo of this time was taken with our oldest as we walked through the park that spring.
Our plans were to leave Japan for our home assignment in mid-to late June. We would be near my parents for the last part of this pregnancy. We had people coming to stay in our home for the time we would be gone, so we needed to begin the packing.  In retrospect, I clearly underestimated the time that would take. This was during our first term, when we didn't have an air conditioner and our house was blistering hot.  Hot, pregnant wife is not a happy wife...

A photo taken from THAT picnic...
On June 4, our mission had a summer picnic.  Hot, not happy wife that I was, I remember vividly being quite angry with Stan that we had to go to this. Our two year old may have been acting up at the time, too... In retrospect, I know I was also in labor...  we made it through the picnic, and then were hosting the young ladies who would be staying in our home over for dinner.

But I wasn't feeling very well, and went up to our bedroom to rest a bit. At some point, I realized what the pains were that I was experiencing. Stan came up to talk with me, and I shared with him what I thought was going on. We tried to get a hold of the English speaking nurse, but couldn't. Yet, we knew we needed to get to the hospital.

The rest of the evening is snippets in my memory.  We left our daughter with the two young women, and headed in the car to the hospital 40+ minutes away. [Yes, there were closer hospitals, but this was the one we had affiliated with because of the nurse.  Would we have done something different in retrospect? Yes, though the outcome would probably not have been different.]

I realized as we got into the car, that this would probably end up with the babies being born, and that it was too early for them to survive. [Technology has changed a lot since then--with the right neonatal unit they would have survived and possibly even thrived.]  Stan and I decided, right then, that whatever happened, we wanted to honor God.  That decision has made all the difference in the days, weeks, months and years since then.

I remember being stuck in traffic, remember the night and the lights, and remember the delivery of the babies. I don't need to go into detail... Stan remembers looking over when stopped at stoplights and seeing that they were boys.

I remember getting to the hospital, how they were awfully slow in caring for me at first. How they kept asking us about a "McDonald." [No, seriously, I haven't had anything to do with McDonald's!--more on that in a minute.] I lost a lot of blood. The boys were put in an incubator. Three men from the mission came to be with us that evening--the only other folks outside of us and the hospital staff that ever saw our sons.

Eventually I was moved to a private room, and Stan spent some time with the boys. I don't remember when they told me that the first one had died. I think Stan told me that the other one had.

The next day, I remember a Japanese person from our church coming and telling me (probably thought it would help) that the doctor had said that if they had lived they would have been vegetables... My dad called from America--into a hospital that had no English speakers back in the years when a phone call was so, so expensive.  But what a comfort to both my parents and  us to be able to talk briefly.

The English speaking nurse came that day or the next. She explained that they had determined that I have an incompetent cervix--my body couldn't have held the babies full term. Our oldest had come one month early--that might have been an alert. The "McDonald" they were asking about was a cerclage procedure whereby the cervix would have been stitched closed, and the doctor on call was concerned that I might have had that.

The nurse then asked if we wanted to see the babies.  I'm so glad that we did. They were perfectly developed, beautiful, identical twin boys--nothing was wrong with them, but with my ability to carry them full term. Now we wish we had taken photos [no iPhone to whip out back then]. I remember we were reminded that they looked like one of the photos of our oldest right after she was born--now I can't remember which one that was.

I remember lying alone in the hospital room and the words of Philippians 3:20 & 21 running through my mind:  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. These little guys didn't have a citizenship on earth...

We chose to have them cremated rather than disposed of as hospital waste. We chose to have them cremated in our town rather than sent out somewhere and brought back to us in a jar.  We chose to have a memorial service. Many people facilitated these things for us.

I remember asking God to make this count for His glory. We occasionally hear stories about how it moved someone in their walk of faith. I remember Isaiah was a book of comfort for me. But I also don't remember a lot during these days. Somewhere I have a journal that I wrote during these days that I haven't read since then.

Our oldest daughter was cared for by several families from our mission. I don't think she has many first-hand memories of that time, but we were very grateful for them stepping in during that week.

