Trusting Chains

You may remember that I said last time that we’d have news of our GREAT CLIMB this week, and some of you may be waiting with bated breath to see how it went, but if you read Facebook, then you already know.  I’ll save most of the gory details for next week, when I can move around better.
But here’s a ’sneak preview’:  last night, after a hot ‘onsen’ bath as we were heading to bed, Tony got simultaneous charley horses (muscle spasms for you Aussies) in BOTH thumbs! Why, you say?  From holding so long for dear life onto chains which were fastened to the rock face of the mountain.
So, more details next week after we recover, but this week let me tell you a bit about the day before the Big Climb, when we took a little ‘warm up hike’ and observed what I’ve pasted into the Photo Gallery. Have a look at the top left picture.
At the base of that particular hike, we noticed a sign that mentioned ‘falling rocks’.  What they failed to mention was that the trail had degraded into about a 10-inch cliff edge horror!
Someone had very helpfully fastened chains along the edge of the ledge, but as we got farther along, we came upon this interesting ‘problem’ (which you can see in the picture). The all-important chain was now lying on the ground, still fastened to a huge chunk of rock which had come loose from the cliff and now sat on the ledge, along with the chain firmly smashed under it. We ventured a look above and saw many more rocks, many surrounded by dribbling water, just waiting for the next shake.  We scuttled along, praying that what happened here would not occur again on our watch.
We came away that day with just a few scrapes and a good idea of how to pack for the ‘big trip’. (if only we had followed our own advice)
But back to the rock and the chain…. Tony pointed out an interesting thing:  Sometimes we put so much faith in the ‘chains’ in our life.  Those things that keep us feeling safe and secure, but we often neglect the rock it’s fastened to, assuming it’s… well, it’s a ROCK! It’s not going anywhere, is it?
What are some of our ‘chains’ you ask?  How about financial security, family ties, reputation, this thing we call happiness?
And what are the rocks?  hmmmm.
In a moment of theological insight yesterday, we thought of good old Church Father Thomas Aquinas, who once remarked about a group of well-meaning but misinformed church folks, “It seems,” he wrote, “that they have both feet firmly planted in thin air.” Yesterday during the Big Climb, Tony and I experienced that feeling, of holding on to thin air, more than once, and I can tell you, it ain’t fun!
Can we always remember to put our faith in the thing that will REALLY hold us, the One on Whom we can always depend will protect us?  He is a Rock, you know, and maybe a chain as well.
Yesterday, as we huddled on a cliff during the first bout of thunder and lightning, we prayed that God wouldn’t let us do something foolish just to reach the summit.  Not only was He our chain (at least the one that held and didn’t slam us around the mountain from time to time), He protected us through the kindness of strangers and some good rescue folks and gave us not only the Summit, but some lifetime memories.  Just.
Stay tuned!!  This morning we were able to limp into a little church we attended years ago and caught up with some old friends. It was a day of real chain-celebration.
Love ya,

