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.
Last night I had the special treat of a night out with three good friends. We all made different dishes and sat around eating, talking, and laughing for five hours. It’s been awhile since I’ve done that – it was a great break! We had decided to collect 100 yen from anyone who talked about Nozomi Project/our work during that time. I think I would have lost the most money, had we really done it, but we did a pretty good job making the evening NOT about work.
I tried a new recipe that I’ve been wanting to try since i’ve seen different versions on the internet. I looked for the most deliciousy-looking one. I think I found it! It contains none of the “bad” fats… and everything about it is creamy and delicious. My friends could not guess that the secret ingredient, giving it such a creamy texture, is avocado. I like this recipe with the coffee and coconut oil in it, as well.
You only need a small dish to satisfy that craving! I topped mine with crushed candied pecans; you could also put a dollop of cream or chocolate shavings or fresh fruit… I doubled the recipe, and it would have easily made enough for 6 or more people at the portions I did above (which even for a chocolate lover was plenty). I used a double boiler as I’ve had bad luck in the past with microwaving chocolate. I also found it tasted better, with a consistency like fudge, after being refrigerated.
Here is the link to the recipe (with more comments)… and the recipe from vegrecipesofIndia below:
***3/10. She sat across from me at the table. “Tomorrow I have to go with my family to the temple. We still don’t have a gravesite for my mom and dad, so we just go to the temple instead.” C.’s parents had both been killed in the tsunami. She hasn’t talked about it much. I asked why they don’t have a gravesite yet. One of the other women sitting nearby made the money sign with her hands. It costs too much.
I asked C. if it feels hard to be the fourth anniversary. She said, “It’s easier than it was last year. I’ve sort of gotten used to them not being here, and so I just sort of talk to them. When I leave in the morning to come here, I go over to their picture and tell them I’m leaving. When I return home, I tell them I’m back. I like knowing that they are somehow still with me.”
During lunch today, some of us were at our gathering place. We had about six or eight local friends come by. One of our dear friends, Mrs. K., told me again different parts of her tsunami story. Telling the story is still important, even four years later. It was snowing and cold that day four years ago, a lot like today. I am so amazed that she survived, because she had run from her home to her son and family’s home – found the door locked, and had run home and then up the mountain just as the waters started crashing in. Her son’s home was virtually destroyed. I’m so glad the door had been locked so she didn’t stay there. I can’t imagine life without Mrs. K.
Mr. A held him close. He made a funny face. Everyone laughed. There is so much healing that comes from babies.
Eric was at the store today buying gifts for some local friends. He didn’t have much time. But there were a lot of people he wanted to see. So he prayed, “God, who is hurting the most now? Who do you want me to visit?” Immediately he thought of the dad of our friend Y. He had lost his wife and oldest pregnant daughter in the tsunami.
He drove over there with sushi and grapes. The two previous times that he has visited, he handed the food gifts, talked briefly in the genkan and left. This time, though, Y’s dad invited Eric in. Eric sat with him for about two hours, listening to many stories about his deceased wife, and looking at photos. This tough dad cried. Things have not always been smooth with Y and her dad. Eric suggested that sometime soon he sit with his daughter and together they look at one of these albums.
Tonight I got a text from Y. about how happy her dad was for the visit. Y. was thrilled. Her dad never shares with anyone. This was a special gift to both her dad and to Eric.
Tonight before our final gathering time, E. sat across from me and a friend and said, “Things are a lot harder now than they were four years ago. The tsunami was terrible, but I’m able to see good in it because God let me meet you and the others who have moved here. So I’m finally able to see some good. ”
Child 1: “Mommy, why do you think God made the tsunami?”
Child 2: “God didn’t make the tsunami! Did He, mom?”
Wow. I can’t answer those questions (and that’s what I told our kids. But I am completely convinced that God wants to work through and in spite of the terrible destruction; that God wants to walk with people through their pain and the challenges that have come over the last four years, and I see it happening.
