food fun following the flu

After a week in virtual quarantine at home, today I was ready for some healthy food alternatives!  I’ve had the flu – and three out of four kids as well and one with strept throat to boot!  Most of the week has been just trying to get us all through.

Our kids have been troopers!  In Japan, a fever in the winter = need to go to the doctor for an influenza test.  A positive flu test = a required five day quarantine at home.  Even if your kids are healthy, there are frequent class cancellations when more than 1/4 of a class population is diagnosed with the flu.  So we have had the majority of the kids home for the past week or so, either sick or because others in their class are sick!  And next Monday there is already cancelled school for our second grader…

Today I felt my first burst – or hint! – of energy.  I woke up craving some healthier food options, and our kids were ready for something creative to do. It felt like our go-to comfort meals this week have been starchy and/or not the most healthy.  (But I have to say a woohoo for macaroni and cheese yesterday- a rare gift from a friend!).

So today, on our road back to recovery — we made picture art lunches.  All the kids got to make pictures on their own piece of oven paper using the lunch ingredients I had set out.  There was only one rule:  they needed to eventually eat all of the ingredients they used in their pictures.

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For being a very spontaneous and first-time idea, it was a surprising success. Our kids ate A LOT of lunch, and we had a lot of fun.  The lunch supplies that I had on hand were:  ham, cheese, carrot sticks, cucumbers (half that I put through a “Vegini” and made into thin long strings), ranch dressing, tomatoes, oranges, cut-up apples, peanut butter, curly pasta, sliced pepperoni, green olives, raisins.  (A great way to use up leftovers!). I pulled out my cookie cutters, which was fun to use on the ham, cheese, and tomatoes.  Love the happy faces — on the kids and on the oven paper!

IMG_0100(My daughter loves to make hair curl on one side like this in all her pictures — so cute!)
IMG_0101IMG_0102It was a SCORE lunch … everyone ate healthy; we had fun family time together, and we used up some random food in my fridge.

Tonight, I was feeling a bit unprepared when dinner rolled around… A friend called from the store and offered to bring some groceries.  She brought some fried noodles for the kids, and i requested some vegetables.  I have totally been craving grilled vegetables — I made them on Christmas eve and have wanted more since.  She brought me the veggies I didn’t have, and using a simple recipe I cooked up some deliciousness.

Here’s my recipe for simple Grilled Vegetables:

Cut up into bite-sized pieces your favorite vegetables.  Tonight I used:  carrots and sweet potatoes (top tray); and broccoli cauliflower, peppers, and onions (bottom tray).  I forgot the mushrooms but those are favorites too!  I threw them all into a big ziploc with a small amount of olive oil and sea salt that I tossed all around, then spread them out on these two trays.  Preheat your oven to about 425 F, then bake away for 25-30 minutes, turning two or so times in between.  We now have vegetables to last us a few meals.  I am a happy flu-recovering mama on our way back to health.  

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Christmas Full; Christmas Emptying

Today, December 25th:

  • It snowed twice:  beautiful big snowflakes this morning as our family was assembling to open gifts, and then driving home tonight from Christmas dinner with friends.  It melted in between but it was a beautiful Christmas morning and evening.  Something about snow is pure and new and touches me.
  • We had a crazy 5.5 earthquake wake us up this morning.  It is about the fourth one in the past ten days, which is unnerving.  Our friend Beth said that in light of the recent activity, she has updated her earthquake survival kit recently….
  • We were blessed with some amazing gifts.  Our kids had a really really fun day opening gifts and building/learning/trying on/imagining.  So so fun. So so blessed.
  • In the midst of it all, I got mad once at one of our kids, and had to apologize.  We made up.
  • I talked with my dad this morning.  All of our kids did.  It was his evening, which seems to be his hardest time in terms of being lucid.  He wasn’t making much sense to any of us, and then suddenly to me he said, “Hey, I read your latest four- page newsletter that came.  It’s exciting all the lives that are being changed!”  And my old Dad was back for a short bit, quick to rejoice over news of God at work. The dementia has not managed to take over everything!
  • I did a lot of cooking in between gifts and prep for Christmas day – made our traditional sausage breakfast casserole for brunch, and pot roast and chocolate chip cheesecake for dinner/dessert.  They all turned out pretty good, though the pot roast was a bit dry.  (It was still an awesome treat that we can’t usually get here!).  Oh – and our favorite homemade eggnog for dessert time.  I love it that our kids love it as much as I do!
  • We had a fun dinner/gift exchange time with our team tonight.  It was good to laugh and enjoy each other’s company, even though we were all tired.  We did a white elephant gift exchange, and I won a box of old-ish cans of tuna and some canned bread (entering the fourth year of its five year shelf life!) that I think will make perfect updates to our own survival kit…
  • My highlight of the day was between 2 and 3.  Our team all went to a local nursing home and sang Christmas songs and a few of our favorite worship songs.  We had prepped our kids, knowing it wasn’t easy for them to do this.  But I loved hearing their voices sing louder than the adults!  We sang “Kimi wa aisareru tame umareta” to them – “You were born to be loved.”  While we sang, we went out and greeted and shook hands with each of the attendees.  I got to one sweet woman, and there were just tears streaming down her face.  She couldn’t stop.  She hugged me and kept squeezing my hand.  Of course I couldn’t sing!  Jennifer came over, still singing, and then her voice broke.  Eric said that Ian (5) bravely went from person to person, shaking their hands.  They were all waiting for this little dressed-up Santa to come and greet them too.  I was proud of him and each of our kids. When we had finished our short time of singing and were saying goodbye, I went and sat with Mrs. Akio a bit longer.  She said a lot has happened in her life.  I looked at her eyes and could only imagine.  I prayed for her and promised to come back.
  • It was a wonderful treat to have our friend Y. go with us.  From the minute we started singing, the tears started flowing for her.  She was touched deeply today. I think we all were moved from our own self-preoccupation to focusing on these dear older ones who did not have the blessings that we currently have.  There was an emptying of ourselves that happened;  I sensed we all, like me, walked out a little lighter;  with a little less of me.
  • Many blessings today! That short time of giving our time and ourselves to people with more needs than our own shapes our perspective.  I was thinking about the old hymn that speaks of Christmas with the verse, ”
    He left his Father's throne above 
    	(so free, so infinite his grace!), 
    	emptied himself of all but love, 
    	and bled for Adam's helpless race. 
    	'Tis mercy all, immense and free, 
    	for O my God, it found out me!
  • It’s the Christmas story, isn’t it?  One who left his comfort for much for than an hour and emptied himself in a myriad more ways than we did.  But it is such an immense privilege to join him in the emptying process of loving. It has been a wonderfully full day.
    Merry Christmas!    IMG_6216

Shepherds and Angels in Ishinomaki

One of my favorite activities each week on Thursday mornings is a simple bible study that we do before the Nozomi Project starts.  Six of us or so gather around our dining room table and study a passage of scripture and seek to apply it to our own lives.

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This month we have been looking at different passages of the Christmas story.  On Thursday, we were reading the story of the angels who came to the shepherds, and through their proclamation the shepherds were among (if not) the first to go and meet the baby Christ child.  One of the many beautiful things about the Christmas story – and most of the stories of the Bible – is that God loves to use ordinary people.  We were thinking about the shepherds – they were probably ruffian types; working all night; smelling like outdoors/animals.  But these were the first visitors to meet the King!

After talking through the story a bit, each of us shared observations.  Our most recent member, A-san, shared this:

“S. was like the first angel who introduced me to the Nozomi Project when I told her I was quitting my other job at (a local sandwich shop).  She led me here to the Nozomi Project. I  was always afraid to go deep with people, so I avoided relationships.  But by becoming a Nozomi member, I have been able to grow deeper in friendships.  The group of angels in the shepherd story are like the Be One staff members and our manager Yuko.  Day by day they share truth with me.  And now I’m here, studying the Bible each week. I’m changing from reading this.”

Then T-san shared:  “I never believed in miracles.  But then I met a member of Be One, and that was the first miracle I experienced.  Now I’m reading the bible and learning so much about life.  I’m so glad that I met God.  God entered our everyday world through Jesus, and He’s come into my normal life too. I am so thankful to experience miracles.”

My friend C-san.:  “I’m like the shepherd, and God keeps bringing angels into my life who share about the Message.  When our friend Nobuko came last month and shared, her message was just like that of the angels, and I thought, I want to try out this Christian faith.  It’s been a month and I still believe.  When I used to hear sharing from the Bible, I would listen but forget it in a few days.  Now I hear the stories and they stay in my heart.”

