Thursday, September 07, 2017

Matsu House update

Hi, everyone. We're still alive over here. And... exciting things happening at Matsu House!

As I write, this is going on:

That's right! Keith and Mr. Inoue are plastering the tea room wall with 珪藻土 (keisoudo). This is so exciting. They finished the floor back in December, just in time for Mom and Dad's visit (because the tea room is also the guest room). However, with everything going on at church, we continued on with bare drywall for eight months.

Meanwhile, a few other improvements have taken place.

All the finishing touches on the bathroom "vanity" cabinet. Dad made and installed the cabinet and cut the other pieces to size. Keith did the wiring and installed the mirror and the light fixture (which Dad made), then did the tiling and put up towel hooks and rings.

Dad made the over-toilet shelf, and after we painted the room, Keith installed it. I picked out the plant.

We also solved a design problem with art. Our house was made for short people. The doorways are short (anyone taller than Keith has to duck), and the original kitchen and bathroom counters were short. What's worse, there were windows in the doors to the toilet room and the bathroom--right at our eye level. Most Japanese houses have tiny windows in bathroom doors, so you can see if the light is on inside... but those are tiny, a lot higher, and have opaque glass. So... we commissioned our friend, Hannah Schmidt, so paint tiny pictures to put in the windows. The light still shines through (and the pictures look really cool backlit) and now we can pee in privacy. Hannah copied photos I took of aka-matsu (red pine) trees on the Tohoku coast.

Keith made me a nice shelf for the laundry room, and hooks to hang stuff. Before it was all out in the front hallway.

We now have a shelf in the kitchen for cookbooks.

Mr. Inoue made us some gorgeous stools for our bar counter back in December. Unfortunately, we never managed to sand and finish them, so they sat around for months... until July! This is my contribution: I sanded and finished them. Now our friends can hang out in the kitchen with us and have a cup of tea or something while we finish cooking the meal!

And last but not least, Keith put this up on our front door. In case anyone had any doubts as to who lives here...

More to come, after the tea room walls are finished!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The cup is half empty

Today’s coffee: Indonesian coffee from Tokumitsu

I did everything I could. A day off every week, life-giving hobbies, daily quiet-times, plenty of sleep, four weeks of vacation each year. We had people looking out for us, both colleagues and friends. And yet, it seems that even our careful precautions weren’t enough. Eight months into working in our church in an emergency state, I burned out.

Back in college, only once, I drank enough to have a hangover. Only once. Once was more than enough. On the bright side, I can now say with personal conviction, when talking to young people, that drinking too much is not only inadvisable, but the effects are downright unpleasant.

I bring this up now because the effects of burnout are very much like a hangover-that-doesn’t-go-away. Let’s call it a stress-hangover. Headache, queasy stomach, lethargy, brain in a fog. Back in college, the day I had a hangover, I aced a German test. Now, with stress-hangover at age 36, I’m not good for much of anything that resembles work, except perhaps a snarky blog post. Writing helps me process, after all. Even being able to snark about things is a decided improvement over where I was a week ago.

On the bright side, I can now say with personal conviction that working too much, especially in a stressful environment, is not only inadvisable, but the effects are downright unpleasant. Cheers for coffee, my caring husband, and colleagues who give me space to sleep it off and help us find a more sustainable pattern of work.

Note for the concerned: We are well cared for here. This was no one’s fault. We continue under the strong conviction that we are where God wants us, and we continue to look for the way forward in this situation.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

12 years!

Yesterday was our 12th wedding anniversary.

Here are some fun facts:

  • I was 24, Keith was 22. We’ve been married for one third of my life. I was born in the year of the bird, and we got married in the year of the bird.
  • We have lived in three countries, in eight different homes.
  • To go along with all those homes, we have attended and served in six churches.
  • When we got married, my side of the (immediate) family became five people. Keith’s side became nine people. Now, my family has seven, and Keith’s has eighteen (wow).
  • We had between us four grandparents, and now we have none.
  • We had between us two college degrees; now we have five degrees, and both of us have passed an important Japanese language exam.
  • I was intending to be a professional musician of some sort. Keith was vocationally challenged, but had some vague notion of wanting to become a teacher. Neither of us had any intention then of becoming a missionary or other full-time ministry worker. We’ll just comment that God has a sense of humor.
  • We started this blog to distribute wedding information. Looking back at my first post, it seems that blogs were called weblogs or web blogs, and you could only have one picture in each post. This post is #382. 

Since I am now part of a team that plans worship services at church, I (selfishly?) chose our wedding songs for yesterday’s service (All Creatures of Our God and King, Shout to the Lord, and Blessed Be Your Name). Of course, we sang them in Japanese translation. They fit well with the text, which was Genesis 22. This became a good reminder of the theme we chose for our wedding: to love one another and serve God, whatever the circumstances.

