A Quiet Day

Most of my days are quiet. With just Dale and I together, we live a pretty sedate life. We enjoy it and relish our time together.

Today, Dale was gone and my thoughts wandered back to other times when I would have a day just for myself. I was a stay at home Mom for most of my life. I started back to work when our youngest started school. I worked part time so that I could be with my girls and they could have a schedule. It worked for us.

Before our girls were born, I usually had every other day off for the most part. I worked days on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and evenings on Thursday, Friday and once a month on Saturday. During those days off I would wander down to the villages we lived near in Japan. I would browse the shops and enjoy our surroundings. Stopping at the fruit and vegetable market, I would buy our produce and head home, either by bus or just walking. They were peaceful days and I loved the experience of living overseas.

When the girls came along, quiet days were very rare, although occasionally we would hit on one. Times spent at a park or at the beach didn’t feel quiet, but in retrospect they were wonderful memory filled times.

I stopped working full time when Dale finished college after his military retirement. His job required him to travel and I once more had quiet days to myself.

I enjoy quiet times and once we both officially retired, time together was what we have shared. I do confess, though, there are times when I ask when the next deployment is going to be. Those comments are met with laughter and I think only about the closets I would like to clean out and have things ‘disappear’.

That is what I have found. Retirement is a wonderful time, but, as a housewife purging unnecessary things is difficult. Also, just watching mindless movies that are predictable isn’t common. I find myself being cognizant of what I watch, what I snack on, what I do.

Today, though, was a throw-back quiet day. A day to myself. It has been relaxing. I haven’t really accomplished anything. I have sat back and absorbed the quiet. I have eaten brownies. The closets are still cluttered, the floors still need vacuumed, the ironing is still waiting, wrinkled, but I am almost relaxed. The dinner hour is approaching and I am drawing a blank, but I know I will bring something together.

For now, the quiet of the house has given me a respite. It has been nice. I have needed a quiet day.

Mountain Retreat, 1977

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 12:1-2 (NKJV)

This verse was part of my devotions today. I always smile when I read this verse. Then I remember my first retreat in the mountains south of Tokyo so long ago.

We went with our Friday night fellowship group and traveled by car. The night before we left Dale was working on the car, prepping it for the long trip. It was growing dark and supper was ready to eat. I walked out of our home and went to where he was. He had a pair of pliers in his hand and I startled him. The result was that the pliers swung around and shorted out the battery. It being 1977, and in a foreign country, there was no where to find a replacement battery and we were leaving early in the morning. But, we were young, and I was strong and the car was light, so we pushed the car, Dale jumped in and hit the clutch and away we went. We did get several looks whenever we stopped as these crazy Americans pushing a car to get it to go. Eventually we arrived at the retreat center.

The lodge was settled amongst the mountains. We all arrived at the same time. Our friend Pam jumped out of their car and we both talked of the beauty of this place. That was the first time I heard the above scripture. I had never heard it before then, and I will always connect it with that time and place.

In fact, I really cannot remember any of the messages, I know I took notes. The scripture in Psalm 121 was my lesson. I lift up my eyes to the hills. I know where my help comes from. I have never looked at another mountain the same way. Each time that scripture resonates in my mind and envelopes me with sweet memories.

The retreat was Japanese style. No beds, just futons. Layers of comfy quilts piled on top of another. Sleep was probably some of the best sleep I have had. Each night we pulled out the futons and slept and each morning, they were put away in the closet. Futons had their own space for storage.

The meals all had mushrooms in them. It was a bit overpowering and it did turn me off of mushrooms for a long time. The other staple were eggs. From quail eggs to huge eggs that one could feed a family.

The showers were in a different building, an ofuro, a building for men and the other for women. It was a public bath. You would wash off in what looked like a locker room and then take your clean body to soak in this huge shallow pool filled with steaming water and lots of strangers. It was something I never adjusted to that week, but, I admit that once sitting in the pool every muscle relaxed and renewed.

I have thought of that week today. I never imagined that I would have had these experiences. When I think on them, it is like a dream that was real Moments in life have a way of etching themselves in you. Memories tattoo themselves in your mind. Sometimes a reading of a devotional can once more transport you back to a time and place you never could have imagined.

I am thankful daily for the life the Lord has given me. It has been filled to overflowing with adventure and surprise. Thank You, Jesus.

A Memorable 4th

Beginning of the year 1976, there was a build-up to a celebration of the 4th of July. It was the bicentennial of our nation. I was so excited for this celebration and imagined where we would spend the day, knowing that the fireworks would be special and the day would be incredible.