Marsha

Mountain Climbing

We’ve been hiking a lot lately.  When I say ‘a lot’, let me remind you we live in a mega city, so first we have to set out on a grueling excursion to get ‘out of town’ before we begin our sojourn up some mountain.  Between the lack of time and the expense of getting around, both in and out of Tokyo, we’ve managed to do this only a couple of times, so most of our ‘hiking’ consists of climbing our apartment stairs (don’t laugh till you try it!).
The reason for this ‘training’ is that we are going to try to climb a mountain on August 2nd for our 45th anniversary! Now you may think we’re crazy; you certainly wouldn’t be the first, but hey, we’ve climbed this mountain many many times.  In fact, there was a time when we tried to climb it every anniversary!  Why, you say?
One reason is that the summit is exactly the same altitude of our Colorado childhoods, (8500 ft or 2700 meters for you metric folks out there).  Because of this, the flora and fauna remind us of Evergreen, which is (almost) like a trip home.  But then the anniversary bit…….
Tony put it this way.  “Climbing this mountain is like our marriage.  It’s a LONG haul with some scary bits, but the view at the top is worth it!”
Notwithstanding that the LAST time we climbed it, was for Tony’s 50th birthday and that was, well, ah, about 16 years ago! hahahah  You’ll have to stay tuned to see if we made it to the top or wimped out at first base.  We’ve already had some animated conversations about how much we love each other and whether we’ll stop if the other one is having difficulty or just give him a swift kick.
In regard to this ‘training’, we were hiking last week and ran into, of all things, a journalist with a big camera.  Apparently he was with his local TV station and they were interviewing “interesting” climbers for their tourism sound bite.  We talked and joked and answered all the canned questions, “Where did we come from” “Why are we here” “Can we use chopsticks?” all the normal stuff.  We finished recording and went our way.
On our way back down, we bumped into him again, and this time we sat down (exhausted) and had a chat.
His name is Mr. IIjima, and he had quite a story to tell.  He’s a local guy, descendant of Samurai, so we got to talking about the TV drama “Yae no Sakura”, that I mentioned in this blog a couple of weeks ago.  One thing led to another and soon we were talking about Christianity.  He offered that most of his family had become Christians over a hundred years ago (about the time of the drama).
The next question was naturally, “And how about you?”
“Oh no, no”, he quickly answered. Then he continued, “You see, I was raised in the church, but about Junior High I got ‘busy’ (this is typical in Japan with the emphasis on education above all else) and began to find other things to do.”
We said with our facial expressions that we were sorry, and he said, “I’m afraid that I started looking at the people in the church and stopped looking at God.”
What an honest assessment!  We commended him for his honesty and didn’t continue down the track of what it was about the church people that turned him off, because we all know that’s a never-ending wellspring of disgruntlement.  I thought of Romans 14 and 15 where Paul is trying to get the church members in this exact same situation to look at God and not each other.
Instead, we talked on for quite a while and parted with him taking our details and promising to really think about what God means to him and why he needs to get back to Him.  We’d like your prayers!
On a completely different topic, our son’s family has been eclipsing us in praying over this property thing I spoke of last week. We also felt all of your prayers as experienced by feeling an unearthly sense of calm.  Remarkably, an idea has surfaced that may be a solution that is far less costly than losing the farm! ha.  Pray for DISCERNMENT and Wisdom, I know you are.
Stay turned, I hope we are still intact at least with one typing finger next week when we post!
To the SUMMIT!!!!
Marsha

Stormy Stormy Night

Good morning! (or evening).  Before you get alarmed, we’re sending this out early because we’ll be away from the internet for the next 48 hours, and didn’t want to miss talking to you!

Last week we had the fascinating drill of preparing for a ‘Super Typhoon’.  The media started with all the hype: what to expect when the storm hit, what precautions to take, what to do if the power went off, and how to go about cleaning up the mess when the storm passed.

For you who don’t live in Japan, a typhoon is like a hurricane……or as Wilkipedia says, “A MATURE tropical cyclone”  The origin of the word is “Tai”  (“Big” in Japanese) and “FU” for……you guessed it, “Wind”.  Sometimes the Japanese are refreshingly simple in their descriptions.

However, if you say “Typhoon” in Japan, people tend to freak just a bit. In fact, there’s a proverb here that describes the four things that strike terror in a Japanese heart: “Earthquake, Thunder, Fire and Father”. It might be safe to say that in modern times, ‘father’ has been westernized enough to be downgraded in fear and replaced with ‘typhoon’, because after all, we live on an island, never far from the sea.

As we did the obligatory preparations, I had to remark to myself that there are some similarities in this action to real life.

The first announcement usually sends everyone scurrying for emergency items: water, tarps, roof repairs and the like.  We’ve weathered many typhoons in Japan, some really bad.  I remember one passing thru and somehow (?) leaving us with a box of half drowned and very frightened kittens on our doorstep.  I suppose they had help getting there.  Something like, “Oh, what a great opportunity to offload these on the foreigners while they’re huddled inside”. I remember another time sitting in our car on an elevated freeway while it jumped and bounced around like a leaf in the wind…..

Next step in this preparation was to begin canceling plans and appointments.  We had Bible studies moved to different dates as well as dinner plans and outings with friends.  Everyone was told to stay inside.

Then, once we were all battened down, we started listening for hourly updates.

I’ll get back to the drama in a minute, but first let me share a word about our own personal storm this past few weeks. Due to a misstep with the Australian city council regarding what we thought was some innocent repair work on the land that constitutes our property, we’ve now been declared an ‘enemy of the state’ and the swords are being sharpened for battle. From so far away we have little choice but to wait and worry.  We pray and say we won’t worry (what’s a lot of money and loss of reputation really?) and then we cycle back to our nail biting.

Our son is being a real hero, meeting with councilmen, geophysical engineers and surveyors, trying to find out which hoops are the best to jump through and in which order.  The forecast is daunting and we can’t help but think we’re being picked on, as the council looks for some sap who’s too dumb to fight and will pay for a major retaining wall, thinking he’s somehow to blame. I can’t help but think of the kittens…….

