友だち Friends

It’s not hard to see that this past year hasn’t been easy for me emotionally or spiritually. Though my recent posts might give the impression that I’m down in the valley all the time, as I mentioned in the previous post, I’m actually quite cheery in person because of  the wonderful group of friends God has provided to support and pray for us.

Just this week one of these dear friends emailed to see how I’m doing. Our conversation was brief but her encouragement uplifted my spirit all week and I’m eternally grateful to her and many of our other friends for their extra love and care.

So today, in honor of these dear friends I’d like to share a song from Imai Miki, one of my favorite singers. It’s a song about friendship and since it’s only in Japanese, I’m posting a rough English translation.

The video doesn’t tell much of a story but Imai Miki (who appears in the video) is beautiful…I hope that you will enjoy this simple but heartfelt song.

My dear friends,

I know that all of you face your own struggles yet you take the time to share in my burdens. Thank you for crying and laughing with me through all of the ups and downs.

I love you and hope that someday I will be able to lend you the same kind of strength and comfort as well.

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「友だち」今井美樹

Tres chere amie

Dearest friend

ありがとう

Thank you

返事がまた遅くなってごめんなさい

I’m sorry to reply late again

あの日からあなたのこと

とても心配してたの

Ever since that day I’ve been so [or very] worried about you

元気になってよかったわ

I’m glad that you’re now [feeling or doing] better

彼も気づいたでしょう

I’m sure he must have also realized (by now)

やっぱりあなたが誰よりいちばん

大切だってこと

that you are more important than anyone else after all

何げない私からの

言葉に救われたなんて
不思議よね そう言われて

I was amazed when you told me that something I had said offhand [or casually] actually helped you

私も励まされたわ

[And] I was in turn encouraged by what you said.

一年前のあの頃と
想像できないくらい
空気も時間も今は穏やかに
流れてる感じよ

Space and time seem to be passing by so calmly now in a way that is unimaginable (at that time) a year ago.

あの時 あなたやみんなが
支えてくれたことが
今でも私の宝物だって
いつでも思ってる

The support that you and everyone gave me at that time is my treasure [or is precious to me] even to this day.

A bientot また逢いましょう

Goodbye. Let’s meet again!

Je t’ embrasse 連絡ください
待っているわ

“Hugs and kisses” Please be in touch [or contact (me)]. I’ll be waiting.

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Note: the original Japanese flows beautifully but my literal English translation is choppy. I’m not completely happy with the translation so I will probably play around with it some more to see if the English can flow as smoothly as the original – please check back later if you’re interested.

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The woman and her garden

My first (and maybe only) short story…not sure why I’m writing it but felt that I needed to get it off my chest. It’s not really a happy story so please feel free to skip.

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There once was a woman who had become ill with cancer. She knew that she was sick and needed surgery but kept putting it off because she feared that she would not survive the life-risking treatment that was necessary. So for a long time, she continued to live with pains from the disease rather than to have the cancer cells removed from her completely.

Now the one thing most important to this woman was a garden she tended. From bare soil she and her husband planted everything together, eventually making it a beautiful garden that flourished. The woman enjoyed her garden so much that she feared neglecting it should her recovery become slow and long.

Finally, her family convinced her to undergo surgery because she was no longer able to care for her beloved garden the way she wished. So she bravely went under the knife hoping that once free of cancer she would someday be able to take better care of the garden.

Fortunately, the surgery was successful but it left the woman very weak. She was alive but just barely. When she was released to recover at home, the woman was ecstatic. Even though it took twice as much time t and effort to tend to her garden, she was once again able to take care of it!

Her family was concerned about her taking care of this garden on her own; they try to help her whenever they could but tending the garden gave the woman so much joy that she didn’t mind. So slowly but steadily she made her way and walked to the garden every day.

Now, this woman originally had a husband. At first, he too, was quite concerned about her illness. Together they tried everything they could to help ward off the disease. But in the end the cancer cells spread to most of her body and the husband grew weary and felt too worn down to continue to care for her. So with the understanding of the family, he parted from his wife and entrusted her care to her family. The family was sad to see him go and wished that he would come alongside her recovery but they knew that he had his own life to live and that the uncertainty of her recovery was too much for him to handle. Since she was no longer that healthy woman he had married they could not expect him to carry her for the rest of his life even though on their wedding day the couple had vowed to stick together in “sickness and in health.”

