Go With The Flow

Dear Friends,

Today marks the second Sunday of Advent.  We dusted off our candles and tried to light them, to little avail.  I guess they just tuckered out last year, and we need to buy new candles but can’t be bothered because as you read this, we’ll be on the plane to Australia for just a week to hug the grands again and see our little girl graduate from University!  We have almost every minute planned as we need to begin to set up a retirement strategy for just a YEAR from NOW!

We’ll be back in the saddle the 18th, because as this will be our last Christmas in Japan, at least for awhile, we’ve got more celebrations and opportunities to share Christ than you can shake a stick at.  I HOPE I can get out a blog next week, but if you don’t get one, just lean back and enjoy the flurry of Christmas that you’re involved in and know that we are too.

As I was scurrying around packing and thinking about our schedule, all the while entertaining some drop in guests, an amusing memory popped into my head.

We lived in Bangkok for two years awhile back.  I learned many things there, but perhaps one of the most important lessons was how to cross the street.

You see, there are literally millions of drivers, lots and lots of (albeit it sometimes corrupt) policemen and even more motorbikes sifting thru the melee like sand among boulders.

Of course there are traffic lights aplenty, and people try mostly to obey them, at least in spirit, but still, sometimes you just have to take a ‘leap of faith’ and jump out into the roadway.

I was about to get the hang of it and….. then we visited Vietnam. They have it all plus thousands of bicycles mixed in as well!  Forever embossed on my memory was a scene that unfolded while we were looking out of the hotel lobby. On the curb stood a lovely older gentleman and his wife. It wasn’t hard to imagine that he was probably a decorated veteran bringing his sweetheart back to try to relive the sights and sounds of his youth…. a time when his physical life as a soldier was a question of survival almost every day.

“Not much has changed”, they seemed to be thinking, and yet in some ways, everything was different. Both had canes and were leaning out from the sidewalk like an action freeze frame, tottering with uncertainty.  They’d been standing at this perilous angle for several minutes, both looking frantically back and forth with growing concern.

“Well,” I thought to myself, “He may have been a hero in his day, storming the hill while leading a battalion,  but I don’t think they had traffic like this in the 60’s.”

Finally, a hotel clerk saw their predicament and stepped out to the sidewalk. Without a word, he put a hand on each of their arms and gently, as if testing the temperature of the water, stuck his foot out into the traffic.  Then like a graceful ballet move, the three of them segued into the raging stream, never missing a beat as the traffic simply flowed around them like vapor over an airplane wing.  Depositing them safely to the sidewalk on the other side, the clerk gave a smile with a crisp click of his heels, and spun around to return to his duty.

I think life is like that.  Sometimes life leaves us tottering on the side of the road, leaning on our cane.  But there comes a time when you just have to take a breath, hold somebody’s hand, and  ’jump in’ to get it done. Otherwise you’ll waffle on the edge of things and never accomplish the goal.

But as you step out there, I must remind you of the Asian maxim: Look neither right nor left; show no fear and NEVER break your stride……. I did that once not only at my own peril but also to the peril of the poor motorcycle driver who was coming full bore and headlong straight at me. He had already made the nanosecond maneuvers necessary to avoid a collision, aiming at the hole that would open up as I passed thru, but that was all thrown out the window when the reality of the moment hit me like a deer in the headlights. I did the unthinkable; I stopped, then started to run. It was almost a disaster, prevented only by the fact that the motorcycle driver was even a better driver than I had given him credit for.

I’ll leave you to make your own conclusions about taking the Master’s Hand and trusting Him to get us across the stream without considering reality and freaking out……. even when it seems suicidal.

As the excitement speeds up for Christmas, it is our prayer for you that this ‘SEASON” will be the best ever, as you keep the pace and enjoy the journey! I leave you with some great words from Joshua 1:7, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.”

Merry Christmas!

Marsha

Generational Thankfulness

Good morning, hope you all had a great week and my American friends had a nice Thanksgiving.

This week in lieu of a real Thanksgiving we had a team meeting instead.

Sounds a bit boring, but our leader dispensed with business and instead asked us to go around the room and tell everyone HOW and WHEN we had become a Christian, noting other significant moments along the way.

Well, I’ve known some of these people for 40 years, and yet I was surprised by the details.

However, in the telling, two things seemed to emerge as the norm.

1) Each of us, although mostly reared in Christian homes and saved at an early age, had a ‘crisis of faith’ that brought us to real commitment somewhere in our teens.

2) We all remember someone who was responsible for initiating this commitment.

Now that leads me to conclude many things, as I’m sure you are at this moment as well.  Along the lines of hiring better youth workers, planning more youth events, etc.