But back to the real typhoon, last week, after a pretty mild rain shower and an eerie shift in the barometer about midnight, we were told that it had diverted out to sea, leaving us unscathed.

We are praying that hopefully, like so many typhoons, this ‘council humbug’ will wear itself out in the getting here, and when it actually does make landfall, it’ll just be a gust of wind (read “hot air”).  Maybe we can even give all the associated ‘kittens’ away like we did last time.

Please DO pray for us, for safety in this exciting place we call home, and for grace and mercy to reign in the mess with our house Down Under.

As you are hopefully getting this 12 hours early, we are leading a Church retreat somewhere deep in the mountains west of Tokyo. We are leaving now, extra early, to train across Tokyo to the east, dressed in our church clothes, carrying our backpacks for the camp along with many books to distribute. (We chuckled and said we feel like Tony’s Dad, Uncle Buddy, as we packed up). Then after teaching the first Bible Study that Tony has written to a group of Seniors, we’ll walk the mile or so back to the train station to ride for 2 hours to the OTHER side of Tokyo to get on a bus with 45 people for this big adventure!

Life is never dull, even in a Typhoon.

Love ya,

Marsha

Important Broadcast

Good morning,
Here we are again, already. I can’t believe another week has flown by.  Because our work is so different from day to day, sometimes the weeks drag by, while other days the pace picks up like a roller coaster at the top of the climb, leaving us breathless before we even realize what’s going on.
The night before last was like that … at 4:00 am both of our phones (which incidentally are always switched to “silent” mode when we’re done with the world), started SCREAMING at fever pitch, “Earthquake is coming! EARTHQUAKE is coming!” (in Japanese of course).  By the time Tony fumbled to his phone to look, the tremor hit, but fortunately was not much more than a good shake, not unlike a passing train. What WAS disconcerting however, was the map that showed the epicenter to be near Fukushima where the nuclear reactor still sits, propped up with I-beams purportedly to keep the spent rods from spilling out and bringing a mushroom cloud over Tokyo.
But at 4:00 in the morning, we were more disturbed with the question of HOW did Big Brother have access to BOTH our phones, and was able to override the silent setting? Alas, being too sleepy for the “Big Questions”, we put our pillows over our heads and went back to sleep.
I’ve been reading in Romans, and today’s passage in chapter 10 really struck me. Paul is writing to the Romans (obviously) and is defending his call to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews.  In verse 18, he reminds us that the message of salvation has gone out to “all the world”, to “the ends of the earth”, so that no one, not Jew nor Gentile, can claim to have “never heard”.
We often forget that at a heart-level, the Japanese ARE seeking Christ, even if they don’t realize it. The “munashisa”… empty heart… they feel has been put there by Christ Himself, so that they will never be at peace until this void is filled. For the last 2 ½ years here in Tokyo, we seem to see a lot of the emptiness, but not a lot of the filling, leaving us often discouraged and thinking, “what’s the use?”
But Paul spoke to my heart today when he reminded me of the question: “How can they call to Him for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed? And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out?” And then my favorite, in verse 15, “How wonderful is the coming of messengers who bring good news!”
This morning, Tony used one of his favorite phrases, “As long as you have a pulse, God is not through with you”. It’s true, isn’t it? God has given each of us a job to do, and every job, in one form or another has the single goal: to proclaim the message.
Yowsie.  I have to remember the words from my own blog last week, when I said that I’m the daughter not only of a samurai, but indeed the King of Kings.  I need to recommit myself every day to living this ‘missionary’ thing thru……….to His end, no matter what I see or don’t see happening.
On a happy note, today Tony preached two times and in between those services taught his new ‘Anagaion’ (upper room) course to a big group of eager young people. This activity will escalate thru the summer, along with the heat!  He’s beat, but it’s a good kind of tired.  We hope you all have a wonderful week, LIVING His life and carrying the Good News to those who are there around you.
And I hope if you’re awakened to some woman screaming that there’s an earthquake coming you know whether to run…. or roll over and go back to sleep.

