Monday, August 28, 2006

A Stunning Goodbye

Tonight we said good bye to Ai, Shioli and Lena. I thought I would come home feeling free, like we had our life back to normal. I thought it would be easy parting. I also never dreamed, to my own shame, that the girls were enjoying it here, and would also have a difficulty parting. I was entirely wrong.
The class has a tradition of writing thank-yous out to be read aloud at the final potluck. For the first time, I heard Lena speak. She was more clearly understood than either of the other two, yet all month, for lack of confidence she refused and would have Ai or Shioli speak; she looked incredulous when I told her she spoke well. I too lack confidence--for every positive thing they said in their thank yous, I kept finding in my own mind exceptions...ways that I had failed...problems that I had created...probability that they didn't mean what they said. Well, I could, or should, have done better. But I am not perfect and perfection isn't what God expects I can perform (though on the other hand we are to be perfect as He is perfect--it's the goal but unachievable in our own strength...I have to remind myself of that!).
I asked the girls if they were looking forward to going home. They all, to my confused surprise, shook their heads. I was so sad that they didn't long for their families more than this strange American family with whom they couldn't communicate. They said they wanted to stay longer. I don't know what they could have said that would have made my heart ache more.
I was wanting all month to tell the girls my testimony, and to share more about Christ with them. There had been no openness, no opportunity. I had a suspicion somehow that though they'd heard a lot about Jesus, they didn't know that He is alive today. This was one of the keys to my faith--attending our first church for four years before I understood that, explained by someone at work. We sat a while; they were very evidently ready to listen and talk. We discussed their visit to start, and then I told them about how I came to faith. I started by telling them that at their age I knew so much less than they did about Jesus; that they had gone to church more than I had at their age. I told them that Jesus was alive today--and I saw the confusion on their faces, a confusion I knew myself not so terribly long ago. It was my delight to clarify that confusion for them, to tell them about the resurrection, which they had seen in the two movies we'd shown them, but also about the ascension. It is so vital because Jesus being alive today is someone we can worship; if He were dead, what would be the point? Where would His power be?
The great topper to all this was to tell them the changes that knowing Jesus makes--the peace, the joy, the forgiveness received, the forgiving ability, the eternal hope, the freedom...I told them how to pray and that they could pray with Marcel, his wife Karla, with me, or by themselves. It did seem that a new understanding had dawned on them. I hope and will be praying that they will turn to Christ and live for Him. Japan isn't the greatest place to start a Christian walk, so this would be a challenge--but with God all things are possible.
Well, when we were ready to go, the girls and Tim were all lost in tears. This was something I never would have imagined earlier in the day. We took pictures, said good-bye to Marcel, and left; the girls followed us out to the van and accepted Katie's pad of kleenex. The parting was as though we had been closely knit together throughout the month. I am so bumbling, so mistaken; I have assumed so much and gotten it wrong; I am so thankful for God's forgiveness and grace.

A Long Month Comes to an End

Today our Japanese exchange students go back to Japan. I wish I could say we really had a swell time with them. I love the idea of hosting exchange students who really relate. The first set we had two years ago, Shino and Azumi, were really interactive with us and we have many happy memories of them; in contrast, these three are such close friends with each other that they don't need anyone else. Their teacher Marcel says he finds the same frustration in class. At least I can hope therefore that it's them and not entirely us.
We were hoping to be able to relate enough to speak of faith, but at every contact with faith they have been very hard, and when they're not interested they claim not to understand. We showed them the Jesus film for children, which is very sweet, and the Miracle Maker, which is a claymation film of Jesus' life for kids, very artfully done and captivating. Of course in both I find a couple of objections that I would have preferred done differently (in Miracle Maker, John the Baptist seems effeminate to me, for example) but at least there's a forum in which we can tell something of our faith to the less-receptive.
My most frustrated point was yesterday in getting to church. Last week they seemed very intentional in getting us there late, so this time I made every effort to get them to church on time and they still managed to keep us from getting out the door. It's really not hard for them; they just get up as late as possible, eat very slowly, go slowly downstairs again to get hardly anything they need, and stay there until the clock says we're late, then come up. What do you do? I wish I were cleverer and had managed something that could bodily force them gently into the van on time. I wouldn't have minded so much, if it seemed they were trying at all to cooperate.
That and a few other things make me ponder whether I'm cut out for exchange students. If I knew they were interactive ahead of time, I think I would be. Our family really has a culture of interaction and I detest the cold indifference. I have a great desire to host kids who have a chance of being receptive and just maybe somewhat appreciative, and this is the second hosting opportunity where we've felt this same chilling unfriendliness. I know a lot of that is pride in me, that I "should" be acknowledged with just a "hi" as they come in from outside and file past me, that I "should" be able to expect that they cooperate with something I want, that they "should" at least offer to pick up groceries rather than step over them when they get out of the van, when I spend so much time making sure they have a good time and abundant meals; that they "should" try to speak English, since that's the premise on which they came. It's pride. It's also cultural and personal expectation, which is also pride especially when they have no cultural or personal understanding of us. Still it is discouraging, especially when our desire to share Christ has little or no likelihood of succeeding with them.
So I'm personally looking forward to this drawing to a close. It's been a long month. Part of me wants to keep trying, and maybe as the memory fades this will increase; part of me wants never to do it again...and if that's pride, then Satan would win and I've failed. I try thinking of other ways, such as hosting college students, or foster kids. It's definitely a matter for prayer, as God must have placed this desire in me for a reason; my main hesitation is my own huge inadequacy, and yet He is my adequacy so that's no argument. Anyway, as for today, I'm glad it's today and that this was for a month and not a school year. There's still the hope that we somehow made some positive impact for Christ; that would redeem it all.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I Made My Family Disappear!

