Cheap Shots

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. Things kicked off with a pretty good earthquake; not big enough to do much damage, but still enough to roll me across the room in my desk chair. Then yesterday (perhaps related) the nearby volcano known as Ontake surprised everyone by blowing up. Reports are still sketchy, but at last count at least 30 dead hikers have been recovered and 45 more are still missing.

Then as if trying to keep up with everything this morning, I hit the (proverbial) wall.

Let me explain.  Years ago, I learned that if it looked like a Sunday where God would be at work, I could COUNT on Satan crashing the party. Asking around, I don’t think I’m alone, but does this sound familiar? I can remember some of the most epic battles with my kids taking place on the way to church. Also some of the most debilitating headaches, or the most disastrous spills of everything from casseroles to coffee. Then there were the unkind (and at least a few times undeserved) feelings directed at my preacher-husband just before he was to deliver God’s message. Often we would arrive at the church with our teeth clenched.  I think our kids learned to step lightly on Sunday mornings.

Fortunately over the years, we began to recognize the pattern and finally were able to laugh and joke about “Satan’s cheap shots”, moving on without getting too upset.

But then this morning happened. I will say that I was having an OK morning, it’s easier when there’s just two of you. But sadly I just wasn’t all that thrilled about church today. The people we can count on coming, as nice as they are, simply refuse to see the need for Christ in their lives. We’re wondering if we should just give up.

The phone rang.  I could have guessed the message before I even picked up. Earlier in the week I had left a couple of ’suggestions’ asking for special help today, and they had gone unanswered. Sure enough, the help would not be coming, and I now had 30 minutes to regroup.

Before I could catch them, my feelings went crashing to the floor and I wanted to throw in the towel, pack my bags and leave this missionary graveyard they call Japan. Earthquakes, volcanoes and now this! I walked down the hall counting on my fingers the months before we retire.

I realized that counting the days wouldn’t stop THIS day from being played out… and somehow Googling exotic tropical travel destinations on a Sunday morning didn’t seem right either.  So instead I sent Tony off early to prepare for the service and plopped down on the couch to read my Bible for a few minutes.

Now this is the part you’re not going to believe.  Before I opened my Bible I prayed…but with my lip stuck out… “Lord, I’ve had it!  WHY do we keep having to fail at this thing?  We’ve NEVER had a church plant this hard, and I’m wondering why.  How can I make it any further? I’m OVER IT!”.

Then I turned to the bookmark I’d placed yesterday and started reading.  Look it up if you don’t believe it, II Corinthians 8:10 and following, Paul’s talking to the Corinthians.  Remember with me that we’ve been toiling away ‘at’ this particular church plant for about 15 months and even though people keep coming, the lights have not clicked on for them. Try as we might, there just seems to be no future for this group.

Now I know that Paul is talking here about an offering that he was to pick up for the work in Jerusalem, so technically it’s not what I’m dealing with. But in a sense, it’s EXACTLY what I’m dealing with. Listen to what I read this morning with dropped jaw: “And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter.  Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so.  Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.  For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.”

Honestly, most days I feel that I’ve had nothing to offer here but “willingness”. But that’s what God is finding acceptable, right? Not according to what I have to show for the efforts these last 15 months, but according to what I DON’T have. And what I DON’T have today is a sense of defeat. Cheap shots or not, Satan’s still batting zero. And I’m still loved by the One Who counts. And that goes for you, too.

Pray that we will all finish well, whenever and wherever the end may be. Stay willing, stay focused, and stay eager to serve.

As always, Marsha

PS: We had a good turnout at church and I enjoyed having 6 lovely if wiggly kids to corral while the adults had a profitable discussion.  I would call it a success.

Enough

Even after so many years here, I still love learning new Japanese words. The challenge is often not just the sound of the word, but the pictograph (called “kanji”) that goes with it. Maybe you’ve heard Tony’s sermon using three kanji. Depending on how you arrange them, they make up the words, “Danger”, “Crisis”, and “Opportunity”…. well, it practically preaches itself. Today I learned a new word for “contentment”, and it’s pronounced “Michi-Tariru”. I knew that “tariru” is what we say when there’s “enough” of something, and mistakenly thought that “michi” meant “road”, since that’s what it sounds like. If you know me very well, then you know how I like to travel; having “enough road” would certainly spell contentment to me! I tested it out on our son Nathan without showing him the kanji, and he came up with the same meaning: “lots of road ahead!”

