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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Recollecting Chemo & Crepes

Tonight the moon is big. Very big.  A round, bright shining face- like the face of God smiling upon us.  I drive home in silence, soaking in the beauty and pain of all I witnessed this evening, of all that my spirit encountered.  The faces, the stories, the flowers, the songs.  Micah's booming voice still echoing inside of me, ringing glory-profound in my ears.

And then one day
I'll cross that river
I'll fight life's final war with pain
And then as death gives way to vict'ry
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives

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
 ("Because He Lives")

And true it is...she's fought life's final war with pain.  Death has given way to victory, and she surely has seen the lights of glory now.  I'm reminded, once again, that because Christ lives, I can face tomorrow and every tomorrow after that; and my life, my story, has purpose- wrapped up in HIS purpose, packaged in love, hope, and glory eternal. Her story was wrapped up in God's story, for sure, and He was her glory, day by day.  Her calm assurance of faith and her humble, astounding success is a shining testimony to the greatness of our Living King.


It was a blistery winter morning...I picked her up at about nine.  We were heading for her chemo appointment to start a new trial treatment. I'm so glad she called the night before to ask for a ride.  She didn't know it, but that day prior was one of the hardest days for me. I was aching inside, and a day with Cathy was just what my heart needed.  God knew that. He always has the perfect remedy for His children...sometimes it comes in strange packages- like chemo therapy and French crepes. Spending time in the cancer ward at the hospital in Philadelphia was just the thing that could refresh and heal some broken parts of my own spirit that week. That day is now one of my most treasured memories...a gift I surely will never forget.

I had met Cathy maybe five years prior.  We often sat behind her family at church and I would see their tenderness and warmth.  Some time back, we took an evening class together, and in passing exchanged smiles and said prayers, like good church people do. But that day I really got to know her...and oh has knowing her been such a treat! Her stories make novels and the Bourne movies seem like children's tales in comparison. Epic drama of threat, danger, and triumphant courage- a female college student turned lawyer, with steadfast faith and bold prayers. But Cathy had a way of telling her thrilling experiences with such a serenity and humility.  She boasted never of herself- only of her God- He was the hero of all her stories, and of her culminating life story. Even while staring in the face of cancer's imminent danger, He was her anchor, joy, and redeeming hope.

So we went to her appointments that day.  She had such a pleasant countenance with all the doctors and nurses, and she treated me like family.  Cancer is supposed to be a scary, cold thing...something from which to retreat, to take cover and hide. However she had this uncanny gift of turning the cancer ward into a peace-filled atmosphere...because when she walked in, she brought Jesus, and that's all that was needed to make it a day of joy.  Simple joy.  While radiation and chemo flowed through those halls, flowed through so many veins, Cathy was radiating something deeper and something lasting- she emanated the presence of the Healer of body, mind, and soul.  She shone with the Holy Spirit, and all around her was a wave of peace and stability.  In the midst of uncertain lives, bodies breaking, desperation looming...she was certain of her purpose, strong in faith, and absolutely assured of God's working good in the midst of suffering.  She never complained.  She received medication with joy.  She talked of her family with such excitement and pride.  She shared with me gems of present wisdom, stories from the past, and dreams for the future.  We equally tossed back and forth stories, smiles, prayers, and laughter.  How amazing it was- her determination to make the day of chemo a day for crepes! 

At the doctor's restaurant recommendation, we walked block after block in the whipping wind, both of us, our hair tossing and her sore body connected to a treatment bag and some portal contraption. Down to 624 South 6th Street we went, brick building after brick building, city street after city street...Cathy courageously braving the cold, sickness stopping her not a bit. Both of us were sure excited to get some food.  We arrived at Beau Monde, and it was a lovely place.  French onion soup and fantastically delicious crepes.  Our sweet friendship continuing to grow.  I sat there, soaking in the treasure of time with this lovely woman.  I didn't want the day to end- that's just the sort of woman she was, and that's just how she made you feel. The God in her was the truest reality to her being, and her identity was not in anything else (though, she, of all people, could have boasted in many accomplishments and accolades- successful, beautiful, and brilliant). 