But that’s not it.  I received my call to missions in an extremely dull Wednesday night Bible study when the idea just popped into my head.  I knew it didn’t come from an earthly source, since it had absolutely nothing to do with whatever the teacher was saying, of which I have no recollection of both then and now.   But the idea of full time Christian service was not there one minute and confirmed the next.   After the Bible study when I confided to my boyfriend my doubts, he chimed in with the encouraging words, “You like to sew, you could be a missionary and sew dresses for naked Africans!”

That, for me was all it took, (OK maybe I worshipped the boy as much as God at that time), but unwittingly his comment set me on my way, knowing from the start that it was real.

Now let’s talk about a couple we know named Yukiko and Tak.  You may have noticed on Facebook that we visited with them this last weekend.  Yukiko was a young student who had a habit of listening to radio English lessons the first year we arrived in Japan.  She had just learned the phrase “What brings you to Japan?” One morning Yukiko (a high school girl at the time) saw Tony sitting at a coffee shop at her school, so she thought she’d try it out.  He answered, the relationship continued, and eventually she became the first person we baptized in Japan.

30 years later with 4 grown kids, all of whom became flourishing and now in full-time ministry themselves, her husband Tak, prayed to receive Christ.  Now their marriage has taken on a whole new chapter as a family of believers.

A few weeks ago we got a letter from one of her 2 ordained minister sons who asked Tony to tell him about who had led him to the Lord.  He explained that he was doing a series of sermons about the process of becoming a Christian. His mother, he knew, had been led to the Lord by a missionary some 30 years ago.  He knew the details of her conversion, but wanted to know about the person or persons responsible. “How did you become a Christian?” he asked.

In this season of thankfulness, I challenge you to think of that person who led you to Christ.  Does he/she know that they did?  Have you told them and thanked them?

As we visited with Tak and Yukiko, we were able to say, “You are our greatest treasure.” I didn’t saying ‘accomplishment’ because that would mean that we had done something, which we didn’t. It was all the Holy Spirit, doing what He does best, and most of the time not even in obvious ways at the moment. It’s not until you back away, say 40 years or so, that the beauty and mystery of His work come into focus. Believe me, after 40 years of ups and downs in a ministry generally short of instant feedback, it’s a real encouragement to see the joy and salvation that’s come to that family, and to know that God in His mysterious mercy allowed us to be a small part of it. By the way, Yukiko’s sister and their parents have also become Christians but, that…. Well, that’s another story!

I hope you all have had a blessed week chock full of things to be thankful for. Now let’s get back in the saddle and back on the scales!  Bring on Christmas!

Marsha

Thankful

Our wonderful little family of our son Nathan, Kylie, Isaac and Ezekiel left this last week to head back home to Australia.  The visit is finished. The goodbyes have been said. The waves and blown kisses have been waved and blown.  We watched them go through immigration, then started the long drive back home. We were home and in bed before they even left the ground, even if we did get up several times in the night to check their progress on the internet.  It was 2 or 3 nights before we slept thru, no longer listening for the pitter patter of small feet and the hand on our faces to see if we were awake….

The next morning I was doing loads of laundry (not that they didn’t do the same before they left as well as thoroughly clean the apartment)….. and stumbling around with a mix of sadness tinged with a freeing sense of anticipation of “getting back to normal”.

A toy car peeks out from under the couch and I almost cry.  But at the same time I confess that I’m thankful I didn’t step on it……..again.

Once I heard a speaker say “I’ve seen the lights of Paris, I’ve seen the lights of Rome, but the prettiest lights I’ve ever seen are the tail lights of the kids going home!”

Japanese, who are people a lot like us and who share a lot of the same feelings, have a proverb about the grandchildren (loosely translated): “Happy when they come, Happy when they go”. I think about this as a magic marker rolls out of a high cupboard. I had hidden it there from the little graffiti artists who had been labeling their cups and had begun eyeing the walls……

I smile to myself as I treasure the moment when I overheard Isaac say to little brother Zeke, “Oh, you’re hurt, I’ll go get your mother!”  Or, “Mae, (the name he’s given me) I’ve had so much fun, I really like Japan and don’t want to go home tonight…. maybe I’ll just stay another day”…….Precious.

But I’m guessing my kids are breathing a sigh of relief as well.  I wonder if they must have been thinking every minute, “I hope my kids are well behaved, so I don’t look like a bad parent”. At the same time we were slowly remembering the reality of just how busy little kids can be….. I confess we may all have had some rather unrealistic expectations, at least until we all settled in and got used to each other. It makes our upcoming retirement and the prospect of being nearer to them all the more precious.