A few days later, Stan drove me home. I slipped into the house wearing a housecoat, and Stan carried in a Styrofoam box with our sons' bodies. Stan's Japanese host family from Osaka came down to take care of us for a few days and to mourn with us in ways that were unfamiliar. We had flowers everywhere and many Japanese visitors who came to visit. We met with a couple from another mission who had also lost preterm twins shortly before us. Their experience was similar but different--they were in the large teaching hospital nearby and despite the neonatal efforts, their children didn't survive either. They may have been the only people we told that the Styrofoam box with our sons' bodies was in our freezer until our appointment at the crematorium. Stan and I often cried together--this is not what is supposed to happen.

Inside is a small
ceramic urn used to
hold the ashes of our sons.
And then a few days later came the time for us to go to the crematorium. Accompanied by a Japanese coworker, we carried this box in, and were met by men in work-clothes. The box was put on a metal tray [which way are their heads facing?  Stan made up an answer--we hadn't looked in the box, and we knew it didn't matter in our theology.]  Large elevator-looking doors opened up and the box was sent into the chamber to be burned. While our sons' bodies were being cremated, we were waiting in a lounge, looking at the bamboo in an interior garden. We had to buy an urn for the remains from the snack shop in the crematorium.  "How big does it have to be?"  And then, after an hour or so, we went back to where the tray was pulled back out from those elevator-looking doors, and the little bit of ash and small pieces of cartilage fragments were swept into our little urn, and out we went. This is not what is supposed to happen.

A few days later, Stan and I drove to a nearby park with our two-year old. We sang hymns. I haven't yet unpacked the InterVarsity Hymnbook we used where I marked with small dots each solid hymn of the faith that we sang together in a clearing inside a grove of trees where we sat. Stan and our daughter picked clover, which was in bloom at the time, and added them to the ash in the urn that was the physical remains of our sons. Then he cast them across that clearing. As we walked away, I turned and took a photo of the place, which I can no longer locate.

The following Sunday we had a memorial service for our sons at the Japanese church we attended. Our non-Christian neighbors and friends attended and heard a gospel message. We sang "Great is Thy Faithfulness." A couple of years ago, the Japanese wife of a fellow missionary told us that her first act of Christian service was to light the candles at that memorial service.

We still had tickets to leave Japan -- now it was down to a few days, and I was still extremely weak. Friends from other mission organizations came over to help pack. I remember the horror of watching one take a drawer of things and literally dump it into a box. Not quite how I would have done it, but  yet I was so thankful for their assistance! Somehow we made it out of Japan on time. I remembering tears as we lifted off from Narita Airport because I was "leaving my sons" behind.

The next year and a half was one of walking through the pain of grieving children that few had seen, healing physically and emotionally, and then becoming pregnant again, this time under a US doctor's watchful care.

When we returned to Japan the next year (1990), we discovered that the grove of trees where we had scattered our sons' ashes were cherry trees. Every year or so we would take the walk to that part of the park, sometimes alone, sometimes together, sometimes with our children. It was like those occasional visits that people make to the graveyard to visit "grandpa's grave."

Probably about 10 years ago we discovered they had put new lights up for the park, with a bi-plane frame, and one of them was in our grove. There is something uplifting about this--turning our eyes heaven-ward so to speak.  I shared thoughts on this in a blog two years ago: A Walk in the Park: Another look at Good Friday.

I realize that even now, after 27 years, there are still some raw places in our hearts. I cannot compare this with the loss parents experience whose children walked with them, talked with them. But this was our experience. If you know us, there is a story that comes nearly eight years later when we adopted twin boys--but that is another story and it doesn't erase this loss.

One of the last things we did when we left Japan two years ago, was stop by "our spot."  We played Chris Rice's version of "It is Well With My Soul"--one of the songs we sang at the scattering of the ashes. We can truly affirm that "It is well with my soul" through this loss and the years since.We have been able to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn as a result of God's mercy and grace to us through this loss. Of course we wouldn't have chosen it, but it is well with my soul.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Getting ready for class...

