Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Culture shock blessings... or Surviving a Dentist appointment in Japan

So, if you've ever lived in another country or participated in a mission trip of any kind, you have probably heard some kind of talk or read a book about culture shock... there are many resources available to make you aware of the various stages of culture shock and how best to work through them.  We have many different stories of 'culture shock' experiences through the years, and sometimes they happen the most when you return to your 'home' country.  When we went through Youth in Mission training camp in college, the most important thing we learned was to say... "That's different."  Not that's strange, weird, wrong, etc., but just that's different - and it really has helped over the years when you experience MANY things that are different than the way you are used to doing them... it's easy to feel like they are weird, wrong, etc., but they really are just different.

So you would think by now we would have this 'living in another country' thing down... I mean after almost 11 years of being away from our 'home' country, shouldn't we have at least a small amount of expertise?  Well, of course not... we still make mistakes frequently (sometimes it feels like every day) and will always be learning... and I'm here to tell you that culture shock can hit in the seemingly very normal experiences of life... most recently for me (Julie) - a trip to the Dentist.

It's important to preface this story with a bit of my personal teeth history... not that you really care.  Just suffice it to say I have always rather enjoyed going to the Dentist.  My Mom made sure we took very good care of our teeth, and so it was common to hear glowing reports at the end of our Dentist appointments when we were kids.  I did have the unfortunate experience of braces in high school, but after that the Dentist even complimented me more about how great my teeth looked and how well I took care of them.  So, obviously, I have a bit of a pride issue going on, but it is relevant to the story.

After we moved to Japan and got settled in with regular doctors (a must since Noah was born 6 months after we moved here), we decided we needed to find a Dentist for our family.  At this point we were still like babies with our Japanese language abilities, so we looked for a Dentist that had some English ability also.  We found a great one, near our house, and I think our first appointment with him was for Justin when he was about 4 years old... that's another story, but it was a HUGE disaster.  Justin is quite fearful of anything new, so he screamed... a lot... and the Dentist never got to look inside his mouth.  But after 2 years of praying and some mild bribery, Justin now loves going to the Dentist. :)

So soon after Justin's first fiasco, Brian and I decided we should get back into this 'normal' part of life in our new home and we made appointments to have our teeth cleaned.  We are blessed to have Japanese national insurance that covers visits to the Dentist, but there is one interesting aspect to this coverage... when you get your teeth cleaned, you can't do it all in one appointment.  In order for the government insurance to cover it, you get your top teeth cleaned at one appointment and your bottom teeth at another appointment... think about that for a minute.  I think it's all psychological, but I guarantee after that first appointment when only your top teeth have been cleaned, suddenly your bottom teeth feel almost toxic and you can't wait for that second appointment so you can have some balance back in your mouth again.

So that's the first 'different' thing about going to the dentist in Japan.  But, I'm thankful for our insurance, so I can get past it.  When I went in for my first appointment, I was pleasantly surprised.  Japanese people are overwhelmingly considerate and thoughtful and this is made evident at the Dentist.  You are given a small blanket to put on your lap so you don't feel cold during your appointment.  They offer you a small towel to put over your eyes so the glaring light doesn't bother you.  And, in typical polite Japanese style, they announce when they will start each phase of your cleaning by telling you what they are about to do, followed with 'start'. :)  It really is a pleasant experience....

Until they pulled out a bottle with pink liquid in it... it says 'Plaque Checker' (in English!) on the label.  I had never before experienced this at a Dentist.... they put this 'strawberry flavored' plaque checker (of course, they informed me it was strawberry flavored) on my teeth and then told me to rinse.  Okay, no big deal.  Then the sweet dental assistant proceeded to hand me a mirror and inform me that every spot on my teeth that still had this pink liquid on it was plaque... and this was very, very bad.  I remember I tried to laugh it off and make jokes (never a good idea when you're not speaking the same language), and this caused the sweet dental assistant to bring out the large model of teeth with a large toothbrush and show me how to brush my teeth... because apparently I didn't know after thirty-something years of doing it. (Note: they did not do this for Brian at his appointment - I guess he knows how to brush his teeth)   They also gave me a kind of report about my visit to the dentist which included a diagram of teeth and they colored red marks on all the teeth that had plaque... let's just say I was quite embarrassed.  I obviously had been a little too prideful of my teeth before coming to Japan, and I was greatly humbled.  So humbled, that it took me longer than normal to schedule my next annual cleaning.