Love ya,

Marsha

A Samurai Tale

So somehow we got sucked into watching a daytime drama here in Japan.
Now before you think I’m stuck on the soaps, this isn’t quite that.  Japan, for many years has created a one-year daily 15 minute ‘drama’ about some facet of history.  It’s broadcast by NHK (which is the equivalent of the ABC or the PBS where you live), educational, and is very respectable.  The same episode airs about three times a day, so almost everybody catches it, or at least is keeping up with it by word of mouth.
The ‘drama’ for last year, was called “Yae no Sakura” loosely translated something like “Miss Yae’s Cherry Blossoms”…………So many of our friends were talking about it that we decided maybe we should make the effort and watch it.  The fact that we found a (legal) download with subtitles sold us on the enterprise.  I’ll have to say though, that even WITH the subtitles, we spend a bit of the time looking at each other and scratching our heads….  Picture if you can, watching something spoken in Ye Olde English,  including a couple of wars and tons of politics and customs of 170 years ago.  I told Tony if I didn’t understand a LITTLE bit of Samurai lore and culture, I’d be lost anyway.
Yae was about 6 or 7 and because she was a precocious child, took a keen interest in her big brother’s growing expertise with guns.  She was thwarted again and again, told that she was a girl and girls didn’t concern themselves with such things.
10 or 12 episodes later, she’s grown to be about 12 or 13, and is a real ‘tomboy’ who just won’t give up.  Finally her big brother sits her down and gives her this advice. It really resonated with me for some reason.
He said, “You are a Samurai’s daughter.  I have watched you for years and against our better judgment, Father and I are going to give you our permission to pursue this interest even if it’s not the norm.”
“But”, he continued, “you need to know two things: Once you begin this study, you will NOT give up, and even if you become proficient, you must never expect that you will receive any praise”.
The story continues with her growing up, marrying a fellow clansman and leading a platoon of men (remember this is the 1800’s) during a battle much like America’s Civil War.  She is known throughout Japan as their own version of “the Joan of Arc”.
We are far from finished watching this drama and I can’t stand the suspense, so I read more Yae’s history from my friend “Google” and found that she had many more unusual and ambitious experiences, including both victories and disappointments…….and somehow lived to the ripe old age of 87.
Soon after the end of the Boshin (Civil) war, her first husband ‘released’ her from his family name after he was unjustly accused of a crime, and in so doing protected both her name and the Samurai clan as well.  Soon after, he died in prison.   She relocated to the old capital of Kyoto where eventually she married again, this time to a Japanese pastor who was instrumental in her conversion to Christianity.  They had the very first Christian wedding in Japan, and went on to found Doshisha Daigakku, which remains today one of the oldest Universities in Japan on the par of Harvard or Cambridge.
Her name is also associated with several reforms, including opening formal education to women.  At her funeral there were over 2000 people and they ‘honored’ her with a special word pictograph, ???. (if your computer has the fonts you’ll see a Japanese word there, otherwise, imagine that I’ve written JAKU).  It means “A person having an undisturbed heart under any circumstance”
We’ve had and are continuing to have some tough “circumstances” this year, although nothing like what Yae faced. We would appreciate your special prayers as we continue to try to put into practice that somewhat tired phrase, “What would Jesus do?”
And then we remember that in some ways, like Yae, but so much much, more, Jesus also was passionate about His calling from an early age and never wavered, even though enemies abounded.  Very few people gave Him any praise or real recognition, apart from showing up here and there to ‘get’ something from Him.
….And yet, He saw it through to the end, He died on the cross for us and got that praise from the Father.
How we all long for the day when hopefully we’ll also hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
What more can I say? Keep your powder dry, never falter, give it all you’ve got, and be a true Samurai (even if you’re a girl)!
Marsha