This week I have launched into reading and writing for another graduate course in member care. My last course was in January of 2014, and while I had intended to take the next offered class last summer, I decided that it was more important to focus on my role at SIM during what I anticipated to be a very busy season.  In retrospect, I am SO THANKFUL that I listened to the Lord's prompting because as you may remember, from July 26 on I was swallowed up in our Ebola Crisis Team. I spent several weeks overseeing the care for our evacuated missionaries, while trying to help others who were holding our normal debriefing processes for other missionaries who had come back in the midst of it all.

We had a schedule adjustment at SIM this summer that freed up the week of June 15 for me to head down to Columbia, SC to study Counseling Grief and Loss. There is usually a fair amount of pre-class work to be done, and I was gearing up to start it when I discovered that I had been out of the program long enough to be required to reapply. That process stalled me for a few weeks, but I'm back in, have access to the course material and have started the reading.

The reading isn't that hard on this side--it appears the prof has assigned the more technical and theoretical reading for the time after the class (better get a head start on it, though, if I have time!)--but there is also a personal processing assignment:
Complete your loss inventory (from birth to now) and send to me by email. This may be graphed, as a time line, or written as a 1-2 page narrative. Be prepared to discuss the completed inventory in a confidential small group setting.

Now, my loss inventory...I'm nearly 60, started life as an MK, lived in a number of places, done a number of things, lost significant people, lived with some disappointments, etc... How am I supposed to write it in a 1-2 page narrative?  But getting it onto paper will be the easy part. Thinking it through will be much more demanding, both in time and emotion.

Which brings up another challenge...time and emotional energy. The next couple of weeks are nearly non-stop in my schedule, and several of the things on my calendar demand my focused attention and utmost care.

Good news is that I think I'm generally emotionally healthy, and have faced my grief and my loss in normal ways.  There's always going to be places of pain that will reappear as I review them, but that is good, too.

I also have a couple of concerts to go to with Stan on upcoming weekends, one of which involves an overnight get-away. That's something to look forward to!  And then, if the weather is nice enough, I have a lovely deck to sit on when I read, write and "process" while being distracted by cardinals coming to our bird feeder.

For those of you who pray, I would appreciate you praying for me and my family (who get a very short end of me) during the next month! Thanks!

Saturday, May 09, 2015

On Moms and Mother's Day

My Mom has been with Jesus for 17 years, and I miss her a lot. Many times I wish I could talk with her about life. I was 41 when she died.  My mom was 31 when her mother died. This photo was taken on my parent's first Home Assignment from Brazil.

My dad's mom was a widow for many years and lived to quite well into her 80's. She lived near us when I was in grade school. She played piano and mandolin, and had a distinguishing laugh.

My oldest daughter met her grandmother on a trip from Japan when she was just over a year.  This was taken at our airport farewell, if I recall.

She also met her great grandfather (my Mom's dad) and his second wife, our loving step grandmother.

Much of their growing up years were spent in Japan away from our US exended family, but we always looked for ways to celebrate togetherness. .

But there were the occasional visits back to see the grandparents. On this occasion, we headed to Nashville, TN around "Halloween" time and as an afterthought I threw their yukata into the suitcase for "costumes."  They were a hit.  My mom had just had her first surgery for breast cancer before this visit.

A year or so before she became ill again, mom accompanied me to Japan with our newly adopted sons, and met some of our Japanese friends.  She returned one more time with my dad the next year, and it was at that trip that she began to have pain that was diagnosed as metastasized breast cancer. She was gone less than 18 months later.

Though my mom isn't here to enjoy my girls, I have made every effort to do so.  We traveled from Japan for one's senior recital and college graduation.

And a month later all gathered in the UK for the oldest daughter's wedding.

And now I'm the grandma, enjoying the little man and feeling blessed by watching my daughter as a wonderful mom. And thankful for technology that doesn't make our distance feel quite so far away.

So, while I'll miss 
  • my mom, 
  • my grandmothers, 
  • my mother in law and 
  • all my aunts
I am blessed to be 
  • the mother of some wonderful folks, and 
  • a grandmother to one special little man, and 
  • married to a very thoughtful man.
Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 08, 2015

Thoughts on a Friday afternoon

Was it just a week and two days ago we sent our grandson and his family back to their home across the ocean?  Time really does roll on!

