(Day 4: my “beauty and brokenness” perspective to illustrate the state of things in Ishinomaki five years after the disaster. One photo of something beautiful around me, and another of something that represents what is still broken or resulting from the earthquake and tsunami that hit here. I feel thankful to have the privilege of living here and bring able to share the state of life here.)
My beautiful entry for today… there are inlets and rivers and canals surrounding us. This is what made the tsunami so incredibly damaging in our city — the water just travelled inland through a myriad of channels. But these bodies of water are so beautiful, especially with the bridges and the boats and the buoys and all that makes this a fishing city.
My brokenness entry:
This was my iPhone app yesterday when a 4.7 quake jostled us – a frequent occurrence. We all pause whatever we are doing, look around, and wait. When it seems clear that it isn’t going to be a really “big” one, we continue with what we are doing. But each rumble is a reminder of the loss of five years ago. PTSD runs rampant here. One quake a few weeks ago brought instant tears of fear to one of the friends I was with. One of the women i work with said last week, “It is hard that there are so many earthquakes recently. They just remind us even more of how terrible things were five years ago, and everyone wonders if it is going to happen again.”
I decided this next week or so to daily share my own “beauty and brokenness” perspective through photos on Facebook that help illustrate the state of things in Ishinomaki five years after the disaster. One photo of something beautiful around me, and another photo of something that represents what is still broken or resulting from the earthquake and tsunami that hit here. I feel thankful to have the privilege of living here and bring able to share the state of life here. Here are the photos and summaries of the first three days…
Day 1, 3/5/16 Beauty, and Brokenness
Day 2, 3/6/16
Beauty: Perhaps because of the strong sea winds, the clouds and sky are so beautiful in Ishinomaki! Brokenness: This is the back of our kids’ nearby elementary school; the blue line represents the height of the tsunami waters. These blue signs are everywhere around our town, perhaps making sure people don’t forget the danger that exists living in this coastal town. Probably an important reminder, but it means everyone everyday must see these signs and remember…
Beauty: This is our neighbors’ home, the Aizawas. (Our home is the yellow one in the background). Their garden had been a place to cheer my heart since before we moved in. No matter what season, it is well-maintained and even in the frozenness of winter there is something blooming! They told us that five years ago this garden became a parking lot for trucks and cars that got dragged this far in by the tsunami waters. So many have chosen to find ways to plant and grown new life where there had been terrible destruction. They are my heroes. Brokenness: This is a small piece of the parking lot on the other side of our home. Every time it rains, more broken pottery is brought to the surface, a vivid reminder still five years later of so much that has been broken.
My friend Tim Miles (I’ve never met him but still consider him a friend!) wrote a blog a few weeks ago challenging us to do something creative and unforgettable on Leap Day. It sort of bugged me because I have been in the deficit in terms of emotional energy the past month or so, feeling incapable of coming up with anything creative besides a dinner plan each night. But I at least TRIED to brainstorm.
I thought about the crazy idea of wisking Eric away today by bullet train, going down to Tokyo for lunch, and coming back before the kids came back from school, but – nay, not likely. I wasn’t sure we were ready for a $400 lunch…Strike one!
So my back up plan was to call the nicest restaurant in town with the torches lit out front to get reservations for lunch. We’ve been wanting to go for a year – leap day would be perfect! Alas, they are no longer serving lunch. Strike two!
So, instead, we had a fun lunch at a cow tongue restaurant (yes, you read it right – it truly is one of our favorites), and then got 30 minute massages. I was ok with this not-super-creative Leap Day date because of the idea I had come up with the day before — to create a family Leap Year Time Capsule! This would satisfy my creative inklings and maybe, just maybe, be ok for Tim Miles too.
So tonight at dinner we talked about it. I have to say – it took awhile to get everyone enthused. As our friend Jeweliann said, who was eating with us – it’s a lot funner when you get to OPEN the box, than when you are first making it. But eventually everyone was IN.
Our oldest did some online research for ideas of things that we could put inside. We gathered our items together (see photo below), including: a newsletter and family card; pictures of our friend Megan who got married, our friends Cam and Ayami who had a baby, our family schedule from the fridge, the kids’ school lunch menu, Owen’s christmas list (it was still hanging on the fridge); a token from the trolly Eric and Owen rode last year in Philadelphia, an airplane boarding pass, the bulletin from my dad’s funeral, half of Annie’s only sand dollar, a Costco receipt, sea glass that we got off the ocean floor in Kauai last summer, Olivia’s old school name tag, and a (new) pair of underwear that were a funny gift to Eric from the Nozomi staff…
We also typed out a list of answers to questions like: What music are we listening to this year? Whats been our favorite tv shows/movies? highlights of the past year? saddest thing of the last year? closest friends right now? favorite foods? (they inevitably bring up the peanut butter noodle stir-fry dish I made TWO years ago, ONCE, that goes down as worst meal EVER, so we had to create the worse food category, even though, let me say again, it was TWO years ago!); predictions of what they will want to be doing or good at in four years; what we’ve been learning from/about God; who of our single friends will be married; what pets we will have. We had some silly answers, and some more serious ones.
