Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Cherry trees in full bloom, and other things that help me stay sane

Today’s coffee was iced coffee at lunch time, when some friends from church came over for a visit!

I seem to be getting into a pattern of alternating posts between things that make me crazy and things that help me stay sane. Things are difficult right now in our church, as I have written previously. So, it’s very helpful, as a colleague of mine blogged yesterday, to find ways of dealing with grief and stress. I like to call them 命綱 (inochizuna), meaning lifelines.

One of my lifelines I mentioned in my last post. That would be my “quiet time” each morning. Another one is spending time outside, breathing fresh air, listening to birds, and looking at beautiful things. I’m really glad that it’s finally spring, daffodils and cherry trees are blooming, last week included three public holidays, and the weather has been fantastic.

So… I went on a 花見 (hanami, meaning flower viewing) picnic with Shino last Wednesday, keeping a 2-year-old promise, then went again with friends after church on Sunday at a different park, took a walk with Keith yesterday to visit our favorite cherry tree in the park closest to our house.

Shino and I promised to go on a picnic two years ago... but I got sick and couldn't go. Promise kept, two years late!
With my favorite cherry tree, at our local park
Goofing off with Keith under favorite cherry tree
I stole the camera back from Keith, so now he's chasing me around favorite cherry tree...
Close-up of blossoms on favorite cherry tree
In Japanese culture, cherry blossoms remind people that life is fleeting. I, on the other hand, think ahead to the cherries that I will eat next month because the trees are blossoming now. I saw an entire tree full of fat and contented-looking bees, pollinating the flowers. Most of the trees in the parks we visited are ornamental varieties, but my neighbors are growing fruiting varieties. Cherry blossoms are hopeful flowers to me.

A fat and contented bee. This kind is called "bear bee" in Japanese.

Today I spent most of the day working in the garden… because even though there is a sermon to write, the weather was perfect, and it’s supposed to rain the rest of the week. I can write the sermon when it’s raining. The birdsong, the sun, the gentle breeze… I couldn’t stay inside. Keith and I finally got around to making beds for our vegetable garden, and I planted carrots, beets, swiss chard, cabbage, lettuce, and radishes. I also moved around some chrysanthemums that got too big for where they were planted, added rosemary and thyme to my herb garden, and planted a 山椒 (sansho) tree! I also yanked out a whole lot of bamboo grass. Little by little our garden is beginning not to look so much like a jungle.

Yellow Katakuri lilies
Daffodils in front of our house. Keith planted hundreds of bulbs last fall.
Our sansho tree! It has fragrant leaves used in cooking, and (if it is a female tree) will produce a kind of peppercorn, also used in cooking! And it's so cute! I hope it likes its new home.
Flowers and herbs in the foreground, vegetable plot in the background
We also have trillium flowers in Hokkaido!
Despair makes me look down. But an entire park full of blooming cherry trees, a garden full of daffodils, a fragrant sansho tree, and the anticipation of many more plants flourishing in my garden definitely helps me to stand up straight, breathe deeply the fresh spring air, and remember who it was that gave me life… and remember that he continues to give life.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

In the Right Place

Today’s coffee… is whatever Tokumitsu is serving with their lunch set. This morning I had Tokumitsu’s lovely 春色ブレンド (Spring-colored blend… but actually it’s coffee-brown like normal. Because spring in Ishikari is coffee-brown before the daffodils come up?)

I decided that I need to start writing again. Writing helps me to process what is going on in my life. Practicing cello and puttering around in the garden have also helped a lot.

Crocuses in our garden
God has a sense of humor. I told him, I think back even before I went to Regent, that I did not want to be a pastor (too much responsibility… I’m more of a team player). I also told him that I especially didn’t want to be a pastor’s wife (too many unspoken expectations, and I don't fit the image).

Well… essentially, due to our current circumstances, I have unexpectedly become both a pastor and a pastor’s wife. Of course, missionaries are somewhat different than pastors, but what we’re doing right now boils down to preaching, leading prayer meetings, providing training for church leaders, following up with church members and seekers, planning worship services, and sitting through (sometimes leading) lots of leadership meetings… that doesn’t look so different than what pastors do. Yep… God has a sense of humor. Mental note: be careful what I tell God I absolutely don’t want to do.