While the woman and her husband had separated, they shared a genuine love for the garden they had built. So they agreed to share in the responsibility of tending to it. So at different times, they would each tend to it and the garden continued to flourish despite the dramatic changes that had happened in the couple’s life.

Although this garden was private, the roads that led to it were not. So it was somewhat dangerous for the woman to make her regular visits using the public road since she was slow and not very alert. But because it gave her great joy and hope to go to the garden, her family quietly supported her regular visits but at the same time they warned the neighbors about this woman’s condition hoping that they would take extra care when driving down the road.

In spite of this, one day, tragedy happened. While the woman was making her way to the garden, a neighbor drove down the road and hit her head-on. The driver wasn’t driving very fast, maybe even a few miles below the speed limit but the woman was too slow to get out of the way. The driver could see the woman on the road and thought that the woman could see her too so surely the woman could have gotten out of the way. But the woman didn’t see the driver and couldn’t move out of the way fast enough so she was hit by the neighbor’s car.

The neighbor was sorry to have hit the woman. The woman’s family knew that since the road was public, the neighbor had done no wrong in using the road that day. But there were other roads to get out of the neighborhood and only one path to the garden. So they had hoped that the neighbors would sympathize and show extra consideration to the woman, at least until she fully recovered.

After the accident, the neighbor offered to take care of the garden for the woman. But the woman refused. The neighbor couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t accept the help because she too thought the garden beautiful and wanted to help take care of it. But the only thing the woman kept thinking about was how much she wanted to tend to the garden herself; a task that she didn’t want to entrust to just anyone.

Later, the family of the woman found out that the neighbor who had hit the woman with her car had already been helping to care for the garden – except she was doing it with the woman’s ex-husband, and only when it was his turn to tend to the garden. “He needed extra help,” she said. “So I was being neighborly in giving him a hand.” When asked why she didn’t visit the garden while the woman was there tending to it, she replied, “Oh, but I am good friends with the husband. She has her family to help and he’s all alone.”

So the woman lay in the hospital, with only a photo of the garden to remind her of its beauty. She is working very hard to recover quickly so she can get back to tending to it again. Some days she’s very sad about how slow she is progressing. And she fears that even when she is finally discharged from the hospital, she won’t be able to tend to it in the same way she used to before the accident. But her family assured her that she will grow stronger each day and that her loving care is what makes the garden flourish.

As for that neighbor, the family didn’t hear from her again. She never did visit the woman in the hospital or expressed regret for having driven down the road that day. “It was a public road and I was driving the speed limit, so the woman should have been more careful,” she said. Since that accident the neighbor continues to drive down that road regularly, maybe even faster now because she knows the woman is no longer walking on the road.

The joy of Resurrection Sunday

After a busy morning of attending a child’s birthday party at a playhouse, lunch, and spring plant shopping, we finally returned home around 2:30 pm.

And by 3:30 pm all of us were feeling the tiredness of the morning so we decided to nap at the same time, which is very rare for our household.

When N is in bed with us I usually have a hard time settling because he likes to wiggle, talk, and generally move around a lot before falling asleep. But when he finally did, I too settled into a light sleep.

Around 5:30 pm C and N woke up and left the room but I was still half asleep so I decided to nap longer though it seems like my mind started to process some things in the background…

Then around 6 pm all of a sudden I felt a great sense of excitement. “Tomorrow is Easter, resurrection Sunday!”

Having been a Christian for as long as I can remember, I find it incredible that I should have this thought and feeling now, so many years after I committed my life to Christ.

But it’s true. Today, I felt the undeniable sense of joy and anticipation because “Tomorrow Jesus will be risen!” Of course, since Jesus rose a long time ago, tomorrow’s celebration is just symbolic. But there was this new excitement in me that’s unexplainable – as if I was celebrating Easter and the resurrection of Christ for the first time.

Then the words to the song “Because He Lives” ran through my head:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living just because He lives!

For the first time I truly “buried” myself with Jesus on Good Friday. So today, hours before the new dawn, I can look forward to experiencing God’s promise that there will be victory over death and destruction. And realizing what will (and has) come felt as if the unbearable load has been lifted off my shoulder, leaving an amazing sense of lightness of being and freedom.

