Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Our garden!

Last year we moved into a beautiful house that our church purchased for a parsonage.  One of the only things on our 'perfect house list' that our house doesn't have is a yard for the boys to play in... but it's not typical to have a yard in Japan, so we are fine.  We're spoiled with beautiful parks everywhere, anyway. ;)  But we do have a nice walkway that leads up to the front door.  The former owner had some landscaping, but after a year of doing nothing with it, it was overgrown with weeds and did not have the inviting look we wanted for our home.  So when we got back from home assignment last summer, it was time to tackle the front walkway and make it our garden.  We enlisted the help of a wonderful friend from church who has made gardening in Okinawa her hobby.  She continues to teach us how to plant, when to plant, and nearly every plant in our garden has come from hers!  Tara, we can't thank you enough for your help and joining us in our adventure!
It has been a really fun experience over the last few months, so here are some pictures of the process...

Before (looking from the door to the street)
and AFTER!!!

Here's another before shot looking toward the front door (this is after hours of weeding, by the way)...


and AFTER!!!  Quite an improvement, don't you think?
So here are our pictures of the process....
First we had to make our dirt better... so we dug up a lot of the dirt we had and mixed it with many kinds of 'good dirt'... this took about 4 hours... it made our small space seem very large. ;)

Then we laid out covering to minimize weed growth and covered it in mulch...

 Noah found a praying mantis friend during the process. :)
And then we started planting!
We've been slowly adding plants as we buy them or as Tara gives us more from her garden. :)

My favorites are our water plants... we even have fish in one of the pots!  We are loving the blessing of living in a house and having a small garden to take care of... we pray that God would use this garden to help us get to know our neighbors a little better.  I also love the time of watering our garden every day - it has become one of my favorite prayer times. :)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Justin's view of the world... today

This post comes to you from our smart and creative 5 year old son, Justin.  We've spent the last couple days working on a small garden along the walkway to our house (separate blog post about that will come soon with before and after pictures).  Justin and Noah have been great troopers in that we've basically ignored them for hours while we were working... they have helped us dig in the dirt, played games outside, and managed not to kill each other while playing alone inside. ;)  While our garden will always be a work in progress, I finished the first major portion this afternoon.  Justin had my iphone and asked if he could take some pictures of the new garden.  I let him take a few pictures and he had so much fun, it was difficult to get him to stop.  When we first moved to Guam 10 years ago, buying a digital camera was one of the biggest purchases of our life at the time.... it's so funny that digital has become so normal, kids all around the world ask to 'see the picture' as soon as you take it.  So I thought it would be fun to share what Justin saw through the camera this afternoon... pictures of the garden, plants on our balcony, and normal things around the house... with the world's greatest younger brother as his model, of course. Enjoy! :)

Monday, September 23, 2013

I survived teen camp... in Japanese!

[If you follow this blog with any regularity, you know by now that most posts are written by Julie... but this is a story from Brian!!!!  Please send him lots of encouraging messages so he'll continue to post. ;)]

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the Osaka area teens camp.   I was really excited about this for many reasons.  First, I don’t get many opportunities to meet and build relationships with people from mainland Japan.  Second, this would be a great opportunity for me to thoroughly embarrass myself by being immersed in Japanese.  When I found out that a new Japan budget airline was practically giving seats away it was set, I would spend three days at camp!

Our church secretary, Mutsuki, has been more than an answer to prayer for so many reasons.  When I looked at the camp registration and information form, I was only able to read “…… in the….. from…. so (or maybe that’s because)…. Camp.”    Mutsuki was there to help out.  Then I began to send emails to Shinozawa-san, my pastor-friend from Kyoto who offered to pick me up from the airport.  Other than perhaps calling myself a goat in my Japanese emails, we worked out the arrangements and I couldn’t wait to go!

During our time in the States for home assignment we felt strongly that God was saying it was time to hunker down (again) with Japanese.  We live in Japan not merely to pastor an English-speaking church, but to support the Japanese church, and seek to reach the millions of Japanese who have never understood the good news of what Jesus can do with their lives.  We were blessed with some additional financial resources to help in language study, so Julie and the boys let me go for three days to jump into whatever God has in store.

When I got to the camp I was surprised about a number of things. First there were only 4 campers.  Second, there were 16 adult sponsors.  Third, it still all worked!  In Japan the reality is that youth (even the 40 and below age of the sponsors) have largely disappeared from Japanese Christianity.  But here I was singing songs I didn’t quite understand around the campfire with middle schoolers, high schoolers, and young adults who did want to be like Jesus. 

My Japanese has (by God’s great help) come a long way in the years we’ve lived here.  I can maintain simple but lengthy conversations.  But here I was linguistically out of my league.  But it’s amazing how much people can still communicate without words; with a smile, a pat on the back (perhaps culturally inappropriate, but I did it anyway), or in laughing together as I blundered through many things. 