Eventually I walked back to get the car (it's a miracle in itself I found my way in the city, suburban girl that I am!) and we drove home.  On our drive back she shared glimpses with  me of her wishes for her funeral...if that day were to come sooner than she hoped.  Don't get me wrong- the woman absolutely believed in God's healing power, but she knew that if for some reason He determined her time to come to go be in glory with Him, she wanted to leave behind an incredible legacy, and a memorial service that would touch lives with the love of Christ.  She told me about a painting she had hired an artist to create- a picturesque landscape near her home with an old farmhouse that looked like heaven on earth.  She talked more about her family and the love she wanted to leave them.  She spoke passionately about her service being one that would reach lives with the message of the cross, the kingdom- of heaven and hope.  It was hard for me to hear this because everything inside of me cried "But God, can't you save her from this horrible cancer? This amazing woman whose life you've already saved twice from peril- can't you do it again a third time, Jesus?" 

Cathy believed He could, most definitely, without a shadow of a doubt.  But she also knew that His sovereign ways are beyond our ways, and that sometimes our Creator uses the suffering that the enemy sets out to steal, kill, and destroy our lives, and turns it into our good and God's glory.  Through trial and suffering, God can touch lives with the compassion and the cross of Christ in a most miraculous way- and that is exactly what happened tonight at 7 Mt. Lebanon Road, with hundreds of people in tears.  God most assuredly was smiling down upon us, face like the moon, shining a crystal clear light in the heat of summer night.  Testimony after testimony recounted the miraculous mercies of God in Cathy's life.  And once again my faith was lifted to another level of marvel. Thank you, Jesus.

To read Cathy's incredible account of God saving her life, not once, but twice, in the face of threat, kidnapping at gun-point, and murder for hire, read her Double Jeopardy article online.  May her testimony touch you.  Her life has touched mine.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Love Break Through

One of my prayers is that God would open my eyes, ears, and hands daily to His miracles.  I truly believe that all around us are miracles happening on a continual basis, but in the rush of life, we miss out and don't see the beauty that is intended to touch us. Sometimes all it takes is a voice, "look!" and we are reminded to open our eyes to a surprise, a blessing, an instant moment's gift. Tonight, just that happened, and it was a picture of how God breaks through even the hardest ground to spring life- He will find the crack in the concrete to sprout His love! It's amazing how in places where there seems to be no chance of life, no opportunity for growth, no soil for roots- the God of miracles can plant life and create His own unseen soil under the cement!

I was walking with my mom tonight around our little neighborhood- walking fast to make it home in time to have a Skype chat (my first time to touch base with Michelle in the Philippines since I've been home!) As we rounded a yard on the other side of the community, my mom pointed, "Look at that!" and there it was- a startling little blossom which had sprung right out of the pavement! It was a glorious little plant with heart shaped petals colored pink and white, verdant green leaves and tall stem.  I thought to myself, "Well isn't God like that- to surprise us and show His love breaking through even the hardest ground, the thickest cement.  The God we serve will find that one crack to break through a sign of His love!"

Is your heart hardened and paved, settled in its ways, toughened in order to weather the tires of life running over you? Have all chances of hope's roots dissipated, with cement thickness covering your soul? Well, my friend, even now is not too late for miracles! Are you cracked and broken?  The God of all mystery might very well find the one crack in the pavement of your life and plant a seed of hope and love that will spring forth sooner than you think.  I pray that your eyes, your ears, and your hands would be open to His surprising signs of love, and that maybe today, maybe tomorrow...your miracle will come.  Even the newest pavement, covering you as a protective instinct...or the oldest worn roads of your heart- nothing, absolutely nothing is too difficult for the Almighty One to break through and bring forth a blossom of His love! Beauty can grow in the most unlikely places, and life might just appear where there seems to be no sign of life, because the Author of life is the God of the impossible. Let His love break through today!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Because GOD IS KING!