She said she wanted our prayers. She didn’t have a specific area needing prayer tonight, so I suggested that we just listen and hear what God might want to share with her. My friend V. read Psalm 23 in Japanese to her. And as she was reading, I pictured Jesus the Shepherd scooping up E. and holding her close to his heart. I told E about this image, and that God wanted her to just lay down all of our responsibilities and heavy burdens and just experience his love and care for her. God was inviting her to come. Just come. After this prayer time, E. couldn’t believe how light she felt. It was so so good to see her letting go of some of the heaviness that she had come with.
We had a wonderful final gathering, with 40 or 50 adults gathered together to remember, to promise again to walk together, to invite the presence of Jesus into those places in our lives. It was such a bonding time. At the end we gathered in small groups and some shared, some prayed, some listened. We stood in a big circle and held hands as a symbol of our desire to walk together towards Jesus, whatever the future may bring. No one can do it alone.
I was thinking today about our work at the Nozomi Project. There are five or so staff who have left for various reasons – some on good terms with other staff, and some not. But I thought about it tonight and realized that all five of them are still connecting with our Be One team, and coming to us to help them in their various stages of life currently. They are coming to those with Hope for continuing healing. I am so thankful for that.
After I got home and was trying to get all our kids into showers and then pajamas, I got a call from N. I haven’t seen her in quite a while. Her three year old son had been killed in the tsunami. Today she and her family went to the area right near our home where he had died. She said she had wanted to come by our gathering place, but it just felt too hard. She said, “I could laugh yesterday, and I am sure that I will laugh again tomorrow, but I couldn’t laugh today.” When I prayed for her over the phone, I prayed for her mother’s heart. A mother can love so wide, and so deep; but when that child is gone it means the pain is so wide, and so deep.
I don’t have all the answers, but in the beginning and in the end, I believe in a God who hears, and a God who heals, and in a God who walks with us along the way.
This past week has been so incredibly intense for our team! Much has happened within our community. I cannot write specifics because of the people involved, but we do cherish your prayers. There has been a high schooler despairing of life; several members of the community involved in various unfortunate activities that have dire consequences, challenges on our team. These situations have meant tons of meeting and consultation; and pretty deep weariness. We have been carrying a lot of burdens over the last few months, and feeling pressure from many sides.
A friend shared this passage, which I have always loved:
2 Corinthians 1:8-11New International Version (NIV)
8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
Please pray with us that we might rely on God and not ourselves! In two days we will commemorate the fourth anniversary of the triple disaster. It is a very somber time for the community. Pray that we can listen well; that we can walk with people well through this time. Pray for decisions that me and others need to make this week based on challenges in the community. We will be praying for 24 hours through the fourth anniversary and your prayers are appreciate as well!
(If you are interested in being part of a private facebook page in which I post specific prayer requests, please send me an email with your name and how you know me 🙂 to my email at (my first initial)(husband’s first initial)my last email@example.com.
Thanks for standing with us!
Today has been a weepy day for me. (Note: I started this post on Monday, February 9th. Just finishing it now, ten days later — I couldn’t quite process it all to get this written).
We found out that a dear friend of ours from our LA days has passed away.
Last week we received an email that our friend Kathe had stage four cancer that had spread in her abdomen and brain. I was pretty devastated. I wrote a letter to her that next hour and mailed it off. Then a few days later I tried to call her. I was excited because I was hoping to visit her during an upcoming trip to the area where she was hospitalized. But she never got my messages – she died just a few hours before I left them, I think.
As Eric and I were processing, we were so thankful for a serendipitous visit when we happened to be going through LA when she was on a business trip there (she had moved to TX quite a few years ago). And we remembered an email that she had sent to Eric about a year ago. What was memorable was that Kathe rarely emailed us. So we knew this was important to her.