As I think back fondly of this trip,  I can’t help but remember the time when I realized that the family I was most “at home” with was no longer my mother and father, but had become my own husband and kids. In our little ‘family” we all (and I hope I speak for my kids as well)  had a wonderful life together.   But alas, at least for us, now both of my kids have made that ‘leap’ into families of their own and I’m betting that they’re most relaxed and happy when they’re with themselves (as much as I miss and enjoy them).  We’ve stepped to the next circle out, and while it’s bliss, especially for us, when we’re all together, the rhythm is different.  A beautiful different, but still different. And just a little bit exhausting for us oldies!

Jesus left his heavenly Father to come live with us for awhile. I doubt the Father was nervous that He’d misbehave because He, in His omnipotence knew otherwise, but nevertheless He allowed His Son free will, not only so He could be exactly like us, but also so that He could go off the rails if He chose.  Remember Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane? “If this cup can pass from me….. nevertheless, not My will but Thine”.

I wonder if Jesus was lonely to get back to the relaxing ways of being with the family that really ‘gets’ you ………….and yet He still made that trip to Earth for us. Heavy stuff, I know, but hey! We’re family, after all.

Love ya, and for our northern hemisphere friends, have a safe and happy (dare I say healthy?) Thanksgiving!  We are THANKFUL for all of you.

Marsha

Like A Skunk

A few weeks ago I got an interesting update from my niece in Wyoming.  Her husband had just left to go hunting and she was home alone with two little boys and two big dogs.
I’ll paraphrase all that went on that night, but suffice it to say, it sorta reads like James Thurber’s famous short story “The night the bed fell”. Her story went something like this:
While she was putting the boys to bed, she noticed a rather large rat scurrying down the hallway (It’s Wyoming, think ‘Little House on the Prairie”). Quietly so as not to unsettle the boys, yet quickly so as to find and evict the unwelcome creature, she started down the hall, but was stopped in her tracks when the dogs outside started barking as if Armageddon has already begun. Being a mother, her first concern was that the boys would wake up, but at the same time just a little concerned about what was causing such a commotion outside. Opening the door just a crack, she saw both dogs in the middle of being sprayed by a pretty impressive skunk.
Now, you people in the southern hemisphere may not have experienced “Pepi la Phew” up close and personal (remember that cartoon?), but I can guarantee, the skunk is one of the most efficiently armed creatures that God has ever made!  In the best of times, he smells awful enough to clear any room, but get him upset, and lookout!!
Back to my niece, realizing at once the gravity of the situation, she closed the door in a millisecond …. but by then the dogs had somehow made it onto the porch and through their dog door into the house before the latch clicked. It didn’t take long before the sight of an angry Mom trumped the skunk outside, so they turned tail and headed back out the dog door, only to be sprayed again. Reversing again, this time they came back into the house to find ‘Really Angry Mom’ who had realized this could go on all night; caught them, and locked them IN to stay.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. I might add that the offending rat decided he could find quieter cupboards to raid somewhere else and took to the dog door as well, escaping the craziness unharmed and unsprayed!
This tale reminded me of once when I was a little girl.  I was awakened from a deep predawn sleep by my mother running down the hall screaming, “Grab the clothes, grab the clothes!!”
I’m a pretty heavy sleeper, and my mother could be dramatic at times, but this really sounded like an emergency.  All I could imagine was that the house was on fire, and as I stumbled out of my room, foggily wondered why she wasn’t saying “Grab Marsha!”… I was hit with that unmistakable signature smell, and was bumped aside as my family was emptying closets and running out doors.
It seems that our cat had chased a skunk into the basement and cornered it right at the base of our large furnace. In some sort of design flaw (as least against skunks) the base housed the main grate that vented up through two floors and into all parts of our house.  Yep, it was memorable.  People who had shunned me at school before now had reason.
Fragrances …. Smells …. Words that may seem a lot alike, but oh what a difference!  The Apostle Paul wrote about being permeated with the “fragrance of life” through Christ, but went on to say that for the unsaved, it was the “smell of death” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).
As you’re reading this, we’re spreading some fragrance up in our “home town” of Sendai where we lived the best years of our life.   Nathan, Kylie and the grandkids are with us, and it’s such a joy. The little boy’s ‘fragrance’ is not their smell, but their bright red hair in a land of monotone black. I think they’re enjoying the attention.  Nathan has already spoken once in Tokyo and now has a chance to share his testimony (in a language he seldom uses but never loses) with old friends at our church. He’ll be talking about his life as a Christian policeman, then Tony’s preaching, then giving a presentation of the Anagaion program to area pastors. I’ll be catching up with dear friends and introducing my daughter-in-love to some of the aromas of our past.
I do hope we’ll be a good influence as we try to point to God, and my prayer goes for each of you as well. When you walk into a room, do people turn their heads and say, “What’s that fragrance?” I hope so!  But in a good way, of course. I remember some Dutch friends saying years ago, “Your lives are so full of Jesus”.  That’d be my continual prayer.
Remember, if God could create a skunk, He should be able to do something at the other end of the spectrum with us.
Keep smelling,
Marsha