Of course in the morning my circumstances will all still be the same. The events and relationships that plagued me during the week and in the past year have not changed. Come Sunday morning the clock will not be turned back and what was lost will still be gone. I will not be any wiser to what the future holds and trials will still come my way.

Yet, I have a new “I want to sing at the top of the mountain” kind of joy. I know it sounds trite but truly, “Praise be to God!”

Last night before sleeping I handed over to God, all of my greatest desires and dreams. I know that the old feelings of doubt and anxiety will surface often so I asked for peace and joy that is beyond understanding and today I received His blessed assurance.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living just because He lives!

Burying our best with and for God

I’ve never been a regular blogger but this past year it was particularly hard to publish any thoughts not only because of having a second child, but mainly because there was a sudden “death” in the family.

It happened about two weeks before I gave birth to E, after a wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas with the whole family. Then right before the New Year, our world turned upside down.

Even now, over a year later, we still mourn and grieve. Family celebrations haven’t been the same since and in our happiest moments a quiet, heavy sadness remains.

This week was a particularly hard week to ignore that deep sense of loss.

And this morning, I was so broken that I had to recall the words of this song to keep myself going.

I lift my eyes up to the mountains

Where does my help come from

My help comes from you

Maker of heaven, Creator of the earth

 

Oh how I need you Lord

You are my only hope

You are my only prayer

So I will wait for you

To come and rescue me

Come and give me life

I lift my eyes up to the mountains where does my help come from

(Based on Psalm 121)

As I hum this song to myself in a low, halting quiver, a thought came to me.

So this is the heart of God! Although it’s only partial, I finally have a glimpse into the agony God must have “felt” on Good Friday – in burying Jesus Christ.

As Christians we like to stress the positive – we lavishly celebrate Easter Sunday, toasting the resurrection of Christ, but how many of us take the time to dwell on the pain and suffering of Good Friday? And by “dwell” I mean really wallow in it?

And even when we do, we still sometimes miss the point. When God asks us to die to ourselves, we often focus on giving to Him our brokenness. After being convicted of our vast sins we gratefully put all of our failures on the alter – to be covered in Christ’s salvation and to have our transgressions cleaned.

But that’s just the first, initial death. He asks us to die to ourselves constantly.

And God is not simply asking us to place our worst before Him. He is asking us to hand over our best self – our highest aspirations and achievements. Our biggest hopes and dreams and not just the ones that are already broken.

On that Good Friday, our God buried His Beloved Christ, at the height of His greatest hour. Just as the world was beginning to experience His awesome power, God allowed Christ to be nailed to the cross and die for us, with the full knowledge that we will repeatedly betray that sacrifice.

I realized today that that’s the crux of my suffering – I want to hang on to my deepest desires and memories when God is offering me a complete overhaul.

On this (and each) Good Friday, He is asking me, “My child, are you willing to give up your best of everything? Are you willing to bury your most cherished relationships, talents, achievements, hopes and dreams?”

Because that’s what “dying to self” means – not withholding anything from the complete renewal (think “replacement”) and transformation of me, especially the “best” parts of me. When God asks me to confess my sins and give up my worst self, I am glad to obey because who wouldn’t want a better life? But when He asks for my best, to be replaced by His best – I am reluctant because deep down, I like my life the way it is. But tonight I hear Him say, “Jenny, hand it over to me. ALL of it, even the things you don’t want to have replaced.”

To be honest, this is a sobering realization.

But our God understands the pain it involves; He has already experienced this kind of loss Himself. On Good Friday He buried the best part of Himself. For you and for me.

The good news is that on resurrection Sunday, Christ DOES overcome and a brand new me WILL emerge from death with Him. Not only that, this is not a process that I am to go through only once a year on Easter weekend, it needs to be an ongoing sacrifice.

So tonight, on Good Friday, I will draft a list of my most cherished everything. I will reflect on this list and pray to hand them over to God. He has asked for all of me – which includes not only the worst but more importantly, the best parts of me and my future as well. And going forth, I need to do this daily until dying to myself simply becomes a natural state of being.

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Thank you Lord for answering my call for help today. Please accept this reflection and dedication as my act of worship tonight. In Jesus’ redeeming name I pray.

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Waiting for a good year…

Our second son, E was born in January of this year so obviously there are some very good reasons to like this year but to be honest, C and I can’t wait until 2010 is over.