Thursday morning the Navigators missionary team from the US came over to Jason and Rachael’s home for a team meeting…what a blessing to sit with them (Tim, Kelli, Jaime, Elizabeth, John, Ana, Takashi) one last time and hear about how God is working in their lives, working in Tokyo, and moving His peace and unity among their group.  Each one of these people touched my life in a beautiful way during our short 3 days together…I was touched by their authentic faith, their openness in sharing their stories with me, their heart for Japan and love for the students at Chuo University.  As they stay in Tokyo over the next 6 weeks, building relationships on the campus and showing the love of Jesus to the students, I will be lifting them in prayer and I know that my God is doing a glorious work through their lives.

Jason and I literally ran to the train station, missing our first train, but catching the next one, then running to the bus stop where I caught my bus just in time…(In the hustle of train and bus excitement, I had one quick moment to put 150 Yen in a vending machine and grab my last refreshing cold Milk Tea bottle). Then I had a little over two hours to look out over the city of Tokyo from my bus window, praying, reading 1 John, flooded with thoughts of God’s love and light. That feeling welled up inside, where I could cry at any moment, but the emotions were too strong to even cry.  Just sitting in silence and breathing in God’s presence, recollecting the flood of experiences over the past 20 days…I made it to gate 27, bought some macho (green tea) chocolate covered almonds for my caring parents back home, and drank some Miso soup- one last chance to drink in Japan before flying away.

A little over 12 hours in the air, and I found myself back to East coast US, walking through immigration and customs.  July fourth and I’m home. A few hours later, I was greeted by 7 very eager little ones- my adorable, enthusiastic nephews and nieces running in, exclaiming, “WELCOME HOME, CAIT!”  It is so good to come home to love and laughter, noise and sparklers.  God’s love truly comes crashing all around, like a sparkler in the summer night.  After almost three weeks of seeing new sights and hearing new cries and voices of hope, I am changed.  But I am still me.  God has surely awakened me to fresh passion for carrying His name to the nations.  God has shown me new pictures of love and redemption.  God has disturbed my comfort, broken me to heavy tears, and lifted me to laughter and sweet abandon. 
I’ve seen the face of urban poverty, up close and distressing.  I’ve seen the face of healed women after years of abuse, their bodies sold and hearts torn. I’ve seen the face of college sponsored students, who were once born into poverty, but are now being released into opportunity and promise.  I’ve seen the bonding of deep relationship between Japanese and American students, sharing interest in the Bible and doing life together. I’ve seen the eastern islands from the sky, and have had a new realization of the magnitude of the Creator’s hand.

I’ve heard the voices of little boys, rapping some  sweet beats in Mindinao, praising Jesus.  I’ve heard the cries from room 106, where a woman lay trapped by abusers, with no one to help.  I’ve heard the voice of beautiful Oi-chan sing at Chuo University, bringing a moment of joy and dancing to dozens of us. I’ve heard the roaring trains of Tokyo and the rushing rainfall from the highest points in Davao. I’ve heard the whispers of children in my ear as they tenderly inquire about my light hair and skin. I’ve heard the voices of 300 young Gen Y leaders in Butuan, raise glory to Christ, offering their lives as a living sacrifice for the Kingdom. I’ve heard the voice of Japanese students speaking English with their beautiful accents at Wednesday lunch table, building lasting friendships over cafeteria food. 

I’ve tasted buko (coconut), halo halo, sushi, frogs, more meals of rice than I can count, milk tea to soothe the soul, and fish with head in tact.  I’ve drunk the deep joy of experiencing hope in action and feeling the gospel tangibly at work…the good news meeting the very real physical, spiritual, relational, emotional, and psychological needs that touch every human alive.

Yes, the Lord shielded me through thick and thin…more experiences than I had expected or imagined. In 20 days, I’ve been through typhoon floods, sat still and unharmed during an earthquake on the third floor of a mall, fled a hotel hosting a sex-trafficking ring, and ridden on an ambulance in delirium and dizziness to the hospital in Tokyo. Nine planes, two boat rides, about a dozen taxis, more tricycles than I can count, two jeepneys, one pedicab, four trains, one bus, and 12 singing engagements. I’m overwhelmed with thanksgiving- what a journey it’s been!

