Wednesday, January 28, 2015

God's Promises - Weeks 3 & 4

So, our family has been passing around sickness the last couple weeks and I didn't get a chance to post last week, but thankfully we're all better now and catching up on life.   I'm sharing two promises for these weeks that deal with prayer.

2 Chronicles 7:14 - if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Psalm 66:19 - But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

I am so thankful that God gives us the opportunity to pray and that he hears our prayers.  I'm so thankful that God invites us to a real relationship with him - we can communicate gratitude, requests, frustrations, anything... he promises that we can pray and he will hear us.  My prayer life has drastically changed over the years and through that my relationship with God is completely different than it used to be, but last week I was reminded that I still take prayer for granted.  Through a God-given conversation, a dear friend shared with me that I am always in her prayers, and I was instantly humbled and overwhelmed with gratitude.  So many times when we see God move in dramatic ways, we later find out that people were praying for us.  And when I am reminded of people's constant prayers, I think of all the little, yet very amazing, things God does throughout a normal day, and I'm again overwhelmed with gratitude.  I have some dear friends I'm praying for right now who need to know that they can ask God anything and that he will hear them.  May God give me his perspective as I pray for my friends and trust him to take care of their needs and mine.  Thank you, God, that we can pray, and thank you for your promise that you hear our prayers.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

God's Promises - Week 2

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

This week I am thankful for the promise of God's grace.  There are many verses that talk about God's grace, but this is probably one of the first I memorized as a child.  As a person who is inclined to 'works' and measuring things, checklists, standards, etc., this is a reminder that I need constantly... God saves me by His grace, not anything I do or strive to do.  And God shows me grace every day, and I need to show that grace to others.  It's so simple but so difficult to remember and practice.  So thank you God for the amazing gift of your grace... please continue to teach me how to show that same grace to everyone I meet. 

Monday, January 05, 2015

Contentment and God's Promises in 2015

 If we're friends on facebook, you may have seen that at the beginning of December, I wrote a post about our family doing an 'Advent Contentment Calendar'... some friends of ours did it last year and I was really excited for our family to do it together this year.  Each day of the month you count something you own, and each item is given a different dollar (or yen) amount.  Like, ' $.05 for every DVD in your house' and '$.20 for every airconditioner or fan', stuff like that.  At the end of the month, you add up your total and donate that amount to a charity. You're also encouraged to pray each day for people in the world who don't have that thing or have very little.  I knew it would be humbling, and I was hoping it would be eye-opening for the boys, but I had no idea how much it would really impact me and the way I view many aspects of our daily life.

We started out fine, and then we got to Dec. 6, which was shirts... $.05 for every shirt you own... not a big deal, right? We all made guesses as to how many it would be, and the boys thought it was hilarious and a fun adventure to count all our shirts. :) When we finally reached our total, I almost cried.  We are very blessed in many ways... our basic needs have always been provided for, though sometimes we weren't sure how we would make it, God always miraculously stepped in. We have plenty of food to eat, jobs that we love, too many friends to count, and I know it's easy to take these things for granted.  I know, because some of the things we grew up with and considered normal (like a microwave, washer and dryer, oven) we have previously lived without, and I swore I would never take them for granted again.  We have previously lived in very small spaces, again, compared to how we grew up, and even though we live in a very comfortable home now, I make it a point to not just fill it with stuff and keep up our policy of 'give something away whenever you get something new'.  We have lived in a developing country and witnessed extreme poverty, so we know what it's like for people to have little or nothing.  And I have always promised myself that I wouldn't lose sight of that. But oh my, we counted our shirts...

The first thing I said to Brian was, 'I am so glad God has not struck me with lightning every time I have looked at that full closet and complained about having nothing to wear'... because unfortunately that has happened too many times to count.  Of course we immediately talked about how we need to go through things and give stuff away that we don't wear or use any more.  And, funny enough, the next time I was walking through a clothing store, I wasn't tempted at all to look at the sales or try something on... I just kept thinking about the huge number of shirts already in my closet. ;) But as the counting went on and I continued to think and pray, I realized there was something much deeper that was troubling.  I had really started to pride myself (yes, of course, this is a problem) on our simple way of living, our minimalistic approach, how we don't hold on to material possessions, etc., etc.  The day we counted our  DVDs was kind of ridiculous... we own how many?  And we really only watch about 20 on a regular basis... why have we collected so much?  And why do we hold on to them?

If you really look at our list (understand it's not easy for me to post our numbers on our blog, but it's good to be honest, right?) you'll see we even changed a few categories... we added toys and books... things we know we have a lot of.  But I didn't care how much 'money' our total came to... this became a lot more about a life-change, shifting our perspectives and priorities.  We can and probably should always give more to God than we currently do, and I loved this tangible way to involve the boys.  When our counting ended we went on the Nazarene Compassionate Ministries website and each boy got to pick a different ministry to give half of the money to.  And then we prayed for the people who would be helped and shown the love of God through our very small donation. 