Timing is Everything

Tonight this blog comes to you from a rest stop in the middle of nowhere as we’re making a late night drive home from an exhausting but exhilarating weekend in the north.  Trips to our ‘home town’ of Sendai and the attached disaster zone are always emotional, but this one was exceptional, owing in part to the timing of the trip.
For this particular journey, because of what we had on our schedule, we decided to stay with our lifelong friend, Shinkichi. You may remember his wife, Kumiko, died 4 years ago. We all still miss her of course, and while we Westerners don’t really remember or commemorate actual death dates, Asia does, with strict rules about when and what to observe. On the trip up, I vaguely remembered that she died ‘about this time of year” but of course as soon as we arrived, (on June 27th) we realized that June 27th was the actual day she died, so we were quickly fitted into a bittersweet family reunion, with lots of well-wishes from all around. Fortunately, with two new grandkids, the evening was filled with laughter and just a little bit of sadness.
Then the next day we had planned a quick “memorial climb” to a nearby favorite mountain of ours, but the weather didn’t cooperate, so instead we found ourselves downtown, running some errands and mostly reminiscing.  Twenty years in a ‘little’ city of a million like Sendai will give you a heap of memories, and this day was no exception. Every corner, every little hole-in-the-wall shop evoked recollections, mostly associated with misadventures while dragging our small children downtown for some necessary item. We laughed as we pointed out landmarks, and looked for other ones that must have gone the way that old things go. I pointed out the bus stop where I once boarded a bus bound for home with a grabby tow-headed baby who’d just been given a huge balloon….
Remarkably, most of what I felt was an ACHE for the happiness long past, but of course it was mixed with some long-forgotten memories that quite honestly weren’t all that great. But whichever they were, it was so wonderful to relive them again.
Then we went to visit other good friends, the Furukawas. This lovely couple were some of the first to come to Christ when we lived in Sendai 30 years ago and we have a long and sweet history.  You’ll remember from my previous blogs that Tsutomu, the husband, fell down the stairs 6 months ago and literally ‘broke his head’. He has recovered … somewhat ….  but unfortunately, he makes the phrase “All the lights are on but nobody’s home” have new meaning. Wife Keiko is trying to care for him alone and she’s a real trouper, but she’s wearing thin.   He smiled when we came in the door, but gave no indication that he knew who we were.
….and back to the “timing” thing, we had a good visit,  albeit Tsutomo just sat and smiled. Then, as we were about to say goodbye, all lined up for the ‘memory photo’, Tsutomu suffered a major and horrible seizure.  Talk about helpless…we prayed thru the event and then tried to move him but it was just too much, and later, after yet another episode we all ended up in the emergency room. Hours later he was finally admitted to the hospital, and as of now, we’re still waiting to see how it’s going to turn out. I’m just SO GLAD we were there, if not to help, at least to offer some comfort. That’s what the family of Christ is all about. Please pray for Keiko and the decisions she’s going to have to make soon.
This morning we returned to Taitomi Baptist, the church where we served for many years. Two of the first baptisms here were Mr and Mrs Tanaka. Remind me to share their amazing story with you soon.
Long story short, Mrs. Tanaka remains faithful, but the Mr. got sideways with a previous pastor years ago and stopped coming to church…. until today. After dropping his wife at church, he went home, only to discover his house key wouldn’t work and he couldn’t get inside. There was nothing to do but come back to the church to get his wife’s key. What a surprise he had when he opened the door to find Tony and me! It had been years since we’d been together. Sunday school was put on hold while we all rejoiced at his sudden appearance, and finally after every excuse was exhausted, Mr. Tanaka agreed to stay and hear Tony preach.  In God’s amazing timing, it was a sermon that couldn’t have been more directed at him personally! He promised to start coming back to church; please pray for him.
And finally this evening, Tony and I were able to share with church leaders from all over Sendai the new “Anagaion” (Upper Room) study course that Tony’s been writing. It’s still in the ‘alpha’ mode and needs a lot of refining, but we hope to see results soon.  I went to sleep both nights to the sound of Tony and Shinkinchi hammering out the translation, laughing and occasionally even calling over to daughter Yuu’s house for the extra finesse she can always offer.  After all, she’s married to a Texan and ‘get’s’ Tony’s way of thinking.  (Thank you Yuu!)
When it comes to God’s work in the world, timing really is everything, isn’t it? Aren’t we glad for the Father who can see the big picture and knows the every minutiae of our future.  We can rest in his hands.
In His time,
Marsha

Who’s Watching You?