Today I, Never Alone, am...home..."alone." All the rest of the family went with all the Japanese students down to Seattle for the day and then to the Mariners game tonight. sounded so good. I was enjoying taking the morning kind of slow. I got to do my quiet time a bit earlier than I've been able to in the recent weeks that the girls come up early for a breakfast (my family does not do that--they shuffle in later just to get a bowl of cereal or something quick)...and while the girls eat I try to quickly make their lunches on their school days so that they can bring them along. This also is not a family tradition, since we homeschool, and lunch just happens when it happens. When we're hungry. We don't use the average amount of saran wrap and sandwich bags, not here at our house. Anyway, usually my own day doesn't get started until after 9 a.m. while we host the girls.
So yes, the morning was wonderful. Then the doorbell rang; a little neighbor wanted to borrow a dictionary. English is our native tongue and we have two dictionaries and use them frequently. English is their second language...and they don't have a dictionary. I can't imagine how they get by. If I were speaking Japanese or Hindi or Punjabi, I think every 5 minutes into a conversation I'd be sunk without a dictionary. Well, again I digress. While she was asking for a dictionary, a yellow strip of paper rubber-banded to the doorknob caught my eye, and I was taking it in while she was making her request.
The paper was from the City of Marysville...they determined that it appears we have a water leak. It showed how to tell whether it's between the meter and the house, or somewhere in the house. I turned off the main water valve, and went to check the meter. It had stopped, so the leak was in the house. I suspect it has to do with the downstairs toilet, the one the Japanese girls use. It's had that "keep on running" sound for quite a while. Now that I see the numbers from Marysville, I'm aghast at how much water we must have been wasting. The paper says that in two months we've used 56,000 the dry season. We haven't been using the sprinkler nearly as much as I'd like since the siding people have had their stuff all over the place and it's hard to do. So it's not from watering the yard (and the yard is my witness--do you like brown?). It might have been aggravated somewhat by the fact that Gary did a bunch of pressure washing the other day.
Anyway, today is now accounted for. As soon as the washer finishes its current load, I'll turn off the water to the house--since the valve under the toilet was stupidly installed in such a way that it can't be turned without disassembling the toilet. So I get to play plumber with my day "off." How can this be a good thing? Well, I'm glad I don't have to explain it to the Japanese girls. They'd never understand. And I'm glad no one has to holler because they don't have running water! For that matter, I'm glad (in a slightly resigned way) that I can do this without calling a plumber; it will save us some money; and I'm also glad it's not between the meter and the house--we won't have to dig a nice trench in our dead lawn through the nasty clay soil of Marysville. God is great! He knew what needed to be done...and just when...and just how...and by whom.
Psalm 118:24 This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Global economy: many trips across the ocean, many nationalities involved

