Tuesday, May 12, 2015


It's May!  When 2015 started I looked at the calendar and thought this will be a nice, uneventful few months before summer... well, let's just say I was very wrong. ;)  While the last few months have been wonderful, they have been anything but uneventful!  Here's a little recap of what we've been up to...

March began with a short trip to Tokyo and Osaka! We spent a couple days in Tokyo with dear friends from seminary that we hadn't seen in 6 years.  Two days was definitely not long enough, but it was such a blessing to be together again.  

Then we took the bullet train (SO fun!) to Osaka for the Japan Nazarene District Assembly.  It is always great to see the other pastors and families and have opportunities to practice our Japanese.  This assembly was also special because our friend Anderson got ordained. We are so grateful Anderson and Jana are serving in Okinawa with us and it was so meaningful to be part of this time in their lives. 
 After assembly we spent an extra day in Osaka for some family time.  We love exploring Japan! :)

As soon as we got home, life was filled with preparation for new and fun events.  The first was at Justin's school.  As a follow-up to the Motheread class I facilitated last fall,  the PTF hosted a 4-week Family Reading Campaign for the elementary school.  We had a kick-off assembly, decorated the library, held weekly competitions to encourage families to read together, and ended with a Family Reading Night event for students and parents.  It was a lot of work but I was so grateful to be given the opportunity to work with my passions (literacy, family support, even planning, etc.) at a school I love to support.  Many of the moms from our Motheread class helped with all aspects of the campaign, and it was so fun to work with the teachers and provide ways for families to have meaningful and positive interaction at home.  And now that we've done it once, next year will be a lot easier. ;)


The other fun event that happened during the Family Reading Campaign was something new we did for Good Friday at our church.  We normally serve a dinner and have a Good Friday service.  But this year we had prayer stations set up throughout the church, and people could come any time throughout the day.  The prayer stations followed the crucifixion story from Luke and each station had a different topic with reflection questions and a focused prayer time.  It was very meaningful and we are excited to use it again in future years.  

And of course normal life has also been happening.  We're thrilled the weather is getting warmer so we can spend time together at the beach and our awesome parks.  School will finish the second week of June and we're very ready for summer vacation!

 Thank you always for your prayers for our family.  God continues to teach us every day how to love others like he does and depend on him for everything we need.  We will update more soon!

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

God's Promises - Weeks 7,8,9

Well, I'm obviously a little behind on sharing a promise of God that I'm thankful for every week!  But our schedule hasn't been normal recently, so I'll use this time to catch up on my promises and fill in some of the amazing things God has been doing.

A couple weeks ago I was privileged to attend a Thrive retreat in Thailand.  Thrive is an organization that supports women serving around the world.  It was an absolutely incredible time - resting, refreshing, and I really feel some of the reflections God brought were life-changing for me.  So the first promise I'm thankful for comes from the scripture our speaker used at the retreat...

I Peter 1:6-9:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

There are so many great things in these verses, but I am so thankful for the joy that comes from God. Peter writes about this inexpressible joy as he is talking about trials... difficult trials and tests.  And as I reflect on the past year of my life, it has been filled with a variety of trials and tests.  One thing our speaker challenged us with is to remember that trials are temporary.  Joy doesn't come from our circumstances, it comes from our standing with Jesus.  It comes from Jesus himself, no matter what is going on around us.  And I am so thankful for that joy - I need to remember this in many aspects of my life... joy does not come from my circumstances, it comes from Jesus.  And I am so thankful for His joy!
view from my room at the retreat
Mangos!!! This brought back wonderful memories from the Philippines. :)

The second promise I'm thankful for is God's gift of community.  Last week we studied community in our church women's Bible study, and we were looking at the relationship of the trinity in John 17.  But as we read these verses, they suddenly took on a new meaning for me.

John 17:20-26

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

I have studied these verses numerous times and still feel challenged and inspired by how Jesus talks about unity and what it means to be one with each other.  But I think it can also refer to the unexplainable bond that is found among followers of Jesus.  At the retreat we were put in small groups and we met each day to reflect, share, and pray together.  I was simply in awe of the incredible bonds that God brought the women in my group after only knowing each other for four days.  And there is no other way to explain it except that God brought us together, helped us be open with each other, and created relationships that will extend far beyond the time we were physically together.  I am so thankful for God's gift of community and gift of 'oneness' with those who love and follow him.

 And, speaking of God's gifts... I am so thankful for gifts that God gives us.
Matthew 7:11 - If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Tomorrow morning our family is flying to Tokyo to see friends we haven't seen in almost 6 years!  These friends are another example of incredible community that happens in Christ.  We were together in the Philippines and I don't know how we would have survived seminary without them. :)  We have meetings in Osaka this weekend but decided to take an extra couple days to spend time with friends.
At our seminary graduation 6 years ago!
 So I'm thankful for God's gifts of community, connections, refreshment, friendship, and of course, my incredible family... Brian and the boys had lots of fun while I was gone, but it was very special to come home and be greeted by these... :)


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

God's Promises - Week 6

Jeremiah 29:12-13 - Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

I am thankful for God's promise that we can have a relationship with him - that we can seek and find him.  My devotion this morning used this verse and shared this quote from Oswald Chambers:
'Our Lord in his teaching regarding prayer never once referred to unanswered prayer; He said that God always answers prayer.  If our prayers are in the name of Jesus, that is, in accordance with His nature, the answers will not be in accordance with our nature, but with His.  We are apt to forget this, and to say without thinking that God does not always answer prayer.  He does every time, and when we are in close communion with Him, we realize that we have not been misled.'

I haven't been able to stop thinking about that all day - what would it look like in my life if my prayers and desires were truly in accordance with God's nature?  It brings me back to seeking him with all my heart... when I am truly seeking him, I am in that close communion and am gifted with God's perspective in small daily things and even difficult circumstances.  So today I'm thankful for the promise of a close relationship and challenged with making sure my prayers are in accordance with God's nature, not mine. :)

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

God's Promises - Week 5

The promise I'm thankful for this week comes from a scripture passage that God has powerfully and practically been using in my life for the entire last year.  It's in Deuteronomy 30:15-20:
See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.  I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.

There are so many great and challenging things in this passage but I am so thankful that God gives us a choice each day... He gives us today and he gives us choices each day.  A Bible study I am doing recently had an exercise where you listed things that brought life and peace and things that brought sin and death in relationships, work, schedules, home, etc.  And it was such a great exercise.  It took some time to really think about and write down the triggers and heart-responses in my life that bring life and bring death.  And it has been a great list to look back on when I start to feel overwhelmed or worried about things I can't control... am I choosing life in this moment?  or am I choosing death?  I'm so thankful that each day God gives us this choice and that He is with us and in us to enable us to choose life.  Thank you, God, for your promise of a new day and your promise of life. 

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!!!