When the ground dries up from today’s rain, we are planning to bury our time capsule in our yard, with everything double ziploced inside a tin can. In four years, we will dig it out, read it, and add to it… and hope it’s a ritual that continues for many leap days to come. We’ve decided that if we move, we will take our capsule with us and bury it in our new location… Hopefully we won’t forget where we buried it.
Have you ever done a time capsule? Before we bury ours, are there any other items you suggest we include? Happy Leap Day, everyone.
I have managed to (mostly) complete my January hustle – to organize and label our kids’ books all together in a more prominent place — the living room.
Until recently I had hoped that having books placed in different rooms in the house would encourage our children to read in those various locations. But we have been disappointed that our kids still don’t all really enjoy reading, and due to their main education being in Japanese they are behind in their English reading levels.
So we pulled out a deep Ikea bookshelf perpendicular to the wall, and used both sides to create a simple library that now serves as a separator between our open living and dining rooms. I’ve pulled all of our kids books to one prominent location, and bought a cushy beanbag chair and lamp to go there. I made very simple color-coded categories that I used to label and tag them: early readers, story books, history, science, animals, Japanese, bible stories, chapter books. I have a basket in front of the bookshelf in which I’m placing weekly favorites, as a way of pulling out books to catch their attention.
It’s been great to see the kids at various times of each day just “hanging out” with the books. Even our oldest has had fun revisiting some of the books that had been read to him when he was younger. Books are just so awesome!
Over the weekend our friend Jordan was telling us about an NPR show he had listened to that talked about the importance of available books in a home determining the academic success of children. We’ve always loved books, and so I hope that this first-month-of-the-year hustle will help kick our kids up to new levels of discovery.
The past two weeks’ return to life in Ishinomaki following my dad’s death has felt rather complex and challenging. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad, but we hit the ground running, with me starting back at Nozomi Project the morning after we returned.
It has been a different working and home environment upon coming back. I realized that THREE (3!) of my coworkers from the fall are not working side by side with me, and I feel that loss sorely. (Lora, Hannah, Ayami — I miss you each!! And Beth too!) I don’t like doing work and ministry alone, and much of the past two weeks has felt like that. How thankful I am for the team that remains and how they are juggling a lot to help out! Yet I have felt a much greater spiritual weight in my daily work without my co-workers’ daily presence. (Please pray with us for more help at Nozomi Project and a teacher to help with our home schooling kids!)
Yesterday morning I had our weekly bible study with two of our Nozomi staff. I wasn’t excited about needing to do this alone (Lora and Ayami used to co-lead with me). But God surprised me! My two Nozomi friends, T and C, ended up ministering to me.
As we were starting our study, C. began to reflect on how she has changed so much through our study together the past two years. She has a junior high son with autism. He was mainstreamed through elementary school (in my son’s class), but now in junior high he is going to a special needs school.
C. said that throughout her son’s life she has felt embarrassed and worried that her son’s condition has bothered people or put them out. She loves him dearly, but didn’t really know how what to think about his autism and special needs.
Over the past two years, however, her thinking has changed 180 degrees. She said she now realizes that her son is a special gift from God. D. and his autism are gifts from God to her and to others as well. She no longer resents his autism but she is able to embrace it. His innocence, his unconditional love, his smile (Oh, I wish you could see his warm smile when I come to his house!) are all part of the special package God has given her – and our community – in her son. Her experiences with God as a young believer have changed how she views the challenges in her life.
These words touched me so deeply. God IS at work in our midst. He can change how we view challenges, and show us his workings in the midst of them. We can better value the parts of our lives that may feel like a handicap but which God wants to use to bless us and others. A message I need to hear!
I’m praying for the daily grace to embrace what is before me. I’m thankful for C. and T. and God’s sweet reminder of His work in our lives.
About nine months ago, I took a break from blogging. I became too worried about what others thought, fearful of being judged for what I wrote – or didn’t write. I still feel uncomfortable with the desire to be real and yet knowing that anyone you have ever read could read this post…
But the recent experience of losing my dad and returning to the US for his funeral has made me want to process more, and blogging is a good outlet for me. This is also a way to not lose some thoughts and things that are personally worth keeping. So I’m going to share some about my dad.