No Left Turns

Dear Friends,

I hope you’ll forgive me for passing something that I received in a forward.I think it’s worth a read, because I’m going to be writing a few blogs on ‘getting lost’ in our old age, and this is certainly about one of those issues….driving

Oh, I forgot to mention, my two grandboys are here in Japan for the next few days, and we’re just having WAYYYY too much fun (their parents were kind enough to accompany them). We’ll be doubling our ministry while they’re here because they’re such a draw. Today we celebrated 3 yr old Ezekiel’s birthday, combining it with a pre-planned “child blessing” ceremony for our little Bible Study group. A little over 50 showed up (twice the normal attendance) so it was CRAZY but fun.  Several new people were in the crowd, including a couple of new dads. Praise God with us, and pray for these young families, won’t you?

Following is a story of an aging couple told by their son who was President of NBC NEWS:

My father never drove a car. Well, that’s not quite right. I should say I never saw him drive a car. He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926 Whippet.

“In those days,” he told me when he was in his 90s, “to drive a car you had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet, and look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it.”

At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in:  “Oh, fiddle sticks!” she said. “He hit a horse.”

“Well,” my father said, “there was that, too.”

So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The neighbors all had cars — the Kollingses next door had a green 1941 Dodge, the VanLaninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford — but we had none.

My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines would take the streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.

My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we’d ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. “No one in the family drives,” my mother would explain, and that was that.

But, sometimes, my father would say, “But as soon as one of you boys turns 16, we’ll get one.” It was as if he wasn’t sure which one of us would turn 16 first.

But, sure enough, my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts department at a Chevy dealership downtown.

It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded with everything, and, since my parents didn’t drive, it more or less became my brother’s car.

Having a car but not being able to drive didn’t bother my father, but it didn’t make sense to my mother.

So in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later, I took my two sons to practice driving. The cemetery probably was my father’s idea. “Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?” I remember him saying more than once.

For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of direction, but he loaded up on maps — though they seldom left the city limits — and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.

He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin’s Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish’s two priests was on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home.

If it was the assistant pastor, he’d take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church. He called the priests “Father Fast” and “Father Slow.”

If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry the bags out — and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream. As I said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still driving, he said to me, “Do you want to know the secret of a long life?”

“I guess so,” I said, knowing it probably would be something bizarre.

“No left turns,” he said.

“What?” I asked

“No left turns,” he repeated. “Several years ago, your mother and I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in happen when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic..

As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn.”

“What?” I said again.

“No left turns,” he said. “Think about it. Three rights are the same as a left, and that’s a lot safer.  So we always make three rights.”

“You’re kidding!” I said, and I turned to my mother for support.

“No,” she said, “your father is right. We make three rights. It works.”  But then she added: “Except when your father loses count.”

I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I started laughing.

“Loses count?” I asked.

“Yes,” my father admitted, “that sometimes happens. But it’s not a problem. You just make seven rights, and you’re okay again.”

I couldn’t resist. “Do you ever go for 11?” I asked.

“No,” he said ” If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it a bad day.  Besides, nothing in life is so important it can’t be put off another day or another week.”

My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was 90.

She lived four more years, until 2003. My father died the next year, at 102.

They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom — the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.)

One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news.

A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, “You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred.”

At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, “You know, I’m probably not going to live much longer.”

“You’re probably right,” I said.

“Why would you say that?” He countered, somewhat irritated.

“Because you’re 102 years old,” I said..

“Yes,” he said, “you’re right.” He stayed in bed all the next day.

That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the night

He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing us look gloomy, he said:  “I would like to make an announcement. No one in this room is dead yet.”

An hour or so later, he spoke his last words:

“I want you to know,” he said, clearly and lucidly, “that I am in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever have.”

A short time later, he died.

I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I’ve wondered now and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long.

I can’t figure out if it was because he walked through life, Or because he quit taking left turns. “

Life is too short to wake up with regrets.  So love the people who treat you right.  Forget about the ones who don’t.  Believe everything happens for a reason.  If you get a chance, take it & if it changes your life, let it. Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.”

ENJOY LIFE NOW – IT HAS AN EXPIRATION DATE!

Till next time, Marsha

Play Ball!

As many of you know, my husband is studying for a doctorate in mission leadership. To that end he spends much of his time with his nose buried in a book reading about various ‘methods’ of missions. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Tony is expecting to find the Holy Grail of missiology, but still, he’s trying.  It’s hard work and he enjoys it.

I’ve mentioned this before, but as part of his study, he’s crafting a discipleship course called “Anagion” (That’s Greek for “upper room”, and I think you know where that’s going).   At first glance, it doesn’t look like, well, rocket science. There’s a little church history, some basic Bible skills, and a look at what it means to live a Christian life every day. But we’ve been amazed at how many people have told us this is exactly what their church needs.  Simple as it may sound, learning the ABCs of faith is a multi-faceted process that can take a lifetime (or more; just look at me!).