You may also know that we are getting ready to retire, and I’ve been struggling lately with the ‘What I want to do and what I can imagine we’ll be able to do,’ issues. Somehow having ‘plenty of road’ ahead seemed to give me great comfort. The verse the pastor was mentioning in this context of Michi-Tariru was from Phillipians 4:11, where Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Naturally my somewhat more intelligent husband (at least in this one instance!) had to shoot me down by pointing out that the correct kanji spelling in this word does not mean “road” but rather “full”. He knew that kanji because every time we try to park the car in Tokyo, we see nothing but “Full” signs in the parking lots. So it looks like I don’t need “enough road” to be content; I just have to be “full-enough”.

That’s good, and I can accept that. I just wanted my contentment to include roads! This week some of your prayer letters included articles about the ISIS crisis, not just in the Middle East, but even affecting our home in Australia, and even more so because our son is a policeman there, and working very close to one of the places where some horrific acts of terror were being planned. It’s made me pause and think… Here I am worrying if I’ll be Content in retirement, and I need to be reminded that people the world over wonder if they’ll be ALIVE in retirement…..or even most poignant, will those adorable grandchildren find a safe and contented life? Please pray with us as we ponder the world situation. Tony says it’s just another indication that the end is near, but nevertheless, I want to remember in prayer some of the people who need the Savior’s love and care as they are living in the reality.

We’ve had a good Sunday, visiting a new church and then old friends. We’re trying to get the ‘old friends’ to have the courage to set foot in the ‘new church’. We laughed with them about ‘contentment in retirement’ and encouraged them to give God a chance to fulfill their needs.

See ya next week, and God Bless,

Marsha

A Simple Enzyme

I realize that lately I’ve been pontificating a bit about vague philosophical issues like trust, stamina and the like.  I haven’t been telling you too much about our work around here.

Perhaps that’s because an average week around here (at least for me) is a bit, how shall we say……….”quiet”?

I remember my father-in-law Buddy saying awhile back, “You need to write more about the earthquake!”………well, that’s been 3 1/2 years now, and the survivors have found their ‘new normal’. For the most part the victims have “buttoned up” as far as us helping them or exercising a great deal of influence over them.  Of course we still visit when we can and minister, but it’s a whole different thing from shoveling mud and crying together like we used to.

This week has seen one girl accept Christ as her Savior, which is always encouraging.  I wish I could claim the credit, but she was led by a sweet young short termer across town.  I guess we could say we’ve fed the short termer and that’s given her the energy to ‘get things done’.  I might add that today two lovely ladies from our Sunday bunch prayed to receive Christ … but then reminded us that they wouldn’t be telling a soul, for fear of retribution. Pray that they continue to grow in the Lord. On that same note, Tony’s been having some epic Bible Studies, using the discipleship course he’s called “Anagion”, which is Greek for the ‘upper room’ where Christ taught his disciples.  There is now a website getting organized that we’ll announce soon.  I’m encouraged that already some lives seem to be affected by this. Maybe it will also impact your lives, who knows!  Perhaps I can claim some credit again for keeping Tony alive and on his diet……but that doesn’t give me much satisfaction…..

But before you think I’m depressed, I’m not.  These last few weeks in my Bible reading I keep hitting on the themes of the New Testament that talk about being a PART of the body.  Do you suppose the disciples ever got confused and discouraged?  “Does the ear say to the eye”…… these things resonate with me.  Who knows but what I’m an enzyme in the stomach or maybe a toenail?  What I do know is that I AM God’s and whatever I DO is God’s business, not mine.  So no talk of worthlessness around here.

Moving on, let me say we ARE excited about what we do, don’t get me wrong.  As you’re reading this, Tony and I have just arrived at a retreat center about 2 hours north of Tokyo where we’ll be leading an overnight conference with some church young people, who are anxious to grow in their faith.  That’s rewarding! I can’t wait to get started!