We started the year with some devastating news about the failing marriage of one of our dearest couple friends. After 10+ years of marriage, they’ve decided to split. We don’t know if (but lately the question seems to be “when”) they will formalize the separation or actually get back together. Sometimes there seems hope for reconciliation and other times, it feels like watching a beautiful home crumble into a rock pile.  It’s hard not knowing what will happen to our friends and sometimes I wish I could fast forward the time to 1 – 2 years from now. Our friends have been together far longer than many others I know. Their love and marriage was what made me want to be part of a couplehood. Back when I was single and C wasn’t anywhere in sight, I spent a lot of my weekends at their home, crashing their “date nights.” I was there when 2 of their kids were born and my friend was my biggest help during the first two years of motherhood. So watching this separation is like watching a loved one fight a losing battle with cancer.

Of course, there’s no time machine for going forward or backward in time so we can’t do anything but wait, which is probably the hardest thing to do in a painful situation.

Tonight I bottled a second batch of umeshu, plum wine. This is a popular DIY project in Japan every spring when green plums appear on trees. The ingredients are simple – just 3 things – fruit, rock sugar, and alcohol. Separately the 3 ingredients aren’t very good. The fruits are hard and sour, the sugar is too sweet, and the alcohol…well, let’s just say, it puts hair on your chest.

But you mix everything together, leave it in an undisturbed corner, and in about a year’s time, the mixture will turn into this fragrant, nectar-like wine. If you can wait a few more years, the result will be even better.

The first time I had some homemade umeshu was back during when I was studying in Japan. Before the end of my program, one of the Japanese teachers invited us to her home and she served us a batch she made herself. I can’t remember how old that batch was but I’m guessing at least 2 – 3 years. So when she made it, she probably didn’t know who she would eventually share the wine with…

I’m not sure what is going to happen to our friends but I’m praying hard.  I am hoping that a good year will come eventually. And when it does, I’ve got a nice bottle of homemade umeshu to toast with.

End of year resolution (of some sort)

Thanksgiving bouquet

I’m either really late for 2008 or somewhat early for 2009 but this week I made my first (I say first because it probably won’t be my only one) resolution…

Okay, so here it is: From this point forward, I resolve to “help cultivate an appreciation for beauty” in our family.

I’m not sure if I’m putting this right but basically, I want us to enjoy the beauty of everyday living more.

A few weeks ago I placed an order on http://www.books.com.tw because my dear friend T agreed to help lug some stuff from Taiwan on her next visit in January. In the busyness of things I had forgotten all about the order until this week when I received an email notice from the retailer saying that they had shipped one of my items, a translated Japanese book about cultivating children’s creativity through their sense of beauty (at least that’s what the Chinese title suggests). To be honest, I didn’t really know too much about the book when I ordered it so I googled the title to remind myself why it was worth importing from Taiwan.

According to this blog post, the book’s main point is that a children’s awareness of beauty and the world around them is heightened when parents (or caretakers) share the experiences with them (i.e. a child will “notice” or remember seeing a sunset when someone sees it with them and/or points it out to them).

Around the same time, I happened to browse this blog which I tagged a long time ago but never really revisited. There I stumbled upon Moline’s photo set (of her home) on flickr. And one thing led to another…until I was left with this tremendous sense of dissatisfaction about the state of our home…

Don’t get me wrong, we have a nice home – it’s spacious, warm (important in the winter time, especially in the Bay Area), and comfortable (babies and dogs can go everywhere) but something was missing. In other words, it’s like the feeling of someone realizing that she’s been eating everyday without ever tasting the food. Horrible, right?

Since I haven’t read Yamamoto’s book yet I don’t know what her recommendation is for improving our senses but I know that I want Noah to grow up more aware of the world around him. And I want Noah to see beauty on a daily basis.

So obviously our home would be the first place to tackle.

But before I can beautify, I must first remove the clutter…this is not easy to do when most nights I just want to put my feet up and rest. But if I work on it a little every day hopefully within a few weeks (crossing my fingers), our house will be tidy so that more of my time would go straight to making the place more appealing to our senses.

I’m still working on defining “beauty” but I know that I don’t want to just end up buying useless decorations that you sometimes see on those design shows. We already have a lot of stuff. My task to bring out the beauty in what we already have, not to collect more. At the same time, it’s sometimes okay to bring into our home objects that might add meaning to our lives.