Hi Eric,I was in my office last night cleaning out a few things and came across a booklet called “O Come Let Us Adore Him” that is a series of Meditations for Advent. There’s no date on it, bus Asian Access must have sent it to me years ago. It looks like a picture of Olivia on the back of the pamphlet.I didn’t read it when I received it, but as I was tossing things in the trash last night, I stopped to read the meditation you wrote called “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus”. What a wonderful and inspiring message you gave in this writing. It moved me greatly. And I had to write to you and tell you how much your writing had moved me. Thank you. (The booklet is no longer headed for the trash.)I hope you and Sue and the family are all doing well. I think of you and Sue often.Love,Kathe***************************************************
Portions of Eric’s Christmas devotional from 2010:
Day 4: Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus
A crack in the sky appeared. A sliver of neon blue light poured out from it. It happened on the day of the annual sports festival at our son Owen’s school, a highly anticipated and highly attended event in our community. The action on the sports field that afternoon was already in full swing. As the colors of the celestial display slowly morphed from bright blue to pink then to orange, more and more eyes turned heavenward until eventually all sports festival related activities had ceased.
My attention was diverted away from the amazing spectacle by the reactions of my fellow bystanders. Though we were all awestruck by the event, the people whose comments I heard fell into two divergent groups. Some were delighted, “How beautiful!,” they exclaimed, while others shuddered, “I’m afraid.”
As I stood there lost in my wonderment, I could not keep my self from asking, “Is this it?” Could this really be the day of our Lord’s return as described in Matthew 24:30 and elsewhere, with Jesus appearing in the sky coming on the clouds in power and great glory. “Is this it?” Was this really it for the Japanese people? Would this be all the souls we will have to offer our Lord?
Despite the excitement and expectation of the moment I found myself hoping for more time. After ten minutes or so the light began to fade and with it the hope of flying in the air with my Lord that day. But what stuck was this renewed sense of urgency.
Just as the herald angel proclaimed it on that very first Christmas night, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord,” so too must we continue to point the way toward our Savior Jesus for those who are still in need of rescue.
In this season of advent, as we look forward with great anticipation to the celebration of Christ’s first coming, let it cause us to joyfully long for the imminent day of his return. And let it also serve to remind us of the grave task that remains before us all until then. For on that day there will surely be two very different groups of people: those for whom hope will be finally realized and those for whom all hope will be utterly lost.
Eric Takamoto, Missionary, Sanda, Japan
Good words at Advent, and now as well.
This morning in staff meeting we played an observation game. We divided up into two teams. Team A turned around, faced the wall, with eyes closed. Team B had about 2 or 3 minutes to change 12 things about themselves. Chiaki wore my wedding ring; two women switched blouses/smocks; we switched out two scarves and two necklaces, etc.
Then Team A had to turn back around and figure out the twelve different things. And then we switched. When Team A changed twelve things about themselves and we turned around, we all burst out laughing. They took it to the next level, switching all their sweaters, glasses, etc. By the second round, Team B was a lot faster than Team A at finding the changes.
After the game, we debriefed a bit. And I used it to share the verse that I had been given this year: Isaiah 43:18, 19: “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Look! I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
I quite honestly wasn’t too excited about this verse for this year. In some ways, I’m not looking for new things right now. My family, the Nozomi Project, and other ministry all around keeps me quite busy, thank you very much.
But I was thinking about this verse the past couple of weeks, and I love that it’s present perfect tense (is that the right phrase?) God is already doing a new thing. He’s in the process of it. But have I noticed? Am I watchful? I really believe in daily redemption… that God isn’t just wanting to do a one-time-it’s-all-fixed redemption but rather a day by day, Jesus is wanting to make all things new. His redemption is here for me now. What a loss when I am not aware; not joining in!
So I shared about this verse, and what I really believe is God’s hope that each of us are watchful for the new things that He wants to do in our lives. We get better and finding and participating when we are watchful.
I’m excited for the new things that God wants to do in my midst.
Our five year old saved the day!
Today in Japan, many people celebrate the day before spring by a ritual to cleanse away the evil from the former year, and hopefully bring good fortune to the coming year. Traditionally participants will wear the masks of evil spirits and throw beans as a symbol of driving away the evil spirits. Families and school classes will often carry out these rituals. The masks often look like this:
In our previous town, these ceremonies were pretty underplayed. But since moving here to Ishinomaki, it has seemed more important.
I had forgotten that today was setsubun day until my daughter came home from school crying yesterday. She had remembered coming home, and was pretty adamant that she didn’t want to have any part of the scary demon masks at school today. So I called the elementary school, and was assured that this year their classes were not planning to do anything special at school (though they did bring home peanuts as a snack!).
