Thursday, March 15, 2018

Different worlds

I went to the bath again recently….  this time one that overlooks the ocean. It was probably a very bad idea since I’m still not over whatever nasty bug hit us last week.

2018-03-15 09.15.29

But it is a beautiful bath overlooking the ocean in a most amazing hotel. Very different from the bath house near my daughter’s apartment in Nagoya!

Now that was old school. The kind where the attendant can look into the change room if he wants to… Yes, he! There was a man on duty when I arrived. Of course, he or she seldom looks. And I think I was actually more disturbed by the fact that the doorway to the change room had not only no door but no curtain. And there was an unobstructed view through the change room of the bath beyond.

At least there was no door between the men and women’s bath! That used to be par for the course – it was ostensibly for the cleaning ladies but children liked to go back and forth from one side to the other. One was always in danger of seeing and being seen (by people one knew!)

I felt, well, uncomfortable. And it sent me back 37 years to that time when pregnant with our third child I found myself unable to reach our own bathtub. I just couldn’t maneuver that baby bump past the washing machine which shared the drain with the bath! So in desperation I headed for the local bath house telling myself that if my tall blonde colleague could do it, so could I.

Still, it was… challenging for a rather young (early 20s) and rather modest New Englander.

Modest…  what was modest? 

I don’t think I knew any more….

No American would have blinked an eye at my mother in her back garden with rather short shorts and a halter top and bare feet. But I suspected it would probably shock our language school teachers. I didn’t show them the photo.  Sleeveless was still taboo in Japan. So were North American necklines. And for that matter, so were red dresses.

It seemed there were so many places we had to be careful not to offend.

And yet there were so many other things that offended my own sense of modesty…  a perfect stranger snatching the covering from my carefully concealed breast in the midst of a very crowded thoroughfare with the excuse “Your baby is going to suffocate!”

There was so much underwear… It was obvious everywhere. It hung in racks over our heads while we entertained. On hot nights men stripped down to their underwear to lounge – or walk the streets! On long ferry rides even prim and proper ladies might strip to their underwear and sit around (in mixed company) eating and drinking with their friends.

And there was the lack of underwear…   when my husband went calling he would, as often as not, be met by an old women clad only in an undershirt (no bra) and often zipping up her pants as she came to the door.  (Young women also went without that item of clothing – they were just less obvious about it.)

Sometimes it was hard to identify on just how many levels a thing jarred.. for instance, when the ramen delivery man cheerfully greeted me as he peed on the street!

And the strange dichotomies when my worlds collided.

Toilets…   I’m pretty sure that toilet conversations were  common in North America. I had never thought twice about talking through the toilet door to close friends and female family members. My 4 daughters, however, all informed me that this is just plain gross.

They also complained loud and long about the the space under the door in public toilets in North America. The doors in Japan go to floor. Always.

And yet the child who complained the loudest about that space under the toilet door was very proud of her junior high class for their mature attitude toward changing their clothes together – boys and girls – in the classroom. Whaat?! 

You can’t talk to your mother through the toilet door but it doesn’t bother you to change your clothes with the boys!

There’s more. In high school this same child greeted a colleague of ours who unwittingly walked in on her in the bath with perfect equanimity. I learned about it from his Asian wife who thought it was terribly funny.

And me? Well, I was left wondering why the 12 inch space at the bottom of the toilet in the girls room is a problem…

Such a different world.

Such different standards.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Why You Don’t Need a Vision for Your Church

“Vision….  Remember when mission was all about vision statements? For all I know it still is…  But your church doesn’t need a vision – it already has one! Remember? ‘Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart.’”

And then we turned to Ephesians 4:1-17 where I was particularly struck by Paul’s words:  “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  These words, as my husband reminded us, are God’s vision for our church.





I thought of similar words in Micah 6:8… 


Just, kind, humble, godly….  Does that describe us?

Lots to think about tonight.

Pastor Iwamatsu and his wife came down and joined us for the teatime afterward and I thought about it again. Just and humble integrity over pizzazz. Kindness over all…

I have always loved the camaraderie of an Sunday evening service and I love the Sunday PM English Service at Hirosaki Gospel Church!

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Halfway Down

Stairs are beautiful. All sorts of stairs. I just really love stairs! And stairwells! (A stairwell is a wonderful place to sing – especially if they echo.)

2017-07-04 17.58.17

And so I took this photo last July for the Beauty in Every Day Life 30 Day Challenge… Day 19 “Every day object.” 

We had been working to clear these stairways on the Nakagawa River where we walk (every day, twice a day) when the weather is clement.

I love to sit on this stairway on a clear day watching the water run sparkling by…. And I love to sit there in the the dark with my husband beside me listening to the night sounds…

Ever since I was a child I have sat on stairs… and thought. Perhaps that’s the charm of A. A. Milne’s poem.


Halfway down the stairs
Is a stair
Where I sit.
There isn't any
Other stair
Quite like
I'm not at the bottom, 
I'm not at the top;
So this is the stair
I always

- A. A. Milne

In the poem halfway up and halfway down is a good place – a thinking place. But in my life right now… I feel a little…  stuck. Not at the bottom, not at the top… thinking and thinking and not really getting free.

And so in the end, although I have thought up countless texts for that photo, I never wrote up any of them.

I never finished the 30 Day Challenge.

2018-01-02 23.55.47

A few days ago I wrote “So much water under the bridge since this photo was taken a little over a year and a half ago... and that water floated us out of darkness into a very good place. I thank God for His great deliverance. "Bless the Lord, oh my soul, bless His holy name - and forget not all His benefits!" Psalm 103”

And it is absolutely true!