I wanted to share first the meditation that Eric gave at my dad’s funeral – it was perhaps the best message I have ever heard him give. Alas, he is asleep now, victim to the wickedness of jet lag, so I will need to get his permission to do this another day. Our two youngest woke up at ONE a.m. last night, ready to start the day!
At the end of the funeral service after maybe 12 or so friends and family shared about my dad, I closed the sharing time. Here are the notes that I had prepared. I deviated a bit, but this is the basic message that I had been able to write that morning. For those of you who never met my dad, I hope this honors him and makes you feel like you knew him a little bit:
We were in Japan earlier this week when we got a call from my sisters that my dad’s health seemed to be rapidly declining. We waited a day or two for more news from the hospice care, all the way preparing our hearts and our lives to make the trip across the world. On our last morning in Ishinomaki, I skyped in with my sisters who were in the room with dad. I was in the Living room, and at one point Allison asked if I had any scripture to share with dad.
Our youngest son piped up and said, “Hey Gigi Bill, I know some verses!” And he began reciting his memory verses from the last month. He’s going to share them with you now too:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Psalm 46:1
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. Isaiah 41:10
I thought of the significance of these verses alot in the next couple of days. Bill Plumb over the past 87 years has certainly seen his share of troubles.
- He had near death experiences in the Korean war.
- He lost all three of his siblings in the first half of his life.
- Incredibly challenging four years in Rhodesia, in which he had malaria countless of times and disappointment after disappointment of being failed by their mission leaders and African co workers.
- His first wife died when he was a young 58 years old.
He has seen his share of troubles. But watching him first as a child and later as an adult, I have witnessed over and over and over again, his faith was his anchor that held him tight. It wasn’t a faith that was only theology or nice feelings, but a faith that was gritty, real, and consisted of the smartest thinker I know who found the promises of Jesus real and true. God really was His refuge. God was his strength.
Our family is now living in the disaster zone in Japan where the terrible earthquake and tsunami struck five years ago. Our kids are going to the local elementary school. It is a tall building that serves as a hinanjo, or an evacuation/refuge center. It was filled to the top of the first floor with tsunami water and debris five years ago. But 700 desperate and now-homeless people lived above it for the next six months on the second and 3rd floors. The building was hit hard, but it did not move, and it became a place of refuge for many. It was later fixed up, and serves again as a school for our children and the others in our community, as well as continues to be a refuge in case of emergency.
This was the best image I could think of for my dad. And this faith lived itself out in how he attended to people. He had a way of bringing people in. As he allowed God to be HIS refuge, he became that very thing to so many others.
Bill Plumb made God his refuge as he experienced the pain and sorrow that inevitably comes into all of our lives. And as he lived out his faith, his very being became a hinanjo for so many others. This room is full of people who have experienced Bill Plumb as an unmovable refuge in the midst of our life challenges.
But I guess what’s most important is the huge and irreplaceable presence He has been in my own life. His faith has tethered my own. He was the greatest influence on all of the big decisions in my life. His encouragement and his heart for the world is the biggest reason I first went to Japan, and am still there now.
The first time I went as a young 20 year old, he wrote these Words on a card that I still have: “Take a few chances, do things that are bizarre and fun, and don’t stay on the beaten path.”
He never held us tightly, but gave each of my sisters and me permission and freedom to be ourselves… to go further and higher and deeper. He was the most vocal women’s libber that I know. There should be no ceiling for women. He released me and my sisters to be who God wanted me to be.
He had such a heart for the people of the world! The last time that I could talk with him on the phone, his first question, like usual was, “How’s the Nozomi Project? How are your ladies doing?” He was always caring, even about those across the world.
On the plane coming back I read some of his letters from Rhodesia, and was struck with the many challenges he endured there. Here is one quote:
“Sometimes I have a really strong feeling that I want to stick it out here “until the light that shined in my heart will give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Sometimes as I speak to the students or bend over their wounds or see them as a poor, lost people without hope in this world or the world to come, I have the peace of the Christ who directed our steps here in these trying and discouraging days. Oh, that our witness will not be completely lost just because of the color of our skins. With Him, all things are possible, even this impossible thing…”
Your witness was not lost, Dad. Your light still shines brightly as your legacy lives through the hundreds of lives you have touched so deeply.
One of the best storytellers I know, Becky Still, recently wrote a story about our work here in Ishinomaki. T.J. Lee, one of her co-workers with connections in Japan, came and took photos, and became friends with our family in the process. They make us look a lot cooler than we are, but here is the article that they crafted together. I love how they highlight our friends here. The people in this community are the ones with stories that should not be forgotten.
Here are a few of the other photos that T.J. took during his time visiting. The last one is my favorite. I love that he is holding broken tsunami pottery found in the small parking lot next to our home; I love that he is holding his favorite “ne-ne” that has since been lost.