Yesterday turned out to be quite a bit nicer than our 10th anniversary: although we had planned to climb Mt. Fuji, both of us ended up sick in bed… and wondering if we would even be well enough to fly to Seattle for home assignment two days later. Yesterday was a full day at church, but we managed to go to a cafe we like for a slice of cake and take a walk on the boardwalk at the beach.

I wonder where our path will go next? Can't see around the corner...
Our garden produced an anniversary present... a reminder of what was in my bouquet. :)
But the past two years have been the hardest of our lives (so far…) I’m thankful that our marriage started with a commitment to love God in all seasons and in all circumstances. I’m thankful that God has provided a faithful traveling companion in all this mess--through challenges, we have become even closer.

And now, since I have learned through marriage among other things to have a sense of humor, here are a few of the sillier pictures from our wedding day. It's a pity I don't seem to have the one of Janet ironing my dress while I was wearing it on my computer. (We got married at a time when people were still using film.)

"I don't care how good they smell; DON'T eat my bouquet, Keith..."
This wasn't particularly silly, except that Sarah is sitting on Chris' lap.
Whose bouquet did Colin steal, I wonder?
Trying to look regal, I guess.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

When the Miracle-Wine Runs Dry

It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon, and I’m at the beach. That is to say, I’m at a café at the beach. I thought no one would be here, but apparently I am not the only one who enjoys looking at the ocean when it’s raining.

Today was one of the days when neither Keith nor I had to preach (which meant we were assigned for piano and vocal leader duty). The retired pastor of a nearby church has agreed to preach once a month, and today was the second installment in his series in the Gospel of John. The passage was John 2:1-12, the wedding at Cana.

One Sunday three years ago, Keith and I sat together with Pastor Takahashi at the head of a big long table around which were seated about 25 church members--more than half of the church. That day we read John 2 together, introduced the inductive method of Bible study, and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company as we worked through the passage. I had watched with delight as the Bible came alive, as each person was able to find how the passage connected with their own life.

So, I listened to the passage being read this morning with complicated emotions. Pastor Takahashi isn’t here any more. The idea of everyone sitting together around one table, laughing and enjoying one another’s company seems like a distant dream. It seems like we’ve run out of wine--but perhaps we had forgotten where the wine was coming from.

I’m eating a slice of a spectacular gateaux chocolate cake right now, accompanied by Darjeeling tea. All around the café, wild roses are blooming, and the ocean is calm. These things are like the miracle-wine in the story, which was so delicious that the master of the feast pulled aside the bridegroom to compliment him for saving the best for last. And yet, neither the master of the feast nor the bridegroom knew where the wine came from. Only a few knew--Mary, the disciples, and the servants.

I have been given a great blessing; I know where the wine came from. I must not forget who made the miracle-wine from which I drink every day, or become distracted by its exquisite taste. And when the miracle-wine seems to run dry, I must not forget that the giver is infinitely greater and more beautiful than anything he gives.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Treasures of Time

In Japanese tea culture, we have a proverb: 一期一会 (ichi go ichi e), which means “once in a lifetime.” Specifically, each time we gather for tea, in these particular circumstances, with these particular people, decorating the room with these particular flowers and using these particular tools, is meant to be treasured, because it will only happen once.

Last week I made a very-last-minute trip to Taiwan. Going overseas seems like a big deal, but when I thought about it, flying to Taipei from Sapporo is about like flying from Seattle to Minneapolis, a trip we often make to visit Keith’s family. The difference being that when flying from Sapporo to Taipei, for the same price as the trip to Minneapolis, everyone gets a meal and free luggage allowance (and the flight attendants are bilingual).

As for the reason for the trip, my brother, Colin was there for a friend’s wedding, and he had a few extra days before the festivities started… so off I went. Our hobbies are mostly the same (tea, hiking and outdoors, eating and cooking, etc.) so we make good travel companions. One purpose of the trip (other than the obvious purposes of time with brother and rest) was to sample and buy Taiwanese tea, visit tea farms, and learn as much as possible about Taiwanese tea culture.

In the midst of investigating Taiwanese tea culture, I had a definite 一期一会 (ichi go ichi e) moment.

Colin and I stayed in an Airbnb in 鹿谷郷 (Lugu). As we were waiting for breakfast in our host’s beautiful home, I noticed a Japanese-style (tatami) room adjoining the living room and some familiar looking tea utensils.

The front garden
The tea room--Japanese style!
Utensils for oolong tea. The scoop (left), tea caddy (top right), and cloth looked very familiar.
With Colin translating, I asked if our hosts, a young couple who appeared to be around our age, studied tea ceremony. I would certainly say they were students of the Way of Tea, but not in the same way I imagined at first. They owned a tea farm and were experts in preparing and serving the various oolong and black teas produced there. And although they did not practice Japanese tea ceremony, they were very interested in it. I pulled my tea ceremony travel set out of my backpack.