Those of us with the Hope of Jesus this season have an amazing privilege of being like the angels.  We had some laughs last week as the Japanese typically imagine angels as the little cherubim baby-face images with halos on their heads.  But the biblical angels are usually depicted as those who know the Glory and Sweetness of God and are sent as messengers to share that beauty.  This can be us!  While being far from perfect and without halos or glowing robes, we have an amazing privilege wherever we are of sharing with the ordinary people surrounding our every-day lives the realities of the Jesus -story.  We can bring them to Him.

But there is also something else that happens as we share the truths of God with people around us.  God continues to use the beautiful people in my everyday world here to lead me to Jesus.  They become the angels, and I am a recipient of their wonder and awe as they experience grace and living hope for the first time.  The stories I have heard since childhood become new and fresh again.  Like the angels did for the shepherds, they lead me before the Christ child.  And as we experience him together, all social structures are flattened and we together are transformed.

Christmas is a time of miracles.

One Pot Pasta Wonder

I just made the most yummy dinner ever.  It was simple and SOOO delicious- my whole family loved it.  I am hoping that my teammates will be willing to have us try and make this sunday for church lunch – for sixty people!  (I’ve already copied the recipe – times ten.  This recipe feeds six for decent portions.

The wonder of it – you cook spaghetti in a pot with your veggies and tomatoes and juices and herbs – you never drain it… and it makes its own yummy sauce.  So it’s not quite a soup, and not quite a sauce.  It couldn’t be easier.  And honestly- it really was delicious!  We thought the pasta would get all sticky but it was cooked perfectly.

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There are lots of different versions on the internet  – I liked the sounds of this one and tweaked it.  Thank you, apron strings blog!  I’ve copied the recipe from their blog.   (I couldn’t get basil at the store i went to so I added dry;  we had some sausage to use up so I fried that up and added it;  I added some white mushrooms;  at the end I added about 1/3 pack of cream cheese cut into pieces.  That made it – oh! so creamy and yummy.  Cooking time was literally as written – about ten minutes.  (Japan friends – I figured that the amount of pasta is about one smaller package – I added about 400 grams, and a bit of extra water!).

ONE POT WONDER TOMATO BASIL PASTA (taken from apronstringsblog)

Serves 4 to 6 as an entree

12 ounces linguine pasta
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes with liquid ( I used zesty red pepper flavor style)
1 medium sweet onion, cut in 1/4 inch julienne strips (use an onion such as Vidalia or Walla Walla)
4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
4 1/2 cups vegetable broth (use regular broth and NOT low sodium)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch (about 10 to 12 leaves) basil, diced
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Place pasta, tomatoes, onion, and garlic in a large stock pot. Pour in vegetable broth. Sprinkle on top the pepper flakes and oregano. Drizzle top with oil.

Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and keep covered and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes or so. Cook until almost all liquid has evaporated – I left about an inch of liquid in the bottom of the pot – but you can reduce as desired .

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add basil leaves and stir pasta several times to distribute the liquid in the bottom of the pot evenly throughout the pasta as you are serving. Serve garnished with Parmesan cheese.

Burying and Rebuilding

This weekend, my daughter Annie and I did a first…. we helped officiate the funeral of a hamster… of our friends!  It was her good friend H.’s hamster.  H.’s mom works with me at the Nozomi Project.  It was a really awesome thing to be invited into this family event.

What made this ritual extra special was that they were burying their beloved pet at their new home that is being built.  It was our first time to see the construction site and the house being built.

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Annie, H, and H’s sister gave Nana the Hamster a proper burial!

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At the end of the burial, we gathered and I said a prayer.  (How does one pray for a dead hamster?  I wasn’t sure.  I thanked God for being the Creator of such amazing things as hamsters;  and thanked him for good memories;  and asked God’s blessing on this new home being built….?)

While we were completing our time, the girls found some beautiful broken pottery scattered near the back of the house. We brought it back to the Nozomi Project to be made into something beautiful…

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I asked H’s mom about this property where they were building their new home.  It’s just about a five-minute walk from our home.  From the shards around, I knew it was an area that had been hit hard by the tsunami.  She explained that her parents had lived on this land- she had grown up there.  The tsunami had washed away her family home.