Maybe it was beginning to get to Tony as well, when he had this dream the other night ……. Honestly he’s not on medication! Here’s how he described it:

“I found myself playing for a professional baseball team. It was somewhere in South America, on the edge of a jungle. When you hit the ball, it would have to go up and over vine-covered trees, then over a river to the other side. Anything short of that would be an automatic out. There was no pitcher, but instead you had to toss the ball up and hit it yourself.

“To make matters worse, the home plate was back inside a cave, with a narrow opening out front, mostly covered in vines. The ceiling was low, so I couldn’t stand up straight, and the cave was narrow, so that my bat would scrape the opposite wall when I swung. And, oh yes, the bat was a rolled up piece of newspaper.

“Needless to say, my first attempt was a total failure, and I wondered if I should consider a new career. But instead, the rest of my dream was figuring out ways to overcome the handicaps. I started with a pair of clippers, trimming away the vines from the cave opening. Then I found a real bat, and cut a few inches off the end, so I could get a good swing.

“I’ll never know if the effort was worth it though, because somebody woke me up before the next game!”

I wonder if he realizes that he was living out, in his dream, the challenge of evangelizing the Japanese?  He may be on the ‘professional team’ but he’s playing in a jungle.  There are cultural barriers and boundaries that, believe me, he may NEVER hack thru. There’s no pitcher, or at least one we can identify. At least it’s not often that a person will come to us on the street and say, “Hey! I want to be a Christian. Tell me how!” (The pitch)  The playing field, that is, the place where we do our work, is pretty overgrown with some formidable obstacles everywhere we turn.

Take our little Sunday meeting here, for example. We’re only allowed to use the meeting room in our apartment building twice a month for worship services. It would only be once, but a kind neighbor lady uses her once-a-month option to make the 2nd time available.

Once in awhile, we do manage to get a good swing in, like the other day when two of our folks actually prayed to receive Christ! But then on the way out they said they would never be able to share their decision with anyone, especially their families.

Another lady, hearing a lesson on prayer, told us proudly that she prays every single day. Tony, sensing something, asked her, “Who do you pray to?”

“My ancestors!” she exclaimed.

You could almost hear the scrape of the bat on the far wall. Tony was gentle as he told her, “That’s good to respect your family; but just remember that your ancestors can’t offer the forgiveness and mercy that Jesus can.” She promised us that this week, she was going to direct at least one prayer straight to Jesus. That’s when we have to remind ourselves that this is God’s work, and not our own. Let’s all pray together and see what He does in her heart, shall we?

Yeah, there’s lots of stuff growing over everything. The trees are tall, the river is wide, and somebody tell me WHY we can’t move the base out into the open? But then I think I get it: just like our precious ancestor-praying friend, we’re not the pinch hitters around here. The playing field stinks, but this way, we’re not even tempted to claim credit for anything God does in people’s hearts all around us. It’s His game, His rules, and guess what? The outcome is already decided. Let’s play ball!

Pray for us today and as always, Thank you!!

Marsha

PS: You may notice you’re getting this blog about 18 hours early this week.  That’s because we have a ‘really big game’ today and would appreciate your prayers.  First, Tony is teaching Anagion to our favorite class, about 20 older Christians who even do their homework!  Then we race to another church where Tony again is giving a section of the service, again about Anagion.  Then we jump on a bus for an overnight retreat a few hours out from Tokyo, you guessed it……Anagion again.

Today’s calendar also reminds us that our particular involvement in the ball game here in Japan will end in exactly 6 months, but who’s countin?

Experiences

If you know me very well, then you can understand that it’s not very often that I meet someone who has the courage or the ability to shoot me down mid conversation, but believe it or not, that happened to me this last week, and it left me thinking.

You see, I had buttonholed a fellow missionary who has some amount of authority over our new folks. I was going on and on about the women’s meeting I’d gone to and what a great opportunity it had been (Check my Oct 12 blog for details). Surely, we need to encourage the new missionaries to get involved in this. What a blessing! What a chance for language immersion! What a boost for future relations with our Japanese churches!

Then, as I was taking a breath and garnering more steam, he smiled and said, “I’m sure that was a good experience for you.  However, it was your experience and I’m not going to push it on them” (read, ‘end of discussion’).

Stunned, I smiled, did a little self-conscious bow and stumbled away, scratching my head.

While still processing that interchange a few days later, I listened to a sermon by our new mission board president.  He’s only 36, so I have a world of issues right there, to think we’re being led by such a child!  But I’ll have to say, I was quite impressed with what he had to share.

