Conversations at the kitchen table…. remembering 3/11

She sat across from us and pointed to the empty chair.

“He’s a boy and he’s only six years old, so he doesn’t talk much about his feelings.  But a few weeks ago, out of the blue, he said, ‘So, I don’t have a mother, do I?’  Of course he knew that his mom had died three years ago, but it was like it suddenly hit him in a new way.”

His grandmother continued.  “I told him that he does have a father and a grandmother and that we are a family and we are going to work hard to stick together.”

Her voice broke.  “He said, ‘I don’t want to work hard for that if I don’t have my mom.’  I couldn’t take it.  I couldn’t say anything.  I had to leave the room.”

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“My [grown] son and I ran upstairs when we heard the water coming.  This house was built well so we knew we could be safe.  But my daughter was working at a store near the water, and our grandson was at the school near the water. My husband was traveling on a business trip.  I didn’t know if any of them were still alive… When they didn’t come home I figured they had died.  There was no radio, no cell phones, no lights.  Just darkness.  We waited together and it felt like forever.

“Around 6 am I heard a crashing sound and it sounded like my grandson’s voice calling out frantically.  But it was my daughter — their voices sound the same.  She had waded through all the debris surrounding our home to come and see if we were still alive.  There were no words;  only many tears that morning.”

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“We went to visit her [this afternoon] – it has been awhile.  We rang the doorbell a few times.  Then I walked around to the back of the house and noticed that her heater was on.  I knew that she must still be there.  When I walked back to the front of the house, I saw her riding her bicycle away fast.  She has ups and downs.  On the down times she still just doesn’t want to meet anyone.  It’s too hard…”

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“Tomorrow I want to just work.  I don’t want to remember.  It is too hard to remember.”

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“The morning after the tsunami I started walking all over the area in search of the 100-something of my store employees.  We had no idea where they might be seeking refuge but it was my job to report to the central office that everyone has been found (or not).  It didn’t matter how dangerous it was or that my family didn’t have much food.  I had to do my job.  I took my second grade son with me and we started wading through all the debris to visit all the schools and temples in the nearby areas serving as evacuation centers.  I couldn’t stop until I had somehow accounted for everyone on the list.”

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“We didn’t know what to do when the siren started.  We left the home on foot and started running towards the school, but it was in the direction of the water.  When we saw the dark force moving towards us, we knew we had to run in the opposite direction.  I kept tugging on my daughter’s arm to run faster.  My husband finally put our 3rd grade [autistic] son on his back and even though he was so heavy he didn’t stop running.  We heard the noise and finally ran into the stairwell of a small apartment building.  We pulled our children up the stairs and there was a family in the top apartment.  They let us stay with them until the morning light came.  We didn’t know what we would find when we went back down those steps…”

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“I don’t know what we are going to do when all the children return to their [fixed up] elementary school this next month.  My fifth grade daughter is so traumatized by what she saw at that school three years ago.  I’ve already told her that she doesn’t have to do the PE swimming lessons in that pool.  She saw those bodies floating in there and I know she will never be able to forget….”

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“On the one hand, I almost cannot bear to relive the memories of 3/11 three years ago.  But on the other hand, if it hadn’t been for the tsunami I never would have had friends like you.  Some days I don’t know how to deal with such extreme emotions….”

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Please pray right now for our friends in Ishinomaki.  For so many, life is still so very hard.  But we do believe in a Living Hope; in a Healer; in a Savior for this broken world.

reiko's photo

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Waiting to be invited…

We are in the countdown leading up to the third anniversary of the triple disaster.  Two days away now.  We are struck every year with the enormity of the task of how best to walk through these days with our friends who are still grieving.  It is not easy.  For some, gathering together is cathartic;  for others, being with a group of people reminds them of their pain and loneliness.

This year our Be One team has decided to focus on going out in twos and threes over these few days to visit our friends across this city.  Today we had an awesome team come to our home after lunch and make about 280 Russian tea cake cookies and packets of notes, origami cranes, and snacks that we can use to give out to individuals, families, school children friends.

IMG_9686While they were doing that, a few different groups went out to visit our friends across town.  My coworkers and I had a chance to visit three families related to the Nozomi Project.  We visited one of our Nozomi friends who’s mom is going in for a brain procedure tomorrow.  We had a sweet time of praying for her mom and the family while we were there.