And yet, and yet…  what I wrote to a friend a few weeks ago is also true. “… most of the time I feel safe and useful and alive again. But I still have moments when I wonder if I will ever recover from those 2 years of limbo and …” 

Last summer was hard. Really hard. We had to vacation (3 weeks!) with a few of the people implicated by that “and” - I’m afraid it almost put me back at the imprecatory psalm stage!

Fortunately, autumn and my commencement to Hirosaki University Graduate School in October – as a fulltime student this time around – seemed to restore my equilibrium and on the whole I have been pretty happy.

But things have come up during the Christmas vacation that brought back memories of that awful feeling of being the caged dog…

This is not a good feeling. It is also not my present reality! But sometimes its hard to escape the shadows.

When we were casting about for this year’s motto I was drawn to Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and the idea of counting – naming - blessings.)

But in the end we chose words from Fra Giovanni’s letter “Take Joy” written Christmas Eve, 1513. Perhaps it was those words “The gloom of the world is but a shadow.”


And to see, we have only to look.

I beseech you to look!

This year we will go on looking for the joy “within our reach.”

And yes, we will TAKE JOY!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Keona–from Generation to Generation

*Your phone rang while you were in class.*

I was more than a little surprised by the news, *Keona was born!*

She was definitely early! But she’s a healthy young lady. When I phoned both Mom and Keona had just finished their lunch.


Here are the details from Daughter #1

Born at 39weeks2days. 3572grams. 

Name:Keona (kee-OH-nah)

Meaning:Gracious gift of God


Bible passage:Psalm 100 (especially verse 5)Our hope is in God, whose faithfulness continues through all generations. We will pass on this hope, generation to generation.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Shining Faces

Two nights ago we prayed a prayer we often pray. Really often – often enough I may have posted it before somewhere. But it bears repeating.

Heavenly Father,

The Japanese poet Basho wrote:

A world of grief and pain
Flowers Bloom
Even then.

But its more than that.Verse 4 of #34B in the Psalter says:

Encircling those who fear the LORD
His angel camps, and rescues them.
O taste and see the LORD is good;
How blessed are those who trust in Him.

Sometimes we have felt rather like the Israelites in the Exodus with nothing but a cloud between them and the Egyptians. But even in those times there is still the sweet taste of Your goodness.

We taste Your goodness in sunsets and sunrises, lakes and rivers, the fragrance and color of the flowers everywhere - all revealing to us Your invisible qualities:  Your eternal power and divine nature.

We taste Your goodness as we sing the thought provoking old hymns and, of course, the Psalms. And as we search our Bibles, meditating and praying through the promises we realize that you are very, very good to us.

We hope someday many people will say when they look at us:

How radiant those who looked to Him!
Their faces free from shame shall be.
The LORD heard when this poor man cried,
And from all trouble set him free.      - 34B verse 3

We want to be radiant! We want to feel Your face shining on us!

In the name of Jesus we pray,


Then yesterday this photo came up in my Facebook memories. I’m smiling – almost shining. And yet that was the very time when we felt there was only a cloud between us and “the Egyptians.”

I have never been so frightened in my life, and for so long. I hope never, ever to be that frightened again!

And yet even then God’s face did shine on us!


Do not forsake your friend and your father's friend...

Proverbs 27:10

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Jonathan–God’s Gift

When I was young many of the men in our little country church began their prayers with these beautiful words from Psalm 103,  “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”


On Good Friday Daughter # 3’s third son 岡田友矢(Tomoya Okada – also known as Jonathan) made his entrance into the world 4 weeks early and wrinkled up like a little old man but a very healthy weight. He was able to leave the hospital with his mother a few days later.

2017-04-19 19.25.20

Just out of the hospital

Tomo means friend(s) and ya means arrow(s).His parents took the name from the story of David and Jonathan and the arrows in 1 Samuel chapter 20.

The story often brings to my mind those verses in Proverbs, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, Behold, we did not know this, does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:11,12)

It would have been so much easier for Jonathan to say “I didn’t know.” But Jonathan was willing to jeopardize his own future to do right by his friend.

A friend like that is a real gift from God – and that, by the way, is what Jonathan means:  God’s gift.

2017-05-30 13.01.04

Daughter # 3 with Jonathan last Wednesday

Last Tuesday Psalm 102 was in two of our Bible readings and I thought again of those verses in Proverbs 24:10-12.... God works BUT good men must not be passive!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The heart of the home

When Daughter # 3 went into the hospital last Thanksgiving her family moved back in with us for awhile.

I think that was God’s medicine for my sore heart. With two small boys always demanding attention I didn’t have time to indulge the sudden tears that still rise sometimes.

I’m afraid I resorted to screens though… 

Although we also enjoyed Jacquie Lawson’s virtual Advent Calendar – a friend’s gift to me – between Thanksgiving and Christmas the boys and I watched an astonishing number of Hallmark Christmas films.  

On the whole these movies were not memorable. And I finally decided I must be watching them for their themes of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Still, occasionally there was a line or two really worth remembering. I wish I’d had a pen ready the night we watched the one with that insightful line about how the kitchen table should be the heart of the home.

2016-12-07 20.08.57

It is the heart of our home.

And I’m grateful for all the candlelit suppers we shared with the Okada family during the holiday season.

They’re back in their own home now. But the boys still join us every Saturday night. And we still light candles in the evening and sing in the morning.

Here we come Thy name to praise

Let us feel Thy presence near

May Thy glory meet our eyes

While we in Thy house appear

Here afford us Lord a taste

Of our everlasting feast….

- Safely Through Another Week