He got on my good side right from the start, by affirming what I knew already: that he is young and inexperienced. But then he went on to say that you don’t necessarily HAVE to experience something to appreciate it, and learn from it. Just consider alcohol and drug abuse for example. We don’t have to go through all the pain and suffering those victims have endured; seeing their experiences is enough to show us the danger.

By the same token, he went on, all those who have gone before us have left us a world of experience, good AND bad, from which we learn and grow and set our paths accordingly. Even more important than that, we can go to the scriptures and find all the help we need.

I had to stop and think about my own motives…. Why am I so desperate to see to it that those newbys have the same experiences I’ve had? Of course, it should go without saying, that MY experiences are the best! I want everyone to follow EXACTLY in my footsteps and be a part of the history that’s made me what I am.

But they can’t do that, can they?  My experience will never be theirs. I hope by God’s Grace they do find that path made just for them, one that will take them to the kind of place where I am now: looking back with real gratitude for the journey, and looking ahead with more joy than ever, knowing that every step of the way has been carefully and Divinely directed by the One who set me on the path. With that accomplished, I look forward to the time when we’ll all gather at the Feet of Jesus and rejoice over the tapestry of experiences that brought us to the goal.

I hope, Dear Reader, that you can see a bit of my heart here. For the last several years now, I’ve tried to express to you the things that have made up my life as a missionary, as a mother, a wife, a child of God.

But I haven’t done this to make you envy my journey, or wish you could experience first hand some of the things I’ve written about. These are after all, MY experiences; a record of the journey God is giving me. I hope this accounting has been a blessing to you, and I really do appreciate your faithfulness in listening to me go on and on…… And most of all I appreciate your prayers for me and for my family. Without them, it would have been a different and not so wonderful road altogether.

I’m excited to hear your stories, if not in a blog, then as part of a feast of testimonies when we’re finally all together with Him and have that unique privilege of looking back and seeing what brought us all together with Him in Glory.

Until then, be assured of my prayers and thoughts for you. May all your experiences be uniquely yours and mold you into the beautiful person God created you to be.

Till next time, Marsha

Forever Friends

A while ago my daughter called to say she’d had a ‘problem with a friend’.  OK she’s 25, but we can still take joy in occasionally being her sounding board.

Afterwards, Tony and I were going back over the conversation, feeling her pain, and remembering a few bumps of our own on that fickle road through friendships. The amusing thing was that we can both remember with a visceral sting those encounters, usually concluding with the firm declaration, “That’s it!  NO MORE FRIENDS!” But then as we talked about those times, neither one of us could remember the details: who exactly offended us or why. We just remember the vow to give up friendship! Men especially I think, must have a big ‘reboot’ button that helps them move on more quickly, but these altercations hurt me from time to time.

There was that one time we COULD remember, probably owning to the fact that, as we reflect back about it, the biggest problem was us! We thought we were BEST friends with another couple but as it turned out, there were parameters on that friendship that I was too shallow to pick up on. Maybe if we had given them more space when they needed it, things would have worked out better, but…. Isn’t growing up fun? I have to add that we did learn from that experience, applied it to the next friends who came along, and are now moving into our 4th decade of happy times with them.

Back to Nicki.  All we could finally suggest to her is that maintaining friendships is hard. I heard someone say when I was young that if you can die having had 5 really good friends, you are truly blessed.  I thought back then that number was ludicrous, but now that I’m older, I’m wondering if that number isn’t a bit too ambitious.

Now I have to pause and praise my best friend here on earth. Tony sang me a song the other day that cracked us both up. It’s a nice tune by Andrew Peterson, and it’s called “Dancing in the Minefields”. Part of it goes like this: “We went dancin’ in the minefields, sailin’ through the storms; and it was harder than we dreamed, but that’s what the promise is for.” I almost laugh when I remember that day a little over 45 years ago, when we vowed to stand by each other “through better or worse”. What were we THINKING? But yeah, that’s what the promise is for, and it’s made the friendship we have stand the test of time.

And then there’s GOD.  He created us to love and worship Him, but as our kids were told repeatedly growing up, “He also gave us the free will to take options”.  If God had smothered us, or made us into robots that HAD to love Him, well, it wouldn’t be the same, would it? But He gives us space………..and respect…….and waits for us to realize He’s all we ever needed.  Isn’t that just a beautiful image?

On a sad note this week, we just caught up with some ‘long lost friends’ (we seem to have a lot of those…..) and were so happy to hear that they’re healthy in their golden years.  But the next sentence made us cry as he described how the love of his life, his best friend, has slipped away from the land of reality and now finds herself in constant confusion.  So sad. I can’t imagine living with and caring for a friend who now sees you as a stranger or worse yet, as an enemy. How precious to remember that God DOES know us, and still loves us, even when the lines are tangled and we can’t understand.