Also, at the beginning of the year of 1976, we knew we were due for orders. This would involve a move, most likely overseas. I hoped that we would somehow still be in the states for the fourth. As the time drew nearer for orders, places like Rota, Spain; Cuba; Scotland; Iceland; were all mentioned. Some of the places I could readily picture myself, others I couldn’t. Our orders came in and they were for Yokosuka, Japan. I never ever thought of going to Japan. I showed Dale my support, but inside I was questioning such a move. My thoughts of celebrating the bi-centennial in the states were dashed.

We arrived in Japan in early June. We were settled in our little Japanese apartment by the first of July. We experienced our first typhoon July 2nd through the 6th. A typhoon was lingering off the coast of Japan, dumping rain, wind and lots of water on Yokosuka and the immediate area.

On the fourth, we headed onto the base. We waded through ankle deep water to get to our car, and then we half floated/half drove to the base where there was going to be a parade.

That soggy fourth of July will always live in my memories as one of the very best celebrations I have experienced. Passing through the main gate of the base, we were home on the 4th of July. America was present on foreign soil. The spirit of our country paraded itself with the sailors and marines stationed on the base. The host country graciously honored this celebration. I stood in deep water that fourth of July, 1976, with a winter coat on while a parade passed in front of us. The base was alive with the indomitable spirit of America.

Through the rain the 6th Fleet Navy band led the parade carrying our flag, the host country flag and the military flags.

Although the rain and time has produced fuzzy photos, the memories are crisp in my mind. I stood in a country, once at war with my homeland, and together we celebrated the bi-centennial. The celebration I had envisioned at the beginning of the year was far different than the incredible time I had that day while standing in water and straining to remain upright in the heavy wind.

We once were told that our love for America would grow living overseas.  I did not think that possible, but it was.  The pride and honor I felt that day in 1976 has only grown for this country that has been my homeland.  My heart beats red, white and blue.  I am a patriot.  I stand with tears in my eyes for our flag. 

As much as I love this country, my heart yearns for more.  Hebrews 11:16 says, “But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (NKJV)   I cannot wait to be in my forever home, standing with my Creator.

Our First Home in Japan

“Then you will walk safely in your way, And your foot will not stumble.
 When you lie down, you will not be afraid; Yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet.” Proverbs 3:23-24 (NKJV)

I like to refer to our time in Japan as our ‘college’ years. Years where we discovered who we were and what we wanted. Dale and I were just 21 when we went to Japan. Neither of us went to college, so when we moved overseas, it was our time of self-discovery that many have in their college years.

We spent the first two weeks of our tour there in the Navy Lodge. Today it would not rate even one star, but, that’s another story. When we arrived there was an agent from the housing office that took you to three places that would rent to American servicemen. The first house we walked in and Dale slammed his head on the doorway. I laughed, the agent laughed and the agent reminded us to duck when walking through the door. The second place Dale ducked, I smacked my head, Dale laughed, the agent laughed. I believe the third place is what we rented. It was close to the base and it felt like home, all three rooms of it. The kitchen had parquet flooring and the other rooms were tatami. The larger room was six tatami (meaning six tatami mats would fit in the floor) and the other room was four tatami. It was small and cozy. We had a toilet room and a room with a traditional Japanese bath. Just enough for the two of us.

We lived in the upstairs apartment. The home held four apartments. The steps were like a fire escape, steel and steep. An open sewage ditch surrounded the block, so when the wind was just right we made certain the windows were closed.

Next to the building was a playground.

I loved watching the kids play with their parents and with each other. Trucks would drive up daily blaring announcements of the wares they were selling. They would pull into the area beside our home and park while women would go to the truck to buy their wares for the day. I would go when the fruit and vegetable truck would come, I was not confident enough to get meat or other things from the trucks.

Down the block there was a person who would play a Japanese zither each night. The beautifully haunting music still echoes in my mind.

Our first home was a peaceful place. It was a place of safety and security. We felt at home there, even in a foreign place. It was the true beginning of our journey together. We would bump our heads often and freeze in the morning before starting our space heaters (there was no heat in the building), but it was our home. We had rice paper doors within the apartment and the tatami mats were comfortable to sleep on with our futon. It was there that our love of Japan blossomed, the food, the people, the beauty of the country.

Our Lord has made a beautiful world for us. I am so grateful I was able to be a part of Japan for that time.

Remembering

This morning as I sat listening to my favorite channel on Pandora, I was taken back to my living room in Nagai. It was a small room, but cozy. Our living room was painted like every living room in the housing area. No color, just a bland form of white-gray or gray-white. Hard to tell, really. I had two large windows in the room and a small window that held the air conditioner which only blew the cold air to the opposite wall where there was a built in bookcase. The back window looked out to our back yard and the dog house . Beyond the yard were rice paddies and fields of crops. The front window was my view of Mt. Fuji.