We spent the next several hours in their tea room, which was adorned with the characters “奉茶” (share tea) in a small frame. I made matcha first, then our hosts made two varieties of their home grown oolong and one kind of black tea. We talked about growing and processing tea and proper brewing.

Prepared for tea-culture-exchange!
Our host also wanted to try making matcha!
I watched with delight how tools that were almost the same as those we use in Japan for tea ceremony were used in preparing oolong tea. We talked about common roots in Taiwan and Japan and the ways in which each tradition had diverged and become unique.

A different use for what I would call the 茶杓 (tea scoop)
They asked why matcha is served in small quantities. (In Taiwan, you might keep drinking tea for hours.) I explained that if you drink too much, you’ll start shaking from the caffeine and won’t be able to sleep at night. They laughed. On that note, my brother asked their advice on giving tea to small children...

After we bought several packages of our favorites from among the teas we sampled, they sent us on our way up the mountain to the nearby 杉林渓 tea growing region, where they also had their farm. (I really wish I knew how to pronounce 杉林渓, but I don’t. It was like that for the whole trip: I knew the characters and their meanings, but not how to say them.) We had a beautiful hotpot with a wide variety of local vegetables for lunch.

Hotpot: a little bit of lamb and a lot of vegetables
High mountain tea farm!

Words (and pictures) don’t do justice to the delight of this experience, or to the regret I felt that we likely won’t meet these lovely people again. But I think I now know more fully the meaning of 一期一会 (ichi go ichi e): treasures of time to be enjoyed with thankfulness.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Faking it

Today was the day when my fake smile cracked. It has cracked before--last Tuesday, at the Hokkaido pastors’ gathering, in fact--but I managed to hide in the back stairwell, sniffling, dabbing my eyes with a wet handkerchief, and fanning my face until it turned back to its usual shade of pale pink. But today, the gentle missionary facade that I had been cultivating started to crack at the church leaders’ meeting… because I can’t fake it anymore.

Faking is a performing art. I was just talking to Shino about faking when we were rehearsing the Rachmaninov cello sonata last Thursday. The cello part isn’t too difficult… but the piano part is beastly, written by a man whose hands were twice the size of Shino’s. Thus she was bemoaning the difficulty of a certain passage. “Just fake it,” I said in English. “Just fake it,” she repeated, smiling. I continued in Japanese: “The left hand is all that matters; the right hand is just decoration. Even if you flub half the notes, no one will notice,” I suggested. She looked unconvinced. “Well, you should certainly try to hit as many notes as possible, but don’t worry about it if you miss a few.”

Faking well is part of the performance. All musicians do it. Even if I make an obvious mistake in the middle of a concert, my face must not give away any sign that I didn’t play that note on purpose. After the concert, I must smile and graciously receive everyone’s thanks and compliments, even if I feel like a hypocrite.

Faking is a part of the performance of life around the world, but especially in Japan. Here we call it tatemae. Tatemae can be a good and healthy practice; we consider the feelings of other and think before we speak. Tatemae can also be an unhealthy practice when we hide what is truly in our hearts and build an entirely different persona to face the world, or perhaps a different persona in every social situation.

Introvert that I am, in some ways I appreciate this aspect of Japanese social interaction. I am free not to talk if I don't want to. Interactions with others tend to be respectful and peaceful. I have never been pressured to spill my guts in front of strangers in some sort of intimacy-building activity. I can take my time making friends, gradually sharing more and more of what’s in my heart. Shino is a friend like that; I’ve known her for eight years now.

And yet, I fall into the trap of building personas. I want to be strong for the church right now. I want people to like me, to think well of me. Celia the musician, Celia the missionary. I’m even different depending on what language I’m using. Celia speaking English, Celia speaking Japanese. But no facade can hold up forever. The shock of finding out that a person you thought was kind and gentle is actually vindictive and angry, for example, is distressing, to say the least. One feels lied to and betrayed. And yet, it shouldn’t be a shock to discover the darkness in another person’s heart, because there is darkness in all of our hearts.

Last Wednesday, we read James 4:1-10 together at the church prayer meeting. (I have been leading the group through James doing a made-for-Wakaba version of Lectio Divina.) For some reason, I really like this passage. Especially this part: “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” There’s something incredibly healing about grieving properly for things that ought to be grieved. Sin is grievous. It separates us from God and from one another. Here was an invitation to be real, to drop the fake smile, to stop pretending things were okay when they weren’t.

It wasn’t until after I went home that I realized how counter-cultural this passage was. As I observe the reaction of our church to our current challenges, it seems that the members instinctively try to patch things up quickly and move on, because we in Japan care about peace. But peace achieved by faking it--like covering a festering wound with a bandaid--won’t do any good in the long run. I need--all of us need--to grieve, to stop faking it. The road to recovery and reconciliation runs through the valley of grief. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

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. ;)