Remembering that gives me hope for all the friends in my life: the ones who have been “closer than a brother” and the ones I’ve let slip away. There will come a time, I’m convinced, when we “will know, even as we are known”, and it will be a time of no more tears, no more misunderstandings, no more emptiness. Until then, let’s enjoy our friends as best we can. Give them a break when they need it, love them unconditionally, remembering that you too are loved like that.

Speaking of songs (was I?), let me leave you with one of my favorites, by Michael W. Smith, called “Friends”: I remember writing this out mingled with tears when some very dear friends left us in Japan years ago.

Friends are friends forever

If the Lord’s the Lord of them

And a friend will not say never

‘Cause the welcome will not end

Though it’s hard to let you go

In the Father’s Hands we know

That a lifetime’s not too long

To live as friends…..

Blessings on you my friends.

Bowled Over By Blessings

Last night I dragged myself through the door, kissed Tony, handed him a can of soup I’d bought on the way home and said, “Fix this.”  By the time he’d done that, I was in bed where I slept for the next 10 hours straight!

No, I’m not a total degenerate (most of the time, anyway), and I’m not sick. I had just survived 73 hours of, if your computer can read Japanese characters, ????????????42???????. If instead all you see is a bunch of squiggles, the event was called in English, “The All Japan Baptist Young Ladies Union’s 42nd General Assembly and Convention.”

Let me explain.  Last Sunday at church I read in the bulletin that the ????????????42??????? (see above) was to be held this week. Traditionally for the last fifty years or so (give or take), it’s always been held at our Baptist Camp, Amagi Sanso.   Back in the old days, our mission would gather there once or twice a year, so naturally I wanted to go…. not only for the meeting but also for the nostalgia of the place.  This year’s event, being organized by, how shall I put this? somewhat pedantic Japanese ladies, it took me till just hours before departure to jump thru all the hoops. But finally, with the kind help of others at the church, I got ‘invited’ to come as an observer. I wouldn’t be allowed to vote because I wouldn’t be there as a church delegate, but that suited me fine, since it’s been at least 18 years or so since I last attended.  Suffice it to say, a LOT of water has passed under the bridge since then, both with me and our mission’s relationship with the Baptist convention of Japan.

I went with notebook in hand, happy to be a ’spy’ and see for myself what events would unfold while I sat quietly in the ‘non voting’ section.

I was bowled over in my mis-expectations (is that a word?).

I was surprised to find that they were still able to  (as they say in America) ‘bless my socks off!”

Honestly, I was expecting to find several hundred commie-hippie-types sitting in a circle chanting some mumbo jumbo and weaving daisy chains.  ”Why?” you ask.  Because unfortunately some of our Japanese Baptist convention churches have taken a rather extreme liberal left turn over the years.  What we enjoyed back in the day working together with folks who shared our heart for the Lord and evangelism reportedly no longer existed.  For example, they changed the name a few years ago from (approximate translation) “Housewives Annual Meeting” to the “Young Women’s Annual Meeting”. You see where this is going, right? Then they changed the title from “Pastors wife” to “Partner”, in deference to the fact that more and more women are becoming pastors themselves. Again this was just another liberal move and hard for us oldies to comprehend.

I’ve always held out the hope that the whole organization hadn’t gone to the dogs; and indeed I was pleasantly surprised.  I found that very few of those new “Liberal Women Pastors” even attended the meeting, because say what you may, even “liberated” women are still women, and the pastors among them probably figured that a meeting like this simply wasn’t worth their time. I’m guessing again that they’d rather be in with the big boys and their meetings, but what do I know. Forgive me, I digress.

Back to MY experience.  What can I say?  From the first two hour session (no break, no cookies), I sat enraptured at the SPIRIT of evangelism that these 200+ women still have!  The hour-long sermons pointed to Christ alone as our salvation and motivation.  Standing with 200+ women and belting out “Great is Thy Faithfulness” was exhilarating, as well as the commissioning of two missionary families with a total of 8 children, sent from our Japanese churches to Southeast Asia.  That service was every bit as exciting as the missionary commissionings we have in the States. The prayer times were Holy, the Fellowship sublime.

Maybe best of all was reconnecting with the bunch of people from EVERY sphere of my life spanning from Language school almost 40 years ago till now. SO SO much hugging and crying with joy!  So much lack of sleep because we sat up remembering the good old days and postulating about the future.