This really isn’t what I wanted to do, and I’m feeling completely inadequate to do what I’m currently doing. It’s kind of weird that people trust me and listen to me as much as they do. Japan is like that… I have a seminary degree, so that makes me “Sensei.” Perhaps this is what Moses felt like when he asked God to send someone else. There’s no way I would have said “yes” to this calling if it hadn’t happened seemingly by default. But people keep telling us that God brought us back to Wakaba “for such a time as this.” On good days, that’s encouraging. On bad days, I just want to run away from the pressure and the pain.

Still, shortly before we found ourselves in our current situation, God seemed unusually insistent in telling both of us that he was there, and he was walking with us. Both of us had an uncomfortable sense that something big was coming, so when it did, we weren’t all that surprised. “Ah, so that’s what it was.” That odd realization helped confirm in our hearts that we are in the right place, however difficult it might be at the moment.

I started doing an inductive study of the whole Bible last October. It turns out, that was a really good idea. I set a pattern of spending a lot of time on my “quiet time,” which has really helped me lately. I began to see that spending time with God was the only way I was going to survive, but beyond mere survival, I would even have something to share with others. (More on that thought later, probably.) That’s how I was able, despite never having preached in Japanese, to commit to preaching once a month--each sermon (so far) flowed out of my morning study/devotion times. From next month, I start a series in the Psalms! My very first sermon series!

Preaching on Easter Sunday
I still feel rather like I’m on a roller coaster riding between despair and joy… and there’s no end to that in sight. But I’m trying my best to find joy in remembering all that God has done for me, giving thanks for those little confirmations that we are in the right place, and God is right here with us.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tea in Kyoto

Back when I was thirteen, my family went to Europe for the first time. I still remember my excitement as we arrived in Salzburg. To a budding cellist like me who grew up on a steady diet of classical music, being in the same places and breathing the same air that Mozart had breathed was a magical experience.

After four years studying tea ceremony, our recent family vacation to the Kansai region (Kyoto and Osaka) had some of the same excitement. It was a much-needed break, but it was also an opportunity to visit historical sites related to tea ceremony! And also, it was a welcome opportunity to feast on good-for-you foods, since Kyoto is known for vegetables, pickles, and tofu. (I’m sorry to say that cooking is one of the many things that has gotten dropped around here lately…) Of course, we saw lots of other stuff too.

I was thinking of fangirling all over this blog post and dropping all sorts of names and such that most English-speaking readers have never heard of… but on second thought, maybe I’ll just do pictures. Read the captions if you are interested. Yay, Kyoto eye-candy!

Visiting the tea room at the Sen no Rikyu museum in Sakai!
The "nijiriguchi" door: can't bring a sword inside, because it won't fit. Everyone stoops to come inside; everyone is on the same level. Tea is all about reconciliation.
The site of Sen no Rikyu's home in Sakai, where he was born. 
We visited Kitano Tenmangu shrine to go to the flea market... and then I remembered afterwards that it was the site of Hideyoshi's massive chakai (tea party)! Also, the ume/plum trees were in full bloom; I remembered the "Tobiume" story that my tea ceremony teacher once told me; the hero of that story is said to be the god of this shrine. Yeah... as some of our friends from church say, Kyoto is so beautiful... conflicted feelings.
In the background is the garden and tea house built by Hosokawa Tadaoki, husband of Lady Gracia (a famous Catholic) and disciple/friend of Rikyu. It is called shokoken (松向軒), meaning "building facing pines." I planned the tea room in our house inspired by this one, so it was great to finally see the original!
The interior of 松向軒/Shokoken
The garden, appropriately with a pine tree
Before tea, guests wash their hands and mouth using something like this. I can't think of what we would call this in English... outdoor stone sink? This one in Hosokawa's garden was famous for being large.
This has nothing to do with tea, but Gion is very picturesque, even in the rain.
Yasaka pagoda at night. We stayed near here.
We wanted to climb all the way to the top of Mt. Inari, but... it got dark. The gates made interesting shadows.
Pickle buffet! Keith and I were thinking that this would be a good idea... and there it was! Very popular too; we had to wait about two hours to get in.
The buffet... I'm getting hungry again just looking at this picture.
I hadn't had enough pickles yet, so Mom and I had pickle-high-tea. Everything had pickles in it, even the desserts! This is also a great idea.
Plum blossoms at Nijo Palace, the Kyoto home of the Tokugawa family.
 And... if you want to see more pictures, there were over 700 of them. For once I took more pictures than Dad. ;)

