Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Unexpected Christmas!

Christmas day is almost over here in Japan.  It has been a great day!  A completely unexpected day.  Actually, a completely unexpected week!

Sunday was an unexpected when I received a message that my coworker was not feeling well.  By 1PM it was obvious that he was not going to be able to make it to church that afternoon.  Thankfully, we had already planned the themes for advent Sundays, so planning a message in a couple of hours was not quite as difficult.  Everyone at church was understanding and helpful.  We had a good time studying about joy in the story of Jesus' birth.

Monday morning dawned with a snow squall and another not quite as unexpected message.  Influenza had taken down two more of the members of my coworkers' family, putting the count at 3.  I continued with my day off as usual which included tea time with a friend.  God prepared both of our hearts and she offered as I asked her to play piano for our Christmas Eve service at church!

With that unexpected challenge cleared, I was ready to begin preparing for the service on Tuesday.  I spent the day at church, reading, preparing, checking out the programs from the last couple of years, and enjoying delving into the Christmas story again.  My friend came to get the music and help me check the Japanese on the power point.  We had another good time of fellowship.

Unexpectedly, I had just enough cookies left at home to take to my morning exercise friends at the park on Christmas eve morning.  It was fun to see their faces and hear the "Merry Christmas" responses.

Our Christmas eve service was beautiful and full of joy.  I am so grateful for our church, the lovely people, and the wonderful celebration of our Savior's birth.

Following the service, my piano-playing friend came over and spent the night.  We enjoyed fellowship late into the night and basically all day today.  What a blessing to have a friend with whom I can spend a day sitting at the table, chatting, snacking, laughing, crying, and sharing words of wisdom.  An unexpected Christmas was just what I needed!

(Although, I missed hanging out with the Ewing family and look forward to our belated celebration!)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Books

 I have a pile of Christmas books.  Most years I read several of them.  This year I have gotten through one of them.  And, it is the shortest one at that! "Christmas in Harmony" by Philip Gulley

It is a really fun read, though.  The book is written by a Quaker pastor, and it is about a pastor who lives in a small town shepherding the church where he grew up.  It makes me laugh out loud and makes me pause to ponder.

Here are a couple of quotes from pages I have dog-eared over the years...
God could have sent a lawyer who would scrupulously define the limits of love.  Instead, He went for broke, and sent a child with whom He was well pleased.  And had the good sense to tell Him that.
Christmas, I tell my wife, is not the time to hold back.  It is the bold stroke, the song in the silence, the red hat in a gray-suit world.

That is the problem of theology- instead of bringing clarity, it often raises questions too frightening to consider.

"You know, Sam, having the Nativity scene spread out like that kinda reminded me how we never really see the full picture.  We think we do, but most we're just lookin' at bits and pieces, thinkin' we're seeing the whole thing."

If you are looking for a quick read this Christmas, one that reminds you of the true meaning of Christmas and the messiness of life, this is a book you might like.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent Reading

One of my advent readings from Jane Rubietta's Finding the Messiah this week included this:

Dear one, 
I remember. 
I cannot forget you; 
You are engraved on my hands, 
Tattooed on my heart. 
I’ve been watching out for you 
And watching for you 
Every day of your life. 
I remember your pain; 
I know your disappointments, 
Your sadness, 
All the almosts and not- quites 
Of your life. 
I see how you show up, 
Trying to be faithful, 
To cover all the bases before you, 
And that sometimes, oftentimes, 
There’s not enough of you to go around 
And you can’t get everything done. 
And here’s the truth: 
I rejoice in you 
No matter what. 
But in this season of “I remember,” 
You remember, too: 
In your normal day, 
Your normal job, 
I am with you.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Just in Case...

The big reveal!
Well, my thanksgiving blogs got set aside because of some international travel.  In case you haven't heard, I am enjoying my mom's birthday and American Thanksgiving with my family this year!

My sister and I have had a fun time planning this surprise for months!  I am not sure if my parents were more surprised that I showed up or that my sister kept a secret for that long!  

