More/final beauty and brokenness

Five years have passed since that day that rocked Japan and the world. This is my last beauty and brokenness entry this year. I’m going to close with two photos that are representative of this day, and how beauty and brokenness are commingled here where we live.The past two days have been filled with listening, crying, praying, worshipping. I have heard new stories of 3/11 experiences; I have listened again to some repeat ones. It is a strange thing to live in a town that is filled with so much sorrow; where everyone you meet has experienced major loss and trauma. Each story is so important.
Photo 1, beauty and brokenness:
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This first picture is the daughter of M., one of my good mom friends. (She gave me permission to share!). She brought her two girls by our gathering place this morning to talk, and it was great to have a wonderful bag of homemade cookies to give them, representing love and prayers sent from across Japan. While her girls played in one room, M. came in the kitchen where two of us were making soup. She began sharing her story from five years ago… She and her small daughter fled to a mountain top and survived on small packets of tofu for three days; her parents barely survived the tsunami as it flooded their home. (They survived because the neighbors behind them threw down a top made out of sheets from a second floor window). Her sister was due with a baby, and had to be helicoptered to Senda to give birth. Five days later, she delivered her baby, but her husband still wasn’t found. She sent him a picture on her cellphone of their new baby, hoping he would somehow see it. His body was found some days later. M.’s story is so mixed with joy and sorrow it is hard to process it all. Still. But today it was an honor to be there for her and her girls; to listen and cry and remember. To give them a tangible gift representative of love from around the world.
Photo 2:
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For our Be One team, we struggle to find the most appropriate way to show love and respond to people’s ongoing pain and struggles. We choose pretty simple and informal styles in which we can adjust and respond to the needs that we see. We closed the past 24 hours this evening with a gathering of worship and sharing. We asked any of our local friends to share things that they’ve learned the past five years. As we passed around the mike, we heard many touching stories. One of our older local friends started to share but couldn’t finish – the pain was still so raw. And then our friend Joey closed by sharing from Psalm 23 and ending with two simple things: 1) God isn’t done here yet – greater things are still to come in this city! and 2) We are “one” as a community – we stand together through the valleys, the pain, and the joy. It is good to have such a place to belong!
As we closed and stood in a large circle, holding hands, I felt so thankful (and quite weepy!) for the privilege of being in this place that is so intermingled with pain but priceless friendships. I am so incredibly thankful that in the middle of such brokenness there are wonderful communities like the one we experience where hope is being born.

Beauty & Brokenness 3/8/16

(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.

IMG_3365 3My brokenness entry:

IMG_4795This 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.”

Beauty and Brokenness

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.

Leap Day Time Capsule

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…

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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.

 

 

It happened in the library

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!

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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.

 

Gardener to Gardener

Here is the meditation that Eric gave at my dad’s funeral. (Photo below is the front of the funeral program). I think how proud dad would have been of his son-in-law.

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Reflections on a life well lived

Life… why is it that its definition escapes us so? “The meaning of Life,” why is it so elusive? I believe it is because it can only be given meaning by the individual who lives it. And the punctuation to that definition can only come ant the end of a person’s life.

If that is the case, than “Life” as defined by Bill Plumb is “Hope.”

You see Bill was a gardener and a gardener in my opinion, is the embodiment of hope. I’m not talking about bio-engineered produce grown in laboratories that come out all the same perfect size all year round. That’s not gardening. A gardener will work hard to provide all that he or she can but will ultimately have to hope in some unseen force to do the rest.

Now Bill was renowned for his fruit trees, his formal garden, his flower gardens, his vegetable gardens, and of course his beloved boxwoods. It was truly a labor of love as he would spend countless hours in his gardens trying to provide the right environment for them to grow.

Of course Bill was a generous man and he would unselfishly allow his family and close friends to share in the joys of digging and transplanting, of mulching, of weeding and picking up all those walnuts, thousands of them.

But Bill knew that even if he did everything in his power to create the perfect conditions and to nurture his plants, there were no guarantees. I mean there’s the weather. Too hot, too cold, too much rain, not enough rain. And then there are those pesky varmints who nibble on tender new shoots, who dig holes and burrow all under the creation, and who steal the fruit of his labor before they can be enjoyed. Many of those deservedly met their demise in a small body of water just outside the Plumb house.

So he would dig and plant and hope, he would water and fertilize and hope, he would weed and clear and hope that one day he would be rewarded with something delicious, something beautiful.

Bill Plumb was also a nurturer of people. He had a passion for engaging us and discovering who we are. He spent countless hours cultivating deeper relationships and friendships encouraging us to develop into our God-given potential. “ Just give them Jesus,” he would often say for he knew the key ingredient in fact the only thing that is necessary for a successful life, and just to be clear here, he didn’t measure by the world’s standard of success.