Friday, March 03, 2017

February News(letter)?

Dear friends,

It's been a while. Although we've both been writing in a variety of genres, including some attempts at blog posts, we have been up to our ears in a difficult situation which we can't write about on the blog... and it has been all-consuming. Thus, nearly all of this month's newsletter has been censored. (Please let us know if you would like a copy emailed to you.) Please do keep us in your prayers; we need it. Hopefully we will have many bloggable experiences in the near future, so that when things calm down, we will be able to post here again.

So, instead of copying what little of the newsletter we could post here, we would like to share some recent pictures and things we are thankful for.

At Christmas, we put together a “choir” at church, and sang John Rutter’s Nativity Carol (in Japanese translation) in 4 parts! (Celia got choked up and barely got through it.) Celia also learned, memorized, and gave her first performance of Bach’s fourth cello suite, also as part of Wakaba’s Christmas festivities. (The second performance was a private concert for Mom and Dad.)

Wakaba Choir!
Private concert for Mom and Dad
We're thankful for a visit from Celia's parents over New Year's! There were many meals with friends, a Christmas carol party, work done on the house, and even a couple of ski days!

Christmas carols at Matsu House with viols and recorder!
We went to 2 different Tokumitsu coffee shops! This is the downtown Sapporo store.
I had no time to make Osechi this year. Thankfully Mrs. Tamura did. We ate it at their house!
I love Hokkaido trees! (I did this on purpose...)
After skiing: onsen (not pictured) and meat!
Mt. Yotei
Dad skis through the birch trees
Dad joins the worship team!
Speaking of ski days, Celia went skiing with her friend, Hannah too.

Keith led communion in Japanese for the first time!

Celia preached her first sermon in Japanese (on Luke 5:17-26), wearing a kimono!

With kimono-friends after preaching
Celia learned to play the ukulele—a handmade Christmas present from Dad! Both of us are now using our respective instruments to accompany singing at Wednesday prayer meetings.

Our instruments are siblings! Keith's is a guitar (Jackson), and Celia's is an ukulele (Jackie), both with red cedar tops, and back and sides made from the same maple tree in Celia's backyard!
We are thankful for progress made on our house! The dining room was finished in time for entertaining at Christmas time. The floor of the tea room, which is also the guest room, was finished in time for Celia’s parents to sleep on it. Celia’s Dad made us a new sink cabinet and worked on a number of other improvements (paint, plumbing, wiring, etc.) in the bathroom. We are thankful for Celia’s Dad, and also for Mr. Inoue, who sometimes calls us to ask when he can come and work on our house.

The moment we realized there was a random bit of foundation right where we wanted to put the tea-hearth. Thankfully, Mr. Inoue knew what to do!
First tea in the tea room, for Celia's parents! (Walls and various other details still yet to be completed)
That glorious moment when Dad reconnected the toilet intake and we could flush again... we were all getting a little tired of carrying water from the kitchen.
Almost finished! We need to do the backsplash tile, and then we can actually hook up the sink. (Mirror and light fixture, not pictured here, have already been installed.)
We thank God that he has been feeding us and encouraging us through his word.

Morning devotions (Celia) and sermon preparations (Keith) in the newly-completed dining room
We thank God for all of you who pray for us. We couldn’t do this without you.

Love in Christ,
Celia and Keith