For example, this week, while decorating our Christmas tree, I decided to start a new tradition of having an annual theme for our ornaments. Last year, rather than buy boxes of shiny balls just to have something on the tree, we decided (since Charlie doesn’t really care about these things, my decision ends up being our family’s decision ^_^) to acquire ornaments one at a time, so that each one would be more meaningful. Needless to say it was pretty easy to execute my chosen theme this year (candy canes symbolizing the Shepherd’s cane and how God has guided us through the year). A few boxes of candy canes tied with some ribbons, and the look is complete.

The end result looks like this:

2008 Shepherd's cane theme

I know, that’s not the most beautiful Christmas tree you’ve ever seen* but I really enjoyed every minute spent decorating it and I know I’ll enjoy telling people about the meaning behind the ornaments (don’t worry, I won’t talk about it unless I’m asked).

Close-up of candy cane*I intentionally kept the tree sparse in case Noah decides to pull on things because this is the first year he’s been able to reach the tree.

In any case, this is going to be a long term project. No one is pressuring me to do anything. There’s no deadline for completion and no one is going to come and give me a critique of our home and my efforts so I’m going to slowly cultivate my own sense of beauty…then hopefully someday Noah’s as well.

Already I feel happier about waking up every morning and the beauty I might find in the day’s activities.

Here’s wishing everyone the time to see a sunset…and a loved one to share the moment.

美感是最好的家教 (Chinese version)

子どものセンスは夕焼けが作る (Japanese version)


Back from vacation…happy to be home

It’s been so long since I’ve updated this blog (and even longer for Noah’s blog…sigh) so I don’t even know where to begin but to put it simply, we had a 17-day vacation to Taiwan and Noah turned one.

Now that Noah’s recovered from his jet lag and cold and I’ve caught up on laundry (did 5 loads yesterday, 1 more to go today), I’m hoping that I’ll be able to collect my thoughts and add some new posts. For anyone who’s thinking of taking young children (under 1 year) to Asia and not sure of what to prepare, I am planning to provide a summary of our trip and a few product recommendations (of course, without anyone holding me to this promise, who knows how long it will take me to write this piece?).

But for now, I’d just like to say, it’s good to be home. Even with all the housework and going back to the 12-hour a day childcare schedule, I’m glad that this is my “reality.”

I am surprised to find myself feeling this way (glad to be home back in the US) considering that I’ve been “pining” for Asia for a long time, pretty much throughout my pregnancy and all of this year. And the month or two before our trip, I had spent so much time researching about Taiwan (places to eat and visit) that you’d think I’d want to stay longer or enjoy the trip more.

Don’t get me wrong, we had a great time. Noah LOVED meeting all of his relatives in Taiwan and tasting all the exotic foods (I lifted the restriction on his diet since he was already 11 months old and starting to “demand” more table food). And as always, Charlie and I enjoyed being in urban Asia where “things” (the way of living, etc.) made more sense to us.

It was wonderful having all that family love, yummy food (and no clean-up!), and help with Noah.

But the truth is, I missed home. I missed our bed. I missed cooking and eating at home. I even missed our 12-year old mini van (with Noah’s car seat) and doing housework.

Whenever I get depressed or discouraged (usually the cause is physical exhaustion), Charlie would comment that it seems like I “hate my life.”  Though I strongly disagreed with the statement, Charlie’s observation makes me concerned nevertheless. What does he see that makes him think I’m unhappy all the time? What does his comment say about my daily well-being and attitude? Do I really hate being a homemaker that much?

And so it was with some relief to find myself missing our life here in the US. Even on days like this when chores and childcare seem like endless loops, I’m glad to be home. I was a little worried that our vacation would require another vacation to recover. And in some ways it did; our first week home was exhausting. It was challenging to jump right back into work and housework on very little sleep. But now that things have settled I’m starting to enjoy my time in our little castle again. It may be humble and messy and sometimes seem both “crowded’ and “empty” at the same time but it’s HOME.

… So any trip that helps me appreciate what we already have is a good trip in my book. I hope to be back to share some highlights of our trip soon.

This was our last lunch at the famous 鼎王麻辣鍋 malah hotpot restaurant in Taipei. Look at how Noah posed for the photo. Our boy really LOVES Taiwanese food!