I asked if her parents had come back after the tsunami and looked for their things… if any of these broken pieces could have been from her parents’ home.  She said they didn’t have the heart to come back and see the land.  Not even once.

But on that same piece of land that had seen terrible devastation… and now was receiving the body of little Nana the hamster, a new home is being built.  My daughter Annie will probably spend many happy days playing inside these walls with her friend.  We are thankful to be invited into the lives of the friends in our community;  and so thankful for the new beginnings that we see around us of rebuilding and restoration.

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Significant

This morning I prepared to walk over to Nozomi Project with a grumbling heart.  I shared some with my husband, who was gracious and listened.  Finished getting ready, make-up, the ever-essential Nozomi jewelry, picking up some clothes around my bed.  Headed downstairs to be at work by 9:30, when we start the day with a short prayer time.  And then a much-loved verse popped into my head. I tried to shoo-shoo it away, but it got stuck there. So I made myself sit down and look it up on my iPhone:  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, they are new EVERY morning;  great is your faithfulness O God!” (Lamentations 3:22, 23).  Whatever my grumbles are about really were insignificant.  God had given me a new day, marked by his faithfulness.

I went next door, and shared this verse (in Japanese), with our staff as we gathered. The language is a lot more difficult to understand in the Japanese bible, but it felt important to share, at least to me.

Latest video

We made it through Review Week!  Woohoo.  We were sitting through one of the reviews in our guest room when I burst out laughing.  Two of our staff had replaced our wedding photo in a silver frame with a magazine photo of a voluptuous woman.  It lightened the mood significantly!

Here is our latest one-minute Nozomi video.  There are some really cool things happening here, and I’m very thankful to be a part of it.

Bi-Annual Reviews; and Reviews that Last

Tomorrow and Friday we will be conducting individual reviews with all of our Nozomi staff.  AARGGH!  We started this for the first time in the spring, and it is something we are committed to doing bi-annually.  The whole process is laborious, quite honestly.  But we are convinced it is the most helpful way to receive and provide feedback, and to encourage each of our staff to grow professionally and personally.

We have spent a lot of hours already meeting as a leadership team to discuss each individual and choose our priorities in sharing areas of strength that we have seen and (an) area where they can grow.  It has been especially encouraging the past two months to see several of our staff really rise and shine to our hopeful expectations since our last reviews. One of my favorite maxims from my leadership studies is Goodwin’s Principle of Expectation:  “Emerging leaders tend to live up to the genuine expectations of leaders they respect.”  I have found this really true at Nozomi Project.

But it also hard to share areas needing growth.  Some people are very aware of their challenges;  others have very little self-awareness and communicating that can be really difficult.

One of the things i”m so excited about this time are special gifts we will give each woman at the end of each review.  A friend and mentor in Nishinomiya is an amazing artist.  Every Christmas eve she paints individual water color Bible verse cards with all different verses on them for all the visitors who come to their annual Christmas eve services (and they have a lot of people come;  some who attend especially because they want one of her cards!)

Megumi has prayed, prepared, and painted individual Bible verse cards to give to each of our staff tomorrow at the end of their review.  Isn’t that so beautiful?  I had started praying about choosing verses for each staff to give at the end of the reviews — because God’s word is much more powerful, true, and eternal than whatever words we tell them during the review!  But Megumi-san has taken it many levels up by painting these beautiful cards.

They arrived today – each card sealed in a beautiful envelope.  I had to open just one to see.  Isn’t it lovely?

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Please pray with us tomorrow and Friday as we seek to encourage each of our staff and help them to grow!  Pray too for God to encourage each woman with the Word that he has chosen for them in this season of their lives.

Do you have anything you do to help conduct reviews?  We continue to learn and grow in this area…

Recipe for a tough week

It has been a challenging week, with some very real ministry and personal challenges and disappointments.  Some weeks are like this, aren’t they? We found out some really hard news about a dear friend; faced some personnel challenges at Nozomi Project (this is not new, of course!);  received some criticism about our team;  felt disappointed by a friend…  It all added up and I just couldn’t hold it together.  Last night while cooking dinner I had to cry for a bit.  Olivia was nearby and asked what I needed.  A hug!   Later that night I was reminded of a favorite verse from Romans 12:12.  Three key things that can guide us through tough weeks.