My schedule while living in Nagai was busy. I worked for the Army Veterinarian (part of the Calvary) on Monday-Wednesday and Friday. In the evenings on Wednesday I taught my private student English and then afterwards would go to the school where I taught two classes, Thursday evening I taught three classes, and Friday was again two. Once a month on Saturday I traveled to another school where I taught three classes English. I was always on the move with trains, buses and on foot. I loved it.

Thursday during the day was for me. I would catch up on laundry and cleaning and then I would sit in my living room. Our furniture at the time was borrowed from the Navy, except our stereo stand and the stereo. On Thursday I would sit in the chair, Bible in hand and that was my time to be with the Lord. I would read, pray and listen to music. I paid attention to the words. I allowed them to go deep in me. I was learning to worship my God.

At the time songs were scripture put to words. The words took root in my heart, planted by the artists performing the music and watered by the Lord listening to my prayers.

They were sweet times for me. I love having alone time. Time where I can be quiet and devote my full attention to God. At that time we had no children so alone time was truly alone. As the years went on alone time was next to impossible. Motherhood filled my mind with activities and chores and demands that took most of the stamina I had. Alone time had to be scheduled in and sometimes took a back seat.

Now, I find in retirement that I still have to purpose in my heart to have some alone time. Dale and I have worked to get to this point in life. After adjustment we have grown into a rhythm of being together. We enjoy our time now. When one of us have time away we miss one another.

So today, as he is gone from the house I returned to a day like my Thursdays in Nagai. I read my Bible, I have had a prayer time and in the background is music that I listened to so many years ago. What prompted me in these thoughts was hearing the song from Psalm 5. Like all music can take you to places and smells and memories, I was transported to my living room in 1978.

“Give ear to my words, O Lord, Consider my meditation.  Give heed to the voice of my cry, My King and my God, For to You I will pray.  My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up.” Psalm 5:1-3 (NKJV)

Memories

Yesterday at church I had someone tell me they were enjoying my blog, especially the posts about Japan. I hear that about Japan often. I am always thrilled when people like what I am posting, it is so encouraging to me.

On the way home from church I mentioned to Dale the comment made. In my mind I traveled back to our time in Japan and tried to remember more details. What I found in our Navy travels is although each duty station was new and full of unexplored things, after about six months, it just became home. Our lives were similar to what they are now, cooking, cleaning, laundry and trips to the grocery store.

We lived in three homes in Japan. Our final move was our permanent quarters. The housing area was one we waited for. It was Nagai Navy Housing. Set up on a plateau, it was a converted WW II, Japanese airstrip. There were two wide roads in this area and at the end of one of the roads , where we lived was the curved part of the runway. I often wondered what it was like during the war and how many planes took off and how many did not return. Growing up as a daughter of someone who served in WW II, my view of Japan was a bit altered. They were the enemy. Initially, I was not thrilled to be assigned there. All I could remember was geography classes that talked about the way the Japanese farmed. I didn’t pay much attention then, as I truly thought I would never leave my birthplace. I figured anything I learned in geography did not pertain to NW Pennsylvania, so therefore it didn’t pertain to me. Little did I know then.

Where our little duplex was situated was at the end of the one of the roads. We were the only house there. A fire department was a few feet away from our neighbors side of the duplex. On our side was a small commissary which was convenient. In front of our house was a large grassy area. It was quiet.

The front of our little home with our little green Datsun.

As I looked for photos today, I realized with time and a terrible photographer, (me) the pictures look ancient.

It was a typical occupation style home. The bathroom had a dip in the center of the room, the shower was stainless steel, as was the toilet. Whenever I scrubbed the bathroom, water would pool in the dip and I would end up sopping it up with a towel.

The view though, was incredible. Our Japanese neighbors were farmers and daily I would see them carrying things across their shoulders as they went from home to the fields, which was rice in the winter and watermelon in the summer. Our neighborhood adjacent to the housing area was nice.

The field on the other side of our home, a work truck and the neighborhood.

The best part of our view was Mt. Fuji. Opening up the curtains each morning was a glorious view of this mountain. Majestic in all seasons, clouded in the summer months and with snow on top in the fall and winter.

taken from a finger lake at the base of Mt. Fuji

I never expected to have such an adventure in my life. It was only for three years, but those years held so much for me. As I looked upon this sacred mountain, as it is referred to, I would often hear this scripture “I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help?  My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2 (NKJV)

This view would bring me peace and assurance. I looked at this when I was homesick for family, friends and familiarity, I would begin to remember as my dear Dale has said so often. God cuts the orders, Uncle Sam just pays for them. We were there for a season and a purpose and a lifetime of memories. We left a country we loved and the people we loved when we flew back to the states in 1979.