We have been having a fun time talking and laughing, eating and cooking together.  We are also enjoying the anticipation of a gaggle of relatives showing up tomorrow to join in the festivities.

A few have already arrived...

Dinner time

Monday, November 17, 2014


I really want to talk about something else tonight, but it will have to wait because I am too tired and it is long! I am excited to share that thankful point soon.

I only have a picture looking down.  I don't have any pictures
of my building from down below looking up!
Tonight as I was coming up to my apartment in the elevator, I thought, "I am thankful for this elevator."

First of all, I am thankful for the elevator because it means I do not have to climb 9 flights of stairs to get to my apartment.  (I only have to climb one.  The elevator doesn't stop on every floor so I get out on the 8th floor and climb up to the ninth.  I don't know; I didn't design it, I just live here!)

Second, I am thankful for the elevator because it fulfills a childhood dream to live in an apartment building where I have to go up to my apartment in an elevator.  I am not kidding!  When I was a kid and we watched the Jeffersons, I always secretly wished I lived in a building with an elevator.  (We didn't watch it often because we had a limited TV viewing allowance/week and had to rotate between favorite shows.)

In fact, when I was in about second grade, I used my birthday money to buy a Barbie house, the one with the elevator, and I was jealous of Barbie getting to have an elevator.

I was raised in a small town in South Dakota.  There are not many buildings with elevators there.  I don't know where I thought I was going to live, but maybe I always knew I was not going to live there when I grew up.

Every place I have lived has had great points, but one of top points of this place for me is the elevator.

There I said it.  Now you have proof that I am just a little bit wacky!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

English Bible Study

Today at English Bible study only one student was able to attend.  We had a wonderful time talking about life and family and God's love.

As our time drew to a close, my student said, "The best present I ever received was Jesus.  I am not a good Christian, but He has walked with me and held my hand all of my life."

What an awesome testimony!  I am so thankful for those who take the time to share Jesus' love with others.  It leads to such testimonies!

I am thankful for the opportunity to study the Bible with this lady and others who share their wisdom and love for Jesus.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


I love the park just up the road from me.  I has lovely tree-lined walking paths, a water fountain, and lots of friendly people.  I often run through the park on my morning runs, however, during the summer I run exclusively in the park so that I can drink water without having to carry it.

Over the summer this year I discovered there is a group of people who do radio exercises every morning at 6:30.  I have joined them and really enjoy it.  Many of the participants walk the paths before the exercises start.  Although, now that it is getting cooler and the sun doesn't rise so early, many are waiting until after exercises to walk.  That is when I have started running, too, actually!

I love running past people and greeting them.  Now that I have joined the exercise time, people know I can speak Japanese and have lived here for quite some time.  I think that gives them more of a willingness to greet me.

One of the men who has lived in the area the longest said that the park used to be a pond and a plum tree orchard.  There is a pond in the park now, but it is in a different location!  I am not sure how they moved the pond, but they did.  There are ducks that winter in the pond and a pheasant who makes his presence known every once in a while.

A couple of mornings ago the clouds turned pink as the sun was rising and the full moon was setting. It was really beautiful, and impossible to capture with a camera.  But, I wrote this haiku as I was walking home...

early morning sun
full moon swallowed by pink clouds
jogging in the park

Come visit and I will take you to meet my new friends at the park!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

God's Presence

A quick post tonight as it is already late and I have preaching responsibilities at two churches tomorrow...

I am thankful for God's presence, constant and steadfast.  Jesus promised that He would never leave us nor forsake us.  What an awesome promise!

This was on my flip calendar today...

Sometimes the loveliness of God's presence comes in the midst of pain.  Madeleine L'Engle

How true!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Every Year

Every year when I do my month of Thanksgiving Anointed Gospel Choir makes the list.  Since they have become part of my family (See this post for last month's comment on AGC), I guess that merits a spot!

This evening we had a karaoke party.  Around half of the members were able to attend.  We had a great time singing and eating together with lots of laughter!