I am enjoying a quiet day at the office--quiet because my staff is either taking the day off or working "out there" talking to people (which is an important part of their job, by the way). Rarely do I have blocks of time alone anywhere, and this has been a treat.  I love the folks I work with, and I like to have time to be able to clear my head, my e-mail inbox, and my desk.

I have been spending part of this week functioning as the point person for member care related to our workers in Nepal as well as some of our partner organizations. It is always a little challenging to keep track of information coming from multiple sources in order to stay up to date.  I'm grateful to do this for SIM USA, and look forward to seeing a couple of my staff head there in a few weeks to meet with workers and do some groundwork for trauma healing ministry.

I'll admit, when I hear of aftershocks in Nepal it takes me back to the tension we felt whenever the earth moved after our March 11, 2011 earthquake and disaster in Japan. I was recently in a situation where the cottage we were staying was on stilts and swayed gently in the wind--but that wasn't what my nervous system was telling me when I felt the movement.

The schedule really picks up over the next few weeks--we have an applicant SIMStart next week, many missionaries coming through for Home Assignment debriefing, an International Personnel Workshop and in just over a month I have a class on "Grief and Loss" that I plan on attending. It all promises to be good, and busy.

Here is an end-of-the-week reminder for me and I gladly share it with you:

He [the Lord] says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”  Psalm 46:10

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Gift of Presence

We have just had three wonderful weeks with family. Our UK family arrived first, followed by our daughter from the west coast.  While it was a bit crowded in our three-bedroom home, our sons were good sports and gave up their rooms for their sisters and family.

We saw our grandson in person last November when we were in the UK for a conference I attended.  After that visit, when he saw us weekly via FaceTime  he recognized us. And accordingly, as soon as he saw us from the passageway out of immigration at the airport he was all smiles and responsive. It didn't feel like we were "distance grandparents" with his quick interaction.

This little man has a very pleasant disposition, and as the only one under 20 in our household the past three weeks, he was the star of every show and the center of our attention.

There was "Grandpa Time," and

And "Grandma Time."

The two sisters are best friends and miss being together. They put up with mom photo-bombing one of their selfies on the first evening that the west coast girl arrived.

We spent one week at the Carolina Coast in a rented cottage. The little man seemed to be the center of attention every where we went. His hat was a big hit.  His uncles had school so didn't make it down with us. (I left part-way through the time to be with my brother who needed some family presence while undergoing surgery. The sun came out after I was gone...)

We introduced our son-in-law to Dutch Blitz... 


And then it was time to start saying goodbye.

We sent this one off to return to the west coast on a 7 a.m. flight.

With a few more days to enjoy this one, we watched him get closer and closer to taking his first steps on his own.  He was quite content to walk with help--and preferred pushing the stroller to sitting in it at a grocery store outing.


Before he came, the little man's uncles hadn't been very interested in him.  Since there haven't been little people in their life, it's probably understandable.  But we wondered how this visit would go.

This uncle was amazing. He even allowed the little man to play with his game controller. At one point we heard "Ah, you killed me!" Yet rather than being frustrated or angry, he was sweet with the little guy and continued to let him hang out next to him.

This uncle took a little longer to connect, but eventually he found his own way to communicate with the little man, which blessed us all.

Finally the day came where we had to say goodbye and send them back across the Atlantic. I haven't counted the number of airport farewells we've made with our kids, but it is never easy. 

This time we don't have a date in mind for when we'll next see the UK family.  That makes it even harder.  The little man will be bigger and his parents will be living in a different location  with a job change coming up this fall. 


I am so thankful that we were able to be together. It truly was a gift.  I am reminded daily of the cost of following Jesus anywhere He sends people as I listen to missionaries coming through our offices, whether it is for routine debriefing or because they have special needs in their families that have required them to return for a while. 

And while I had dreamed at one point that we would get the professional family portrait, I am grateful that we could actually get everyone in a photo!