For a few years now, our family has also done a 'Thanksgiving tree', and I love the focus it gives during the month of November each year.  But as I look back on the things I'm thankful for, too many are about material possessions and fleeting emotions.  Of course it's okay to be thankful for those things, but with all that God has done for me and the life he offers every day, it's time to go a little deeper.  During November and December a friend shared a different thing he was thankful for every day on facebook... but he changed it to a promise of God that he was thankful for every day.  I'm so glad he shared them on facebook - it was wonderful to read each day and it became a challenge to me.  What promises of God am I thankful for?  Sure it's easy to name some off the top of my head, but when was the last time I diligently and consistently searched scriptures and really meditated on God's promises?

So this is my commitment for 2015... every week I will share on our blog a promise of God that I'm thankful for and will be meditating on for the week.  And with this commitment comes many others that just apply to me personally but will hopefully add to the shift in perspective that God is graciously inviting me to.
So for week 1, I'm thankful for God's promises in Isaiah 43:18-19 -  
Remember not the former things,
    nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

I am so thankful that God does new things... and that HE is working and makes a way.  Difficult things happen in life, and it's scary how easy it is for me to become bitter, fearful, way too concerned with what other people think, and way too concerned with what I feel I need and am entitled to.  But God doesn't give up on me, and I need to extend that same grace to others, even when they hurt me.  I'm so thankful God is willing to continue to teach me new things... even though I thought I already knew them. ;)  I'm so thankful HE makes the way... and I really need to remember that.  I love to make myself busy to feel like I have a purpose and am doing something worthwhile... but it's only when God makes the way that I see my purpose - it's in following him and joining him in his work - that's when I'm literally blown away by his love and guidance in my life.  

So, I don't know what will happen in 2015... but I know what God and I will be working on together.  Pray that we keep our focus on him and follow where he leads... I am overwhelmed by his love and the incredible joy he gives us each day.  Praise God for new things. :)  

Adventures in our urban jungle

Our Christmas break is over now, but we had such a great time relaxing, spending time with friends, and playing with new Christmas presents, of course.  The boys had a wonderful after Christmas surprise when a package from Colorado arrived on New Year's Eve.  My (Julie's) sister and brother-in-law sent them some wonderful Colorado-y gifts (coonskin hats, a gold panning kit, and canteens) and their arrival made our New Year's Day extra special. 
 Okinawa has many different rural and urban parts, but where we live is pretty urban.  Brian and I both grew up with large yards and easy access to woods, hiking, and exploring, so we miss that sometimes, but we're very thankful for the exact place God has put us.  Also, Japan is wonderful about insisting on 'green' spaces in their cities, so we spend a lot of time at amazing parks very close to our house.
But we needed to celebrate the arrival of these awesome gifts with something memorable, so here are a few pics of our New Year's Day adventures...

Of course, the boys donned their coonskin hats as soon as they woke up. :)
 Then they spent the morning on the back porch 'panning for gold'...

And then we went on a family 'hike'... this is actually just a walk up the hill from our house, along the fence line of a nearby military base, and then down through a park... but the boys had never gone to the park this way before, so it was a new adventure! :)
Of course they also had to bring their binoculars... another cool gift from Aunt Jessie. :)
 We're thankful they keep a few feet outside of the fence cleared of jungle brush... makes it the perfect hiking trail!
 Please notice the boys poses in the next few pictures... Noah was doing his 'tough explorer on a hike' look and Justin became obsessed with the softness of the tail on the coonskin hat. :)

When we ended up at the park the boys know, Justin proclaimed it was a miracle! :)

Definitely, lots of fun times had by all... thanks for the awesome gifts Aunt Jessie and Uncle Andy!!!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

As usual, I can't believe how quickly this last year has gone by.  When I look back over the year, I am simply in awe of God's faithfulness and grace in our lives.  It was not an easy year, but through the challenges, we have seen God work in incredible ways.  God has brought healing this last year, healing from unexpected places, and healing that we didn't even know we needed. He has provided grace for the journey, so we are able to look back, not with bitterness or regret, but simple thankfulness for His presence and guidance and anticipation of new and exciting adventures in the future. As our boys continue to grow and develop, I am also in awe that God gifted them to us... they are so full of life and pure joy, and I am so thankful that we get to share this journey together.

The scripture that carried me through this last year and continues to challenge me in this new year is Deuteronomy 30:19-20 - "This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." 
God continues to teach me what it means to choose life, His life, every day.  To everyone who prays for us and supports us - thank you so much!  We are so thankful to share this journey with you.  May God continue to show us how He is working around us and how we can join Him in His work wherever He places us.  Happy New Year from Okinawa!