So I did get some tremendous Japanese practice.  It has launched me into a new season of high-Japanese-language-motivation.  But far more importantly, I got to see God is still active in Japan.  He is working in the hearts of people.  I get to be a part.  So thank you thank you Shinozawa-san, thank you Kouki-kun, Mai-chan, Fumi-chan, and Ri-kun, and all the others at the camp.  And thank you, all the churches and supporters who have by prayers, donations, or both, enabled this time.  God uses it all.  

Friday, September 06, 2013

Be still... as the storm passes by....

 Well, it's been one of those weeks... the kind where you feel like nothing has really gone right, and now you're behind on the things you were supposed to do, so next week already feels not that great.  Actually, it's kind of been that way this whole last month.  Whenever we get away (vacation, home assignment, even a date night) for any amount of time, I have a habit of assessing my life and making plans of how things can change so they can be better.  So... being 'away' for 3 months meant I came back with lots of plans to make my life better... intense Scripture study, daily journaling and prayer time, more activities with the boys, consistent dates with Brian, more time with friends, new ideas for church, studying Japanese every day... and of course, the majority of those have not happened. :)
So after a few weeks of Brian working extra long hours away from home, car troubles, new busier schedules with school starting, etc.,  it's easy to look back on those 'plans' and feel like a complete failure.  But last Monday, God gave me an incredible gift.  I was letting the stress of the last few weeks get to me a little too much, and my wonderful husband recognized this and kicked me out of the house for a few hours... isn't he great? ;)
I had a few errands to run and then I wanted to just spend some time alone with God... it was a desperate hunger for His peace and understanding in the midst of just normal, crazy life.  So after my errands were finished, I went to a favorite coffee shop but it was closed. :(  Plan B led me to get coffee to-go and walk across the street to sit on the beach for a while.  We've had an unusually dry summer, so my heart sank as I walked closer to the beach and saw rain storms approaching.  I almost cried... I thought, 'God, you know I need time to sit, pray, read my Bible... even though I know we need rain, why does it have to rain right now?!?'  But it wasn't raining yet, so I found a covered bench, pulled out my Bible and sat down with my coffee.  And the most amazing thing happened... I literally watched rain storms blow by for over an hour... and they never came inland.  It was definitely raining on the ocean, and I never felt one drop.  First of all, this meant the old hymn 'Til the storm passes by' was running through my head the entire time... I mean, how can you sit and watch storms literally pass by and not sing that song? But in addition to that, I had a wonderful hour of being still with God, listening, praying, reading Scripture, and coming away very refreshed... it was absolutely amazing.  And when I got back to my car, it started raining. :)

But of course, real life started again the next day, and it's been a week of continued car problems, more long hours of work for Brian, a cultural blunder for me, frustrating language lessons, and the list goes on.   But God continues to remind me of that hour on the beach, when the storms were literally passing by.  So many times I am frustrated because MY plans don't go the way I think they should... but when I give everything to God - my plans, my time, my family, everything - he amazes me every time.  If I give him time every day to be still and listen, to pray for the people He has put in my life, to study Scripture, He will help me get everything done that needs to be done.  When my focus is on Him, I won't feel guilty or defeated about stupid things I said or did or what I think others think of me.  Even though it's been a crazy week, God has given me reminders each day of His love for me, how He's working around us, and how He can make the storms pass by.  We'll continue to make mistakes as foreigners and feel frustration in language lessons... but He's right there with us, providing peace, granting wisdom, and giving us exactly what we need at the moment... like amazing boys who make us smile and exquisite flowers on the walk to the bus stop. :)

'Be still, and know that I am God.' Psalm 46:10

'The Lord sits enthroned over the flood.' Psalm 29:10

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Congratulations, Dad!!!

My Dad is retiring this week!  Last year, Brian's Dad retired with an amazing surprise from Brian and his brother... since we just returned from the states and don't have extra thousands of dollars sitting around, we couldn't quite work out the same thing right now.  But I didn't want to let the special event go by without saying a huge CONGRATULATIONS  to my wonderful father. :)

If you haven't had the privilege of meeting my Dad, then you're missing out.  :)  He's a quiet but very friendly and fun guy to be around.  As a father, he's very patient and understanding (which if you know me, my Mom, or my sister, you know that's very important).   

Before I was in school, my Dad owned a home-building business... I knew him as the guy who could build or fix anything... he still can. :)  But his business went bankrupt and he was without work for a couple years.  I was young, so I don't remember much about that time, but I know now it wasn't very easy for my parents.  However I remember very well how much I prayed that my Dad would get a job.  My parents taught me the power of prayer at a very young age, and I vividly remember the day they told me God answered our prayers and my Dad found a job.  It was about 26 years ago, and the same job God provided is the one he's retiring from now.

A few months ago when we were in the states, my Dad and I were talking about this.  One thing I love about my Dad is throughout my life, he consistently stops and remembers how God has guided, provided for, and blessed our family.  He tells us the stories so we won't forget.  During his time of unemployment he had a job interview with another company that looked very promising.  They were about to hire him but didn't at the last minute.  While that was incredibly difficult at the time, my Dad loves to talk about how different and better things have been because of the job he did get.  It's a great example of how we can't see the big picture, but God knows and provided for our family in amazing ways. 