Our five year old Ian brought home a letter yesterday stating that they would be celebrating this today, with the throwing of beans, making masks, etc. So I called his preschool, and explained to the teacher who answered that we would prefer not to have Ian participate in the setsubun rituals. The teacher put me on hold, and came back and said that was fine.
This morning we prayed with all the kids as they went off. We talked to Ian a bit and explained that he wouldn’t be participating in everything they did at school – he seemed fine about it. We sent him off on the bus this morning.
He came home announcing that he made an evil spirit mask! He said that he needed to participate – he had to make a mask and throw his beans. I’m not quite sure what happened with my communication to the preschool, but my wishes didn’t seem to make it to his teacher somehow. And then, I saw his mask:
Yesterday as the weekend was approaching at the social enterprise where I am working, one of the staff shared that her daughter has her major college entrance examination this weekend. She would need to drive to Sendai (an hour or so), and stay in a hotel for two nights with her dad in order to take the tests on Sunday and Monday. She has been preparing for a YEAR for these tests; going every day to a cram school after her regular high school in order to prepare for this test.
At the end of the day, three of us gathered around our staff worker and prayed for her and her daughter. It is a really huge deal; and apparently it is also a ton of money. It was special to have that time to pray together.
Tonight I was out with my family and this staff worker called and tried to reach me several times. I called her back during dinner. She said that she had shared with her daughter S. about our prayer time, and S. wanted me to pray for her too! Our staff worker was surprised. I haven’t seen S. in about a year (mostly because she’s been going to cram school every day of the week, all year long!).
So this evening when our family returned I called S.’s cell phone. She shared a little bit and then I prayed with her over the phone. I am not a very confident prayer in Japanese; but I welcome times like this, even though I feel often like an early-days Moses… where the person on the other end is so hungry to experience the reality of God’s presence. It was a special privilege to pray for her. I found myself praying for her sleep, for her to have God’s perfect peace as she wakes up tomorrow, to experience God’s presence throughout the next two days. And that more than hoping for good results from this test, that she would trust and lean into the special and good future that God is preparing for her.
Just a few minutes ago, S. sent me a text (first time!). She said she was getting really nervous before going to sleep.
I sent her Jeremiah 29:11-13 – “…for I know the plans i have for you, says, the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you… plans for a future and a hope…” (Sue paraphrased here!).
She wrote back: “How strange! I suddenly feel a sense of peace come over me. Thank you so much. It has really helped.”
As we finished our texting exchange, I realized that I was stressing tonight about our son’s education. We have made the decision (gulp!) to take him out of the local Japanese schools when he graduates from elementary school in March. We have a plan through the summer, but no teacher lined up for September. We have been praying and recruiting but nothing has turned up yet. One lead just fell through tonight. And I was starting to feel panicked.
But God’s promises… I have had to go back and read these verses for my family. He has a future and a hope. To believe this for my son Owen, even as I can believe this for S. To ask God for the faith to trust in what I cannot see.
I am hopeful that S., and I, will sleep well tonight, entrusting our futures into God’s loving and capable hands.
One of my “bents” is finding unique ways to celebrate people that I love. This can mean making a unique cake for friends, surprise parties, even wacky practical jokes.
This interest plays out in our family. For numerous reasons, I have searched for effective ways to celebrate and remember who we are. I think in my desire to make up for not being enough of the-get-dirty-on-the-playground- kind of mom, I have looked for other ways to celebrate with our kids. Also, because we live overseas in Japan, we are mostly separated from our extended families and have a unique lifestyle with the blending of cultures. In particular, because our four children are all adopted, I especially desire to give them a strong foundation in which they feel grounded, special, and unique. Here are some ways that we try and do that.
Birth-day books: Each of our children’s stories of birth and adoption is precious and unique. There was pain and trauma involved, but redemption as well. When we received each child, I bought a simple journal for and did my best to write in it the story of their early days. I printed out some of the email announcements and other correspondence we sent out.