It was exciting this morning, talking with the ladies who ended up praying with us. It’s a holiday weekend, so the group was small, but that allowed us the opportunity to get “up close and personal” with them. And that’s really the point, isn’t it? It’s not the masses who we are sent to, but the individuals. Each one of them is loved by God, and no matter how much they may try to fit into the Big Picture, at the end of the day they think they are all alone with their thoughts … but really they’re alone with God, Who’s waiting patiently to step in and heal, and save.

Next week I’ll probably go back to sharing some insights that I come across in daily life, but remember we’re here to share the Gospel and thankfully that’s happening all the time!

Love ya,

Marsha

PS: For those who want to catch up with these blogs, check the archives at www.mywoods.net

Angels Unaware

We had a blessed weekend in our ‘home town’ of Sendai last week, where we lived and loved and labored back in the 80’s and 90’s.  Of course a trip there is always nostalgic.

As we visited our former home (now owned by a pastor) I remembered with thanks my kids and their happy childhoods, and the many adventures they had there.

In the midst of all the nostalgia, up popped a scene from a funny incident I had with a man named Kato san.

Kato san was what we might call “a few cards short of a full deck”.  Some people suggested it was a war injury, but no one could figure out which war since he kinda fell between the wars age-wise.  Others said he had too many falls from his bike.  That was easy to believe, because he was spotted daily careening all over town, sun, rain or snow, on a rickety old bicycle, never looking left or right, and with not even a nod to traffic laws. Someone knew he lived in a storage shed with his mother……but that’s about all.

Somewhere along the line, Kato san had become a Christian.  Again, no one knew for sure when or where or even why.  What we did know was that if he got even a ’sniff’ of a Bible study, he’d be there, near or far.  It wasn’t just the Baptists, but other missionaries admitted to hosting him, especially if there were snacks.

Then one day at a prayer meeting, Kato san arrived, and everyone began juxtapositioning in order to avoid sitting too close (he never bathed and his clothes consisted of the same tattered suit coat and pants). Things got started, and quite unexpectedly, our dear pastor Noguchi Sensei called on Kato san to pray.

The sharp intake of surprise from the prim and proper ladies was audible. You could almost hear their disbelief that one so crazy and dirty should be allowed to approach the throne of God.

But their faces, at first screwed in disgust, turned to wonder and then to shame as this child of God began to speak. I wasn’t there but the older missionary said, “It was the voice of an angel……talking to his Master as one who knew Him. After that, Kato san earned the affectionate nickname, “the Angel”.

But now let me get to the funny bit.

Our son Nathan had decided that he wanted to ride his bike to school every day.  It was 16 KM, (10 miles) but he was full of pre-adolescent energy and so we finally agreed, if reluctantly.  I decked him out in helmet and neon rain poncho.  You’d have to be blind to hit him, but still I worried……. and worried.  Another child at the school had been caught removing his helmet when out of sight, so naturally I suspected that Nathan would do this as well.

Time passed without incident and then one morning I was driving into town in the morning rush, crazy as usual with a ramped up danger due to drizzling rain and low visibility.  I prayed out loud, “Lord, let me just SEE Nathan, and if he has his helmet off, let me CATCH him as well!”  My worried heart continued down the road to the next intersection.

Suddenly there was a flash of movement and I almost hit a bicycle careening across my path, out of the crosswalk and against the light!  ”Whaaaaa!! You’re KIDDING, that guy could have been KILLED”, I screamed in my mind.

Then something seemed familiar as I focused on the tattered sleeve, inches from my front bumper……..  Kato San.

I laughed out loud as God spoke to my heart.  He seemed to be saying, “Look sister, if I can keep Kato alive, you shouldn’t worry about Nathan!”

Not three seconds later, I caught a glimpse of my yellow slickered helmeted boy laboring along on the correct side of traffic, safely making his way to school to live another day.

A few years ago Kato San went missing.  Nobody knows what happened to him, but we all recalled his comings and goings, ’safe in the arms of Jesus”.  It’ll be fun to catch up with him someday in Heaven and know the peace and happiness that he experienced even while he lived with all of us here on earth.