Yet with people as with his gardens there are no guarantees. The hardships of life, you know, the ones that prevent us from taking root, that scorch us and cause us to wither, those that choke us out and keep us from growing further. And then there is the enemy who robs and steals and destroys. I don’t think “Hate,” is too strong a word for the feelings Bill had toward him.

So Bill would give of himself and invest in us and hope. He would watch out for us and warn us of danger and hope. He would dream big dreams for us and pray and hope. Never giving up on the good he saw in each of us.

There is some theological debate out there that asks the question, “Does God hope?” Does an all-powerful all-knowing God need to hope? I can’t that answer with all certainty but I think he does. Let me tell you why. In Romans 8:20-21 it is written, ”For the creation was subject to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

This passage describes the ongoing theme in Romans where the Law is juxtaposed to grace. It’s saying that God gave us the law to show us the futility of trying to erase the guilt and shame of our sinful existence by our own efforts. He did this in hopes that our frustration would cause us to recognize our need for a savior. That we would accept his plan of salvation, JESUS, and thereby experience the freedom and fullness that comes from being his children again.

In John 1:15 our Lord says, “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.”

Does God have the power to crank out bio-engineered laboratory grown perfect versions of our selves? Yes, but that’s not gardening. Why else give each of us this life except that we might fulfill hope.

The hand of our Father was so evident on Bill’s life. We can only imagine the Father’s joy of bringing one home who fulfilled all the hopes and expectations that were placed on him. As we celebrate Bill’s life down here I know there’s a celebration in heaven as they finally get to sit and talk about things, gardener to gardener.

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As we were sitting around a few days later and talking about what to put on our dad’s grave marker, it became clear from this message:

William I. Plumb:  The gardener is finally with his Gardener.

 

Our Challenges

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.

 

My dad

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.

Help (really!) Wanted

Help Wanted!
Partner with Us in a Dynamic Work in Ishinomaki

Be One, a house church network in Ishinomaki, is currently looking to fill the following positions (please see brief descriptions that follow):

  1. Nozomi Project Bilingual Staff
  2. Children’s Educator to tutor/teach our homeschooled children (junior high/high school)
  3. Nozomi Project Intern

1. Nozomi Project Bilingual Staff 
The Nozomi Project is looking for an individual (21 years of age or older) with the passions, calling, and abilities to work in a growing social enterprise at our Ishinomaki headquarters.

Required Skills (Summary):

  • Passion to work with women in a Christian business environment.
  • Some degree of both English and Japanese language ability.
  •  Computer abilities (Word, Excel, ability to learn inventory database, etc.).
  • Willingness to raise partial support.

Length of Term:  minimum one year (starting at earliest January 2016).

Job Responsibilities Overview:

  • Participation in the day-to-day business life of the Nozomi Project.
  • Daily operation of our computer/inventory database
  • Working with staff on marketing, sales, website, inventory, supplies, etc.

Financial Terms:  Partial compensation; partial support-raising.

2. Children’s Educator
Our Be One team* in Ishinomaki, Tohoku, is looking for an experienced educator to teach our home-schooled missionary children. This would include responsibilities for teaching 4-5 children in different stages of learning, between sixth grade and high school. In particular, as our junior-high aged children transition from Japanese schooling to an all-English curriculum, we seek an experienced teacher who is able to flex with different curriculum and learning styles.
Position available:  Starting (as early as) March 2016.
Length of Term:  Minimum one-year commitment.
Financial Terms:  We are praying for an educator to join our missionary team who will raise support and is called by God to work with us as a full-time teacher.

3. Nozomi Project Intern
The Nozomi Project is looking for one or more people with the passions, calling, and abilities to work at our growing social enterprise at our Ishinomaki headquarters.
Length of Term:  3-12 months

Nozomi Project Internship Qualifications

  • 20 years of age and completed at least one year of college.
  • Willingness to raise necessary support.
  • Be a servant learner, willing to serve and learn from the local church and community.
  • Computer skills (basic word processing, internet, social media, etc.)

Job Responsibilities:

  • Participating in the day-to-day business life of the Nozomi Project.
  • Assisting with Nozomi Project English correspondence, orders and computer inputting.
  • Working with staff on marketing, sales, website, inventory, supplies, etc.

Inquiry Process:
Please email us for more information.

*More about our Be One/Tohoku team:  We are a house-church network that began in the greater Osaka area about fourteen years ago. Through God’s calling and guidance, Be One/Tohoku consists of several families (JEMA members) and several singles who have intentionally relocated to Ishinomaki following the 2011 tsunami. Our vision is to see disciples and communities of believers spread throughout Tohoku, and to see leaders emerge from the new harvest who will begin reproducing disciples. We are also committed to helping meet the practical needs of those in our community. Two of our current means of outreach are the Nozomi Project (a social enterprise making jewelry), and a sports center that serves as a gathering place for youth in this community.

 

Stories from Ishinomaki: Lost and Found

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.

http://fullermag.com/every-survivor-story/

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.

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