A Definite Benefit

“And friends are friends forever If the Lord’s the Lord of them And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end’

This morning I chatted online with an old friend. She shared some news that I had recently heard from another dear old friend. It was a sad bit of news for a lot of us, but, joyous for the one we were talking about.

While we lived in Winter Harbor, ME, Dale and I met some wonderful people. Most were military, like us, but some were town folks. One of the women that I had the pleasure to serve on a Women’s Aglow board with, passed away earlier this month. The news had hit hard for me and for the woman that I chatted with this morning.

After reading her obituary, the song above came to my mind, especially the stanza I quoted.

This led me to other thoughts. When I married Dale, we were very young. I only knew that where he went, I wanted to be there. My thoughts were to set off on the adventure of marriage and the Navy. I had no clue what that would look like, but as an almost 20 year old, it was like a fairy tale in my mind. Rainbows, flowers, and Dale and I slowly walking together, hand in hand. No cares. No worries. Nothing impeding us.

That bubble quickly burst. The first few months were filled with long days and loneliness. Then one day, a timid knock on our door. Another anxious face stared at me. She was holding onto a precious little baby. It was a nasty day out, and this woman hesitantly asked if I could hold her baby while she got her car from the back parking lot. From that timid meeting a friendship grew. That baby became our godchild. We haven’t seen that family in forever, but when we talk, it is like we still live a floor apart. That apartment building is now an empty lot filled with weeds and brush. It no longer exists, but the memories of that place burn bright in us.

Thus began the beautiful, unexpected benefits of Navy life.

Japan gave me two beautiful women who are my prayerful, joking friends. I talk with these women via messenger several times a week. In my mind we are still in our early twenties. I visit one of these ladies whenever I visit my daughter. Our conversations are easy, no space has distanced us. I often say our conversations begin, “And then…” A continuation of the last face to face visit.

Japan also gave us family. A family who we have mourned with and laughed with. He is like a big brother to me. One who will be there to pray with, argue with (though not often), and correct. His daughters are my nieces. His wife moved to heaven a couple of years ago and memories of her come with tears.

“Though it’s hard to let you go In the Father’s hands we know That a lifetime’s not too long To live as friends”

Japan also gave us our first pastors, dear,dear loved ones. This year’s card told us of a diagnosis that will remove any memories of us. As I have sat this week thinking of that kind of loss, my heart breaks. To be here and not be able to recall is a harsh thing. Yet, her words still were clear as she talked about our Lord. Giving strength to those who read her words.

The memories at Christmastime are always mixed. There are memories of laughter, joy, romance (I was proposed to at Christmastime),loneliness, loss. The memories are endless and dear.

I never expected to be at this point and to look back over the decades. Littered throughout the years are faces of friends. Faces that have brought joy and hope and belly laughs. Faces stained with tears and also tears of laughter.

The greatest definite benefit of this life I said yes to 49 years ago when Dale put a little diamond ring on my finger has been the gift of friends. We have lost many of our friends, but, I know one day we will be face to face once more. We will share our joy, our praise once more, this time Jesus will be laughing along side of us.

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.” I John 4:7 (NLT)

Our First Christmas

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” Ephesians 5:31 (NLT)

Forty seven years ago, Dale and I were preparing for our first Christmas together as a married couple. We were in our first apartment and preparing to move into our second apartment on the 26th of December. Emotions were high as we had just received orders for Yokosuka, Japan the following April.

I think Dale started buying me things in early November, and he could not wait to give them to me. Each night coming home from work, he would meet me at the door and excitedly tell me of something he’d bought. He would be anxious to give it to me and before I could take off my shoes, he would be bringing an unwrapped gift to me.

He was so cute and I had to urge him to keep something for me to actually open on Christmas day.

I was no better. That year I got him a race track, complete with a stick shifter, and bank curve. It was huge.

I did wait though, for the actual day to give it to him.

I had dreams of us picking out our first tree together, but, he was able to go to a section of the base where he cut down our first tree. It was a huge Charlie Brown tree. With our one string of lights and one package of ornaments,it was very bare. The dollar angel we had hidden at a store until payday so we could buy it, perched precariously on the top branch.

But, after it was decorated, we thought it was the most beautiful tree ever.

