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.
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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.

Four Years Later…

***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.”

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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.

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Mr. A held him close.  He made a funny face. Everyone laughed.  There is so much healing that comes from babies.

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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.

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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. ”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

We do not want you to be uniformed…

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 name@gmail.com.

Thanks for standing with us!

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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Being Let In — More Snapshots from 3/11, three years later

The past few days have been among the richest of our two/three years of ministry in Ishinomaki.

We are still learning what it means to walk with our friends up here through their grief and through their healing.  We are still trying to figure out exactly how to “weep with those who weep”  and to celebrate the times when we see glimpses of the joy that comes in the morning. We don’t always get it right.  Thankfully, the very fact of our being here – for the long haul — has allowed our friends to trust us.  They have let us in.  And it is such an amazing privilege.

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I was walking into the Nozomi House when I saw her in the distance. I stepped out towards the road to wait for her.  She was walking toward me, with the cold snow pelting us both.  It was so so cold!  As she came closer, she looked at me, and then she looked away.  I knew she didn’t want to talk about it.  But I hugged her, and I felt her body sway, then brace again.  I’m sorry it’s snowing and so cold, I said.  She nodded.  “Yes, it’s just like that day.”

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Our team today made four or five visits to some of the Nozomi staff who couldn’t or didn’t come into work today.  My friend S. and I went to see Chi.  I knew her daughter had had the flu last week;  when she came to the door she was wearing a mask and confessed that she herself was on her fourth day of recovery (in Japan the doctors require five days of staying home before you can go out after an influenza diagnosis).  She invited us in anyway- I was so glad.  We sat on the floor, gave her the Russian Tea Cookies that some of our team and kids had made on Sunday, and we asked her how she is doing on this day.  She said that almost worse than remembering three years ago was the challenges that she was having with her autistic son.  “I am so weak and tired from the flu, and this morning we had a battle.  He ended up scratching and hitting me and I couldn’t take it anymore.”  Chi. is always so calm and quiet, but she was crying.

S. prayed for her, and for her family.  I translated, sitting next to Ch, holding her hand.  When S. had finished, Chi explained, “that was so strange!  I felt like a heat pack was on my back under your hand as you were praying.  The heat flowed from my back down into my hand that Sue was holding!”  We explained that it was God at work, bringing His healing touch.  The Holy Spirit is so powerful!

Chi then told us that back in December, she had been working at Nozomi and sitting next to a long-term volunteer.  She confessed to that volunteer that she doesn’t really know if God exists or not.  The friend suggested that she tell God that, and that at times of need she could pray and allow God to respond to her need.  So she said that since that time, she has begun praying.  When she gets upset at her children, she has been uttering simple prayers to God.  And she said it has been so strange how a peace from outside has come over her….

“Now I believe in prayer….”

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As part of our desire to provide rituals to remember, we planted a small camellia tree today in front of the Nozomi House.  We gathered at 2:30 pm, spent a few minutes praying, and then we had silent prayer as the city siren went off at the time of the earthquake three years ago – 2:46 pm.  Right as the siren started, our postal lady came to pick up our packages.  We pulled her into the circle, and stood in silence.

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When it finished, Eric and one of the Nozomi staff took the tree and planted it in the prepared hole.

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We sang a song that we do often at our Sunday morning worship.  Eric closed our time in prayer.  It was a small and simple way for those who wanted to to join together.  But the tree will continue to grow and thrive and bring forth beautiful flowers;  and we will remember.

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In late afternoon and through this evening, Christians and our local friends began congregating at the Rock, a big local warehouse/hangout place being run by our Be One coworkers.  Our friend Y. asked if we could come and join her after work.  There were people milling around in different parts of the large room, some seated together sharing tea; others standing in small groups.  Y. went over to a couch area where no one was sitting, and asked for a few minutes to be alone.  She had brought with her the photo album of her sister growing up, and another album of her mom.  She had not been able to open these album since both of these family members had died in the tsunami three years ago.  But she was ready for this next step.  She wanted to be alone, but not alone, so she asked if we could just sort of linger nearby.

Sometimes just being nearby is an important task.

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M. also went with us after work to the prayer time at the Rock. About 75 or so had gathered – it was such a beautiful mix of our local friends and believers who are choosing to be up here to walk together through the grief and the growth.  When I came back after dinner, M came bounding over to me.  “They prayed for me!  This couple from Sendai – I don’t even know their names.  But it was amazing!”  She is struggling so much with her daughter.  But I saw hope being born.

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Eric wasn’t sure what to expect.  We knew Y’s dad had been alone all day.  We know he’s chosen aloneness for most of the past three years, but he had seemed so touched, so happy by our surprise visit on Sunday night.  So we talked about it and Eric went over in the early evening.  Her dad came to the door, and Eric gave him a platter of sashimi and some grapes for the granddaughters.  And he began sharing with Eric…. today he drove out to the place where his wife’s car was found washed away… and then the place where his daughter’s car had been found.  He told Eric that he just stood there and started shouting their names, waiting in vain for a response.

And as he stood there in the doorway next to my husband, he wept.  But this time he was not alone.

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