So the fireworks came, splashing the sky with color beyond the trees as we sat in our front yard, sucking ice-pops, kids twirling in the grass laden with midsummer bugs. I sent a quick message to Japan, letting the Capps know I was home safely- no ER visits after this final flight!  We sat there and my mom raised the question to the grandkids, “So why do we celebrate the Fourth of July?” Before anyone else could answer, my four-year-old niece, Campbell, boldly exclaimed, “Because God is King!”  From the mouths of babes… I expect nothing less from this little one who has such faith which could move mountains. Maybe the history books don’t talk about this holiday celebrating God’s reign, but truly…why do we have life and breath, firework displays, families and a future?  Because God is King. Why do missionaries like Michelle and Jason and Rachael spend their lives to love people? Because God is King. Why does the rain fall and the earth quake? Why do broken lives have hope of truly being made whole?  Why does poverty have no power in the light of promise? Why does abuse and neglect and cycle of addiction crumble in the face of grace? Why does an American girl like me want to fly to Asia to sing some songs for some strangers? Why do I weep and rejoice in awe of the things I’ve seen and heard and tasted? All because GOD IS KING!
Amen :)
Until I write again…

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Laughter, Lunch Table, and Love of Friends!

I never knew it was possible to fall in love with a place and a group of people so quickly! This has practically been an overnight trip...not even a week, and Japan has found a very special corner of my heart, with so many beautiful names and faces there to stay! We are jokingly trying to find a way for me to remain here and sneak home in someone's suitcase in August, when the US students return! I don't think the airline's security will let that pass by...

Friendship is an exquisite gift. What is the magic ingredient that makes up true friendship? Is it commonality? Is it love? Is it laughter? Is it honesty? Is it compassion? Is it trust? I think there are so many ingredients that come together to make the most wonderful flavor of friendship...and I have had the honor of experiencing just that during my short stay here. I cried on the plane leaving the Philippines, as God spoke to my heart and allowed me to reflect on all the people and experiences I met there...I will not be surprised if tomorrow the tears come again as I fly home and think back upon what a gift Tokyo has been to me. 

One of my heroes, C.S. Lewis, remarked on the mystery an miracle of friendship:
“But in Friendship, being free of all that, we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting—any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends "You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing.”

Lord, thank you for my new is bitter to have to say goodbye so soon without having the chance to spend more time together, yet so sweet that You allowed me these three days here to meet these amazing, lovely people. To have spent time in Asia, in TWO countries in twenty days, with such amazing conversations even across language and cultural barriers...that is something I want to treasure up in my heart and never forget. Thank you for these gifts, Jesus! 

I must say, the minute I arrived in the Tokyo airport, it hit me how fashionable the Japanese are! I felt like I had arrived at a costume party, but didn't get the memo to dress up! I absolutely love looking at the girls' dresses and shoes...they are like dolls, each one so unique :) These shoes are a snapshot of some the beautiful young women I've met...I wonder where these shoes will take them- what amazing destiny and design God has prepared for them to walk in?

This morning, Jason walked me to the train station where I met up with John and Tim, two of the Navigators student missionaries.  They walked me to where the other students were waiting, and from there we made our way to Chuo University campus where we had a time of outreach-inviting the students walking to and from class to the BEST club. I had so much fun going up to the Japanese students, greeting them with "Ohaiyou Gozaimasu" and asking if they speak English...then inviting them to the English lunch table on Wednesdays and Fridays at hilltop cafeteria. Some of the responses were pure rejection...some were surprised looks...and some were delighted enthusiasm to learn English! 
Then I got to experience English lunch table for the first time as the BEST club members- the Japanese and American students- eat together, laugh together, and talk together in English. It was a sweet time. My new friends, Sakae and Ryoji, helped me pick out curry noodles to eat. We had wonderful conversations. Hase joined us for a while, and I got to see my friends Momoko and Yukino, whom I got to know yesterday! There were three tables total, a mixture of Americans and Japanese, a blend of two cultures coming together in friendship and fellowship. We all sang happy birthday to Teru, and time passed too quickly as I soaked in the smiles and stories of these friends.