I also heard both from the pulpit on several occasions and again personally of the thankful hearts they have for the missionaries and the message and influence that they have had over the years. Also comforting to my issues about my questionable worth were all the women who, without hesitation, called up names of old or gone on to glory missionaries whom even I had  forgotten but had played vital parts in their lives. Those names included people like the Gullatts, both Emmanuels, Deckerts, both Clark families (Gene and C.F), Garrotts, Mercers, Sherers (both generations), Highfill, Cambell, Connells, Moorehead, Calcote and Culpepper…..and on and on. Japanese people who stood there and said they don’t think they would be Christians today but for those people and their lives given.  On top of that, several people, when they realized who I was commented “Oh, your baby died!”  to which I could laugh and say, yes, he was my baby, but he was 16! ”  Nevertheless, they hadn’t even forgotten me……..

The 3-hour train ride home was again non stop talking, interspersed with shrieks of laughter and wiping of tears with a bunch of my old cronies from Sendai.  Again, it was beautiful to sit with a friend who took 20 years and everyone’s prayers and prodding before the message sank in and she came to Christ.  She has grown SO much in these 10 years since she’s been a Christian, it was so much fun to talk to her now as a co-laborer.

As I recover from the high, my prayer is that this tradition will continue amongst our young missionaries.  The ladies said over and over, “We miss the missionaries so much, they brought such a bright perspective to our meetings, and besides that, they were fun!”  As I hobble toward the door of our closing time here in Japan, I yearn that the new little ones will have a ‘family’ such as I’ve had to love and be nurtured by.  If you’re a young missionary and are reading this, start a little savings box and BE THERE for next year’s meeting!  You’ll be blessed!

In a little less that 7 months we will retire and leave Japan, at least temporarily, but I will be leaving with a heart full of hope for the future in the hands of these “young ladies”.

Blessings,

Marsha

The Art of Flirting

Okay, so maybe some of my ‘evangelistic’ methods may seem a little strange, but I just couldn’t help flirting with a little boy this week.

When Tony and I walked into a coffee shop the other day, it was soon obvious that we were the only “gaijin” (foreigners) in the place. We’re used to it by now, and most days we even enjoy the attention. Taking a booth near the window, an older gentleman nearby punched his grandson and said (in Japanese), “Say Hello!”

I turned in my seat to see his beaming face.  He said ‘Hey’ in such a natural way I thought maybe he was a native speaker, so I said “Hey!” back.  That’s when his attack plan crumbled. His face froze in terror, realizing he’d caught a live one, and he ducked down out of sight.  I waited a minute then whispered kindly to him in Japanese over the top of the booth, “Your English is really good!”

That pulled him back up, and for the next 20 minutes we had a little back and forth.  I found out he’s 7, his name is Mi-ya-beh (which I always thought was a girl’s name, shows what I know)………His grand daddy and he were having some special time……. and yes, he was playing hookey…….

When they got up to leave, my missionary conscience kicked in. I had said very little about ‘who’ we are, perhaps in part because they didn’t ask.  But something in me said he should leave with something, so I whipped out my calling card and in solemn Japanese tradition presented it to little Miyabe.

He skipped off with the card in one hand, Grandpa’s hand in the other, wearing a big grin of triumph.

I should tell you, my card merely says (in Japanese), Marsha Woods; Christian, teacher, wife, mother and grandmother…..  and my email address.  We’ve learned the hard way not to include our phone number unless we’re sure it won’t result in late night “dare ya to prank the gaijin” calls. I should point out that the first batch of cards Tony made up for me included a tiny little mistake with the kanji (Japanese character) for “wife”. What ended up in print was not “wife” but instead the word for “prostitute”. Thank GOODNESS a good friend caught the mistake before I had a chance to circulate it….. On the other hand, the friend also added that if I left it like it was, I might get more response!

But I was encouraged that day, when little Miyabe raced back into the coffee shop, card in hand, screeching to a stop at our table long enough to shout out in his best English, “Goo bye, Kuri-su-chan (Christian)!

It’ll be worth it if only he remembers some day a fun interchange he once had with a Christian while playing hookey with his granddad. Pray that he keeps the card someplace safe, until he learns how to do email.

This morning at church, Tony was teaching an Anagaion lesson and asked everyone to think back to their ‘call to Christ’.  A couple of people said it was the Christmas parties and the candy that ’set’ Christianity in their hearts when they were little kids… memories that brought them back when they reached adulthood. Another lady said she went to church to spite her mother who said she’d never find a husband if she became a Christian (She’s been happily married to the head deacon for decades). Several people shared that they had had a dream that eventually brought them to faith.

One lady, a newcomer to the class, shared that her adult daughter had committed suicide 3 months ago and she was now coming to church in search of something ….. exactly what, she didn’t know, but as I watched the Christians in the room reach out to comfort her, I knew she had come to the right place. Her name is Mrs. Northbeach (KitaHama in Japanese) and I hope you’ll pray with us for her salvation.

It’s the ‘little things’, isn’t it? God seems to be showing me lately that He works best with those insignificant moments when we least expect something “Holy” to take place.

Hope you have a blessed, and Holy week!

Marsha