Praying that you’ll be protected by the One who sees all the sparrows and Kato Sans and keeps them in His Hand!

Marsha

Got Passion?

I had a funny experience a few days ago that got me thinking.
I’m doing a ‘pre-marriage’ counseling thing with a beautiful young Japanese girl named Miki.    She’s become engaged to one of our short term missionaries, so we’re looking forward to this ultimate cultural exchange! Jose, the boy in the drama, is back in the States now, but will be returning to Tokyo in a few weeks. In the meantime, he’s busy preparing the thousand and one things necessary, and talking “man” stuff with Tony on Skype. Miki and I have been going through a great little book together, covering everything from “finances for two” to “rules for fighting.” As part of preparations, we had to put together a package to send to Jose so he would be on the same page, literally. In addition to all the “let’s get ready” materials, Miki included a few of the special items Jose had requested, like dried squid, cup noodle, etc which are hard to come by in his home town of San Antonio.
On the way to the post office, I remembered a letter in my purse I wanted to mail. It’s to my new pen friend in Sendai, a sweet girl named Sakura. She’s in a mental institution (another story altogether), and so doesn’t have access to internet, which means I have write her by “snail mail.” That’s been a whole new re-training process, trying to remember those things called “envelopes” and “stamps.” The last time, in fact, I hadn’t put enough postage on the letter and it had been returned. This time, I wanted to make sure it made it to the destination, so I’d stuck on every stamp in the desk drawer I could find.
That’s where is the adventure began.  As Miki stepped up to the counter at the post office, I handed her my letter, asking her to give it to the guy along with the package to Jose. Well, he took one look at the letter, took a second look, then exclaimed (loosely translated), “Oh my goodness! This has too much postage! 92 yen too much!” It was just a few cents over, so I stepped up to the counter to take charge.
“That’s okay,” I assured him. “Just send it like it is.” But the unfortunate man already had his hand on the file cabinet drawer, insisting that he, the humble post office could never be guilty of overcharging me, the honorable customer. Before we could protest any more, he already had my letter in the copy machine, gathering evidence of the infringement.
Miki didn’t do much better, since she felt like she had to mention the dried squid in her package. The clerk went into apoplexy, one hand on the package, one hand on my letter. This was going to be bad. Miki and I were each given forms to fill out, detailing our many sins. As we sat writing at our respective desks, we laughed quietly and suggested that ‘dropping and running’ might have been the better option.
It didn’t get much better when we rejoined him at the desk.  He had to work furiously to figure out which arrangement of stamps he might best create in order to refund my 92yen!
When it was all done and dusted, we thanked him and walked away quickly, hoping he wouldn’t call us back on some additional infraction.  As we rounded the corner out of his sight, we looked at each other and then guffawed at the whole experience.
But as I was recappng this to Tony this morning, it dawned on me.  This guy had PASSION about his job.  Yes, we think he was a bit over the top about something that really mattered so little to us ………..but to him this was the stuff of life.  The 15 minutes and 4 pieces of paper that it took to resolve everything convinced me that this guy knows his job. I would likely ‘trust’ him with other more complex postal matters in the future, provided I had the time or energy.
And then I had to ask myself, isn’t this what “passion” is all about? Whether we’re talking about proper postage, squid-laced packages, successful marriages and yes, winning the lost, we need to remember the words of Solomon, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). I could take a lesson from the man at the post office; Do I give 100% to my job, my being, my PASSION? God made us for a purpose, and once that God-given purpose has been defined, we owe Him nothing less than everything; whatever it takes to get the job done.
The last few weeks have been tough on a lot of us as we’ve said goodbye to two dear friends: Babs Christy, and Naoki Noguchi.  Both of them served the Lord and loved life with the passion only a few of us can aspire to.    I’m guessing that every day they, like the postman, jumped up and did what they did with a zeal that we could all stand to emulate.
Please pray for us as we look for stamina in doing the things we see laid out before us for in the next few months of our career.  Today we are sending this from the northern disaster area.  It is always an inspiration to see God still at work here.  Tony was able to introduce the Anagion Discipleship course to some of the pastors……… We’re passionate about that!
We have been sharing our experience this weekend with a new missionary couple, and watching their delight in the Lord and the work is refreshing to us tired ol’ hacks.
I pray that you LOVE the thing you do and do it to the GLORY of God!
Marsha

A Really Big Scarf

I had to chuckle to myself this morning as I was reading my Bible. I noticed a couple of times in 2 Kings the admonition to, “Tuck your cloak into your belt”.