Music is definitely a great mood changer!  I wasn't in a bad mood before I went, but I feel even more uplifted after our time together.  I was exhausted from a long day, however, feel refreshed after singing with these friends.

I am thankful for AGC and the way our lives have intersected.  I am looking forward to more fun times together!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My background

Today I am thankful for the opportunity I had to grow up in South Dakota.  The small town I grew up in was a great place to grow up!  When we were in elementary school, we rode our bikes to school, to our friends' houses, even downtown.  And, in the summer, we rode them to the swimming pool!  When it was too snowy to ride bikes we walked or our parents drove us.  It never took longer than 7 minutes to get to a friend's house, except the ones who lived out in the country.  When we went to those friends' houses, there was always adventure to be had, in the barn or the shelter belt or the grain wagon.

When I was growing up there were 4 elementary schools in town.  We had the great advantage of very small class sizes!  (Now there is one elementary school and the other schools have been completely re-vamped.  My school is now a church.  Another school is an apartment building.  And the other one is an art studio.  The fourth school is the Catholic school which is still in use!)

My friends and I started babysitting when we were in junior high school- what were those moms thinking?!  I guess since it is such a small town, they figured they or a neighbor could get there to help very quickly.  And, neighbors were always willing to help.

There are two lakes just outside of town where I learned to swim in the seaweed and skip rocks.  Our family spent hours walking or biking around the lake, picnicking, playing whiffle ball, and throwing rocks into the lake.  We even camped a couple of times.  Those were not the best experiences.  Suffice it to say, our family, tents and thunderstorms seem to make it into the same sentence when describing those experiences.

Because our school was small, we all had to participate in as many activities as we could manage so there would be enough people for each team.  I had the privilege to participate in band, basketball, track, declam, and tennis at school.  We were also involved in piano lessons, 4-H, church, and just about anything else we could find to do.

Growing up in a small town gave me the opportunity to have a huge variety of experiences in a low pressure environment which helped me make wise decisions once I left.  I didn't leave because I hated living there; I left because God had other plans for me.  Just because I left definitely does not mean that I am ungrateful or was unhappy!

Thank you, Lord, for Madison, South Dakota!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Seven More Minutes

Chocolate Pie made at
September's baking class
(also made with tofu!)
According to the clock on my computer, I have seven more minutes to write today's post!

Today I am thankful for sweets! I love baking.  Today I baked some cinnamon rolls made with tofu.  They are quite good, I think.

My love of baking started early in life.  My mom used to bake often.  I don't know if she loved it or just did it because we all love sweets, but, anyway, I learned to bake from her.

Growing up in South Dakota, we often had snow days in the winter- days off of school because of snowstorms or blizzards (not the DQ kind!).  Often on those days my sister and I would bake with Mom.  Since Mom was a teacher, she also had the day off!

So, today I am thankful for baking and the memories of family that it stirs up.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

That time of year again

Today is November first.  I have often, in the past, written a blog a day with my list of thanks.  This has been a good practice for me.  It helps me keep my mind and heart focused on what is truly important and worth spending my time on.

Actually, for the past several years, I have been keeping a gratitude journal.  Each evening I write three things for which I am thankful.  Many entries are repeated throughout the year, yet, it helps me to end the day on a note of praise and gratitude.

Taking time to give thanks does that for us.  It helps us center our thoughts.  It draws our attention off of the negative.  And, hopefully, it draws our attention to the One who provides more than we can ask or imagine.

Today I am going to begin my month of thanks blogposts with God's Word.  I am thankful God has provided a way for us to know Him.  His love and mercy, His plan and promise are all revealed and shared in His word.  According to His word, God wants to know us and wants us to know Him.  He provided a way for us to spend eternity with Him and restored the broken relationship between us humans and Himself by sending Jesus to this earth.  All of this and so much more is in His Word.  It is a deep book, yet understandable by all who desire to know Him.  It is a long book, yet such a page turner that it keeps drawing us back for more.  It is a story book, yet so much more.  This book is a love letter from our awesome Creator.