The Nav girls, Ana, Elizabeth, and Kelli, walked me back to the Capp's home...a hot, sticky day, laced with a cool breeze to give refreshment in the thick humidity. I got ready for the evening and met the sweet missionary kids, Abbie, Kayla & Josiah...Eight year old Kayla sewed me this gorgeous purse as a present for my coming to Tokyo!!

After a tasty dinner at the Capps', prepared by Rachael, we headed to Chuo University once more, to get ready for the concert at C-Square! Tokyo BEST has its very own band, which opened the night with great energy! It was such a joy for me to sing for this group, a gathering of all the friends I've made in the last 48+ hours! The concert was icing on the cake...if I had come here and had just gotten to know these people, to share a few meals, a few laughs, a few loving smiles and words with them, my trip would have been totally worth it. I see God at work in each life and His beauty shining forth in their hearts. This mixture of souls-some who know Jesus and some who are just searching and discovering who He is for the very first time in their life...what a picture of the glorious journey we are all on in searching for truth...the truth that sets our hearts, minds, and souls free.

We had a time of hanging out downstairs after the event, and then off to Burger
King, where everyone except John was shocked at my dipping french fries into a
chocolate sundae. I had most of them try it, and we had some good laughs at their expressive faces in response to the salty sweet flavor :)

Finally the goodbye hugs came and it was time to leave...let the packing begin! 

Thank you Lord for the gift of laughter, for meal sharing, for the love of friendships old and new. I have experienced friendships across two countries in the past two and a half weeks in a fresh and marvelous way. Let not my heart grow stale to the gifts of relationship and bonding, across oceans, across cultures, across time and place. You are the Sovereign God who orchestrates the beauty of meeting new people, of remembering already rooted friendships, and of seeing the the gift in every face-even the face of a stranger.

Goodnight friends. Goodnight Tokyo. Tomorrow I fly backward in time toward home, gaining 13 sweet hours on my way...hopefully fast enough to catch some fireworks with my family!

My heart is exceedingly grateful and amazed...the Lord's wonders are beyond my expectations and even my current comprehension. Be glorified in my life, today, tomorrow, and evermore.

Soli Deo Gloria, for all that has been.

Jesus Juve, for all that is to come!

Shalom, my dear friends!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

ER visit & Mt. Takao...Here in TOKYO!

Hello friends!

So I went MIA for two days- the first day, because I was flying and the airport in Guam had terrible wi-fi. The second, because I landed myself in the ER! My first ambulance ride exciting!

I arrived here Monday morning after a long night with little sleep- maybe an hour. I sat next to a lovely woman from New Zealand on the plane- a successful architect. Plane rides are the most fantastic setting for sharing life stories. I've always been excited about adventures in the sky, not only because of the marvelous views of creation and cities below, but because of the fascinating people one can meet! I seem to sit next to the most wonderful people (most of the time...I have a few experiences I try to block out!) My New Zealander friend, Annette, and I talked about life's joys and pain, and I'm so glad we met! 

Jason Capp met me at the Tokyo airport and we took the trains back to where he and his lovely wife Rachael live with their adorable toddler son. The trains are quite an long! It took us over 2 1/2 hours I believe. I started feeling funny at the end of our last train ride- I stood up to stretch because my legs felt strange. I guess 8 plane rides in 15 days made me a little cramped, and going from exercising many times a week to limited physical activity shocked my body a little...

Well, we got to their apartment and relaxed. They fed me, I got to chat withJason  and Rachael and get to know them a little better-wonderful people with huge hearts! I kept feeling dizzy and a little numbness in my limbs, but I tried to ignore it and just drink water. I took a brief nap in the evening, and when I woke, I sat up and all my symptoms had increased greatly. Pain & numbness in my limbs, weakness all over my body, and strained breathing. Rachael took one look at me and said, "You don't look good! I think we need to go to the hospital!" I agreed as I crawled on the floor and lay there, trying to do bicycle kicks to keep my legs moving, in case it was a blood clot...