That’s was us this last Wed morning.  Our dear mentor and friend Naoki Noguchi went home to be with the Lord Tuesday afternoon. Kamikaze, devoted Christian, precious pastor. He was all of those to us, and more. By the time we got the word, the wake was scheduled for that same evening ………..a mere 1200 kms (800 miles) away.

While Tony was on Skype in a doctoral seminar, and then rearranging our Tokyo commitments, I high-tailed it to the train station and bought tickets leaving in 90 minutes.  We grabbed toothbrushes and all things black and literally ran out the door, heading for the Bullet train, 45 minutes and 2 transfers away from our house.  We slid into our seats, panting and wiping sweat and settled in for the 5 hour ride at 270 km/167 miles an hour to the southernmost island of Kyushu.

We arrived at the funeral home to a crowd of over 500 people.  We were the only foreigners, but did fine if you don’t count standing up with the family and joining the receiving line by mistake……..(you’d have had to been there to understand our addled brains at this point).  Finally, a kindly usher with an ear phone and white gloves practically belly crawled over and whispered in Tony’s ear, something to the effect of, “Excuse me for mentioning this, but I’m guessing you’re not family, am I right?”  Well, Hey, we FELT like family but took the clue and slunk murmuring “sorry sorry” back to our seats.

The next day was the funeral. Even more people, better sermon and telegraphed wishes from around the world.  We were content to hide in the back after last night’s display. Thankfully because of our obvious foreignness , every person who knew us was able to find us afterward.  A true reunion of great joy amongst the ‘bewildering feeling of sadness’ at losing a friend, mentor and pastor.

Ok.  Our hearts are full, but I want to summarize what was said, as it applies to all of us.

As you may know already from my comments on Facebook.  Noguchi Sensei preached 17 times in the last 4 months of his life.  Number 18 was scheduled for last Sunday, August 17, but the church surprised him by coming to the hospice, suggesting that he might like to preach from his bed. He did.

These were his four points:

1.  Thank you

2.  Excuse Me

3.  It’s been fun

4.  See you again.

Let me extrapolate.

1:  ”Thank you”. What a blessed life he had.  He was ALWAYS talking about how blessed he was.  What a JOY he felt to be part of the ministry of telling others about Jesus and what He’d done for him. To the people gathered around his bed, he expressed again his gratitude to them.

2: “Excuse me”. Noguchi Sensei taught me the euphemism “Oh Boroshiki” or “BIG Scarf”.  Japanese used to, and to some degree even now, carry a whole host of ’stuff’ around wrapped in a scarf.  When it’s all tied up, the four corners make a knot  and that makes a great handle. The best part comes when you’re done, because it folds up to fit into your pocket.  Having a “big scarf” means you go through life always leaving room for and expecting the best. Like dreaming you can build a church with no money and no people… yet. Or that you can get that hardened ol’ sinner to accept Christ….soon.  He was ALWAYS thinking big, even when those around him insisted on looking at reality, much to their shame afterwards. It might be hard to believe, but we’ve got the records to prove it: since the big earthquake and tsunami, over 3500 volunteers from all over the world were able to share his tiny church floor……because he thought they should. Even while saying the words, ‘excuse me’,  Noguchi made no apologies for having expected only the best for everyone.  We were all a little disappointed that he couldn’t make it to his first anniversary, Sept 1st, with his new bride Yumiko, but she understood.  From the sermonette she preached at the door of the funeral home as we left for the crematory, we feel confident that she’ll carry on his legacy.

3: “It’s been fun”.  That was so typical of him. As we talked on the phone last Saturday, Tony said, “I know this sounds strange, Sensei, but as much as possible, try to enjoy this time. In a little while, we’ll all be looking back on this day, remembering God’s goodness, and rejoicing.” Noguchi quipped back weakly what would be his last words to us, “This is….. fun”.