Sensei

As a little girl I thought I would like to teach. Actually, I wanted to be a nun for many years . Obviously, that didn’t happen. Instead, I married a sailor and roamed around the world.

In 1977 we lived in Yokohama, Japan, a seaport city south of Tokyo. We lived in government quarters that were built during the occupation after WWII. Across the street from our home was the building that housed a department of the Army, actually a department of the U.S. Army Calvary, the veterinarians who served the community caring for the pets of the military personnel. They also inspected the food coming into the commissaries on the bases. I was hired on as a receptionist for the days the vets worked with the animals. I loved that job, my bosses were great fun and I loved seeing the animals, and yes, we did end up adopting a dog through my work.

Later that year, and in addition to working with the Army, I was honored to have a job as a teacher. I taught in a private school in Kita Kamakura . The school operated in the evenings. I taught on Thursday and Friday evenings and once a month on Saturdays. It was a fascinating time.

Shoes were not permitted in the classroom, so the teachers had their own area to remove their shoes and put on the slippers to move around the classes. On cold and rainy days the secretary of the school would meet me with a cup of hot tea. Always welcome after a train ride.

I had an interpreter who would translate what I said to the students. When the kids arrived in the classroom they would bow deeply and greet me as Sensei (teacher). I would then read out of a reader and the kids would repeat after me. Although the nights were long, I so enjoyed seeing the kids. I taught a couple of my classes how to write in cursive and sing American songs. I always left with a smile of my face.

I learned so much from those times in the classroom. First that Japanese children were the same as I was as a student. The girls would play the hand-clapping games and sing song to them. They would play cat’s cradle. The boys would fold paper and play football. It was a typical classroom. I still have pictures from my students that they drew one night the interpreter was not able to make it and I wasn’t able to convey what to do. If I arrived a minute late, there would be a caricature of me on the blackboard.

I often think of my students and wonder what they are doing. They all have grown, and have families. I still carry them in my heart. They helped to make me who I am today.

I tend to think that the joy I had watching them in class is similar to the joy the Lord has in watching us. I assume that God tends to shake His head at me consistently. I think He laughs often at me.

“The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.” Psalm 121:8

Roses, Dandelions and Purpose

In San Diego our yard was rock with a few grains of sand in between. Nothing grew in it. We had grass for a few months which turned to dirt and dust by late spring. Growing up in lush northwestern Pennsylvania where the greens were deep and fragrant, the lack of yard was distressing to me. Much of our property was filled with decking, so after many years I started to grow roses in containers on my deck. They were my joy and a pop of color. My husband loves red roses, so I had one of those. I love pink roses, my oldest likes white roses, and my youngest at the time loved yellow roses. I had a rose bush for each of us. I planted a mini rosebush and it flourished in the container. I prayed for each person while I watered the plant . It was my quiet time and my time to connect with something growing. I loved my deck garden, it was filled with many plants besides the roses. Here, my roses are delights for our resident deer. I see them start to bloom and the next day, they are gone, leaves, buds, thorns, all gone. I have once more started container roses so I can enjoy them. I place them on my front porch. I figure if deer want to climb the steps to the roses, then they are welcome to have them. So far, so good.

Last week I went outside and saw my first dandelion of the year. I know, to many they are a reason to grumble. Living rural as we do, dandelions are free to bloom. I smile when I see dandelions. I want to pick them. Yes, inside me hides a five year old girl.

Dandelions are the military child’s flower. They were designated that as dandelions grow everywhere. We had them in our yard in Norfolk, in Yokohama, Japan and in Nagai, Japan. Our yard was filled with them in Bangor, Me and Winter Harbor, Me. They even flourished in the rocky soil in San Diego. Dandelions represent military children because they too, flourish all over the world. I love that illustration.

Reflecting on the dandelion and the rose I wondered what the lesson would be. Roses are normally planted in a garden. In a row. They are orderly and beautiful. The fragrance is lovely, and they make gorgeous arrangements. They have their place and they grow in their boundaries.

Dandelions grow anywhere they can. The only dandelion bouquets you display come from the grimy hands of a young child who had pulled the dandelions up with their roots. The face of the child is what makes the dandelions precious.