Each year since we started those books, my husband and I have tried (!) around New Year’s to set aside a few hours and write in each of their books. On Monday we finally had a chance to do this at Starbucks – we grabbed a few good pens and the four journals and wrote away!
We write about memorable events or funny things that child has said; character traits that we have seen; blessings for their future as we watch them growing up. I recently pulled out the books because my daughter kept asking me what her first words were (funny how I can forget so easily!); we laughed and laughed over some of her early antics as I read them aloud! Tonight she asked me, “Mommy, would you still have remembered that every night I needed you to close the curtains, turn on the bathroom light and turn off the hall light if it hadn’t been written in that book?” No need to think. No. Absolutely not! Two kids and a lot of life later and I just don’t remember these details. Thankfully some of them at least are in these books…
We’ve also had a “guest” writer or two. When my sister Beth visited us once I asked her to write her impressions in the book of each of the children at that stage in their lives. I know some day they will treasure that letter, and hopefully each of the letters in their book that have been lovingly handwritten over the years by the people who love them most in the world.
(It’s not too late to start! As my chemistry professor used to say — better late than never!)
Newsletter/Christmas Card Books – Part of our role as protestant missionaries includes writing frequent newsletters to those back at home. We write five or six a year, as well as sending out some sort of creative Christmas cards that we mail out to everyone. In addition to one master clear-file book that I use to keep one copy of all of our newsletters, I started a number of years ago making clear-file notebooks for each of our children. They will later be able to go back through their own newsletter notebook and read a unique perspective–their parents’– of our family history.
Digital Photo Books – I don’t have time for scrapbooking, but I do try most years to create a simple $30 digital photo book. I also do smaller ones after major trips to the U.S. or big experiences, like a move. Our kids love to look through these! It’s also a great way to help them remember our loved ones who live far away.
Birthday Story: This is a tradition that started with my own mom when I was little. It is special whether or not you are adopted because all children want to know the story of their entrance into the world. On the night of each child’s birthday, they have special mom time when I tuck them in. And I tell them their birth and adoption stories. As they have gotten older, I have included more information that they may be ready for. They always look forward to this sweet time, as do I. It is often a chance, too, as we lay there in the dark and snuggle, for them to ask questions that may be are harder to ask at other times.
Letters to Jesus: Two years ago we began a new tradition that became more defined last year through this blog article. On New Year’s Eve (which is a day or two before taking down the Christmas decorations) we gather and each of us writes a short note to Jesus. The letter serves as a prayer, asking him for help in an area of our lives where we need help this next year. This past year one child asked for more self-control; another for patience. Our youngest asked for help in not being so afraid. Eric and I wrote our own as well. Then we shared our notes as we sat in a circle, and the person on the left prayed for the person who just shared. It was so sweet to see even our five year old praying for his big sister!
When we put away the Christmas decorations, we each put our notes in our own Christmas stocking, and packed them away till next year. It is fun as we decorate for Christmas to read our notes from the past year and realize how God has been at work in our hearts. I’m looking forward to us growing up with this ritual, and reading over our letters over the year as a testimony to the hand of God in our lives. (It’s not too late – you don’t need to put yours in the stocking but it’s a great time as the first month finishes to sit down with your family and do this for the coming year!).
Ten-Year Journal: This last one is for me! In addition to using one myself (thank you, Claire, for the original gift!), this journal has been one of my favorite gifts for girlfriends over the year. I cannot believe I am already in my ninth year.
There is space for ten entries on each of the journal’s 365 daily pages where I write down about four line’s worth that somehow summarize my day, or I share one significant memory, challenge, triumph, special event.
I did not think I could start a new habit and do this every single night – but it’s been nine years! I’ve missed a few here and there but I really hate missing even a day, and try and go back and write if I miss. Because reading over what has happened on this day for the last nine years is so amazing!
And there are so many things that I would never have remembered. It has become a place where:
To buy your own ten year journal– you can get them at stationery stores or online in Japan; I found several different versions on Amazon as well. For as little time as it takes to write a few sentences, this ritual and journal can become a gift to yourself – and to your family — as you use it over the years.
What are rituals that you do to celebrate family? I’d love to learn and add to our own family traditions. It’s really worth it.