Yesterday at breakfast I asked our three Japanese girls whether there was a store they had seen that they wanted to go to again. They looked at each other for their characteristic quiet moments, and discussed in their typical short quiet Japanese sentences what they wanted to answer. Then Ai said, "Target!" So that's where I took them.
We had been there the other day and they loved the greeting cards. This time they looked through the $1 items and then the school supplies, the office supplies, the art and craft and scrapbooking materials, the health and beauty aids, and then the snacks. Finally after about 1 1/2 hours they were ready to leave. Never saw so much more of Target than I cared to--though as if to assist in enjoying the process, God had us bump into three different family groups from the church: Becca W and her mother and kids; three of the McAuliffes; and Katie H and her mom and new baby Emmett.
As we were waiting for the girls to check out, Katie and I noted how the girls contributed about $100 in just this store visit to the American economy. Yet, not entirely to ours: most of the items were probably made in China. Maybe with American material. Even then perhaps much of that was harvested by a Mexican labor force. We really are in a global economy of sorts! And by the end of this month, those items will be headed on their way back across the Pacific, to Japan.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

There's Value in the Right Kind of Clock!

Yesterday evening we took Ai, Shioli and Lena to the Centennial Trail nearby (in case you haven't been reading my previous blogs, they're Japanese exchange students staying with us for a month). Our favorite starting point on that trail is from Machias, going along some farm land. It's been a long time since we walked along it there, and the walk was as much for our fun as theirs. They were amazed by the cows nearby and took endless pictures of them.
Katie spotted what appeared to be a deer high up on a hill nearby, and she ran to point it out to the girls. Just as they started to take pictures of the deer, a number of people showed up on the same patch of ground as the deer, approached it, made some fuss there and went on--and the deer stayed. After we watched a while longer, we concluded that someone must have planted a deer statue there as a joke. I'm not sure the girls understood. Even after we tried to tell them, they took more pictures.
We approached a stream and Katie pulled up some wheat growing wild near the path, and used it to play "Pooh Sticks" with the girls. The source of this inane game is a Winnie the Pooh video Katie saw as a kid, where Eeyore plays it. Whatever, it's just a race to see which person's stick dropped in the water shows up on the other side of the bridge. I guess the girls thought it was interesting enough too, because they played it for some time--even though the stuff usually got caught on rocks under the bridge. I did enjoy handling the wheat--it wasn't your usual grassy weeds, but the kind of stuff that's thicker and heavier and really beautiful.
I was inexplicably tired after our walk--I could hardly think of leaving the recliner to go to bed. So instead Katie set the stove clock timer for me, for enough sleep time to get up at 7:30. That was all that was going to work for me (for whatever reason--I normally wouldn't be so exhausted; maybe it's the matter of feeding and providing for three extra kids with only limited communication?) and so I started out the night there in the chair. After a while of sleeping very heavily I woke up and noticed that the clock said 6:02, so I thought it would be a great idea to just get up and start the day--so I went and took a shower, ran a wash, did a few other things--then I noticed another clock said something like 3:00! Yes. I had looked at the remaining time on the timer, and not at an operative clock time. Well, at least I'd gotten some laundry done! I went back to sleep and started the day again, a bit bleary-eyed, at 7:30, to prepare the girls their usual heavy-duty breakfast. For three tiny girls, they do have enormous appetites. A typical breakfast for them includes sausage, cereal, rice, orange juice, and either pancakes, french toast or waffles, along with maybe some fruit. And they eat all of it! While they're eating, if they're off to school or a field trip for the day, I fix them a similar-sized lunch, and they eat it also. So this may explain my energy level drooping!
Today we brought the girls to Krispy Kreme and Target, and then we drove to Mount Erie, hoping that they would enjoy the amazing view of the San Juan Islands. All the way on the drive up, I was sleepy, to the point that even slightly opening my eyes brought the piercing sunshine painfully into a fully activated headache from my mid-night misadventure.
Unfortunately, when we got there, Krispy Kreme was cleaning their facility and did not have the machinery going. Well, unfortunately in that it would have been much more fun and interesting to see the donuts being dunked in the hot batter, and at just the right time being flipped over, and then being automatically glazed...reminds me of a memorable chapter of Homer Price, by McCloskey--if you have kids it's a good excuse to read this sweet book. I guess the clean-up is fortunate in that you can hope that the donuts are made in a clean facility. Anyway, Gary, Tim, and the girls picked out a donut well enough. I picked out a latte instead and Katie wasn't wanting anything. So shortly after I downed my latte I was feeling almost normal.
The girls seemed a bit bored and mystified at every stop. They didn't really get the Krispy Kreme sensation...would have been nice to see it operative.
When we brought them to Target they acted similarly bored until we got to greeting cards. They spent about 45 minutes picking out various greeting cards there. I can't explain this. It was all they cared about in the store. The strange thing is, they were all written in English. Whatever! After that we headed to Mount Erie. Mount Erie is a small mound that rises just high enough above the flat land beneath it that it is a good place for such a view--it is situated so that from both sides you can see the islands, including the north end of Whidbey, from the one side, and the more industrialized area on the other.
We ran into a couple from England who were sightseeing all the region; they found their way up there by themselves, which was an achievement since it wasn't well-marked. Mount Erie is used for rock-climbing practice and picnics and photo opportunities. At least we enjoyed it. The girls took pictures of each other holding their fingers up as a peace sign, smiling, with hopefully some view in the background.
Tonight Tim and I made pizza from scratch, and a salad. He's really a good help in the kitchen, and seemed to enjoy the dinner all the more since he had a (well-washed) hand in making it. He even ran out to the vegetable garden and harvested some of the vegetables for the salad, enjoying even the broccoli because it tastes so tangy home-grown. It was a good day, and I'm tired yet again. But I'm going to sleep in my bed...with a normal clock!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Voice of Truth