I was a little scared, no lie. I had wifi reception, so I could text my family and ask for prayers. It was early back home, like 6am, but my parents got my text and my family all prayed. I had so much peace the whole time- Psalm 57 was my prayer as the ambulance came. They put me on a stretcher and Rachael went with me to the hospital. I had to keep smiling and trying to laugh so as to not get myself worked up and worried. I was so disoriented...
Thank God, Rachael's sweet neighbor, Mariko, came over and helped interpret for communication with the ambulance medical personnel, and she babysat Logan while we were gone. I was quite proud of Rachael, interpreting in the hospital and staying calm! I felt so badly for her- here this crazy singer from Delaware comes to stay with them for a few days, and she has to go with the girl
to the ER! They did a CT scan and other vital tests to check for a blood clot, and again, thank God- everything was clear. I got to see images of my brain, how cool!
Because of language, it's hard to know exactly what the diagnosis was. (It felt like a movie, staring up from the hospital bed with Japanese doctors speaking a language I don't know)!

It seems like the multiple flights with so many elevation changes and not much movement caused blood to not be flowing well in my limbs, causing dizziness, numbness etc. I'm on some medication and vitamins, and today I feel fantastic!

I'm so very grateful! I have to say, the Japanese  medical system is so efficient and I was extremely impressed! If I had to have an emergency room visit, this is the country I'd like to have it in! 

Here's the passage from Psalm 57, which gave me such peace and confidence while in the hospital. I can't tell you how much the Word was life to me during every minute. Meditating upon the Word of God, and praying it out loud gave peace to my body and soul like nothing else.

"Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy! I look to you for protection. I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill his purpose for me. He will send help from heaven to rescue me...My God will send forth his unfailing love and faithfulness. My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises! Wake up, my heart! Wake up, O lyre and harp! I will wake the dawn with my song. I will thank you, Lord, among all the people. I will sing your praises among the nations. For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens..."

We came back late at night to hang out with Mariko, her beautiful kids, the Capps, and two Japanese students from the BEST group! It was good to be around kids, eat tacos, and laugh!
Today was a gift! This morning we had a beautiful Bible Study of Colossians- Rachael led it for the girls who are part of the summer mission team through Navigators. Anna, Elizabeth, and I read through it with her and we had an amazing time of prayer and discussion- some verses and truth stood out to us that penetrated deeply into our hearts. It was really beautiful to connect at such a deep heart level after just meeting these women! They were so welcoming to me as the "newbie".
So the Capps are full time missionaries here on Tokyo, building amazing friendships with the students and people in the city...They have Bible studies and live life with the Japanese in such a way that shares the love of Christ on a daily basis. The summer team consists of 7 students from California, Colorado, and New Jersey- all involved in Navigators.  
This afternoon I had the chance to hike Mt. Takao! This isn't Mt. Fuji, but it sure is exquisite in its views and a delightful little trek to the top! I was so pleased, because I had the chance to really connect and get to know many of the Japanese and American students, with wonderful one-on-one conversations as we hiked for a few hours. I honestly have fallen in love with this group in just one day, and I know already that I will be sad to leave on Thursday. I am so grateful that God has given me this opportunity to be in Japan! I look forward to spending tomorrow with them all! Each person here has been so kind, open, and welcoming. I see how the relationships built by those involved in the BEST group are something treasured. It is a beautiful thing to witness how God is touching lives through the process of community and shared experiences and life together. This is a whole different type of mission than in the Philippines, but just as important and just as close to the heartbeat of Jesus!

Sushi for dinner was a fun goes around and around like a merry-go-round on a conveyor belt, and you pay for the ones you pick. It hit the spot after hiking!!

Goodnight! Time to rest my voice for tomorrow's concert!