4:  ”See you again”.  Gathering his family close to the bed, he gave them each a blessing, then told the grandchild who had not yet become a Christian, “Don’t wait any longer. I want to see you again.”

After this special bedside worship session, he played his Shakuhachi (Japanese flute), ate some sushi and asked for singing.  His favorite was the Japanese version of the old hymn, “I Hear Thy Welcome Voice”.

Gathered around the bed, they sang all 4 verses, and then Noguchi Sensei continued to repeat the last line over and over, “Sin has left its crimson stain, He washed me white as snow…….He washed me white as snow……….He washed me white as snow.”

We’re back home now, feeling sad and hoping there’ll be no more parting with loved ones for a long time.  Definitely ready to get on with ministry, starting with church today and then at the end of this week a trip back to the north and the disaster area.  We’re taking along a fresh keen new missionary couple. They’ll make the trip ‘fun’…….mainly because they too have really Big Scarfs!

Keeping our eyes on the goal,

Marsha (and always Tony)

Lives Poured Out

Of late I’ve been trying to edit my book “River Crossings” as the publisher is pushing me to get it up onto  Kindle soon.  I came across this story, which some of you may remember. The post was December 6th 2010 I think. That seems like ages ago, but here’s how it went:

Years ago I was a young missionary in Japan. I was there to save the world, and maybe just a tad filled with myself. One night I went alone to the evening service at church. Tony must have had a meeting somewhere, I don’t remember.

Anyway, I was sitting there, the only foreigner in the service. The text for the message was from Matthew 26, where the lady is pouring perfume on the Master’s feet. Pastor Noguchi read the passage and then talked a few minutes about the woman, the cost of the perfume, etc. Then he took an interesting turn when he said, “Look at our missionaries”.

I was glad I’d been paying attention as all eyes were suddenly focused on me.

He went on, “I know they all must have been leaders back home where they come from. They are talented and intelligent. They would have to have drive and ambition or they wouldn’t have made  it  this  far.”  I sat up a little and beamed, basking in the praise.  Then Noguchi threw me a curve…

“And they get here, and what? They study the language for a very long time, and they still talk like 6 yr olds. They never really understand us, and they are bumbling around lost most of the time.” (I shrank in my seat, even though all eyes were now politely turned aside. I knew he was right.) There was some murmuring and nodding in agreement. Noguchi went on,  “Sometimes we might be tempted to just thank these folks, and kindly suggest that they go back home where they can do some real work; where they will be comfortable and can actually use their skills.”

After a brief pause, but before everyone started voting us off the island, he picked up his Bible and read the words of Jesus, this time in SIMPLE ENGLISH. “Forbid her not, for what she does is a fine and beautiful thing”.

“Don’t you see?” he said to the congregation. “Missionaries all over the world are pouring out their LIVES at the feet of Jesus… for whatever it’s worth, what they are doing is a Fine and Beautiful thing!”

That was a turning point in my life when I realized I’ll never be Japanese (or Thai). I will never speak any language like a native, including American English, which seems like such a long time ago, and Australian, which my Aussie brothers and sisters insist IS English. But like it or not, my life IS being poured out, as the wrinkles on my face confirm.

What a comfort to think that Jesus might give me a squeeze and say, “Good on ya, Marsha!”

In all truth, it’s not much of a sacrifice to love these people, and if that’s part of what “pouring out” means, then I can’t complain. I guess the bottom line is simply this: our lives are running out, at least the part associated with our mortal bodies. The question is not, “How can I plug the leak?” but, “How can my pouring out make a difference to the Kingdom?”

May your pouring be a good one, and may it be said that it was indeed a “fine and beautiful thing”.

“When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

(Matthew 26:12 – 13)

How poignant this post became (at least to me) this last week as we have celebrated the life of Babs Christy, a fellow missionary Journeyman from years ago whom I talked about last week. And to add to that, our dear friend Pastor Noguchi is ‘pouring out the rest of his life’ as we speak in a hospice called (in Japanese) “House of Glory” in far south Japan.

Tony spoke to him by phone last night and said, “Sensei, I know this may sound strange, but as much as you can, try to ENJOY these last few days with us, knowing that we’ll see you again soon.”