Christmas day came and we were like kids on that day. At the end of the day, the presents were all in boxes, the tree was down and outside on the curb. The next day we put everything into our new apartment and left for a late celebration of Christmas with our families.

The first Christmas with just the two of us passed quickly. Little did we know that it would be our last Christmas actually spent in our hometown. Neither did we realize how special that Christmas was for us. Being newlyweds, we were still in the glow of youth, and marriage that was not difficult. We were carefree, and looking forward to all the possibilities of what the future held for us.

Forty seven years later, we are older (obviously), and we show the bumps and bruises of life. We think fondly on all our past Christmases. Some very festive and full of gifts and laughter, some a bit leaner, some with just I.O.U.’s under the tree. What was consistent on Christmas was the celebration of the birth of our Lord. He was with us through each and every Christmas, the full, the lean, and the empty.

His love was what has held us together, sometimes only His love. Christmas is a time for reflection. The ornaments we hang each have a story. The decorations could tell stories if they could talk.

Each corner of each room hold memories, Christmas and throughout the years. As I sit writing this, so many memories of Christmases past race through my mind. The time has passed much quicker than I thought possible. Each Christmas has been the most beautiful, most wonderful, they blend together. In each thought, though, is the glue that has made Christmas wonderful, my family. The same silly stories, the jokes, the laughter over memories, the smiles over gifts, the ahh’s of favorite candy given. The excitement over stockings. All of those harmonizing together and threading through each memory.

Thank You Lord for the precious gift of You, and the reason for this season.

Veteran’s Day

“Praise the Lord, who is my rock. He trains my hands for war and gives my fingers skill for battle.” Psalm 144:1 (NLT)

When I was in high school I would participate in selling poppies on Veteran’s Day. They weren’t real poppies, but little red flowers that were poppies.

I would stand in front of a store downtown, with poppies in one hand and a can in the other. People passing by would stop, give a donation and take a poppy. Older men would stop, and devoutly take a flower and lovingly put the flower in their lapel.

At the time, I thought it was a weird thing to do, but as I was in a community serving group, we would do this for the local VFW. Some years it was pleasant, and some years the bitter November air would rush down Seneca Street chilling you to the bone.

I knew my Dad and my uncles were all veterans. They all served in the war. They each had stories, that were talked about briefly to each other. There were also hushed tones when they remembered their brother who passed from war wounds.

They were referred to as the greatest generation. To me, as one in high school, I did not realize or understand the depth of what they experienced or endured.

I neglected to ask questions as I didn’t think it was important. I have my Dad’s papers from his time in the service. An uncle who was in the Navy gave me some memorabilia from his time in Subic Bay. As a Navy wife at the time, he felt I would enjoy them. I do.

Veterans write a check with their lives at some point. They serve, they give and they sacrifice. I was broken in easily when I married my sailor. We were together, with no deployments for the first few years of our marriage. We explored the places we went.

We explored Japan, we had our time together to see places my uncles fought against. We lived in occupation era housing along with the bugs and rats and brick bathtubs. We relished each day we were together. I began to understand the military.

It wasn’t until the early 80’s that I began to truly realize what sacrifice and deployment meant.

This photo taken the day Dale returned after eight and a half months, sealed forever what sacrifice is. Not just for the veteran, but, for the families. His expression at seeing his daughter after such a long time brings tears to my eyes still. I was standing out of view with our youngest in my arms. It was his first meeting his baby girl who was five months old.

In case I might have forgotten the meaning of what a veteran is, our daughter, pictured above became a Navy wife. She endured several deployments with a baby, like her Mom. He is now a Veteran. Having served honorably and sacrificed much, he is celebrating his second Veteran’s Day.

We owe a debt to these brave men and women. They have accomplished things that we will never hear about. They will talk to brothers in arms with the same hushed tones that my uncles did.

Today and for the next couple of days I will remember my Dad, my uncles, knowing what they accomplished on the fields in World War II. I will once more look at Dale and see that young man who swept me off on a life of adventure, and I will pray for my son in law as he continues to adjust to civilian life.

Warriors sign a blank check. The world and powers write what is owed. Our Savior understands what these men and women accomplished, as He too, came down to earth to pay the ultimate price that we may be saved. Today, look around you and truly see what is surrounding you. Freedom comes at a very high price.