My parents were both biology majors in college, and for most of his career my Dad has worked for the San Antonio Water System.  I've never known what to say when people ask me about his job. :)  I know he helped me with a pretty cool middle school science fair project about water conservation, and I know he does stuff with water.... obviously, the science gene was not passed down to me. ;)  I never heard a ton of details about his job (or maybe I just wasn't listening), but I remember very well the stories of people my Dad worked with.  He's had incredible friends over the years, and he's been an incredible friend to countless people.  If I listen long enough, stories come out about co-workers coming to his office, asking for advice, grieving together, laughing together, and just sharing life.  My Dad is not a very outgoing person, but I don't know if we'll ever know how many people he has shown the love of Christ to, simply by listening and sharing life together.  He's an amazing example to me, and I know he will be dearly missed.

My Dad has been an example to me in so many ways... my parents have now been married for 43 years, and they have taught us so much about commitment, trusting God together, and laughing together... a lot. :)  My Dad taught me to seek God's plans and guidance for my life, showing me that His plans for me are so much better than my own... and he has continued to support us unconditionally even when God led us halfway across the world for the last ten years.  I grew up just a mile away from my grandparents, and I know my Dad never dreamed his own grandchildren would live so far away.  But he continues to pray for us, encourage us, and travel to wherever we are. :)

There's so much more I could say about how great my Dad is, but I'm wandering away from the topic at hand, and I think I've cried enough for one blog post. ;)  Dad, I hope you know how proud we are and how excited we are for you to enjoy a slower pace of life for a while... until the next time we visit, of course.  Love you so much, and congratulations!!!


Monday, August 26, 2013

Life on an island...

 A couple of years ago my parents bought me a kindle... I never thought I would want an e-reader... I'm a huge fan and advocate of holding a book in your hands, but our life overseas and lack of opportunity to buy books in English changed my mind.  One thing I love about my kindle is that I get daily emails from Amazon about books that are on sale... now, this could be quite dangerous for our budget, but my lack of time to read helps me keep my purchases in check.  I like seeing the daily deals because it exposes me to genres I normally wouldn't look at when I go in a bookstore.  I'm currently reading Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell.
It piqued my interest because it was written by a man who decided to live on the island of Cyprus.  While I don't know much about Cyprus or the historical events I'm learning about as I read, I have lived on islands for the last 10 years, so I bought it on sale and started reading it this last week.  I'm a few chapters in and so far it's just a memoir of his arrival, making friends, and the process of purchasing a home, but a few sentences he shared about island life so resonated with me that I can't stop thinking about them... and now I'm sharing them with you. :)  Durrell states,

"Life in an island, however rich, is circumscribed, and one does well to portion out one's   experiences, for sooner or later one arrives at a point where all is known and staled by repetition.  Taken leisurely, with all one's time at one's disposal Cyprus could, I calculate, afford one a minimum of two years reckoned in terms of novelty; hoarded as I intended to hoard it, it might last anything up to a decade.  That is why I wished to experience it through its people rather than its landscape, to enjoy the sensation of sharing a common life with the humble villagers of the place; and later to expand my field of investigation to its history - the lamp which illumines national character - in order to offer my live subjects a frame against which to set themselves."

I've gone through many phases and seasons as we've lived on different islands this last decade.  Guam was quite small, and it was sometimes a relief to leave the island and see the bigger world.  Manila is on the island of Luzon, and in a city of 15 million people, it was sometimes hard to remember we were on an island... so going to the beach was a wonderful getaway from city life.  Okinawa is a large island (to us), filled with many cultural activities, endless sightseeing, and numerous beaches and cafes to explore.  Our life as missionaries has been quite transitory, and the future is frequently unknown.  So when we don't have a plan of how long we will be in a place, or when you know it won't be forever, it's easy to get a little anxious about 'seeing everything'.... as much as schedules and budgets allow. :)

I know that we're unbelievably blessed to live in the part of the world we do and to travel to the many places we have.  But as I look back at the last 10 years, the amazing things we've seen are nowhere near the top of the list of God's blessings... it's the people and relationships that have enriched and transformed our lives.  It's the friends spread out around the world that my heart aches for.  No matter where you live or what you're doing, it's easy for life to become normal and seem mundane.  When that happens, I either get jealous of others who seem to always be having fun or create lists of all the fun things and activities we need to do wherever we currently are.  Of course it's not bad to explore and have adventures, but that can't be everything.  God has so much to teach us through the people he brings into our lives... that is where we experience his love... not in making sure we finally see the great Okinawa tug-of-war. 

I must admit, I do sometimes miss the peace of Chuuk islands....

or the amazing coffee at my favorite cafe
in Baguio...

and thoughts of 'home' can make me quite nostalgic.
But it's the people that fill these memories that make life exciting and hopeful about a new day with new experiences and relationships.  God is always working with me about seeing what he sees TODAY... listening, obeying, and joining in what he has for me just today. 

"This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."  Psalm 118:24