Your word, Oh Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Psalm 119:89

Friday, October 31, 2014

Beauty of Nature

I know I go on about nature and post pictures of nature often.  I do because it is one of the main ways I connect with God.  When I am in nature, surrounded by nature, I feel closer to God, like He is walking with me.  I enjoy chatting with God as we walk, run, or sit together in His beautiful creation.

Here are a few pictures I took while wandering around Horizon Village in Chiang Mai.  (I highly recommend Horizon if you are going to Chiang Mai!)

Sunset over the canal

Sunset over the pond

Arch over a different pond

Looking up into a palm tree

Trees in front of our seminar building-
obviously not completely natural!  They grow naturally,
just formed by humans.

Some pretty red flowers


Fish gathering for food

Sunset another night

Lotus flower in the pond by our breakfast location

Growing in the trees

Camels having a fest

Sunrise from our balcony

New Experiences

Sometimes I get excited about new experiences.  Sometimes I do not.  yet, almost always, I look back on the experiences with fondness, glad that I tried.

Melissa and I took an overnight flight to a country neither of us had ever visited or, actually, even had the desire to visit.  Yet, here we are in Thailand.

We are here to study, fellowship, worship, make new friends, and even have some fun.  (It is still summer here, so today after we arrived, we enjoyed one of the pools!  Fun!)

Everything is new, sounds, tastes, sights, people, language, customs.  It has been a fun and challenging day.  Ia m glad to get to have this new experience with my friend!

We are praying the week will draw us closer to God and each other as well as to our new friends.  We are also praying the study will give us new vision and direction for ministry.

God is already at work.  Thankful.

(I wrote this post on October 21st when Melissa and I arrived in Thailand.  I didn't realize that it hadn't posted, so I am posting it now, 10 days later!)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Hundred Times

"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life."  Matthew 19:29

When Jesus said this He was talking about the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne.  However, I would say that I have also experienced this in the here and now.

Yesterday was one of those times.

The gospel choir I joined six years ago, Anointed Gospel Choir (AGC), is preparing for a concert next week.  Yesterday during our rehearsal we didn't have time to go through all of the songs, so our director was taking requests.

There is a song in Japanese that I have not quite memorized so I requested it.  About halfway through the song, as the lyrics really started to sink in, my eyes started to overflow.  I did my best to mouth the words of it and the final two songs.

I thought I had pulled myself together.

At the end of rehearsal, I am usually asked to pray.  I thought I would be fine.  But, again, the tears started and I had a hard time speaking.

After choir there were lots of encouraging words and hugs, yes, hugs from my Japanese friends.  These ladies who have become dear friends, not to replace the friends I had in the US before coming, but to be added, shared my worry and hope.

Friday my dad started chemotherapy.  The song we were singing is: 希望の光 (The light of hope)
Being far away at a time like this is a challenge to the heart!  But, I was filled with hope as I sang the song and was reminded of the light of hope God has placed in my heart, and in my dad's heart.

My AGC friends stepped up and filled in the gaps.  Thank you, my dear friends.




Taken from 1 Corinthians 11:13 and Matthew 11:28

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New Trust

This picture is actually from September!
Here it is, October 1!  From the comments of several friends on Facebook, I am not the only one surprised by how fast September passed.

Many new things are happening this month.  Some are good things, some are things I'd rather not have to experience, but through it all I know God will go with me and guide me and others involved.

I am grateful to have the peace of God, which passes understanding.  I know that through it all God will work and look forward to how He will be glorified and praised.

"Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song;
He has become my salvation."
Isaiah 12:2

Because He has been faithful in the past, I know He will be faithful again.  I can trust Him because He knows the outcome.  He already has a plan.

I know this is pretty vague, but thank you for your prayers for all of the newness I will be experiencing this month.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Sad Day

Enjoying the terrace one last time

August 31 was a sad day for me.  The place I have studied, relaxed, met friends, and made new friends for the past eight years closed.

"My" Starbucks closed.  

