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.
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.
***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.
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.
There are weeks that go by and I think…if I had to tell someone about everything that has happened this week, they probably wouldn’t believe it. Each morning, day, and night has been so — full. Little crises, challenges, sorrows. I decided tonight I want to share a few of the joys of this past week.
1. Not just one baptism today – but three. It was unexpected, but completely amazing. There are still no words nor pictures that can do justice to the joy we experience as a community when one – or a few- in our midst enter into the waters that three years ago caused so much destruction here. Today’s cool weather, and bonfire, made it all the more special.
2. Doing ministry with our families… One of the joys for us here is watching our children interact with our community, and forming strong friendships. One of our friends sent me this picture a little bit ago of Annie and her best friend:
3. When God surprises us in the midst of our challenges. This past week I had numerous meetings about relational challenges at Nozomi Project – women in conflict with each other and unable to resolve it. Last night, thanks to the hard work of a great team here from hawaii, we had a BBQ at our home for Nozomi women and their families. While we only had three definite yeses before the event, we were thrilled that nine of the staff and children/families attended! Even with lots and lots of food, we ran out. It was a great problem. And the laughter and camaraderie was such a treat. It was the perfect timing and a chance to see some really cool relationship things happen.
4. After two plus years of Eric and Owen studying the Japanese martial art of aikido, I still don’t really get it. But what mom isn’t going to love training that teaches her son discipline, manners, and restraint? I was proud of my two guys today at their demonstration!
5. Family rituals. Even with schedules that sometimes run rather crazy, there are some family traditions that really help to anchor us. Or at least i hope that they do!
Today, even with making lunch for 50, worship, attending an aikido demonstration, running back for lunch after worship, a beach baptism,and an after-baptism celebration, we were able to unwind from the day and the weekend as a family. We made pizza, and watched our favorite Sunday night video series – don’t laugh! – “Little House on the Prairie.” Olivia was excited to help out. I love this picture!
Now, we are waiting for Typhoon #18 to arrive. It is heading straight for Japan and for our region. Ian’s preschool has already been cancelled; we will get an email at 6 am about the other three kids’ school. We are fairly sure they will be home. And they have already asked if I have all the ingredients for another important ritual for such a day — Typhoon Donuts (recipe here – they are awesome!) . I assured them I do. Praying for minimal damage tomorrow from the typhoon, and for maximum chances to do rituals and spend family time.
Today was beautiful weather so we decided to take a family bike ride. We all biked over (Ian on the back of my bike, if you are wondering!) to a nearby family restaurant, and then we biked along the coast.
We wanted to head over to a playset that was built recently for the third anniversary of the tsunami by a friend of Be One, Mr. E. He had also helped to make some of the furniture for the park that Be One rebuilt last year. We were so surprised to find him there today, and we spent the next hour or more sitting and talking with him.
Mr. E is a pretty amazing man. He and his wife lost all three of their children in their tsunami. This is pain and grief that I cannot humanly imagine.
On the place where their house had been washed away, Mr. E., a carpenter by trade, has built a play-set. He wanted to create a fun place for children where so much sorrow had landed.
The ocean is just 100 yards away. The whole area used to be a thriving neighborhood. Now, he said, only four residents are living in this neighborhood. He sat with us and pointed to the empty plots all around us.
The land right next door had been the home of a seaweed farmer. He was out in his boat when the tsunami came. The boat was able to roll over the tsunami. The husband survived, and when he finally came back to shore and to where their home had been. He searched and searched, but found that his home and the rest of his family had been washed away. Three years later he is still unable to return to this location, but his sister comes frequently and leaves flowers in the yard in memory of the lost family members.
Across the street was a tofu shop. The daughters and the parents were killed in the tsunami.
We admired his yellow VW buggy. He explained: “My kids used to love to count yellow cars. One day my daughter was counting and said, ‘If I can see three in one day, I will be so happy.’ After they died, my wife and I just wanted a yellow car. It reminds us of what made them happy.”
I asked about his wife. She isn’t working right now. I wonder how she has strength for each day. I told him that I hope we can get together with them both soon.
He brought out from the trailer drinks for all of our kids. Then he led them over to a small tuft of wild clovers, and told them that he’s found a few four leaf clovers there. Olivia found four or five, and Owen found two five-leaf clovers! He gave each of our children some small wooden keychains that he has made from tsunami debris.
I watched Mr. E. as he so gently interacted with our children. There was only kindness. He must have been such an awesome dad.