We then went to visit one of the families who had lost a mother and a sister in the tsunami.  It had been such a hard day for them;  they had been to the different gravesites of both of their lost loved ones that day.  When we dropped by, we weren’t sure how it would feel.  But it was such a special time.  Y.’s father — who we have barely met before –was so warm to us!  He rarely leaves the house, but seemed genuinely interested in hearing about his daughter’s work, her friends (at one point he said, “Oh!  So you really do have friends!), and coming one day soon to the Nozomi House to see where she is working.  Here is one of his granddaughters, in front of the family altar, modeling a Nozomi necklace tonight:

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After my coworker prayed a very inspired prayer over the family, we each shook his hand to say goodbye. He gripped each of our hands so tightly, barely able to let go. We realized that he probably never gets hugs or hand squeezes from people these days…. And even just when he mentioned the name of his wife and daughter he teared up and couldn’t speak.  It has been three years but the pain is still so great.  Our little visit — that we were scared to make — seemed somehow so significant.

We also had the chance to visit the grandmother of one of our Nozomi coworkers, T.  She had told me a long time ago that sometime she wanted us to go with her to meet her grandmother and to pray with her.  She said she was afraid her grandmother, Tomi-san, would die before she had a chance to hear about the “real God.”  Today was that chance!

When we walked into the hospital room and I saw her grandmother, I was struck with how very tiny and frail she was.  She couldn’t weigh more than eighty pounds;  her ninety-four year old body looked tiny in the large bed.  But her eyes lit up as she saw her beloved granddaughter standing over her;  she became alert and talkative and we loved her instantly.

We talked and shared together.  T. told her grandmother that she wanted us to tell her grandmother about God – the God of Jesus.  Tomi-san responded, “Oh yes!  He’s the God of the world, isn’t he?”  T. said, “Yes, he is, grandma, but He also loves each one of us so much.”

Tomi-san told us several touching stories.  She had married and had four children.  Two of them died when they were infants.  Then her husband went off to the Philippines to fight in WWII against the Americans, and he never came home.  Tomi’s one son got mixed up in the wrong crowd, ended up joining a gang, and has never been heard from since.  Her remaining child, T’s father, died of cancer at the age of 60.  T. has told me previously that on his deathbed he had asked his daughter T. to take care of his mother.  T. has faithfully visited her day after day, despite being a single mom with two children and working at the Nozomi Project.

She also told us an amazing story of her childhood.  There had been a small church in Watanoha (our neighborhood) when she was a little girl – some eighty-some years ago!! They had a gathering on Saturday or Sunday — she couldn’t remember which she said– where they sang hymns and learned about Jesus.  She wanted so much to go!  But as a girl she had one leg shorter than the other and walked with a limp;  as a result she was bullied and didn’t have friends.  She kept waiting for someone to invite her to the Christian gathering but no one did, and she was too afraid to go alone.  So she missed the opportunity, she said.

We told her she needn’t miss it now.  We played for her a short segment of our morning worship time, and shared more with her about the Savior of the World.  His love for her;  His desire for her to believe in Him;  His promise that He has gone ahead for all who believe and is preparing a place in heaven.  She said she wanted to pray with us.

I prayed for Tomi-san, and in the middle of the prayer asked Tomi-san if she is ready to believe in Jesus.  She belted out a strong “YES!”  And so, we believe, in that somewhat-smelly old people’s hospital, a darling darling 94 year old woman said yes to Jesus.  I think He has been waiting such a long time, and He didn’t want her to miss another opportunity because no one would bring her.  Her granddaughter T. made sure of that.  She brought Jesus to her grandmother.

Going home in the car, we asked T. more about her mother’s childhood experience in not going to church because she was never invited.  And she said, “I think there are so many people today like that.  They want to know about Jesus — but they are afraid to go unless they are invited.  Lots of people are just waiting to be invited.”

How often we shrink back from asking people because of OUR own insecurities or our own preconceived ideas of who should or shouldn’t come.  Who in our everyday world may need a visit because they are waiting to hear, or needing a prayer, or wanting to grasp a hand?  Who needs to be invited to a place where people gather to celebrate the hope of Jesus?  My heart has been convicted and touched so much today.

Below is one of the most beautiful photos my iPhone has ever taken.  Tomi-san is reading the Bible verse, “I will never forget you!  I have written you on the palm of my hands.”  Now she nows, for sure, that she is not forgotten.

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