But I went today, and even though I was dreading the two separate appointments (because yes, my bottom teeth do feel particularly 'unclean' as I write this) and the inevitable humbling lesson in how to brush my teeth, God helped me change my attitude during my appointment.  First of all, it's such a great feeling to feel like you're living normal life even in a place that can many times still feel so foreign.  I am overwhelmingly grateful how God has helped our family adjust to the different countries we've lived in... I am so thankful that things seem so normal now, although I'll probably make a huge cultural mistake tomorrow - it's almost guaranteed. :)  We're just living life, and even though the Dentist is still a 'different' experience, we're figuring out the system.  I'm thankful for insurance, I'm thankful for our growing Japanese language abilities, I'm thankful that Justin now loves the Dentist (he was jealous I got to go twice) and I'm really thankful that God helps us laugh... because even though they didn't pull out the large toothbrush and model today, this was one of the papers they sent home with me....
 Yes, the sweet assistant circled the picture in red and wrote in English, "You need!"  Wasn't that considerate? :)

Thank you God for adventures, for humbling lessons, for the amazing people I get to spend my day with, and the opportunity to join you in your work in Japan... I am truly overwhelmed. :)

Oh, and this was my view as I ate my lunch today and talked with God... not such a bad day, after all. :)

Saturday, February 01, 2014


We have lived in Okinawa 4 years now, and today was our 5th time to see sakura (cherry blossom trees)!  You can only see the blooms for about 2 weeks, but somehow each year we have managed to have a 'sakura day' where we spend time together as a family and enjoy God's beautiful creation on our island.  We're really bad at keeping track of how the boys grow on a regular basis(height, weight, etc.), but we do have pictures of them every year with sakura. :)  It's so fun to look back and see how they have changed.  Each year's pictures bring back wonderful memories - we are so blessed!

Sakura 2010 - we had only been in Okinawa a few weeks, and I was still pregnant with Noah!

 Sakura 2011 - Noah was just a baby and Justin was 3 years old...

Sakura 2012 - Noah was 1 1/2 and Justin had just turned 4...

Sakura 2013 - we went to a different area of the island that year and don't have as many pictures, but you can still see how they're growing...

And sakura 2014 - Noah is 3 1/2 and Justin turned 6 last week... we had tons of fun walking, running, exploring... more adventures every year! :)

Again, thank you Jesus for our family! :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Our garden!

Last year we moved into a beautiful house that our church purchased for a parsonage.  One of the only things on our 'perfect house list' that our house doesn't have is a yard for the boys to play in... but it's not typical to have a yard in Japan, so we are fine.  We're spoiled with beautiful parks everywhere, anyway. ;)  But we do have a nice walkway that leads up to the front door.  The former owner had some landscaping, but after a year of doing nothing with it, it was overgrown with weeds and did not have the inviting look we wanted for our home.  So when we got back from home assignment last summer, it was time to tackle the front walkway and make it our garden.  We enlisted the help of a wonderful friend from church who has made gardening in Okinawa her hobby.  She continues to teach us how to plant, when to plant, and nearly every plant in our garden has come from hers!  Tara, we can't thank you enough for your help and joining us in our adventure!
It has been a really fun experience over the last few months, so here are some pictures of the process...

Before (looking from the door to the street)
and AFTER!!!

Here's another before shot looking toward the front door (this is after hours of weeding, by the way)...


and AFTER!!!  Quite an improvement, don't you think?
So here are our pictures of the process....
First we had to make our dirt better... so we dug up a lot of the dirt we had and mixed it with many kinds of 'good dirt'... this took about 4 hours... it made our small space seem very large. ;)

Then we laid out covering to minimize weed growth and covered it in mulch...

 Noah found a praying mantis friend during the process. :)
And then we started planting!
We've been slowly adding plants as we buy them or as Tara gives us more from her garden. :)

My favorites are our water plants... we even have fish in one of the pots!  We are loving the blessing of living in a house and having a small garden to take care of... we pray that God would use this garden to help us get to know our neighbors a little better.  I also love the time of watering our garden every day - it has become one of my favorite prayer times. :)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Justin's view of the world... today

This post comes to you from our smart and creative 5 year old son, Justin.  We've spent the last couple days working on a small garden along the walkway to our house (separate blog post about that will come soon with before and after pictures).  Justin and Noah have been great troopers in that we've basically ignored them for hours while we were working... they have helped us dig in the dirt, played games outside, and managed not to kill each other while playing alone inside. ;)  While our garden will always be a work in progress, I finished the first major portion this afternoon.  Justin had my iphone and asked if he could take some pictures of the new garden.  I let him take a few pictures and he had so much fun, it was difficult to get him to stop.  When we first moved to Guam 10 years ago, buying a digital camera was one of the biggest purchases of our life at the time.... it's so funny that digital has become so normal, kids all around the world ask to 'see the picture' as soon as you take it.  So I thought it would be fun to share what Justin saw through the camera this afternoon... pictures of the garden, plants on our balcony, and normal things around the house... with the world's greatest younger brother as his model, of course. Enjoy! :)