Motheread follow-up

It's New Year's Eve in Okinawa, so it's a good time to catch up on a couple overdue blog posts. :)  Thank you for your prayers for my Motheread class this last fall! I wanted to share some of the pictures from our final party. We had our last class on a Saturday morning, and spouses and kids were also invited.  We read a book together, acted it out, did a craft, and had lunch together... it was wonderful! I am so thankful for the time I got to spend with my new friends over the 8 weeks we met for the class.  Once again, I witnessed God's amazing miracles of language -  even though we didn't always have perfect communication and understanding, God blessed us with new friendships, meaningful discussions, and excitement about how we can continue to work and meet together after Christmas.  Please continue to pray for these special relationships, continued opportunities to meet together, and, of course, my Japanese language skills. :)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

24 Hour Vacation

As usual, I can't believe it's already December!  The summer flew by and it seems this fall went by even more quickly.  Life has been busy but full of amazing friendships and memories.  God continues to teach us so many things and we are in constant awe of His grace and working in our lives.  Our summer was wonderful, but as it came to a close, we realized we never had any time away just for our family and we could tell we needed it. :)  But the fall calendar was busy and it's difficult for us to get away on weekends.  So we came up with a new idea that we all fell in love with and can't wait to repeat... the 24 hour vacation!

We picked up the boys early from school on a Friday and informed them we were going on vacation... for 24 hours. :)  Thanks to Brian's jar of change, some leftover birthday gift money, and support from our LINKS churches, we were able to have a short but very meaningful and fun get away. :)
So we checked in to our hotel and immediately went to the pool.  It was a little cool outside but we had just enough sun to still enjoy ourselves. 
We had a wonderful dinner and evening walk on the beach. 

The next morning we greatly enjoyed the hotel breakfast buffet (always our favorite part of staying at Japanese hotels... and we were way too busy eating to take any pictures) and spent our last hour in the pool again.

After we checked out we enjoyed a special treat for lunch and then went to a fun nature park we hadn't been to before. Then we made it home in time for supper and church the next day. :)



 A few years ago, I probably would have never been okay with us doing something like this... we should have had more time away, the hotel was too expensive, we missed an event and had stuff we should be doing, etc., etc.  But thankfully God is so patient with me and is teaching me to look at things differently.  There are always things that need to be done, and He is teaching me to not be so concerned with all those things... every day we have together is precious and wonderful.  It's important to work at what He has called us to, but it's also extremely important to obey His Sabbath commands and rest, get away, and play together... even if it's just for 24 hours.  :)

Monday, October 20, 2014

The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these...

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Matthew 19:13-14

  Since I became a parent, and a parent in full-time ministry, these verses have started to mean something new and different to me.  I've heard them discussed countless times in my life and have always found deep meaning, challenge, and motivation in how I treat and love all children, and how 'child-like' my own faith is.  And while all of those thoughts still hold very true, God is helping me see them in a new light.

Our life is busy, like most people.  But sometimes being in the ministry is a different kind of busy, and it can have great impacts (positive and negative) on our children.  While we don't feel obligated to be at every single event that happens at our church, we're involved in most of them.  And while we try to protect our family time and our boys' needs, our boys end up being at church and church events a lot.  For the most part, they love it... and we're very thankful for that. :) But this last Sunday was one of those days where there were many things going on.  And honestly, I wished that only Brian had committed to go to our evening activity.  But we rsvp-ed for the whole family, so I put on smile, told the boys how much fun we would have, and we got in the car, even though they would get to bed late, it was a school night, I still needed to go shopping for school lunches the next day, etc. etc. :)

There are five other Japanese Nazarene churches on Okinawa (ours is the only English-speaking), and a few times a year they host events for people from the different churches to have fellowship together.  This Sunday night was one of my favorites - a really delicious bbq on the beach... yes, why in the world did I have any hesitation to attend? ;)  We have attended almost every year since we moved to Okinawa, and it's usually the same small group of young adults from three or four churches.  So we know each other, but we only see each other a few times a year.  But our friends have watched the boys grow up over the last 4 1/2 years of occasional interaction.  Some speak English, but most of the conversations are in Japanese (sometimes the conversations are very short when we are a part ;) ).

So, on the way to the park, we had the usual talk in the car... 'Boys, our friends are going to be at the beach tonight.  Please say hello or konnichiwa when someone says hello to you.  This is a good time to practice your Japanese.  These are our friends.  It's okay if you don't talk a long time, just smile and be friendly....' etc., etc.  Our boys love being with friends, but they can also be shy in new or different situations.  So they stuck pretty close to us for the first 30 minutes as we started eating and saying hello.  After a while, they were getting restless, so I encouraged them to go watch the food being cooked, and they decided to watch a nearby soccer game instead.  I was talking to a friend and didn't notice that some of our friends from the other churches were sitting and talking with the boys.  And my boys were beaming. They kept talking, occasionally coming to me for more food or drink, but then eagerly returning to the steps where they were hanging out with 'their friends'.  

And then I watched them all go down to the beach and play soccer together... soccer the way our boys like to play it.  And I remembered Jesus' words in Matthew... and I realized I was watching it happen right in front of me..."Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."  Our friends welcomed, loved, and 'received' our children, and I was a witness to the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
As we said our goodbyes later, the boys didn't want to leave.  The whole way home they kept talking about 'their friends' and asking when we would see them again.  Thank you, Jesus, for giving us glimpses of your kingdom here on earth.  Thank you for giving us friends who love our children in small ways that have very big meaning.  And please help me to do the same.