Well, this week has been a rather busy one. I’m glad to report I survived the birthday that insisted on showing up in spite of my attempts to shoo it away. And, I have to confess, the ol’ body is still holding up well… well, for the most part.  My sister, who just turned 70, apparently has lost some of her math skills and was bemoaning that she had missed my 65th.  I had to remind her I’m 6 years younger than her, making me ONLY 64.  But there are perks up here in the rarified air. We found out the other day that Tony owes NO TAXES this year in Australia because at 65, he’s passed some kind of “age line”.  Yeah!!!
We’ve had a couple of volunteer teams and a brand new career missionary arrive in Tokyo this week. In celebration, the rainy season took a breather and gave them all a wonderful first impression. It’s been such an encouragement to look at this city of 39 million thru their eyes, and see again all the hope and expectations that have been there all along, but that tend to hide with the increasing years.
Yeah, these new folks have encouraged us.  It seems like sometimes just when I’m about to ‘give up’ and say, “I’m getting too old for this,” God will remind me through an experience or a person, “Look, you’re not in control here, I AM.”
Along with the volunteers, I had a couple of other rather bizarre things happen this week:
First, I was invited to be a ‘practice head’ for some beauticians who wanted to try out some new hair dye on a Gaijin’s (foreigner’s) hair.  Believe me, we Caucasians do NOT have Asian hair, and this has been a ‘challenge’ over these last 35 years to discover that fact along with my hairdressers.  Of course I agreed to the practice session, largely because it was free!   Three hours later I walked out with a new ‘look’ one that reminded me of those posters of malnourished babies in Africa, suffering from kwashiorkor. (You may remember the bloated bellies and orange hair. Please don’t think I’m making light of the tragic situations with those poor children).
In true Japanese fashion when they removed the towel, we all screamed, (I of course, was able to keep my cool and was only screaming inwardly). They made comments (a little too loudly, I thought) like, “Oh!  Isn’t it beautiful!” and then they started bowing and smiling and saying “Arigatogozaimas” (Thank you) over and over suggesting a quick exit would be appropriate.  I ran.
That night I got a note from one of our far distant, and let me say ‘weird’ acquaintances here in the neighborhood.  The note said, (in English) “Why you in Shidome today?”  With goosebumps racing up and down my neck, I wrote back “How did you know that?” while visions of phone tracking, infrared surveillance, and other marks of the beast issues ran wild in my head.  The answer came, “Oh, my husband looked down from his office window and saw you!”  Now, this might happen on a dusty street in Dullsville, Ohio, but this is Tokyo and the area where I was contains no less than fifty 40-story buildings, with office space for HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of people inside, and this husband that I’ve only met a few times happened to see ME outside, who knows how far down, from his window. Maybe it was because I was still a blonde on the way in, or worse yet, because I was orangutan orange on the way out?
Then, a few days later when I finally had the nerve to leave the house with my new hair color, I went to a neighborhood grocery store that I seldom visit  (I was laying low, remember?).  From behind me I heard an excited “Maa-sha-san!” and turned to see a lady I will assure you I’ve never seen in my life.  Of course I smiled like she was a long lost friend and she began, “It must be cooler now, where you live.”  My eyes are by now rolling around in my head, but I’m still smiling………she continued, “you know, Umejima’s so hot” (this is three blocks away, where we lived two years ago). “Oh, yes! I beamed,  “We like our new place but we miss the old one.”  She continued, “You must be lonely now that Kawana san has moved back to Chiba.”  How she had this information I can’t imagine, but I could honestly agree.  I gave her my card and invited her to church……..maybe I might find out her name then?
As I think about this week, I have to wonder, WHAT’S going on?  When I feel small and ineffective, God just sends some precious volunteers to ‘remind’ me of what a great city I live in with so much potential……..and then just for fun throws in a couple of seriously RANDOM ‘meetings’ to remind me that it’s not lost on these folks, who I am or what I do………
So that’s been our week.  A bit rambling.  Next week, we’ll report from the Tohoku once again as we’re going up to touch bases with churches and loved ones there.  Your prayers are always so critical to what we do.A little older, a little oranger,
Marsha