His response was weak, but I could almost imagine his smiling face as he whispered into the phone (in English, which he sometimes enjoyed flashing around) “…………..FUN”.

If those are his last words to us, they couldn’t have been better.  I posted on Facebook that he is dying and I’ve had at least 30 responses, all saying how he “poured his life into theirs’ in so many different ways.

This morning another of our favorite pastors heard the news and added Noguchi Sensei’s comment into his sermon.  He said basically:

“This weekend marks the annual festival of “Obon” where Buddhists remember their dead.  Unfortunately, it’s not a happy celebration of remembrance, but one of fear, that of thinking the dead will come back to haunt and hunt them, so the spirits must be appeased in any way possible.  Very few people visit the beaches this week for fear of being caught and drowned by the visiting spirits.”

Then he added, “Isn’t it appropriate that Noguchi Sensei rejoices in this season, looking forward to going home to his Savior, even calling it ‘fun’!  How the Gospel changes us from fear to hope.

Pray for us as we wait for the phone call announcing his death.  When that happens, we will try to rearrange our schedules to get to the other end of Japan to thank and encourage his family.

Keeping it pouring,

Marsha

Thumped by a Mountain

When our first child Trevor used to go off to summer camp, he’d be all excited.  Then he’d come home, report all the fun he’d had and then slip into an 11 month case of what we called the ‘retroactive heebie jeebies’, and have to be coddled and convinced to go for another wonderful experience the next year.
That’s sort of how we’re feeling after our grand climb.  Last night as we lay in bed safe and sound, I asked Tony why he grabbed me and kissed me in the headlights of the rescue vehicle.  He answered with an assured voice, “Because I didn’t think we’d make it”.
So where to begin.  Beautiful day, two small packs FULL of snacks, rice balls and water, best shape we’ve ever been in, sunny and 8:00AM.  We sail onto the trail with joyful abandon, even though within minutes my old comfortable tennis shoes blow a tread.  No worries, Tony’s penknife takes off the offending bit and we’re back on track. We pass up a water source because we have half bottles and are confidant that there will be more up ahead  (Mistake #1).  We get to the first intersection of trails at 12 PM, 2 hours slower than usual, but hey, we’re 64 and 66. By now my phone has died because it got stuck on camera mode in my back pocket.  The map was on that phone, but no worries. We’ve climbed this mountain so many times it’s like an old friend.
At the next split, we don’t find water, but it’s not too hot.  Cache one pack with snacks and the rest of the water to lighten the load (Mistake #2) and push on to the summit.
Rain begins to sprinkle, but we’re good.  Stop to ‘discuss’ throwing away the summit but I’m reluctant to give in.
Tony says, “Well, I won’t say quit unless we hear thunder”…… I’m not kidding, the words are not out of his mouth when lightning cracks and thunder rolls right overhead. Tony ponders whether imminent death is worse than resentful wife (Mistake #3). We decide to go ahead only as far as the chains, because hey, that would be dangerous in lightning! Remarkably, within about 20 minutes the sun comes out beautiful so we continue on, with inflated chests of victory.
We make the summit at 2:45.  A little late but that’s because we missed the trail at one point and ventured onto a cliff face not meant for people like us (Mistake #4).
Now we turn around and begin the descent in earnest, knowing that we’re thirsty and running behind time.  We get to the junction and the cached pack is GONE!   Alas, we remember the exuberant gang of junior high school boys we had met and also remember that ‘boys will be boys’ and snacks will turn anyone’s head.  We forgive them but wish they’d left the water.
About 5:30, we’re coming to where we should be seeing the trail to a ski area with a cable car we had planned to ride down. But by now it’s raining so hard the trail has become a log ride. It’s almost impossible to take a step without slipping. We both fall repeatedly and painfully, but by God’s grace are spared anything worse than cuts and bruises.
Eventually we come to a hut, a tiny one-room affair available to hikers.  We see that every inch is occupied by a large group, but ask if there’s a source of water anywhere. The man leads us about 200 yards down a different path to a spring, then insists that we come back up to the cabin. As we squat in the only space available, the foyer, he makes us coffee, which is better than any Starbucks I’ve ever tasted, then he gives us the facts: It’s at least two more hours to the cable car, which by now has already stopped operating. Since it spans several deep canyons, walking underneath would be impossible.  It will soon be dark and the trail from there on down is even worse. There’s no choice but to stay in the cabin with them.
We consider it, but Tony decides we simply have to go on. We have no food, no blanket and nothing dry to change into. Plus, there’s no place to even sit; and we simply can not stay with these guys, as kind as they are. (Perhaps this was probably our penultimate Mistake #5, leaving the dry hut.).
We head on, against their wishes. They gave us an umbrella (useless except as a hiking stick) and a small woman’s rain jacket, asking that we leave them at the bottom of the cable car the next day, if we made it.
From that point on, an already difficult descent becomes a nightmare. With increasing darkness, we fall more and more, insects came out in droves, biting anywhere we were exposed.