This posting of lyrics to "The Voice of Truth" performed by Casting Crowns is for the sake of JenM, who (gasp) has never heard that song. (I don't normally post lyrics; this is a special circumstance--too many great songs from which to choose!) As I had commented on her blog, my story about it is as follows: Last winter we took our Tim to the movie, Polar Express. The movie gives quite the sales job for believing in Santa Claus, and on the way home, Tim was kind of seeming to buy into it. (We haven't actively promoted Santa with him as more than just a fun myth.) I don't remember what he said, but at that moment "The Voice of Truth" by Casting Crowns started playing on the radio. Good timing! We got to discuss contrasting the "voice" of the movie vs. the "voice" of the real meaning of Christmas. Since then, I think of that afternoon whenever I hear the song. The words overall are such a great encouragement (I've actually never read them until today)...and I know all the words don't have to do with myths such as Santa, but they do have to do with standing firm and trusting God...but for us, the chorus spoke to it and kind of defined where our stance should be regarding the conflict between faith and unbelief. Can you tell, I love this song!

"Voice of Truth"
Oh what I would do to have
The kind of faith it takes
To climb out of this boat I'm in
on to the crashing waves
To step out of my comfort zone
Into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is
And He's holding out His hand

But the waves are calling out my name
And they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time again. "Boy, you'll never win!"
"You'll never win!"

But the Voice of Truth tells me a different story
The Voice of Truth says, "Do not be afraid!"
And the Voice of Truth says, "This is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of Truth

Oh what I would do to have
The kind of strength it takes to stand before a giant
With just a sling and a stone
Surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors
Shaking in their armor
Wishing they'd have had the strength to stand
But the giant's calling out my name
And he laughs at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed
The giant keeps on telling me
Time and time again.
"Boy you'll never win!"
"You'll never win!"

Chorus: But the Voice of Truth tells me a different story
The Voice of Truth says, "Do not be afraid!"
And the Voice of Truth says, "This is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of Truth

But the stone was just the right size
To put the giant on the ground
And the waves they don't seem so high
From on top of them looking down
I will soar with the wings of eagles
When I stop and listen to the sound of Jesus
Singing over me

I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Here's Looking at You, Kid

Well, as an update, things are looking pretty good with the siding though we're still deciding who we'll have repair the front porch posts; it will be done for the most part this week and the posts will be re-sided after they're fixed. The siders have been great to work with, the two who remain. And Katie and I continue to disdain wheat, though we're not wasting away as fast as we would like in spite of it all.
Shioli, Ai, and Lena are doing very well. The other night they made us a Japanese dinner. We had some serious misgivings based on the previous time that we hosted girls. The girls we hosted two years ago had made us a miso soup from what was probably a bad was so hard to look pleased and I'm sorry to say that those girls, two years ago, could tell.
When Shioli, Ai and Lena had us take them to Albertsons for Japanese ingredients, I was increasingly filled with an awesome dread. They bought udon noodles, and shrimp, dried seaweed and a pink and white half-cylinder they called fish paste. Overall, not a bad choice of ingredients; I was confident I could survive the seaweed though I distinctly remember it sticking to the roof of my mouth when I'd had it before. But there was one package that gave me shudders like few other food products could exceed. It was a package full of dried little fish--I heard they were anchovies--complete with heads, and they all looked up at me with an incriminating gaze.
We all came home and the girls started dinner. It was 5:00. They worked together and laughed and talked in the kitchen, and when I walked through to provide the soy sauce and flour for them, I saw the fish swimming--well, not exactly--amidst the dried seaweed in a pot on the stove. I was glad I couldn't hear them talk. The fish, that is. The girls chattered on happily in their Japanese, and I hoped in my heart that the pot would catch fire or something. It didn't.
Then they made the shrimp tempura. They oohed and ahhed each time a hot shrimp coated with flour and water hit the hissing hot oil. They also used our rice cooker to make the sticky rice that they love to eat often (I try to serve some alongside almost every meal when I'm doing the cooking).
They worked for 2 1/2 hours before they finished. When they were done, there were seven beautiful bowls of udon noodles topped with the shrimp tempura and a couple of half-circles of white rimmed in pink--the fish paste. It was all fantastic, like something offered by a nice Japanese restaurant. Thankfully, I'd seen (trying to observe unobtrusively, half-hidden in a recliner) that they had strained and discarded the fish and seaweed out of the broth they were making for the purpose of cooking the noodles. Now that, we wimpy Americans could handle! May God be praised for His grace and mercy.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