Celebrations

This last week Tony’s been working online doing his doctoral studies.  What an age we live in where he can attend ‘class’ back in California via Skype for 5 hours a day!  I’ve had to maneuver myself to avoid casually walking thru the camera range and accidentally exposing my presence to 6 ol’ guys who are staring at the camera and talking about things way over my head.
As I was passing by one time, I heard the professor asking Tony to elaborate on his paper about the “Discipline of Celebration”.  Those two words don’t usually end up in the same sentence with me, so I paused behind the door to listen.
Tony, clearing his throat and assuming his ‘Yoda the Sage’ voice, began to pontificate that this particular discipline focuses mainly on the ability to recognize both the joy of the mundane as well as the ‘passages’ of life and in turn looking at them as reasons to celebrate, because they’re ‘right’, and as God intended them to be.
We have been experiencing a few different celebrations lately.  For one, Friday was my birthday.  Yes, it was Friday the 13th and someone pointed out that it was also a full moon  (northern hemisphere at least) and that this ‘coincidence’ wouldn’t happen again until 2049, when I will ostensibly be 99, so I did my best to see it, and I did.   We had a beautiful alfresco dinner overlooking Tokyo harbor.  The weather was perfect, the food was divine and the company was sublime.  What can I say, a true celebration!
But then I thought of another celebration we had rather by accident awhile back.  Tony was explaining to the Doctoral students that ‘celebration can be something insignificant and spontaneous, like sending the grandkids toys for no reason whatsoever.  I remembered with a smile visiting my grandsons a couple of months ago.  4 yr old Isaac led us right into his room immediately upon our arrival and pulled out a weary looking box from his shelf.  As I looked around, there was very little else in his room (he and his brother have an adjoining toy room that carries the bulk of their clutter). As he lifted it down with great care, I realized it was a box from us, sent probably 6 months ago.  He opened it slowly and reverently and began to show us one or two of his most important possessions.
My eyes teared up to realize that this box, so humble and unthought of, held all the power of distant grandparents in it.  He was ‘Celebrating” every time he struggled it out of the closet, celebrating the fact that he has and is loved by a “Jiji and Mae”, as he calls us.  None of the junk, mostly from the dollar store, that we sent them was inside it, but somehow it remained something precious just in the joyful thought of getting the box…..
There have been other celebrations this week.  One of our dearest young people ‘celebrated’ the announcement of her engagement with a short term missionary who has returned to the States.  They invited us to celebrate with them, she in person and he by Skype in America. It was a great day at our little church to be able to pray with both of them as we look forward to their lives becoming one.  Please pray that she gets a ‘fiancé’ visa and can be allowed to join him soon in marriage.
Another moment as were strolling thru a beautiful hotel on my birthday was to become unwitting spectators as a large bridal party swept thru. The beautiful bride and all the family were decked out in very traditional and serene Kimono. Japan can really “wow” you when they do their traditional rites.  We prayed for their future, that they will find the real meaning of life.
Another friend said goodbye to her husband as he joined his pain free celebration in Heaven.  We again, as spectators, stand in awe of the life they had together and hope for a sweet reunion one day.
A longtime friend with cancer ‘celebrated’ being strong enough to teach Vacation Bible School all week, perhaps a small victory, but a personal best.
What do you celebrate?  I believe that we, as Westerners, have it pretty good.  We ‘expect’ many things that the rest of the world would think were reasons for celebration.  I will never forget our little newly adopted daughter Nicki’s first Christmas at three years old.  She was so overjoyed about the tangerines in her stocking that we almost had to give up on getting to the presents……….My prayer for her (almost 25 now) is that she can continually live in that kind of Joy and Wonder.
And my prayer for all of you today is that we can all have that ’special box’ or that ‘tangerine’ that makes us stop and smile and thank God for everything he does.
Blessings, Marsha
Late Note, we are NOT celebrating that grandson Ezekiel fell down and split his lip badly enough to need several stitches.  Pray for healing and sanity as Mom holds it all together with Daddy the policeman at work.

Pinwheels and Moles

I came across something interesting a while ago when we were up north working in the disaster zone.

On one particularly pretty lawn (which fortunately was above the tsunami line and was spared the salt bath of three years ago), we came across no less than 100 gaily colored plastic pinwheels ‘planted’ all over the grass, just a few feet apart from each other.  All were blowing happily in the wind, making a sort of ‘buzzing’ sound that I’m sure you can imagine.

I put it down to someone’s eccentric taste and gave little more thought to it.  But a day or two later, I happened to meet the owner of the yard, and commented to her on the strange sight. Come to find out, she was not eccentric at all, but rather was being practical.  You see, her lawn had been infested with moles.   She didn’t really want to poison or trap the poor things, as they were just doing what they were made for and were industrious enough to find in her front yard the opportunity for uninterrupted digging bliss.

The moles continued happily until the largesse ended with the invasion of pinwheels, spinning nosily above their home. According to her wishes, it seems that after a few days of constant vibration, the little critters decided to move on to greener (and quieter) pastures.

For Tony’s doctoral study, he’s been reading lately about “incarnational traditions”; that is,  “finding Christ in everything”.   One of our favorite quips over the years has been to look at anything, then comment, “I think there’s a sermon in that!” So, true to form, Tony and I have had fun discussing this “pinwheel” topic … where’s the sermon?

Help me here: I think the “Wind” driving the pinwheels has to be the work of the Holy Spirit. And of course we must be the moles.  But are we moles necessarily the bad guys who need to be sent packing?

But wait, is it possible that no matter how cute we ‘moles’ are, perhaps the garden we’re playing in is not, in fact, very safe? Or maybe there’s a better place for us to be what we were made to be?  Consider the lady we met: if this strange experiment didn’t work, the next step was poison……or even worse for the moles, the terror of traps. Could we think of the pinwheels as the Spirit’s way of saying, “This is a not a good place; stay at your peril”?

All thru the Bible we read about the ‘murmurings’ of the Holy Spirit, who constantly ‘moved’ people from one place to another. I can hear God saying to the Apostle Paul, “Okay, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. Do you want a dream telling you about your future plans, or how about a bright light that leaves you blinded?”