While I’m wearing a garbage bag for a raincoat, Tony tries the borrowed small ladies coat for awhile but since the hood is the only thing that covers anything on his girth, we swap bag (which fits him nicely) for coat.  (He’s using his garbage bag to keep the phone dry) By this time we’ve had a couple of phone calls from the B&B owner where we were to stay the night. He’s worried about us.

The trail is horrible, just as predicted.  I also try whistling when I remember all the hikers today wearing “bear bells” (Apparently bears don’t like to be surprised). But I have to give that up as my lips are too wet.
There are ropes and chains to hold on to from time to time.  I’m following Tony, mildly relieved now that it’s too dark to see down the precipice where we could fall, but all the while BEGGING him not to fall.  Of course we both know from experience that falling is not a voluntary choice. Once I fell down standing still, the mud is that slick.  At least the lightning has subsided.
I begin to wonder about the big things.  SO many of our friends have recently faced challenges, including two this week, where they have either lost a mate or almost.  (I guess it’s our age that is beginning to bring these experiences into focus).  We juxtaposition for lead on the trail, depending on who is more stable at the time, but either way, if Tony went over, he’d not only leave me, which would be beyond devastating, but also he carries the one tiny mag light and the working phone.  Today we can laugh about which would be worse, the loss of HIM or the rescue he represented.  At the time it wasn’t funny at all…..
The phone rings again and we have to let it ring out.  No one can answer it because we’re too wet.  Iphones depend on skin contact and if there’s water between……. Finally it rings again and we’ve found a bit of hanky in some far nether-region and dry a finger off enough to make contact.  It’s our B&B guy and he tells us he’s called the authorities and they’ll meet us on the ski slope in a 4WD, if we can just get that far.
We stop to thank God and hurry on. Finally we break thru to a ski slope (we can’t find a trail, but we just head downhill).  Within minutes we can see headlights way below, moving slowly. Tony has just faceplanted again, but he tells me to take the mag light and try to get the guy’s attention.
It takes at least another half hour to get to where he waits. From out of the darkness we hear a man’s voice, “Woods san desu ka?” No sweeter sound was ever heard. The drive on down to the village is another five miles or so, which had we been walking would have taken the rest of the night, barring the onset of hypothermia, which by now is a distinct possibility.
What can we say, theologically? It should go without saying, but say it we must: God was gracious and spared our lives. But did He warn us back up there on the mountain? I believe He did; but by ignoring the warning, were we being rebellious? Perhaps. How often do we act pig headed, demanding that our selfish wishes are granted?

Well, we got our wish, we made it to the summit.  But I have to wonder if the cuts, sore muscles, bruises and insect-stung swollen eyes we suffer today are not unlike a good switching with a stick.

These last few months before we retire are going to be filled with a lot of goodbyes. Climbing Mt Myoko was one of those, remembering years and years of fun adventures on that mountain.  I think I can say it was a “proper goodbye” but as we exited the rescue vehicle, enervated by our harrowing experience, we thanked the man profusely and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll NEVER be back!”

Marsha

PS. While we are thanking God for being patient with us, I came across the verse that says it all.  1Kings 20:11, “One who puts on his armor should not boast like the one who takes if off.”

Have a safe and dry week!

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