Looking at the Same Things

“They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:23 (NKJV)

I have found out from living in various places that you can become accustomed to a place.

Growing up in Oil City, PA, I took for granted the Allegheny River and Oil Creek flowing through our town. The hills and the change of seasons were things that just happened, like clock work. They had always been there, so they would always be there.

When I married and moved to VA, I was amazed at seeing the Atlantic daily. I was in awe of the vastness of the ocean. It was an adventure, but I missed the hills of Oil City. I missed knowing where everything was. I missed home.

Eventually we left Virginia and moved to Japan. A foreign country with such a vast history was fascinating to me. The noise, the crowds, the trains, the language and the writing, each so unique and incredible to me. We eventually moved to our permanent quarters which looked out to Mt Fuji in the distance. I thought I would never tire of seeing this sight. Yet, after a few weeks I would open my blinds and continue on my day. Yes, we lived on a plateau overlooking Sagami Bay with Fuji looming behind that, but, it was home and life went on.

A few years later, we moved to the coast of Maine. Again, magnificence out our door. Lobster boats, the rock bound coast that challenged the Atlantic ocean in a different way than Virginia. The absolute cold and snow, the boundless beauty of this area. It was breathtaking and yet, during the summer I would be frustrated with tourist as they slowly made their way around the loop road. I would sigh, and say, yes, those are rocks, those are waves crashing, but I am on my way to the base, keep moving. I was accustomed to the sights.

I did the same with the view from our house in San Diego. The Coronado bridge, the bay, Point Loma, the sunsets painted by our Lord. Yet, it was home, dishes were done, meals cooked, laundry done.

It finally occurred to me that although sights capture your attention and are new when you first arrive, they become commonplace when you see them daily.

I thought of this today as I drove home from the store. The leaves on the trees lining a driveway for a farm shined brightly in the cold sunlight. It caught my attention and I asked forgiveness for taking such a beautiful view for granted.

Each day with our Lord is new. Each day is filled with fresh mercy and grace and forgiveness. How sad that our Creator wakes the world up, each place painted in a new way for a new day and we just drive down a road thinking about something entirely different.

This world was created for us. For our habitation, for our enjoyment, for our adventures and we grouse about so much.

Lord, let me see each day with Your eyes. Refresh my sight to see Your glory. Amen.

A Memory kind of day

“Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,”
  whether to the right or to the left.” Isaiah 30:21 (NLT)

Today is one of those rainy days. The kind of day where pajamas call to you and a blanket is yearning to be wrapped around you. They will have to wait a few more minutes this evening as I write this.

My mind today has been filled with snippets of memories. Japan has come to mind as has Maine and San Diego. Each memory has been brief, but poignant to me.

A family in our church has just returned from an extended mission in Asia. This morning we briefly talked about Asian food. She is hungry for food from that region. I told her we understood, as we are continuously looking for good Japanese food. It’s hard to explain what we are looking for though. It is food that first fills your senses with the greeting and the particular smell of soy, barbecuing to a certain crispness and the smell of seaweed all mingled together. It’s a scent you carry with you and in earnest we look for.

Another couple has relocated from CA, a familiar area to us. She was also part of the conversation and I mentioned Mexican food. She smiled and agreed with me. Although the south has many incredible dishes, Mexican dishes are not part of the ‘must write home about this’ category.

A little later a friend mentioned lobsters and how her eight year old son long ago asked for a lobster. We talked about the price and how it is only on a luxury meal where you get lobster. I recounted how we knew lobster-men in Maine and our oldest cut her teeth on lobster. It was a shock to her little system, when at three years old we moved from the coast of Maine to the other side of the country.

I find it funny that most memories center around food. But with meals come conversations and conversations lead to friendships and family. We always said while serving in the Navy that God cuts the orders and Uncle Sam paid for the way there. For 21 years the Lord directed our steps. He told us to turn to the left, or to the right. He guided us in the way He wanted us to go. He never failed us.

Because of this, we now have deep impressions in our minds of times and places and people He brought into our lives. The memories today are precious to me, but I confess, I wish the Lord would now direct us here to the places that food would take our taste buds back to what they remember.

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)