I suspect many of you could come up with even better examples, perhaps from your own experience.

As you read this today, you might remember that it’s Pentecost Sunday.  Remember that “Sound of a Great Wind” that got those disciples out of their punk and onto the streets? They, like those moles, must have wondered what in the world was happening… but “happen” it did, and God moved then all out of that room and on to accomplish great things.  They listened and got to business, even though they might have been the most unlikely of characters.

We’d love to hear your comments about moles and pinwheels. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even award a mention to the ‘most twisted theology’ taken from a life experience!

Listen: what’s that noise?

Marsha

Impatience

A few weeks ago I wrote about our friend’s son Peter, who literally ‘held the ropes’ and saved the life of his friend.  This week, I’d like to tell you about another experience we’ve had lately. Maybe it should be called “Holding on, even when you don’t know what’s coming”.
Spring is upon us, and the other day we set out to beautify our tiny balcony with some flowers. You can’t imagine what it costs in Japan to get 24 little plants to make a row against the wall overlooking a rather dismal view. Across the street is the ten-story building housing our local police headquarters. The windows are not see-through, so what we usually see instead is the reflection of our own balcony, sometimes loaded with laundry. So, cost be hanged, we declared, and determined to have something beautiful to look at. What we came home with were several armloads of Impatiens.
Most of you know what an Impatien is.  It’s a small annual plant that blooms with a wild abandon of vivid colors. As an additional ‘charm point’, these guys seem to be resistant to my efforts to kill them, at least before the first frost.  I like them because they’re just a “happy plant”, always there, bright and cheerfully faithful, demanding very little from me.
Now we have what we lovingly refer to as ‘our yard’ and to celebrate, we even dragged out two stools and sat knee to knee with our breakfast on our laps this morning……anything we can do to celebrate  new life after a particularly cold winter.
I got to thinking about Impatiens.  Since the word is so close to ‘impatience’ I’ve often thought they are very similar.  You see, I’ve been known to grow tiny plants from seed, waiting during the dark months till a tiny sprout finally comes, then loving and caring for it till it most likely dies, but sometimes lives…… Once in awhile I’ve even kept a gift of an exotic plant alive long enough to coax a bloom or two, but the rule with me is usually to ‘get it, enjoy it and say goodbye’.
Our life is a lot like those impatiens.  We just figured out that we have only a little more than a year till we officially leave Japan and start…………….???? who knows????  We’ll join the ranks of the RETIRED.
We are IMPATIENT on so many levels.
We struggle to see what lies ahead, all the while cowering in fear that we won’t be able to manage on our own.  My thoughts drift back to a cold home brand pizza served to us by one of Tony’s elderly aunts years ago.  She commented, “Sorry it’s not more, but life’s just so hard on a fixed income.”  I had no idea what she meant, but I knew I didn’t want it. Now that term has popped up again, and I’m beginning to tremble with horror.
But more than that, I’m IMPATIENT with what all needs to happen in this last year of our (paid) ministry.  It is becoming clear that unless God appears in person, we will not be leaving behind a functioning church in East Tokyo.  We have lots of enthusiastic people, but none of them seem to ‘get’ Christianity yet.  We are beginning to understand more and more that our job for this last year will not be to plant a church, but plant the Seed in minds and hearts and pray for the harvest, even though it may be long after we are gone.
As if to affirm that thought, I got a message on Facebook this last week.  It said, “Hello, my name is (Japanese name)” I had no idea who this was.  He continued, “Are you the Marsha Woods that asked me to paint her house back in 1995?”
I quickly answered that unfortunately I didn’t remember him, but yes, someone had painted my house about that time.
The next message shocked me.  He said, “My wife and I were so impressed with your lovely family that we went and found a church and became Christians.  Now we are active members and love reading the Bible the most!”
THAT’S a harvest I didn’t know about for 20 years!!
And so I have to say to myself, “Why am I impatient?”  Is it because I, like so many, want instant gratification, want ANSWERS….I want to KNOW what the next 10 years will bring in our lives, I want to KNOW what the last 35 years meant in the big picture of us living all those years here in Japan……..
But then I realize, wouldn’t it be sweet if I could just wake up like my little Impatiens every morning and bask in the SON and bloom for His glory, knowing that yes, I will probably die with the first frost, but I would have done what my purpose was, to make someone or Someone smile.
Blessings on you all, may your summer be filled with glorious blooms!
Marsha