No Bread, No Muffins, No Crackers--but Rice is Nice!

A little more than a week ago I realized that I could go without wheat--something I've contemplated in the past because of suspected allergies but never accomplished. Normally I've never thought I could possibly pay enough attention to succeed at such an idea, but though there are distractions in my life, at this point it seems pretty easy, perhaps as if to prove the verse, "To everything there is a season..." For me it's less complicated than Weight Watchers or similar plans. All it takes is to keep on paying attention.
It's kept me from a whole table full of dessert possibilities at a potluck; a slice of wedding cake and some crackers at a reception; two batches of muffins I made here; and various meal portions such as noodles and tortillas. I imagine it might be about 600 calories' savings per day on average.
I've only had some miniscule slip-ups so far--breading on onion rings and on chicken, and part of a cracker. We don't eat a whole lot of extremely commercially processed foods here (there are certainly exceptions), so that makes it easier. And maybe it's also due to the fact that I'm making rice at almost every meal for our exchange students, so that's also an option for me when others are eating wheat.
Years ago I stopped eating chocolate (with the exception of the occasional spumoni ice cream--who could resist that?!) and stopped gaining weight though I didn't start losing...and then just in the last number of months the weight started going up again in spite of fairly constant activity. So with the start of this wheat diet, within a couple of days I'd gone down about 5 pounds. (I didn't weigh myself the first day, so I'm relying on a measure about a month ago.) It's bobbed around since then and now I think it might be 6 pounds lost. Seems frustrating to slow down, but when that's for just about two weeks' withholding one food product, I think that's pretty nice. I hope to do as I did with chocolate and make it a permanent or at least semi-permanent change until I lose most or all of my excess. I'll give you updates as it continues--for my own accountability if nothing else!

A Cross-Cultural Encouragement

It's been about a week since we picked up our exchange students who will be with us for a month. Tim has been the best one at communication skills with them, playing for hours in the back yard or downstairs, and there's been an abundance of giggling and fast talk that if you don't listen closely sounds as much like it could be English as anything else; they play volleyball and foosball and who-knows-what all over the place. From what could be overheard after today's school time, they were using all their practice questions on him downstairs: "What's your favorite car?" (Mustang). Not sure how clearly his answers were understood, but that was the exercise.
I think they've been adjusting to the new and no doubt overwhelming sensory challenges, such as American food and furniture and all that. They always clean their plates, and they are most clearly happy with my cooking if I cook up some sticky rice, which they will eat any time of the day. For the most part they politely take it all in stride no matter what I serve.
The biggest amazement I've seen on their faces was when I brought them a lunch that our neighbors Dean and Stacia were kind enough to purchase at a nearby restaurant that makes sushi and teriyaki. Dean came over to deliver it midday, only to be so disappointed by the fact that they were off to school (Stacia had told me the day before but I forgot that their schedules would so collide). From what Stacia said, he was looking forward to practicing some Japanese that he had been learning. It won't happen early tomorrow, either, because they are off to the water park; maybe tomorrow evening. He made enough that they were absolutely full of their Japanese feast both for lunch and for dinner. (Maybe he forgot that 12- and 13-year-old girls don't have he-man appetites.) I heard one of them say something in a delighted voice that sounded like "Good" but I suspect that in Japanese it meant something more like, "We just may survive this week."
It was an encouragement to Ai, Lena and Shioli, and to me too. I don't even mind that there are three peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches sitting neglected in my fridge. Anyone hungry?