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Prophecies- For Real

I sat next to her as the sobs ripped through her body.  I was somewhat stunned.  I had never seen her cry before.  She has always been one of the strong ones; the member of the Nozomi Project who always smiled and found a cheerful answer to even the strangest requests.  But this weekend she let out the past three and a half years of pain, thousands-plus days of needing to be strong for everyone else. She continued crying for thirty more minutes, as we listened and prayed for her.  One friend tried to keep her children entertained in the next room, though twice they came in to check on their weeping mother.

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One of our dear Nozomi friends prayed on Friday to begin trusting in Christ.  Another friend prayed to begin forgiving the other Nozomi staff whom she has been avoiding for months.  Several others rearranged their schedules after hearing about the touching experiences of their friends with Nobuko and came to receive prayer. There have been many tears this weekend as God has revealed His truth to many of our friends here. Yesterday, several of our friends brought their children to our home, where Nobuko prayed over each child God’s words of encouragement, life, and hope for each of them.

I was especially touched as I watched the scene of her sharing God’s heart of love and hope and a future for the son of one of the Nozomi staff’s 11 year old son with autism.  Yesterday was his birthday — what a wonderful gift!  Even though he was embarrassed by the attention and remained curled up in a ball next to the table during Nobuko’s prayer time, I sensed how important this was for his mom and even for him down the road.

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We’ve been doing special prayer sessions the past three days, thanks to the gifts and ministry of our friend Nobuko who is visiting. It has been really amazing. I am wiped out physically and emotionally, but also so thankful for all that God has done here.

One of the coolest things about working with Nobuko is our special history!  Twenty-two years ago, Nobuko was my English student when I was teaching English conversation classes in the Tokyo area (before I was married…)  She was, by her own words, nerdy, insecure, and uncomfortable!  Read about Nobuko as a high school here, and about her visit with us three years ago here.  But over her two years of studying at our English school and becoming friends with Christians, Nobuko prayed to trust in Christ.  Her life took a huge turn, and she ended up spending the last twenty two years working for God across Japan and in other parts of the world.

God has gifted Nobuko in particular as a worship leader and as a gifted prayer prophetically.  Lest any of you readers start to feel weird reading this – or the first few paragraphs — go back and read 1 Corinthians 14, as I did last week with a friend.  We were reminded that Paul said, “Follow the way of love and eaglery desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy… everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort…(vs 1, 3).  I have once again witnessed God use this gift in a powerful way to encourage and strengthen and comfort many individuals.  This morning we all had a chance as a body to practice gifts of prophecy on one another, and we witnessed as Nobuko boldly shared prophetic images and prayers with each members there today.  She spent time with each of the kids, as well, helping them to be more comfortable listening to God, and sharing images over each of them about how God sees them.  It was so so powerful!

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Tonight Nobuko met with Ian and myself- the last two from three days of meeting with many people.  For Ian, she saw him as a hunter with a bow and arrow, and God encouraging him about the eyes of his heart and sharp mind… He has a strong sense of discerning the spirit in which he can see different things that others cannot see. He is like Gideon in the Bible, a strong and brave warrior who God wants to use even though he is the youngest in the family.

She shared many things during my prayer time with her- we recorded it and I went back and typed them out.  My understanding of prophecies is that God uses them to encourage/sharpen/revive what He has already been doing in our lives, rather than to have us take one prophecy and make a sudden and unplanned move based on that.  I sensed tonight God’s fanning the flames of some things He had already placed in my heart, as well as confirming some of the dreams that we have been praying about on our team.

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Twenty-two years ago I was teaching English conversation to a bunch of high school students, housewives, and business men. I loved my job and these students!  But it was tiring and especially hard at times with these shy and nerdy girls who made it very difficult to communicate.  We never really know, do we, who will rise up among us in the midst of ministry and go beyond what we could ever dream?  Two decades later, that shy and nerdy high school girl has gone around the world, and now is up in our fishing town of Ishinomaki co-ministering with me and our team… actually teaching our team how to better listen to God, sharing God’s love in a special way with those whomI love so much.  God’s Kingdom work is amazing.

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