In serving the Lord should we be roses or dandelions? Do we present our life in a crystal vase filled with roses and baby’s breath, or do we present ourselves with our roots showing, dandelions wilting and grimy hands and faces?

 “Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.” II Corinthians 9:6-7 (the Message)

Harajuku

Memory is more than a dustbin of time, stuffed with yesterday’s trash. Rather, memory is a glorious grab bag of the past from which one can at leisure pluck bittersweet experiences of times gone by and relive them. ~Hal Boyle, 1971

Tonight while preparing dinner, I pulled out my trusty meat mallet. It has served me well, in pounding meat, and I have used the smooth sides as a hammer. This evening it prompted sweet memories.

In the spring of 1978 I had a day out with a women who worked with my husband. We knew each other, not really well, but well enough to go on an outing together.

Part of living in Japan was going to various cities to see shrines. As a Christian, that sounds counter-productive, but these places were surrounded by beautiful gardens and architecture.

We boarded a train headed towards Tokyo. We got off in Shibuya at the Harajuku station. Coming down the steps there was a statue of a dog. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that the dog was pretty famous. The statue was Hachi, a loyal akita to his master.

We turned to the right of the station and headed toward the Meiji Shrine, a beautiful respite in a busy city. We each picked up a book about the shrine, mostly pictures and very little English.

We walked back through town. It had to have been one of the most fascinating places I have ever been to. We went through the shops, where I picked up my meat mallet and I am certain there were other things I bought.

We decided to stop at a street side cafe. We ordered a coffee and we both felt sophisticated. We felt sophisticated until our coffee arrived. That is the point where two small town girls showed their true colors. The coffee arrived in small cups. We had no idea that we had ordered espresso. Neither of us had seen or tasted it before. I am certain people were appalled at how much sugar and cream we managed to put into the espresso cups.

However, we did sip at our coffee and people watch. At that time Harajuku was a Diplomatic city where people from every nation lived. Sitting at the table on that street we heard so many languages. It was a glorious spring afternoon as we watched nations going by and marveled at the clothing and the accents. It was an impromptu fashion gathering of European countries, some American and of course the exquisite kimonos walking beside our little cafe table.

We boarded the train back to our homes, but we took a little side trip. We went to Kamakura to see the great Buddha. Honestly, I know I saw it, but, I was more excited about our next stop which was McDonald’s. Normally a stop to a fast food restaurant is not exciting. Most people would think that the great Buddha was much more exciting than McDonald’s, but to this young American who hadn’t had a big mac in over two years, McD’s took priority. The burger, fries and coke was over $35.00, but each bite was worth the cost.

I don’t know why that day came back so clearly to me this evening, but it did. Memories are like a scrap book in our mind. We can open it and look back and remember. I came from a small Pennsylvania city. I never thought I would see much outside the state. I was blessed, though to live in Japan for three years. I was blessed to experience the sights and sounds and smells. They are imprinted in my mind.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1:17 (NKJV)

Clay

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Thou art the Potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after Thy will, While I am waiting, yielded and still. ~ Adelaide A. Pollard © 1907

I recall in art class in my freshman year of high school, we had a course in pottery. We were each given a lump of clay. It was hard and not pliable. We spent a good week each in the class working the clay. It went from a brick to a mold-able mound. My hands ached throughout that week, yet it was an enjoyable experience.

Once the clay was ready to be shaped, our teacher gave us the option of using the potter’s wheel or making a free form object. I sat and watched a few students on the potter’s wheel. The clay would shift from the center causing a mis-formed object. Other times I would see the lump of clay go flying off the wheel, landing on the ground. It was upon seeing this that I decided to do a free formed project. The potter’s wheel intimidated me. I wanted no part of it.

“Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over. Then the Lord gave me this message: “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” Jeremiah 18:2-6 (NLT)

While getting to know and draw closer to the Lord in my early twenties, I began to understand the potter’s wheel and clay. Even more so after visiting the city of Mashiko in the Tochigi Prefecture. The city was three and half hours from where we lived by train. It is a city of artists and although the pictures show a thriving metropolitan area, when we visited over 40 years ago, it was a village with artisans working in cave like areas.

Each artist had their products available and it was fascinating to see them work the clay into beautiful objects. The way the clay was worked on the wheel with deft hands. They understood the medium they worked with. There was a kinship between the clay, and the potter.

“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator.  Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying,     ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim,     ‘How clumsy can you be?’ Isaiah 45:9 (NLT)

Our lives are being shaped and molded by the Master Potter, God. When we allow ourselves to be worked by our Creator, we will see a masterpiece in the making. He makes no mistakes, He who has created this world with it’s beauty is waiting to make a beautiful piece of art with us.