It was sort of out of necessity.  The building in which it was housed closed, so they obviously had to do something.

Pretty much every day I was in Izumi in August I went to Starbucks.  I was a little surprised at how sad I was.  I mean, it is just a place.  But, it holds so many memories.  It was comfortable and familiar.  The people were comfortable and familiar, even the people I hadn't met yet.

Chocolate Chunk Scone, one of my favorites

Thankfully, I did not have to say good bye to the staff.  They are all going to be moving to the new shop opening at the new mall.  It doesn't open until October 30, so until then they are all spread around the area.  But, they all get to work together in the new shop.

Until then, I just wait.

Several times over the past three weeks I have almost packed my bag to go to "my" Starbucks.  I am looking forward to seeing my friends again in the new place.

The only challenge will be that there will be thousands upon thousands of people there the first few months the mall is open.  It will be difficult to relax and actually get to chat with the staff.  Even though it will be crazy to try to get into the parking lot and the mall, I probably will go pretty soon after they open.  I need to see my people!

It is a bit farther from where I live, but it is right next to Costco!

I am looking forward to my new place!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Here and There, Part ?4?

I have lost count of the here and there times over the summer!

Just after returning from California, I jumped in my car and headed to Tsu for the JBC college and career camp.  It was a great 30 hours of time with some quality young people who love God and fellowship.

We had a good time eating, playing, laughing, studying and praying together.  We learned about the privilege of work and how God has provided work for us.  I learned a new German work, although I am not sure how to spell it, beluf ベルーフ.  This word includes the meaning of work + calling, not just work for work's sake, but thinking of work as a calling, a purpose in work that is not making money.  Our prayer is that work will be part of serving God for these young people as the learn, grow, and join the work force.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Here and There, Part 3

My next adventure took me to the U.S. and a completely new experience, leading a group of Japanese people to L.A. for a home stay program.  I have been to L.A. before, but it has been quite a few years!  I have had Japanese friends visit me in S.D.  Our family hosted Japanese students who came to S.D. for a home stay program.  And, now I have been the leader of such a program.  Thankfully, everything was basically planned before we arrived.  As often happens when traveling, some plans were changed, but nothing major.

Our group

We spent mornings at a sister NAB church studying the Bible in English-I did do some translating to help with understanding.  After Bible class was American culture class.  I enjoyed refreshing my American history memory and singing some fun songs.

Bible study time

American Culture Class

Afternoons we participated in a variety of activities, L.A. sightseeing, making crafts, volunteering, visiting city hall and the fire department, shopping, and a historical homestead tour.

Meeting the Anaheim Fire Chief

Painting trash cans at the park

Our home stay families, the volunteers from the church, and our teachers did a wonderful job of making us feel at home and cared for.  It is always a joy to see God's people sharing God's love with brothers and sisters from around the world!

Church friends teaching the art of S'mores

The joy of a s'more!

Highlights for me were attending church, Disneyland, and seeing long-time friends as well as running into some avid missionary supporters from Canada who happened to be on vacation and enjoying Disneyland!

Missionary cheerleaders from Canada!  They just happened
to be at Disneyland the same day we were!  And, even more
amazing, Moni recognized me!
(I have only met her once, I think!)

Awesome photo bomb that took on a posed look when we
saw what his shirt said! (Jesus changed my life)

Mickey pretzel!

Love these guys!  Still wild and crazy and in love with Jesus!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Here and There, Part 2

Two years ago we had our first baptism at Komyo Christian Church.  You can read about it here.

She and I have spent many hours together over the past few years delving into God's word and learning how it applies to our every day life.  I have truly appreciated our study times together, her questions, and the sweet fellowship we enjoyed.  I have grown from our times together, and I have seen amazing growth in her faith as well.

The last Sunday of July we had a farewell party for our friend as she moves from Japan to the U.S. where she will begin her new life as a Mrs.!

We miss her already!  However, it is also exciting to hear about how God is working in her life and how she is relying on Him for strength and wisdom each day.

God bless you!